A stroll down Epping High Street reveals links to a past when coaching inns and shops vied with each other for business brought by travellers out of London. At the end of the Central Line, today’s travellers can alight from the tube straight onto the Essex Way that starts its passage to Harwich through Epping’s rich and varied countryside, or head south and discover the delights of Epping Forest. For a more relaxing visit, the town offers cafes, pubs and restaurants plus market day on Mondays.
At the north of the town is the northern most part of Epping Forest known as the Lower Forest. At the southern end is Swains Green Conservation Area, both offering a small taste of Epping Forest itself that starts as you leave Epping heading south following the old coach route to London. A short walk into the forest is Ambresbury Banks, the remains of an Iron Age fort reputed to be connected with Boudica although there is no evidence she ever stopped there. For those looking to spend time in the forest, Epping Station is a short walk from the forest edge where you'll also find the Forest Gate pub and award winning Haywards restaurant.
Epping High street contains coffee shops, restaurants, fashion, tailoring and everything in-between. Heritage double-decker buses can often be seen in the town linking the station to North Weald and Ongar and the heritage railway. Historic warbirds can also be glimpsed in the sky flying out of North Weald Airfield a couple of miles away. At one end of town is the Civic Centre and at the other a leisure centre. Just beyond the Civic Centre is a green with the town's war memorial and Stonnards Hill recreation ground where the annual town show is held. The town comes alive in the evenings when the restaurants and pubs are filled to capacity and those looking for night life have the Speak EasyBar and club One9five to choose from - and any sunny Sunday you'll find the cafe society sunning itself outside meeting friends and watching the world go by.
A history of Epping
Epping Town is situated in the south west of Essex about 17 miles north east of London. Astride a ridge, about 100m above sea level, it is separated from the outer suburbs of London by the forest which bears its name. The population within the Town Council area is approximately 12,000.
Archaeological finds in parts of the forest show that there was human settlement in the area as far back as 7500BC. However, the story of the present day market town of Epping is really that of two village communities, not one. The Domesday Book of 1086 gives brief details of “Eppinga”, a small community consisting of a few scattered farms and a chapel on the edge of the forest at the place known today as Epping Upland. The name “Eppinga” gives a clue to the early inhabitants of the village. It is thought to be from the Anglo-Saxon, “ep” meaning up and “ing” meaning cultivated lands, indicating that the area was settled well before the Norman Conquest of 1066. There is also some evidence of Roman activity. A coin from the reign of the Emperor Domitian (81 to 96) was discovered in the grounds of a house near Hemnall Street and the remains of a Roman road and brickworks close to Fiddlers Hamlet. By the mid twelfth century a settlement known as Epping Heath (later Epping Street) had developed south of Epping Upland as a result of vigorous clearance of the forest for crop cultivation. This land was then held by the Canons of Waltham Abbey and formed part of their manor of Eppingbury. An ancient beacon to warn of invasion is thought to have been established by the inhabitants of Epping Heath near what is now Bell Common. This fact is remembered today with roads named Beaconfield.
In 1253 King Henry III granted Waltham Abbey the right to hold a weekly market in Epping Street as well as a three-day annual fair in May. Over the years Epping market developed to be an important Essex cattle market. Animals from surrounding farms would be offered for sale and exhibited in the cattle pens which were then a permanent feature in the High Street. It is recorded that even wives could be bought or sold at Epping market. Due to changed economic circumstances the cattle market ceased in 1961. It has been superseded by a thriving general market which, each Monday attracts stall holders and customers from far and wide.
In medieval times Epping Street and Epping Upland sat on the main south-east to north-west trade route. Dwellings were built along this line which today is Lindsey Street. Some of Epping’s oldest buildings can be seen in this area of the town. Beulah Lodge dates from the 17th century. A brewery and maltings once existed on Lindsey Street as did a pest house and a workhouse. Here the less fortunate of the town found some relief until in 1838, in response to the New Poor Law, the inmates were transferred to a fine new Union Workhouse on the Plain. After service in the war as an Emergency Medical Service Hospital, this building became part of St Margaret’s Hospital, now newly renovated as a state of the art Community Hospital.
There are over 30 statutorily or locally listed buildings in Epping High Street and the whole High Street area has been designated as a Conservation Area. A few timber framed buildings from the 17th century still exist there, the oldest being the Black Lion public house. Along the main road some fine 18th century buildings can be seen. On the left, coming into Epping Town from the south, Winchelsea House and Epping Place are prominent. Hillcrest, Forest Lodge and Wintry Park Farm can be seen at the other end of the town. Kendal Lodge in Hemnall Street is another attractive 18th century building.
Today the town has three tower landmarks. They stand on the ridge of the main road and can be seen from many miles away. To the south is the Water Tower built in 1872 after a long campaign by local doctor Joseph Clegg for clean water and proper drainage for the town. In the centre of the town is the tower of St. John’s Church built in 1909. To the north, the third tower is that of the more recently built Civic Offices of the Epping Forest District Council, this was built in 1990.
Occupying a central position in the town, the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist is an outstanding architectural landmark. Designed by the Victorian architects Bodley and Garner - Bodley being famed for designing Washington Cathedral - it was built in 1889 on the site of a former Chapel of Ease. It embodies the 14th century Gothic style. The square tower was added in 1909. St. John’s is richly endowed with a four-manual organ, probably the finest Parish Church organ in the country. It also has a finely carved pulpit, screen and reredos. A great benefactor of the Church was the late Mr E J Wythes of Copped Hall. Today St. John’s Church provides not only Christian witness but also a spacious venue for concerts and musical recitals.
Epping Town has owed much of its development to its main road position and its proximity to London. The improvement of the main road through Epping, by the Epping and Ongar Highway Trust (1769-1870), stimulated traffic by this route. In the early 19th century some 25 horse drawn coaches passed through the town each day. They plied to and from London, Norwich, Cambridge, Bury St. Edmunds and other places. In 1800 there were 26 inns in the town and its southern approaches, all mainly serving the coaching trade. The building of a railway line to Loughton in 1856 by the Eastern Counties Railway Co. started the decline in the coaching trade. In 1865 this line was extended to Epping and High Ongar. Epping railway station was built about half a mile to the east of the High Street in order to avoid the high ridge on which the town is built. House building to the east of the town was encouraged by this development. The old steam railway was electrified after the Second World War in 1948/1949 and became part of the London Underground Central Line. This caused a rising demand for housing from commuters who now had easier access to London. Some years ago the Epping to Ongar line was closed down by London Underground. Part of this line is now run as a heritage railway by a local volunteer group.
The great demand for homes after the Second World War caused many of the large old houses around the town, which had generous gardens and grounds, to be demolished for housing developments. Theydon Grove, Theydon Place, Theydon Bower, Lynceley Grange, Egg Hall and Highfield are now remembered by the street names in the locality of the original estates. Gaynes Park and Coopersale Hall, being further from the railway have survived as examples of the generous architecture of their period. The post war housing need also encouraged the Local Authority to build large estates to the east and west of the town centre. The further expansion of Epping is constrained by the existence of Epping Forest to the south and by the post war establishment of the Metropolitan Green Belt, intended to protect Epping’s remaining open countryside. However, with increasing pressure for the provision of more housing, the planners face many challenges in addressing this need whilst still protecting the essential rural character and charm of Epping and its approaches.
Epping’s identity is linked with that of Epping Forest. In fact it is now known as “the Town of the Forest”. In early times the whole of Essex was covered by forest. This part of the county became a Royal Hunting Forest. Clearings and enclosures by favoured citizens drastically reduced the total forest area. In the 1870’s the Corporation of London, being Commoners of the Forest due to their owning land within a Forest Parish, brought a case to court against enclosures. The case was won and in 1878 the Epping Forest Act was passed by Parliament. Queen Victoria, on visiting the Forest in 1882 said “It gives me the greatest pleasure to dedicate this beautiful Forest to the use and enjoyment of my people for all time”
The 1878 act appointed the Corporation of the City of London as Conservators of Epping Forest. They own, manage and fund the 6000 acres of the Forest. There is no cost to the local ratepayer for the enjoyment of this priceless asset. In recent years the Conservators have purchased over 1800 acres of “buffer land”. This open land, adjoining the Forest, will now give protection against threatened development close to Forest land. In 2005, the Conservators and Epping Town Council jointly purchased 7.5 hectares of ‘buffer land’ at Swaines Green which is on the southwest boundary of Epping. This land is maintained by ‘The Friends of Swaines Green’ one of many local clubs and charities which enrich the local community.
In the early 1980’s it was proposed to route the new London orbital road, now the M25, over a part of Epping Forest at Bell Common, Epping. After opposition from the Conservators, Epping citizens and forest lovers, this great road was sunk underneath the cricket pitch on Bell Common thus saving the Forest. Today cricket is again played on Bell Common whilst the traffic roars through the tunnel constructed beneath the pitch. In 1977 a motorway, the M11, linking London and Cambridge, was built to the east of Epping, connecting with the M25 at an interchange at Theydon Garnon.
The name of Epping, largely because of its Forest connection, is widely known beyond its boundaries. There are Epping place names in Australia, Canada, the United States and South Africa. Epping has been twinned with Eppingen in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany since 1981. Eppingen is a town of similar size and population to that of Epping and it lies near to the Black Forest. Exchange visits by pupils from Epping’s St. John’s School, Epping Forest Band, Church choirs and other local organisations have led to lasting friendships between citizens of both towns.
The Epping Parliamentary Division of Essex was represented by Sir Winston Churchill, the Statesman and great wartime Prime Minister, from 1924 until the boundary revision of 1945. He often electioneered in Epping High Street and on several occasions spoke to large gatherings at the Women’s Institute Hall, which later became Epping Hall and is situated in St. John’s Road. This site is now occupied by a fine new building. Opened in 2000, this building is the office of the Epping Town Council. Facilities are available for the public hire of the hall and rooms.
Other worthies connected with the Town were the Puritan preacher Jeremy Dyke (Vicar 1610-1639), Benjamin Winstone (died 1907) local resident, industrial chemist and author of important historical works, Dr. Joseph Clegg a 19th century Epping general practitioner, renowned for conducting a campaign to improve sanitary conditions after a bad outbreak of cholera in the town. Henry Doubleday, a world famous lepidopterist, lived in Epping and is commemorated by a plaque placed in Buttercross Lane on the site where his house once stood. Emile Pissarro, the impressionist painter is also commemorated by a plaque placed on the house in Hemnall Street where he lived and worked for some years from 1890. Sir William Addison – historian and Verderer of Epping Forest – was the author of many books on the forest and its personalities. For many years he was the Chairman of the Magistrates Association of Great Britain. He lived and died in Epping in 1992.
The ancient market town of Epping with its rich and varied past thrives today; its many local organisations giving a social cohesion lacking in some suburban areas. It is a pleasant place in which to live, trade and visit. The nearby forest gives protection from the encroachment of the outer London suburbs. The Metropolitan Green Belt and the introduction of Conservation Areas for Epping High Street, Coopersale Street, Bell Common, Copped Hall and now for Hill Hall should now protect Epping’s environment and allow its unique character to be passed on for the benefit of future generations.
HILL HALL AND COPPED HALL
Of great importance to the Town in past centuries has been the influence of the historic mansions of Hill Hall and Copped Hall. Both have stood for many years partly ruined by disastrous fires. After years of neglect plans are now afoot which could see the eventual restoration of both properties. Open to the public, they would add to the historical interest and importance of the Epping area.
Hill Hall, an Elizabethan mansion stands on a hill four miles east of Epping in the hamlet of Theydon Mount. It is grade 1 listed building and has ancient monument status. Built in 1570 for Sir Thomas Smith (later Smythe), one of Queen Elizabeth the First’s Secretaries of State, it remained as their family seat for 350 years. The late Sir Nikolous Pevsner, the famous architectural historian, described Hill Hall in his book on Essex as “one of the most important early Elizabethan houses in England”. The courtyard is possibly the earliest known example of the renaissance style to be built in England and a forerunner of the classical style subsequently adopted in the building of many of England’s stately homes. After the war, during which it was used as a hospital and then to accommodate prisoners of war, it passed into the hands of the prison authorities for use as a women’s prison. In 1969 a fire gutted the main building. By a near miracle, the unique 16th century wall paintings inside the house were saved from destruction. Pressure from Epping Town Council, The Epping Society and Sir Nikolous himself caused the mansion to be taken into the care of the Inspectorate of Historic Buildings. English Heritage has now succeeded as the guardians of Hill Hall. Over the years they have undertaken a gradual and meticulous restoration. Part of the main building has been restored and is now used as residential accommodation. English Heritage opens the mansion and grounds during the year. Details of dates and times for individuals and groups can be obtained from English Heritage.
Copped Hall is probably better known than Hill Hall. It stands as a ruin on high ground to the south west of Epping Town. The once fine Palladian building was devastated by fire in 1917 and now stands, with its windowless gaunt elevations a significant visual landmark to local people and those passing on the nearby M25 which was built through its parkland in 1983. A mediaeval house, owned by the Abbots of Waltham Abbey, once stood on the site. This was followed in 1564 by the building of Sir Thomas Heneage’s great Elizabethan hall in whose long gallery it is thought that the first performance of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Nights Dream” took place. John Sanderson was the architect of a new building for the then owner John Conyers in 1751. The last private owner was Ernest James Wythes, a generous benefactor of many Epping causes who called in the famous Victorian architect C E Kempe to add wings to the Sanderson House in the late 19th century. Copped Hall, at that time, was within the Parish of Epping and Kempe was asked to complete some interior designs for St John’s Church whilst working on the Hall.
In June 1995 Copped Hall together with its surrounding gardens and stables was acquired by the Copped Hall Trust – a Buildings Preservation Trust – set up by local concerned conservationists. The trust has charitable status and its aim is to secure the future integrity of the mansion and its surroundings and to stop the current vandalism. Much restoration work has already been achieved. Cultural events take place within the mansion with new rooms being made fit for use. The grounds are used for outside performances with new rooms being made fit for use. The grounds are used for outside performances including a yearly Shakespeare play. The Trust acquired the Copped Hall Walled Garden in 1999. This is probably the largest walled garden in the County of Essex. All the work is done by volunteers who are members of the Friends of the Copped Hall Trust.
Queens and many famous people have over the years been associated with Epping Town or ridden along its byways. Queen Elizabeth 1 was entertained at Hill Hall in the 16th century as evidenced by the Royal Coat of Arms in the Great Hall. Queen Mary, consort of King George V, visited in 1926. John Sargent RA painted “The Misses Hunter” when staying at the Hall. Frequent guests were the sculptor Rodin, the Sitwells, George Moore, Henry James, Percy Grainger and Cyril Scott.
Copped Hall commemorates several visits by King Henry VIII with a pathway named “King Henry’s Walk”. Mary Tudor spent time in the old mansion, almost a prisoner, due to her allegiance to the Roman Catholic faith. Charles II, after the restoration of the monarchy was welcomed to Copped Hall by the then owner Lionel Clanfield, 3rd Earl of Middlesex. His successor, Charles Sackville, entertained Princess Anne, later Queen Anne, at the mansion and then King William III. In later years Lord Palmerston, the Whig Prime Minister, was often a guest at the shooting parties arranged by John Conyers.
A prestigious hall centrally located in St Johns Road, Epping just 100 metres away from Epping High Street. Its position makes it perfect for craft fairs, exhibitions and conferences etc. Parties, social and "staged" events, including pantomimes, concerts and film shows, are also catered for.
EPPING FOREST COUNTRYCARE
Countrycare is Epping Forest District Council's Countryside Management Service, responsible for the promotion and enhancement of the District's wildlife and countryside.
With the support of local volunteers, Countrycare has a varied work programme involving the maintenance and promotion of the public rights of way network, through to managing important wildlife and countryside sites. In addition, Countrycare gives advice to local schools, farmers and landowners about countryside issues and organises guided walks and countryside events.
EPPING'S DEFINITIVE FOOTPATHS.
One of Epping's greatest heritages, in fact one of the whole Country's, is the network of footpaths that crosses our countryside. These paths, from the beginnings of our settled way of life, were made by the boundless journeying of countless feet. Today public footpaths are protected and the District Council has maps, available to public view, which show all the footpaths in its area. These footpaths are divided into three groups depending on their usage.
FP - A footpath to be used for walking only. BR - A bridle-way can be used by horses as well. CRF - A road used mainly as a public path, but can be used by vehicular traffic such as tractors, etc. These initials are followed by a number, being the order they are presented in the records. The numbers '6' and '9' are never used, presumably so that they are not muddled when referring to them on a map. So, Epping's 31 footpaths are numbered from 1 to 33.
It is interesting to note just how important these footpaths are. One of them, FP11, from Sunnyside Road to Crossing Road, actually crosses over the railway line by footbridge. The footpath had existed before the railway had been built and a bridge had to be installed to allow the continued use of the path! This has happened more recently with the coming of the M25 motorway where a bridge was provided to allow a path to go from Little Gregory's Farm to Ivy Chimneys. The path which runs from The Thatch Cottage in Bury Lane to Shaftesbury Farm, in Lindsey Street, is called Bolt Cellar Lane. This appears to be a derivation of the Saxon which gives you some idea how long this path has been in existence. Another path is still in constant use in its original way, as the connecting link between Epping and Coopersale. This lovely path across Stonards Hill Playing Fields is probably one of the most walked paths in Epping.
The long distance trail, the Essex Way, starts just by Epping Underground Station. It goes over the footbridge and down Hillcrest Way and then across the fields to Coopersale Street and then on, through the Gernon Bushes, to the footbridge over the M11 motorway at Gaynes Park from whence it continues over Definitive Footpaths for a total of 81 miles to Harwich.
GARNON BUSHES NATURE RESERVE
This reserve, purchased by The Essex Naturalists' Trust in January 1988, comprises 79 acres of ancient woodland and is designated a site of special scientific interest. It is the last remnant of the old Coopersale Common and contains many pollarded hornbeams.
In the North, old gravel workings have developed mossy Sphagnum bogs, and in the south, streams descend steep-sided valleys through a magnificent series of bogs with extensive patches of the rare marsh fern. Other plants include bogbean, marsh valerian, marsh willow-herb, kingcup, devil's bit scabious, ragged robin, lady's smock, and yellow willowherb. Access to the reserve can be gained from Garnon Mead, Coopersale.
Map & Directions
Epping can be found by leaving junction 7 on the M11, or from junction 26 on the M25.
There is parking in the High Street (short stay) or in surrounding streets (some have restrictions for one hour in the morning) and pay and display car parks behind the High Street with connecting passage ways.
Public Transport Directions
A number of buses pass through Epping connecting to the surrounding towns including Harlow, Loughton and Waltham Cross. The Central Line terminates at Epping and the Epping Ongar Railway run heritage buses connecting the station and town with North Weald and Ongar to join its heritage railway.