Six miles from home and 450 years back in time

Recently I visited Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge in Chingford, north-east London. The Lodge is an unique three-storey, timber-framed hunting grandstand. It is still surrounded by its medieval royal hunting forest, Epping Forest, an area of ancient woodland managed by the City of London Corporation.

The Lodge played an important part in my childhood with regular family visits. In the 1960s I submitted a painting of the Lodge for a competition run by the popular children’s TV show Blue Peter (still going strong in 2016). Alas my hopes of winning a coveted Blue Peter badge (of any colour) weren’t realised.

I have fond memories of a birthday in the early 1970s when my dad drove me and some mates out to Chingford Plain from where we orienteered in the forest, played football and visited the Lodge. We rounded the day off with an epic rotten apple fight in my back garden.  I couldn’t have asked for more!

Back then the Lodge’s timbers were black because the Victorians used oils to blacken the timbers and make them stand out. While most people today consider this is what a traditional timber-frame house should look like, black timbers would have been uncommon in Tudor times. In 1993 extensive renovation work replaced or repaired rotted timbers and restored the exterior to what scholars today believe to be closer to its original appearance.

The restored Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge

The building was commissioned by Henry VIII in 1543 as an open-sided timber-framed hunting grandstand, known as the Great Standing, from which guests could view the hunt at Chingford and shoot deer from the upper floors. Both King Henry and Queen Elizabeth I may have hunted in the forest, though no documentary evidence survives to prove it.

The building was renovated in 1589 for Queen Elizabeth. Constructed from massive oak timbers and using innovative joints, the superior finish to the timbers indicates a building of high status. After 1604 the Lodge ceased to be used in connection with hunting at all and windows were installed after the reign of Charles I.

The Lodge has been open to the general public since 1895. When it first opened to the public it was used as a museum of natural history and archaeology; this was still its incarnation when I was visiting in the 1960s and 70s. Today it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade II* listed building (refer to National Heritage List for England (NHLE)), still open to the public but simply as a monument to itself and the Tudor era. With three floors it’s unique in England as the only Standing with more than two floors.

Today the Lodge has exhibitions on Tudor food and fashion with a themed display on each of its three floors. Through a Tudor dinner table display on the ground floor you can discover the sights and sounds of the Royal Kitchen and learn about class and cuisine.

The kitchen on the ground floor

On the first floor there is a range of Tudor outfits for trying on and guides to Tudor heraldry. The windows on the second floor, the King’s Shooting Gallery, provide extensive views of the forest. I  found the architecture interesting and thought the intricate Tudor timber roof construction  was really impressive – note the antler shapes in the photo below.

The amazing ceiling construction
The top floor showing the elaborate ceiling construction

I vividly remembered from my childhood the stairs leading up from the ground floor,  up which,  legend says, Queen Elizabeth rode her horse.

Did Queen Elizabeth ride up this staircase?
Did Queen Elizabeth really ride up this staircase?
Cutaway showing building construction
Cutaway showing building construction

One thing that surprised me on my latest visit was how disappointed I was that the exhibits of mounted butterflies and moths, stuffed deer, reptiles in jars, etc., which I had enjoyed in the 1960s and 70s were no longer on display. Even during childhood visits some were already moth-eaten (no pun intended) and others compellingly grotesque, but they played a large part in developing my passion for the natural world. It was no great surprise that they were long gone, but it made me very nostalgic.

I’d  recommend a visit taking in the Lodge and The View next door, a building nestled between the Lodge and the Royal Forest pub.  Entry is free and there’s parking available with eating and watering places such as the Royal Forest pub/restaurant and the Butler’s Retreat café within easy walking distance.

The Lodge with the Royal Forest pub/restaurant in background

The View is a modern Epping Forest interpretation centre, the central orientation point for the whole forest and designed to appeal to all ages.  It has a well-stocked gift shop  and knowledgeable staff will admit you to the Lodge, provide useful information and run tours of the Lodge. Chatting to a staff member I learned that some of the collections I remembered may well have been archived offsite by Epping Forest District Council.

The View’s displays and exhibits showcase some of the main themes, stories and habitats of the forest, preparing visitors to experience them in the forest itself. It holds frequent events, and a range of art collections and historical interpretation related to the forest.  The View is fully accessible via a lift and there are extensive views of the forest from an outdoor rear balcony. Two way-marked trails start at its back door. Information on opening hours can be found here.

Address: 8 Ranger’s Rd, London E4 7QH

Phone:      020 7332

Location:  Google Maps