A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.
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Woodford was an ancient parish of 2,146 a., (fn. 1) lying about 8 miles north-east of the City of London, at the northern end of Becontree hundred. Its western and northern boundaries ran through Epping Forest, part of which still survives in this area. A local board was formed for the parish in 1873. In 1934 the urban district was amalgamated with that of Wanstead, to the south, and in 1937 the borough of Wanstead and Woodford was formed. In 1965 Wanstead and Woodford, together with Ilford, became the London borough of Redbridge. That year has been taken as the terminal point of the present article, though a little later information has been included.
Along much of the western side of Woodford is a ridge about 200 ft. high, now marked by the High Road. From this the parish slopes gently eastwards down to the river Roding. The soil is mainly London clay, with patches of gravel on the higher parts, and originally supported forest over much of the area.
Woodford was never a compact village; separate hamlets, only tenuously linked together, grew up along the High Road and at Woodford Bridge in the north-east corner of the parish. The wooded surroundings made the parish attractive to wealthy Londoners from at least the 15th century, and their mansions became a feature of Woodford. During the 19th century improved roads and the railway brought Woodford within the range of middle class city workers. Streets of houses built for them, and later ribbon development, joined up the scattered settlements, and 20th-century estates have since filled in most of the remaining space. Yet Woodford remains a green and leafy place. Many of the estates are of the garden-suburb type. There are recreation grounds along the Roding and greens at Woodford Bridge. Patches of woodland and large greens fringe the High Road and Woodford New Road. Knighton wood in the north covers 37 a., and the north-western corner of the parish, bounded by the river Ching, is largely cleared and open forest land, of which Woodford golf course forms part.
In 1801 the population was 1,745. This indicates the residential character of the place, since inhabitants of purely agricultural villages of similar area in Essex numbered only about 300. (fn. 2) Many of the inhabitants of Woodford must have been domestic servants; (fn. 3) they would have replaced some of the negroes recorded in the parish in 1679–1766. (fn. 4) During the earlier 19th century the population grew slowly to 2,774, but after the coming of the railway it increased more rapidly to 4,609 in 1871, and 7,154 in 1881. (fn. 5) This rate of growth was maintained during the earlier 20th century. In 1961 the population was well over 32,000 but it had increased only slightly during the previous decade. (fn. 6)
The oldest road through the parish entered the village from the north-east. Coming from Abridge, it crossed the Roding by a ford, from which the village derived its name, and continued along the western bank, eventually veering south-west towards London. Around the ford, in the area now known as Woodford Bridge, a medieval village grew up. The earliest list of Woodford residents, drawn up about 1235, (fn. 7) shows most of the tenants living in this neighbourhood: Thomas de Muscegros almost certainly held land on the border next to Chigwell, where a branch of his family owned land; William ad aquam, or atte Ree, was one of a family from which Ray House derived its name; Richard Gal gave his name to Gales Farm; Thomas and Robert de ponte took their name from the bridge, as did Alexander and Goscelin atte bridge mentioned in 1239. (fn. 8) Alan de la Burgate belonged to an extensive family which held lands in both Woodford and Chigwell, and his name indicates that the bury or manor-house was at one time in this corner of the village, as Burgate-strete, (fn. 9) possibly the present Manor Road, certainly was. Near by was a pasture called Eldbury and a coppice called Eldburyshrubs; (fn. 10) their names suggest that the original manor-house had been abandoned long before 1235. The principal tenant in the list was John de monte, who probably held Hill House. A lane, following more or less the line of the present Roding Lane North, linked Hill House with the community at Woodford Bridge and gave access to the meadows; it is mentioned in 1271 as forming part of the boundary with Barking parish. (fn. 11) Rowdon Lane is mentioned in 1517 to the south of Gales Farm; (fn. 12) this seems to correspond with the present Roding Lane North. Its straighter southern section was in 1403 called Long Lane. (fn. 13)
From the ford a way known as 'the Lane' struck westwards for about a mile before turning north towards Chingford. Maud in the Lane (1235) gave her name to a tenement called Lanes, later Sakes. From the Sake family the lane became known as Sakes Lane, later corrupted as Snakes Lane. (fn. 14) The way now followed by the High Road, along the western border of the parish, was then only a track. It seems to have been the highway in the forest from London to Epping Heath mentioned in 1341. (fn. 15) Because of the need to preserve the forest it remained little more than a track until the 17th century, (fn. 16) but settlements were made beside it. William de fonte (1285) probably lived at Woodford Wells. (fn. 17) Benet Mascall (1235) was associated with Marshalls, a tenement on the green near the end of Snakes Lane. Adjoining it was Harts, named from the family of Richard Hert who was living in 1270. (fn. 18) The later site of the manor-house, in the extreme south-west corner of the parish, was certainly established in the 12th century and possibly before the Conquest. Robert de aula evidently lived near the manor house in 1235. Beside it the church was built, and below it the demesne lands ran down the southern portion of the village towards the river. The rector's glebe was also at this end of Woodford. The church and manor-house were thus built at some distance from the main area of settlement, and the hamlet which later grew up near them had become known as Church End by the 18th century.
Woodford grew slowly until the later 15th century when London citizens began to buy houses in the parish, some possibly as investments but others for residence during at least part of the year. From the later 16th century onwards they began to build their own larger, more elaborate houses. One result of this was that by 1622 the village had grown sufficiently to warrant enlarging the church. By 1670 about 70 families were living in the parish, (fn. 19) some of them quite humble, such as those who had erected cottages on the manorial waste or who were living as 'inmates' in others' households. (fn. 20) More than half the parishioners were then living in houses with 3 or fewer hearths. At the same time Woodford showed a much greater proportion of larger houses, with 8 or more hearths, than neighbouring parishes: in Woodford 18 out of 72 houses came into this category, compared with 8 out of 92 in Chingford, 7 out of 40 in Wanstead, and 23 out of 189 in Walthamstow. (fn. 21)
This development continued into the 18th century. In 1748 the houses in Woodford were said to be scattered and 'of brick, several storeys high, well built, and some of them handsome. The inhabitants are partly farmers, but still more gentlemen.' Londoners who did not own houses there often rented them for the summer; rooms in Woodford were often more expensive than in London itself. (fn. 22) In 1762 there were said to be 178 houses in the parish, of which 156 were 'mansions', and 22 cottages, and by 1796 the total number of houses was about 250. (fn. 23)
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries most of the houses were clustered along the High Road from Woodford Wells in the north, through Woodford Row (or Green), to Salway Hill, Church End, and along George Lane in the south; Woodford Bridge was a separate hamlet. A few farms filled the intervening area. (fn. 24) After the opening of the new road through the forest from Walthamstow in 1828 some 50 extra houses were built in its neighbourhood. (fn. 25) Many of these were on land inclosed from the waste; in 1838 nine were said to be new inclosures, but development was confined to the existing areas of settlement. (fn. 26) With the coming of the railway in 1856 houses began to be built in various parts of the parish. (fn. 27) The Crown sold its rights in the forest and many more small inclosures were made from the waste. (fn. 28)
As late as 1876 Woodford still comprised widely separated hamlets. (fn. 29) At Church End the British Land Co., which had bought the Woodford Hall estate in 1869, had already laid out roads west of the church, and houses were being built on some of the plots. Along the High Road there were a few large 18th-century houses. (fn. 30) At Woodford Green were the best shops, overlooking the green, and a number of mansions. (fn. 31) The growing population of Woodford Green was attested by its fine Congregational church, built in 1874, its Methodist Free church, and by the church of All Saints, near by at Woodford Wells, also built in 1874.
Woodford Wells was connected with Woodford Green by a row of small, roadside cottages. (fn. 32) The north-western section of the parish comprised a large piece of forest land. In spite of attempts by Bernard Whetstone and other lords of the manors to reclaim some of this area, it remained woodland until the middle of the 19th century. Apart from a few scattered cottages the house called Manor House, built on the site of the workhouse, was the only building there until it, in turn, was replaced by Bancroft's school in 1889. (fn. 33) After the break-up of the Wanstead House estate in 1882, the great wood at Woodford was felled and the land brought under cultivation or developed for housing. The site of the spring, first mentioned in 1285, from which the area took its name, (fn. 34) is uncertain. It was described in 1766 as being near the Three Wells public house (also known as the Old Wells), which stood on the west side of High Road, to the north of the New Wells public house, which was farther from the spring. The site was also described in 1796 as being near the nine-mile-stone. (fn. 35) In the early 18th century the spring was reputed to have medicinal properties, but had fallen into neglect before 1768. (fn. 36)
Woodford Bridge was the most detached of the hamlets. The houses clustered along the road and round the Green and since 1854 it had had its own church. It was still in 1965 known locally as 'the village'. Near Woodford station, also about 1876 or before, a small estate consisting of Prospect Road, West Grove, and Avenue Road, was being developed, (fn. 37) and Snakes Lane was becoming built up. (fn. 38)
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries the settled areas were expanded, and by 1922 few fields in the parish were still being cultivated. (fn. 39) As the families of the gentry moved out, their homes were pulled down and the grounds laid out for housing estates. (fn. 40) Some building took place in the extreme north of the parish, more at the southern end. On Monkhams estate the southern part had been developed by 1914 and the remaining part was completed in garden-suburb style during the 1930s. (fn. 41) A similar development in the north-western sector of the parish, begun about this time, was still continuing in 1965, but south of Snakes Lane virtually all the available open space was built over by 1939. (fn. 42) During the 1920s an average of 660 new houses were built each year; this figure rose to 1,600 in the 1930s. (fn. 43) Much of this building was under the control of operative and provisional planning schemes. (fn. 44)
Modern houses in Woodford are mostly detached or semi-detached, set in their own gardens, and have three or four bedrooms. Some council houses were built in the 1920s and many more were built after the Second World War, (fn. 45) but in 1961 62 per cent of the houses in Wanstead and Woodford were still owner-occupied. (fn. 46) Broadmead, the largest of the post-war council estates (fn. 47) was completed in 1968. The scheme includes six tower blocks of flats, maisonettes, a community centre, shops, and a raised central concourse above an extensive car park. Many new residents moved from places nearer London. Woodford is now a dormitory suburb for middle-class city workers, with only a few workingclass enclaves. (fn. 48) Dwellings being built in the late 1960s were mainly in the form of flats.
There were 5 inns in Woodford in 1753: the George, White Hart, Ship and Castle, New Wells, and Old Wells. (fn. 49) The number licensed rose to 9 by 1770, but fell again to 5 by 1828. (fn. 50) Two White Hart inns existed by 1776. (fn. 51) The George at Church End, which existed as Horns Inn in 1657, (fn. 52) is now a two-storey red-brick building dating from the early 18th century, with sash windows, a coved cornice, a porch with Tuscan columns, and an addition in the same style at the south end. The White Hart at Church End, which was a posting house in 1848, (fn. 53) has an early-19th-century yellow-brick front of three storeys with a central porch. The Castle at Woodford Green, which was also a posting house, (fn. 54) is a stuccofaced building of similar size and date. The present Horse and Well at Woodford Wells existed as the Horse and Groom by the early 1770s, (fn. 55) and became licensed as the Horse and Wells about 1784, when the Old Wells ceased; the New Wells had ceased before 1776. (fn. 56) The Horse and Well, also known as the Woodford Wells in 1838, (fn. 57) stands back from the east side of High Road; it is an early-19th-century brick building with a whitewashed front. The well-known huntsman, Tom Rounding, (fn. 58) was the landlord for nearly fifty years from 1792. (fn. 59) At Woodford Bridge the White Hart and the Crown and Crooked Billet both existed in the late 18th century; (fn. 60) the former was rebuilt c. 1900 with an ornate front, but the latter is a late-18th-century structure, though much altered. The Three Jolly Wheelers at Woodford Bridge was established later, between 1828 and 1848. (fn. 61)
Of the many houses built in Woodford in the 18th century only a few survived in 1969, though as late as 1954 there was still 'a quite uncommonly complete stretch' of them near St. Mary's church in South Woodford, 'some in generous gardens'. (fn. 62) At least six of these on the east side of High Road were demolished in the late 1950s and 1960s. Those that remained in 1969 included Elmhurst, West Lodge (nos. 114–18), and Holmleigh (no. 140). Elmhurst is a three-storey late-18th-century mansion of brown brick with a later south wing. The front has a central pediment, balustrades to the first-floor windows and a round-headed doorway with vermiculated quoins and a fanlight. By 1969 three tower blocks had been built in the grounds as halls of residence for Queen Mary College and the old house had been converted as a library and offices. The former West Lodge, a mid-18th-century house, later extended and faced with stucco, was standing empty in 1969 on a site designated for a new building for South Woodford library. (fn. 63) Holmleigh, a square three-storey house of dark red brick dating from the later 18th century, was also empty in 1969.
On the west side of High Road are the former rectory (fn. 64) and the White Hart Hotel. (fn. 65) The Grove, or Grove Hall, which stood at the junction of High Road and the Southend Road, was demolished to make way for an office block in 1958. (fn. 66) It was a large building with mainly Georgian external features, but with earlier brickwork at the rear and traces of 16th- or 17th-century work internally. The road frontage, of nine bays, was of the early 18th century and had a central doorway with Corinthian pilasters and a segmental pediment. Impressive gate-piers with stone urns flanked the drive entrance and the stable block was of late-17th-century date. The house belonged to the Eaton family from at least 1701, to the Monins family between 1769 and 1854, and to the Squire family during the early 20th century. (fn. 67)
The George inn faces High Road at its junction with George Lane. (fn. 68) Near by, concealed by later buildings on the road frontage, is Grove Lodge, an elaborate Tudor-style villa dated 1835. Further south in High Road several more humble 18th- and early-19th-century houses are surrounded by modern commercial development. In Grove Crescent some of the earliest middle-class semi-detached houses, built before 1864, (fn. 69) were still standing in 1969.
At Salway Hill (now part of High Road) there were several large residences in the 18th and 19th centuries. The most important survivor is Hurst House, or the Naked Beauty, of which the central block was apparently built between 1711 and 1735. (fn. 70) Later in the 18th century lower side wings were added, which terminated in stables and out-buildings, surmounted on both sides by tall domed cupolas. (fn. 71) The greater part of these wings had disappeared by the early 1930s when the house was restored. Not long after this work was completed in 1935, the house was gutted by fire, and in 1937 the central block was reconstructed to the original design, the present small wings being added. (fn. 72) The two-storey front of the central block is stucco-faced and divided into bays by full-height Corinthian pilasters supporting an entablature; the parapet is crowned by stone vases. The central doorway has Corinthian pilasters, a segmental pediment, and an enriched tympanum. The garden front is of dark red brick, and its bay-windows of brown brick are probably later 18th-century additions. Internally a fine staircase of the original date survived the fire.
At Woodford Green there are considerable remains of the hamlet of Woodford Row. On the west side, south of the Castle Hotel, is a small and comparatively unaltered double-fronted house of the later 18th century (nos. 383–5). The adjoining pair may be of similar date with early-19th-century alterations, including a cast-iron veranda. Set back at an angle to the north of the Castle is Lanehurst, a two-storey early-18th-century red brick house with a weatherboarded rear and a five-bay front. Further north several early-19th-century buildings along High Road have been altered by the insertion of large shop fronts. Mill Lane and the Square, the latter containing brick and weatherboarded cottages, still preserve their 19th-century character. Overlooking the Green in High Elms stands a stucco house of c. 1800, formerly called Higham Villa, and in Links Road are several cottage pairs of the earlier 19th century. The Terrace, at the west end of Broadmead Road, consists of mid-Victorian semi-detached houses of brown brick.
On the east side of Woodford Green, where the two medieval tenements of Harts and Marshalls had stood, Sir Humphrey Handforth, Master of the Wardrobe to James I, built a mansion called Harts in 1617. It was a gabled building which, before it was demolished, had acquired some Georgian features. Its principal resident in the 18th century was Richard Warner (d. 1775), who established a botanical garden there; his studies were printed in 1771 as Plantae Woodfordiensis. (fn. 73) Warner may have built the sham 'chapel' or 'abbey' ruin in the garden, a structure of flint and brick of which scanty remains, incorporating some reset medieval fragments, survive. Warner's name is perpetuated in Warner's Path, between Harts and the Green, and in Warner's Pond, on the west side of High Road. Harts House was rebuilt in 1816 as a three-storey stucco-faced mansion with an entrance front of seven bays, the three central bays being recessed with an Ionic colonnade on the ground floor. In 1920 the property was acquired for a hospital and the mansion was occupied in 1969 as a nurses' home. (fn. 74)
Among houses at Woodford Green which no longer exist was Hereford House, an early timber-framed building, described as 'ancient' in 1815. This stood at the north-west corner of (old) Snakes Lane. (fn. 75) Its name derived from Price Devereux, 10th Viscount Hereford, who was admitted tenant in 1739, after the death, several years earlier, of Leicester Martin, whose daughter and heir, Elizabeth, Devereux's wife, died before admission. Devereux died in 1748, when the property passed under his will to Robert Moxon whose son John let it as the poorhouse; after John's death his father's trustees sold it to Nicholas Pearse. (fn. 76) There was a tradition that it was once a hunting-seat of the earl of Essex. (fn. 77) The house was pulled down by Brice Pearse between 1820 and 1838, (fn. 78) after the diversion of Snakes Lane. The many-gabled Grove House stood on the Green near the present entrance to Snakes Lane. It was built by John Lambert, a London grocer: arms of the Grocers' Company figured in the internal decorations and a stone escutcheon outside bore Lambert's initials and those of his third wife with the date 1580. One room had wall-paintings of rural scenes dated 1617. The house was demolished in 1832, but some relics of it were preserved in Essex House, which was built on the site; these were destroyed when Essex House was bombed in 1944. (fn. 79) Prospect House, a large Georgian building erected by Robert Moxon and occupied by him in 1777, (fn. 80) has also disappeared.
There was little residential development at Woodford Wells until the 19th century. A group of detached and semi-detached houses, mostly dating from the first half of the century, were still standing at the corner of Inmans Row and along the east side of High Road in 1969 (even nos. 488–514). Adjoining them a stucco terrace of three-storey houses was empty and derelict. Further north the Horse and Well was almost the only survivor of a slightly earlier row of buildings. On the opposite side of the road, to the south of Bancroft's school, some generously spaced mid-19th-century houses were fast disappearing in 1969, but surviving older buildings included Ivy House dating from the early 19th century, where Edward Forster the younger lived from 1834 until his death in 1849, and the late-18th-century mansion, formerly called the Oaks, which became the Convent of the Poor Clares in 1920. (fn. 81) To the east of the junction of High Road and Epping New Road such houses as Knighton House and Nottingham Villas (fn. 82) had given way by 1969 to modern residential development, but Knighton Villas, four large three-storey pairs of c. 1850, were still standing. Scattered houses and cottages built in the first half of the 19th century in Whitehall Road also remained.
At Woodford Bridge, where most of the development has taken place in the 20th century, a few cottages have survived from the former hamlet. A row in Chigwell Road, opposite the White Hart, dates from the 18th and early 19th centuries, but two of the cottages and an 18th-century house called the Chestnuts were demolished in 1969. The older buildings on the opposite side of the road have mostly been replaced. Three of the larger residences in the area are still standing. Gwynne House in Manor Road, on the site of the medieval tenement of Guynes, was rebuilt or remodelled in 1816 by Henry Burmester, his architect being J. B. Papworth. (fn. 83) It is a two-storey mansion of brown brick with a frontage of seven bays and a central Doric porch. The property, comprising 64 a., was acquired by Dr. Barnardo's Homes in 1910 and during the next twenty years detached houses for boys were erected in the grounds. The chapel, a large building of brown brick dating from 1932 and designed in a free Perpendicular style by W. H. Godfrey, ceased to be used for services in 1968. (fn. 84) The former Roding House in Roding Lane North is also part of the Homes. It is a tall three-storey building of the later 18th century with a central porch supported on fluted Doric columns. Thurlby House in Chigwell Road, occupied as a branch library, is a late-18th-century building with a two-storey front, originally of five bays; later additions include an early-19th-century Tuscan porch and a bay-window. The house was occupied by Dr. Barnardo's Homes before the Second World War, and in 1927 a small graveyard was consecrated in its then extensive grounds. Although surrounded by a council housing estate in 1969, the graveyard was still in use. (fn. 85)
Woodford's residential nature was emphasized by its roads: in the early 18th century it was comparatively easy to reach the place from London, more difficult to pass beyond it. (fn. 86) Of the two present main roads from London the 'lower road', now called Chigwell Road, was subject to flooding by the river and by the mill stream. (fn. 87) It was often presented as being in need of repair, not least when King James I wished to pass along it. (fn. 88) Additional hazards were the bridges. In 1404 attention was drawn to the condition of Woodford Bridge, 'Mellebregge', and 'Herryesbregge'. The last-named, for which the lessees of Woodford Hall and Hill House were jointly responsible, must have crossed the Roding between those two estates. (fn. 89) Woodford bridge was a horse bridge until 1573, when the lord of the manor agreed to replace it with a cart bridge, he paying one-fifth costs and the county four-fifths. The same proportions were to be observed in paying for repairs. (fn. 90) The new bridge was still incomplete in 1605 and there were frequent complaints about its inadequacy and disputes as to who should pay for its repair. (fn. 91) By 1680 there was an adjoining foot bridge. (fn. 92) In 1768 a stone bridge, planned in 1752, was built. This was destroyed by floods and rebuilt in 1771. (fn. 93) It consisted of three semicircular arches of brown brick with stone rustications; the approach walls were splayed. Responsibility for its upkeep passed in 1785 to the Middlesex and Essex turnpike trust, which was reimbursed by quarter sessions, (fn. 94) and ultimately to the county council. (fn. 95) It was replaced in 1962 by a new and wider bridge. Further south along the lower road, at the point where a stream joins the Roding near the present Wansford Road, was Winn bridge. It was frequently in need of repair since, like Woodford bridge before 1573, responsibility for its upkeep rested with the lord of the manor. (fn. 96) It also passed into the care of the Middlesex and Essex turnpike trust, (fn. 97) and was adopted as a county bridge in 1872. (fn. 98)
The 'upper road', being neither the main highway from London nor an important parish thoroughfare, suffered even more neglect than the lower road. Only towards the end of the 17th century, after the road had been opened up as far as Harlow, did traffic increase. In 1721 the Middlesex and Essex turnpike trust was created to develop the road from Whitechapel to the end of Woodford and was so successful that in 1736 it was given control over the lower road as well. (fn. 99) The trust built Woodford New Road, from Walthamstow to Woodford Wells, in 1828, (fn. 100) and this, joined with the Epping New Road, begun by the Epping and Ongar highway trust in 1834, provided a high-class turnpike road running along the western boundary of Woodford and avoiding the awkward gradients through Buckhurst Hill. (fn. 101)
Snakes Lane, which joined the upper and lower roads, was often flooded by the Roding. In 1820 its course west of a pond, on a site now marked by the Broadway next to Woodford station, was diverted in a more southerly direction to reach the Green by way of Foules Lane. Previously it had turned sharply north for about 150 yards before bearing westwards to the Green, which it met just north of the present Monkhams Avenue. At the same time Warner's Path was diverted farther to the west, narrowing the Green and extending the boundaries of the estates on the east side of it; and a new road was made across the Green from the turnpike road (High Road) to Monkhams Lane, replacing the old entry to the lane by Hereford House. Brice Pearse of Monkhams, who gained most from these diversions, had agreed with the vestry to rebuild Snakes Lane on the present shorter course, and also paid £1,000 towards a new workhouse. (fn. 102)
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the upper and lower roads, together with Snakes Lane and George Lane, the latter connecting South Woodford with the lower road, were the only thoroughfares through the parish. Two lanes led westwards through the forest to Chingford Hatch, and another branched southwards from the High Road to Wanstead; a bequest for this purpose had been made in 1625. (fn. 103) In the north of the parish Monkhams Lane led from Woodford Wells to a farm. There were also a few turnings off the High Road and paths across the Green.
In 1856 the Eastern Counties railway extended its line to Woodford, (fn. 104) bisecting the parish. Stations were built at Snakes Lane and George Lane, where the railway crossed the existing connecting roads of the parish. A loop line to Ilford, with a halt at Roding Valley, Chigwell, was opened in 1903. (fn. 105) The railway was electrified in 1947, when it was taken over by London Transport. (fn. 106) This had the effect of closing the level crossings at Snakes Lane and George Lane, a pedestrian subway being provided at the first and a flyover bridge at the second. After the closure of Snakes Lane to through traffic, Broadmead Road, with a new bridge over the line, became the main connecting link between the upper and lower roads. During the development of building estates in the late 19th and 20th centuries many new local roads came into being to serve them. In 1932 the Southend arterial road, crossing the south of the parish from west to east, was built as an extension of the North Circular Road. (fn. 107) By the 1960s both this and the High Road, the latter one of the principal north-eastern routes out of London, were carrying continuous streams of heavy traffic through Woodford.
Public road transport was slow to serve Woodford. In 1823 25 coaches a day passed between London and Epping. (fn. 108) In the 1860s coaches ran through Woodford from Chigwell to London, and some started in the village; a horse bus ran along the upper road from Buckhurst Hill until about 1870. (fn. 109) But in 1891 the horse tramway from Clapton was taken only as far as the Walthamstow section of Woodford New Road, and in 1911 the motor bus route from Elephant and Castle ended at Wanstead. The first motor bus service to Woodford Bridge started in 1914. (fn. 110)
The roads had been used to carry mails from a much earlier date. From 1692 Woodford was within the area covered by the London penny post. (fn. 111) There was a receiving house there in 1794. (fn. 112) Woodford became a head office, in the north-eastern district of London, in 1856. (fn. 113) Further sub-division in 1917 put the southern third of Woodford in the E. 18 district, the rest of the parish remaining as the Woodford Green district, which had been constituted in 1880. (fn. 114) It was possible to telegraph from Woodford post office in 1870. (fn. 115) A telephone exchange was opened by the National Telephone Co. in 1904. (fn. 116) Since 1927 subscribers have been served by the Buckhurst exchange. (fn. 117)
In 1864 the West Ham Gas Co., which since 1856 had been empowered to supply gas to Woodford, relinquished its interest in all except the south-west corner of the parish to the Chigwell and Woodford Bridge Gas Co., formed in 1863. The works of the latter were situated between Snakes Lane and the Roding, near Woodford Bridge. (fn. 118) Both companies were later absorbed by the Gas Light and Coke Co., which was in turn transferred to the North Thames gas board in 1949. (fn. 119) In 1924 the County of London Electric Supply Co. was authorized to supply Woodford, (fn. 120) which it did two years later. (fn. 121)
Water was drawn from wells and pumps, some of which still survive; the iron pump at Woodford Bridge, erected in 1834, (fn. 122) lasted until 1962. After 1859 some water was piped to Woodford by the East London Waterworks Co., and by 1914 its successor, the Metropolitan water board, was supplying every house in the parish. (fn. 123)
A committee was appointed in 1831, during a cholera scare, to remove minor nuisances, but it was left to the local board to introduce substantial sanitary reforms. (fn. 124) In 1882 they were empowered to purchase land for sewage works on the river Ching to serve the north-east district, and on the river Roding, by Winn Bridge, to serve the rest. (fn. 125) The former now drains into the Chingford system and the latter, recently modernized, serves the greater part of Woodford. (fn. 126)
A fire-engine was purchased about 1820 and kept at the workhouse. (fn. 127) By 1882 there was a fire station, which soon moved to Horn Lane, and by 1898 a fire brigade at Maybank Road had been started on a voluntary basis. (fn. 128)
The Jubilee hospital, Woodford Green, was opened in 1899, having been financed by (Sir) John Roberts (Bt.). It has been extended to provide 54 beds. (fn. 129) Harts House was bought by East Ham council in 1920 and used as a hospital for some years until ward blocks were built. These now provide 100 beds. The hospital specializes in chest complaints. (fn. 130)
Much land has been set aside for recreational purposes. The Ashton playing fields at Woodford Bridge cover 50 a.; the facilities for athletics, cricket, football, and tennis are administered by a trust. A council sports ground of 32 a. lies to the west of Roding Lane North, Ray Park of 30 a. is north of Snakes Lane, and Old Mill playing field (26 a.) and Nightingale recreation ground (40 a.) adjoin the Roding in the south-east. There are several private sports grounds, a golf course, opened in 1890, (fn. 131) which extends into Walthamstow, and a number of smaller pleasure gardens. Indoor recreations may be found in the Sir James Hawkey Hall, opened by the council in 1955. (fn. 132) The Wilfred Lawson temperance hotel, founded by Andrew Johnston and erected in a commanding position on Woodford Green in 1883, was similarly used. For some years the urban district council had offices there. (fn. 133) It is now (1965) used as a nurses' training centre. The Plaza cinema, George Lane, was built in 1932 and the Majestic cinema, High Road, in 1935. (fn. 134)
A parish library was begun in 1828, (fn. 135) and by 1863 there was a literary institute, which seems to have closed by 1870. (fn. 136) Woodford Art and Industrial society was established in 1877 to encourage amateur skill; it had ceased to exist by 1926. (fn. 137) Until 1965 library services in Woodford were provided by the Essex county council, which opened three branches, at South Woodford, Woodford Bridge, and Woodford Green. The last of these, at the Broadway, was opened in 1961. (fn. 138) A wide variety of social, cultural, and sporting activities is available, (fn. 139) some organizations, such as the Women's Institute, being particularly strong. (fn. 140)
Many of Woodford's more distinguished residents have been wealthy landowners. Among them were at least three lord mayors: Sir John Lyon and Benjamin Thorowgood, who were lords of the manor, (fn. 141) and Sir Thomas White (lord mayor in 1877). (fn. 142) Michael Godfrey (d. 1695), son of a London merchant who lived at the Rookery, George Lane, became deputy governor of the Bank of England, which he had helped to establish. (fn. 143) Job Matthew, governor of the Bank, was buried at Woodford in 1802. (fn. 144) Sir Thomas Rowe, the explorer and diplomatist, was lord of Woodford manor, and was buried in the church. (fn. 145) Another man who travelled widely and wrote about his experiences was Godfrey T. Vigne (1801–63) whose home, the Oaks in the High Road, was perhaps more widely known for the pack of harriers kept there. (fn. 146)
Sydney Smith (1771–1845), wit, and preacher, was born at Woodford, (fn. 147) as was Arthur W. Haddan (1816–73), historian and biblical scholar. (fn. 148) Few rectors distinguished themselves, (fn. 149) but of the curates, Thomas Maurice (1754–1824), who left the curacy in 1785, is remembered for his Indian Antiquities (fn. 150) and J. M. Rodwell (1808–1900) was another orientalist. (fn. 151) Among architects Thomas Leverton (1743–1824) returned to the village of his birth to design Woodford Hall in 1771 (fn. 152) and J. B. Papworth (1775–1847) directed the building of Ray Lodge as the first stage of his distinguished career as an architect and draughtsman. (fn. 153) G. Street (1824–81), one of the leading architects of the Gothic revival, was a native. (fn. 154) Literary figures include Coventry Patmore, the poet, who was born at Woodford in 1823, (fn. 155) and William Morris, writer, artist, and craftsman, who spent his childhood at Woodford Hall 1840–8. (fn. 156) E. Sylvia Pankhurst (d. 1960), suffragette leader and writer, lived at Woodford for many years. (fn. 157)