“The proximity of the forest, and the pretext of procuring firewood by means of the lopping of trees, which the inhabitants (of Loughton) claim a right to cut during the winter months, encourage habits of idleness and dislike of settled labour, and in some cases give occasion for poaching, all of which are injurious to the morals of the poor. Enclosures, however, seem to be commencing in the neighbourhood, which will probably check these irregular and, to a certain extent, demoralising tendencies.” (From "Coller’s People’s History of Essex", 1861)
The villagers of Loughton had upheld the tradition of lopping the trees in the forest believing that this right had been granted to them by royal charter by Queen Elizabeth I. The lopped wood was used in lieu of coal for domestic fuel. During the nineteenth century this right was threatened by the enclosure of common lands by William Whitaker Maitland, Rector of Loughton and also Lord of the Manor. The fight to retain the right to lop was taken up by one Thomas Willingale, who claimed Lopping Rights on behalf of the residents of Loughton. In defiance of Maitland, Willingale continued to lop wood and he also presented a legal challenge to Maitland.
In 1878 the Epping Forest Act was passed which stopped the practice of enclosure, it also brought an end to the practice of lopping, although grazing rights continued. Epping Forest was placed in the care of the City of London Corporation and was no longer a royal forest (the Crown’s right to venison from the forest was also terminated). The Epping Forest Act stipulated that the Conservators “shall at all times keep Epping Forest unenclosed and unbuilt on as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the people.” The forest was dedicated “to the use and enjoyment of my people for all time” by Queen Victoria on her visit to Chingford in May 1882.
In compensation for the loss of lopping rights, Loughton Hall was erected as a community building funded by the City of London Corporation. The total given by the City was £7,000: the cost of the building was £3,236, with a further sum forming a capital gift in the creation of a Lopping Hall Endowment Trust. Lopping Hall was opened in 1884 to a design by local architect Edmond Egan, and is one of the most important public buildings in Loughton. The terracotta panel which sits above the original entrance to the Hall in Station Road, shows the loppers in action and one of the rooms within the Hall, the Willingale Room, is named in honour of Thomas Willingale.
To read more about the Right to Lop and the Fight to Lop, please click here.
The Epping Forest Visitors’ Centre (The View) has a permanent exhibition which details the history of Epping Forest and the loppers.