Hainault Forest Website

The Forest of Essex



"A territory of woody ground and fruitful

pasture for wild beasts and fowls in the

safe protection of the King for his delight

and pleasure."


Red and Fallow deer

adapted from E.N.Buxton (1890) Epping Forest

Since the time of Edward the Confessor, all or parts of the County of Essex have at one time or another been described as Royal Forest. Forest does not equate to Woodland, although today the terms are interchangeable. Forest is a legal term denoting the Monarch's right to hunt over it. Forest Laws were evoked often with severe penalties, with regard to protecting the King's deer and their well-being. Offenders caught poaching or disturbing the King's deer could be executed or maimed, but fines were more profitable. Dogs, except those belonging to clergy, were 'lawed' which involved removing their claws so they were unable to chase deer. Fences could not be erected to keep deer out. Laws were also enacted to protect the Kings Vert which included all trees and scrub such as Holly, Blackthorn, Hawthorn and Crab apple, which provided food for the deer. Grants were issued by the King to hunt smaller animals. Henry III granted Richard de Tany the right to hunt fox, hare and wild cat. Grants of venison were made to Bishops and other high ranking persons and foreign princes - venison being Fallow deer, Wild boar and Hare. The Abbess of Barking was granted venison, and timber for building work and cooking. Red deer being reserved for the King..

Commoners under license could put cattle and pigs onto wasteland within the Forest, the cattle to be branded with a Parish Mark by Forest Officials known as Reeves. The parish mark for Barking (Maypole) was the letter K surmounted by a crown, as it appears in the banner above. Sheep were kept in special areas or Lawns but the laws regarding the Forest were never clear or consistent. It was said that no man without a special grant can claim to common with sheep within a forest  ".....in respect of the dislike which the Redd and fallowe Deare doe naturallie take of the sent and smelle of sheepe; as also for that the sheepe do vndereate the Deare, and hurt and spoyle the covert, and thereby prejudice and wrong the deare both in their feeding and layer."

The Navestock Stone by the Bourne Brook on Curtismill Green. The Forest boundary follows the Bourne Brook from here.

The Marks Stones behind a hedgerow at Marks Gate, Whalebone Lane North.

The Havering Stone opposite Pump in London Road, Romford A118


The exact boundaries of the Forest of Essex changed under different Monarchs and were a useful source of revenue. King John disafforested several areas of Essex under the terms of Magna Charta.  Henry III wanted to know why the boundaries had changed since the time of his grandfather Henry II and in 1225 ordered a perambulation which he chose to ignore. In 1301 Edward I sent his knights to conduct another perambulation to determine the forest bounds. A detailed list of the bounds and their reasons was accepted and covered much of south-west Essex. Edward II gave the forest rights of Havering to his Queen Isabella, and so they were not subject to Forest Laws and became a Liberty.


Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries Henry VIII ordered an inventory of the woodland at Hainault Forest, an area of some 3,000 acres. There were surveyed by woodwards George Maxey and William Mildmay in 1544 and give a detailed account of acreage and value together with of trees and under story in each area. Although Holly was considered Vert it is not listed in the inventory. One example of the twenty three areas of Kingswood surveyed is at Hog hill:


"Furste, in a certen Comen in the Forrest of Walthm one hill called Greate Hoghill, most pte Hornebeame Woode well sett with Oke for Husbandrye, very moche verte of blake Thorne, pt lately lopped cont' lxiii Acr' one roode at xiiisiiiid the Acre" (63 acres @13/4d. or 67p in today's currency.


A similar survey was carried out by James I  in  the first year of his reign. Although Charles I in 1630 agreed to the Forest bounds as in 1301, four years later he extended the Forest bounds in the whole country to raise revenue which in Essex alone amounted to 300,000. After much disquiet, in 1641 a final perambulation was carried out in Essex and covered some 60,000 acres. It started at Bow Bridge at Stratford, and its southern boundary was the highway from Stratford through Ilford and to the Whalebone near Romford. The western boundary was practically the River Lee to Nazeing. The northern boundary continued to Epping and thence to Theydon Bois, Abridge and Passingford Bridge. The eastern boundary was marked by a series of stones. The first two were Richard's and Navestock stones in Curtismill Green  then by the Bourne Brook to the Park Corner, Collier Row, Warren and Marks stones to the Havering stone on the main highway. The River Roding made a natural boundary dividing the Forest into that of Waltham and Hainault.


During the mid eighteenth century many illegal enclosures were being made in the Forest of Essex, resulting in fences being torn down by the forest officials, and people appearing in court. In 1817 the Commission of Woods applied for an Act of Parliament to enclose part of the forest for the Crown, to do away with commoners right in the forest, and disafforest the whole Forest. This caused much uproar and although passed by the Commons, due to a time limit it was withdrawn from the House of Lords in 1818. In 1848 following another court case a notice was issued asking all persons who had or claimed encroachments to notify the Office of Woods giving particulars and offering a fair price to buy the rights of the Crown. On the advice of the Commissioners an Act was passed in 1851 for the Disafforestation of Hainault Forest and this was duly passed and in six weeks 3000 acres of Kingswood were cleared of timber, and the only pieces of ancient woodland remaining was that of the Manor of Lambourne, Grangehill Forest and Claybury Woods. John Alison the farmer who was responsible for clearance and setting up roads and farms, wrote that "he hoped to see the adjoining Forest treated in the same way soon; it would be a great service to me, as well as to the whole neighbourhood."

Fortunately after many struggles the story of Epping Forest had a better outcome.


One of the farms, Forest Farm became an airfield in World War one, and again in WW2 when it was much enlarged. Today gravel extraction takes place in the area, and the Fairlop Waters complex and sailing lake stands where once the Fairlop Oak stood proud.

For information on R.A.F. Fairlop go to the links page.


Forest Parish Marks

Branding irons consisted of a Parish letter surmounted by a crown. They were between seven to nine inches, generally eight. Some were lost.

Here is a list from W.R.Fisher (1887) The Forest of Essex. The irons of Roydon, Loughton and Lambourne were lost but Epping Forest Commissioners had evidence that they were C,F,I. Original marks for West Ham and Stratford could not be found.

٭ Barking being a large parish was divided into two. The letter K being for the north (Maypole) and the letter K reversed for the south (Crooked Billet). 


A Waltham Holy X

B Nazeing

C (Roydon hamlet)

D Theydon Bois

E Epping

F (Loughton)

G Chingford

H Chigwell

I  (Lambourne)

K Barking *

L Dagenham

M Woodford

N Leyton

O Walthamstow

P Navestock

Q Wanstead

R Stapleford Abbots.


Waltham Holy Cross Parish Mark, a letter A surmounted by a crown. This is the only mark in use today, and is used on Commoners cattle in Epping Forest.

Parish Letters (after Fisher 1887)