6. The October 1866 Chancery Proceedings

This is an extract from Thomas Willingale, Lopping Rights and the saving of Epping Forest, my research into the Willingale family’s involvement in the saving of Epping Forest.

In October 1866 Thomas Willingale filed a suit in Chancery against John Maitland, and others, in support of the lopping rights. Thomas was advised by the Commons Preservation Society and a fund of £1,000 was raised to support the case, with half coming from Sir T. Fowell Buxton. (21) To raise funds, adverts were placed in certain journals, John Maynard being noted as one of the trustees in an advert in The Entomologist. No details were given of the amount raised, although one of the trustees states in a subsequent advert ‘[…]must express my disappointment at its smallness[…]’ (112)

The original bill of complaint states Queen Elizabeth granted a Royal Charter that allowed the labouring or poor people of Loughton to lop wood in the forest. The bill continues

“The inhabitants of the said parish of Loughton have, since the making of the said Charter, continually exercised and they still exercise the rights thereby granted to them; and in particular the Plaintiff, who is a poor inhabitant of the said parish, and who has a wife and family of children, has, for upwards of twenty-five years last past, exercised the said right of cutting wood at the times aforesaid from trees growing on the said wastelands, and of using and selling the same to other inhabitants of the said parish for fuel, and by so doing has gained or greatly improved his livelihood in the winter seasons during the said period.” (66)

Loppers in the Forrest

Loppers in the Forrest

Maitland responds by denying the existence of any lopping rights. He states his father, in 1857 bought 1,377 acres of forest waste including rights of Free Warren and Free Chase, the conveyance being completed during 1860.

Maitland states that certain freeholders and copyholders were compensated for the extinguishment of certain forestall rights, mention being made of payments to Elizabeth Tyser, Thomas Willingale’s landlady. As such Maitland asserted that Thomas had no right to any claim. Maitland also goes on to query the CPS involvement

[…] The Plaintiff has in fact no interest whatever in this suit and that this suit though instituted nominally by the Plaintiff on behalf of himself and the other inhabitants of the said parish of Loughton is in fact and in truth instituted at the instigation for the purpose of and at the cost of a certain society or association known as the “Commons Preservation Society” and that the Plaintiff is acting throughout this suit under an indemnity as to costs as well past as future given by aid of the said society or association.” (72) Maitland also queries Thomas’s income and thus his ability to fund the court action.

Thomas denied that that the case was being brought on his behalf by the CPS, and further denied accusations that Phillip Henry Lawrence, his solicitor, who was also Hon. Solicitor to the CPS, had tracked him down and requested he instigate this suit against Maitland. (67) Although this is contradicted in the book ’The Loppers of Loughton’ which states “Lawrence hunted out old Willingale, who lived on the borders of the forest and got some information from him ” (49) Whilst Addison gives a different story as to the origin of the court case: Old Tom Willingale , despite his age, made it clear to everyone that he would fight the rector across every heath and through every copse to the last ditch. On hearing this, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton of Warlies sent a message to Thomas Willingale encouraging him to stand his ground and promising financial support if his right to lop was challenged in the courts. (22)

Maitland also mentions Thomas’s appearance before the Epping bench, stating that he abandoned his claim that he was lopping and agreed not to repeat the offence in return for the summons being withdrawn. (78)

In the ‘Answer of the Plaintiff’ filed on the 3rd December 1866, Thomas claims that the Thomas Willingale mentioned in the court rolls of 1828 was not him. Thomas also denies abandoning his claim of Lopping Rights at his earlier court case. He stated that the main prosecution witness advised during proceedings “that a large piece of the forest had been set apart for lopping by the poor’. The day after this case Thomas visited Maitland and requested details of this land, but Maitland denied any knowledge of this. Thomas confirmed he had continued to lop during that season, except when prevented by ill-health. (67)

Whilst the case was on-going, the CPS arranged events to keep the fight for the forest in the public eye. An open-air meeting of the East London committee of the Commons Preservation Society was held opposite the King’s Oak Tavern, High Beech, Loughton on 22nd April 1867. This heard from a Mr George Burney of Bow, who stated that Rev Maitland had purchased 1,400 acres from the crown commissioners at £100 per acre and £4 10s per acre for crown rights. Now, if that land was sold for building purposes it would fetch about £1,000 per acre. He contended that the whole affair was illegal, because the rights of the people had not been considered and could not be bartered away. (39)

A Dr. Bowkett of Poplar stated that he had been talking to a man who was sentenced to imprisonment for cutting wood in the forest, and who afterwards was offered money to give up his right to do so. It was clear this man had a right, or the money could not have been offered to him. During the course of the meeting several sturdy fellows inquired if they would be legally justified in pulling down the fence, as they were anxious to do so. In reply it was stated that the committee did not advise such action at present, until some legal steps had been taken. (39)

On 16th September 1867 an excursion of the Commons Preservation Society to Loughton took place. Some were under the impression that the object of the excursion was to throw down the palings which had been erected by Rev Maitland. However the event was simply to view the enclosures and consider the best means for their removal. The excursionists did however roam the forest, including the enclosed lands to their hearts content, as the gates to the enclosures could not be closed as the Chancery proceedings were still continuing.

The extent of the forest enclosures can be seen on this map, the red areas being enclosed and returned to the Forest by Sir George Jessel's judgment in 1874

The extent of the forest enclosures can be seen on this map, the red areas being enclosed and returned to the Forest by Sir George Jessel’s judgment in 1874.

During the excursion Mr Maynard gave an address on forest and common rights, during which “Willingale (plaintiff in the suit of Willingale v. Maitland) arrived upon the ground, and was greeted with loud cheers”.

Two resolutions were passed during the meeting, the first being:

That this meeting views with indignation the wholesale enclosure of the ancient waste forest lands, which have always been open to the free use and enjoyment of the people at large; which enclosures we look upon as being illegal as they are unjustifiable. And we hereby pledge ourselves to give our most strenuous support to the Epping Forest Preservation Society, in their efforts to support by every legal means the ancient rights of the people to the use of those lands; and to secure those rights to the use and enjoyment of the people for ever”.

The second resolution was as follows

“That the thanks of this meeting are due, and herby given to those gentlemen who have so nobly and generously come forward to defend by their personal influence and pecuniary aid, the forest and common rights of the people”. (35)

The chancery case was never brought to a final hearing and lapsed on Thomas’s death in 1870. However whilst the case was proceeding, further enclosures and development of the forest were put on hold. (20) (31)

Nevertheless, legal argument during the course of the case proved that the commoners did have a legal right to lop. A demurrer, which means an objection to legal claim, which admits the facts of an opposing argument but asserts that those facts alone are not adequate to make the case was found in Thomas’s favour. The original case stated that:

“[…] Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, being then lady of the manor of Loughton, by her Royal Charter granted to the inhabitants of the parish, that the labouring or poor people inhabiting the said parish, and having families, might at all times commencing from the hour of twelve at night on the 11th day of November in every year, until the same hour on the 23rd day of April in the succeeding year, cut or lop the boughs and branches above the height of seven feet from the ground on the trees growing upon the waste lands of said manor and parish. […]”

Although Willingale later amended the claim to all inhabitants of Loughton, not just the labouring poor.

The court found:

“A grant by the crown to the inhabitants of Loughton. which was a crown manor and parish within a royal forest, that the labouring or poor people inhabiting the parish, and having families, might, during a certain period of every year, cut or lop the boughs and branches above seven feet from the ground, on the trees growing on the waste lands of the manor and parish of L.oughton for their own use and consumption, and for their own relief or any of the inhabitants for their consumption within the parish for fuel.

Held upon demurrer, a valid grant.” (10)

Fisher, in his definitive work The Forest of Essex, confirms that this “Preliminary legal objection was found in favour of the plaintiff, but it was afterwards found that the origin of the right so claimed had been mistaken”. (42) The ‘origin of the right’ refers to the lopping rights being conferred by Queen Elizabeth, this seems never to have been confirmed, however as the bill was deferred to, this was taken as fact. (43)

Another interesting fact from the court case was:

“The right claimed by the bill is neither uncertain nor unreasonable, the wood cut is only to be sold to the inhabitants, for their own consumption, within the parish; and the cutting of boughs above the height of seven feet, that is to say, out of the reach of the deer in browsing, and during the season where the boughs are not growing, would rather tend, by stimulating the growth of the lower branches, to improve the covert and pasture of the deer”. (10)

During the course of this case Thomas was apparently offered considerable sums of money to abandon the case, but held firm until the end. Lord Eversley quoting a figure of £500. Alfred’s obituary went as far as to say “Large sums were offered him to give up the suit, but he declared that he would die like his son before he would surrender the people rights”. (17)(22)(21)(3)

It’s interesting to note that during the course of this case, Maitland summoned another three individuals before the magistrates for lopping (who these three ‘labouring men’ were is not stated), the three men claimed it was their right to lop under ancient charter. On this occasion the case was dismissed, as the Chancery case was still proceeding. Some viewed this as an attempt to subvert the Chancery case. (24) This or a similar case is also reported in the Daily News of 6th May 1867, although this report states “two poor men brought before the local magistrate”. The report goes on to say at least one of the sitting magistrates had benefited from the forest enclosures. Luckily these two men had a barrister representing them and ‘after several hours of warm discussion’ the case was dismissed. (36)

Another case came before the Epping Petty Sessions in December 1867, this time for lopping in the Manor of Waltham Holy Cross. The loppers seem to have been attempting to revive the lopping rights in this parish. However the loppers admitted their error in court and agreed to pay the Lord’s costs thus far in return for the prosecution being dropped. (80)

The Commons Preservation Society also helped fund another case, concurrently with Willingale’s case, Castell v. Maitland, this concerning the freeholder’s right of common. (35)

An idea of the costs involved in this case can be seen from some of the invoices which survive in the Maitland family records. The author identified five separate bills from a large bundle of documentation, specifically relating to this case which totalled £1,011 15s 8d. (63)

It seems Jack Straw, the Labour politician, also at some point viewed these records and picked up something the author did not, in the margin of one of these documents Maitland supposedly wrote “Why should a twenty-five shilling a week labourer be allowed to sue me, the Lord of the Manor?” (111)


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17. The Willingale Axes

This is an extract from Thomas Willingale, Lopping Rights and the saving of Epping Forest, my research into the Willingale family’s involvement in the saving of Epping Forest.

The Essex Field Club were presented with two relics by the Willingale family, the EFC online archive gives a summary of the history of these items as follows:

In conclusion, I would remind my hearers that our Club possesses two direct relics of the Willingale family in its Forest Museum, namely, a lopper’s axe, which was presented to that museum by John Willingale, and a billhook, formerly belonging to Samuel Willingale, both of which tools were employed in lopping trees on the Forest in the old days before the lopping rights were extinguished. (8)


Mr. Cole also exhibited a Bill-hook which had been used for at least 100 years as a tool in asserting the lopping rights on the Forest at Loughton on the 11th day of November in each year. The hook was formerly owned by Robert Higgins, of Baldwin’s Hill, Loughton, uncle to Thomas Willingale ; later it came into the possession of Thomas Willingale, and from him descended to Samuel Willingale, who had now presented it to the Club. (81)

In the summer of 2002 the author photographed a billhook at Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge at Chingford, an Axe head was also kept with the billhook, although for some reason the author did not photograph this item. Both these items were kept at the Lodge although they were not on public display, however the staff at the Lodge confirmed these were the ‘Willingale Axes’.

The photograph of the Billhook was published on the WFS website and the author subsequently found a letter from the Superintendent of the Forest to The Epping Forest Guardian confirming this was the ’Willingale Axe’ and hoping that it would be on display in a suitable context shortly. (101)

In the process of producing this document, the author returned to the lodge in 2010 but none of the staff at the lodge knew anything about the Axe.

In 2012 a new Interpretation Centre, called The View, opened in the former stable block next to the Hunting Lodge. Upon visiting the Interpretation Centre the author noted that two axes were part of the display. One of the axes, a billhook, looks remarkably like the one which was photographed in 2002.

Unfortunately upon enquiring again with the Corporation of London, the owners of The View and Hunting Lodge, they were unable to positively confirm the provenance of the axe. In the hundred years since the axes were donated to the Essex Field Club and then passed on to the Corporation, records have become muddled. Although this is most likely the Willingale Axe, the Corporation are unwilling to positively identify it as such.  (82)

A photo of the assumed Willingale billhook was placed on the ehive.com website by the Corporation in the hope that it would be positively identified. In July 2013 a Bob Burgess who has researched billhooks extensively identified the ‘Willingale billhook’ as one made by a William Swift of Seal in Kent. William was still making billhooks in 1911, which contradicts the assertion made by the EFC that the billhook was over 100 years old. (113)

In 1978 a billhook appears to have been part of a display called the ‘Willingale Collection’ part of ‘A Keeper’s Tale’ by Fred Speakman, an exhibition in Loughton Library. Unfortunately the photos the author has of this exhibition are not clear enough to identify the axe, but it raises the hope there are other images of the billhook and Axe in existence that may yet help in ascertaining the provenance of these items. (114)

 (Black and white photos courtesy of Sophie Lillington, Forest Centres Officer, Epping Forest at City of London, Colour photo is authors)


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Samuel Willingale – Epping Forest Arbitration Proceedings 03 Nov 1880

Transcript of

Epping Forest Arbitration Proceedings 03/11/1880

 Loughton Lopping Rights

 Page 15

 Samuel Willingale, Sworn

Examined by Mr Cave

165       Do you live at Baldwins Hill, Loughton


166  How old are you?


167  Have you lived at Loughton all your life


168  Have you lopped trees in the forest?


169  When did you begin to do that

In November, the 11th, night

170 I mean how old were you when you first did it?

I used to go along with my father there when I was seven or eight years old, to draw it together and fetch it home after he has got it, in my young time.

171 Have you cut it since that time pretty regularly?


172 Where did your father live?

At Golder’s Hall, Baldwin’s Hill

173  How much wood do you suppose was burnt in your house at first; I mean that your father burnt?      In my fathers time?

174 Yes in your fathers time

I would say between 30 and 40 heaps

175 What do you mean by a heap?

A slid

176 At that time did you burn anything else except this wood?

No, father used to ask the keeper there for a dead tree, and then he would give him a dead tree to go and   fetch out of the Forest – what was dead at that time

177 Except the dead trees, you only burnt this wood which you lopped?


178 Of late years have you burnt coal as well?

Yes we have burnt coal of late years

179 When did you begin to burn coal?

I should say pretty well 20 years ago

180 Have you also gone lopping to the present time?

Yes up to last year. I took about 30 heaps last year because I heard there would be no more   lopping, so I cut a   little extra.

181 How much of those 30 heaps have you burnt during the year?

I would say I have about 300 faggots left out of it

182 Then you have burnt half of it?

Yes about half

183 What have you generally burnt, do you suppose the last few years?

About 300, because we always bake once a week, and that takes two faggots a week for baking

184  That is 100. What else do you use it for?

We use it for lighting fires. In summer time if we want to boil the kettle we do not use any coal but only a   piece of wood

185  You do not keep a fire burning all day in summer time


186  You make it up of the wood only?

Yes just so

187  How did you get the wood out – did you cut it yourself?

Yes I cut it myself, and carried it home on my back

188  When did you do this – what time of day?

I work on a building and sometimes when I am frozen out then I fetch it, and sometimes of a night when it is   moonlight when I have been at work

189  When you are thrown out of work, or at night time?

Yes any leisure time

190  Were you able to get all you wanted without sacrificing a days work?

Well, sometimes if it was not a winter with any frost we used to get a day; we used to have a day to go and   cut it.

191  What do you mean by having a day?

Instead of working that day we go lopping in the forest

192  How many days would you have to give up for that to get the fuel you wanted for the year?

We have never done it, not a day. We have done it at night when the moon shone, and at leisure times.

193  You have done it at odd times, have you?


194  Do you remember the enclosures taking place


195  Were there more trees before that time than there are now, or fewer, or what?

Yes a great deal more than double.

196  How did you cut it in the old times

We used to cut some off one tree, pick the best bits out, and leave the other there for another year

197  You took the best boughs?


198  Of late years has that been altered at all?

No, only what has been done illegal

199  Did any one look after you in old times to see how it was cut?

Yes, Hatherill, the keeper

200  Has anyone looked after it of late?


201  Nobody at all?


202  People have cut as much as they liked?

Yes, they have done as they liked

203  And did the inhabitants of Loughton generally get their fuel in the same way as you did?


204  Go and cut it themselves and bring it home on their backs?

No, not all, some of them paid 9d a heap for cutting

Mr Webster: You put a general question – the inhabitants of Loughton generally

205  Mr Cave: I do not mean that. Taking people who work for their own living, how would they get their wood?

If they were in work they would pay some one else to go and cut a slid of wood.

206  And if they were out of work?

If they were out of work they would cut it themselves

207  When they paid other people to go and cut it what would they pay?

They pay 9d a heap for cutting and 9d to bring it home.

208  9d a slid?

Yes, that is what they charge in the village to one another, but it is worth more than that. It is worth   more than 1s 6d

209  That is what they charge one another?


210  Do the people who cut it sometimes make it up into faggots and sell the faggots?

Not until the last few years, since the enclosure

211  During the last few years they have?


212  What have they sold the faggots at when they have made them up into faggots?

About 14s

213  14s a hundred?

Yes 14s a hundred

214  In the old days it was always sold by the slid was it?

Yes 1s 6d a slid


Cross examined by Mr Webster


215  It was what used to be paid for cutting and bringing it home – 1s 6d


216  I understand you say, if a man was at work and did not want to go and do it himself that is what he used to   pay?


217  You said that it was worth more than that. What do you consider it is worth a slid, cutting and bringing it   home?

If you get 5 heaps of wood it would make 100 faggots or 14s


218       If you get 5 slids and make 100 faggots, that is to say it would be 14s, then of course it would be 3s. Who            was this man who was keeper; whose keeper was he. He was the lords keeper was he not, Mr Maitland’s?


219       He was the man – I do not mean that particular man – but the man who had the same post as the man your          father asked leave of to take a dead tree out of the forest


220       You say that you used to burn about 300 faggots in the year

Yes with baking and lighting fires

221  Can you tell me during the last ten years any number of slids that have produced any number of faggots that   you have counted?

Any number of the faggots

222  I do not want your opinion for the moment, but can you tell me any particular year during the last ten how   many faggots a given number of slids would produce – one slid, or two or ten?

One slid would make 20 faggots

223  Now at the present time?

Yes You must put more branches in according to the wood

224  You say it is a question of the number of branches. If the branches are small?

If the branches are small you want a great many more for a heap than what you do when they are larger

225  Is a slid a uniform height or not?

No, not any particular height

226  About what does it run?

The height of a slid of wood do you mean?

227  Yes

About 6 feet.

228  Of course the limit is really is what a man can carry or bring home. If you have thick branches, about   how many would go to a slid, do you know?

Do you mean now?

229  Either now or formerly. If you have larger branches, how many would go to a slid; and of small, how   many?

When they were larger they would take about 120. Now, about 160 I should think

230  I think I rather gather it from what you said, but I will put it distinctly to you 1s 6d being what was paid, if   a man was in good work it would scarcely be worth his while to go and cut it himself, he would send   somebody else?

Yes, he would send somebody else.




A faggot, in the meaning of ““bundle”, is an archaic English unit applied to bundles of certain items. Alternate spellings in Early Modern English include fagate, faget, fagett, faggott, fagot, fagatt, fagott, ffagott, and faggat


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5. Supper at the Kings Head

This is an extract from Thomas Willingale, Lopping Rights and the saving of Epping Forest my research into the Willingale family’s involvement in the saving of Epping Forest.


The Kings Head, Loughton

The Kings Head, Loughton, location of the alleged supper designed to deprive the loppers of their lopping rights

Another Willingale descendant, Walter Bullen, who this time actually is a direct descendant, being a great-grandson of Thomas Willingale, gives some more detail to the background to events. He states:

“On the 11th November 1859 an agent for the Lord of the Manor named Richardson (also called The Bulldog) ordered a dinner at the King’s Head, Loughton and invited all the loppers. The wine flowed freely and all got drunk, all except old Thomas Willingale who had been warned by a lawyer, Mr Buxton, not to touch any drink. Tom took his axe with him, went to Staples Road, lopped the bough and returned to the King’s Head on the stroke of midnight, thereby saving the lopping rights.” (19)

I would suggest at the very least this date may be confused. If these events occurred in 1859, i.e. some years before Maitland started the enclosures, why would Thomas be known to Buxton, who has yet to become one of the leading members of the Commons Preservation Society? Remember this occurred some years before Thomas came to public attention through the court cases of 1865 & 1866 and long before the main enclosure of the forest in Loughton.

Other versions of this supposed supper also made print, ‘The Victoria History of the County of Essex ’ (2) states

“It is significant that it is from the 1860’s that there comes the story that Thomas Willingale saved the lopping rights in Loughton in a manner similar to that described in the tract. [ie Maynards book ref (37)] Willingale is supposed to have been one of the loppers who were entertained by the Lord of the Manor to a supper on 11 November 1860. As midnight approached he ‘rose up hastily from the table, shouldered his axe, called to his fellows and went out to lop as usual’, thus ‘defeating the lawyers’. There is good evidence that he did something of this kind, in the belief that the continued existence of the lopping rights depended upon his action.”

Sir William Addison’s book ‘Epping Forest, Figures in a Landscape’ describes events thus “[…] especially of how the old man himself had kept himself sober and at 11.30 had left the other guests and walked out onto Staples Hill, where he lopped off a branch at midnight, carried it back to the King’s Head, and flourished it triumphantly before the eyes of the stupefied company.” (22) Addison states that it was J W Hayes, who produced his ‘Notes and Extracts’ recording the history of the forest & lopping in 1933, who played a major part in publicising this story.

Hayes obtained the story from interviews with Alfred Willingale and William Willingale, another of Thomas the Lopper’s sons. William recounted that as a boy of about 9 years his father related several times the story of the supper and the axe, William thought this event took place around 1860. (9)

Hayes version of events is the same as Maynard’s, except for the insertion of Thomas Willingale’s name:

the same scheme was tried at Loughton but without success, and although many accepted of the supper there given, and old man [Thomas Willingale] gave the signal when he with others at once proceeded to the forest and duly secured charter(9) (37)

Other versions give the date of this event as 1866, with the villagers again being tipped off by Sir Thomas Buxton. In this version Thomas Willingale is said to have returned to the King’s Head where the villagers were being entertained, brandishing a freshly cut bough before the furious landowners. (13)

Interestingly two other people, Mr E Linder & Mr P Thompson, who interviewed and had contact with the Willingales in the process of producing histories of the forest, and neither of these men mention any supper. (8) (57)

Lord Eversley mentioned the historic attempt to deprive the Loppers of their lopping rights, in a letter to The Times, (41) “[…] and the story goes that, many years ago, the then Lord of the Manor, wishing to put an end to it, invited all the parishioners to a great feast on the 11th of November, and so plied them with drink, that none might be sober enough to perform the accustomed ceremony. Fortunately, however, one man kept himself sober, and at midnight stole from the feast and made a descent upon the forest, and from that time the people have never neglected to perform the same duty” but as you can see does not mention that any Willingales were involved or that the event happened in the context of the current enclosures.

Addison goes on to quote a Fred Brand, a collector of local history material found in Essex newspapers and journals, which he complied and indexed in a work called ‘An Essex Index’, who firmly dismissed this story as a complete fabrication. Addison sates that Brand knew ’all parties personally’ and had served the rector as church warden & organist for many years. (22) Brand gives a compelling rebuttal of these events in his limited edition book ‘Items of Interest No 7 – Epping Forest’

“What evidence is their to support this fantastic story? Here are extracts from letters received by me from two well known Essex Historians and writers on matters connected with this county:

Mr Percy Thompson of Loughton writes on 18/08/1937:

‘No I know of no documentary evidence of the supposed supper, which may be only another of several legends which have sprung up about the fight for the lopping rights.’

Mr Stephen Barnes of Woodford, writes on November 10th 1937:

‘I have been searching all the forest evidences I have available […] and cannot find a single reference to the fantastic, drunken, lopping story in any

responsible work, or by any other responsible writer. A pretty (?) fairy tale and nothing more.’

It is notable that Mr Fisher makes no mention of the supper when dealing with the lopping question.


In Pigots Directory for 1839 (Loughton) it is stated “In 1831 the parish contained 1,269 inhabitants, of these 23 are described as gentry & clergy, whilst 41 are names of shop keepers and traders, leaving roughly 1,200 inhabitants, not mentioned in the directory. Of these it is I think fair to assume at least 100 were householders.

Now every householder claimed the right to lop trees in the forest. Thus a gathering to include ALL the loppers would at the very least number 100 people. The task of the wicked Lord of the Fairy Tale was not a light one.

Amongst the 100 there might have been some who were not given to alcoholic indulgence, others might not have received an invite, or refused to accept if they had. The success of the conspiracy depends upon all these loppers being present at the supper.

To accept the story one must suppose that a man in the position of a country gentleman, Lord of the Manor in a well known town not far from the metropolis, would have entered upon such a highly questionable undertaking with so little hope of success. Is it at all likely, assuming such a man to have had the initial, almost criminal intent, that he would have risked his reputation on such a venture?” (57)

This book goes on to state that nothing can be found in the local press from 1791 onwards recounting such an event.

Further commentary on the Kings Head saga can be found in the Essex Review. Hayes writes a history of ‘The Old Parish of Epping’ in the 1933 edition which contains a couple of paragraphs on events including :

Time went merrily and the clock’s hands pointed to 11.30pm. Another half hour and the legal rights would cease forever. Most of the representative loppers were too intoxicated to observe the passage of time. The overlords were congratulating themselves on the apparent success of their plot, when suddenly one of the loppers, Willingale by name, whose descendants are still proud of the action, rose up hastily from the table, shouldered his axe, called to his fellows and went out to lop as usual. (46)

This is rebutted in the 1934 edition by the editor of The Review:

A discredited story of Lopping at Loughton. In the Essex review (XLII, 168 Oct 1933), in an article by the Rev J W Hayes on ‘The Old Parish of Epping’, a story ‘well known in Loughton’ was given reference to an alleged attempt by certain ‘overlords of the manor’ to frustrate the lopping rights of the public at Loughton. The story was that it was the custom to go out ‘on a certain night of the year and do some lopping’, the ‘legal aspect’ being that if this was not done openly before midnight the public of that parish lost the right of lopping timber for their fires during the winter. A great supper was prepared by the ‘overlords’ on that ‘special night’ and by 11.30 ‘most of the representative loppers were too intoxicated to notice the passage of time’. The plan looked like succeeding when one of the loppers, named Willingale, ‘rose up hastily from the table, shouldered his axe, called to his fellows and went out to lop as usual,’ thus saving the rights and ‘defeating the lawyers’. Several correspondents inform us that there is not a scrap of evidence to prove this story, which has long been discredited as an invention. Can any reader produce any definite information to show that this ‘supper’ ever took place? – ED (47)

Later in 1934 Hayes writes in a long letter in reply to this rebuttal, but offers no new information, however we also hear from two Willingale descendants thus:

Letter from William Willingale. In reply to your inquiry as to the supper given to the loppers at the old King’s Head on the night of 11th November, 1860, I am the son of the Thomas Willingale who distinguished himself on that occasion by leaving the supper and with his axe cutting a bough in the forest and returning with it to show those assembled there that he thus preserved the loppers rights. Twas his axe that is now preserved in the Forest Museum as a memento.

This letter is written by a friend at my dictation, as my hands are feeble, although my intellect is as strong as ever, and if anyone wishes to know more about the supper, let them interview me here.

William Willingale

The Cottage, Baldwin’s Hill, Loughton (47)


A niece of the elder Tom Willingale writes to us from Loughton stating that she feels sure that the supper did take place in Loughton. She adds : “I lived part time with Grandmother, and she was always talking about the loppers’ dibber or supper, and how Grandfather went out and cut the bough at 12 o’clock on the 11th November and by doing this saved the loppers’ rights’ (47)


Further correspondence then ensues:

Loughton Loppers’ Supper. Your correspondent, the Rev J W Hayes, has failed to produce any documentary evidence in support of his accusation that a supper was given by the lord of the manor of Loughton with the express purpose of robbing the loppers of their right. I beg to submit that the so-called evidence adduced in your last issue is entirely insufficient to establish the suggested conspiracy.

Fred J Brand (47)


Loppers’ Supper at Loughton.- I did not think that the subject of ‘the Loppers Supper’ would come up again after the evidence from living persons given in a former issue, but your correspondent, Mr Brand, writes that I failed to produce any ‘documentary’ evidence of the incident. This is quite wrong, but besides what I wrote formerly I now adduce not merely ‘documentary’ but actual historical evidence of the incident, eg on page 45 of John Maynard’s Concise History, issued in 1860. After referring to the supper of 1641 at quite another parish (when the loppers ‘by cunning and artifice’ were deprived of their rights), he writes thus, p.46 : ‘The same scheme was tried at Loughton, but without success, and although many accepted of the supper there given [Loughton] an old man gave the signal when he with others at once proceeded to the forest and duly secured their charter’. This historical evidence by one on the spot, as it were, at Theydon Bois, satisfies me, and ought to satisfy any reasonable person. The incident is now closed as far as I am concerned.

[Rev.] J W Hayes, Loughton


Loppers’ Supper at Loughton. – I refuse to accept as documentary evidence to support a gross conspiracy by a Lord of a Manor, an opinion expressed by a decidedly biased writer, unsupported by any confirmatory proof. A mere opinion so expressed cannot be considered as documentary evidence, no court of law would admit it as such. To establish such a charge surely it would be necessary to give the date of the supper, where it was held, and above all, to explain why the dupes of the drunk remained silent.

Fred I Brand, Illford.(48)


Despite the testimony from William Willingale, and other Willingale family members, I feel Hayes is mistaken in his belief the supper took place. He quotes Maynard as proof, but whilst Maynard gives a date for the loss of rights at Waltham Abbey, and states the loss at Epping was ‘almost within the memory of man’ no date, actual or implied, is given for the supper at Loughton. Lord Eversley’s statement implies the supper was not contemporary with the Willingale’s lopping, whilst the book ‘Lays and legends of the forest of Essex’ (see foot of page) puts these events as occurring during the reign of King Charles.

A more recent variation of this story appears on a display in The View, the new forest interpretation centre next to the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge in Rangers Road, Chingford. This states: According to legend, landowner Revd John Whittaker Maitland came up with a cunning plan to terminate commoners’ rights. He waited for the lopping celebration at the Kings Head pub, Loughton, then quietly locked the doors and windows to prevent people leaving to lop at the appointed hour. Not to be outsmarted, the villagers had left some companions outside who smashed in the doors so everyone could reach the woods at Staples Hill in time. And their lopping rights continued for another year.

In Lays and Legends of the Forest of Essex, by Edward Hardingham, J. Haslam, London, 1907, the earlier attempt to deprive the Loppers of Loughton of their rights seems to have been a violent affair:

Loughton is a storehouse of good stories. One that often goes round still, is how the sturdy village folk frustrated the evil intentions of a generous minded Lord of the Manor of King Charles’s time.

It seems that a brother lord of Waltham, by giving a grand supper and ‘drunk’, as the forest folk still call it, to the loppers on the night of the eleventh of November – the night when at midnight, according to the royal charter, lopping must commence or the privilege be lost – contrived to make everybody so drunk that no lopping was attempted, and the right was lost

But he of Loughton had no such good fortune. He provided the supper, a right bountiful one, and his tables were well furnished with guests – everybody came indeed – and the consumption of good things was great. But the knowing ones of the party had their axes with them, hidden away under their smocks; and as midnight drew near, these knowing ones rose up and made for the door. But the door was shut! Yet more it was fast barred and bolted! Splinters and chips were soon almost as plentiful as the execrations of the lord and his friends, held back in their seats by the remainder of the guests, could only look on and curse lustily and loudly, while the gorged but thankful ones smote down door and bar and rushed out whooping and yelling, to hack away merrily as of yore, at the stroke of twelve.

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