Woodford: An Outline History

 

Many visitors to our site have asked us to expand the ‘history of Woodford.’  We are delighted that the eminent local historian, Georgina Green, has generously agreed that we may reproduce the following piece.  Added to website 26/7/2014.

 

WOODFORD : An Outline History   © Georgina Green 1995

The following is the text written by Georgina Green to introduce each section of “Woodford : A Pictorial History” by Peter Lawrence and Georgina Green

 

INTRODUCTION

Woodford, which is now part of the London Borough of Redbridge, is situated on the north-east boundary of Greater London. The parish started to be built-up when the railway brought a link to London in 1856 but the majority of the housing is 1930s suburbia. However, one or two grand houses remain from the many mansions of the 18th century, and remnants of Epping Forest survive to remind residents of their rural past.

The ancient parish was centred on the Roding valley and was bordered to the east, north and west by forest. The fertile river valley had been cleared for agriculture by our early ancestors and the tree clearance had been extended by the Romans who needed timber for building and food for the vast population of their newly established city of London. The Normans introduced the idea of a legal forest and created the Forest of Essex over a wide area in c.1130. Hainault Forest and Epping Forest became recognised as two separate entities much later.

The name Woodford goes back to Saxon times when the early road must have crossed the River Roding by a ford, close to Hainault Forest. The Chapman and André map of 1777 shows tree cover stretching right to Woodford Bridge and it was not until 1851 that an Act was passed for the disafforestation of Hainault Forest. In 1853 over 90% of the forest was grabbed up and put under the plough. The Saxon settlement was probably centred on the east side of the River Roding and two village greens survive at Woodford Bridge to this day. By the 13th century a new manor house been built on the extreme western side of the parish and a church was founded beside the manor house. The earliest mention of this dates from 1177 when it was recorded as belonging to the canons of the Holy Cross of Waltham who owned the manor. This district came to be known as Church End (now South Woodford). Two other hamlets, Woodford Row (now Woodford Green) and Woodford Wells, evolved on the western edge of the parish, along the high ridge close to Epping Forest.

The Saxon road (known as the lower road) was a main route from London via Leytonstone, crossing the Roding at Woodford and then through Chigwell and Abridge northwards to the east of Epping, and on towards Bishops’s Stortford. It was along this road that the body of St Edmund, king of the Saxons who died a martyr at the hands of the Danish invaders, was taken to its final resting place at Bury St.Edmunds in 1013. The other roads in Woodford at that time were little more than local tracks. Roding Lane North linked Woodford Bridge with roads to Barking Abbey. A road along the high ridge led through the forest as a track to Epping. This became known as the High Road when it was extended from Woodford Wells to Epping, via Loughton.

During the medieval period Woodford was largely an agricultural community. But as time went by a number of wealthy citizens of London who wanted a rural retreat not too far from the City were attracted to the parish and built themselves prestigious houses. After the Dissolution of Waltham Abbey in 1540 the manor was granted to a succession of influential gentlemen which increased the desirability of the parish. The strange custom of inheritance by the youngest son (known as Borough English) was traditional in the descent of the principal manor. In 1710 the manor was purchased by Sir Richard Child and was amalgamated with Wanstead manor.

By the middle of the 18th century houses in Woodford were described by a Swedish visitor as “of brick, several storeys high, well built, and some of them handsome. The inhabitants are partly farmers, but still more gentlemen.” This confirms Daniel Defoe’s description of the increase in buildings in the vicinity as mostly larger houses for the richer inhabitants. Many of these were bankers, traders or retired East India captains and ship owners. Woodford must be one of very few parishes where several negro servants have been recorded, although past residents have connections with many foreign lands including France, Holland, Germany, Italy and Turkey as well as the East Indies and America.

At this time the management of local affairs was organised in every parish by the vestry and Woodford was no exception. Fortunately the parish records survive almost complete and give a detailed picture of the running of the parish from Stuart times up to the Victorian era. The parish had four principal officers, elected each year to manage its affairs. The roles of the Surveyor of Highways, the Parish Constable, and Overseer of the Poor are self-explanatory; the two Churchwardens administered other local matters. They were also responsible for the fabric of the church and the building was extended in 1621 and 1694, a tower was added in 1708 and the church was largely rebuilt in 1816-7. There were many other occasions when lesser repairs were recorded. The parish population was about 70 families in 1670, and 1,745 people were recorded living in 273 houses in 1801. Most of these were either the wealthy families and their servants, shopkeepers and tradesmen, skilled workers like the miller and blacksmith, dressmakers and teachers, or manual workers like the many agricultural labourers. Apart from market gardening and cattle fattening, the principal crop grown in Woodford was hay for the London markets and the many horses kept in the parish. There was very little industry recorded in Woodford.

The Woodford New Road was built in 1829 by the Middlesex & Essex Turnpike Trust and this was extended through the forest to Epping in the next five years by the Epping & Ongar Highway Trust. In 1856 stations were opened at George Lane and Snakes Lane on the new railway line from London to Loughton. This opened up a new way of life, enabling local residents to commute to work in the City each day. Gradually houses were built for the new clerical class. Although most of these were on land taken from the large estates, some were built on “waste” enclosed from Epping Forest. In the 1860s and ’70s Woodford Wood was cleared in the north-west of the parish. In 1878 the Epping Forest Act was passed safeguarding the remaining forest.

A local board was established in 1873 to take over responsibilities of the Parish Vestry in running local affairs. The population had more than doubled since 1800, with 4,609 people recorded in the 1871 census. Education was available at the National School in Sunset Avenue and at a similar school attached to St.Paul’s church at Woodford Bridge. By this time The Chigwell and Woodford Bridge Gas Company had established a works at the eastern end of Snakes Lane but it was not until 1926 that electricity was available to Woodford homes. The Jubilee hospital was opened in 1899 and in the next five years Woodford also gained a new post office and a local telephone exchange. A voluntary fire-brigade had also been established by then. The census returns for 1911 record 18,496 people in Woodford.

In 1894 Woodford and Wanstead became urban district councils, forty years later they amalgamated and in 1937 the municipal borough of Wanstead and Woodford was created. With the local government reorganisation in 1965 Woodford and Wanstead joined with Ilford to become the London Borough of Redbridge.

 

THE EARLY COMMUNITIES

Although evidence of prehistoric man has been found in some areas around Woodford, little has been discovered in the parish itself. However it seems likely that our early ancestors settled on the banks of the River Roding, grew crops on the valley floor, fished, and hunted in the forest where they would have gathered what natural food they could find. Similarly, although there was a significant Roman presence in the district, nothing specific had been found in Woodford itself. However the course of Roding Lane lies along a Roman Road which led from Stratford to Great Dunmow.

As has already been mentioned, Woodford became properly established on the eastern bank of the River Roding in Saxon times. It is probable that the settlement consisted of a number of wooden huts with walls made of branches, twigs and mud, and roofs thatched with reeds from the river-side. Smaller huts would have been erected for specific use, such as cooking, brewing, spinning and weaving, carpentry etc. and there would have been one or two larger huts for habitation. Family groups would have lived together with alcoves providing a minimum of privacy. The community would have farmed on the open hillside, with a central common where their animals could graze. In the autumn the pigs would have been taken into the forest to fatten them up on acorns and nuts before being killed and salted down to provide meat for the long winter months.

As time went by the most respected member of the community would have become their leader, later to be called the lord of the manor. There are indications that the first manor house may have been on the high point of Roding Lane North, although by the 13th century the lord of the manor lived at the western side of the parish. At the time of Domesday Book in 1086 the manor belonged to the canons of the Holy Cross of Waltham. It shows that compared with neighbouring manors Woodford was a relatively prosperous community, perhaps benefiting from the association with the Abbey. No doubt the community suffered with the Black Death, as we know that the priest, William Rous, died a victim of the plague in 1349. By then there were also settlements by the green at Woodford Row and at Woodford Wells.

After the Dissolution of Waltham Abbey in 1540 lords of the manor of Woodford included Sir John Lyon, Alderman and grocer, later to become Lord Mayor of London; Sir Anthony Browne, Master of the Horse; Edward Fiennes, Lord Clinton and Say; and Robert Whetstone, Citizen and haberdasher of London. The manor stayed in Whetstone’s family until 1639 and in 1640 it was acquired by Sir Thomas Rowe, explorer and diplomat. We cannot know how much time any of these gentlemen actually spent in Woodford, but it is recorded that the poet George Herbert spent the year 1628 at the house of his brother, Sir Henry Herbert, in the parish.

The Reformation had other effects on the community. John Larke, who had been the parish priest for a few months in 1526, was executed at Tyburn in 1544 for refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII’s supremacy. A later incumbent at Woodford, Henry Sydall, was less strict in his views and managed to sway from Catholicism to Protestantism as the political climate changed. From 1589-1619 the Rector of St. Mary’s was Robert Wright who was Chaplain to Queen Elizabeth and later James I and held several other prestigious positions so he would seldom have visited Woodford. A curate would have taken services in his place. In 1622 Wright was ordained Bishop of Bristol and a few years later became Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry. The new rector in 1619 was William Isaacson who took a much greater part in Woodford life. It was during his time that the church was enlarged, thanks to the generosity of Elizabeth Elwes who gave a substantial sum so that the north wall of the church could be pulled down and an additional aisle erected in 1621.

Few records have survived about Woodford from before 1600 and it is not easy to find out about individuals or houses which existed in Woodford before that time. By then the parish had begun to expand with wealthy London merchants building country retreats in this rural village. In about 1607 a brick kiln was established near the top of Oak Hill (close to the present Woodford Moat House Hotel) and this flourished for nearly 200 years. This, and other local kilns, probably provided the bricks for many of the mansions which were built for these wealthy Londoners.

Up until that time houses would have been constructed with the traditional timber-frame, infilled with wattle and daub. The more prosperous residents would have displayed their wealth by using much more timber than was necessary to support the structure. A few of the larger houses survived into the 19th century, such as Hereford House (see illustration 50) and Grove House. Little Monkhams is probably the last remaining timber-framed house to survive in anything like its original state. Although added to a number of times, the construction of the central core seems to indicate origins in the Tudor period. Once bricks became fashionable those who could not afford to rebuild their houses either covered them with plaster, or built a brick facade. However timber construction was still used in cottages for the poorer people.

 

TRADERS AND TRAVELLERS, GENTLEMEN AND BANKERS

A census taken in 1676 shows that Woodford was then home for some 70 families and 18 of them lived in large houses with eight or more hearths, a much higher proportion than in neighbouring parishes. At the other extreme were poorer families who built themselves small cottages at the edge of the forest, illegally enclosing the manorial waste. At this time the Forest Laws were quite strictly enforced and it was recorded in 1630 there were 13 such enclosures in Woodford, and more were noted in 1670. Humble cottages with small gardens and pigstys tended to be left alone, but those who had grander ideas were given the choice of paying a fine or demolishing the house and returning the land to the forest.

During the early part of the 18th century it became fashionable to “take the waters” and mineral springs in many locations were exploited, among them the “wells” at Woodford. It was in 1722 that a Samuel Goldsmith of Woodford Row, Innholder, was granted permission by the Forest authorities to extend the facilities at his dwelling house known by the Sign of the Wells. The earliest tavern recorded in Woodford was the Horns Inn in 1657, better known since the 18th century as The George. Other inns recorded in the 1700s include the White Hart (the inns of that name at South Woodford and at Woodford Bridge were both listed over 200 years ago) and the The Castle, previously known as The Ship and Castle and The Castle and Two Brewers.

In 1710 Richard Child, later Earl Tylney, bought the manor of Woodford. His father, Sir Josiah Child, had amassed a vast fortune at the head of the East India Company and this made his descendants not only wealthy, but influential too. The family already owned the Wanstead manor where no expense had been spared in creating a series of lakes, landscaped with avenues of trees. In 1715 Richard Child decided to build a new Wanstead House which was so magnificent that by 1724 the sight-seers had to be restricted to just two days each week. The Woodford manor house, Woodford Hall, was thus surplus to requirements and was sold to Christopher Crowe, British Consul in Italy. He later sold the house to William Hunt, a tobacco merchant and one of several Directors of the Bank of England who resided at Woodford.

By 1690 it had become clear that the volume of trade based in London was such that the establishment of a “Bank of England” should be considered. One of the leading promoters was Michael Godfrey, a merchant of great substance, who became Deputy Governor when the Bank of England was established in 1694. The Bank’s charter laid down that apart from the Governor and Deputy Governor, there should be 24 Directors who must each hold £2,000 of stock. All were to be elected annually and later Woodford residents to serve the Bank of England include Michael Godfrey’s brother Peter Godfrey of The Rookery, Richard Salway of Salway Lodge, both of whom were Directors, and Job Mathew who was a Governor.

The wealth of Woodford came not only from those who traded wisely in the City – other residents only came to live in the parish after years abroad, earning their fortunes as ship’s captains or as agents in far flung places. Drigue Olmius was the son of a great Hamburg merchant, David Bosanquet lived for many years in Turkey, while Jeffrey Jackson, Robert Preston and Charles Foulis all served as captains with the East India Company during the 18th century. Another gentleman who had travelled abroad was Sir James Wright, British minister in Venice. He brought ideas about making artificial slate back from Italy and set up a small factory on his Ray House estate by the Roding.

As time went by the construction of large houses for the wealthy accelerated and one or two such houses still survive. Hurst House, a stuccoed Queen Anne style building in Broomhill Walk (near the Churchill statue) is said to have been built in c.1714 for Henry Raine, a brewer from Wapping. Thomas North, who was probably another wealthy brewer, this time from Southwark, also built himself a house at Woodford. He and his wife Mary were responsible for the felling of much of Monkham Grove during the period 1737-52. Their house was situated close to the present day junction of Monkhams Lane and The Green and was called Monkhams. The house was demolished c.1820 when the name was transferred to another house which had been built by Sir John Hall in the early 1800s, where Park Avenue is today. The new owner, Brice Pearse, added greatly to his land holding in the early years of the 19th century and, with his neighbour William Mellish of Harts, persuaded the parish to alter the course of Snakes Lane, moving it further south to its present location, so that it did not cut through his vast estate.

In 1767 William Hunt died and his nephew, William Hunt Mickelfield inherited Woodford Hall. He rebuilt the house in 1771 to a design by Thomas Leverton. The neighbouring Walthamstow manor house, Highams, had been rebuilt three years earlier and the styles were similar. Woodford Hall was leased to John Goddard, a Rotterdam merchant, in 1777 and in 1801 it was purchased by John Maitland. He wasted no time in inviting Humphry Repton, the leading landscape gardener of his time, to design a new look for the Woodford estate. Repton had already been called in to work for James Hatch at Claybury in 1791 and for John Harman at Highams in 1793.

The lordship of the principal Woodford manor had stayed in the family of Sir Richard Child, passing to his grandson Sir James Tylney-Long who died in 1794 leaving a very young son as his heir. Sadly he died in 1805, so the vast Wanstead and Woodford estates were held in trust for his sister, Catherine Tylney-Long (1789-1825). This young heiress was courted by gentlemen of every rank, but she in 1812 she married William Pole-Wellesley, nephew of the Duke of Wellington. This proved to be a most unfortunate choice as in ten years he squandered her vast fortune and his extravagance was such that the entire contents of Wanstead House had to be auctioned off. This included paintings by Rubens, Titian, and Rembandt, furniture which had belonged to the Buonaparte family, tapestries, books – so much that it took over a month to complete the sale. Even that did not pay off the debts, so Wanstead House was totally demolished and the fabric sold off as building materials. However, lordship of both the manors of Wanstead and Woodford stayed with Wellesley.

 

PARISH LIFE

While the wealthy brought prestige to Woodford, the local people continued village life just as their fathers and grandfathers had done. Sir James Wright’s slate factory was virtually the only local industry although in the 1820s a small optical works was operating just over the northern parish boundary, opposite the Bald Faced Stag. Most people were farm labourers or worked in the grand houses with jobs ranging from laundress to ladies maid or stable lad to butler, depending on training, experience and family connections. Others served the whole community, such as the Radley and Priest families who were blacksmiths, the Meads who were boot and shoe makers and the Noble family who were carpenters and builders.

Village life was under the guidance of the local vestry which met every month to consider the welfare of the poor, health, law and order, and road maintenance as well as matters concerning the church itself. Looking after the poor, the sick and the elderly was an ever-present problem. In the 17th century money was given to pensioners for clothing and fuel, and later a small almshouse was established at Woodford Bridge. By 1724 the cost of looking after the less fortunate had risen so much that a building was leased from Christopher Crowe for use as a workhouse. Outdoor relief was paid to some, such as widows with young children, or men who had become sick or physically disabled and had families to support. Keeping families in their cottages was cheaper than splitting them up and sending them to different workhouses outside the parish. Orphans were cared for until old enough to serve an apprenticeship and by 1800 it seems that some were sent far away, to the mills in Nottinghamshire or even to work for the Hudson Bay Company in Canada. By this time an old building at the top of Monkhams Lane was used as the workhouse and a pesthouse (or isolation hospital) had been built away from the community at the site now used by Bancrofts School. A new workhouse was also built there in 1820 at a cost of £1,000.

The principal officers of the Vestry: the Overseer of the Poor, the Surveyor of Highways, the Parish Constable, and one Churchwarden were elected each year by the community from among its members and verified by local Justices. The other churchwarden was chosen by the Rector and had different responsibilites. Rates were levied on local residents to pay for the various services provided and the rate valuation books give a good indication of the social composition of the community. For example in 1797/8 John Goddard’s Woodford Hall was valued at £180 per year plus £131 for his farm and lands, James Hatch (Gales Farm) at £135, Robert Preston (Harts) at £80, Richard Noble (carpenter and undertaker) at £24, Thomas Rounding (landlord of The Horse and Well) at £12, while the properties of poorer residents were valued at between £1 and £12 per year.

Law and order was the responsibility of the Parish Constable and by 1788 the parish had been divided into two districts with separate officers for “The Town” and for Woodford Bridge. The Parish Constable had to check the accuracy of weights and measures and that ale was of the correct strength. As early as 1694 it is recorded that “all fellons and vagrants shall be secured and lodged in the Cage and that a strong lock with two keys be provided for it”. The cage was situated opposite the White Hart, South Woodford. One key was to be at held at the inn and the other with the Constable. The following year we read that Madam Anne Godfrey had given silver plate to the church in memory of her son, Michael Godfrey, to replace that which had been stolen. However, quarter sessions records indicate that crime was not as rife in Woodford as in many Essex villages. By 1826 the parish benefited from the presence of a horse patrol and in 1839 Woodford was brought under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan police.

When he died in 1644 Sir Thomas Rowe bequeathed £80 to enlarge the church when this became necessary and the work was eventually carried out in 1694. In 1708 a new tower was built and this is the oldest part of the church still standing today. Throughout the 18th century there were minor repairs to the church, new pews were added, and a gallery was built, but by the early 1800s it had become necessary once again to enlarge the church. John Maitland, living next door to the church at Woodford Hall, was not at all keen on the idea but eventually his objections were overruled and both Maitland and his daughter Isabella gave money for the project. A fund-raising committee was set up, William Long Wellesley, lord of the manor, was paid £5 for additional land to extend the churchyard, Charles Bacon was chosen as architect and in 1816 work started on rebuilding the church. The congregation worshipped at St.Mary’s church, Wanstead, while the work was in progress. The parish records include a plan showing the allocation of pews in the new church, and this gives a wonderful insight into the local hierarchy.

 

TRAVEL AND TRANSPORT

Along the Woodford road there comes a noise

Of wheels, and Mr Rounding’s neat postchaise

Struggles along, drawn by a pair of bays,

With Rev. Mr.Crow and six small Boys;

Who ever and anon declare their joys,

With trumping horns and juvenile huzzas,

At going home to spend their Christmas days,

And changing Learning’s pains for Pleasure’s toys.

 

Thomas Hood lived at the Lake House in Wanstead from 1832-5. His charming sonnet, written in 1832, reminds us of the sounds and way of travel that were familiar to our ancestors, but it fails to project how bad the roads could be – deep-rutted mud in winter and white with dust in the summer.

Woodford’s residential nature was emphasized by its roads, as by the early 18th century it was comparatively easy to reach London, but more difficult to travel out into Essex. Of the two present main roads from London, the ‘Lower Road’, now called the Chigwell Road, was subject to flooding by the River Roding and by the mill stream. Even in recent years flooding has caused problems but the building of the M11 motorway and the North Circular Road interchange meant a new channel for the river and flood alleviation measures have been introduced. For centuries there were problems at the Woodford Bridge river crossing until in 1771 the wooden bridge was replaced at the second attempt by a brick and stone bridge. In 1785 responsibility for its upkeep passed to the Middlesex and Essex turnpike trust. This bridge served travellers continuously until its replacement in 1962. However, during the building of the M11 in the 1970s the course of the river was moved closer to the junction with Snakes Lane, making the ancient crossing site redundant. (see Frontispiece)

In contrast to the ‘Lower Road’, the ‘Upper Road’ or High Road has only been a main road since the 17th century. In 1721 the Middlesex and Essex turnpike trust developed the road as far as Woodford Wells. In 1829 the trust built the Woodford New Road and in 1834 the Epping and Ongar highway trust cut the Epping New Road through the forest to Epping. Both new roads were bypasses to cut out built up areas and steep inclines. Until the 20th century there were only two roads in Woodford that connected the upper and lower roads – Snakes Lane and George Lane.

Stage coaches passing through Woodford on the Norwich run would stop at either The George, White Hart (High Road) or The Castle, depending on the carrier. In 1788 the total journey time from London to Norwich via Woodford and Newmarket was just under 15 hours. There were also “short stage” coaches for commuters into London, many of them sported highly coloured livery. For example Mr May of Woodford stuck silver stars all over his coach to attract customers on his Chigwell to London run.

Through the centuries local roads would have echoed to the sounds of animals being shepherded to the London markets, heavy carts moving slowly along the roads from dawn until dusk, and the clatter of many horsemen. When Peter Kalm, a Swedish botanist, visited Richard Warner at Harts on 28th February 1748, he described the roads as “full of travellers, on foot and on horseback, in wagons and carts, who travel backwards and forwards, so that one often has, as it were, to steer through them”.

One of the innovations brought about by the Industrial Revolution was the railway, and a line was built from London to Romford by the Eastern Counties railway in 1839. A branch line from Stratford to Loughton was opened in 1856, with stations at George Lane and Snakes Lane where there were level crossing gates across the roads. Not only did the railway cut the parish in two, it started the break-up of some of the large estates. Once it became possible to travel to London to work, it became economically viable to start building “villas” for the clerical workers who could afford to commute each day. This was the start of the change from village to suburb.

The coming of the railway to Woodford also saw the demise of the long distance stage coach but in the latter half of the 19th century and the early 20th century the roads became busier. Not only was the population of Woodford growing larger, but Epping Forest became more and more popular as the ‘Cockney Playground’. Trippers, cycle clubs and later on, motoring clubs, saw Woodford as an ideal base to spend a day away from London’s smokey environment.

 

FOREST AND ENCLOSURES

Epping Forest was preserved as an open space under the guidance and management of the City of London Corporation by the Epping Forest Act of 1878. Apart from a small strip of grassland beside Woodford Road, the forest land in Woodford is at the Green and Woodford Wells. The hedge along Broomhill Road, at the back of the Green, can be dated to about 600 years old and it has obviously served as a boundary between the open grassland and the houses for centuries. However, the extent of the forest at Woodford Wells has changed dramatically in the last 200 years.

The Map of Waltham Forest c.1641 shows Woodford Wood, Knighton Wood and Munkom Wood to the north of the parish, but during the 18th century much of Monkham Grove was felled, as this was a legally enclosed, coppiced wood. Woodford Wood remained intact until the 1830s. The Epping and Ongar Highway Trust cut their new road to Epping through the forest in 1830-4, and in 1832 the parish vestry authorised a new road through the forest to Chingford (Whitehall Road). This was built as a means of providing work for local men who might otherwise have been sent to the workhouse. The Overseer of the Poor at that time was Richard Hallett who was also Surveyor of Highways. Once the road had been constructed houses were soon built beside it on land taken from the forest.

Up until the 19th century the Forest Laws had ensured that land was not enclosed without proper payment to the Crown. Unfortunately, the chief officer or Lord Warden of Epping Forest was a position held by Earl Tylney of Wanstead House. When William Long Wellesley took over this role, he openly flouted the system and allowed small enclosures. Indeed he was in favour of the complete abolition of the Forest system, which would have enabled him to build on much of his own manorial lands in Wanstead and Woodford without any hinderance. The Crown needed to enforce the Forest Laws to obtain the revenue from enclosures, but with its chief officer only concerned about his own best interests, the system rapidly declined.

Attempts had been made to enclose Knighton Wood as early as 1572, but although the lord of the manor had been licensed to fence part of the woodland, his action led to riots and the fences were thrown down. In 1826 Thomas Russell sold the freehold estate known as Knighton Wood and the documentation traces previous owners back to 1712. In the early 1830s Richard Hallett purchased the wood and contested the limitations put on him as owner by the Forest Laws. The legal wrangle lasted 12 years and was eventually settled by a compromise. In the early 1850s Hallett built Knighton Villa and, eventually, quite a number of other houses in the vicinity.

In 1863 Knighton Villa was bought by Edward North Buxton who extended the house for his large family. He, along with his brother, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton of Warlies at Upshire, and their cousin, Andrew Johnston of The Firs at Woodford, were leading members of the Commons Preservation Society. This was formed in 1865 to help in the fight to preserve open spaces like Berkhamsted Common and Hampstead Heath. It was the determination of the members of that society, combined with the might of the City of London Corporation, which eventually led to the saving of Epping Forest. Another influential figure from Woodford Wells, Henry Ford Barclay of Monkhams, was also involved as one of the Commissions appointed by the Crown to consider the whole problem and put forward a practical solution.

The vast mass of documentation collected by the Commission provides a wealth of information about the forest in the 1870s. At Woodford Wells most of the wood had been cleared and what had not been covered by houses and gardens was grassland or rough grazing. There was considerable controversy when Diedrich Schwinge of Hanover House (at the junction of the High Road and Whitehall Road) tried to enclose the land in front of his house, much as many of his neighbours were doing. In his case the land was known as “Roundings Green” and was regarded as part of the village green in front of the Horse and Well.

With the passing of the legislation which preserved Epping Forest, all land not actually enclosed as house or garden was purchased by the City of London Corporation and put back into Epping Forest. The ancient Woodford Wood had been destroyed and the forest land here today is largely grassland, scrub or secondary woodland.

 

A TIME OF CHANGE

Although it has been said that the building of the railway started the change from village to suburb, this did not happen immediately, or quickly. No doubt some additional houses were constructed in the late 1850s, just as they were in the late 1840s, to accommodate the ever-growing population. But the first housing estate to be built was on part of the Woodford Hall parkland, starting with Chelmsford Road in 1867. The British Land Company had purchased the land and sold single and double plots for development. The roads were named after the Earl of Derby’s third cabinet, currently in office (Derby, Peel, Walpole, Carnarvon, Stanley, Malmesbury and Buckingham). Woodford Hall itself was used as a convalescent home for up to 80 inmates. Mrs.Gladstone, wife of the Liberal politician, had established a home at Clapton for the poor of London during a cholera epidemic in 1866. This was amalgamated with a similar home established at Snaresbrook and transferred to Woodford Hall in 1869.

In 1870 Maybank, Daisy, Violet, Cowslip and nearby roads were built on the Rookery estate which had been severed by the railway line. The first shop in the parade known as Orchard House, just below the line, was a ‘fancy repository’ opened in 1878 by Miss Naomi Pearce. Development of the Grove Hall estate started in 1872 with Grove Hill etc. and by 1876 building near Woodford Station was increasing in the Prospect Road area, off lower Snakes Lane.

The ancient ecclesiastical parish had been divided in 1854 when St.Paul’s church was built at Woodford Bridge, saving local residents the long walk to St.Mary’s. C.B.Waller, assistant curate at Woodford, was the first vicar of St.Paul’s as it was largely due to his efforts that the money for the new building had been raised. The church was badly damaged by a fire in 1880 and was rebuilt six years later. By this time the parish had been further sub-divided when All Saints church was built at Woodford Wells. Henry Ford Barclay had given land for the church at Inmans Row in 1874. A Roman Catholic church was built in 1895 thanks to the generosity of Henrietta Pelham-Clinton, Dowager Duchess of Newcastle. The church, dedicated to St.Thomas of Canterbury, is also at Woodford Wells.

In 1882 Woodford could still be described as a large and scattered parish as there were working farms between Snakes Lane and George Lane (Roots and Milkwell Farms) and many large estates still intact. The River Roding was a pretty stream flowing through meadows rich with wild flowers in the summer but likely to flood in winter. At Woodford Wells the open green attracted many visitors and on a Sunday a hundred or more traps would be parked there.

The principal shopping centre in 1882 was at Woodford Green where there were churches serving several denominations. Various ‘institutions’ had been established to encourage education among the working classes, these included art and industry, music, horticulture, debating and a “Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Society”. There were post offices at four locations in 1882, with that run by Miss Hoye at Woodford Green boasting “Letters dispatched at 9.50 am, 12.45, 3.20, 4.45 and 9.30 pm and delivered at 8.15 am, 1.15, 4.30 and 8.30 pm”.

Although there were quite a number of private schools in Woodford, the first school for local children was established in Sunset Avenue in 1814. This has continued, with changes in management, funding and building, right up until the present day. A school was opened at Woodford Bridge in 1859, attached to St.Paul’s church, but this had closed by 1906 and the premises now serve as the church halls. A School Board was formed for Woodford in 1871 and apart from taking over the two schools already mentioned, a new school was opened at Churchfields in 1873. Other schools were built at Cowslip Road in 1897 and at Ray Lodge in 1904. Education in the parish has undergone many changes since then.

House building continued with the development of the Monkhams estate, starting in 1903 and continuing in stages up until the Second World War. Part of the old kitchen garden wall still stands by Twentyman Close and the building known as Norman Court is quite easily recognised as the stable block illustrated in the 1903 sale catalogue. In 1907 Ivy House (near the Cricketers on Salway Hill) was demolished and the site built over. The old garden wall is still standing near the end of Empress Avenue. The first council estate was built in 1920 on land on the east side of the railway, near Snakes Lane. An average of 660 new houses were built each year in the 1920s and this figure rose to 1,600 in the 1930s.

In 1925 the Southend Road was opened, linking Woodford with the extensive area of new housing around Gants Hill. (Apparently there was at least one elderly lady who wanted to drive down it in her carriage !) This road cut through the Elmhurst estate and opened the way for development of Hill Farm, near Roding Lane. The Laings Estate was begun after Salway House was demolished in 1931. As one by one the old élite of Woodford passed away, the mansions were demolished and Woodford became suburbanised.

Woodford lost its civic identity in 1934 when it joined with Wanstead to become an urban district. As the principal manors had been linked since 1710, this unity was a natural step forward. A municipal borough charter was presented on 14 October 1937 amid great rejoicing, and nobody thought then that within 30 years the new borough would have been swept away as Wanstead and Woodford were joined with Ilford to become the London Borough of Redbridge.

The following illustrations take the reader on a stroll around the parish in the early years of this century. The authors make no apology for following the style of Woodford then and now by Reg Fowkes and recommend those who would like to see more pictures from the same period coupled with present days views, to obtain a copy of that book.

 

SOME MORE RECENT WOODFORD WORTHIES

As time went by the railway and the development of housing made Woodford a less desirable place for the wealthy, who could now travel further afield more easily and could sell their estates for building land at a good profit. But this was a gradual process and in the 1850s Woodford was still relatively rural. When Henry Fowler and his wife decided to move to Glebelands at the southern end of Woodford in 1852, relatives at Knotts Green, Leyton, were concerned for their safety, living so close to Epping Forest. He was a tea dealer from Wiltshire and had married Ann Ford Barclay (sister of Joseph Gurney Barclay, the banker) in 1848. They were both committed Quakers, and in 1856 Henry Fowler was deprived of four lambs valued at £4 as he refused to pay his church rates. They had ten children who all did them great credit. Their eldest son, J.Gurney Fowler, became a senior partner in the firm of Price, Waterhouse & Co., Chartered Accountants, as well as serving as a local councillor.

There was a significant cluster of Quaker families living at Plaistow in the 1840s but as time went by some married outside The Friends and came to settle further away. Ann Fowler’s cousin, Henry Ford Barclay, came to Monkhams in 1864. By then Elizabeth Fry’s eldest son, John Gurney Fry, was living at Hale End House by the River Ching (at Highams Park) and his brother Joseph lived near The George at Wanstead. In 1866 Elmhurst (now part of the Queen Mary College halls of residence) became the home of Smith Harrison and his wife Jane, sister of Lord Lister, another deeply committed Quaker couple. Like Henry Fowler, Smith Harrison was a tea merchant and a much respected member of Woodford’s community. His son, A.Lister Harrison, also took an active part in public life until he moved away from the district.

By 1870 Woodford Hall was being used as a convalescence home but Highams was still a family home, having been purchased by Edward Warner in 1849. His son, Sir Thomas Courtenay Warner, was a Liberal M.P. who entertained Mr.Gladstone at Highams. The family, as lords of the manor of Higham Bensted, built the “Warner estates” over much of their land in Walthamstow and in 1891 sold 30 acres of the Highams parkland (including the lake) to the City of London Corporation, to be added into Epping Forest. The family left the district in 1902 and the house was leased out. It is now part of Woodford County High School for Girls.

As the most prestigious citizens passed away or left the district, the population was gradually changing, with an increase in the middle classes. Many detached houses were built, attracting those who were comfortably off, and who employed two or three maids, rather than an army of servants. It was accepted in late Victorian and Edwardian times that most young girls would go into service. Their wages were low and they were expected to work long hours, but they were fed, clothed and warm, and many had a good relationship with their employers.

There are still a few elderly residents of Woodford who can remember having a nanny and going to bed by candlelight; the doctor coming in a pony-trap, and the grocer’s boy delivering on a bicycle; the lamplighter, and the smell of the earth when the water-cart came round to settle the dust on the unmade roads in the summer. A number of the wealthiest Woodfordians would invite the local (upper class) children for a party at Christmas. There were “At Home” afternoon teas, and garden parties in the summer.

There was also poverty in Woodford, but that was kept “below the line”. The railway created a social divide in more ways than one. The big houses had always been along the High Road at Woodford Row and the first council houses were built off Snakes Lane, east of the railway. There was some industry here too, as the quantity of new houses being built made a ready demand for bricks. As there was a good supply of natural brickearth in the Roding valley, several brickworks were established near the river by W.& C.French, Gales and Barretts.

In 1909 a new chapter in the history of Woodford started with the opening of Dr.Barnardo’s Garden City Home for boys at Woodford Bridge. The first stage in the project was the purchase of Gwynne House and adjoining land. The plan was to build thirty detached houses for the boys to live in, under the supervision of a house-mother, and this gradually became a reality. Dr.Barnardo had died in 1905 but he had started the Girls Village Home at Barkingside in 1876, and this still houses the headquarters of the organisation today. The expansion for boys was a natural progression and by 1930 the “City” at Woodford Bridge provided for 700 boys with a chapel, a hospital, and training facilities for the boys, such a bakery. The community flourished throughout the 1930s and Woodford Bridge was proud to boast the first Barnardo’s boy to gain a degree at London University.

After the First World War, times changed for Woodford residents, just as elsewhere. The need for women to work while their men were away fighting had opened a door of opportunities which would never to closed, while the invention of modern conveniences made domestic servants redundant. In 1927 the Rector, Rev.William Albery, tired of trying to find domestic staff for the large Georgian Rectory by the church and moved into the Wilfrid Lawson Hotel. The rectory was later sold to the newly formed Wanstead and Woodford Urban District Council, to be used as council offices.

Our story draws to a close with the grant of the Municipal Borough Charter to Wanstead and Woodford on 14 October 1937. The Duke of Gloucester presented the Charter of Incorporation at the Council Offices (previously the Rectory) and among the dignitaries present were the Mayor, James Hawkey, and the local M.P., Winston Churchill.

 

© Georgina Green 1995