Heritage: Samuel Pepys’ visit to Hainault back in 1662

Portrait of Samuel Pepys by Robert White, after Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt line engraving, published 16

Portrait of Samuel Pepys by Robert White, after Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt line engraving, published 1690 - Credit: Project Gutenberg ( which means it's free to use)

This week the chairman of the Fairlop Heritage Group takes a look at how much of the timber for the Royal Navy of the 17th century came from Hainault Forest.

In 1539, Henry VIII dissolved Barking Abbey and took ownership of Hainault

Forest, which then included Fairlop Plain.

The area became known as King’s Wood, but the management regime remained unchanged.

Future monarchs continued to value the forest as a hunting ground and the area was also prized for its oaks in particular, which were used by the Royal Navy for shipbuilding.

On August 18, 1662, Samuel Pepys, a famous 17th century diarist, and secretary to the Admiralty, visited the forest in order to become acquainted with the methods by which timber was supplied from it to the dockyards at Woolwich for the construction and repair of ships for the navy.

Pepys, perhaps most famous for burying his cheese during the Great Fire of London, also received a lesson on how to use tables for measuring lengths of timber.

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His diary, which is one of the most complete accounts of life in 17th century England, gives a long account of his trip, during which he summoned officials to explain the many and varied processes used to measure the amount of wood taken from the forest.

“Up very early, and rode to Bow,” the diary reads.

“And there stayed at the King’s Head, and ate a breakfast of eggs until Mr Deane of Woolwich came to me, then he and I rode into the forest, and there we saw many trees of the King’s a-hewing.

“He showed me the mystery of cutting off square, measured on the short length and billed on the long length, wherein the King is abused in the timber that he buys, which I shall with much pleasure be able to correct.

“After we had been a good while in the wood, we rode to llford [historians believe the inn the party visited for dinner to be the Cauliflower public house in Ilford High Road].”

The diary continues: “While dinner was getting ready, he and I practised measuring tables until I understood measuring of timber and board very well.

“By and by, I got a horse back and rode to Barking, and there saw the place where they ship this timber for Woolwich; and home again, just before a great shower of rain.

“Whiled away the evening at my office, trying to repeat the rules of measuring learnt this day, and so to bed with my mind very well pleased with this day’s work.”