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History at Hainault Forest

Hainault Forest is one of the few remaining sections of the former Forest of Essex, which had its origins in the forest that covered much of Britain after the ice age. It is therefore classified as ancient woodland.

From the 11th century, it formed part of the royal hunting forests which provided venison for the monarch’s table, and is thought to have been declared a specially protected forest by Henry 1 some time in the 1130s. A survey ordered by Henry VIII in 1544 shows Hainault Forest was then around 3,000 acres in size. In 1641, Charles I had a new survey of the forest boundaries carried out and the eastern boundary was marked with stones, many of which can still be seen today.

Until 1851, much of the land currently owned by Essex County Council, and one of the recently acquired fields (90 acre field) lay within Hainault Forest which was approx. 4,900 acres/1984 hectares. However, in 1851, an Act of Parliament allowed around 100,000 trees to be cut down and the land turned over to agriculture to help feed the growing population of London. After public pressure to retain some of the forest, headed by the Liberal politician and conservationist Edward North Buxton, the remaining area was acquired for the nation in 1903 by Essex and London Councils and it was designated a Country Park in 1906.

Photo: WTML / Michael Heffernan)

Since the abolition of the Greater London Council in 1986, the site has been jointly owned by Essex County Council and the London Borough of Redbridge as the county boundary runs through the forest. In 1998, the Woodland Trust took a 50 year lease from Essex County Council on 113 hectares (280 acres) of the woodland and manages it on the council’s behalf as Hainault Forest. The remainder of the woodland (100 hectares; 240 acres) is owned and managed by the London Borough of Redbridge and the two sites together are known as Hainault Forest Country Park.

In 2006, the Woodland Trust purchased 54 hectares (134 acres) of previously arable land, consisting of four fields adjacent to and within Hainault Forest. From the 12th century, three of the fields formed part of the deer park to the west of Havering Palace. The park was enclosed in the mid 17th century and the fields appear to have been intensively farmed up to the time they were bought by the Trust.

Hainault Forest is one of the few remaining sections of the former Forest of Essex, which had its origins in the forest that covered much of Britain after the ice age. It is therefore classified as ancient woodland.