Epping: quintessentially English

PUBLISHED: 11:04 02 September 2014 | UPDATED: 11:04 02 September 2014




Our market towns are one of the unique factors that make our country what it is. Petra Hornsby discovers how, despite its proximity to the capital, Epping retains that market town charm

Market towns represent an important part of our country’s history and culture.To this day, many town centres have thriving markets that will have changed over the centuries while remaining important to both traders and their customers, and Epping is a fine example.

Epping’s Mayor, Councillor Barbara Scruton, explains: ‘The market is a very important aspect of our town and is one of the features that helps us to maintain our thriving high street. We are fortunate to have a mix of small independent shops as well as multiples, and plenty of coffee shops and restaurants.’

It was King Henry III who commissioned the market back in the 13th century, establishing the town as a centre of trade, and today the market is held every Monday from 9am to 3pm.

Epping is the official starting point for the Essex Way, the long distance walk to Harwich, but the town was once more famous as a stopping point for stagecoaches and mail coaches in the 19th century, with as many as 25 passing through daily, en route to Norwich, Cambridge and Bury St Edmunds.

At one time, to cater for this passing custom, there were 26 coaching inns in the town centre. Two, The George and Dragon and the Black Lion, still exist today.

Nowadays, with strong commuter links to London, many young professionals and young families have settled in Epping; commuting is speedier these days although perhaps it lacks the romance of the stagecoach era.

The centre of Epping, on and around the High Street, is a designated Conservation Area and there are several prominent buildings including the clock tower of the district council’s office, the Gothic water tower and the St John the Baptist tower built in the late 19th century.

This year, the Blue Plaque Scheme is being introduced, marking where the town’s past famous residents lived, including the artist Lucien Pissaro, naturalist Henry Doubleday and World War II leader Winston Churchill.

Although market towns are not exclusive to our shores, there is still something quintessentially English about them and the same can be said for our love of cricket — another strong feature of Epping’s past and present.

Epping Cricket Club was established in 1865 although records show that cricket was being played in the town as far back as 1768. In the early 1880s, one family — the Cables — contributed equipment, hard graft and the playing prowess of Alfred, Frank and Walter that all helped develop the standing of cricket in Epping with the formation of the Bell Common Cricket Club. It was during this time, having attracted several county players, that an Essex competition was established.

However, a rift arose due to some players not being selected for the team and so a rival team, the Epping Victoria, was formed. So strong were the feelings that a public meeting was then held and it was at that historic meeting that the existing town club was formed and the Bell Common team ceased to be.

The Cable family were again instrumental in establishing and supporting the new club by erecting the pavilion for the new ground in the picturesque setting of Lower Bury Lane. The building was officially opened in 1896 and (thanks to careful repair and some alterations) it is still used today.

During World War II, all club activity was understandably suspended, although it was swiftly reinstated in 1945 once peace was declared and very soon the club was up and running with three Saturday teams and two Sunday elevens.

Club secretary John Sanger has been involved with the club for 27 years, starting from when he was just 10, progressing through the junior ranks and then into the adult teams, even returning at weekends to play while at university.

John explains just how big the club has become. ‘We have a healthy youth section with teams for the under 9s, 10s, 11s, 13s and 15s. Our juniors play in the West Essex League and the Metropolitan League.

‘The adults have three teams that play on Saturday in the Shepherd Neame Essex League — the premier league in Essex — and we also have an eleven that plays on Sundays, which gives everyone an opportunity to bat and bowl, enjoy the game in a more relaxed manner and, of course, enjoy the teas too!’ John continues.

The pitch is situated in Lower Bury Lane, behind Upper High Street, and forms the Epping Sports Club, along with the town’s bowls and tennis clubs.

John sets the scene. ‘With its lovely setting, a historic pavilion that remains practically unchanged and an enviable pitch that is maintained by the hard work of the dedicated groundsmen, I can honestly say there is no finer place to play cricket in the whole of Essex.’

So what of the future of the club? Does John see its success and popularity continuing? ‘Epping Cricket Club has always been popular with both locals and people from the surrounding area and this hasn’t changed over the years. It is great to see our youngsters playing and enjoying themselves; I really feel there is no better youth sport and if their interest lasts as long as mine has, then I think cricket will be played in Epping for several more years to come. Of course, next year we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of cricket being played at Lower Bell Lane — an achievement that the whole club and the community can be proud of.’

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