Consultant Ecologist

Denis J Vickers BSc(Hons), FLS, CBiol, MRSB, MCIEEM

Hainault Forest: History and Landuse

 

Post Ice Age to Bronze Age:

The relict ancient woodlands (including Hainault) which once comprised the Great Essex Forest possibly had their origins in the 'wildwood' - this is a term used by Rackham (1982) for the primeval forests, which covered Britain post ice age.  After the retreat of the last glaciers, between 7500-5000 BC, the wildwood was said to have covered 85% of Essex (Corke, 1986).  The mix of trees comprising these woodlands could be ascertained by identifying and counting pollen grains buried in peat. There are two such 'peat' sites nearby from which pollen have been extracted for this purpose: 1) within Epping Forest, 2) from the Lea Valley.  Corke (1986) states the following regarding the composition of the Epping Division of this ancient forest "Valley woodland in waterlogged soil, had a high proportion of sallow Salix spp. and alder Alnus sp., as wet woodlands still do today.  On dry ground of the Epping Forest ridge, the wildwood was a very diverse mixture: very different to today's Epping Forest but fairly similar to wildwood in East Anglia.  Small-leaved Lime Tilia cordata was by far the most common tree, a species now quite absent from the forest but found in some ancient coppice woodlands in the north of Essex."  Seemingly, oak Quercus robur and beech Fagus sylvatica were also very common at the time.  There is no reason to believe that the tree composition at Hainault differed radically to that of Epping Forest (with the exception of beech which has never been specifically recorded at Hainault).  A shrub, the hazel Corylus avellana was also common and widespread.  In addition, there were small amounts of pine Pinus sp., birch Betula spp. and elm Ulmus spp.  Neolithic, and Bronze Age man, are unlikely to have had much impact on the forest's trees (Green, 1982).  The only noticeable evidence of clearing was on the high ground of the glacial ridges.  The change brought about by this activity gave rise to freely draining soil, which was to produce areas of heathland and acid grassland, as nutrients were soon washed away and exhausted.  On the gravels and sands capping the Epping and Hainault ridges relicts of these habitats are still evident.  Although their influence was not great, the people of the Neolithic and Bronze Age did start the process of forest clearance, with repercussions today.

 



The Heath: relict heathland with heather and dwarf gorse just south of Chigwell Row

Neolithic and Bronze Age fauna:

Remains of some of the larger animals of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages were uncovered when hollowing out the Walthamstow Reservoirs in the 19th century (Green, 1982): Included in their numbers are the European wolf, horse, wild boar, red deer, goats, European beaver, small oxen and man.  Some of these finds indicate a degree of settlement on the banks of the River Lea.

Iron Age and Roman:

Much of the far-reaching woodland clearance was begun in the Iron Age and Roman times (Corke, 1986): Improved ploughs allowed the cultivation of most soils. The Romans also had settlements in the area (Rackham, 1978): at Woolston in Chigwell, at Wanstead, Leyton and possibly Theydon Bois. Some archaeological finds have also been made at Havering and Woodford.  The first signs of the break-up of the Great Essex Forest were evident with a Roman Road dividing Epping from Hainault.  Additional evidence indicates that some form of woodland management had begun, to produce wood for fires and fencing (Corke, 1986).

Anglo-Saxon:

By Anglo-Saxon times, settlement in the Forest had slowed down as few place names end with -ley and -hurst (as they do in Cambridge and north-west Essex) indicating men hewing out clearings (Rackham, 1978).  However, the Saxons allowed their animals to graze freely, thus, as trees were felled, new leaves from stumps were eaten and seedlings trampled on by foraging animals (Green, 1982). The lime of the wildwood declined its place being taken firstly by birch and then by oak. Up to one third of the trees were birches and one quarter oaks, with smaller numbers of lime, hazel, beech, alder, elm and willow.  The final decline of the lime trees may have been spurred on during invasions by the Vikings when Saxon farmers sought refuge, and took their stock, deep into the Forest (ibid).

Historic land use

An early reference to a separate wooded area at Hainault comes from the places that were later to have shares in the Forest: The Domesday Survey of 1086 records that there was enough wood for a total of 2540 swine (attributed to Barking, Ilford, Chigwell, Wolston, Lambourne and Stapleford Abbots). Rackham (1978) postulates that this figure would be reasonable for the 5000 acres (or 2025 ha) of the later Hainault Forest. It seems likely too, that the Forest altered very little in either topography or area covered in nearly 700 years (ibid). The name 'Hainault' first appeared in the 13th century in its old spellings of Hineholt and Hyneholt (Fisher, 1887). Apparently, there is no explanation for the word 'Hain' but 'holt' is the Anglo-Saxon for wood, a further indication of the antiquity of the area. The first records of the modern spelling are from 1719-20 (ibid).

The Forest Laws were a little different for the Hainault Division of the Forest of Essex (Rackham, 1978): The Crown was still the owner of Forestal rights to keep deer and hold Forest courts, but in addition it owned most of the soil (a right usually held by the lords of the manors and other land owners); The various land owners were still left owning the timber and had certain woodcutting rights; the  Commoners of the Manors of Barking and Dagenham still had their grazing and woodcutting rights (ibid). However, they were exempt from the Fence Month law that forbade people to graze animals or cut wood in the fawning season probably as a result of a law pre-dating that of the Forest (Fisher, 1887). During the 13th century most of the deer taken from the Forest of Essex were recorded as coming from the Hainault Division, there were also indications that it was a poor timber producer (Rackham 1978). Not surprisingly, the combination of pollarding and grazing never favoured the growth of standard trees. Surveys of the Forest conducted in the 1500's revealed a similar composition to today with hornbeam, oak, blackthorn and birch occurring in the following 'parcels' 10, 9, 2, and 1 (ibid). It seems there are now less blackthorn and oak but more hornbeam and birch with the addition of holly. The same surveys refer to forest plains that covered considerable proportions of the land, that of 1565 stated half was without trees i.e. about 230 ha of 460 ha. Horses and cattle were grazed on these open areas (cf. pannaging of swine and browsing of deer in the woods) (ibid). There was also a right to release sheep on to the plains known as 'lawnes'. In 1630 however, this practice became illegal as the king's deer refused to feed with them (Fisher, 1887). The grazing of goats and geese was always illegal for just this reason. The Commoners of Barking and Dagenham had long enjoyed woodcutting rights (indeed, this was one of the prime functions of the Forest) in 1608 the pollarding cycle was 18 to 25 years with the land supporting around 110 pollards per ha (Rackham, 1978). By 1793 the Hainault 'fuel assignments', as they were referred to, were 34 for Barking and 39 for Dagenham, each contained 5 loads of 500 faggots cut from only pollarded trees (Fisher, 1887). From Rackham's (1978) work it can be deduced that a faggot weighed about 10kg. A maximum estimate of wood removed in this way, made by the last author, turns out to be in the region of 4/5ths of a tonne per ha. Allowing for timber it was suggested that the growth of wood was 3 times this figure, thus the land owners must have accounted for the remaining 2/3rds or so (ibid). In 1783 Hainault possessed more timber than ever before (or since) with around 19 trees per ha, over 300 oaks were felled for the Navy (ibid). By 1829 the fuel assignment rights of Barking and Dagenham were considered absolutely permanent, deliveries were made yearly via the Steward of the Forest around Candlemas day (the 2nd of February) (Fisher, 1887.

 Hornbeam pollards: Last managed pre-1851. Photo 1987

 Map 1: Chapman & Andre, surveyed 1774, published 1777

Deforestation:

Leutscher (1974) describes the Crown's lack of interest in hunting in the Forest of the 18th century and the increased demand on such land for agriculture and settlement, caused by the growing population of London. In addition, the use of wooden ships by the Navy only put more pressure on these areas to produce timber. Enfield Chase, a Forest of greater area than Hainault, was destroyed in 1771 (Rackham, 1978), thus the scene was set. By the early 19th century there were many enclosures in Hainault (73 were recorded in 1830 alone) it seems many of these were made with the blessings of the Forest Commissioners of the day (GLC, c.1964). In 1848, a House of Commons committee recommended enclosure (ibid). In 1851 an Act of Parliament was passed making it possible to clear a large proportion of the Forest (Dent & Dymond, 1909-10). In 1774 the Forest had stood around 2,000ha (London Residuary Body, 1985), by 1850 it was just over 1600ha, 526ha had been enclosed since 1641 (The Perambulation), 1180ha belonged to the Monarch (timber and soil) and the other land to the lords of the manors (but not Barking and Dagenham, their lands were linked to the Abbey and passed to the Crown on its dissolution) (Dent & Dymond, 1909-10). In 1852 the Crown received just over 660ha of land in lieu of Forestal and timber rights (ibid) and around 100,000 trees of oak and hornbeam as compensation (Fisher, 1887). Sir E. Hulse was allotted 18 ha that was later purchased by the Crown, and just under 400 ha went to the Commoners; 485 ha beyond the 'Kings Woods', were cut down and removed within 6 weeks of the Bill's passing (by steam traction engine) (Dent & Dymond, 1909-10). The year 1858 saw the passing of yet another Act dealing with the Rights to Common amongst others. The Commissioners made their award in 1861: They allotted certain portions of Common lands not considered in 1851, in satisfaction of those Rights; Subsequently the remainder of the Forest except 20ha set aside for recreation at Chigwell, 3.6ha in Woodford, 36ha at Navestock and the open land at Lambourne (76ha), were enclosed (ibid). The deforestation of Hainault is followed in maps 2,3 and 4, covering a period from 1774 (when the Forest had altered little in 700 years) to 1904 (when most of the land had been turned over to agriculture).

 Map 2:Ordnance Survey 1822

 

 Map 3:Ordnance Survey 1886

 

 Map 4: Ordnance Survey 1904

 

Between the years 1852 to 1904 most of the present-day Hainault was under the plough (Dent & Dymond, 1909-10): The largest single owner of the land was still the Crown (192ha) and was known as Fox Burrows Farm (Map 5) a great proportion of this land was arable. Lockward's land in the north-west was also under the plough (21ha). From 1902 to 1904 both tracts of land were used to grow cereals with smaller quantities of vegetables and legumes (ibid). Fox Burrows still had the 'Old Pasture' that was grazed and Cabin Hill, which was an old pasture area until 1896, now sown with oats, Lucerne and Aslike Clover seeds. In the north west was Ethelstone's land (Figure x), an area that had been enclosed after 1851, and partly turned over to use as allotments (ibid): 5.7ha was used as such between 1902 to 1904, oats and vegetables were most commonly cultivated; The remaining 21ha were still in forestal condition; Around 90ha of Hainault remained as common land (mostly in the north of the area) the bulk was still in a wooded (forestal) condition.

The situation immediately prior to re-afforestation has been described. The irony of 19th century events was acknowledged by Rackham (1986), "Most of the good farmland was created centuries before... there were few opportunities for creating more." Most of the Forest had been lost merely in making more low-grade, or temporary, farmland that was, at least in part, to return to public ownership.

Edward North Buxton and his family were leading lights in the fight to save Epping Forest from destruction in the mid-1800's. Buxton's formulated a plan to acquire the vestiges of Hainault Forest and secure them as an open space. Buxton negotiated with the land owners, as a result, at the turn of the century Lambourne Common and the adjoining properties came on the market at a total cost of £21,830 (GLC, c.1964). Buxton, who was a verderer of Epping Forest, put forward a proposal to the London County Council (LCC). He was sponsored by the Metropolitan Gardens Association, the National Trust, and the Commons and Footpaths Society. The LCC were called upon to purchase and set aside the area for public use. Subscriptions were promised by the Essex County Council, West Ham Corporation, and the districts of Leyton, Wanstead and Ilford (Dent & Dymond, 1909-10): Many private contributors were also to subscribe. Overall, £12,000 was raised this way and the LCC were left to find just £10,000. The 76ha of Lambourne Forest were purchased from the lords of the manor (Rights to Common) for £600, Ethelstone's land (27ha) was acquired for £1,300, a tract of land between this and Chigwell Recreation Ground (9ha) was purchased for £2,200, Colonel Lockward's 21ha was brought for £1,730. Fox Burrows Farm (192ha) was acquired from the Crown for £16,000 (ibid).

Fox Burrows, the largest area, was purchased in 1902. Edward North Buxton was given 3 years to get the Farm under grass and carry out any planting that seemed necessary to produce woodland and open areas. Dent & Dymond (1909-10) describe in detail how this was achieved. Briefly however the Farm, Ethelstone's and Lockward's land were mostly used for growing cereals or vegetables in 1902 but there was a small area of pasture within the Farm (Map 5). The fields were harrowed and treated to restore soil nutrients lost as a result of 50 years under the plough (in the foulest fields the organic component of the soil had dropped to about 1/5th of that of the remaining Forest). Various methods of restoration were used e.g. fallowing, liming and applying basic slag. All methods were only of limited success. The fields were sown with various grass-seed mixtures under the protection of an annual covering crop. Cheap seed mixtures containing components of Forest turf proved more successful than vigorous introductions. A few small areas were left to re-seed their selves or for the process of natural rotation to take place e.g. the northern part of Ethelstone's land and Cabin Hill (Figure x). The grass, when established, was first mown, and a year later grazed by cattle. Subsequently, the quality of the turf was improved with more native Forest species appearing.

Parts of Hog Hill, Dog Kennel Hill and Cabin Hill were re-harrowed and planted with tree species both from nurseries and nearby Epping Forest. Those from the latter location proved more successful and additionally inoculated the soil with a basic ground flora. Tree seeds were also sown. Trial and error proved protection from grazing animals was required: The trees, that were planted in stands, were either fenced-off and / or planted with undershrubs (particularly gorse) to achieve this. Dennis (1987) remarks that the intention was to allow hill-top copses to spread and merge with the passage of time. All the tree and shrub species planted were native to south west Essex, however the beech (not specifically recorded from Hainault) was so introduced.

During the re-afforestation period, of 1903, the Hainault (Lambourne, Fox Burrows and Grange Hill) Act was passed. The area was now protected and declared an open space for public use. The governing council were given wide powers that restricted building, made it unlawful to shoot game and required that the land be maintained in its 'natural state' amongst other provisions (Redbridge Council, 1987). The passing of the Act, and a successful replanting program, allowed Buxton to achieve his 3-year objective: The Forest was dedicated to the public, as an open space (forever), by the Right Hon. Earl Carrington (then the President of the Board of Agriculture) on Saturday the 21st of July 1906 (Dent & Dymond, 1909-10).

 Map 5:Hainault just prior to reafforestation 1904 (Dent & Dymond, 1909-10)

The re-afforested Hainault:

In the years directly after the purchase of the Forest, much work was to take place, besides the re-afforestation, walks were raised in boggy places and made firm by laying hard-core, also, encroaching trees were cleared and cut back (GLC, c.1965).

During the Second World War agriculture was again practiced in the Forest. In addition, trenches, gun-emplacements and allotments were laid-out (GLC, c.1965). The area of the Forest Flat was particularly subjected to change: Large areas were used to grow wheat and vegetables also the last record of controlled grazing by animals (sheep) comes from this period (Dennis 1987). Anti-tank trenches criss-crossed the whole area. The woodlands also suffered: As the Forest was situated between two air-fields, it was often bombed accidentally. Many small woodland ponds/marshy areas probably had their origins in this war-time activity (Dennis, 1987). The lack of man-power had its influence too: woodland paths, rides and glades became overgrown (GLC, c.1965).

After the war, the Forest Flat was again converted to playing fields. Some of the trenches were, however, left as drainage ditches (Dennis, 1987). The woodland too was tidied-up. 3,500 oaks and 3,000 hornbeams were planted during the 1950's and early 1960's.

The main lake (within the Forest Flat) was originally the old Dew Lake (Dennis, 1987): It was first deepened in the early 1900's and in 1963 deepened further. The result was catches of fish were improved in both size and number with pike particularly benefiting (GLC, c.1965).

 The Lake 1987

 

Mid-1960s onwards:

In 1971, the B174, Romford Road, was converted to a dual carriage-way, from a single lane road. This had an impact on populations of some insects and birds through roadside habitat destruction and / or disturbance [Dennis 1987].

A tree nursery was started around the late 1960s in a site near Romford Road (known as the 'Plantation'). Several thousand trees of various types were grown to produce semi-mature specimens for Central London parks and housing estates (GLC c.1965). The site was abandoned, presumably in the 1970s, leaving rows of trees (both native and exotic varieties).



The Plantation 1987

 

The GLC also started the small zoo / farm at Fox Burrows (London Borough of Redbridge, 1987).  This started life as a mobile zoo touring parks in the GLC area.  Ponies and horses from the zoo were overwintered at Hainault Forest (chiefly in 50-acre field). Over the years a permanent collection of animals has been built-up.

The great storm of the 16th October 1987 saw approximately 1,600 trees uprooted in Hainault Forest. The author visited the site within a few days of the storm.  The Lambourne End part of the site was almost impassable due to fallen trees.  Many of these comprised old (top-heavy) hornbeam pollards.

 

Cabin Hill 1987 post Great Storm damage

In 2012, hundreds of portacabin buildings and tented structures were installed on 9ha of the Formal Area (i.e. the Forest Flat) to accommodate 4,000 security staff during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Facilities included food hall, medical centre, laundry, social area and coach parking facilities for transporting personnel to Olympic venues (GLA, 2012). Post Olympics this area was cleared and seeded with a wildflower mix.  Some species planted still persist e.g. bird’s-foot trefoil, yarrow Achillea millefolium, wild carrot Daucus carota and red clover Trifolium pratense.

References


Chapman and André (1777) A Map of the County of Essex. Essex County Council (reprinted in 1970).

Corke D. (1986) The Nature of Essex. Barracuda Books.

Dennis M. K. (1987) The Birds of Hainault Forest. The Essex Bird Watching and Preservation Society.

Dent & Dymond (1909-10) The Re-afforestation of Hainhault. The Essex Naturalist Vol. XVI, EFC.

Fisher W. (1887) The Forest of Essex. Butterworths.

Greater London Council (GLC) (c.1965) Hainault Forest (a 'Know Your Parks' booklet).

Green G. (1986) Open to the Public for 80 years. Country Life (29th of May).

London Residuary Body (c.1985) Hainault Forest / Havering Country Park. Unpublished Work.

Rackham O (1982). The Ancient Woodland of England. Arnold

Rackham O (1986). The History of the Countryside. Dent. University Press, Cambridge.