Inventory Site Record

Wanstead Flats and Bush Wood * (Redbridge)

Brief Description

* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens

Wanstead Flats is at the most southerly part of Epping Forest and was saved from development as part of the forest in 1878. Known as Wanstead Heath in the early C17th, it has been used for grazing cattle and sheep since the C12th, a practice that continued up until 1996. Wanstead Flats encompasses a number of areas all now managed as part of Epping Forest, including Manor Park Flats, Bush Wood Flats, Bush Wood and Bush Wood North, the latter having remnants of the C18th landscaping of Wanstead Park.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Wanstead Heath; Bush Wood Flats, Manor Park Flats, Bush Wood North
Site location:
Centre Road/Woodford Road/Aldersbrook Road/Forest Drive, Aldersbrook
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Open Land
Open to public?
Opening times:
Special conditions:
Car parks, playing fields, football pitches, model aircraft flying strip, horse riding, children's playground
Numerous events including fairground and circus, annual gymkhana, and football tournament (check website)
Public transport:
Tube: Leytonstone, Wanstead (Central). London Overground: Leytonstone High Road, Wanstead Park. Rail: Manor Park. Bus: 101, 308, W14, 66, 145, W13
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.cityoflondon.gov.uk; www.wansteadpark.org.uk

Full Site Description

Wanstead Park, including Wanstead Park, Wanstead Golf Course, Blake Hall Sports Grounds, Bushwood and Wanstead Flats west of Lake House Road: Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England was established in 1984 and was commonly called English Heritage. In April 2015 it split into 2 separate entities, Historic England (HE), which continues to champion and protect the historic environment, and the English Heritage Trust, whose role is to look after the 400+ historic sites and monuments owned by the state. HE manages the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) that includes over 400,000 items ranging from prehistoric monuments to office blocks, battlefields and parks, which benefit from legal protection.

The majority of the Wanstead Flats site is in Redbridge, a portion in Waltham Forest, with a small part in Newham. The site forms the most southerly part of Epping Forest (q.v.) and was saved from development as part of the forest in 1878. In 1883 Edward Walford described the Flats: '. . 400 acres in extent, and their area was formerly overgrown with furze, heath, and a few scattered trees; but of late years its appearance has been considerably changed by the formation of brick fields etc. Early in the present century George III held a review of 10,000 troops on Wanstead Flats, and in 1874 the open portion was secured by the Government for the purposes of military drill and exercise. For very many years this locality was a familiar haunt of the gipsy tribe, and of others who follow the wandering life of that fraternity, their caravans and tents being scarcely ever absent from the borders of the Flats.' The Flats became a popular destination for East Enders and others on summer weekends and holidays, particularly after the railway opened a station at Forest Gate in the 1840s.

Wanstead Flats were almost treeless from the C12th after the Abbots of Stratford were granted the right in 1199 to graze large flocks of sheep here. Known as Wanstead Heath from the early C17th, its use for grazing cattle and sheep continued up until 1996, and one day may be reinstated. In 2020 a 2-month trial was instigated by City of London whereby 3 cows from its herd of 200 were put out to graze at Wanstead. The pilot was part of a plan to better manage and restore the acid grasslands for wildlife conservation. If all goes well, the eastern part of The Plain could carry up to 10 cows in future years for late summer grazing in August and September. Although acid grassland is found across the majority of London boroughs this is mostly in small, vulnerable remnants; Wanstead Flats and Wanstead Park together represent one of only four remaining large sites in London, the others being Richmond Park, Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath (q.q.v.).

The adjacent land that became Wanstead Park had been enclosed from the Forest as a royal hunting park in the C16th. In 1667 Sir Josiah Childs purchased the estate and in the C18th it was laid out with an extensive landscaped park and formal gardens for Wanstead House, including radiating avenues of trees such as sweet chestnut and lime, some of which survive in Bush Wood. These include 5 fine sweet chestnuts believed to be 225 years old. After Wanstead House was demolished in 1823/4 the estate lands deteriorated although it remained in private ownership; the land was let for grazing, trees felled for timber and the gardens became overgrown. The greater accessibility afforded by the development of the railways during the C19th brought visitors to Wanstead Flats as well as opening up the potential for a new residential population, and wealthy landowners increasingly encroached the common land for house building. These included Lord Tylney of Wanstead Park who attempted to enclose a large area of the Flats in 1851, but was opposed by local people who took his fences down. Again, in 1871, Viscount Wellesley tried to enclose 17 hectares of Wanstead Flats but by this time the Corporation of London had gained status as a commoner of Epping Forest due to its purchase in 1854 of forest land for its City of London Cemetery (q.v.). The Corporation began legal actions against Wellesley and other Lords of the various manors who had enclosed parts of the Forest and the success of these court cases eventually led to the passing of the 1878 Epping Forest Act preventing further enclosure of the Forest. Although the common rights to pollarding ceased, cattle grazing rights continued. Under the auspices of the Open Spaces Act of 1878 the Corporation was also able to purchase land within 25 miles of London in order to protect it for public open space.

The part played by local people and ordinary Londoners in the campaign to save Epping Forest cannot be underestimated. On 8 July 1871 thousands gathered on Wanstead Flats to protest against enclosure of a large area by the Lord of Wanstead Manor, Lord Cowley. Efforts to address the threat of enclosure had begun earlier, with a meeting in Mile End in February 1866 leading to the establishment of a local branch of the Commons Preservation Society, and in succeeding years the cause of saving the 'People's Forest' led to protests and fundraising. The threatened enclosures of Wanstead Flats in 1871 brought the local campaigners a powerful ally in the City of London Corporation, who threatened legal action. However, the campaigners protest was equally significant; the mass action on 8 July was promoted through a series of well-attended public meetings in Stratford, Shoreditch, Hackney and Mile End. On the day, the huge crowd that attended provided pressure on the government. A number of people began destroying the fences. Although this action condemned by some, including the press, within a month the first of the Acts to protect Epping Forest was enacted by Parliament. During the ensuing years local campaigners continued to promote the cause and when the last of the Epping Forest Acts was passed in 1878 this represented the first legal declaration of the right of the public at large to use an open space for leisure, which had implications for all threatened open spaces across the country.

In 1886/7 Wanstead Flats were drained, levelled, planted with grass and 40,000 trees to provide features and some shelter. Plane trees were planted along Centre Road by 1890 and by the end of the century 5 circular plantations of trees including beech, oak, red oak and hornbeam were planted. In the early C20th unemployed local men were brought in to dig out the ponds, leading to the creation of Alexandra Lake and Bandstand Pond (formerly called Angell Pond). What became Model Yacht Pond, a small drainage pond known as Dames Road Pond or Chapel Pond, was deepened and lined with concrete but by the late 1980s interest in model boats had declined and a crack in the concrete liner led to falling water levels and the pond frequently dried up in the summer. In 1997 plans were drawn up to improve the pond and surrounding area and as a result of public consultation and the establishment of The Lakehouse Lake Project it was decided to turn it into a wildlife area. Work began in summer 2002 and it was renamed the Jubilee Pond to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

During WWII trenches were dug to obstruct invasion and Wanstead Flats were put to various uses, including as a German POW camp, allotments, a site for anti-aircraft guns and barrage balloons, and prefab housing was built on an area to the south. In 1946 West Ham Council tried to acquire this land for permanent housing but this was opposed by local people and the Corporation, and Wanstead Flats were reinstated as public open space by 1964. An area of 11.5 hectares is designated a SSSI and Wanstead Flats is noted for its acid grassland; it is important as a breeding ground for threatened species such as the skylark, and also for uncommon and rare plants and insects. The Wanstead Flats site encompasses a number of areas all now managed as part of Epping Forest.

The remains of the estate of Wanstead Park were purchased by the Corporation of London in 1882. To the north and north-west are Bush Wood Flats (Harrow Road Playing Fields), Bush Wood and Bush Wood North, the latter having remnants of the C18th avenues of tree planted to radiate from Wanstead House. A lime avenue planted for Lake House, a property demolished in 1908, also remains in Bush Wood Flats, named Evelyn Avenue after a local botanist. To the east is Manor Park Flats where an annual gymkhana has been held for many years. The Flats have long been a site for organised sports and outdoor recreation; in 1890 the London Playing Fields Committee were granted 10 hectares for use as public football and cricket pitches, later increased to 60ha. The Wanstead Model Flying Club has operated here for many years, with a landing strip near Centre Road. The Flats have been used for numerous other events over the years, such as the Easter Fair that has taken place for over a century, and there is a designated fairground site. There are 7 lodges within the site, at Bush Wood, Harrow Road, Capel Road and Aldersbrook Road.

Sources consulted:

Ian Dowling /Nick Harris, Images of London: Wanstead & Woodford, Tempus Publishing 2003; Edward Walford, 'Village London, the Story of Greater London, Part 2 - North and East', first pub. 1883/4 (1985 ed., The Alderman Press) p473, 481; Alison O'Connor, Jeremy Dagley, Sally Hayns, Imogen Wilde, Sally Hopper, 'An Integrated Site Management Plan for Wanstead Flats, Epping Forest 2006-2011' (2006); Fred Wanless 'Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Wanstead Flats' (Lakeside Lake Project, 2003); https://wansteadpark.org.uk/news/cows-come-home/. 'The Anniversary of Saving Epping Forest', Spitalfields Life, 8 July 2021; Mark Gorman, 'Saving the People's Forest' (University of Hertfordshire). Also see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/Corporation/LGNL_Services/Environment_and_planning/

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ402874 (540225,187653)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
City of London Corporation (The Conservators of Epping Forest)
Site management:
The Conservators of Epping Forest
medieval, 1880s
Listed structures:
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Yes (Bush Wood part within Wanstead Park)
NHLE grade:
Grade II*
Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Metropolitan + SSSI (part)
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:
Heritage Land; Green Corridor
Keeper's Lodge, Bushwood, Wanstead, c.1910. Courtesy Redbridge Local Studies & Archives.
The Chapel Pond on Wanstead Flats, c.1897, which was popular with bathers and model boat enthusiasts. Courtesy Redbridge Local Studies & Archives.

Click a photo to enlarge.

Please note the Inventory and its content are provided for your general information only and are subject to change. It is your responsibility to check the accuracy.