Recalling when Queen Victoria visited Epping Forest 140 years ago

Queen Victoria visited High Beach on May 6, 1882 and declared “it gives me the greatest satisfaction to dedicate this beautiful Forest to the use and enjoyment of my people for all time”.

In 1878 an Act of Parliament was passed empowering the City of London Corporation to administer Epping Forest as conservators, with a duty to keep it unenclosed as an open space for public enjoyment while also protecting and preserving the natural aspect of the Forest. No provision was made for financing the management of Epping Forest and this has always been paid for by the City of London Corporation from its own funds.

Since the 12th century the monarch had legal rights in Epping Forest, but these were relinquished by the 1878 Act. However the crown was entitled to appoint a ranger who would have some control over important matters of policy and Queen Victoria nominated her son Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught. Today that office is held by the Duke of Gloucester.

The procession passes the Royal Forest Hotel

The royal seal of approval was stamped on the preservation of Epping Forest when Queen Victoria visited High Beach on May 6, 1882. The day was one of celebration over much of east London and elaborate preparations had been made for the Queen’s visit. The 1st Essex Artillery stationed themselves near Hawkwood ready to fire a 21-gun salute when the Queen arrived and several military bands took their places, ready to play as the Queen passed by. Her Majesty, accompanied by Princess Beatrice, arrived by train at Chingford Station and this was decorated with thousands of flowers, while a specially constructed archway over the entrance to the station proclaimed THE FOREST WELCOMES THE QUEEN. The Duke of Gloucester made a formal welcome and others of the Royal Family joined the procession along with the Lord Mayor of London and other dignitaries.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

An estimated 500,000 people came to cheer their Queen as she passed by, some by train to Chingford, Buckhurst Hill, Loughton and Ponder’s End, and many on foot. Those who came in carriages were permitted to station themselves on the Forest land a little way back from the roadside, allowing spectators to line the route in front of them. Special arrangements had been made for the local schoolchildren to have a good vantage point, and various stalls were set up to provide refreshments for the crowds. Around 1,500 police were on duty in the area but nothing occurred to spoil the happy atmosphere of the afternoon.

Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge had been renovated and it was expected that Her Majesty would visit the building, although the procession did not in fact stop there. The recently built Royal Forest Hotel was tastefully decorated for the occasion.

The royal procession then travelled via Rangers Road, passing Connaught Water, to Epping New Road and then across Fairmead to High Beach. Here a vast grandstand had been constructed, with a magnificent view across the Lea valley, which seated the very many dignitaries who witnessed the proceedings. Another pavilion had been built so that the Queen’s carriage could be drawn up and she could participate in the ceremony without leaving it.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Queen Victoria in her carriage at High Beach

On behalf of the City of London Corporation an official address was read by the recorder. Queen Victoria then read a reply which included the words … “it gives me the greatest satisfaction to dedicate this beautiful Forest to the use and enjoyment of my people for all time”.

Queen Victoria described the visit in her diary that evening, finishing: “The enthusiasm was very great, and many quite poor people were out. The Park has been given to the poor of the East End, as a sort of recreation ground. Nothing but loyal expressions and kind faces did I hear and see; it was most gratifying.”

Back in east London a grand firework display was held behind the Royal Forest Hotel to complete the happy day for the many thousands of local people still gathered in the Forest.

Georgina Green has been involved with local history in Redbridge, Waltham Forest and the Epping Forest area for 40 years and is the author of several local history books. She was elected a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 2021.

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