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Hainault Forest and Country Park

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On Saturday 21st July 1906 at 3pm. to the strains of HMS Pinafore,  The Blue Danube Waltz, Ballet music from Faust and Hertel's Flick and Flock galop, the Forest was opened by the President of the Board of Agriculture, the Earl Carrington, and Evan Spicer JP., Chairman of the London County Council. The proceedings took place on Cabin Hill, and the Earl Carrington paid tribute to Mr Edward North Buxton DL., JP. Verderer of Epping Forest, to whom it was largely due that the large open space had been rescued. Following the ceremony Mr Frederick Green JP., of Hainault Lodge invited principal guests to his home which was situated close by on Hog Hill, where they were sumptuously entertained and given a souvenir comprising  pictures of a Hut in the Forest, Hog Hill House and the Fairlop Oak tree. Ilford Councillors drove to The Kings Head Hotel, Chigwell and were entertained there by Councillors Bodger and Griggs.

London County Council Boundary Post

Hut in the middle of the Forest.

From the Illustrated London News  Nov. 22. 1851

The cost of purchasing the various pieces of land amounted to 21,830. Contributions came from Essex County Council 5,000; Ilford Urban District Council 2,500; Leyton and West Ham Councils 1,000 each, and with contributions from interested Societies, and private sponsors including many of the Buxton family. A further 10,000 was needed to complete the purchase and the Corporation of London was approached. The Court of Common Council turned down this request for several reasons, one of which was that it already managed and financed Epping Forest, and there was a need for open spaces in South London. Thankfully, the London County Council came to the rescue and agreed to manage it for the people forever. The purchase was for 804 acres of land which included 253 acres of woodland and rough pasture, and the bulk 551 acres of arable land.

Foxburrows Farm Cottages. A plaque on the side has the Crown and Royal ciphers VR and AP and is dated 1856.

The main path through the Forest follows the Redbridge/Essex boundary

Edward North Buxton advised and directed afforestation in partnership with the Chief Officer of The Parks Department. All of the arable area was sown with a mixture of suitable grasses, and a number of enclosures were planted with trees, gorse and broom. A six acre plot opposite Hainault Lodge was enclosed and planted with 1,750 trees. The woodland mainly in Lambourne Parish was left in its natural aspect. Where paths were overgrown, they were cleared and widened, and some glades opened up. Dead trees were cut down and used for rustic seats. Drainage of boggy areas was also carried out.

Farm buildings comprised of farmhouse, eight cottages, barn, stable and outbuildings. Plans were made for their use for shelter, refreshments, and keeper and staff accommodation.

Wild Andean Guanacos grazing at Hainault. They are related to the domestic Llama. Many visitors to the park fondly remember them.

Top photo: Vic George

During the second world war  much of the grassland was under cereal production. Several of the London County Council  parks in inner London built enclosures to house domestic animals during the summer months, and Hainault Forest lent itself for their winter quarters. It was not unusual to find Longhorn cattle, Llamas, Sheep, Goats, Horses and ponies in residence. Today the farm has been modernised with purpose built wooden shelters for the animals in several enclosures, and are used for Rare breeds. There are Long horned cattle, Highland cattle,  Jacobs, Soay and other breeds of sheep, goats, rabbits, geese, ducks, and chickens. These prove an attraction to children and adults alike.

The Greater London Council took overall responsibility for management from its formation in 1964 until its demise, when the London Borough of Redbridge took overall control for Havering and Essex. When the grassland was restored, a large number of football pitches were laid out together with purpose built changing rooms and toilets on the site of the farmhouse. Alongside the Romford Road, the land was drained and became a tree nursery for London's Streets and many trees including Limes, Rowans and Maples are present. Horse rides were constructed often in parallel with footpaths ensuring no conflict of interest between riders and walkers. During the years many management techniques have been in operation not all of them successful. Careful grassland management has ensured species rich areas and this is particularly spectacular with the abundance of Lady's smock or Cuckoo flower Cardamine pratensis in the plain near Chigwell Row School.

Hainault Forest, because of its history since 1851, is easily divided into three parts. The portion   in   Essex is ancient woodland and some heathland, that of Havering is home to the golf course, and the area in Redbridge secondary woodland and grassland. The Woodland Trust now manage the Essex portion of 319 acres and Redbridge are developing their area as a Country Park.

Redbridge have a small visitors centre with exhibits and interpretive material. They arrange walks, bat nights, fungal forays, butterfly walks and talks. On holiday weekends during the summer Country Fairs attract huge crowds. Toilets and refreshments are available. During the Foot and Mouth closure there has been wheelchair access constructed and some scrub clearance.

One of the first tasks of the Woodland Trust was to clear and open up Sheepwater, a small pond near Chigwell Row Primary School, and begin a programme of pollarding. Now a couple of years later the pond area has well generated, although several of the tree trunks have ended back in the pond. A new path has been constructed through part of the woodland. A boardwalk over the wet area alongside Sheepwater  leads to an open area where the Trust has long term plans to create wood pasture which was how the medieval forest would have been managed. This path is suitable for the disabled, and seats are provided at frequent intervals along its length.

Recent insect surveys have placed Hainault Forest equal first in a list of Nationally important invertebrate sites. Of 940 species, 7 are rare and are listed in the Red Data Book of endangered species, and 79 are nationally scarce.

In all, Hainault Forest is well used by people of all interests, which was Buxton's original concept and his insight has led it to become important as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status,  a site of Metropolitan Importance and a Site of Borough Importance (Grade 1).

For details of The Woodland Trust and more information go to the links page.