A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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Until the 19th century Chigwell was a rural parish devoted mainly to agriculture. The soil is clay. At Buckhurst Hill and Chigwell Row there were formerly extensive stretches of woodland forming part of Epping Forest and Hainault Forest. Apart from the forests the southern part of the parish has always been used for pasture, possibly because most of the wealthier inhabitants lived there and preferred such surroundings. The remainder of the parish has always contained a higher proportion of arable land, but even there pasture has predominated.
Little is known of agricultural practices in the parish during the Middle Ages. Certain fields at Buckhurst Hill appear to have been still divided into strips in the 13th century but were consolidated after coming into the possession of Waltham Abbey about 1300. (fn. 1) Such records as remain of this period show that pigs were the main source of revenue, as was usual in this part of Essex, where the forests provided good pannage. (fn. 2) Assarts from the forests were numerous in the 13th and 14th centuries, although rarely of more than an acre in extent. (fn. 3) At Woolston in the 15th century pigs were still the most common animals, but cattle, sheep, and geese were also kept. (fn. 4) Most of the arable land appears to have been worked by the lord of the manor using customary labour until towards the end of the 15th century, when labour services had been generally commuted. (fn. 5) Between 1312 and 1534 some 100 acres arable belonging to the demesne of Woolston had been converted into pasture. (fn. 6) Grazing land was certainly regarded as more profitable than arable. The will of John Fuller of Serjeants, dated 1671, charged his widow to 'make no waste by ploughing' on the land which he left her in trust for his children. (fn. 7) An unusual crop, greenweed, was raised in a field at Buckhurst Hill in 1664. (fn. 8) It was probably used for dye.
During the 18th century more land probably passed under cultivation. A tithe survey of 1800 shows that there were then 973 acres of arable. Wheat accounted for 280 acres, oats 291 acres, potatoes 32 acres, barley 25 acres, beans, peas, and vetches 26 acres, and seeds 129 acres with 190 acres fallow. There were 2,310 acres of grassland and 30 acres of privately owned woodland. The remaining 1,696 acres of the parish were made up mainly of the forest waste at Chigwell Row and Buckhurst Hill. (fn. 9) According to Vancouver's tables of 1794 the yield of crops was slightly above the average for the county. (fn. 10) James Hatch of Claybury in Barking, lord of Chigwell Hall, who owned some 800 acres in Chigwell apart from waste, was one of the correspondents who supplied Arthur Young with information for his General View of Agriculture in Essex (1807). He reported that crops of potatoes, well manured on a rotational system, had obviated fallow land. He stated also that fourteen years was the minimum lease that he would grant because tenants could not 'make the necessary exertions in draining and manuring under a shorter term'. (fn. 11) Young considered that the forest waste in Chigwell was a handicap to good husbandry, any advantage gained by rights of common being far outweighed by the damage done by deer and poachers. (fn. 12) He suggested that 750 acres waste worth 2s. 6d. an acre could be improved to 25s. by inclosure.
Small inclosures had been continuing in the 16th and 17th centuries, sometimes by grant in manor courts and sometimes by silent encroachment. (fn. 13) In 1851 Hainault Forest was disafforested by Act of Parliament. (fn. 14) The Hainault Forest Allotment of Commons Act, 1858, (fn. 15) provided that 701 acres (mainly within the parish of Chigwell) should be allotted as common of that parish. By the Chigwell Inclosure Award 1863 most of this common was inclosed. (fn. 16) The largest allotments went to James Mills, lord of the manor of Chigwell Hall, who received 209 acres, and Mrs. Lloyd of Barringtons, who was granted 72 acres absolutely and an additional 50 acres on condition that she maintained it for use as a public recreation ground. (fn. 17)
Meanwhile, at Buckhurst Hill, inclosures were being made from Epping Forest. In 1858 James Mills purchased the forestal rights of the Crown in his manor of Chigwell Hall. (fn. 18) The Epping Forest Commission reported in 1877 that 257 acres had been illegally inclosed within this manor between 1851 and 1871. (fn. 19) By 1877 most of these inclosures had been built on or had become private gardens and were therefore exempt from the provisions of the subsequent Epping Forest Acts. An important exception was Lords Bushes, which contained 92 acres and became part of the forest once more under those Acts. Unlike those at Chigwell Row, therefore, the inclosures at Buckhurst Hill did not significantly increase the agricultural acreage.
A fair proportion of the parish is still devoted to farming, mostly in the north and east, and is now evenly divided between arable and pasture land.