Gants Hill, Redbridge
A compact commercial and residential district centred on a transport hub two miles north of Ilford
Gants Hill’s name relates to medieval landowners the Le Gant family, who originated from the Belgian city of Ghent.
This was a purely agricultural district until after the First World War, when the Corporation of London took advantage of government subsidies to begin laying out an estate of 2,000 cottages on farmland that stretched from just west of Cranbrook Road eastward to Horns Road.
In 1921 the government had second thoughts about the whole scheme and withdrew its subsidies, prompting the Corporation to call a halt to the project when only 220 homes had been built. The land reverted to the farmer, even though foundations had already been laid for many more properties.
The Eastern Avenue cut through Gants Hill soon afterwards and Bradford developer Charles Henry Lord bought the abandoned site, profitably converting cottages that faced the new road into shops.
The rest of the area was rapidly built up with affordable housing that abandoned the substantial proportions of earlier properties nearer Ilford.
The art deco Savoy cinema (later an Odeon) became a local landmark in 1934.
Designed by the incomparable Charles Holden, Gants Hill station opened on the Fairlop loop of the Central line in 1947, with a lower level concourse that has been nicknamed Moscow Hall on account of its resemblance to the stations of the Moscow metro, though on a more modest scale. Bolstered by the new tube connection, Gants Hill gained blocks of offices over the following two decades.
The shopping centre has suffered a severe decline in recent times, with many premises lying closed empty and boarded up, while the Odeon was demolished in 2003 and replaced by flats. The cinema is remembered in a pavement mosaic placed outside a pizza restaurant in the following year.
In response to the pervading air of decline, Redbridge council convened a task force with representatives of the residential and business communities. The result was a ‘town centre area action plan’, some of which was never implemented.
Gants Hill has a substantial Jewish population, with synagogues and Jewish community centres and schools across the area.
This was the childhood home of Louise Wener, who fronted the Britpop band Sleeper in the 1990s and is now an author. She has been quoted as saying of Gants Hill, “There’s something about growing up in the dregs, the badlands, away from it all … [where] the main cultural attraction is its roundabout.”
Postcode area: Ilford, IG2
Station: Central line (zone 4)