Woodford: Economic history

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.

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'Woodford: Economic history', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6, (London, 1973) pp. 348-351. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol6/pp348-351 [accessed 5 March 2024]

In this section


The wealth of woodland in Woodford long determined the economic life of the village, providing timber and some pasture, while restricting the amount of arable land. The Domesday survey with its estimate that 500 swine could be pastured there indicates that Woodford was densely wooded. (fn. 1) Monkhams was originally all wood, and there also pannage was important. (fn. 2)

Some clearances had been made in the woodland at an early date. In 1066 there was arable for 2 ploughs on the demesne and for the relatively large number of 13 on the rest of the vill. There were then 13 villeins, 4 bordars, and 4 serfs; by 1086 there were still 13 villeins but 7 bordars, and no serfs; the number of ploughs owned by manorial tenants had fallen to seven. The 26 a. of meadow by the river accounts for the large number of 100 sheep. There were also 6 'beasts', 50 swine, and 40 goats in 1086. (fn. 3)

The amount of arable land gradually increased. Richard I acquitted the canons of Waltham of various assarts made in the forest, including 32 a. at Woodford, (fn. 4) and in 1200 the abbot accounted for 4 a. of pasture at Woodford which had been converted to tillage. (fn. 5) By the 17th century the demesne was largely arable. (fn. 6)

The demesne at Woodford was never extensive, but about 1235 the men of the vill held between them some 15 virgates. (fn. 7) They held either one virgate (the standard 30 a.) or a fraction of a virgate, for which they did service in proportion. Some paid a money rent (fn. 8) and sent one man to work in the lord's meadow at hay-time and two or three men to the boon works, but more paid no rent, working on the demesne two days a week and three days in August and September.

There is some evidence of open fields. Names such as Brodfeld and Suthfeld, which occur in 1517, (fn. 9) may indicate them. Common fields and meadows are mentioned in the 17th century (fn. 10) and in 1653 two cows or one horse were allowed in the common meadow for every acre held. (fn. 11) As late as 1700 the demesne included 5 parcels containing 5 a. in the common field. (fn. 12) The tithe map shows strips only in the common meadow (now Old Mill playing field). (fn. 13)

By the mid 18th century the fields had been inclosed with hedges. Wheat, oats, and peas were being grown for the London market, but pasture farming was more profitable. Londoners paid weekly rates to graze their horses or cattle on Woodford fields. Local farmers also kept many cows and bought animals to fatten for city butchers. (fn. 14) In 1801 206 persons were engaged in agriculture compared with 148 in trade and handicrafts. (fn. 15) A market-Monkhams, Milkwell gardener is mentioned in 1812. (fn. 16)

By 1814 the greater part of Woodford was pasture. (fn. 17) Larger residences with their gardens and paddocks took up so much space that by 1838 only six farms were left: the home farms of Woodford Hall, Ray House, and Monkhams, together with Hill House and Gales east of the Roding, and Milkwell farm. There were then 339 a. of arable land compared with 1,120 a. of pasture or meadow. (fn. 18) Pasture remained important; about 1900 the district round Woodford and Chingford was known as the 'Hay Country', (fn. 19) and in 1905 there were still 523 a. of permanent grass compared with 317 a. of arable and 216 a. of woodland. (fn. 20) But by 1922 only three farms—Monkhams, Milkwell, and one at Woodford Bridge—were being worked (fn. 21) and in the following years these too were cut up for building. Some nurserygardens were cultivated in the early 20th century (fn. 22) and a few cattle are still (1965) grazed at Woodford.

There was a water-mill in Woodford in 1066, though it had ceased to work 20 years later. (fn. 23) In 1605 and 1610 there were complaints that the water pent up for Sir Bernard Whetstone's mill flooded the highway. (fn. 24) By 1635 the mill had been taken down and in 1641 the mill-house was deserted. (fn. 25) It was still standing in the late 19th century approximately where the Southend road now crosses the river. (fn. 26)

Woodford windmill existed by 1628. (fn. 27) It belonged to the demesne of Woodford manor, with which it descended until 1710. (fn. 28) The mill, which was a post-mill, stood on a piece of waste on the southern edge of Woodford Wood, with a house adjoining, just on the Woodford side of the boundary with the manor of Higham Bensted in Walthamstow, in the vicinity of the present Mill Road. (fn. 29) There are several references in the 17th century to cottages built near it on the Higham Bensted waste. (fn. 30) In 1677 the justices ordered the mill to be fenced because it was dangerous to cattle and passers-by. (fn. 31) An attempt by a Walthamstow miller, perhaps the operator of the newly-erected Walthamstow windmill, (fn. 32) to burn it down in 1699 was apparently unsuccessful. (fn. 33) The mill probably ceased working by 1723, when Christopher Crow, after buying the demesne lands of Woodford manor, leased the 'millhouse at Woodford Row' to the churchwardens and overseers from 1724 to 1745 as the Woodford poorhouse. When the lease expired it was not renewed, and the mill and adjoining house had disappeared by 1757. (fn. 34)

The making of bricks and tiles is mentioned at Woodford in 1506, (fn. 35) and a few years later the tenant of Ray House was licensed to dig clay from his land for this purpose. (fn. 36) A field in this corner of Woodford was called Long Tyle Killin from at least 1609. (fn. 37) Soon after buying Ray House, about 1776, Sir James Wright established a factory there for making artificial slates. The business was discontinued soon after his death in 1804, and the factory, built of artificial slate, was demolished before 1811. (fn. 38) Sir James's son Sir George invented a method of cutting stone pipes, chimney pots, and other objects from solid stone, leaving the core available for use as columns. He patented this process in 1805 and formed a company, but left Ray House before the inadequacy of his weak, porous pipes was revealed in Manchester, where he had been authorized to supply water. (fn. 39) Later in the 19th century bricks and tiles were still being made in this part of the parish. (fn. 40) A few are still made there now (1965).

Before the coming of the railway road transport provided much occupation in the village. In 1686 there were beds for 19 guests and stabling for 31 horses. (fn. 41) In 1848, besides the inns and posting-houses, there were 5 blacksmiths, 4 horse-hirers, 2 saddlers, 3 wheelwrights, 2 omnibus proprietors, and 2 carriers. (fn. 42) During the past forty years a small amount of light industry has grown up in what is essentially a dormitory town. The industries include the making of plate-glass, refrigerators, furniture, and sports equipment.


The whole of Woodford was within the ancient Forest of Essex. In the Middle Ages it was part of the forest bailiwick of Becontree. (fn. 43) In the 16th century, when the bailiwicks were replaced by smaller 'walks', the parish comprised Woodford walk. (fn. 44)

In 1203 King John licensed the inclosure of Monkhams wood. (fn. 45) In 1225 an agreement was made between the abbot of Waltham and the king about the great wood attached to the demesne at Woodford. This wood, a rectangular projection at the north-west extremity of the parish, was to remain within the royal forest until Henry III came of age, when the canons were to be allowed to fence it and render it extra-forestal; in exchange Epping and Nazeing were then to be thrown back into the forest. (fn. 46) These grants were no doubt rendered void by Henry III's revocation of the Charter of the Forest in 1228, (fn. 47) but the great wood was nevertheless a valuable asset to the canons. In 1292 they obtained a royal licence to sell timber at Woodford to the value of £15. (fn. 48) Another licence was obtained in 1327, (fn. 49) and in 1342, when the canons were in financial straits, they were licensed to cut timber to the value of £200 in their woods at Epping, Theydon (Bois), Loughton, and Woodford. (fn. 50) On both these occasions the wood was described as being within the bounds of the forest of Waltham. At Monkhams the lessee was licensed to fell and fence the grove in 1631, providing that ridings were left so that the king could continue to hunt, (fn. 51) and during the early 18th century timber was frequently felled there, sometimes without licence. (fn. 52)

The main disadvantage of the forest to farmers in the area was the immunity enjoyed by deer. Sir Bernard Whetstone complained in 1603 that although the greater part of his demesne was arable land he had been unable to plough any of it during the previous ten years because of the depredations of deer. In spite of this, he was still obliged to pay composition wheat and oats for the king's household. (fn. 53) After the Restoration John Hayes was allowed to retain fences round Knighton wood only on condition that he left open the customary deer leaps. (fn. 54) At Monkhams, in the earlier 18th century, the Norths were several times in trouble with the courts of attachments for illegally erecting high fences which prevented the passage of deer. (fn. 55)

As some compensation for the ravages of deer the wood also provided pasturage. In early days swine were herded in the forest; hence the importance of pannage and agreements made between the lords of the adjoining manors about intercommoning, such as that of 1240 between the abbot of Waltham and William le Breton, lord of Chigwell. (fn. 56) Pannage dues on Woodford manor amounted to 12s. 10½d. in 1367. (fn. 57) In the 17th century no pigs were allowed to root in the forest unless they had been properly ringed. (fn. 58) There are several references at this time to occupiers of land in Woodford claiming common of pasture as well as estovers. (fn. 59) At the close of the 18th century the occupiers of lands within the bounds of the forest had the right to pasture horses and cows during the whole year except the fence month. The general rule was to admit one horse or two cows for every £4 annual rent. The parish reeve branded cattle with the mark for Woodford parish: (fn. 60) 'M' surmounted by a crown in the shape of a recumbent 'E'. (fn. 61) Nevertheless, according to local farmers, this privilege of commonage was not equal to a tenth of the losses they continually sustained from deer breaking down fences and destroying crops. Against them no fences, however laboriously contrived, availed. In addition, the farmers complained that the forest was well known as the resort of idle, profligate men whose careers began with deer-stealing, as also of hardened fugitives from justice. (fn. 62) In 1960 there were still 100 branded cattle loose in the forest. (fn. 63)

The problem of deer and other depredators lessened as more woodland was cleared. This was a gradual process. In 1572 Bernard Whetstone was licensed to fence in a quarter of the woodland of his manor, (fn. 64) an action that led to riots. (fn. 65) At Monkhams c. 1640 woodland extended as far south as Snakes Lane, but the wooded area had shrunk considerably by 1777 and still more by the early 19th century. (fn. 66) Knighton wood was originally part of Woodford Hall manor but had been alienated before 1642. (fn. 67) Attempts were made to inclose and clear it in 1670 and again a hundred years later. Neither attempt was wholly successful, in spite of the fact that the owner had obtained a lease from the Crown in 1773, (fn. 68) and Knighton wood still survives. Nevertheless, during the 17th and 18th centuries many encroachments on woodland waste were allowed by the lord of the manor and sanctioned by the justices of the forest, (fn. 69) so that by 1843 396 a. of common land at Woodford had been inclosed. (fn. 70)

In 1856 and 1862 the Commissioners of Woods and Forests sold the Crown's forest rights in Woodford, and the process of inclosure was accelerated. Between 1851 and 1871 a total of 182 a. was inclosed, leaving only 69 a. of open forest within the manor of Woodford. (fn. 71) Under the Epping Forest Act (1878) and the subsequent arbitration, however, 209 a. in the manor and parish of Woodford were preserved as part of the forest. This consisted mainly of Woodford Green, strips on either side of the High Road, and along the bank of the Roding, and a large part of the north-west corner of the parish over which the golf course is laid out. (fn. 72) Possibly the last private inclosure of land in the forest occurred in 1910, when the tenant of the Roses inclosed a pond outside his house. (fn. 73) Knighton wood (37 a.) was added to Epping Forest in 1930, when it was bought by the corporation of the City of London from the trustees of the estate of E. N. Buxton. (fn. 74)


  • 1. V.C.H. Essex, i. 375. For the Forest see below, p. 350.
  • 2. V.C.H. Essex, ii. 130.
  • 3. Ibid. i. 446.
  • 4. W. R. Fisher, Forest of Essex, 321; Cal. Chart. R. 1226–57, 305.
  • 5. Pipe R. 1200 (P.R.S. N.S. xii), 45.
  • 6. Fisher, op. cit. 59. See also below, p. 350.
  • 7. B.M. Cott. MS. Tib. c. ix, f. 205.
  • 8. Cf. later references to molland in: E.R.O., D/DCw M16; S.C. 2/174/43.
  • 9. E.R.O., D/DCy M4.
  • 10. Fisher, Forest of Essex, 271.
  • 11. E. J. Erith, Woodford, 80.
  • 12. E.R.O., D/DCw P1.
  • 13. E.R.O., D/CT 408.
  • 14. J. Lucas (trans.), Kalm's account of his visit to England [1748], 166–7.
  • 15. Erith, Woodford, 36.
  • 16. G.L.C., DL/C/298.
  • 17. Ogborne, Essex, 73.
  • 18. E.R.O., D/CT 408.
  • 19. E.R. lx. 22.
  • 20. Bd. of Agric. and Fish., Acreage Rtns. 1905.
  • 21. Kelly's Dir. Essex, 1922, 694.
  • 22. V.C.H. Essex, ii. 480.
  • 23. Ibid. i. 446.
  • 24. E.R.O., Q/SR 171/65, 189/84.
  • 25. E.R.O., Q/SR 287/10; C 142/497/41.
  • 26. O.S. Map 6", Essex, LXV (1868–76 edn.); Erith, Woodford, plan f.p. 125.
  • 27. E.R.O., D/DFc 185, f. 214.
  • 28. E.R.O., D/DCw T4 (1637, 1640), D/DMe T1/5 (1658), D/DMe T1/7–11 (1678), D/DMe T1/15–16, 19–20 (1710–11).
  • 29. E.R.O., D/DCw P1 (map of Woodford manor and estate c. 1700); cf. D/DCw P8 (Map of Woodford Wood, 1757). It is also shown on a map of c. 1640 reproduced in E.R. xiv. 193; there is an 18th-century enlarged copy of this: E.R.O., T/M 147.
  • 30. e.g. E.R.O., D/DFc 185, ff. 214, 233, 236.
  • 31. E.R.O., Q/SR 436/15.
  • 32. See p. 268.
  • 33. E.R.O., Q/SR 500/2, 5, 6.
  • 34. Morant, Essex, i. 38; E.R.O., D/DMe T1/40, D/DMe E 1/2, D/DCw P8; Erith, Woodford, 16–20.
  • 35. E.R.O., D/DCy M1.
  • 36. E.R.O., D/DCw M16.
  • 37. E.R. lix. 2.
  • 38. Lysons, London, iv. 287; ibid. Supplement (1811), 365; V.C.H. Essex, ii. 417; Patent artificial slate-manufactory at Woodford Bridge, Essex …, 17. For the slate factory c. 1776 see plate f.p. 189.
  • 39. E.R. xix. 113–14.
  • 40. Kelly's Dir. Essex, 1878f; O.S. Map 6", Essex, LXV (1897 edn.).
  • 41. E.R. liii. 11.
  • 42. White's Dir. Essex (1848), 268.
  • 43. W. R. Fisher, Forest of Essex, f.pp. 21, 29, 137, p. 395.
  • 44. Ibid. 382; E.R. xiv, map f.p. 192.
  • 45. V.C.H. Essex, ii. 130.
  • 46. Cal. Pat. 1225–32, 2.
  • 47. Fisher, Forest, 24–9.
  • 48. Cal. Pat. 1281–92, 505.
  • 49. Cal. Inq. p.m. ii. 108.
  • 50. Cal. Pat. 1340–43, 566.
  • 51. B.M. Add. MS. 24781, f. 113 (transcript of Forest Court proceedings). In 1514 the lessee was obliged to inclose the wood: E.R. xiv. 168.
  • 52. Woodford Antiq. Soc. Proc. i. 9–10.
  • 53. Fisher, Forest, 59.
  • 54. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1660–70, 617–18; cf. Fisher, Forest, 328.
  • 55. Woodford Antiq. Soc. Proc. i. 10.
  • 56. Feet of F. Essex, i. 127.
  • 57. E.R.O., D/DCy M1.
  • 58. E.R.O., D/DCw M19.
  • 59. B.M. Add. MS. 24781, ff. 116–21; Fisher, Forest, 244.
  • 60. A. Young, Agric. of Essex, 162.
  • 61. Fisher, Forest, 299.
  • 62. Young, Agric. of Essex, 162.
  • 63. P. Willmott and M. Young, Family and Class in a London Suburb, 9.
  • 64. E.R.O., Q/SR 40/33.
  • 65. Ibid. 44/28.
  • 66. E.R. xiv, map f.p. 192; Chapman and André, Map of Essex, sheet xvi; Ramsey, Monkhams, 8.
  • 67. E.R.O., Q/SR 44/28; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1660–70, 617.
  • 68. Fisher, Forest, 328, 331; G. A. Selwyn, Manors held by lease from the Crown (1787), 13.
  • 69. B.M. Add. MS. 24781, ff. 9, 23, 204–13; E.A.T. N.S. xi. 170.
  • 70. Fisher, Forest, 271.
  • 71. Final Rep. Epping Forest Com., H.C. 187, map, and schedule pp. 83–90 (1877), xxvi.
  • 72. Ibid.; Epping Forest Arbitration Map, 1882; Wanstead & Woodford Off. Guide (1964–5), 25.
  • 73. E.R. lv. 175.
  • 74. A. Qvist, Epping Forest, 36; J. A. Brimble, London's Epping Forest, 148; E.R.O., Sale Cat. A 273.