Loughton: Agriculture, trade and industry

Pages 116-117

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 most of the inhabitants of Loughton were engaged in agriculture or forestry. Waller has suggested that the amount of forest land in the parish may not have altered greatly between 1086 and 1850. (fn. 1) If the hide is taken as 120 acres the eight estates in Loughton included 2,165 acres exclusive of pannage for 970 pigs. (fn. 2) In 1851 the parish contained 2,563 acres apart from forest, roads, and water. (fn. 3) If the calculations from the Domesday figures are correct only about 400 acres were taken from the forest between 1086 and 1850. Waller, however, doubted whether so much as 2,000 acres could have been cultivated by the small Domesday population.

Since most of the land in the parish descended from the 11th century as a single manor, information concerning the manor, its tenants, and land use has been included in the section on the manor. Apart from the forest most of the land in the parish, until built upon, seems to have been used for pasture. This was certainly the case in 1612. (fn. 4) In 1850 it was estimated that there were 831 acres of arable, 1,551 acres of pasture, 131 acres of woodland, and 1,309 acres of common forest in the parish, exclusive of 45 acres of glebe most of which was grass land. (fn. 5) A directory of 1863 listed 14 farmers in the parish. (fn. 6) In 1933 the chief crops were wheat, oats, peas, and roots, but the land was chiefly in pasture. (fn. 7) Since the building of the Debden estate very little agricultural land has remained but there are still two farms, Hill Farm and North Farm, in the extreme south of Loughton.

Strip cultivation seems to have existed in the Buckhurst Hill area in the 13th century, but to have been discontinued after the land in question was acquired by Waltham Abbey. (fn. 8)

In 1066 and 1086 there was a mill at Loughton on one of the manors held by Peter de Valognes. (fn. 9) Waltham Abbey had a mill in the parish in the 13th century. (fn. 10) In 1336 the abbot was presented before the forest court for erecting a windmill within the covert of the forest in the vill of Loughton. This mill probably gave its name to Mill Hill, where the Warren now stands. It had disappeared by 1739. (fn. 11) The medieval court rolls contain several references to the mill and the mill-dam at Loughton Bridge. (fn. 12) In 1270 some of the manorial tenants were fined for going to a mill other than that of their lord. (fn. 13) In 1404 a fuller was charged before the manor court with spoiling some cloth given him to full in his mill. (fn. 14)

Before the 19th century those not engaged in agriculture followed the usual village trades or were domestic servants, notably at Loughton Hall and Goldings. The last class became more numerous after about 1830, when some middle-class houses were built. This was one of the main arguments urged in defence of the inclosures from the forest. 'They have built', said a witness before the Epping Forest Commissioners, 'large houses and greenhouses and so on. It employs a great deal of labour . . . the labour was 12s. a week in 1864 and now I do not think you can engage a man under 18s. or £1.' (fn. 15) Domestic service of all kinds continued to be an important occupation in Loughton until the Second World War.

Wealthy residents required a wide range of goods and services. Many of these must have been obtained from London, especially after the completion of the railway. But in 1882 there was a much wider range of occupations than in 1848. (fn. 16) The shopping centre of Loughton grew very slowly until after 1918. North Loughton was badly served until this time. Before 1918 there were only three shops in High Road north of Bincombe House (now Messrs. Parrott's). (fn. 17) Between 1918 and 1939 the shopping centre was extended as far as Traps Hill. The shops now stretch for ½ mile along High Road and provide a good range of commodities.

Industry in Loughton has been on a very small scale in the past. Brick- and tile-making was carried on at least from 1486, when a tile-house was mentioned. (fn. 18) There was a tile-kiln in 1556; it may have been the one at the foot of Albion Hill, whose history has been traced from 1673 to 1851, and whose lastrecorded owner was Noah Heath. (fn. 19) Another kilnhouse was also mentioned in 1851. (fn. 20) In the court roll for 1721 there is an order which suggests that there were potters in Loughton. (fn. 21)

There has been much nursery gardening in the parish since about 1862, when Messrs. William Paul & Son of Waltham Cross established their Loughton nursery, which grew to be one of the biggest in Essex. (fn. 22)

During the 20th century several small engineering works have been set up. One of the most interesting of these was the automobile assembly works of Leonard Wilson in Forest Road. (fn. 23) Wilson, the son of a Canadian mining engineer, bought a butcher's business in Smart's Lane about 1898. In 1906 he opened the motor works and accepted the sole Essex agency for Panhard and Levasseur cars. Only the chassis of these cars came over from France. The processes necessary for completing them, including the making of the bodies, were carried out at the Forest Road works. During the First World War the Wilson works produced munitions. Afterwards, in the 1920's, Wilson had an agency for another French car, the Citröen.

When completed the Debden estate will have several large factories, including one for making banknotes for the Bank of England. (fn. 24)


  • 1. Essex Naturalist, xxi, 159.
  • 2. W. Addison, Epping Forest, 222.
  • 3. Essex Naturalist, xxi, 166. For tributes paid to him at his jubilee as rector in 1906 see E.R.O., T/P 13 iii.
  • 4. E.R.O., T/P 13 iii.
  • 5. Essex Naturalist, xxi, 167. The papers of Cmdr. J. W. Maitland, M.P., of Harrington Hall, Spilsby, Lincs., include some material relating to the forest question; this was not examined for the present survey. There are also many documents about the forest question in the Public Record Office and the Guildhall, London.
  • 6. Waller, Loughton, i, 7.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. E.R.O., D/CT 225.
  • 9. See Manor.
  • 10. E.R.O., D/CT 225.
  • 11. White's Dir. Essex (1863).
  • 12. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1933).
  • 13. E.R. lvii, 96.
  • 14. V.C.H. Essex, i, 537.
  • 15. Waller, Loughton, i, 159.
  • 16. Ibid. 22; cf. Chapman and Andre, Map of Essex, 1777, sheet xvi.
  • 17. Waller, Loughton, i, 24, 26, 75.
  • 18. Ibid. 75.
  • 19. Ibid. 25.
  • 20. Proc. of Epping Forest Com. (1873), i, 567.
  • 21. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1882). Cf. White's Dir. Essex (1848).
  • 22. Will Francies, 'Memories of High Road', West Essex Gaz. 20 Mar. 1953; inf. from Mr. Francies.
  • 23. Waller, Loughton, ii, 72.
  • 24. Ibid. ii, 76, i, 146. Heath was a bricklayer and builder: White's Dir. Essex (1848).
  • 25. E.R.O., D/CT 225.
  • 26. E.R.O., T/P 18.
  • 27. V.C.H. Essex, ii, 480, 482. For later nurseries see e.g. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1933).
  • 28. Will Francies, 'My Loughton' (3), West Essex Gaz. 27 Feb. 1953.