Wanstead Park

Wanstead Park is a grade II listed municipal park covering an area of about 140 acres (57 hectares), located in Wanstead, in the London Borough of Redbridge, historically within the county of Essex. It is bordered to the north by the A12 road, to the east by the River Roding and A406 North Circular Road, to the south by the Aldersbrook Estate and the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium and to the west by Wanstead Golf Course. It is administered as part of Epping Forest by the City of London Corporation, having been purchased by the Corporation in 1880. Today's park once formed part of the deer park of the former manor house of ancient Wanstead Manor, which included much of the urbanised area now known as Wanstead. In order to understand the history of today's municipal park of Wanstead, the history of the ancient manor of Wanstead needs to be examined. For this purpose the modern green spaces of the Park, golf course and Wanstead Flats should be considered as one entity.

The Palladian Wanstead House, commissioned in 1715 by Sir Richard Child from a design by Colen Campbell. By the time of its completion in 1722 Child had been created 1st Viscount Castlemain. Viewed across the Basin from due west standing at the entrance gates. Illustration from Nathaniel Spencer, The Complete English Traveller, London 1771
Pastoral scene before Wanstead House and Basin, by William Havell, 1815

History of the Manor of Wanstead

Roman Wanstead

Ordnance Survey maps mark the site of a Roman Villa in present day Wanstead Park. Archaeological excavations carried out in 1985 indicated a Roman presence here from the 1st to the 5th century AD, but did not locate any specific site of a Roman villa. A mosaic discovered in 1715 by gardener Adam Holt[1] measured "... from north to south ... 20 feet, and from east to west about 16; that it was composed of small square brick tesserae of different sizes and colours, as black, white, red, &c., of all which I have specimens; that there was a border about a foot broad went, round it, Composed of red dice, about ¾ of an inch square, within which were severall ornaments, and in the middle the figure of a man riding upon some beast and holding something in his hands; but, as he opened it onely in a hurry, and in different places, he was able to give no bettor account of it." (Smart Lethieullier, Aldersbrook, July 12, 1735). According to Lethieullier, owner of the adjacent manor of Aldersbrook, the pavement "was situated on a gentle gravely ascent towards the north, and at a small distance from the south end of it I remember a well of exceeding fine water, now absorbed in a great pond". Lethieullier's first letter mentions "foundations", which he believed to be Roman, at some distance to the south of the pavement, and on the very edge of the Wanstead estate "about 300 yards due south from the said well and pavement, there were, in my memory, the ruins of foundations to be seen, though now destroyed by planting trees round the park pales". A second letter also mentions the "foundation of a Roman building", "at a small distance" from the site of the pavement. Lethieullier goes on to state that in the summer of 1746 workmen showed him "urns" "of the coarsest earth" and bones they had discovered, which he believed to be the remains of Roman burials, as well as at least three coins.

The exact locations of the Roman remains described by Smart Lethieullier were subsequently lost although Jack Elsden Tuffs undertook further archaeological work during the 1960s. A limited ground penetrating radar survey was undertaken in February 2007 running north-south to a point just north of the refreshment hut and showed anomalies consistent with the buried foundations of a large masonry building running diagonally across the survey area. What appeared to be at least two rooms were visible which are considered likely to date from the Roman period.

Saxon Wanstead

The name Wanstead is probably of Saxon origin - indicating a possible continuity of settlement here since Roman times - and is accepted by the English Place-Names Society as derived from Wen, signifying a hill or mound, and Stead, a place. It is said that in Saxon times Abbot Aelfric granted the manor of Wanstead to the monks of Westminster Abbey yet this cannot be substantiated from any documentary evidence. However, the location was clearly a prized site on the east side of London.

Norman Wanstead

In 1086 the Domesday Book states that Wanstead Manor was held from the Bishop of London by one Ralph son of Brian. Wanstead was then densely wooded, being situated within the Forest of Essex. It was part of the forest bailiwick of Becontree during the Middle Ages and later of the Leyton "Walk".

Tudor Wanstead

The Welbeck portrait of Elizabeth I by Gheeraerts, c. 1580. Said in Daniel Lysons' Environs of London (1796)[2] to show Wanstead Hall in the background

The manor house, known as Wanstead Hall, was probably quite a small building until the 14th century, but by 1499 it was large enough to serve as a royal hunting-lodge, when it was acquired by King Henry VII, one of whose favourite resorts it was to become.[3] Henry had developed a taste for privacy towards the end of his reign, and acquired Wanstead as a maison de retraite in the vicinity of Greenwich Palace, laying out considerable sums on it. It was valued by him especially for its park, bringing the King much needed seclusion.[4] It is also interesting to note that Henry VII used Wanstead as a location for receiving payments from what the Tudor historian David Starkey calls his “slush fund” of extra-parliamentary taxation and fines, away from the eyes of the magnates in the formal royal palaces.[5] The young future Henry VIII lived for a while at Wanstead and at the other maison de retraite of Hanworth in enforced proximity to his father Henry VII during the last years of his reign.[6] Both kings hunted within the manor. It was during Henry VIII's reign (1509–1547) that Wanstead Park was inclosed, shortly before 1512, which probably involved the clearance of some wooded areas. At about this time neighbouring Aldersbrook became a separate manor. Wanstead remained a Royal manor for a number of years, its “keeper” being an office awarded to favoured royal courtiers, one after another. Hugh Denys (d.1511) Groom of the Stool to Henry VII was its keeper until 1511, being one of the King's key financial officers who often received the “slush fund” monies there on the King's behalf. On Denys's death in 1511 the keepership passed to Charles Brandon, later Duke of Suffolk.[7] Sir John Heron, another former financial officer within the Privy Chamber, was keeper of the park until his death in 1521. Heron also held lands in Aldersbrook and it is said that he brought heron birds to the area, as an amusing mark of his presence. One of the lakes was historically known as "Herony (sic) Lake". (A heronry, i.e. colony of heron birds, is shown on Lincoln Island on an OS map of 1919, unless this is merely a confusion over the nomenclature of the lakes.) Lord Richard Rich, High Chancellor of England, was keeper of the park in 1543, and in 1549 Edward VI granted him the lordship of the manor of Wanstead, complete with the park. In 1577 Rich's son Robert sold it to Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, who purchased the nearby manor of Stonhall in Ilford at the same time. Thereafter a succession of owners kept the manor of Wanstead combined with Stonehall.

Jacobean Wanstead

Wanstead House pre 1715, the residence of Sir Josiah Child, 1st Baronet. Detail of a drawing by Jan Kip and Leonard Knyff, c. 1708

In 1619 Sir Henry Mildmay was in possession, but forfeited the manor to the Crown at the end of the Civil War, in which he had fought for Parliament. Charles II granted the estate to his brother, James, Duke of York, but it was restored in about 1662 to Sir Robert Brooke, Mildmay's son in law. In 1673-4 the manor was purchased by Josiah Child (created 1st Baronet Child of Wanstead in 1678)' Governor of the East India Company. He spent much time and money in developing the estate according to the fashion of the time. When John Evelyn, the diarist, visited Wanstead in March, 1683 he wrote: "I went to see Sir Josiah Child's prodigious cost in planting walnut trees about his seate, and making fish ponds many miles in circuit in Epping Forest, in a barren place." [8] The ponds which he mentioned, although somewhat altered, are those in existence at the present day - a chain of ponds descending from the Shoulder of Mutton Pond, through Heronry Pond, Perch Pond, the Dell and into the Ornamental Waters. Child died in 1699, and was succeeded by his son - also Sir Josiah Child - who leased Wanstead and Stonehall to his half-brother, Richard Child. On Sir Josiah II's death in 1704, Richard Child became 3rd Baronet, having succeeded to his title and estates.[9]

Georgian Wanstead

Construction of the Palladian Mansion

The original design for the west front of Wanstead House by Colen Campbell. The upper stories on the wings were omitted in the completed building. The facade extended over 200 ft. (60 m).
The Assembly at Wanstead House by Hogarth painted c. 1728-1732. Richard Child, Viscount Castlemain is shown in the Long Ballroom seated at an ornate tea-table with his 2 eldest daughters at far right foreground, wearing a red coat. His wife, ostensibly the central figure of the painting, suddenly turns away from her card game pointing towards him her card the ace of spades, an allusion to her guests and to the viewer that her husband was her winning card; thus does Hogarth bring his patron, the apparently compositionally modestly placed peer into centre-stage. The younger 3 children form a group in the left foreground
Giltwood scroll-foot seat, early Georgian, from Wanstead House, sold by Christie's in 2008 for £135,000. It may be of the set of the chair on which Earl Tylney is seated in the Hogarth painting

In 1715 Sir Richard Child commissioned the Scottish architect Colen Campbell to design a grand mansion in the then emerging Palladian style, to replace the former house, and to rival contemporary mansions such as Blenheim Palace. When completed it covered an area of 260 ft (79 m). by 70 ft (21 m), the facade having a portico with six Corinthian columns, the earliest in England.[10] The grounds were landscaped and planted with formal avenues of trees by George London, one of the leading garden designers of his day. Child was created 1st Viscount Castlemaine 3 years later in 1718, the house being completed in 1722. Child had married in 1703 Dorothy Glynne, whose mother was of the Tylney family of Tylney Hall in Rotherwick, Hampshire. On the death of Ann Tylney, her cousin, in 1730, Dorothy and her husband Viscount Castlemain inherited the Tylney estates. Castlemain was created 1st Earl Tylney the following year (1731) and in 1734 obtained an Act of Parliament to change the name of his family, including his heirs, from the patronymic to Tylney, probably to meet a condition of his wife's inheritance. On the death of the Earl in 1750 he was succeeded by his 38-year-old son John Tylney, 2nd Earl Tylney, who continued the plantings, but in the then fashionable natural and non-formal style. The 2nd. Earl had no male issue and his estates passed on his death in 1784 to his elder sister Emma's son Sir James Long, 7th Baronet, who being then in possession of the vast estates of the Longs, the Childs and the Tylneys, assumed the surname Tylney-Long for himself and his descendants, again probably in accordance with a requirement of the inheritance. On the death of the 7th Baronet in 1794 the combined estate passed to his one-year-old infant son Sir James Tylney-Long, 8th Baronet, who died in 1805 aged just 11. The estate then passed to his young sister, eldest of three, Catherine Tylney-Long, who thereby became the richest heiress in England. [11]

Entree of William Pole-Wellesley

William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley, c. 1812.

In 1812 Catherine took the disastrous step of accepting the marriage proposal from the later-to-be notorious rake, William Wellesley-Pole, nephew of two famous uncles, Richard Wellesley, 2nd Earl of Mornington, eldest brother of his father William, and Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington from 1813, his father's younger brother. The Wellesleys played no part in securing the marriage into their family of this great heiress. Shortly before the wedding Catherine's husband had changed his family surname by Royal Licence to Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley. In 1813 Wellesley started his career of burdening the marriage settlement trust with debt by inviting the landscaper Humphrey Repton to improve the park, some of whose informal planting remains today.[12]

Demolition of the Palladian Mansion

Wellesley was an MP initially from 1812-20 but was principally known for his dissipation and extravagance. On his marriage the estate had been conveyed to a trust from which Catherine would receive £11,000 per annum for life, with the rest to the use of Wellesley for his life. The remainder was to go to the sons produced from the marriage. To secure a debt of £250,000, he managed to mortgage this marriage settlement trust, which owned Wanstead House and contents, to his creditors. In 1822, to escape his creditors, he obtained the office of Usher to George IV (himself experienced in profligacy and evading creditors) which rendered him immune to arrest for debt, and later he fled his creditors abroad. In June 1822 the trustees of the settlement, under a power contained within the trust and having obtained the requisite agreement of the couple, auctioned off the house's contents in an auction lasting 32 days, in order to pay off the incumbrances on the settled estate, thereby protecting the son's future inheritance.[13] In 1825, having found no one to rent Wanstead House, the trustees demolished it under the same powers and applied the proceeds from the sale of the resultant building materials in a similar fashion. Under the terms of Sir James Tylney Long's will, Wanstead House was inalienable from the Park - which could not be sold for 1000 years . This is why the mansion was sold for demolition. The sum raised was only £10,000 whilst it had reputedly cost around £360,000 to build. Catherine, having been abandoned for another woman by her husband in 1823, died in 1825 of an intestinal illness, shortly after the demolition, no doubt a broken woman.

Transformation into Municipal Park

A life interest in Catherine's remaining lands, to the extent of 1,400 acres (5.7 km2), in surrounding Wanstead and the adjoining parishes of Woodford, Leyton, Little Ilford and Barking remained in the hands of her husband up to 1840. Before 1828 Wellesley in a search for money had cut down a great number of trees in the park, destroying many of the avenues, vistas and clumps so carefully planted earlier at such great expense by Sir Josiah Child and the Earls Tylney. He had marked a further 2,000 for felling when his son obtained an injunction in 1828 preventing him from proceeding, since it would damage the value of the land, his future inheritance. Wellesley challenged the injunction but it was confirmed against him in 1834.[14] Wellesley continued his parliamentary career between 1830–32 and inherited his father's title as 4th Earl of Mornington (his father having inherited from his elder brother) in 1845, dying in humble lodgings in 1857. The remnant of the manor of Wanstead was inherited by his son William, who had been protected from his father's designs on his maternal inheritance by the intervention of the Duke of Wellington, and he left it in trust for his father's cousin Henry Wellesley, 1st Earl Cowley. In 1880 the Earl sold 184 acres (0.74 km2) of Wanstead Park to the Corporation of London for preservation as a part of Epping Forest, and the resultant new municipal park of Wanstead was officially opened by the City of London Corporation in 1882. The Earl's family sold further land to Wanstead Sports Grounds Ltd. in 1920

Site of the former Palladian Mansion

Map of Wanstead House and grounds from John Rocque's map printed in Environs of London, 1745. Today's Wanstead Park is shown in green. The house stood at 51°34'10.62"N 0° 2'1.31"E

The site can best be studied by reference to a satellite photographic image, combined with the map of Wanstead House and grounds made by the landscaper John Rocque, printed in Environs of London. Rocque had been commissioned in 1735 by 1st Earl Tylney to effect still further garden features aimed at turning Wanstead into a mini Versailles. The Palladian Mansion stood about 275 yards to the east of the large octagonal ornamental lake called the "Basin", due south of what is now the golf course club-house, built of brick and weather-boarded timber, a remnant of the 18th-century stable-court. The present cricket ground would therefore effectively have been part of the front lawn to the west of the house. The approach was from the entrance gates 1/3 mile due west, the piers of which still survive standing either side of Overton Drive at its junction with Blake Hall Road. Carriages would have proceeded easterly along Overton Drive, thus skirting the north side of the Basin, then following the contour of the lake southwards to arrive at the western front of the house. The extensive fruit and vegetable gardens originally situated to the south-east of the Great House have all gone, these now forming the links of the Golf Course. Two Walnut trees which died in the 1980s, the largest 40 feet (12 m) high and 7 ft 6 in (2.29 m) in girth, probably themselves planted by Sir Josiah Child, stood to the east of the Shoulder of Mutton pond. Thickets of Rhododendron recall the time when part of the Park was laid out as a shrubbery, traversed by the winding paths shown in Rocque's map. Remains of an impressive avenue of sweet-chestnuts, called Evelyn's Avenue, can still be traced in a south westerly direction from the basin, crossing Wanstead Flats and Bush Wood.

Wanstead Park today

The Temple in Wanstead Park, built c. 1760

The western boundary of the present municipal park, named Wanstead Park, therefore lies some 330 yards east of the site of the mansion house. The park still retains some of its layout as the former grounds of Wanstead House. In 1992 a Management Plan was initiated to try to re-establish something of the formality of the grounds of a "Great House". Apart from the lake system, the most evident survivals are the buildings known as the Temple and the Grotto, both built in about 1760, (now listed buildings) and some “mounts” or artificial mounds. Less obvious, perhaps, is a group of islands known as the Fortifications, an amphitheatre, an ornamental canal and remains of some avenues of trees.

The Fortifications

The Fortifications are situated on the Ornamental Waters about 800 yards east of the site of the mansion, to the south-east of the large Lincoln Island. They consist of eight small islands grouped in a circular pattern around a larger central island on which duck-shooting guns were formerly stored. The bridges by which they were once connected no longer exist. The islands are now somewhat overgrown, providing a sanctuary for water-birds.

Ornamental Canal

The wide Ornamental Canal forms a continuation on the eastern far side of the River Roding, here called the Ornamental Waters, of the broad grassy ride cut through the woodland, known as the Glade, in a direct easterly line from Wanstead House. It therefore would have created a magnificent vista from the house, stretching 2/3. of a mile to the east. It was noted by Eric S. Wood F.S.A. [15] as being a "magnificent canal".)


One of a pair of surviving piers of the entrance gate to Wanstead House, with monogram of Richard Child

One third of a mile due west of the site of Wanstead House stand two impressive stone piers, remnants of the gateway that formed the formal entrance to Wanstead House. They are embellished with the monogram of their builder, Sir Richard Child.[16] The piers stand either side of Overton Drive at its junction with Blake Hall Road. The view of the house published in 1771 in Spencer's work would have been drawn from this gate.

Access to the Park

The park is approached from Wanstead in the north via Warren Road. The road at the entrance to the Park is not under the management of the local council, and the un-surfaced section of it, which separates the park from the golf course, ends at a well known landmark by the Heron pond called the "Posts". Along the east side of the unmade road there are several entrances to the park. One leads to the Glade, the broad grassy ride noted above, which extends five hundred yards due east down to the Ornamental Pond. The other main entrance for pedestrians is at the north-east corner of the park, from Wanstead Park Road south of Redbridge tube station, via the footpath crossing the busy A406 North Circular Road.

Activities and events

In late April the Chalet Wood is awash with flowering bluebells. The Temple is open every weekend with displays on the history of Wanstead Park including finds excavated from the 18th-century grotto and the 'Lost Roman Villa'. Entrance is free and there is also a shop offering free leaflets on Epping Forest, other guides and booklets, as well as traditional toys and other attractive items. The City of London Corporation runs a programme of events at the Temple and its surrounds, including family craft days, open-air theatre and musical performances. The City of London website provides further details. Another event is Music in Wanstead Park, which is held at the beginning of summer. The event is organised by the Aldersbrook Families Association. Fishing is permitted on the Ornamental Waters and the Perch Pond, but only in season.


  1. For Adam Holt, see F. Cowell, "Adam Holt (1691? - 1750: his work at Coopsale House, Essex ", Garden History, 1998
  2. Lysons, D. Environs of London, 1796, vol.4, pp.231-244, Wanstead.
  3. Starkey (2008) p.195
  4. Starkey (2008) p.239
  5. Starkey (2008) p.247
  6. Starkey (2008) p.329
  7. L&P H VIII, I, p.340,cf.iii,p.479: appointment of Charles Brandon in succession to Hugh Denys
  8. Evelyn, John. Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest Trees, 1664.
  9. Genealogical details of the Child family as recorded in Wanstead Church of the Virgin Mary parish records are printed in Lysons, Daniel. The Environs of London, 1796, vol.4: counties of Herts, Essex & Kent. pp.231-244, Wanstead.
  10. RIBA, Lost & Hidden Villas, www.architecture.com (June 2010) "the temple-like projecting portico with pitched roof continuing across the depth of the house, the first of its kind in England"
  11. Genealogical descent from the Tylneys of Tylney Hall, Hants. from: Victoria County History, Hampshire, vol.4, pp.99-101, Tylney in Rotherwick parish.
  12. "The Rise and Fall of Wanstead House In Essex". Wansteadpark.org.uk. Retrieved 2012-03-12.
  13. Simons, Nicholas. Reports of Cases Decided in the High Court of Chancery. Vol. 6, London, 1836. pp.497-503, Wellesley v. Wellesley, 1834, in which his son obtained an injunction preventing his father from cutting down further trees in the park. The background to the injunction was recited in detail.
  14. Simons, Nicholas. Reports of Cases Decided in the High Court of Chancery. Vol. 6, London, 1836. pp.497-503, Wellesley v. Wellesley, 1834, in which his son obtained confirmation of an injunction preventing his father from cutting down further trees in the park.
  15. Wood, Collins Field Guide to Archaeology, Third Edition 1972
  16. For other examples of such 18th-century monograms, designed for wrought-iron work, therefore to be seen from front and rear, see Fairburn's Crests of the Families of GB & Ireland, London, 1986, Plates.


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Coordinates: 51°34′03″N 0°02′25″E / 51.5676°N 0.0403°E / 51.5676; 0.0403

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