Hainault Forest Website

Social History



John Lebeau

John  lived in the far end of the four cottages at Foxburrows until April 2005. They were built in 1857.

Photo: 2nd December 2005.

John was born at Stratford Hospital in 1937 and the family moved to Lagonda Avenue, Hainault in 1939. Following a period of evacuation during the second world war, John went to Fairlop School, which at that time was based in Fencepiece Road. Hainault was very rural at that time. There were no buses - they couldn't get under the railway bridge at Hainault Station. Steam trains ran from Ilford via Newbury Park on the loop line to Woodford. There was no Hainault estate only rolling fields to be explored. Italian Prisoners of War were housed at Hainault and often roamed around the streets, as did the Americans who were camped on what is now Limes Farm Estate. Like all boys at the time he walked with his mates to Hainault Forest via Forest Road or New North Road to the Lake for fishing, climbing trees, playing in the bracken and bird nesting! Foxburrows Farm fields were under cereal crops, and sheep gazed the golf course (the greens were fenced off).


John left school at 15 and between January 1953 and August 1958 was indentured as an apprentice Cooper. He was the fourth generation of Coopers in the family. It was a skilled job making wooden beer barrels by hand and required specialist tools. Coopering was a dying trade as metal casks were gradually brought in. Following two years National Service in the Army, John worked on building sites and when he married he moved to a house in Lambourne End, and later to a workers cottage on Foxburrows farm. In 1965 he got a job as tractor driver cutting the fairways on the Hainault Forest Golf Course. He was employed by the newly formed Greater London Council who managed the whole forest at that time including Havering Park. He became an uniformed keeper following training in the forest by-laws, first aid and patrolling and carried a

warrant card to ensure that the public kept to the by-laws. There was more respect for authority in those days and the keeper on patrol were immaculate in their uniforms. A set of working clothes were provided when not in uniform. John also trained as a dog handler and as a Special Duties Officer which took him to other parks throughout Greater London. At Hainault Forest there was a large staff comprising of a Superintendent, a Senior Head Keeper, 3 Senior Keepers, and 13 Keepers. On the Golf course there was a Head Green- Keeper, a Leading Green-Keeper, a Caddy Master and 12 Green-Keepers.  More staff were employed for the maintenance of  Havering Park. All grass cutting, tree management, building repairs and pipe laying were  done in-house. 12 Football pitches, 4 cricket tables and a hockey pitch had to be marked out and maintained. A  mobile team of GLC workmen could be called upon to assist the keepers if a particular job needed heavy machinery. Animals - ponies, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, ducks, geese and llama-like wild Andean guanacos from other GLC parks were housed in the forest as required and were cared for by the staff. Following the demise of the GLC in 1986, John continued to work for Redbridge retiring in 2002 as foreman.

John's Warrant Card issued by The Greater London Council, and right, John with Prince.

John unblocks a land drain full of mud and willow roots. Photo: Derek Morton.

John with two colleagues  wearing their uniform hats, deal with a blocked land drain.  

Photo: Derek Morton.

John takes a school group on a walk exploring the forest.