From royal lodges for viewing and supporting the hunt, to barns serving teas to day-trippers and shelters to nourish the wildlife in harsh winters, the architecture of Epping Forest blossomed as its predominant use moved away from grazing and lopping towards recreation and leisure.
Forest Lodges and Standings
Most ancient Royal forests contained lodges that belonged to the Crown, and Epping Forest had at least three. The lodges were built as ‘standings’ from where to view the hunt, and so were built on rising ground where sight-lines were good. They would also support the needs of the hunt, including stabling and feeding horses and hounds, storing and maintaining equipment, providing residence for permanent personnel and facilities for butchering carcases – mostly deer but in earlier times wild boar too.
Fairmead Lodge in the 1880s, with the Fairmead Oak. This lodge pre-dates the Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge by some two centuries and was rebuilt in 1725.
Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge
The Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge on Dannet Hill was completed in 1543, although designs were first drawn sometime before 1528. It was built on the instructions of Henry VIII as a ‘grandstand’ – originally referred to as The Greate Standing – and apparently had open sides for viewing the hunt.
The ground floor seems to have been a service area and kitchen, separate from the prestigious upper floors. Its massive old timbers and impressive structure show the high quality of craftsmanship, indicating the high status of the building.
Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge on Dannet Hill, painted by Henry A. Cole, mid-nineteenth century
Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge nowadays. Photo: 2022
Queen Elizabeth likely used the lodge for grand hunting events. In 1589 she had major repairs made to the building and it’s believed that at that time, as the Queen was ageing and fashions changing, the building may have been used to shoot from, rather than as a stand from where to watch the chase.
Over the years the adjoining land was sold and the Lord of Manor’s underkeeper lived in part of the lodge in the seventeenth century. By the nineteenth century, the area had become popular with crowds of people on Sundays and bank holidays. Pubs and tea gardens prospered and for more than a hundred years the underkeeper’s family, the Watkins, sold teas to visitors at the Hunting Lodge. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Harriet Watkins, the wife of the last underkeeper, continued selling teas. When the Conservators took over in 1878, teas continued to be served from the Lodge until 1888.
With the Epping Forest Act of 1878, the Corporation of London had purchased the old enclosures around the Lodge and acquired the Lodge itself from the Crown. Repairs were carried out, including installing the false extra vertical beams shown in most twentieth century pictures. These were removed in 1992 when major renovations of the Lodge were undertaken by the Conservators and it was restored to its more historically accurate lime-washed appearance. It was re-opened by the Duke of Gloucester, the Ranger of the Forest, in November 1993.
For more than sixty years from 1895 the Hunting Lodge was a popular natural history museum and today it is a Grade II listed building of historical importance, part of a wider complex providing a Forest Visitor Centre and education service.been covered by houses in east London.
Originally the tithe barn of the Lord of the Manor, Butler’s Retreat has long been associated with the Hunting Lodge. By 1888, so many visitors were coming to the Lodge that Mrs Watkins began to serve teas from this nearby barn instead. In 1891, John Butler who had sold teas near the then newly created Connaught Water took over the barn from Mrs Watkins and the name Butler’s Retreat dates from then.
Several ‘retreats’ around the Forest were established about that time and were associated with the temperance movement (who promoted abstinence from alcohol). They provided refreshments for all visitors to the Forest, but especially for horse-drawn carriages, coach parties and large groups.
Butler’s Retreat on Dannet Hill, selling refreshments for over 130 years
The old deer shelter
Several decades ago Deer Shelter Plain was a wide heather-covered clearing just before where the two roads converge at the Wake Arms. In the 1940s the heather was thick and deeply criss-crossed by deer paths. Birches and small old oak pollards were scattered around the plain and a mature birch grove existed at the northern end of the area, near the roundabout.
The area was named after a large round deer shelter that stood in a small clearing just beyond the southern edge of the heather plain, until it was destroyed by fire in the late 1940s. It had a very large, conical thatched roof supported by eight legs. In harsh winters, hay and root vegetables were placed under it to feed the deer.
The Epping Forest Heritage Trust now undertakes regular conservation work in this area to help retain it as an open plain.
The old deer shelter, destroyed by vandals in the late 1940s
In Edward North Buxton’s 1885 book Epping Forest with Maps, he places the name Broadstrood near an area of largely open marshy land that was once on the east side of the A121 just north of Goldings Hill ponds. However in the 1923 edition of his book he described it in a different place: ‘the long vista of this graceful valley, the upper end of which is known as Hangboy Slade and the lower part as Broadstrood’. Broadstrood Cottage was the name of an old keeper’s cottage, now demolished, on the east side of the road a little farther to the north of the ponds, where the Green Ride crosses the A121. The Green Ride is said to have been created in 1882 when Queen Victoria visited in order to dedicate the Forest to her people, so that she could drive through the length of the Forest north of Chingford, if she wished. In the end, she went no further than High Beach.
The old Broadstrood keeper’s cottage
This article is based on material from Ken Hoy’s book Getting to Know Epping Forest, first published in 2002 with a new edition forthcoming edited by Judith Adams.