Having spent almost three years in Manchester, I started working at The Glass-House from my living room on the edge of Rusholme at the start of this year with a view to relocate to the capital once covid restrictions loosened and it was safe to travel. I finally made the plunge just over two months ago, lugging my partner and our (unimpressed) cat down on one of the hottest days of the year to our wonderful new apartment in East London.
One of the fantastic things I have found since living here, which I hadn’t been able to fully appreciate in my quick and sporadic visits over the years, is the distinct and wonderful characters of each of the boroughs; a patchworks of small villages across London, and how the communities within them value their cultural assets in so many unique ways. I’ve spent weekends visiting city farms across London, some nestled into previously discarded or ‘hard to develop’ land which now attracts visitors year-round, others representing the power of their local community who fought to keep their green oasis’ amongst a sea of concrete. I’ve been to markets, independent stores and thriving centres where local fare seems to always be in high demand. Seeing the city with fresh eyes as a brand new citizen of London, I have encountered so many of these treasure troves of placemaking, culture and collective community action as I continue to explore the length and breadth of the city.
My latest piece for our blog is one such story of encounter, a story I stumbled across on my way to Hampstead Heath Ponds from the nearby tube station, seeking respite from the recent soaring temperatures. Drawn in by the light-hearted illustrations set across the window of a traditional and ornate shop front, I was presented with the story of The Well Walk Theatre, until recently known as The Well Walk Pottery, and a fixture of Hampstead for over 100 years.
Originally built as a Grocers in 1895, the building sits in the heart of Hampstead, a borough of Camden in North London. Run by a grocer and provision merchant called S. Spall and Sons until the 1950’s, the grocers became a commercial heart for the local residents in a time where grocers doubled as community hubs for local news (and gossip!). Cementing its place as a community asset in 1957, the new owners of the building, The Magarshack family, decided to keep it as an outward facing institution when they reopened it as ‘The Well Walk Pottery’ that year. A space initially designed for their ceramically talented youngest son, Christopher, many other potters have walked through the doors of The Well Walk Pottery over the last 6 decades before it once again closed its doors in early 2019 after Christopher’s passing the year before.
It is at this point that the building caught the eye of Dylan and Zina, a newly-wed couple looking for a space to put down family roots in an area they loved and were invested in. Passionate puppeteers, they reimagined The Well Walk Pottery as a children’s bookshop, cafe and puppetry theatre, and have suitably renamed it The Well Walk Theatre. Recognising the local love for the building and its heritage, the theatre’s creative director, Marina Turmo, created a series of joyful illustrations across the windows of the theatre that tell the story of the building and the people who have loved it over the last 130 years, as well as communicating the coming changes and how people in the community can continue to be involved in the space. Now, The Well Walk Theatre is asking people to send love letters about the building which encapsulate their memories of the space and area. Our own Sophia lived around the corner from the Pottery during her childhood, and was reminded of her own happy memories of passing by the building and taking pottery classes.
The hope is that The Well Walk Theatre will be open for puppet shows in the basement, children’s books and sweet french patisseries very soon, but plans have been slowed down by Covid-19 and a series of essential building works. However, their bright and wonderful windows continue to draw in passersby to tell the building’s story, even through the darkest times.
A beautiful example of passionate people investing in local heritage, The Well Walk Theatre is a fantastic representation of the layers of history that exist across the city, how it is people that make our places so special and that unconventional and surprising stories are always just around the corner. As I continue to settle into living in the capital and getting into the groove of the London lifestyle, I am continually heartened by the abundance of stories like this, and the strength of the communities in each new neighbourhood I explore. Although for now, this is just a short love letter to London, I am sure it will continue to grow each time I step out the door.
If you are interested in keeping up to date with The Well Walk Theatre’s story, keep an eye on their Instagram page for the latest news.