diamond geezer

 Sunday, December 04, 2016

Beyond London (15): Epping Forest (part 1)

I've finally reached Essex in my orbital tour around the capital, crossing the River Lea to reach the district of Epping Forest. Only a small part of its area is forest, the majority is sparsely populated farmland, and most of the population lives south of the M25 in the commuter towns at the tip of the Central Line. The only town of any substance in the eastern half of the district is Ongar, abandoned by the tube in 1994, and that big dent you can see in the northern border has been drawn to specifically exclude Harlow. There's plenty to see, indeed I've visited several times, but travelling around the sprawling hinterland can be rather more of a challenge.

Somewhere famous: The Golden Triangle
London collides with Essex along the southern edge of Epping Forest, and three towns in particular exemplify the area's flash brash reputation. One's Loughton, one's Buckhurst Hill and the other's Chigwell, and the zone bounded by the three has been dubbed 'the golden triangle' by columnists who saw its residents on TV and fancied giving it a label. This is TOWIE country, where groomed lads flash their cash and teeth, where bottle blondes totter into souped-up motors, and where obviously not quite everybody lives like that. I hopped on the tube to visit all three golden vertices.



Chigwell: Still perhaps best known for Birds of a Feather, this oversized village's reputation stretches back a lot longer than 1989. Charles Dickens was a huge fan.
"Chigwell, my dear fellow, is the greatest place in the world. Name your day for going. Such a delicious old inn opposite the churchyard, such a lovely ride, such beautiful forest scenery, such an out-of-the-way, rural place, such a sexton! I say again, name your day."
So taken was Dickens that he immortalised the 'delicious old inn' as the central location in Barnaby Rudge, fictionally renamed the Maypole but in reality The King's Head. It still has "more gable ends than a lazy man would care to count on a sunny day", but is no longer a pub, having fallen into the hands of one of Chigwell's current residents, the entrepreneur Lord Sugar. It's now a very upmarket restaurant called Sheesh, a name which is nothing if not memorable, serving Mediterranean cuisine to an opulent no-trainers clientèle. Access is via an electronic gate, beyond which staff will valet park your car, and the interior is replete with chandeliers, leather seats and gleaming floors. And yet from outside it retains half-timbered Dickensian frontage with leaded lozenge windows, and still looks like it could be a coaching inn serving pints of bitter, heaven forbid.



Across the road is St Mary's Church, final resting place of many a local resident, including the man responsible for kickstarting London's bus network. George Shillibeer built the first horse-drawn coaches capable of transporting a large group of people, called them Omnibuses and started a fare-paying service between Paddington and Bank in 1829. This earned him rather more money than life as a midshipman, eventually enabling him to buy Grove House in Chigwell Row, and that's why he's buried in St Mary's graveyard, on the main path just beyond the church porch.



The modern heart of Chigwell is the shopping parade near the station, a modest sequence of irregular brick flats with occasionally immodest retail outlets tucked underneath. The dry cleaners is the Chigwell Valet Service and the local caff is the Village Deli, while the showroom at the top end sells top end Volvos. Yes, there's a tanning salon and a health food shop, while the finest ladies' fashions are brought to you by Debra - now downsized into a smaller unit while her former store by the railway awaits rebirth as luxury flats. Elsewhere the avenues are widely infilled by new-money new-build, and security gate installers must do a roaring trade, but Chigwell's not entirely exclusive, nor indeed unfriendly, and six-car households remain the exception.
by tube: Chigwell  by bus: 167

Buckhurst Hill: On the other side of the River Roding, and with a little less glitzy oomph behind it, lies Buckhurst Hill. The original hamlet grew up along the ridgetop, on the main coaching route to Cambridge, but the arrival of the railway in 1856 dragged the residential centre downhill. Geographically it's less well defined than Chigwell, bleeding into Woodford to the south and Loughton to the north, its avenues smart if not so grand. But one of Buckhurst Hill's genuine advantages is a better run of shops, somehow meriting two Costa coffees, plus a whopping perfectly-targeted Waitrose at the foot of Queens Road.



This one-way street has been the setting for many a TOWIE insert, especially when the lead characters need to pretend to have a commercial interest. Swish lingerie fills the window at Pretty Things, a golden shimmer surrounds the window at Never Fully Dressed, while the bay frontage of Anita at Crème is awash with frilly bows. Fur boots are easily obtained, these being the seasonal footwear of choice for many a 4×4 passenger, and the lady in the flower shop stepped out wearing a particularly eye-turning pair. Meanwhile I suspect more ITV2 footage has been shot inside The Queen's Rooms wine bar than at the Green Owl cafe, and that several male characters have kitted themselves out at Zap, a slate grey corner shop that's allegedly "the leading men's designer boutique in the UK".
by tube: Buckhurst Hill  by bus: 167, 549

Loughton: This is the proper town of the trio, a coaching stop ten miles from the City, with a proper substantial High Street and everything. Much of Loughton covers land that used to be Epping Forest, before an Act of Parliament intervened, and the edge of this marvellous resource is still easily accessible up the top of the hill. The town apparently gained its middle-class character because the Great Eastern Railway didn't offer cheap workmen's fares, and this cachet was preserved when the London County Council decided to build a massive postwar overspill estate one stop up the Central line at Debden. It may not be quite as rich as Epping, but Loughton still has the edge when it comes to flaunting it.



I passed more than one shop selling silver gifts that might look nice in someone's house, including a bunch of silver cherries on a silver cushion on a silver stool. I dodged a lad doused in aftershave with a silver gift bag dangling from his arm, sidestepped a small dog in a silver jacket, and noted a Big Issue seller pleading seemingly in vain for silver. I was too early to step beneath the silver portal at the Nu Bar, and too poorly dressed to have a hope of entering the (ah, jet black) LuXe nightclub. Loughton's by no means all glitz - there's a Wimpy for a start, and Centric Parade is a pig-ugly collection of high street staples. But it's easy to see why people enjoy living here, unswallowed by the capital, in a provincial suburb with class.

While we're here, a couple of buildings of interest. Lopping Hall is the town's community hub, a gothic turrety thing visible above other rooftops, with a large hall and shared space for activities within. The City of London paid to build the facility in return for residents losing their 'lopping rights' in the forest, and it's sited on the original terminus of the railway before this was extended to Epping. Some of the exterior decor is gorgeous, including the terracotta round the entrance, and some proper fifties font work above what's now the main entrance. Meanwhile, up at the library on Traps Hill, an unlikely musical presence is tucked away on the first floor. This is the National Jazz Archive, a charitable repository of all things impro, founded by trumpeter Digby Fairweather in 1988. The collection contains books, journals, photos and memorabilia, but not actual music because the archive's about everything else. If jazz is your thing you can visit the reading room every weekday except Thursday, or hit the website to read interviews and search the catalogue online. Nice.
by tube: Loughton  by bus: 20, 167, 397, 549

Places in Epping Forest I might have visited if I hadn't been before:
Somewhere famous: Epping Forest
Somewhere historic: Waltham Abbey, Royal Gunpowder Mills, Copped Hall, Greensted Church, Epping Forest Museum
Somewhere pretty: Gunpowder Park, Theydon Bois, London Loop sections 19 and 20, Epping and Ongar Railway, Ongar
Somewhere sporting: -
Somewhere retail: -
Somewhere random: Roding Valley station, Blake Hall station, Stapleford Abbotts, Hainault Loop, Greenwich Meridian


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream