Where have all the Oak trees gone?

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h wrap - Credit: Woodland Trust

Historian David Martin of the Fairlop Heritage Group shares the untold story of the deforestation of Essex.

During the mid-18th century, so many illegal enclosures were being made in the Forest of Essex that it resulted in fences being torn down by the forest officials, and people were summoned to appear before court.

In 1817, the Commission of Woods applied for an Act of Parliament to enclose part of the forest for the Crown – such a move would do away with commoners’ rights in the forest and allow for the deforestation of the whole forest.

This caused much uproar, although it was eventually passed by the House of Commons.

Foruntately, due to a time limit and much lengthy debate, it was withdrawn from the House of Lords in 1818 and so never became law.

Following another court case in 1848, 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 to the land they informally held from the Crown.

On the advice of the commissioners, an act was finally passed in 1851 for the disafforestation of Hainault Forest and this was duly passed.

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Eventually, because of this move, 3,031 acres of Kings Wood were cleared of timber.

Historians can track the deforestation of the forest from that point onwards.

The result of a survey conducted in 1851 by Thomas Thurston of Ashford, Kent, is shown in a plan.

It shows that 280 acres had already been cleared of hornbeam and timber and 780 acres cleared of timber only.

New North Road, Forest Road and Hainault Road are shown, but not named on the original map.

Sadly, the only pieces of ancient woodland that survived were those of the Manor of Lambourne, Grange Hill Forest and Claybury Woods.

Not everyone was against the clearing of the woodland, however.

John Alison, a farmer responsible for the clearance and setting up of roads and farms in the area, 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”.

After such a long series of struggles, it is fortunate that the trees in Epping Forest survived at all.