Epping Forest

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Epping Forest near Epping

Epping Forest is an area of ancient woodland in Essex. It is a former royal forest, and is managed by the City of London Corporation.

The forest today covers 6,118 acres[1] and contains areas of woodland, grassland, heath, rivers, bogs and ponds.

Stretching between Forest Gate in the south and Epping in the north, Epping Forest is approximately 12 miles long in the north-south direction, but no more than 2½ miles from east to west at its widest point, and in most places considerably narrower. The forest lies on a ridge between the valleys of the rivers Lea and Roding; its elevation and thin gravelly soil (the result of glaciation) historically made it unsuitable for agriculture.[2]

Epping Forest is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.[3][4]


Early history to 17th century

Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge at Chingford

The name "Epping Forest" was first recorded in the 17th century; before this it was known as Waltham Forest.

The area which became known as Waltham, and then Epping Forest has been continuously forested since Neolithic times. Embankments of two Iron Age earthworks — Loughton Camp and Ambresbury Banks[5] — can be found in the woodland, but pollen profiles show that Iron Age occupation had no significant effect on the forest ecology. The former lime tree-dominated woodland was permanently altered during Saxon times by selective cutting of trees. Today's beech-birch and oak-hornbeam-dominated forest was the result of partial forest clearance in Saxon times.[6]

The forest is thought to have been given legal status as a royal forest by Henry III in the 12th century. This status allowed commoners to use the forest to gather wood and foodstuffs, and to graze livestock and turn out pigs for mast, but only the king was allowed to hunt there. "Forest" in the historical sense of royal forest meant an area of land reserved for royal hunting, where the forest laws applied, and did not imply that it was necessarily wooded.

In Tudor times, Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I may have hunted in the forest, though no documentary evidence has survived to prove it. In 1543, Henry commissioned a building, known as Great Standing, from which to view the chase at Chingford. The building was renovated in 1589 for Queen Elizabeth I and can still be seen today in Chingford. The building is now known as Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, and is open to the public. There is another hunt standing, which now forms the core of the Forest HQ at the Warren, Loughton. [7]

Fighting enclosure

There were disputes between landowners, who sought to inclose land, and commoners, who had grazing and cutting rights. One group of commoners was led by Thomas Willingale (1799–1870) who on behalf of the villagers of Loughton continued to lop the trees after the Lord of the Manor (Maitland) had enclosed 1,360 acres of forest in Loughton. This led to an injunction against further inclosures.

The Epping Forest Act 1878 was passed, saving the forest from enclosure, and halting the shrinkage of the forest that this had caused. Epping Forest ceased to be a royal forest and was placed in the care of the Corporation of London who act as Conservators. In addition, the Crown's right to venison was terminated, and pollarding was no longer allowed, although grazing rights continued. This act laid down a stipulation that the Conservators "shall at all times keep Epping Forest unenclosed and unbuilt on as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the people". In compensation for the loss of lopping rights, Lopping Hall in Loughton was built as a community building.

"The People's Forest"

Connaught Waters

When Queen Victoria visited Chingford on 6 May 1882 she declared "It gives me the greatest satisfaction to dedicate this beautiful forest to the use and enjoyment of my people for all time" and it thus became "The People's Forest". The City of London Corporation still manage Epping Forest in strict conformity with the Epping Forest Act. This care is funded from 'City's Cash', the private funds of the Corporation rather than any money for its upkeep coming from local rates or taxes. The Conservators administer the forest from The Warren, modern offices built in the grounds of Grade II* listed Warren House. Warren House, formerly known as the Reindeer Inn, was built around a smaller hunt standing, known as the Little Standing. Its grounds were redesigned by Humphry Repton in the early 19th century.

Connaught Waters, an ornamental lake of 8 acre, was created in memory of the Duke of Connaught, one of the first Conservators.

Until the outbreak of BSE, in 1996 commoners still exercised their right to graze cattle and every summer herds of cattle would roam freely in the southern part of the forest[8] (and occasionally in the streets of Leytonstone and Wanstead).[9] Cattle were reintroduced in 2001 but their movements are now more restricted to reduce conflict with traffic. Commoners, who are people who live in a Forest parish and own half an acre of land, can still register and graze cattle during the summer months.

The right to collect wood still exists but is rarely practised and is limited to "one faggot of dead or driftwood" a day per adult resident.[10]


An old pollard in Epping Forest
Secondary woodland

The age of the forest and the range of habitats it contains make it a valuable area for wildlife, and it is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Its former status as a working or pasture forest has had a great effect on its ecology. This is particularly evident with the pollarded trees, which, as they have not been cut since the passing of the Epping Forest Act, have now grown massive crowns of thick, trunk-like branches with correspondingly large boles. This gives the trees an unusual appearance, not known in other forests. Often the weight of the branches cannot be supported by the parent tree, and the large amount of dead wood in the forest supports numerous rare species of fungi and invertebrates.

Predominant tree species are Oak (Quercus robur), Beech (Fagus sylvatica), Hornbeam (Carpinus betuloides), Silver Birch (Betula pendula) and Holly (Ilex aquifolium). Indicator species of long-uninterrupted woodland include service-tree (Sorbus torminalis) butcher's-broom (Ruscus aculeatus) and drooping sedge (Carex pendula) A wide range of animals are found, including Fallow Deer (Dama dama), Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi) and Adder (Vipera berus).

Although the Epping Forest Act almost certainly saved the forest from total destruction, it has to some extent had a deleterious effect on the area's biodiversity.[11] The pollarded trees allowed light through to the woodland floor, increasing the numbers of low-growing plants. Since the Act, the vast crowns of the pollards cut out most of the light to the underbrush. In addition, the area surrounding the forest is now to a great extent urbanised; the corresponding reduction in grazing has led to former areas of grassland and heathland being overcome by secondary woodland[12] – this has been exacerbated by the majority of the forest's deer being enclosed to prevent impacts with vehicles on the major roads that run through the forest. In recent years, the Conservators have experimented with pollarding in selected areas of the forest, and a herd of English Longhorn cattle has been reintroduced to graze the heathland and grassland.

Leisure activities

Several leisure activities are associated with the forest.

Epping Forest attracts large numbers of mountain bikers. Mountain biking is generally permitted except around the Iron Age camps, Loughton Brook and other ecologically or geomorphologically sensitive areas. Despite clear signposting, a minority of mountain bikers and horse riders continue to cause damage in these areas,[13] and the Conservators of Epping Forest have expressed their concern.[14] A number of clubs organise rides, particularly on Sunday mornings. The forest is also used as a training area for many national level mountain-bike racers as it is highly regarded for its fast and tight flowing single track trails. This type of terrain is known within the mountain bike fraternity as cross country (or XC). Epping Forest was considered as a venue for the mountain-biking event of the 2012 Summer Olympics, though the final choice was Hadleigh Farm.

Horse riding is popular in Epping Forest. Riders must be registered with the Epping Forest conservators before they are allowed to ride in the forest. Running as a form of recreation in Epping Forest goes back almost to the birth of the sport in the 1870s, including hosting the inaugural English Championships in 1876. Orienteering and rambling are also popular. There are numerous guidebooks offering shorter walks for the casual visitor. The most important event in the ramblers calendar in the area is the traditional Epping Forest Centenary Walk, an all-day event commemorating the saving of Epping Forest as a public space, which takes place annually on the third Sunday in September.[15]

High Beach in Epping Forest was the first British venue for a motorcycle speedway, on 19 February 1928. The track was behind The King's Oak public house, and drew large crowds in its early days. The track was closed when a swimming pool was added to the pub's grounds after the Second World War, though enthusiasts and veterans still gather at the site every year on the nearest Sunday to 19 February. The remains of the track are still visible, in the grounds of the Epping Forest Field Centre behind the King's Oak.[16]

A field centre in the forest provides a variety of courses.

Cultural associations

Epping Forest has frequently been the setting for novels, and has attracted poets, artists and musicians for centuries.

Fine art

Sculptor Jacob Epstein lived on the very edge of the forest for a quarter of a century at Baldwins Hill, Loughton. Sir William Addison says that he wanted his sculpture Visitation, now in the Tate Collection, to be sited overlooking the Forest. In 1933, he exhibited 100 paintings of the forest, and continued to paint during the war. His gouache, an essay in green tints and textures, Pool - Epping Forest, of Baldwins Hill Pond, was exhibited in 1945. Many of his Forest painting are in the Garman Ryan Collection at the New Art Gallery, Walsall


Elizabethan poets such as George Gascoigne and Thomas Lodge lived in and around the forest. The writer Lady Mary Wroth lived at Loughton Hall. Ben Jonson, best known for his satirical play The Alchemist, was a frequent visitor to the forest with George Chapman.[17]

In the 18th century, Mary Wollstonecraft, writer, philosopher and proto-feminist, spent the first five years of her life growing up in the forest.

Charles Dickens' novel Barnaby Rudge begins with a description of the forest in 1775.[18] Alfred, Lord Tennyson lived at Beech Hill House, High Beach, from 1837–1840, where he wrote parts of In Memoriam AHH. Suffering from melancholy, he stayed as a guest at Dr. Martin Allen's asylum, where he would have encountered poet John Clare, whose behaviour became so erratic that he was removed to the asylum in 1837.[17] William Morris, artist, writer and socialist, was born in Walthamstow in 1834, and spent his early years in what was then rural Essex, close to the outlying sections of the forest.[19] Arthur Morrison, "the English Zola", lived successively at Chingford, Loughton, and High Beach in the Forest, and - particularly in To London Town - the Forest is used as a contrast to the East London deprivation he wrote about.

During the 20th century, several writers used the forest as a setting for their novels, including R. Austin Freeman's Jacob Street Mystery (1940), partly set at Loughton Camp. Dorothy L Sayers' 1928 mystery Unnatural Death includes the discovery, in Epping Forest, of the body of a young woman possessing knowledge that could incriminate a murderer. The horror writer James Herbert used Epping Forest as the setting for his novel Lair (1979). In the book, a horde of Giant Black Rats establish a colony in the forest and embark on a murderous campaign against humans. Herbert mentions a now obscure legend attached to the forest - the legend of the white stag. Supposedly, the sighting of this animal is an omen of trouble and death. Natural historian and author Fred J Speakman lived at the Epping Forest Field Studies Centre, High Beach.[20] He wrote several books about the area, including A Poacher's Tale with Alfred T Curtis, a Waltham Abbey-born Poaching|poacher,[21] and A Keeper's Tale, describing the life of forest keeper Sidney Butt.[22]

T E Lawrence owned an estate at Pole Hill, Chingford; this was added to the Forest in 1929 and Lawrence's hut re-erected in the Forest Headquarters at the Warren, Loughton, where it remains, largely forgotten, today.[23]

Actor and playwright Ken Campbell (1941–2008) lived in Loughton, adjacent to Epping Forest; his funeral took the form of a woodland burial in the forest.


The song "The White Buck of Epping" by Sydney Carter (1957) refers to a sighting of (and subsequent hunt for) a white buck in the forest.[24]

A track on Genesis's 1973 album Selling England by the Pound is entitled "The Battle of Epping Forest", and refers to a real-life East End gang-fight in the forest.

The interior of the gatefold sleeve of the prog rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer's third studio album Trilogy[25] features a photomontage showing multiple images of the band in the forest carpeted with autumn leaves.


Dick Turpin is alleged to have had a hideout in the forest

The forest has long standing criminal associations. The highwayman Dick Turpin had a hideout there.[26] The tree cover and the forest's location close to London have made it notorious as a burial area for murder victims. Triple policeman murderer Harry Roberts hid out in the forest for a short time before his arrest in 1966.[27]

The notorious "Babes in the Woods murders" centred on the forest as the bodies of Susan Blatchford (11), and Gary Hanlon (12), were discovered in a copse on Lippitts Hill, having gone missing from their homes in Enfield, Middlesex, in March 1970. Thirty years later, Ronald Jebson, already serving a life sentence for the 1974 murder of eight year old Rosemary Papper, confessed to the murders.[28]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Epping Forest)


  1. "Epping Forest You & Your Dog". brichure. City of London. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  2. "Only with the middle Saxon settlement did the Forest ridge become used in any organized way and, by the thirteenth century, historical records show that large areas were being systematically cleared of trees" (Colin A. Baker, Paul A. Moxey, Patricia M. Oxford, "Woodland continuity and change in Epping Forest" Field Studies, 1978 (on-line text).)
  3. "Natural England, Epping Forest citation" (PDF). http://www.sssi.naturalengland.org.uk/citation/citation_photo/1001814.pdf. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  4. "Natural England, Map of Epping Forest SSSI". Natureonthemap.naturalengland.org.uk. http://www.natureonthemap.naturalengland.org.uk/map.aspx?map=sssi&feature=1001814,sssi,HYPERLINK,LABEL. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  5. ELLIS, Peter Berresford 'A Guide to Early Celtic Remains in Britain.' London. Constable. 1991
  6. Baker, Moxey, Oxford 1978.
  7. British listed buildings - The Warren, Loughton Retrieved 10 September 2012
  8. "Cattle Grazing on Epping Forest" (PDF). https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/consultations/files/Grazing%2019%20Oct.pdf. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  9. "Waltham Forest Guardian 28 October 2008". Guardian-series.co.uk. 2008-10-28. http://www.guardian-series.co.uk/features/3799139.When_our_bovine_buddies_roamed_free/. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  10. "Epping Forest Bye-Laws 1980 and additional Bye-Laws 1986". Corporation of London. http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/75920B02-E28A-45FD-8D40-94CAD0A25449/0/Byelawscancopy.pdf. Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  11. "The major ecological trend in the past 100 years has been towards uniformity" (Baker, Moxey, Oxford 1978).
  12. "Epping Forest SSSI citation" (PDF). http://www.english-nature.org.uk/citation/citation_photo/1001814.pdf. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  13. "Epping Forest: Loughton Camp:: OS grid TQ4197 :: Geograph British Isles - photograph every grid square!". Geograph.org.uk. http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/548902. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  14. Comments from the Corp. at eppingtrails.co.uk
  15. "Annual Centenary Walk". Friends of Epping Forest. 2011-09-18. http://www.friendsofeppingforest.org.uk/cent.htm. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  16. King's Oak speedway Retrieved 6 August 2010
  17. 17.0 17.1 Epping forest in literature Retrieved 25 April 2008
  18. Barnaby Rudge Chapter 1 Retrieved 25 April 2008
  19. William Morris gallery Retrieved 26 April 2008
  20. Epping Forest Field Studies Centre Retrieved 25 April 2008
  21. Speakman F & Curtis A, A Poacher's Tale (1960) ISBN 0-7135-0969-4 George Bell & Sons
  22. Speakman, F, A Keeper's Tale (1962) ISBN 0-85115-224-4 George Bell & Sons
  23. Ranger, James (18 June 2010), "HISTORY: A look at Lawrence of Arabia in Epping Forest", Epping Forest Guardian, http://www.guardian-series.co.uk/news/rbnews/8227950.HISTORY__A_look_at_Lawrence_of_Arabia_in_Epping_Forest/, retrieved 5 June 2011 
  24. Sydney Carter discography Retrieved 17 April 2009
  25. Trilogy Retrieved 31 August 2012
  26. W Addison, Epping Forest, its Literary and Historical Associations, 1946.
  27. Harry Roberts Retrieved 17 March 2010
  28. [1] Babes in the Woods murders Retrieved 5 January 2011