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Purlieu Bank in Epping Forest

​Purlieu Bank in Epping Forest

​A Forest shaped by people

People have always played an important role in shaping the character of Epping Forest. While there are over 7,500 acres of woodland, there is also wood pasture, heath, ponds and grassland which have evolved through human activity.

For hundreds of years, the legal rights of royalty to hunt deer were even greater than those of the lords of the manors who actually owned the land.

Local people – commoners – also had the right to graze cattle and cut wood. These interlocking rights have made the Forest what it is today.

Historic locations

Recognised or designated historic sites:

However, not all of the historic sites in the Forest are recognised or designated in this way, such as the Purlieu Bank.

Purlieu Bank

The Purlieu Bank marks the edge of the Royal Forest. The Norman term "purlieu" was used to refer to the area beyond the Forest boundary, where the King had more limited hunting rights. The King could chase game from the Royal Forest into purlieu, but, unlike in the Forest itself, the owner of the land could also hunt there.

Recent research and survey work suggests that the surviving Theydon Bois section was dug in the thirteenth century after the medieval "peace treaty" known as Magna Carta challenged the King's extensive Forest rights. 

The boundary took advantage of natural barriers such as the rivers Roding and Lea, as well as the ditch and bank created by hand. Sections survive in Lower Forest and on the edge of Theydon Bois golf course. The Purlieu Bank is specifically named in the Epping Forest Act of 1878 (350KB) as a place of historic interest.

Ambresbury Banks

Ambresbury Banks

​Iron Age earthworks

Loughton Camp and Ambresbury Banks date to the Iron Age (c. 800-1 BC). They are thought to once have been part of a network of hill forts which marked the territories between the Trinovante and Catuvellauni tribes. However, these sites did not necessarily have a defensive role, but could have been settlement or stock enclosures or perhaps refuges in times of crisis. The bank and ditch earthworks can still be seen and would have originally had timber walls on top.

Loughton Camp is situated in Great Monk Wood, Loughton, on the edge of a high ridge approximately 110m above sea level. Ambresbury Banks is located between Long Running and Epping Thicks. It is situated on nearly the highest point of the Forest between 109-116m above sea level.

At Ambresbury, pottery recovered from the lower levels of the ditch sequence and from below the bank suggests a construction date around the mid-1st millennium BC, whereas Loughton Camp is thought to be earlier.

It is not clear if these sites were surrounded by woodland when constructed. Charcoal fragments have been found beneath the banks of Loughton Camp, which suggests it was built when the area was still wooded. The area where Ambresbury Banks were built, on the other hand, was probably cleared.

Ambresbury Banks were said to be the site of the defeat of Boudicca (Boadicea) in 61 AD, though this seems to be pure legend. Archaeological excavations were first carried out in 1881 under General Pitt-Rivers.

Loughton Camp was originally around the same size as Ambresbury Banks (around 4 hectares), but has suffered more deterioration and much of its history remains a mystery. However, an Iron Age quern (for grinding grain) was discovered nearby.

Dick Turpin, the infamous 18th century highwayman, was rumoured to have hidden out at Loughton Camp, but there are several other locations in the Forest that also make this claim!

The survival of the earthworks and below ground features make these sites of national importance and are the reason why they are designated as Scheduled Ancient Monuments.  

Ornamental Water in Wanstead Park

​Ornamental Water in Wanstead Park

Wanstead Park

Wanstead Park was originally the site of a medieval manor house and later a Tudor mansion, once owned by the Earl of Leicester. In 1667, a wealthy merchant, Sir Josiah Child, bought the house and estate. He started to landscape the gardens and his son Richard, later Earl Tylney, continued the work. The old house was demolished and replaced by a mansion in the Palladian style in 1715, reputedly costing £360,000.

The well known garden designer, Humphry Repton, who later worked on the grounds, called the finished house and gardens "one of the most magnificent places in this country".

In 1784, the second Earl's nephew inherited the estate, which he then passed on to his daughter, Catherine Tylney Long, in 1812.

Catherine married William Pole Wellesley, nephew of the Duke of Wellington, but his extravagant spending led to the downfall of the estate and the auctioning of its contents in 1822. The house itself was demolished in 1825.

The two structures which remain from the park landscape, The Temple and the Grotto, are listed and the park itself is a Grade II* listed historic parkland.​

Knighton Wood and Lord's Bushes

Knighton Wood and Lord's Bushes were historically linked to the Manors of Chigwell and Woodford. Squirrels Lane is an old route likely to have been an ancient drove road along which cattle moved between the wooded area of the Forest and the lush grazing on the meadows in Roding Valley.

Successive Lords of the Manor attempted to enclose Knighton Wood in 1572, 1670 and 1781. The commoners gathered their forces, perhaps rallying around the Pulpit Oak, to fight against the enclosure, but were eventually unsuccessful and the wood was surrounded by a fence.

It was only with the Epping Forest Act of 1878 that the fence was torn down and commoners could once again enjoy their historic rights in this part of the Forest.

Highams Park

Highams Park Lake was created by the famous landscape designer Humphry Repton, in 1794, as part of the grand landscaping around the former manor house (now Woodford County High School for Girls). Repton's original red book of designs show that his initial plans match most of the existing park.

In 1891, 30 acres of Highams Park, including the lake and Great Sale Wood, once again became part of Epping Forest. They were purchased from the Warner family via public subscription and contributions from Woodford and Walthamstow Council. In the early 1930s, an area to the east of the lake was bought by Walthamstow Borough Council and is still in use as a public park.

Pollards at Loughton Camp

​Pollarded trees at Loughton Camp

A landscape shaped by history

Much of the Forest is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Area of Conservation and a designated Ancient Woodland. Epping Forest is also accredited as a Green Heritage Site.

Pollarded trees

Alongside specific sites, the many veteran pollard trees, some over 400 years old, make the Forest one of the most important Forest sites in Europe. Epping Forest alone contains more than 80% of the UK’s ancient beech trees.

Each tree is unique and provides a rare habitat for scarce and threatened invertebrates, fungi and bats, some of which are only found in Epping Forest and a small number of other locations.

Paths and tracks

Many of the paths and tracks through the Forest are ancient routes and early roads which fell out of use as new roads were constructed, such as the drove road, Green Lanes, and Stump Road in Lower Forest.


Evidence for grazing is preserved by place names indicating the presence of gates or hatches and the cattle brands for the different parishes. You can find out more about grazing in the forest today on our wildlife and nature pages.

Features from the First and Second World Wars

Other historic features of the Forest include the barrage balloon tethers on Wanstead Flats and even some of the bomb craters that now form the lakes and ponds that provide excellent habitats for wildlife.​

22 March 2012
Last Modified:
30 August 2019