End of the line in Epping

PUBLISHED: 10:07 16 June 2015 | UPDATED: 10:07 16 June 2015




With a thriving weekly market, a busy high street and impressive historic buildings, Epping is a much-loved Essex escape at the end of the Central Line. Petra Hornsby takes a closer look at the town’s appeal

Situated just 17 miles from London, the charming, leafy, market town of Epping has a significant history to be proud of and is today a strong community served well by its mayor and council. It has a population of around 12,000 who enjoy good schools, organised annual events and a variety of clubs offering something of interest for everyone, from model railways to flower arranging. Every year the town comes together for the Epping Town Show (on July 5 this year), where local folk and visitors of all ages can enjoy a fun fair, beer tent, hog roast and live music to name just some of the attractions of the day.

Epping itself is set in glorious countryside with equally interesting and attractive neighbouring towns and villages such as Theydon Bois, Coopersale, Waltham Abbey and Loughton. It sits on the end of the London Underground’s Central Line making it a perfect trip out for those wanting to escape the city and enjoy Epping’s shops, cafes and restaurants as well as access the green spaces around the town.

As Eppinga, the town is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 and was then a settlement of just a few farms. ‘Ep’ is thought to be Anglo Saxon for ‘up’ and ‘ing’ means cultivated land. This area is today known as Epping Upland. During the following century, forests to the south of the area were cleared allowing for further cultivation of crops and this area became known as Epping Heath and later Epping Street. These lands became part of the Manor of Eppingbury held by the canons of Waltham Abbey and, in 1253, King Henry III gave permission for a market to be held every week in Epping Street.

The market established itself as an important cattle market, trading products and animals from local farms, and continued as a feature of the town until 1961. The market, which no longer hosts live animals, remains a popular attraction for both locals and visitors. Epping’s High Street has been declared a Conservation Area with more than 30 statutorily or locally listed buildings — the oldest one being the Black Lion pub which dates back to the 17th century.

The Parish Church of St John the Baptist is a major landmark in the town’s centre. Designed by famous Victorian architects Bodley and Garner, it has a distinctive Gothic style. Its tower (added in 1909) is one of three that stand as landmarks in the town, the others being the Water Tower (which was built in 1872 and marks the campaign by Dr Joseph Clegg to bring clean water and drainage to Epping) and the tower to the north which is part of the offices of the Epping Forest District Council which were built in 1990.

Epping is often referred to as the Town of the Forest due to the ancient forest that acts as something of a buffer zone between busy, urban, city life and lush, pleasant and more tranquil rural life in Essex. Once used by royal hunting parties, the forest spreads across the south-west region of the county and covers around 6,000 acres, stretching from London’s Manor Park to just north of Epping. The Corporation of the City of London owns and manages the forest with no cost to the local ratepayer and the corporation works to protect the land from development and to enable future generations to enjoy its splendour. There is plenty to do in the forest (which is home to four visitor centres) including horse-riding, cycling, fishing and, of course, walking along a variety of footpaths and bridleways.

As well as having a full choice of sports, arts and horticultural clubs, not to mention music and rambling to get involved with throughout the year, residents of Epping also have plenty of other places of interest not far from their doorstep that are perfect for a day out.

Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge is located next to The View, one of Epping Forest’s visitor centres, and a few minutes’ walk from Chingford train and bus stations. The timber-framed lodge, built on orders by King Henry III in 1543, hosts fascinating exhibitions of Tudor life, surrounded by the very forest where royals and the aristocracy would hunt some 500 years ago.

Copped Hall is a magnificent Georgian Mansion set in splendid parklands and was selected as the location for the first staging of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Sadly neglected and almost left to ruin during the last century, Copped Hall and its gardens are now being returned to their former glory by the dedicated and hardworking Copped Hall Trust. The grounds are well worth a visit and there are guided tours on offer. It is also a cultural venue for plays and concerts as well as art and music workshops.

The Epping-Ongar Railway makes for a great day out. It is the longest restored heritage railway in the county, running between Ongar and North Weald. Steam and diesel trains (as well as heritage buses) are part of the attraction for visitors, with the buses providing a connection service between Epping Underground Station and North Weald. Operated by enthusiastic volunteers, plans are in place to restore the line further through to Epping. The Railway is open every weekend, on Bank Holidays and on Wednesdays in the school holidays with special events available throughout the year. This year has also seen a special celebration of 150 years of the Ongar Branch Railway.

Further afield, Lee Valley Park Farms, situated in Waltham Abbey, is a great place to take any animal enthusiast — young or old.

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