Inventory Site Record

Woodford County High School for Girls (Waltham Forest)

Brief Description

Highams mansion was built in 1764, the estate then purchased by John Harman in 1790, for whom Humphry Repton designed the landscape park in 1794, including a lake created by damming the River Ching, now within Epping Forest. In 1848 the estate was sold to Edward Warner who extended the house. From the 1890s land began to be sold off for building and the house was let in 1902. From 1904-14 it became home to the Bishop of St Albans, whose sister created a rose garden. It was a military hospital during WWI and in 1919 it was leased to Essex County Council and opened as Woodford County High School. The original house and circular grassed area remain, now surrounded by school buildings, with Repton's terrace on the west also extant. Tennis courts and a sports hall were built on the kitchen garden although a portion of the wall survives.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Highams, Higham Hills, High Hall, Highams Park, Higham House, Highams Benstead
Site location:
The High Road, Woodford
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Institutional Grounds
Waltham Forest
Open to public?
Opening times:
private school grounds
Special conditions:
Public transport:
Tube: Woodford; South Woodford (Central) then bus. Bus: 20, 179, 275, W13
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.woodford.redbridge.sch.uk

Full Site Description

Highams was a mansion house in the manor of Higham Bensted or Higham Hills, standing on high ground at the northern extremity of the parish of Walthamstow and commanding fine prospects of the Thames and of the country towards Kent. The Manor of Higham dates back to at least 1066, then held by Halden, with the manor on the western side of the estate. By 1305 it was owned by John de Benstede. The house and grounds later became Essex County Council High School for Girls and extra wings were added to the north in 1928 and to the south in 1938. It lies on the border between the boroughs of Waltham Forest and Redbridge, coming under Redbridge Education Authority but the site is owned by LB Waltham Forest. The school grounds are only part of the original parkland, part of which still exists as public open space. The south-western section of the former landscape park, lying on low ground at the foot of a sloping site, is now divided from the house by suburban streets and encroached upon to the north, south and east. The western section, Highams Park (q.v.) including the lake and a belt of woodland surrounding it, is owned and administered by the Corporation of London, on the eastern side of the lake a further section of park is owned and administered by LB Waltham Forest, known as The Highams Park (q.v.). The lake is still bounded to north and south by stretches of Epping Forest, as it was in the C18th and C19th.

The manor of Higham Bensted was sold to Anthony Bacon, MP for Aylesbury, in 1764, who legally enclosed a large area of Higham Bushes known as The Sale, and commissioned a new house in 1768 from William Newton (1735-1790), who later designed Greenwich Hospital Chapel. In 1771 a further 20 acres of wasteland was cleared and 2.5 acres were leased from Lord Tynley for 99 years. From 1785-90 the owner was William Hornby, Governor of Bombay, who probably added a third storey to the house and a central cupola. In 1790 John Harman bought the estate and consulted Humphry Repton about landscaping the grounds in 1793; Repton's Red Book of 1794 is now in Vestry House Museum, Walthamstow. Several of Highams' owners before John Harman had unsuccessfully tried to negotiate to enclose some of the forest land on the western side of the park. Repton's scheme for a lake created by damming a section of the River Ching was approved by the Conservators of Epping Forest on the grounds that the forest deer would benefit from the improved water supply. Repton also foresaw the need to enclose a small area of land at the lake-head on which to build a boathouse. However, this elaborately designed building, undertaken by Repton's son Adey and reminiscent of Adam's Fishing Pavilion at Kedleston, was apparently never carried out. In the C19th, while the park remained intact, the lake lay on the western, farthest point of a winding circuit made from the house, devised by Repton and shown in his Red Book. According to Repton, 'the most interesting way of conducting strangers from the house to the lake' was that shown on Map 1 in his Red Book, a winding north-western route from the house that passed through the North Wood and skirted the far bank of the lake. A circular route could then be followed returning to the house along the south-western boundary of the park; according to Repton this route could also stand as an approach road for the house with a fishing pavilion or cottage on the lake-head dam doubling as an entrance lodge. However, this road was not designed for use by strangers who were to approach the villa from the High Road at Woodford Common. The lake was apparently designed to appear to the best advantage when glimpsed from the north-eastern forest road approach and from the high ground around the house, and the house in its improved surroundings to be viewed from the far shore of the lake. Peacock's Polite Repository for April 1798 gives a 'View from Higham Hill, Essex - Seat of John Harman Esq.' after Repton, showing a curve of the lake glimpsed between clumps of trees. An additional tranche of parkland to the north, shown on a map of 1893 with a model farm on its south eastern corner, was not included in Repton's improvements for Highams.

Repton ignored the entrance front of the house, and concentrated his improvements on the garden side, creating a podium or terrace to block out the basement storey of a building that he considered too high and exposed, plantations on either side to screen neighbouring villas, and removing the kitchen garden to a less prominent plot on the south-west of the house. On the northern side of the house a plantation belt was laid out with 'interesting walks'. Part of the lower section of the C19th kitchen garden wall survives, but the garden is now a tennis court and Sports Hall, the latter built in 2008/9. A railed grass terrace was created below the house, and beyond it the ground sloped away towards the lake, dotted with trees. The boundary between the Highams parkland and the forest land was marked by a Ha-Ha, a fence sunk in a ditch to exclude deer from the park, while maintaining the illusion of one unbroken space.

In 1817 John Harman's son Jeremiah, a director of the Bank of England, inherited the estate. A map of Walthamstow in 1822 by Vestry clerk John Coe shows Jeremiah's parkland, with a farm to the south-west of the house that probably provided food for the household. During his ownership, stones said to have come from either Waltham Abbey or from the old London Bridge were used to shore up the sides of the lake and to build a summer house, but this latter disappeared in the 1930s. According to the North London Natural History Society Archaeological Committee Report of 1910, the remainder were formed into 'a cairn of worked stone, something of medieval in appearance', erected on 'rising ground a little way back from the north end of the lake'. Following the death of Jeremiah Harman in 1848, his widow Mary sold the estate to Edward Warner for £16,343 in 1849, although the estate had passed into the possession of J. Sands Esq. of Liverpool and the house was unoccupied. Warner added extensions to the house but little is known of his changes to the garden. He died in 1875 and in 1878 Sir Thomas Courtney Theydon Warner inherited Highams when he came of age.

In 1879 when the Corporation of London was given control of Epping Forest it was decided that all enclosures since August 1851 were unlawful so 122 acres of Highams was reclaimed. In 1891 30 acres of the lower part of Highams Park encompassing the River Ching and its boating lake were purchased by the Conservators of Epping Forest for £6,000 and opened to the public in 1891.

In 1893 plans were drawn up for the sale of the estate by auction, the sale catalogue describing the property with 'lawns beautifully ornamented with choice shrubs and American plants' and 'well drained gravel walks'. The 2-acre kitchen garden was listed as enclosed with 'lofty brick walls' and had 'fruit trees, two vineries and several succession pits'. There was a fully planted orchard, a tool house, mushroom sheds and a 'pleasure ground well defended by particular and substantial iron railings with five bars'. A similar plan shows the first road to be built on the estate and also shows a grotto, later the site of an amphitheatre built for the school. Lodges in Montalt Road, designed for the middle classes, and some more modest terraced housing in Chingford Lane were built in 1897. In 1902 Warner moved to Brettenham Hall in Suffolk and the house was let. From 1904-1914 the Rt. Revd. Edgar Jacob, Bishop of St. Albans, rented the house, and a rose garden was constructed along its terrace by his sister. In 1914 for the duration of WWI the house became a military hospital and photographs of the time show trellises that probably supported Miss Jacob's roses and also Repton's terrace, with a balcony and awning above it.

In 1919 Essex County Council initially rented Highams and plans were drawn up to convert it as a school for 100 girls, which opened in Autumn Term of 1919. It was eventually purchased for £7,000 by Essex County Council in 1922 and became the Woodford County High School. Substantial building additions were made in 1928 and 1938 and the Council also exchanged land with Warner so that a new road could be built and a rectangular school playing field could be provided. Continuing development of housing between 1930-36 across the open park cut off the house from the lake, with the building of The Charter Road, Crealock Grove, Nesta Road, Henry's Avenue, Lichfield Road, Mason Road, Keynsham and Tamworth Avenues and Marion Grove. Further housing was planned for the remaining triangle of land to the north of the lake, but after protests by residents 176 prefabs, erected there in 1947, were dismantled in 1961.

The original house and circular grassed area remain and are surrounded by school buildings. Repton's recommended terrace on the west-facing walls of the house also remains, but little else of his landscape exists apart from the lake and a section of kitchen garden wall. The rose garden, referred to as The Staff Garden in 2009, is still present, albeit somewhat neglected at that time, and a small memorial garden has been created near the tennis courts to commemorate two girls who died while attending the school. Vestiges of the former circular route can be traced in the woodland on the north and south sides of the lake. Woodford Golf Course occupies the farmland on the northern side of the park, shown in the map of 1893, and a rugby ground is situated to the south-west of the school playing fields.

Sources consulted:

Victoria County History of Essex, vol VI (OUP, 1973); Marjorie M Smith, 'Highams, The Story of a House', Walthamstow Antiquarian Society, London 1966; John M and Ray Hall, 'Suburbanisation in Metropolitan Essex: The Interrupted Development of a Repton Park at Highams,' London Journal 12, (1) 1986; Fiona Cowell and Georgia Green 'A Gazetteer of Sites in Essex Associated with Humphry Repton' (Essex Gardens Trust, 2000); A D Law and S Barry, 'The Forest in Walthamstow and Chingford' (Chingford Historical Society, 1988); Peter Lawrence and Georgina Green, 'Woodford, A Pictorial History', Phillimore, 1995. Information from Dr. Vaughan, school master at the Woodford County High School for Girls, 1995, and from documents and old photographs retained at the school.

LPGT Volunteer Research by Catherine Davis, November 2009.

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ398917 (539850,191750)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Waltham Forest
Site management:
LB Redbridge Education Authority
1794; 1893
Humphry Repton (1794)
Listed structures:
LBII: Higham House/Woodford County High School for Girls
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

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:
Conservation Area name:
Woodford Green
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:
The Higham's Estate Area of Special Character.

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.