The retreats of Epping Forest

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Epping Forest has been a refuge for local people who have found peace amongst the beautiful scenery we are lucky enough to have on our doorstep. As lockdown eased, thousands of visitors came each day from further afield to enjoy the forest’s famous beauty spots including High Beech, Connaught Water and Loughton Brook.

Has the forest ever been this busy before, or brought such wellbeing benefits to so many? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is, emphatically, yes!

In Victorian times Epping Forest was spared the fate of nearby Hainault Forest, which was largely cut down during six fateful weeks in 1851. This loss spurred on a hard-fought campaign by local people to save Epping Forest, culminating in the passing of the Epping Forest Act in 1878, to protect the forest in perpetuity. Four years later Queen Victoria dedicated Epping Forest in a special ceremony, “for the enjoyment of my people forever.”

Within a short time, the number of visitors to Epping Forest had soared and forest retreats sprung up throughout the forest to provide affordable food, drink and shelter for the throngs of visitors. The earliest retreat was set up by John Riggs at Brook Road, Buckhurst Hill; followed by two more in Theydon Bois and High Beech, which were run by various members of the Riggs family. These were vast establishments, with Riggs Retreat in High Beech boasting that it could feed four hundred visitors afternoon tea in one sitting.

With the recent extension of railway lines to Loughton in 1856, and to Chingford by 1873, the forest was accessible as a day trip to many people living on the Eastern side of London. Tradesmen also used their horse carts to bring day trippers out to the forest from the East End on Sundays, often decorating the carts with brightly coloured ribbons for the trip.

Throughout the summer months, many thousands of visitors would make the trip to the forest each day, and it became known as the “Cockney Paradise”. As well as family trips out, some retreats specialised in Sunday School outings; and the Shaftesbury Retreat in Loughton provided annual days out to some of the East End’s poorest children, supported by the Ragged School Union and Lord Shaftesbury’s Society. This became a much-anticipated event for the children concerned, many of whom spent the year looking forward to their brief annual holiday from the slums to the fresh air and freedom of the forest, and the huge, tasty pies they were given for lunch.

By the early 20th century there were many privately run retreats spanning the forest villages, with small settlements like High Beech and Theydon Bois each having more than one enormous retreat.  Competition between the different venues was fierce. Each retreat tried to tempt customers in with their own unique offer: At Theydon Bois donkey rides, helter-skelters, swings, a galloping horse roundabout and a hokey pokey stall were on offer. The Princes Road retreat in Buckhurst Hill more humbly advertised “free pure drinking … cricket sets, skipping ropes lent free of charge.”

Gray’s Retreat in Theydon Bois provided a generous sounding children’s tea of bread and butter, fruit cake, lemon cake, a jam sandwich, watercress and good tea for just 9 pennies. If you stayed for dinner, for a penny and a half more you could purchase meat, fruit, custard and still lemonade. And Rigg’s Retreat in High Beech had a unique selling point – a balcony at the front constructed around a large beech tree!

Two world wars and the Great Depression reduced visitor numbers to the retreats, but the steady rise of the motor car was perhaps the main reason for their final demise. Motorists were less likely to make long forest visits and stay for a meal, and as the popularity of the retreats diminished, prices went up, making it harder for other families to afford to visit. One of the original forest retreats remains in the forest today: Butler’s Retreat in Chingford. This has continued to serve visitors refreshments throughout much of the current pandemic, though perhaps in lower numbers than a hundred years ago.

Learning about The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District

The museum reopened on the 17 May 2021 with a special exhibition on The Boys, the young survivors of the Holocaust who came to stay at Holmehurst, a house on the borders of Loughton and Buckhurst Hill from December 1945 to January 1947.

These young people were Polish Jews and had survived the Holocaust.  Most of them were the only member of their family to survive.

This subject is challenging to teach but is also an important piece of local history.  If we focus on the stories of these young people before and after the Holocaust – what their lives were like before the war, and they went on to achieve – there are many important lessons to engage pupils.

One useful resource is the book After the War by Tom Palmer, focussing on the arrival of the Boys in Windermere, in the Lake District, to begin their recovery before they were transferred in small groups to other hostels such as Loughton.  Tom worked with the Lake District Holocaust Project and UCL Centre for Holocaust Education to research and write this story and create learning resources.  The story is a powerful and sensitive introduction to this topic.  We are fortunate that Tom has offered to write a short story to accompany our exhibition; His Name is Ben will explore the story of Ben Helfgott, one of the Boys who came to Loughton and went on to become an Olympic weightlifter.

We have also worked with the Jewish Music Institute and Essex Music Services to create a resource for a music lesson, exploring a traditional Jewish song.  This aims to engage pupils with Jewish life and culture in Poland before the Second World War, providing a context for thinking about the families the young people came from, and what their childhood was like, before the war changed everything.

We hope that these will become part of a permanent resource, alongside a new Holocaust Memorial planned for the district, and help young people learn about this important piece of history, and its relevance to the local area.

History Days at the museum

We are looking forward to running our new series of history days for schools once the museum reopens! These days focus on learning about history through fun, hands-on activities. Children love exploring the museum, some of which is housed in a fascinating sixteenth century Tudor house, and they often get special access to historic local objects which are not currently on public display during their visit.

The history days are based on topics from the National Curriculum, and each one comprises of three exciting sessions…

Pupils might be Discovering the toys local girl Ellen Buxton played with 100 years ago, using images from her beautiful diary and real old toys from the museum’s collection; or getting hands-on with ancient artefacts to investigate how life changed during the Stone Age.

They could be Exploring behind the scenes in the museum, with a chance to see some of our Roman treasures which are not on public display; or finding out about life in Victorian times using local artefacts from the museum’s stores.

And they might be Creating a clay pot inspired by techniques used in the Neolithic period; or creating a print in the style of local artist Walter Spradbery, to take home.

Whatever they are learning about, the children can expect a warm welcome at the museum and a stimulating and memorable day. We can’t wait to welcome schools back!

If you would like to book a history day for your school group, please contact Catherine Hammond on 07548 145669 or email chammond@eppingforestdc.gov.uk.

Topic Boxes: Making a classroom museum and developing writing skills

The museum has a range of boxes for hire relating to many different history topics.  Schools have found many different creative ways to use them.  One popular idea is to create a class museum.  Pupils can choose an object to research then write a label on it – but to really develop their skills at writing and presenting information for different audiences, they can also learn the techniques we use when writing labels in the museum.

We start off by doing a lot of research on an object first.  Pupils can start by reading the information on their object in the topic box resource pack.  Information from this might lead them to do further research in books or on the internet.  At this point it will be useful to discuss which websites might provide the most reliable information for research – another museum’s website is likely to have good information on objects.

Now comes the hard bit.  After all that work work, pupils must decide what are the most important things visitors to your class museum should know about their object.  They can’t fit all the information on to their label as that would be too much for a visitor to read.  Remember, visitors will be looking round the museum at lots of objects, so they aren’t likely to read or remember more than one or two facts about each one.

However, this is also the fun bit – pupils are now the expert on the object, so they can decide what they think the most important thing visitors should know about their object. It might be an historical piece of information, a quirky fact, something funny or amazing – you really want to grab visitors’ attention, so they are encouraged to find out more for themselves. Can you think of another good way of grabbing a visitor’s attention?  You can ask a question on the label (see what I did there?!) This will encourage the visitor to talk or think about their object.

We usually try and write no more than 50 words on a label, so pupils can try making that their word limit.  Other important things to include are the title or name of the object, the date it was made and / or used but if you don’t know this you can say so. 

Now think about the design of your label.  You want people to be able to read it easily, when typing them we use a big font size – about 16 points for a title and 14 points for the information about it.  We might use a different colour for the title or make it bold.  There are lots of different font styles you can choose, but we usually go for something plain and simple like Arial or Century Gothic as these are easy for people to read.  If you are handwriting them, then neat and clear writing will work just as well.

If this sounds a bit boring, then you can have a lot more fun getting creative with a poster design for your classroom exhibition.  More on that, with some top tips from the museum’s exhibition design expert in a future blog!

Find out more about the boxes available to hire https://www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk/museum/learning/schools/

Jill Barklem

We’ve come across some fascinating stories of local people while researching our new school workshop, Local Legends.

Did you know that Jill Barklem, author of the popular Brambly Hedge children’s books, was from Epping? She grew up surrounded by the gently rolling patchwork of fields and forest we are so lucky to have in the District. Jill loved this countryside and enjoyed nature watching.

While Jill was at Loughton High School, now the site of Roding Valley, she developed a serious eye condition and was advised not to take part in games lessons to avoid this getting worse. Instead, she spent her time in the school art studio, allowing Jill to focus her efforts on honing her artistic talent.

Jill went on to study at St Martin’s School of Art in London. Each day she travelled there and back on a packed Central Line train, passing the time by imagining what the small animals of the fields and hedgerows around Epping might be doing while away from watchful human eyes. Something Jill didn’t imagine on these long commutes was that she would one day turn these fantasies into books, and become a celebrated children’s author. Jill said later, “I did not have a very clear idea of my future but assumed I would earn my living by illustrating other people’s books. I certainly never imagined that one day I would write my own.”

After getting married, Jill put pen to paper and started work on her first story about a resourceful family of mice and their animal friends, and the Tales of Brambly Hedge were born. Each book took Jill up to two years to craft, and was filled with extraordinarily detailed illustrations which have an enduring appeal to this day. Jill was fastidious in her research, even trying out recipes at home to check the food featuring in her stories!

Jill’s stories have sold millions of copies, and in 1996 were made into a television series featuring the voices of Jim Broadbent and June Whitfield. Jill died in 2017, but her stories continue to be enjoyed around the world today.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2021

This Image is courtesy of the Fox Family

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) takes place each year on 27 January. We remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi Persecution and in genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

The museum will be hosting a special exhibition The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District from 8 May to 4 September 2021.  This will tell the incredible story of the young Holocaust survivors, young men between the ages of 16 and 21, who came to stay at Holmehurst, a house on the borders of Buckhurst Hill and Loughton from December 1945 to January 1947 as part of their recovery.  We think up to 30 young men came to Holmehurst, and they became known as the Loughton Boys. 

The Loughton boys were part of the first group of around 300 young survivors who were brought to Britain after the war.  A total of 715 children eventually came to Britain.  They are collectively known as ‘The Boys’ as, despite the mix of genders and ages in the group, the majority were teenage boys.

You can find out more about them and their incredible personal stories of recovery in the new education resource packs available on our website, which include profiles of each boy.

HMD is for everyone. Each year across the UK, thousands of people come together to learn more about the past and take action to create a safer future. We know they learn more, empathise more and do more.

If you would like to take part in Holocaust Memorial Day, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s website has suggested activities you can do at home to mark the day.

The Holocaust threatened the fabric of civilisation, and genocide must still be resisted every day. Our world often feels fragile and vulnerable and we cannot be complacent. Even in the UK, prejudice and the language of hatred must be challenged by us all.

Arts and crafts activities

Week 7 Press flowers

IMG_0075This is a lovely simple activity and you can do so many different things with the flowers once you have pressed them.  You can make cards, photo frames, bookmarks, all sorts of things by placing the pressed flowers on card and covering them with clear sticky plastic or putting them in a frame.  I once found a four-leaf clover pressed inside an old book. The book is over 100 years old, so it was very lucky to survive!

IMG_0077The easiest way to start is to choose a flower that’s naturally quite flat like a buttercup or a daisy.  Pick it fresh but make sure it is dry.  Place the flower between two sheets of paper or tissue, then place this between the pages of a thick heavy book – make sure you ask before using a book in case the pages go slightly wavy.  Put more heavy books on top to press it flat.  Change the paper every 3 or 4 days.  After 2 to 3 weeks the flower should be completely dry and flat.  You might want to use tweezers to lift it out of the book as it will be very delicate.

 

 

Cath, our Education Officer particularly wanted to try pressing the blossom that has brought so much cheer these past weeks, “I tried pressing them flat with my finger, and trimming any thicker bits out, before putting them between paper. I thought it would be fun to press them in gardening books as they are very heavy and I should remember where I’ve put them!”  Don’t forget to share what you’ve done with your flowers with us!

IMG_0110

Creativity Challenge 2

Creativity Challenge

Over the next few weeks, we are having a go at some of the activities on the 2020 Creativity Challenge.  Join in with us in sharing your work and enjoy getting creative.

This week, our team and their families have been trying some of the activities from the second column.

20200423_113427We’ve had a go at making paper airplanes and can share one tip for making them fly further – add a bit of sellotape on top to hold the wings together!

 

 

 

IMG_0110Pressing flowers has also been a lovely, relaxing activity – both in choosing and preparing the flowers for pressing, then seeing how they are drying out and deciding how to use the finished flowers.

 

 

 

We’ve also been researching some local myths and legends.  Some of the greatest stories of our district are shrouded in myth such as the legend of the Holy Cross.  Around 1030 AD the Viking, Tovi the Proud, uncovered a mysterious holy cross on his estate in Somerset that had the power to cure those who touched it.  He wished to move it to another of his estates, but the team of oxen attached to the cart refused to move until Waltham was mentioned.  So the cross was brought there, which led to the founding of the church and Waltham Abbey becoming an important place of pilgrimage for many years.

See if you can have a go at writing a more creative story about this legend or find out about another one such as Iron Age Queen Boudicca and whether she came to Ambresbury Banks in Epping Forest to fight the Romans.  Or you could make up your own myth or legend about the district.  Even if we can’t prove these myths and legends are true, they are still a very important part of our culture and history.

Local Legends: Thomas and Constance Taylor

Local Legends: Thomas and Constance Taylor

We’ve come across some fascinating stories while researching our new school workshop, Local Legends, telling the stories of some important local people…

Part of the building that Epping Forest District Museum now occupies on Sun Street, Waltham Abbey was a house in Tudor times, built during the reign of King Henry VIII. Over the years many things have been found in the old house which give us clues about the people who have lived and worked here.

fireplace lintel initalsThe fabric of the building itself holds traces of the previous occupants. On the ground floor is a fireplace with a wooden lintel above. The letters ‘TCxT’ have been hammered into the lintel in iron nails.

TCT probably refers to Thomas and Constance Taylor, who records suggest were tenants in the house from 1675. At this time the house had just come into the ownership of James Dobson of Covent Garden, who was a leading member of the Company of Drapers in London.

The Taylor family appear to have lived at the house on Sun Street for over twenty years, until 1697. Baptism records from the Abbey Church, Waltham Abbey tell us that Thomas and Constance Taylor had six children christened there between 1671 and 1680; some of the children would have been born while the family lived at the house.

 

The family lived through uncertain times; there was a power struggle between Parliament and the monarchy, and there were many claims for the throne. Charles II, James II and William and Mary of Orange all ruled as monarchs over the two decades that the Taylor family lived in the house.

 

There is a small “x” driven into the lintel alongside the initials “TCT”. This may be a small cross. In the past, people believed in witches, and thought they could get into a house through the chimney, as well as through doors and windows. It was common to try and scare away witches using iron crosses., so these iron nails may have been driven into the lintel by the Taylor family in an attempt to keep witches – and bad luck – away.

 

Constance Taylor died in 1686, but the iron nails are still there above the fireplace today for visitors to the museum to see. Superstitions change over the years, but it seems that none of the subsequent tenants or owners of the building have wanted to take the nails out. Perhaps no one has liked to remove them, just in case they are helping to keep bad luck at bay?

Art and Craft activities

Week 6 Edit a photo of your favourite toy

Resources you will need

  • favourite toy
  • camera/phone

IMG_4817This week we are having a go at one of the activities from the 2020 Creativity Challenge.  You may have your own smartphone or see if someone in your family will help you use theirs.  There are lots of ways you can edit a photo on a phone, or whichever technology you like to use.  Cath, our Education Officer, had a lot of fun taking a photo of Silver, her old hobby horse.  “Silver got his name because my mum made him for me in 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee!  I had a go at trying out all the effects and decided on the Silvertone filter because it suited his name!  I played with exposure, contrast and shadows to make the texture of his fur stand out and chose Vignette at the end to make it look like an old photo.  What I really like about this image is that it hides all the fading and dusty marks, making Silver look as good again as he did 43 years go.  I’ll certainly have a go at a bit more photo editing in future.” Don’t forget to share the photos of your favourite toys with us too!