Theydon Bois: Introduction

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.

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'Theydon Bois: Introduction', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred, (London, 1956) pp. 249-251. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]


Theydon Bois is 2 miles south of Epping and 15 miles north-east of London. (fn. 1) During the past 100 years much building has taken place near the railway station and many residents travel to work in London. In spite of this the parish retains a number of rural features. The village green is an attractive centre and part of the parish lies within Epping Forest. Local people are proud of their village and have formed the Theydon Bois Rural Preservation Society. (fn. 2)

The ancient parish of Theydon Bois contained 2,198 acres. (fn. 3) In 1896 those parts of it lying within the Epping Special Drainage Area were transferred for civil purposes to the newly formed Epping Urban District. This affected about 60 acres in the north of the parish. (fn. 4) In 1934 a small part of Theydon Bois was transferred to Epping Upland (fn. 5) and in 1946 there were further slight adjustments of the boundary between these two parishes. (fn. 6)

Theydon Bois is the most westerly of the three Theydon parishes. It takes its distinctive name from the family of Bois (de Bosco) which held the manor in the 12th and 13th centuries. (fn. 7) The parish is bounded on the south by the River Roding. The ground rises from about 75 ft. above sea-level by the river to 370 ft. in the north-west, where the parish includes some 300 acres at the north end of Epping Forest. The road from Abridge (in Lambourne, q.v.) enters the parish by Abridge Bridge over the Roding and runs northwest through Theydon Bois to the 'Wake Arms' in Epping Forest, where it meets the main road from London to Newmarket and Norwich. At Theydon Green in the centre of the parish the Abridge road is joined by those going north to Epping and south to Loughton. The railway, now part of the Central London (Underground) line, runs north through the parish to Epping. Theydon Bois station, on this line, is ¼ mile east of Theydon Green. Theydon Green has been a village since the 18th century or earlier and retains a large open green and pond. The modern parish church and the village school are on the northwest of the green and the Baptist church is on the southwest. Modern development has been mainly to the north, south, and east of the green. There is a small group of houses at Ivy Chimneys, in the north of the ancient parish. This is in the ecclesiastical parish of Theydon Bois and includes an iron mission room, but for civil purposes it is in Epping Urban District.

Theydon Hall, which is on the site of the ancient manor house, is about 1½ mile south of the green on the Abridge road. Beside it is the site of the old parish church, demolished in 1843. Theydon Hall ceased to be the manor house early in the 17th century. Its place was taken by Birch Hall, ½ mile west of Theydon Green. The present Birch Hall is a 19th-century house, but the name is derived from a medieval family which no doubt had a house on the site. (fn. 8) The other old manor house of Gregories was probably about ¾ mile north-east of the church, where there is still a homestead moat. The modern Great Gregories Farm is about ½ mile north-west of the moat. Parsonage Farm is ¼ mile east of the railway station. (fn. 9) It probably dates from the 15th century. The parish almshouses, dating from the 18th century, are in Coppice Row. (fn. 10)

In the Middle Ages Theydon Bois was a thinly populated rural parish. In 1428 it was one of the few parishes in the hundred which were exempted from taxation because they contained fewer than 10 households. (fn. 11) In addition to those already mentioned there was probably a medieval house to the north of Theydon Green where traces of a rectangular moat could still be seen at the end of the 19th century. (fn. 12) Gaunts Wood and Redoak Wood, ¼ mile south-west of Theydon Green, take their names from medieval tenants, whose houses may have been in the neighbourhood. (fn. 13)

Chapman and Andre's map of 1777 shows about a dozen houses round Theydon Green but few others in the parish apart from those above. (fn. 14) Blackacre Farm is shown, ¼ mile south of Theydon Green. It is a timber-framed and plastered house now surrounded by buildings of a much later date. Details which survive are of the 17th century but subsequent alterations have made it impossible to trace the original form of the house. One chimney retains parts of four octagonal shafts and two more, which originally had diagonal shafts, have moulded brick cappings at the base. Internally there is a 17th-century staircase with moulded newels and pendants and heavy turned balusters.

In general there are few buildings in the parish that are earlier than the 19th century. At Theydon Green the Bull Inn, part of it of the 17th century, still stands.

A smithy and wheelwright's shop stood near by in 1848. (fn. 15) Between the 'Bull' and the 'Queen Victoria' is a row of weather-boarded cottages probably built early in the 18th century. Facing the green on its east side are a few scattered cottages which may date from the 17th century or earlier. By the early 19th century there were a number of cottages in the northern part of Coppice Row. There were also some in the north of the ancient parish, now part of Epping Urban District. (fn. 16) In 1801 the population of Theydon Bois was 334. (fn. 17) It rose to 676 in 1831 but sank to 538 in 1841. It was 591 in 1851 and 610 in 1861.

The extension of the railway from Loughton to Epping and Ongar in 1865 had a rapid effect on Theydon Bois, and must be held mainly responsible for building development there during the later 19th century and after. Building had, however, started a little before 1865, perhaps in anticipation of the railway extension. In Theydon Bois, as in Loughton (q.v.) and the other forest parishes, there was a strong movement to inclose the forest, and in some cases to clear it for building. (fn. 18) As early as 1848 the sites of the houses now called Manor Villas were laid out on newly inclosed land to the north of Theydon Green. (fn. 19) The houses themselves were built between 1870 and 1872. Farther north, beyond the golf course, are houses of similar character standing in good gardens. The most imposing of these is Theydon Towers, dating from about 1880. It is an irregularly shaped house of brown brick with a four-story tower-like feature forming part of the entrance front. In this area there are also some largish houses of a later date. Building in this area was, however, checked by the preservation of Epping Forest.

Elsewhere the development, although extensive, is composed of smaller units. Terrace houses on the south-west side of Theydon Green date from between 1890 and 1910. Theydon Park Road, which leaves the Green at its south corner and finally becomes an unmade track parallel to the railway, is built up with small houses and bungalows. Some of these date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries but the majority were built between the two World Wars. Two culde-sac roads on its west side are of similar character. A new shopping centre has been formed immediately west of the station and a large new residential area is under construction between here and Piercing Hill.

There were formerly two 'Retreats' in Coppice Row about 100 yards west of the parish church. Both were destroyed by German bombs in the Second World War (fn. 20) together with four houses on the north side of the road.

Red Oaks Mead is an estate on the north-west side of Loughton Lane consisting of ten pairs of roughcast council houses built before the Second World War. Opposite this a post-war layout is known as Graylands. Here there are 40 council houses, including some old people's bungalows. Green Glade and Pakes Way are two new crescent-shaped roads on the east side of Theydon Green. They form a large council housing estate, recently completed.

The population of Theydon Bois has naturally reflected these developments. It increased steadily to 1,257 in 1901 and then remained almost stationary for 20 years. There was an increase from 1,267 in 1921 to 1,504 in 1931. (fn. 21) The population in 1951 was 2,665. (fn. 22)

Until the construction of the new road between Loughton and Epping early in the 17th century the main road from London to Newmarket and Norwich was via Abridge Bridge and Coopersale (in Theydon Garnon, q.v.), and part of it thus ran through Theydon Bois. (fn. 23) After the 17th century the parish roads were of purely local importance. There was a full report on them in 1720. (fn. 24) When the railway was built it crossed the Abridge road by a level crossing. This was replaced about 1940 by a bridge, and the road itself was transformed from a winding country lane into a good motor road. (fn. 25)

The bridge between Abridge and Theydon Bois has already been treated under Lambourne (q.v.). Theydon Bois was sometimes held responsible for the foot-bridge which lay alongside Abridge Bridge. In 1625 the inhabitants were indicated because of its ruined condition. (fn. 26) In 1652 it was described as a 'long footbridge' to be repaired by the county. (fn. 27) In 1665 it was said to be impassable; again the county was responsible. (fn. 28)

Until the coming of the railway Theydon Bois was dependent for communications with the outside world mainly upon coaches and other horse transport using the main roads via Epping and Loughton, to north and south, and via Abridge to the east. Travel to the west was for long difficult and dangerous because of the barrier of Epping Forest. There was indeed a road through the forest from Theydon Bois as early as 1594, (fn. 29) but the prevalence of highway robbery there, which was still a menace in the late 18th century, (fn. 30) must have deterred travellers from using this route.

The branch railway line from London, which had been carried as far as Loughton (q.v.) by 1856, was extended to Epping and Ongar in 1865, and Theydon Bois station on this line was opened in the same year. (fn. 31) The section of the line as far as Epping was electrified in 1949, and became part of the Central London Line. (fn. 32)

In 1853 a sub-postmaster was appointed on the understanding that his wife performed the duties. (fn. 33) In 1867 the post-office there was reorganized. (fn. 34) A moneyorder office was established in 1886 and a telegraph extension in the same year. (fn. 35) The telephone was established by 1921. (fn. 36)

Water was supplied by the Herts. and Essex Waterworks Co., about 1884. (fn. 37) Main drainage presumably existed before 1896 in the parts of the parish which were then part of the Epping Special Drainage Area, (fn. 38) and there is now drainage in most of Theydon Bois. (fn. 39) Gas was first supplied (from Epping) in 1872. (fn. 40) Electricity was laid on in 1928. (fn. 41) A police station has existed since about 1886. (fn. 42) A branch of the county library was opened in 1928. (fn. 43) There are two public halls, both temporary wooden buildings erected since 1946. (fn. 44) One is a church hall, the other a village hall. There are many village organizations, including a branch of the United Nations Association. Most of them are linked by the Village Association, in which is vested the management of the village hall. (fn. 45) There is a playing-field behind the hall. The Theydon Bois Rural Preservation Society was formed about eight years ago 'to preserve the rural character of the countryside in and around Theydon Bois as an appropriate and natural setting to Epping Forest'. (fn. 46) It has helped to produce a parish guide, issued by the parish council.

Apart from the distributive trades in recent times no occupations unconnected with the land have been important in the life of the parish. In the 19th century there was brickmaking on a site north of Birch Hall Farm now occupied by Oakhill Farm. (fn. 47) In this parish, as elsewhere in the district, mixed farming is carried on. In 1849 it was estimated that there were 709 acres of arable, 956 acres of meadow or pasture, and 86 acres of woodland in Theydon Bois. This was exclusive of 345 acres of forest waste which lay within Epping Forest. (fn. 48) At the same date there were some 15 farms in the parish of over 20 acres, the largest of which was Theydon Hall Farm with 261 acres. About 8 were over 100 acres. (fn. 49)

Theydon Bois lay only partly within the bounds of the royal forest. It was stated in 1872 that of 2,176 acres in the manor of Theydon Bois 800 acres lay outside the forest. (fn. 50) The movement to disafforest and inclose Epping Forest has been described above (see Loughton). At Theydon Bois, as at Loughton, the Crown was negotiating, during the 1850's, for the sale of its forestal rights to the lord of the manor. In 1857 R. W. H. Dare bought those rights for the area of his manor at a cost of £1,353. (fn. 51) Between 1857 and 1871 he and his son inclosed over 300 acres of the forest. (fn. 52) Inclosure was halted by the action of the government in the first Epping Forest Act. As a result of the Epping Forest Act, 1878, most of the forest area in Theydon Bois was again thrown open and became subject to the provisions of the Act for the future preservation of the forest. At Theydon Bois the inhabitants claimed ancient rights of estovers, exercised, as at Loughton, from 12 November in each year to the following 23 April. These rights were recognized by the Act, which provided for their extinguishment in return for compensation. (fn. 53)

James Theodore Bent (1852-97), explorer and archaeologist, married (1877) a daughter of R. W. H. Dare. He is buried at Theydon Bois. (fn. 54) Frances Mary Buss (d. 1894), pioneer of education for women at her North London Collegiate School, is also buried there. (fn. 55) For John Strype (1643-1737) see below, Church.


  • 1. O.S. 2½ in. Map, sheets 51/49, 52/50.
  • 2. See below, p. 251.
  • 3. O.S. 6 in. Map (1st edn.), sheets lvii, lviii.
  • 4. Co. of Essex (Epping & c.), Conf. Order, 1896.
  • 5. Essex Review Order, 1934.
  • 6. Co. of Essex (Rural Parishes) Conf. Order, 1946.
  • 7. P.N. Essex (E.P.N.S.), 82-83. The explanation of the name Theydon given there has been withdrawn. It is now thought to mean 'valley where thatch (material) grows': P.N. Wilts. (E.P.N.S.), xvi.
  • 8. P.N. Essex, 83. For the manor houses see below, Manors.
  • 9. See below, Church.
  • 10. See below, Charities.
  • 11. Feud. Aids, ii, 204.
  • 12. O.S. 6 in. Map (1st edn.), sheet lviii; cf. E.R.O., D/DBx P1.
  • 13. P.N. Essex, 83.
  • 14. Chapman and André, Map of Essex, 1777, sheet xvi.
  • 15. E.R.O., D/CT 349.
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. Census figures 1801-1901 are from V.C.H. Essex, ii, 350.
  • 18. For the forest see below.
  • 19. E.R.O., D/CT 349; A. A. West, MS. Hist. Theydon Bois.
  • 20. Theydon Bois Official Guide, p. 5.
  • 21. Census Reports, 1921, 1931.
  • 22. Census Report, 1951.
  • 23. B. Winstone, Epping and Ongar Highway Trust, 91.
  • 24. E.R.O., Q/SBb 75.
  • 25. Theydon Bois Official Guide, p. 13.
  • 26. E.R.O., Q/CP 3, p. 73; cf. E.R.O., Q/SR 250/16.
  • 27. E.R.O., Q/CP 3, p. 159.
  • 28. Ibid., p. 274; cf. E.R.O., Q/SR 404/ 20.
  • 29. Norden, Map of Essex, 1594.
  • 30. See Loughton.
  • 31. Inf. from British Rlys.
  • 32. Inf. from London Transport.
  • 33. P.M.G. Mins. 1853, vol. 137, p. 405.
  • 34. Ibid. 1867, vol. 61, min. 4393.
  • 35. Ibid. 1886, vol. 306, min. 2612, vol. 313, min. 7966, vol. 314, min. 8658.
  • 36. Brit. Post. Guide, 1921.
  • 37. Inf. from Herts. & Essex Waterworks Co.
  • 38. See above.
  • 39. Inf. from Vicar of Theydon Bois.
  • 40. Inf. from Eastn. Gas Bd.
  • 41. Inf. from Eastn. Elec. Bd.
  • 42. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1886 f.).
  • 43. Inf. from County Librarian.
  • 44. Inf. from Vicar of Theydon Bois.
  • 45. Theydon Bois Official Guide, p. 7.
  • 46. Ibid., p. 15.
  • 47. E.R.O., D/DBx P1; O.S. 6 in. Map (1st edn.), sheet lviii.
  • 48. E.R.O., D/CT 349.
  • 49. Ibid.
  • 50. Mins. of Epping Forest Comm. p. 426.
  • 51. W. R. Fisher, Forest of Essex, 352.
  • 52. Ibid. 357.
  • 53. Epping Forest Act, 1878 (41 & 42 Vict. c. 213, sect. 6, and schedule 1).
  • 54. D.N.B.
  • 55. See below, Church, Charities.