Charlotte Gunnell is a blogger on a mission to find quiet, cultured and unusual corners of London, then blog about them at A Peace of London. One she has found is tucked away in Epping Forest, and has written a Guest Post for CabbieBlog.
Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge was created by Henry VIII, inspired William Morris, and was given to the public by Queen Victoria.
Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge in north-east London is forever associated with its namesake and the extraordinary tale of a queen and her horse. A Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Grade II Listed Building in Chingford. Built for Henry VIII in 1542-3 as a grandstand from which to view the hunt, it was originally intended to complement Fairmead, the King’s magnificent new Royal Park.
There is evidence to suggest that the hunting Lodge was not the first building to exist on this site. According to a report written after an archaeological investigation by the Passmore Edwards Museum in 1992-93, “there are substantial buttresses beneath the corner storey posts, and a surfaced floor has been found adjacent to the south door which extends below the stair tower . . . Other artefacts recovered, e.g. shaped flints, could indicate a long history of human activity on Dannett’s Hill.” 1
Tree-ring analysis of timbers in the Lodge, again in 1992-93, suggested that ‘some of the timbers were felled in the spring of 1542’, and that the stair tower was constructed at the same time. 1 The work was completed by 1543, when Henry VIII signed a warrant for Sir Richard Rich to pay £30 to the woodward of the Chingford Walk for the ‘ffynyshinge as wall of(f) on greate stondeinge’ and for laying out the King’s new park at Fairmead. 4
Everything about the Lodge was designed to suit the purpose of watching the hunt and the shooting of deer from its windows. Sir Addison reports that ‘the spaces between the studs on the upper floors were left open above breast height’ 4 so as not to spoil the view. Furthermore, the windows were left open to the elements and the walls would have been painted and draped in colour during hunting season to demonstrate the status of the building’s owner.
One would assume that the ever-grandiose Henry VIII would have planned to view the hunt from the top floor. However, it is interesting to note comments made by Jeffrey Seddon, curator of the Lodge from 1975-2001, which describe the intricate carving in the spandrels of the first floor rooms. This suggests that the King would have planned to shoot from here and the lower-ranking courtiers would have been sent upstairs. 5 This would have certainly suited the declining health of the King, who by the 1540s was in constant acute pain from an ulcerated leg.
But it’s thought that Great Harry never got to visit his ‘Great Standing’ as his health declined even further in the years following the Lodge’s creation, and he died in 1547. Neither Edward VI or Mary I had interest in sport, though, and Fairmead, the great royal park that their father had done so much to create, was turned into common ground in 1553. 4
Fortunately, the fortunes of the Great Standing were to change. The most compelling legend associated with the Lodge, and the one that has stuck in the public’s imagination, originated from around this time. The story goes that Elizabeth I rode up the stairs on horseback to celebrate the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. This story was given further weight in the 1800s with the tale of an anonymous ‘sporting celebrity’ who won a bet by successfully ‘riding an untrained pony up the assigned route of her Tudor Majesty’ in the 19th century. 3
But it would take Elizabeth 31 years of her reign (and one year after the horse incident was supposed to have taken place) to order five lords, along with her surveyor, to report on the condition of the building and the cost of repairing it in 1589. 4 They would find the Lodge in poor shape, owing to 42 years of neglect. The building’s poor condition at this time might discredit the ‘legend of the horse and the stairs’ even further.
It’s not known whether Elizabeth ever visited the Lodge, but Jeffrey Seddon suggests that Elizabeth might have visited only during a stay at one of her courtiers’ houses in the area, if she used it at all. The Lodge’s use as a gift bestowed to courtiers as a mark of favour seems a more likely use during Elizabeth’s reign. 5
During the first half of the 17th century, the Lodge came into the hands of the Boothby family, although the costs of repairing it were still the responsibility of the Crown. Manor Courts were held here until 1851, in which time the Lodge had passed through marriage to the Heathcote family.
From around 1750, the Lodge was occupied by a succession of ‘under-keepers’ who, according to Sir Addison’s account, were paid by the Crown and ‘probably regarded locally as the gamekeeper-cum-bailiff’.
The rise in popularity of Chingford Plain as a tourist attraction guaranteed many visitors to the Lodge, including a top floor tea-room which was run by the wife of one of the under-keepers. But the real turning point for Epping Forest and Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge was the Epping Forest Act of 1878. As part of the Act, the Lodge was to be preserved by the Corporation of London as ‘an object of public and antiquarian interest’,” 3 and given to the ‘poor of the East End’. Outbuildings attached to the Lodge were demolished between 1879 and 1881, leaving it as an isolated structure once more.
From here the Lodge’s progression from residence to museum was almost complete. In 1882 William Morris fondly recalled a childhood visit, remarking in The Lesser Arts of Life:
I remember as a boy my first acquaintance with a room hung with faded greenery at Queen Elizabeth’s Lodge . . . and the impression of romance that it had upon me! . . . yes, that was more than upholstery, believe me.
Although the under-keeper Herbert Butt and his family (his wife and their six children) still lived there in 1895, the top floor of the Lodge was turned into a museum of natural history by The Essex Field Club. The Essex Field Club maintained the museum until the 1960s, when it was taken under the direct control of the City of London Corporation.
At the time of the last restoration in 1992-93, the building, including its oak frame, was lime-washed, and a Tudor fireplace uncovered, before the building was reopened to the public as a museum detailing the building’s use as a hunting Lodge, rather than a natural history museum as it had previously been. Visitor reactions to the building’s new limewash look were mixed (even though it was more historically accurate) and the curator’s report of 1994 adds that visitor comments on the new look and purpose of the building, ‘ranged from expressions of extreme excitement and pleasure to near-apoplectic hostility’. 2
However, as is also noted in the report, “It is a fact that you cannot please everybody.” The report finishes, as we will finish, with a comment from a volunteer on the reactions of visitors to the interpretation of the building:
I just like to come and absorb the atmosphere of this beautiful building. I don’t need to have it explained or interpreted in order to enjoy it, I only need to be inside it.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
1. Visit of HRH The Duke of Gloucester, as Ranger to Epping Forest, Wednesday, 3rd November 1993, Appendix E
2. “QEHL: Visitor Reactions”, report by curator at Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, 1994
3. Newspaper cutting: “The Chingford Rise Estate on the Borders of Epping Forest, One of the Prettiest Suburbs of London” dated 1833-189?
4. “Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge and Epping Forest Museum” (booklet) by Sir William Addison
5. “Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge: a brief history” by Jeffrey Seddon with additions by Tricia Moxey, 2003
This is not a sponsored post. The author has written this Guest Post for CabbieBlog. Other articles can be found on Charlotte Gunnell’s A Peace of London: Quiet Places in London to Explore. All links here conform with guidelines set out in Write a Post.