As I mentioned in the recent Copped Hall article, I have been enjoying exploring Epping Forest during the lockdown restrictions. This time, we will have a closer look at an early and rare example of a hunting lodge in Chingford.
Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge is a Grade II* listed building that has been saved as a museum. This old timber-framed and plastered building is a unique example of a Tudor ‘grand stand’. The sport-loving sovereign and associates could climb to the top floor to watch a drive past of the Forest deer.
While this isn’t a Tudor palace, like Hampton Court Palace in west London or the long-gone Palace of Placentia that was in Greenwich, it is a remarkable and rare survival of an intact timber-framed hunt standing still surrounded by its medieval royal hunting forest.
Epping Forest is a 2400 hectare ancient woodland stretching some 12 miles from Manor Park in east London to just north of Epping in Essex. It is contained within the M25 orbital motorway and is never more than two and a half miles wide. (Here is an Epping Forest Map.)
It was first designated as a royal hunting forest in the twelfth century by Henry II and is now managed by the City of London Corporation.
The Forest is nationally and internationally important for conservation, with two-thirds of it being designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation.
Chingford is in the borough of Waltham Forest, and this was the original name for Epping Forest. The name Waltham is created from a derivation of ‘wald,’ meaning forest, and ‘ham’ meaning an enclosure. The borough only became part of Greater London in 1965. Before that, Waltham Forest was an institution that managed deer in southwest Essex.
It was during Tudor times that Waltham Forest really came into its own as a royal hunting forest. Henry VIII decided to make a deer park at Chingford, where he held many of the manorial lands. It was probably at his command that Chingford Plain was cleared of trees, through to Fairmead. He would then have needed grandstands for views of the hunt.
Henry already had the use of a lodge known as the Little Standing on the far side of Fairmead in Loughton. About a mile away from Chingford, Little Standing had been used to view the chase since 1378.
In 1542, Henry VIII commissioned the building, then known as Great Standing, that we now know as Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. The hunt ‘standing’ is constructed of massive oak timbers, which illustrate the skills of the royal craftsmen.
Typically of Henry, it was designed to be grander than anything that had come before. When built, it was the only three-floor standing in England.
It was completed in 1543, so he could then view the deer chase at Chingford. The whole area was fenced to keep out the commoners’ animals and to enclose the deer park.
There were no glazed windows except on the ground floor. Originally the first and second floors were an open gallery providing an ideal vantage point for spectators across the plain and into the forest. The floors were specially made to slope to the side so that any rain coming in would drain away. There would have been colorful banners and flags draped around the building.
Sir Richard Rich was appointed Keeper of the deer park, but Henry died in 1547, and in 1553 the area was thrown open to the Forest again.
Queen Elizabeth I
After the king died, the building passed through the royal family.
It is said that Queen Elizabeth I received the news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 when out hunting in the forest whilst staying at the lodge. She supposedly celebrated by riding her horse up the stairs!
The earliest known mention of the Lodge is in a Report dated 23 June 1589 on two of Queen Elizabeth‘s houses in Waltham Forest (Epping Forest). One of these is referred to as the ‘Greate Standinge’ or ‘lodg’ on ‘Dannet’ or ‘Dannetts’ Hill.
That year the Queen ordered major repairs, and the building became known as Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. While there is no evidence that Elizabeth ever visited, we do know that temporary access to the lodge was used as a gift to nobles and visiting foreign dignitaries.
The open gallery remained “for convenient standing to viewe the game.” From here, the Queen and her Court had an extensive view over all the surrounding country. From the upper floors, The Queen could shoot at the deer as they were driven towards her by the hunting party.
It was reported in 1602 (the year before she died) that the Queen regularly hunted on horseback, even at the age of 69. It was likely that she still enjoyed the thrill of the chase in Waltham Forest, as she had done in her younger days.
Dark Fallow Deer
Elizabeth’s successor, James I, was also keen on hunting, and in 1612 he introduced some dark fallow deer to the forest, by courtesy of his father-in-law, the King of Denmark. By interbreeding with the deer already present, the dark strain predominated, and even today, the wild deer in the estate bordering the forest are mostly dark.
The Lodge was used as the Manorial Court in the 17th century through to 1851. This was the lowest court of law in England and governed those areas over which the lord of the manor had jurisdiction.
Chingford Train Station
Chingford was a quiet and isolated parish lacking public transport until the railway line from central London was extended here in 1873. (The railway already reached Loughton from 1856 and Epping from 1865.)
Originally the terminus was at the village green, but it was extended half a mile to its current position on the edge of the town in 1878. This made the grandiose new station much less convenient for most of the village’s residents, but that was not the primary concern.
There were plans to extend the line further to High Beech in the center of Epping Forest. The new Chingford station was built as a through-station with platforms and tracks leading out onto an embankment ready to cross the newly-named Station Road and enter the forest. This was going to attract great volumes of tourists and stimulate suburban growth in the surrounding area. The groundwork for the railway’s extension into the forest was eventually removed to make way for the bus station.
Epping Forest Act 1878
The arrival of the railway coincided with the Epping Forest Act of 1878. Epping Forest had been privately owned for the 300 years prior to the Epping Forest Acts of 1871,1878 & 1880 but remained subject to the requirements of Royal Forest Law between 1217 and 1878. The sale of Forest Law rights to raise funds for the Crown from the 1850s fueled damaging encroachments of the Royal Forest of Epping and facilitated the felling of much of neighboring Hainault Forest. The City Corporation supported a landmark case in 1874, which halted enclosures before purchasing much of the Forest prior to 1878 and settling the boundaries of the Forest in 1882.
The 1878 Act abolished all the rights of the Crown and the power of the Forest courts and empowered the City of London Corporation to administer Epping Forest as Conservators, with a duty to keep it unenclosed as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the public. The following decades saw thousands of daytrippers come by train and bus.
The fallow deer in the Forest had decreased to one buck, and eleven does in 1870. Fortunately, they were able to breed successfully, and their numbers increased rapidly after 1878.
By the Epping Forest Act of 1878 (Sec.8), the Lodge was transferred to the custody of the Corporation of London as Conservators of the Forest with the stipulation that it “shall be preserved and maintained by then as an object of public and antiquarian interest.“ Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge is also included in the Schedule under the Ancient Monuments Act of 1913 for further protection.
To cater for the multitude of day-trippers, a number of enterprises were set up around Epping Forest to provide refreshments. Many of these ‘Retreats’ were associated with the Temperance Movement, which urged moderation or abstinence in the consumption of alcohol.
Butler’s Retreat is next to Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge and is the only example of an Epping Forest retreat that survives today. It was built as a barn to store the harvest for the lord of Chingford in the mid-19th century.
It is named after John Butler, who began providing refreshments here in 1891. Thanks to Heritage Lottery Funding, the Grade II listed building has been restored, and there is a new café inside which is popular for tea and cakes.
Royal Forest Hotel
Do not be fooled by the mock Tudor decor. Next to the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge, The Forest Hotel was built in 1879 as a hostelry to accommodate the hordes of people visiting the Forest. It was renamed the Royal Forest Hotel in 1882 after Queen Victoria’s visit to Epping Forest (see below). Back then, it was by far the largest inn in the district. It had its own coach house with stabling and 60 bedrooms, some with en-suite sitting rooms.
In 1912, a huge fire swept through the building, destroying many parts of the hotel. The owner’s Brewers Fayre say that the fire burned for two days and trapped and killed two guests and a fireman on the top floor. When the building was restored, the top floor of the previously four-story structure was not replaced.
Queen Victoria’s Visit
On 6 May 1882, Queen Victoria came to officially open Epping Forest. She arrived at Chingford railway station to see an archway proclaiming ‘The Forest Welcomes The Queen,’ which she later described in her diary as “very pretty.” (Do also see this illustration of the event in The Illustrated London News.)
A procession was formed from the train station, and an estimated 500,000 people came to cheer their Queen as she passed by.
Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge had been renovated, and it was expected that Her Majesty would visit the building, although the procession did not in fact stop there. The recently built Royal Forest Hotel was tastefully decorated for the occasion, and the fences enclosing parts of Chingford Plain were hastily demolished. In the evening, after the Queen had left the area, the festivities continued, and there was a grand firework display behind the Royal Forest Hotel.
At High Beech, she declared, “it gives me great satisfaction to dedicate this beautiful Forest to the use and enjoyment of my people for all time.” Some believe today that Queen Victoria gave a ‘gift’ of Epping Forest to the public, and the Forest is sometimes referred to as ‘the People’s Forest.’ The reality is that Queen Victoria’s dedication to the public at the official opening in 1882 was simply recognizing the City of London Corporation’s purchase of the Forest.
While the Crown gave up all rights in the Forest, the monarch was entitled to appoint a Ranger who would have control over important matters of policy. Queen Victoria chose her third and favorite son, Arthur, Duke of Connaught, to hold this position, as he had a great interest in trees. When the swamp near Chingford Plain was dried out by means of a large lake which was made both for drainage and as an amenity, it was named Connaught Water after the Ranger, as was the newly constructed Rangers Road.
At 12 o’clock midday on Friday 22 October 1944, the first long-range rocket fell in the Borough of Waltham Forest. Fortunately, it fell on forest land, approximately 150 yards east of the Royal Forest Hotel and 30 yards north of Rangers Road. Although it was a fine morning, there was apparently no one about at the time, and, apart from two minor casualties caused by flying glass, the Civil Defence Services were not required.
Some damage was caused to property – Butler’s Retreat was probably the worst affected, although much minor damage was caused to the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge and the Forest Keeper’s Lodge of Rangers Road. Damage was also caused to the Royal Forest Hotel and one or two buses standing outside the hotel at the time suffered damage to windows.
This rocket made a very large crater some 60 feet across, and about 20 feet deep, and several large boughs were blown off the oak trees nearby.
Epping Forest Museum
The building was converted in 1899-1900 into the Epping Forest Museum. The extensive alterations were carried out by the City Corporation at a cost of over £1000. Across the three floors of the museum, you can explore the Tudor history of Epping Forest. The Lodge has been managed by the City of London Corporation since 1960.
The original entrance to the upper galleries was by a door in the east wall at the foot of the stairs, but this has now gone. The central oak staircase was where, according to popular but unsupported tradition, Elizabeth is said to have ridden her horse.
Inside the Lodge, there are examples of the methods of construction used in the building and displays explaining its history. On the ground floor, you can discover the sights and sounds of a Tudor kitchen plus the servants’ quarters.
Then climb the stairs; built purposefully shallow so that the Tudor nobility could climb up in a dignified fashion. On the first floor, you can explore the world of Tudor fashion, and there are period dress-up clothes available. The doors to each room are higher than the ones downstairs to indicate the raised status of those using them. And as you peer out of the first-floor windows to the forest below, look out for the symbols etched into the woodwork to ward off evil.
From the second-floor windows, you can admire the most spectacular view of the Forest and imagine it on a Tudor hunt day. The views from the upper floors cover vast tracts of the forest land and are very much what Tudor visitors would have seen as they watched the progress of hunts.
The great feature of the interior is the massive open timber roof to the upper room. It consists of three bays divided by two bold curved and molded roof-trusses and with chamfered purlins and curved braces and boldly mounted wall plate (I’m told). The roof over the square-neweled staircase is of similar construction. The beams shaped like antlers are purely decorative for the original purpose of the building.
The two stone mantelpieces are ‘modern.’ The one in the upper room is dated 1879 and bears shields in the spandrils, the arms of the City of London, and the intertwined initials JTB in commemoration of J.T.Bedford. He was the energetic member of the Court of Common Council to whose efforts the saving of the Forest was largely due.
The pleasing lead diamond-latticed casement glazing in the windows in the Tudor-headed openings are also a later addition.
The picturesque half-timbered exterior with its elaborate-pierced bargeboard is unfortunately only a sham veneer added during victorian improvements.
The last complete restoration was carried out after extensive surveys in the early 1990s. By this time, the building had suffered a number of Victorian alterations and ‘improvements.’ But in 1993, it was restored to the more authentic Tudor appearance that you see today.
Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge is a ten-minute walk from Chingford train station.
Address: 6 Rangers Road, Chingford, London E4 7QH
Car Parking: While there is a car park opposite, do be aware that The City of London Corporation has recently started charging at their car parks which have been a controversial move. The justification has been that managing Epping Forest for public access, heritage, land, and nature conservation is an expensive undertaking. The City Corporation has met these costs without support from national or local taxation.
The Epping Forest Acts 1878 & 1880 pre-date the invention of the motor car in 1886. Recognizing the need to manage the post-1950s growth of car ownership and subsequent car parking pressure at Epping Forest, the City of London (Various Powers) Act 1977 granted additional powers to Epping Forest to provide car parks and to charge for car parking.
The View: The View visitor center is between the Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge and The Royal Forest Hotel. It showcases some of the main themes, stories, and habitats of the forest.