A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.
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In 1086 the manor of Wanstead, comprising one hide, contained 2 tenants' ploughs and 1½ on the demesne (1 in 1066). There was woodland for 300 swine, while a mill and a saltpan had been added since 1066. There were 3 villeins, 8 bordars (7 in 1066), but no serfs (2 in 1066). (fn. 1) Hugh de Montfort's manor, later Cann Hall, comprised 3 hides, with 1¼ tenants' plough (1 in 1066) and 1 on the demesne (2 in 1066). There was woodland for 150 swine and 30 a. meadow. The livestock comprised 60 sheep, while 4 swine had been added since 1066. There were a priest, a villein, and three bordars (6 villeins, 4 bordars, and 2 serfs in 1066). (fn. 2)
It is clear from these details that both manors were only small forest hamlets. Wanstead manor, which was the more densely wooded, had no livestock, except for the plough-teams. The mill and the saltpan were both probably at Aldersbrook, which until the 16th century was part of Wanstead manor. Millfield, at Aldersbrook, is mentioned in 1535. (fn. 3) The Roding is tidal up to Aldersbrook, but not normally above it. (fn. 4) The mill was acquired by Clerkenwell priory in or before 1176. (fn. 5)
The wealth of woodland and the restrictions imposed by the forest laws largely determined the economic life of the parish down to the 19th century. (fn. 6) As late as 1796 some 70 per cent of the parish was still woodland or forest waste, (fn. 7) and even in 1841 the figure was over 40 per cent. (fn. 8) From early times the Lower forest (Wanstead Flats) contained much open heath, which by ancient and unusual custom was used to pasture sheep as well as other cattle. (fn. 9) The Domesday sheep of Cann Hall probably grazed there. In 1189 Richard I granted to Stratford Abbey in West Ham the right to pasture sheep on the heath. (fn. 10) That was probably in confirmation of a grant by Ralph of Hesdin, lord of Wanstead manor. (fn. 11) In 1230, during a dispute, Ralph's son Hugh of Hesdin seized some of the abbey's sheep on the heath. (fn. 12) Wanstead Flats continued to afford valuable pasture and to be the subject of disputes in later centuries. (fn. 13)
In 1271 the manor of Wanstead contained 180 a. arable, 6½ a. pasture, and 27 a. meadow. (fn. 14) Eight customary tenants performed an annual total of 439 labour services, and owed the rents of 19 hens and 122 eggs, as well as money rents. By 1361 the arable on the manor had increased to 200 a., and the pasture to 20 a., but there were only 22 a. meadow, and only 300 labour services were being performed. (fn. 15) Little is known of Cann Hall during the Middle Ages. A custumal (1331) and a rental (1369), both concerning an estate at 'Leyton' held by the priory of Holy Trinity, Aldgate, probably relate to Cann Hall. (fn. 16) In 1331 there were ten tenants, whose holdings varied in size from 10 a. to 1 a. They all owed haymaking, hoeing, and sheep-dipping services, and the six smallest tenants also owed regular weekly services. Ten tenants were listed in 1369, but only seven owed labour services. Only one had a surname occurring also in the 1331 custumal, which suggests that Wanstead had suffered much in the Black Death.
Wanstead Park appears to have been inclosed shortly before 1512. (fn. 17) This probably increased the cultivable area of the manor, and compensated at least partly for the loss of Aldersbrook, which became a separate manor about that time. In 1535 the manor of Wanstead included 128 a. arable and 24 a. meadow in the park, and 40 a. meadow in North mead and Sayes, in the north of the parish. (fn. 18)
After the 16th century the proportion of grassland to arable tended to increase. In 1670 Cann Hall manor contained 86 a. arable, 59 a. pasture, 36 a. marsh, and 8 a. woodland. (fn. 19) That marsh, lying near the river Lea, was the only such land in the parish. At the same period part of Wanstead manor, held by a tenant-farmer, contained 110 a. arable and 70 a. meadow. (fn. 20) The enlargement and landscaping of Wanstead Park in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (fn. 21) greatly altered the face of the parish, reducing still further the amount of arable. (fn. 22) In 1796 Wanstead contained some 450 a. grassland but only 150 a. arable. (fn. 23) Here, as in neighbouring parishes, there was great demand for grazing land, and much of the park was being used for that purpose. (fn. 24)
It was estimated in 1796 that the arable in Wanstead comprised 100 a. corn and 50 a. potatoes. (fn. 25) During the following decades market-gardening increased, especially at Cann Hall. In 1811 there were some 200 a. potatoes in the parish. (fn. 26) When Cann Hall manor farm was advertised as to let in 1820 it was described as capital arable land, suitable for cabbages, turnips, and potatoes, and well suited for supplying the London markets. (fn. 27) In 1841 the parish contained some 290 a. arable, 610 a. meadow and pasture, 200 a. inclosed woodland, and 670 a. forest waste, including Wanstead Flats. (fn. 28) Much of the grassland lay beside the Roding, in the north-east of the parish. More than half the arable (158 a.) was at Cann Hall. The total area of Cann Hall farm was 201 a. Wanstead manor farm comprised 436 a., and Nightingale farm 91 a.
By the end of the 19th century Cann Hall had been built up, while Wanstead Park and Flats had become places of public recreation. (fn. 29) A directory of 1906 lists only two farms, both in the east of the parish, and three nurseries. (fn. 30) Nightingale farm, Hermon Hill, and two nurseries are listed in 1926. (fn. 31) Nightingale farm was developed for building in the late 1930s. (fn. 32)
At the end of the 18th century an annual cattle market was held on Wanstead Flats in March and April. (fn. 33) An Easter pleasure fair was held on the flats in the late 19th century, and continued until 1913 or later. (fn. 34)
Industry has never been important in Wanstead. Until the 19th century the villagers worked mainly in agriculture or in the service of the city merchants residing in the parish. A glover was mentioned in 1643, a goldsmith in 1644, and a brickmaker in 1685–6. (fn. 35) Gravel-pit field at Cann Hall, recorded in 1841, recalls a former industry in that area. (fn. 36) A few years earlier gravel-digging had been carried on in the parish by paupers under the supervision of the overseer of the poor. (fn. 37) Whether it was exploited commercially is not known. A brick field, on the northern edge of Wanstead Flats, was in operation c. 1830–90. (fn. 38) Stone-masons, for whom there was much work in the large cemeteries south of the flats, are occasionally listed in directories from the 1860s. (fn. 39) A few small manufacturing industries have arisen during the present century. (fn. 40) Among those existing in 1968 were the Essex Engineering Co., Nelson Road (tool makers) and W. H. Collings & Son, Nightingale Lane (reinforced concrete).
Wanstead lay within the Forest of Essex. (fn. 41) It was part of the forest bailiwick of Becontree during the Middle Ages, and later of the Leyton 'walk'. (fn. 42) In 1086 it was densely wooded. (fn. 43) Much of the woodland had disappeared by the early 17th century, but there are few contemporary records of the process. Ralph of Hesdin (d. 1222) claimed freedom to assart 30 a. in the manor under a charter of Richard I. (fn. 44) In 1293 it was stated that Wanstead wood had some time previously been taken into the king's hand for waste committed there during the minority of Thomas Hesdin (or Huntercombe). (fn. 45) The inclosure of Wanstead Park in the early 16th century (fn. 46) probably involved some disafforestation. In 1563 Lord Rich, who was lieutenant of the forest as well as lord of Wanstead, sought the government's permission to inclose and fell a considerable area of woodland in the north-west of the parish called Great and Little Shrubbage. (fn. 47) Although most of it was the lord's wood, it included some common land, and Rich complained that his deer were continually disturbed by people and cattle. He claimed that he himself, as lieutenant, had never refused anyone permission to fell or inclose wood on a freehold. His appeal failed, but it shows that the forest was sometimes attacked even by those officially charged to defend it.
A sketch map of the forest c. 1640 includes Great Shrubbage with Parsons Grove (another name for Little Shrubbage) beside it to the east. (fn. 48) Farther south were two small adjoining woods called Cann Hall Grove and Grittens, east of which was Wanstead Heath, stretching across to the pale of Wanstead Park. The heath, also called the lower forest and later Wanstead Flats, extended into several parishes but was mainly in Wanstead. It is recorded as early as the 12th century. (fn. 49) In the 17th century, as before, small-scale inclosures of the forest were not infrequent, (fn. 50) but in 1673–4, when Sir Josiah Child bought the manor, Great Shrubbage still comprised 160 a. and Little Shrubbage 60 a. while there was another 100 a. common woodland within the parish. (fn. 51) Some woodland also remained in Wanstead Park, and Child increased it by new plantations. (fn. 52) By 1746 Cann Hall Grove and Grittens had disappeared, but Great and Little Shrubbage remained, as well as the lower forest, part of which then extended as far south as the present Romford Road, Manor Park. (fn. 53) The position was much the same 60 years later, (fn. 54) but then followed a period in which Wanstead was the centre of the battle for the preservation of the whole forest.
The forest was threatened by the Crown, by lords of the forest manors and other large land-owners, and by the forest officers themselves. (fn. 55) The lord of the manor of Wanstead at that time was also the hereditary lord warden of the forest. Sir Richard Child, later Earl Tylney, had bought the office in 1709. (fn. 56) He and his son the second earl probably prized it mainly as a post of dignity (fn. 57) and of leadership in the social and sporting life of the district. (fn. 58) William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley, who became lord warden on his marriage in 1812, was at first zealous in defence of the forest, but by 1831 was openly supporting inclosures. (fn. 59) In 1831 he appointed the steward of his manor of Wanstead as steward also of the court of attachments. The steward's loyalty, as he later confessed, was mainly to his manor, and inclosures through the manor court became frequent in the following years. (fn. 60) In the 1850s, after destroying Hainault Forest, the Crown resumed the sale of its forestal rights to the lords of manors: those of Cann Hall were sold in 1856 and those of Wanstead manor in 1856. (fn. 61)
In 1841 there were still some 650 a. forest waste in the parish, (fn. 62) but by 1871 more than half of it had been inclosed in small parcels by Wanstead manor court. (fn. 63) In most parts of the parish inclosures do not seem to have provoked resistance, but public opinion was sensitive to encroachments on Wanstead Flats. In 1822 the vestry resolved to resist such encroachments by every legal means, (fn. 64) and in 1851–2 Long-Wellesley, now Lord Mornington, succeeded in inclosing 34 a. of the flats only after a legal battle with the tenant of Cann Hall and other commoners. (fn. 65) Earl Cowley's attempt in 1871 to inclose another piece of the flats precipitated the last phase of the Epping Forest controversy. (fn. 66) The Epping Forest Commission, in its final report (1877) stated that 250 a. open waste remained in the manor of Wanstead, most of it on Wanstead Flats, and 73 a. in Cann Hall manor, all on the flats. (fn. 67) In 1876 the City of London had bought the soil of the Cann Hall waste. (fn. 68) In 1880 it bought 184 a. of Wanstead Park from Earl Cowley. (fn. 69) Under the Epping Forest Act, 1878, and the subsequent arbitration award Wanstead Flats and Wanstead Park were preserved as part of the forest, along with a few smaller areas, including Bushwood, near Leytonstone, George Green, at Cambridge Park, and Eagle Pond, Snaresbrook. (fn. 70) Wanstead Flats has occasionally been threatened with development even since 1878. In 1907 it was proposed that a concert hall should be built on the Forest Gate side of the flats. (fn. 71) After the Second World War both West Ham and East Ham attempted to secure part of the flats for building, but they met determined and successful resistance from Wanstead. (fn. 72)
The lords and tenants of the manors in Wanstead, like those elsewhere in the forest, enjoyed rights of common pasture. Those of Wanstead manor had the special right of sheep pasture on the flats. (fn. 73) The parish cattle mark was a 'Q' surmounted by a cross. (fn. 74) In the 19th century, and probably earlier, it was used also to mark beasts from Aldersbrook. (fn. 75) The commoners of both Wanstead and Cann Hall manors had the right of turbary in the forest. (fn. 76) The lord of Wanstead manor claimed the right to take honey and beeswax. (fn. 77) He also claimed estovers and sometimes even the right to fell mature trees or to license their felling by his tenants. The wider claims were rejected by the court of justice seat in 1673, as they had been by the government in Lord Rich's time, (fn. 78) but until the 19th century there was rarely any opposition to small-scale felling licensed by the manor courts.