A golden history

Jack Elsden Tuffs, founder and first chairman of the Wanstead Historical SocietyJack Elsden Tuffs, founder and first chairman of the Wanstead Historical Society

As the Wanstead Historical Society celebrate their golden Jubilee, vice-chairman Denis Keeling looks back at the life and work of the Society's founder, Jack Elsden Tuffs.

The Wanstead Historical Society was founded in 1961 to promote a greater interest in Wanstead's history. The founder and first chairman was Jack Elsden Tuffs (1922-1978), and this remarkable man is at the centre of our golden jubilee celebrations.

Jack is mainly remembered for his book The Story of Wanstead and Woodford From Roman Times to the Present – which is illustrated by his own art work and was published in 1962 – and for his excavations in Wanstead Park undertaken between 1947 and 1972, which sought to discover the site of the Roman villa and unearth its long-lost mosaic pavement. He made great progress in doing so, unearthing examples of Roman roofing tiles, hypocaust flue tiles, nails and pieces of tesserae, but failed to discover an intact part of the mosaic pavement, a goal which has eluded all subsequent excavations up to the present day.

Jack was known not just for his expertise, but for his ability to enthuse and motivate others to help with his projects and to promote interest in Wanstead's history among the wider local community. He was particularly adept in his use of the media.

However, local history and archaeology did not exhaust his energy. He was also an accomplished artist, poet, musician, genealogist, dowser and conjurer, with his much valued membership of the Magic Circle. He wrote the book on conjuring in the Teach Yourself series and delighted local audiences with his tricks.

In our golden jubilee we still follow Jack's example. In our journal, produced twice-yearly in spring and autumn, we publish research of permanent value which adds to our understanding of many aspects of Wanstead's past. At our monthly meetings, held in the Churchill Room at Wanstead Library on the third Thursday of the month from September to May, we enjoy a variety of talks on historical topics. Chaired by Doreen Golding, herself a local celebrity, these are very popular and their quality, together with the friendly atmosphere, attract many visitors.

Illustration by Jack Elsden TuffsIllustration by Jack Elsden TuffsIllustration by Jack Elsden TuffsIllustration by Jack Elsden Tuffs

To celebrate the Society's 50th anniversary a special meeting will be held at Wanstead Library on Thursday 20 October at 8pm, including a lecture by local historian Peter Lawrence. There is also an exhibition of local history at the library throughout October. For more information, call 07949 026 212

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