Ask anyone to name famous people connected Epping Forest and the three top answers are likely to be Winston Churchill, Rod Stewart and Dick Turpin. They may also be aware that the current Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, is also from Epping. Churchill was Epping’s MP from 1934 until the end of the Second World War. He was also Prime Minister during the War. Rod Stewart had a home on the Copped Hall Estate, just outside Epping, and has recently bought elsewhere in the district. When living in the UK he could be seen around Epping or in his favourite pub, the Theydon Oak. Highwayman Dick Turpin was born in 1706 and was part of the infamous Gregory Gang who robbed travellers and locals and hid out in Epping Forest. After a number of close escapes and with a Royal bounty of £200 on his head, he fled to Yorkshire but was taken into custody, recognised, and sentenced to death.
More recently, the rise of the celebrity has seen a number of them attracted to live in the district. The Loughton, Chigwell and Buckhurst Hill area has proved popular with Sir Alan Sugar famously residing in Chigwell and numerous footballers and reality TV stars residing nearby. Indeed, starting with television programmes such as Birds of a Feather, Essex Wives and most recently TOWIE, the area is so famous for Essex stars and their lifestyle that enterprising tour companies have offered coach trips to the area!
Going back in history, important people were attracted to the area and there are remains of Roman occupation, two Iron Age forts and the resting place of the last Saxon King, Harold at Waltham Abbey. His victor, William the Conqueror also made a gift of Ongar to Count Eustace of Boulogne who fought alongside him at Hastings. In 1290, the body of Queen Eleanor lay in state in Waltham Abbey. Waltham Abbey continued its Royal connections in Tudor times with visits from King Henry VIII where he is said to have had important discussions about the reformation. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was almost certainly connected with Copped Hall for a wedding celebration and first performed in the long gallery there. In 1604 Guy Fawkes is reputed to have purchased his gunpowder at the Waltham Abbey Gunpowder Mills.
There have been many famous connections with the arts and the district. One of England’s most famous composers, Thomas Tallis, was choirmaster at Waltham Abbey. Also at Waltham Abbey is early stained glass work by celebrated artist Edward Burne-Jones. Two further artists connected with the district are Lucien Pissarro, the impressionist who painted scene around Epping, and Walter Spradbery whose iconic countryside illustrations London Transport posters are being used on signposts throughout the forest. He lived his adult life in Epping Forest and is buried in Buckhurst Hill.