One of the victims of the Wiseman Lee closure writes…

Longstanding Wanstead solicitors’ firm Wiseman Lee was shut down by regulators in September following the collapse of its parent company which had acquired the formerly independent firm earlier in the year.

In cases like this a firm’s assets are seized by the regulator to protect clients and others, but things do not move quickly and many former customers will have been put into limbo while affairs are sorted out. One, Jane, not her real name, wrote to us to explain the impact on her.

Dear Wansteadium,

My name is Jane. I was named as a beneficiary in a dear friend’s will. My friend, Audrey, had been a nun and a librarian through her long 94-year life. But she never married and had no relatives or dependants. We were neighbours for 20 years. In that time, like anyone, we went through ups and downs. Health and family issues. All of these forged our friendship and I always felt Audrey was more a mother than friend to me. 

Sadly, Audrey passed in July 2022, leaving her long-standing solicitors, Wiseman Lee, as her executors. It was a wonderful surprise to discover that she had thought as much of me as I did her, as she left me 30% of her house and assets. The other 70% were distributed between charities dear to her heart. 

Long story short. I decided to buy Audrey’s house by selling my own investment property, porting my small mortgage and utilising the will funds to meet the gap. I instructed a firm to begin renovations on the property, but they obviously required a large down payment. My conveyancing solicitor – a firm in Billericay – managed with some difficulty to get Wiseman Lee to agree a completion date of Friday 15 September. However on Thursday the 14th, I received a call from my solicitor saying the money I was expecting from Audrey’s will would not be coming, as Wiseman Lee’s parent company, Axiom Ince, had had its assets frozen.  My solicitor spent the whole day securing me the 30% of the property that I had been left, but this left me £18,000 short. 

I can honestly tell you I was so shocked that day that I blacked out. I have never been in debt and have always been a good provider for my family. I am now in debt and living day-to-day. I have made a claim against the Solicitors Regulatory Authority [the organisation which seizes solicitors’ funds when they are closed down]  and await a caseworker to pick up the story in 8 weeks. 

I thought you might be interested in the end of this dreadful chain of events. Audrey lived a long and frugal life, leaving a kind gift to me and charities. Whatever happened with Axiom Ince, this solvent, secure by-stander has been pushed into debt. I am fearful every day. For example my car decided it would develop a catastrophic mechanical issue which I have been quoted could be up to £3000. Not a penny of which I now have. I hope you have been able to see how this ripple effect has changed my life. 

Screen time

The new payphone which has been installed outside Tesco on Wanstead High Street has some merit to it – it’s not garish, it’s quite classic in its design in a way. The King might even approve of it.

It will be interesting to see if the phone is ever used by anyone ever.

Because of course this venture isn’t about a phone at all. It’s about getting a digital advertising display board on to the High Street which will be pushing all sorts of products 24 hours a day until kingdom come. Probably adverts for NatWest and the Nationwide.

This particular phone is separate from the application to install digital display boards at various points on the High Street which Redbridge refused earlier this year, a democratic decision which was immediately challenged by a firm of multinational ad-pushers who appealed to Michael Gove for him to overturn it. No doubt he will do so.

Wansteadium is no nimby. But the Wanstead Village Conservation Area rules state that shopkeepers should not have “internally illuminated” signs, ie big plastic boxes with fluorescent strips inside them. Most of them observe it – and why not, it’s part of keeping Wanstead villagey.

So while our local shopkeepers abide by these rules, advertising and phone box firms can seek to drive an illuminated coach and horses through the High Street.

So long, NatWest. Thanks for nothing

Hallowe’en removals

The removal of any trace that there was ever a NatWest on Wanstead High Street was as efficient a process as British banking can ever have seen. After the branch closed on 31 October, but before the children were out treat-or-treating, the bank’s signs were removed, window stickers scraped off and whitewash applied. Definitely trick, not treat.

So a genuine word of thanks to the staff of Wanstead NatWest for their public service over many years. 

And no thanks at all to NatWest itself, which has left Wanstead without any banks. As a company which is 39% owned by the taxpayer, which received £45bn in bailouts, and which has made more than £3bn profits so far this year – it should hang its head in shame. As should those banks and building societies which went before it by closing branches.

The nearest banks to Wanstead are now in George Lane and Leytonstone High Road. But for most people who for whatever reason need counter service, the burden falls once again on Wanstead Post Office. Bravo and thanks to them.

The cows are back

Pic: Nick Affleck

The cows have returned to Wanstead Park for their autumnal visit. And though walking in the park is unlikely to be a top weekend activity for any but the hardiest in the current deluge, the three Longhorns will nevertheless be a welcome sight. Volunteer chaperones have been advising humans and canines on the correct protocols.

Meanwhile, anyone fancying foraging in the park or other bits of Epping Forest has been advised that it is not a good thing. The BBC this week reported:

People have been warned not to pick mushrooms in Epping Forest. The City of London Corporation, which conserves the ancient woodland as a registered charity, said the fungi were vital to the health of the forest’s one million trees.

It said the fungi play an important role in protecting the roots of trees, providing water and vital minerals. The authority said those caught foraging faced prosecution and a criminal record.

BBC News

This was one haul confiscated by the Corporation, which also said that one person had been stopped with 49kg of mushrooms.

Pic: City of London Corporation