As the Temple over Time exhibition opens its doors to the public with a comprehensive exhibition detailing Wanstead’s rich past, reporter Rudi Abdallah immerses himself in the Temple’s history and explores a world of coveted artefacts, local aristocracy and incandescent wildlife.

The Temple stands proudly in Wanstead Park, a tantalising gateway to Wanstead’s past.

Built in 1760, the Temple has been restored several times and served different purposes in its history.

Although the current building’s designer remains a mystery, the exterior’s Tuscan style is a product of the vision of John 2nd Earl Tylney (1712-1784), the owner of Wanstead house in the latter half of the 18th century.

Inspired by what he had seen on a tour of Europe, Tylney wanted to replicate the remains of ancient Rome in Wanstead, and duly started planning his architectural ode to classical civilisation.

Tottenham Independent: The Temple in Wanstead Park

The Temple today.

Richard Arnopp, a local historian and member of Friends of Wanstead Parklands, has had a keen interest in the Temple from a young age.

Taken to the park as a child, he recalls being more and more intrigued with each passing visit.

He said: “From the outside, it looks attractive. It makes you wonder why it is there.”

Inventories reveal that the house used to be a sanctuary for birds of every creed and colour.

Originally a poultry house, the Temple was promoted to an exotic aviary in the 1760s.

In the 18th century it was fashionable for aristocracy to keep exotic animals from distant lands.

Tenants included unusual birds from the East Indies, with naturalist George Edwards noting “a snake-eater” on a visit in 1770.

After the Tylney died childless in 1784, his nephew, James Tylney-Long, inherited his Wanstead Estate.

His daughter Catherine subsequently became a rather wealthy heiress, and together with her husband William Wellsley-Pole invested a fortune in the house.

Tottenham Independent:

A postcard (1900-1910) of the Temple in Wanstead Park.

“The owners of the house were at the centre of running the Temple”, Mr Arnopp added.

This is a claim corroborated by the significant financial support given by the exotically named Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellsley couple.

However due to debts they were forced to sell contents of the house in 1822 with nets, traps, dog kennels and beds given away.

Wanstead House itself was demolished in 1824 but the Temple survives to this day.

It was used as housing for forestkeepers and then opened to the public in the late 20th century, now used as a community space.

Mr Arnopp wants others to share his boundless interest for the Temple and its surroundings.

Proposals are currently being discussed to generate interest in the Temple and the park, although none of these have been finalised.

He said: “The park deserves to be better known.

“It’s a tangible reminder of the great landscape park Wanstead Park once was.

“It takes us back to a past before Wanstead was just another London suburb.”