Remnants of a Residential Ruin
From a map of Epping Forest, c.1876
The structure had called my attention on several occasions. On walks through the Snaresbrook suburb in which it sat I would often peer through the locked gates and contemplate its use and history. It was not, as one local account had suggested, a disused cattle shed, but of a more residential character, albeit as a ruin. However, on one such occasion a laminated yellow planning notice skittered in the breeze, mounted by the council planning department and declaring the landowner’s intentions to seek permission to develop the site. It gave the address as ‘Forest Lawn’, which would later provide more clues towards its real identity and purpose.
To the passer-by, the site is a parcel of sylvan land on the edge of Epping Forest, bounded by Hollybush Hill in Snaresbrook. The houses on Hollybush Hill are all large detached interwar residences with several, mostly, sports cars on the drive, though one solitary derelict house remains in a boarded-up state. Christopher Hibbert’s London Encylopaedia notes that the area largely consists of the “villas of City gentlemen”. The road serves Snaresbrook Crown Court, Europe’s busiest judicial facility, and nearby is the Eagle pub, now a popular carvery but once the Spread Eagle coaching inn on the London to Newmarket road. An 18th century obelisk believed to be the ‘Leyton-Atte-Stone’, from which the neighbouring and decidedly shabbier area in which I live derives its name, is situated on the approach. The pub now acts as a focal point for those interested in the drinking habits of the former local MP and putative Duke of London, Winston Churchill, while the court has since become more associated with the tabloid excesses of such famous defendants as Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty. In 2012 it was reported in the national press that a disgruntled employee of the outsourced catering firm serving the court had laced the judges’ food with urine in a suspected act of malice against the criminal justice system.
The court building had been designed by architects Sir George Gilbert Scott and W.B. Moffatt, an early commission for the prolific workhouse and church-builders, in the mock Elizabethan Jacobean style. Gilbert Scott and Moffatt had worked from 20 Spring Gardens, since home to, at various stages, the London County Council, the headquarters of the British Council and the Trafalgar Hotel. Their commission was for an Infant Orphan Asylum, opened by King Leopold I of Belgium in 1843, matchmaker of Victoria and Albert and mentor to the young queen, to house the charitable institution sponsored by the social reformer Dr Andrew Reed, aimed at providing an Anglican education for children of respectable families, before its eventual closure and judicial appropriation in 1971.