EARLY HISTORY OF THE FRIENDS OF EPPING FOREST

There has often been confusion about when and how we began. Perhaps it is time to put it on record… so if you have ever wondered, read on...

It started on a sunny Sunday afternoon in November 1968 in the car park of the Wake Arms PH. and arose
from a remark by Sir William Addison. At that time serious damage in the Forest caused by horse-riding was
widespread and so many letters had appeared in the local newspapers complaining about the damage that the
Conservators were anxious to deal with the problem. They were considering taking powers to license and restrict
horse riding.

In response to an approach from Sir John Biggs-Davison, MP for Epping Forest, (following representations to him
by horse-riders) the Superintendent, Alfred Qvist, arranged for a coach to be at the Wake Arms car park at 2-0pm.
on this Sunday afternoon. The coach was to take The Superintendent, the Verderers, Sir John & the horse-riding
representatives, and, several people who had written complaining letters to the local paper, around the Forest to see
whether any damage actually existed and how serious it was.

The Superintendent asked me to direct the coach to the places where I knew damage could clearly be seen. (as
I had written to the local paper and regularly took Waltham Forest school children out into the Forest).
Among the assembled people there was a strange difference in foot-wear. Many folk were wearing shoes and
many others wearing ‘wellies’… not surprisingly this dichotomy seemed to illustrate whether the wearer believed
there was damage to be seen or not! After struggling through several areas of deep mud near Whitehouse
and Almshouse Plains, MP Sir John was ‘caught’ washing the mud off his shiny black shoes in the stream near
Grimston’s Ride. This incident reduced the tension between the two ‘sets of opinion’ when there was general
laughter. He took it well!

However, as we left the woodland, embarrassment and triumph became the two differing emotions experienced
among the group, when a young horserider appeared riding across Fairmead Bottom in a restricted area well off the
designated Ride.

After visiting several other damaged areas the coach finally returned us all to the Wake Arms.

In the car park various people congregated around William Addison, the senior Verderer (later Sir William).
In the discussion about what we had seen, William Addison expressed a desire to see the focus of opinion that
was concerned about damage in the Forest, organised into a body that could eventually represent all the users of the Forest.
He privately expressed a view that as the Conservators wished to avoid becoming involved in any conflict… but
rather to ‘hold the ring’, there would initially need to be a counter-balancing pressure group of Forest users to that
of the organised horse-riders.
Among the several individuals who formed this ‘car-park-group’ were John Heywood, from Woodford Green
Athletic Club, Harold Lee from the Orion Harriers, and John Greenwood (who said he represented ‘a person who just
walked his dog in the Forest’). Among the others were Misses Arnold & Flack from the Ilford Ramblers, and Colin
Lowson, an art teacher who organised a painting group using the Forest, and, myself - on behalf of the children
attending the two Waltham Forest Field Study Centres.

A few evenings later these individuals and a few others, met at the Suntrap Field Study Centre and it was
decided to proceed by forming an ad hoc committee to call a wider representative meeting.
It was proposed to begin by organising a meeting in Lopping Hall, inviting as many people as possible who
were secretaries and chairmen (in those days!) of local organisations who used the Forest and were likely to be affected
and concerned about the problem of damage to the woodland floor. The Superintendent and the four
Verderers were also invited to the meeting. Superintendent Alfred Qvist & Mrs Qvist and Bernard Ward & William
Addison (Verderers) accepted the invitation and were present.

Thus a total of 27 people representing eleven organisations met (perhaps appropriately) in the historic
Lopping Hall, Loughton, on February 11th 1969. Apologies and requests to be ‘kept informed of further developments’
came from a further thirteen local organisations. The ‘organisations’ varied from Natural History Societies,
Historical Societies, Amenity Societies and Photographic Societies to Ramblers Associations, Athletic
Associations, Cricket & Golf Clubs and Public Schools.

Among the locally well-known signatures on the ‘attendance sheet’ were those of Roy McKenzie-Smith,
Miss Marjorie M Smith, Julie & Roger Small, Jean Usher, William Nursaw, R.A.Warren, John Greenwood & Harold Lee.

In the discussion it was thought that an organisation should be formed and initially consist of representatives of
various interested societies and amenity bodies such as those present, (and others that were suggested) - and it
should be organised in some ‘federated’ form and called the ‘Friends of Epping Forest’.

From this inaugural meeting John Heywood agreed to serve as secretary and Ken Hoy as chairman. A Steering
Committee of six was elected to prepare a Constitution, including Aims & Objects and Rules of membership.
It was hardly by coincidence that also in November 1968 the Minister of Education & Science had asked the
Eastern Sports Council to comment on the conflict between the horse riding interests and the Administrators of
Epping Forest. The Conservators and the British Horse Society both agreed to accept the help of the Eastern Sports
Council in finding a solution. Very soon afterwards, on the 19th February 1969, I received a phone
call from Miss Bradley, who was Secretary of the Eastern Sports Council.
She was organising a meeting between interested parties into the ‘problem of damage caused by horse
riding in the Forest’… would the newly formed Friends of Epping Forest be prepared to attend?

The Minister’s representative appointed to chair the meeting was Colonel Sir Arthur Noble. The meeting
took place in the Council Offices in Loughton on 8th May 1969 and included representatives of Essex County
Council, the Essex County Sports Association, the Lee Valley Regional Park Association and the ‘interested
parties’. These included representatives of the Epping Forest Rider’s Association, the British Horse Society, Mr Don
Creswell of the Ramblers Association, the local British Naturalists Association, The Friends of Epping Forest, and the
Conservators of Epping Forest. Following visits to the Forest, the subsequent report from Sir Arthur
concluded that excessive damage to the Forest floor was occurring. It recommended that the Conservators
continue to construct their system of surfaced rides, and that they take powers to restrict riding where and
when necessary to protect the Forest and that a system of licensing and registration, dependent upon accepting
a ‘code of practice’, be introduced to identify riders.

A further recommendation was that future problems should be solved by joint consultation between the Epping Forest
Committee (Conservators of the Forest) and the Friends of Epping Forest, representing all users of the Forest.
But a more serious threat to the Forest was eventually to bring greater worries! A year later, in early 1970, I was
approached by Colonel Chappell, a Verderer of Epping Forest, who was very concerned about the threat of the ‘Dring
Road’ or ‘Ringway 3’ planned to cross the Forest at the Wake Arms round-about and continue on towards
Theydon and Abridge! He knew there were ultimate limits to the City of London’s opposition to Government pressure and
saw the value of arousing the interest and support of public opinion.

Then apparently in July,1970 the Conservators learned that five possible routes for an orbital ring-road through the
Forest were under consideration. A route north of Epping (that the Conservators favoured) was not acceptable to the
Government and the Conservators eventually had to accept the least damaging option: Bell Common Cricket
Ground (the present M25 route) But protracted private negotiations between the Government and the Conservators
were still continuing and this route was not yet officially published. However rumours were quietly beginning to spread..

M25 beforeM25 after
From Copped Hall track: M25 before + after...

The late John Griffiths, of the British Naturalist Association (BNA) with others was also concerned about the threat.
And, in early 1973, I received a phone call from Doreen Boardman inviting the Friends of Epping Forest to a meeting
at the house of John Oxenham, Chairman of the Epping Forest branch of the BNA. A meeting that also
included some members of the recently disbanded Epping Forest Association. (This Association had publicly
supported the Conservators earlier in the 1960’s, in trying to get the best solution for the Forest when it was
proposed to take the A406, North Circular Road, through the middle of Walthamstow Forest)!

Long term members of ‘the Friends’ will recognise the names of some of the people who were involved in that
historic meeting. As well as John & Mrs Oxenham, those present included Doreen Boardman, Pat Duffield, Judy
Miller, Fred Wetton, Clifford Pyne, John Greenwood, Harold Lee and myself.
As a result of the meeting it was suggested that the Friends of Epping Forest should be re-formed on a ‘mass
basis’ – individual membership rather than the existing federated form. John Oxenham agreed to be Chairman; Pat.
Duffield, Secretary; Fred Wetton, Treasurer and I agreed to be Vice- Chairman.

Briefly our aims & objects were:
a.
To provide a consultative link between the administrators of Epping Forest and members of
the public who have at heart the preservation of the Forest as defined in the Epping Forest Act 1878.

b. To promote measures likely to be of benefit to Epping Forest and to take action against
measures which could be detrimental to it and/or impair the amenities it provides (later
these objects were slightly amended and amplified when we became a charity).

Eventually, in November 1973, the Ministry of Transport published a report where the planned ring-road, then called
the M16 (later M25), was shown to cross the Forest ridge in a short ‘cut & cover’ tunnel under the cricket ground and an
interchange with the A11 (now B 1393) immediately to the west of the tunnel. We decided to begin a campaign
against the detailed plans for the proposed M16 / M25 and to immediately increase the recruitment of members.
But others also were very alarmed, particularly the Upshire Preservation Society as the proposed motorway was
to go right through the village - but that begins another long story!

… to be continued. Ken Hoy

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