An exhibition exploring the life of a Fleet Street merchant who transformed Wanstead Park is currently on show at The Temple in Wanstead Park. 

Sir Josiah Child, born in 1630, was a wealthy, self-made English merchant, who swiftly rose through the ranks of power from victualler to the Royal Navy, to majority shareholder and governor of the East India Trading Company.

In 1673, when he was elected MP for Dartmouth, Mr Child bought the Wanstead House estate, consisting of several acres of lush fields and a Tudor house where he lived.  

He spent a fortune landscaping the grounds with walnut and chestnut trees, ornamental water features and artificial grottos.

In March 1673, diarist John Evelyn visited Wanstead House, where he noted: “I went to see Sir Josiah Child’s prodigious cost in planting of walnut trees about his seat and making fishponds many miles in circuit in Epping Forest in a barren spot as commonly these overgrown and suddenly monied men for the most part seat themselves.

"He from an ordinary merchant’s apprentice and management of the East India Company’s common stock being arrived to an estate of ‘tis said £200,000 pounds."

This would be about £16m in modern money.

Child was a champion of capitalism and free market movement, and he argued for a government-controlled interest rate and restricted trade among the colonies which would benefit England.

He was responsible for initiating a war with the Mughal Empire, which covered most of the Indian subcontinent, in the late 17th century after the East India  Company unsuccessfully tried to obtain a Royal mandate which granted special trading privileges, and an English fleet captured Mogul ships off the western coast of India. 

Mr Child lived at the estate until his death in 1699 and was buried at St Mary the Virgin with Christ Parish Church in Overton Drive, Wanstead, which still has a funerary memorial on the south side.

His son Sir Richard Child, 1st Earl of Tylney, inherited Wanstead House in 1704 and decided to replace the old-style Tudor house with the grand, Italian-inspired Palladian palace which was completed by 1722.   

Forty-odd years later and the grade II listed summerhouse The Temple, and The Grotto, a decorative folly, were built on the order of estate owner John Tylney, Sir Richard’s son.

The fate of the Palladium and the grounds were less fortunate, however.

In 1822, the contents of the palace were auctioned off to pay off the debts incurred by William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley, the nephew of the Duke of Wellington and husband of estate’s heiress Catherine Tyler-Long.

A year later and the palace was demolished, although the foundations can still be seen on Wanstead Golf Course.

The East India Company exhibition is on show at The Temple until January 2015.