Hainault Forest Website

Redbridge period 1986 - 2000


Cherry, St. Bernard. Winter 1995. Photo R & S Meekings



The Redbridge Guardian 11th July 1985 reported that Redbridge stood stoutly behind the Bill to abolish the GLC which was championed by Wanstead and Woodford MP Patrick Jenkin. Redbridge, Havering and Epping Forest District Council were consulting with the Dept. of the Environment regarding the future ownership of Hainault Forest and the farm which straddled all three authorities. It was decided that the forest would be managed and looked after entirely by Redbridge with 200,000 being spent keeping the grounds up to scratch.


 At the start of the Redbridge takeover a Highland Cow named Oxo gave birth to a bull calf which was named Bovril and the Redbridge Guardian was reporting in August 1986 "Something for everyone" as it reported on summer activities in Hainault Forest - angling, walking, jogging, cricket, bouncy castles, barbeques, picnics, the rare breeds farm, and just relaxing in the sunshine. Photographs of anglers at the Lake, feeding goats on the farm, close encounters with Oxo,  and  a game of Cricket were shown.


Pictured left, on the steps by the pillared barn, having a tea break are wardens John Lebeau and Johnny Mason. Photographed September 20th 1986.


Pictured right: Gilbert the bull, Winter 1995.

R & S Meekings

January 1987 saw heavy snowfall and the big freeze and the Ilford Recorder featured skier Andrew Atkinson, who works in the family business United Sports at Gants Hill, making use of the slopes at Hainault Forest to practice his ski-ing, and also Sue and Jeff Smith from Chadwell Heath were able to exercise their team of Siberian Huskies closer to home rather that going all the way to Aviemore in Scotland.

By complete contrast to January's weather, on the 16th October 1987 we awoke to the ravages of a hurricane. It had been predicted by Michael Fish, the BBC weatherman that the path of the hurricane would travel along the English Channel. It didn't. It passed across southern England causing widespread damage to Kent, the Southern counties and Greater London. Epping and Hainault Forests both lost hundreds of trees. In Hainault Forest about eight hundred  trees were blown down or damaged in the wake of the storm. The historic Hornbeam pollards were particularly vulnerable, and it was sad to see such devastation. Daphne Gilbert, a local resident reported, "the biggest loss was among the Hornbeams, but many Oak and Silver birch were also blown down along with some Ash and Hawthorn. The mature Oaks seem to have suffered most with damage. There were numerous branches broken off and trees badly split. The very large oak on Crabtree Hill seems to be intact. The bridleway was blocked with many trees and branches. The Forest Keepers are hoping to save many of the damaged trees and re-pollard them.

Countryside Warden Vic George was out with his camera and recorded the storm damage.

Easter 1988 saw groups of youngsters marvelling at the six fluffy Easter Chicks which had been born at the farm. A spokesman said the zoo gives a considerable pleasure to a considerable number of people. June 16th 1988 at midnight and it was the start of the new fishing season. Dozens of anglers settled down for a couple of days and nights fishing. Gary Billing fishing for Roach hooked an 8lb Pike and excitement came as Dave Geary pulled ashore a 13lb 12oz Carp after a ten minute fight.

A Photo Safari led by Vic George and Dave Fearne (below right) was held in April 1989 for adult and children to learn more about wildlife photography. It was part of the Country Park's developing programme of countryside walks and events. Adults and children snapped away with simple cameras and even a professional freelance photographer came along. Mr George spends much of his time recording the park's wildlife on computer and film. Later in June there was a Dawn Chorus in which visitors would be guided through the forest at 4am.! One highlight in June was the demonstration by Forest Wardens to show how people earned their living in the forest in olden times by setting up a charcoal burners camp. Charcoal was used in cooking and in gunpowder making. "Charcoal production was an ancient craft carried out in Hainault Forest since prehistoric times and ended there just 80 years ago" said a Council spokesman. Full details of the craft can be seen by going to the charcoal burners page.



In March 1990 a blaze caused by  an electrical  fault brought about the  death of two rare Saddleback pigs with eight piglets, a pony and some ducklings. An old barn built in 1856 was gutted and some tractors and machinery were lost. Damage to some other of the farm buildings occurred. Although the roof was destroyed, the walls were left standing which were to be structurally assessed by borough surveyors. Country Park Officer Rory Sidwell and his team of 13 set about picking up the pieces and getting the farm updated. Chain-link fencing was torn down and ranch-style fencing put in place which afforded the public a better view of the rare breeds of animals including Norfolk Horn sheep and Gloucester Old-spot pigs. In the rabbitry a collection of 19 different breeds of rabbits were on display.


When the old barn  was restored plans were made to include a visitors centre and refreshment facilities.  The Ilford Recorder reported on February 28th 1991 that the barn is being painstakingly rebuilt after the fire. Ilford builders H.Firmin & Son studied old history books and photographs so that they could reconstruct the roof  as closely as possible to the original. Roof trusses were made in the original 19th century style using timbers specially imported from Canada, and lifted into place using an eighty foot crane. Meanwhile Rory Sidwell said plans were afoot to make the forest a balance between nature conservation, forestry and people. By removing the hawthorn and blackthorn scrub, the Oak trees would regenerate encouraging Tawny owls, Nightingales, Grass snakes and songbirds, making it a much more balanced woodland. Since the hurricane of 1987 more trees had blown down and there was still a lot of timber to remove, some of which could be sold. Countryside warden Geri Coop who was in charge of the project said that leaving this area has been neglect, not conservation. "You are thinking about hundred year patterns. We are creating a mosaic of patches at different stages. Different animals like different habitats."

Work continued into 1992 when Willows, Poplars and Alder were planted and the lakes banks were strengthened and a footbridge built, improving waterfowl habitats and enhancing the appearance of the lake for visitors.

HAPPIER DAYS. Hazel George helps with the pony rides. Sadly Copper the pony perished in the barn blaze.


Although ideas for a Visitor Centre were formulated in 1991, it took several years for the plans to materialise. The reconstructed barn with under floor heating had to be decorated and the elaborate display stands built. Wood carvings were used to make the stands more realistic. Illustrated above is the Hainault Lodge Local Nature Reserve exhibit with the fox skeleton, found on the Reserve, inserted into the wooden fox carving. An exhibit of pollarding and its history is also featured above. Giant paper sculptures were hung from the ceiling in 1995. In 1999 the exhibits and barn were vandalised when cans of paint were thrown over them. After a massive clean up, the Centre was opened officially by Redbridge's Mayor, Councillor Maureen Hoskins in October 2000.


Holly by the lake R&S Meekings 1995

Holly and Vivienne R&S Meekings 1995

 Dusty the Dexter calf  R&S Meekings 1995

Bobo  R&S Meekings 1995

Sandra and Cherry. Christmas Day 1995  R&S Meekings

Roy and Cherry. Winter 1995.  R&S Meekings











A new venture for Hainault Forest Country Park and a First for Redbridge was the holding of a Teddy Bears Picnic in Summer 1999. Children accompanied by their favourite Teddies were entertained  and took part in various activities and competitions. Winners of these events were awarded a Millennium Teddy. The children are led and entertained by Country Park ranger Bill Mansell.

Photographs   Linda Herbert.



Millennium Beacon Lighting Events 1999 and 2000  as recalled by Linda Herbert

British Gas donated a Beacon to Hainault Forest Country Park during 1999 to celebrate the Millennium.

The Event was organised by Linda Herbert (pictured left) and  Countryside Warden Bill Mansell (left foreground) commencing at 4.00pm on New Years Eve.  An open public event was held, advertised in Hainault Forest Events Programme, then published every six months.  Families assembled at the Visitor Centre, then were lead into the Forest by Bill who gave a detailed walk and talk on the History of Hainault Forest Country Park.

This activity was a huge success thanks to funding donated by Rubi Charalambois employed on a special contract to oversee Millennium Celebrations in Redbridge.

Emergency crash barriers and a Calor gas cylinder were purchased to light the beacon.  No detail was spared when preparing Risk Assessments for this special activity, the first of this kind for London Borough of Redbridge. Approx 100 people turned up for this event, 80 were counted in the visitor centre, as the group walked through the Country Park more joined in the walk as the group travelled through the formal area to enter the woodland.

As this Event was such a success it was repeated for New Years Eve 2000, this year Her Worshipful the Lady Mayor, Councillor Mrs Maureen Hoskins had been invited to light the beacon.   A talk and slide show was given inside the Visitor Centre prior to the beacon lighting this year, as weather was not so favorable. Refreshments were provided in the Visitor centre after the lighting ceremony. These Events provided lots of positive feed back from all who attended.         

Councillor Maureen Hoskins - Mayor of Redbridge, with Councillor Richard Hoskins - Deputy Mayor, are helped to light the beacon in 2000. They are escorted to the site by piper Scott Davidson. Country Park Manager Paul Brown looks on.