Woodford, London

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St Mary's church, Woodford.jpg
St Mary's Church, the parish church of Woodford
Woodford is located in Greater London
Location within Greater London
OS grid referenceTQ405915
• Charing Cross9.5 mi (15.3 km) SW
London borough
Ceremonial countyGreater London
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtIG8
Post townLONDON
Postcode districtE18
Dialling code020
UK Parliament
London Assembly
List of places
51°36′17″N 0°01′47″E / 51.60475°N 0.02979°E / 51.60475; 0.02979Coordinates: 51°36′17″N 0°01′47″E / 51.60475°N 0.02979°E / 51.60475; 0.02979

Woodford is a suburban town in east London, England, within the ceremonial county of Greater London and the ancient county of Essex. It is divided into the neighbourhoods of Woodford Green, Woodford Bridge, Woodford Wells, and South Woodford. The town is situated 9.5 miles (15.3 km) north-east of Charing Cross.

Woodford historically formed an ancient parish in the Becontree hundred of Essex. It contained a string of agrarian villages and was part of Epping Forest. From about 1700 onwards, it became a place of residence for affluent people who had business in London; this wealth, together with its elevated position, has led to it being called the Geographical and social high point of East London.[1]

Today part of the London Borough of Redbridge, a local government district of Greater London, the civil parish of Woodford became an urban district in 1894, which in 1934 merged with the neighbouring urban district of Wanstead to form a municipal borough. In 1965, following reform of local government in London, the municipal borough was abolished, becoming part of the borough of Redbridge and Greater London.

The area is served by two stations on the Central line of the London Underground: Woodford and South Woodford.


Woodford (parish) population
1881 7,154
1891 10,984
1901 13,798
1911 18,496
1921 21,236
1931 23,946
1941 war #
1951 37,702
# no census was held due to war
source: UK census


Woodford appears in the 1086 Domesday Book as Wdefort, although its earliest recorded use is earlier in 1062 as Wudeford.[2] The name is Old English and means 'ford in or by the wood'. The ford refers to a crossing of the River Roding, which was replaced with a bridge by 1238; this led to the renaming of part of the district as Woodford Bridge by 1805. The old Saxon road, that followed the valley at this point. and utilised this ford, skirted the forest (which was to the north). The Saxon Road eventually reached north of the Forest and branched East and West at that point. Woodford by this chance was on the trade route to the further parts of Essex.

Part of the district, in a similar fashion, gained the contemporary name of Woodford Green by 1883.[2] An earlier name which has acted as an alternative to this was Woodford Row.

Economic development[edit]

The beginnings of Woodford can be traced to a medieval settlement which developed around the ford.[3] Woodford was never a single village, rather it was a collection of hamlets, and has retained to some extent its portmanteau nature. London has been central to Woodford's development. The easy access to Epping Forest, a large forest near London where members of the royal family traditionally hunted has made it attractive to Londoners since the Fifteenth Century, when wealthy Londoners started to build mansions there. As a consequence, many of the recorded inhabitants would have been servants, and there is even evidence of Africans ('negroes') living in Woodford in the eighteenth century. In fact the domestic servants and wealthy Londoners may have quickly outnumbered the remnant of the local, original rural folk.[3]

An example of the kind of grand house typical of pre-19th century Woodford is Hurst House, also known as 'The Naked Beauty', which stands on Salway Hill, now part of Woodford High Road. Its central block was completed in the early 18th century, and its side wings were added later on in the same century. It was restored in the 1930s, only to be damaged by fire a few years later. The central block was again completely restored, with the minor wings you can still see added on.[3]

Historians have pointed out Woodford's historic roads as evidence of its 'residential nature', as these roads provided reasonably easy access to Woodford, but no further on. There were two roads to Woodford, the 'lower road' (now Chigwell Road) and the 'upper road' (now Woodford New Road). The 'lower road' was often beset by flooding from the Roding, as it still is today, and was continually considered to be in need of repair. In fact one of the illustrious persons to be inconvenienced by the road was King James I.[3] The 'upper road', being less used than the 'lower road' was probably in a worse condition, and the Middlesex and Essex Turnpike Trust undertook its repair and overhaul in 1721, and extended it to Whitechapel. The Trust did such a fine job it was given responsibility for the 'lower road' as well. In 1828, the Trust built the 'Woodford New Road' from Walthamstow to Woodford Wells, and was soon after connected to the newly built Epping New Road.[3]

Local government[edit]

The ancient parish of Woodford, also known as Woodford St Mary after its parish church of St Mary's, formed part of the Becontree hundred of Essex.[4] It was suburban to London and formed part of the Metropolitan Police District from 1840. For administration of the Poor Law it was grouped into the West Ham Union in 1835. The parish adopted the Local Government Act 1858 in 1873, setting up a local board of nine members. The Local Government Act 1894 reconstituted its area as Woodford Urban District, governed by Woodford Urban District Council.[5] In 1934 the urban district was abolished under a county review order and its former area became part of the Wanstead and Woodford Urban District. Wanstead and Woodford was incorporated as a municipal borough in 1937.[6] The population of the Woodford parish was 2,774 in 1851, and had grown substantially to 37,702 in 1951.[4] In 1965 Wanstead and Woodford, together with Ilford, were grouped together to become the London Borough of Redbridge.[3]

Suburban expansion[edit]

The beginnings of the actual modern suburbanisation of Woodford, however, can be traced to the opening (in 1856) of the Eastern Counties Railway Line from Stratford to Loughton, on which Woodford became accessible by two stations, at Snakes Lane and George Lane. The new convenience of transportation encouraged the growth in number of the daily commuter that is typical of the Woodford resident today. Woodford soon became the residence of the well-to-do city worker, as attested by John Marius Wilson in his Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales, written between 1870 and 1872

The increase of pop. arose from erection of houses consequent upon railway communication with London....[t]here are many fine mansions, and numerous good villas.[7]

In fact Woodford doubled its population in the middle and later decades of the 19th century due to the arrival of the railway.[3] A good barometer of Woodford's rapid growth in this period is the erection of three churches in the area, a Congregational, Methodist and Church of All Saints, all built in 1874.[3]

Woodford completed its suburbanisation in the period between the two World Wars of the 20th century. Available land was hungrily built on and the grand houses of the wealthy who had been building them for more than four hundred years were pulled down to make way for the middle class housing estates, typified by the three-to-four bedroom semi-detached house with front and back gardens. In the 1930s, 1,600 houses were being built in Woodford a year on average.[3] The Central line's extension to and past Woodford in the middle of the 20th century, utilising the existing overland train network, solidified Woodford's place in the commuter belt.[8]

Military activity[edit]

In the First World War (1914-1918) London was troubled by Zeppelin Raids. A response to this was to place two Royal Flying Corps night-fighter squadrons, 39 and 37 squadrons, with headquarters at Woodham Mortimer and Woodford Green respectively, with up to eight aircraft at each airfield (generally Bleriot Experimental BE2c). They formed part of the London Air Defence Area. 39 squadron shot down the Cuffley airship SL11 in September 1916, and was possibly the more successful in the task, but 37 squadron destroyed the airship L48 over Norfolk in June 1917.[9]

Rural persistence[edit]

Woodford, as part of Epping Forest was one of the last places in London where medieval Commoner's rights persisted - with local farmers being allowed to graze their cattle on the common land. These rights were protected by sections 14 and 15 of the Byelaws passed by the Conservators of Epping Forest. Even late into the 20th century cattle were allowed to roam freely on the forest ground (Forest, in this instance being the term applying to the district rather than that area with trees).

The practice became increasingly less well suited to the times, as they occasionally penetrated into neighbouring gardens and roads before being driven back onto the forest land.

The BSE outbreak of 1996 caused the practice to be halted for a while. Their departure, however, meant that grass and saplings grew on the previously well-cropped meadow areas of forest land. When the cattle were reintroduced in 2001 their range was restricted so that there would be less conflict with other interests.


Woodford is divided between three parliamentary constituencies including Chingford and Woodford Green which is currently represented by Conservative Iain Duncan Smith, who was the Party Leader from 2001 to 2003. Chingford and Woodford Green is separated from Ilford North by the Central line, whilst a small part of South Woodford is in Leyton and Wanstead constituency. Previously the local constituency was Wanstead and Woodford (1974–1997) and before that Woodford (1945–1974) which was represented by Winston Churchill between 1945 and 1964. Churchill had previously represented the area (1924-1945) as part of the Epping Parliamentary Constituency - and was therefore Woodford's local MP, both when he was the wartime Prime Minister - and also later, when he served as a peacetime Prime Minister. Churchill is commemorated by a statue on the green at Woodford.

Notable people[edit]

Woodford has connections with major cultural figures. The first is the celebrated writer, artist, craftsman William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement, a nineteenth-century revivalist movement dedicated to restoring England's artisan traditions. As a child he lived at Woodford Hall between 1840 and 1847. Woodford Hall (demolished at the start of the 20th century) stood on Woodford High Road on the site where the Woodford Parish Memorial Hall now is.[10] Another writer who lived in Woodford is James Hilton, who wrote the novels Goodbye Mr Chips and Lost Horizon (in which he coined the term Shangri La) in a semi-detached house at 42 Oak Hill Gardens, which however was in Walthamstow borough. A blue plaque commemorates his residence at the house.[11]

The Clergyman Sydney Smith was born in Woodford in 1771.[12] Smith became a vicar and prominent Reformer, but he is now most famous as a great wit of the early nineteenth century. He was a part of the brilliant intellectual circles of his day, and once said of the historian Macaulay, [He] has occasional flashes of silence, that make his conversation perfectly delightful.[12] On his position as a Clergyman in Yorkshire, he remarked My living in Yorkshire was so far out of the way, that it was actually twelve miles from a lemon.[12] He compared marriage to a pair of shears, so joined that they can not be separated; often moving in opposite directions, yet always punishing anyone who comes between them.[12] Moreover, Smith published several recipes; his rhyming recipe for salad dressing (Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl/And, scarce suspected, animate the whole) makes him a household name in America to this day.[13]

Woodford also has connections with the leading Suffragette, peace campaigner and anti-fascist Sylvia Pankhurst. Pankhurst was a longtime resident on Charteris Road, close to Woodford Station. She had been introduced to the area by George Lansbury, co-founder of the Labour Party and grandfather of Angela Lansbury. Previous to her residence in Charteris Road, Sylvia Pankhurst had challenged the moral codes of her day by living in sin with an Italian radical on 126 High Road, opposite the Horse and Well Pub. She renamed the cottage Red Cottage in homage to the leftist activities she carried out from there. She erected an anti-air-warfare monument in protest to the bombing of the people of Ethiopia under the orders of Benito Mussolini on the site of the cottage (the cottage was pulled down in the 1930s).[14]

Other notables[edit]


Nearest places


The nearest London Underground stations are Woodford, South Woodford and Roding Valley on the Central line.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Companion guide to Outer London, Simon Jenkins, 1981
  2. ^ a b Mills, A.D. (2001). Dictionary of London Place Names. Oxford.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Powell, W.R. (Edr.) (1973). Woodford: Introduction, A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6. Victoria County History. British History Online. Retrieved 24 December 2009.
  4. ^ a b Great Britain Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, Woodford parish (historic mappopulation. Retrieved {{{accessdate}}}.
  5. ^ Great Britain Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, Woodford UD. Retrieved {{{accessdate}}}.
  6. ^ Great Britain Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, Wanstead and Woodford UD/MB. Retrieved {{{accessdate}}}.
  7. ^ Woodford Essex through time | Local history overview for the place
  8. ^ "Central line facts". Transport for London. Retrieved 24 December 2009.
  9. ^ "Essex Airfields in the Second World War" (ISBN 1-85306-405-X) Graham Smith
  10. ^ J. W. Mackail, Life of William Morris, 2005, Chapter 1, Electric Book Company
  11. ^ Heritage plaques in Waltham Forest
  12. ^ a b c d A Memoir of the Rev Sydney Smith By his daughter Lady Holland, 1855
  13. ^ How to Use Over 130 Spices, Herbs, Condiments, Flavorings to Enhance All Your Dishes and Add Zest to Any Menu, 1955
  14. ^ "Sylvia in Woodford". The Sylvia Pankhurst Festival. Retrieved 24 December 2009.

External links[edit]