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Growing up in Epping Forest Part 2 From forest to jungle and back!

This is part 2 of my blog about my early close encounters with trees. Part 1 is here:

Photo of Map taken from the book ‘Epping Forest Then And Now 'by Winston G Ramsey with Reginald Folkes published by Battle of Britain Prints International Limited

#EppingForest is a 2,400-hectare area of ancient woodland between Epping in Essex to the north, and Forest Gate in Greater London to the south, straddling the border between London and Essex. It is a former royal forest, and is managed by the City of London Corporation.

The Forest is approximately 12 miles long in the north-south direction and 2.5 miles from east to west at its widest point. It lies on a ridge between the valleys of the River Lea and River Roding. The #forest was about a mile and a half further into #Essex from the house in which i was raised in Chingford. Nearby was Highams Park Boating Lake, which was surrounded by trees where children created a cycle race track and where we collected frogspawn in jars to see them change into tadpoles and then frogs. Further in the forest was Connaught Waters, which had a larger lake.

Photo of Connaught Waters in Epping Forest, ©Barry Samuels

Today's beech-birch and oak-hornbeam-dominated forest was the result of partial forest clearance in Saxon times. The forest is thought to have been given legal status as a royal forest by Henry II in the 12th century.

Famous Epping Forest Trees

Fairlop Oak

Photo: Fairlop Oak: With a girth of 36 feet, the renowned Fairlop Oak was claimed as being over 1800 years old but was more probably nearer 900.

In June 1805 a fire caused severe damage and it was finally blown down in February 1820. It is now the site of a public house called ‘The new Fairlop Oak’ .More information here:

Fairmead Oak

Photo: The Fairmead Oak. A drawing I made of the Fairmead Oak, taken from a photo in the book ‘Epping Forest and now’

The #FairmeadOak was burnt down after a lightning strike in 1955, it was reputed to be over 800 years old. There are formal no records I could find as to the age of the Fairmead Oak but it was undoubtedly the oldest and most famous tree in the forest. King Henry VII is said to have started Royal Hunts from it.

Growing up with Trees

Being a Scout in Epping Forest I had many adventures like orienteering, making plaster casts of animal tracks and other activities relating to the local forest. My dad once made me a wooden yacht that we sailed on the park lake and later a boat for the sea but this one soon became a garden flower container!!! As I grew older sport became my interest and so I had a cricket bat and stumps and many other sports that all used #wood.

It was interesting to hear how different trees suited different wood uses. For instance …The bat is traditionally made from willow wood, specifically from a variety of white willow called cricket bat willow (Salix alba var. caerulea). Traditional English longbows are self bows made from yew wood.

From the Forest to the Jungle

At eighteen I was drafted for National Service and I served for an extra year in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. After trade training was attached to a regiment and we ended up in Singapore and then Malaya. As I was working in the armoury I was in the base camp, The commanding officer asked me to create and paint the scenery for a pantomime they were putting on as entertainment for Christmas. It was supposed to be like a bar in the jungle. I had not been in the jungle before so the trees were imaginary, just based on descriptions from some that had. I also made and painted up a bar with optics and drinks. That and doing cartoons and some painting of the trees and landscape nearby convinced me I wanted to work in some aspect related to art.

Photos of Oil paintings i made of Trees outside the Armoury in Malaya in 1951 whilst serving in the British Army.

Returning Home

When I returned from Malaya I worked in a motor body workshop in amongst the canals bordering the Thames on the Essex side where I had an occasion to take over the sawing of planks of wood that were long and about two inches thick. Later it occurred to me that my grandfather who when young had been a blacksmith and wheelwright and could have worked on coaches, carriages and carts in the same factory as I thought that the reason for the position of the works was because the wood was unloaded from barges coming up the canals from the Thames. Perhaps someone may know more about this theory. When I got married my wife and I moved to Loughton, a town on the edge of Epping Forest. Later we and our sons moved to Theydon Bois, a village surrounded by the forest. Our house was on Coppice Row and the back gate from the garden opened on to a coppice in Epping Forest. The site we lived on was previously known at The Yates Retreat, a magnificent building built by John Riggs as a Youth retreat and able to cater for over 3,000 children at one sitting.

Photo from the book ‘Epping Forest Then And Now 'by Winston G Ramsey with Reginald Folkes published by Battle of Britain Prints International Limited

Favourite places to eat, drink or stay in Epping Forest

The Royal Forest Hotel

Photos of The Royal Forest Hotel and Queen Elizabeth Humnting Lodge in Chingford, which is now a Museum and Listed building.

Before i was married my wife and I would go to traditional dances at the The Royal Forest Hotel. Walking distance from the beautiful lake at Connaught Waters and close to the forest and Chingford train Station .

Sixteen String Jack

Although this pub is unfortunately now closed, The ‘Sixteen String Jack’ was my local pub when I was married and we lived just six houses away. It’s side gate lead straight into one of the Epping Forest walking Paths. It was named after a local highway man, the roads through Epping Forest years ago was a notorious for highway men, perhaps the most famous being Dick Turpin. Across the road was the Epping Forest deer sanctuary.

Image: Dick Turpin riding on Black Bess, from a Victorian era toy theatre.

The Owl

Our family spent a lot of our weekends either caravanning or exploring the county. Way up high in the forest with fantastic views of the trees was a pub called the ‘Owl’. Outside tables and seats always busy with families.

Many children were disappointed to find that the infamous “Water Otter” in the Tank in the pub garden was just an old kettle submersed in a tank of water, not a real Otter. When my children were young i continued the tradition of warning them not to put there hands into the water in case the otter bit them and adults all chuckled over their pints to see their children gathering around the Water Otter.

Kings Oak

Another family friendly pub we enjoyed stopping at for refreshments whilst exploring the forest was The Kings Oak in High Beach, located at one of, if not the highest point in Epping Forest.

When I was a child my parents took me to High Beach, a bit of a disappointment there was no beach just trees!

The Kings Oak is also next door to the Epping Forest Visitor Centre.

The Visitor Centre has pathways made for wheel chairs and prams and in later years my wife loved to do the circuit. The visitor centre is to the rear of the Kings Oak and serves as a museum/shop with advice and maps of local walks. This and other forest pubs with history became very popular with us and our children.

In the 1990s one of my sons once went on Geography field trip to the Visitor Centre Conservation department with his school and studied the effects of Leisure and Tourism on the area, particularly focusing on the effect of 'trampling' on the area, where once soft soil flourishing with insects and worms was now hard soil from years of tourists walking on the ground. This highlighted the fact that whilst people from all over flocked to the area to enjoy the natural surroundings, by visiting in mass droves they were simultaneously threatennig the area's long terms future.

Future challenges - For every tree we use, one should be planted

This Blog has shared just a few memories from my many years spent living in Epping Forest. Woodland has played a big part in my life. Threats to woodland, wildlife and the wider environment are growing. Our trees and woods face a challenging combination of pressures, from humans, pests and diseases.

For centuries trees have been a massive resource. Humans are at a time now where we need to value both the use of wood as a natual resource, as opposed to plastic, whilst also considering long term sustainability for the sake of future generations. For every tree we use as a resource, one should be planted.

Graphic: one of my computer based graphic designs. More graphics and paintings can be viewed on my website at


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