Gilwell Park, Epping Forest, Essex
With Sewardstone and Sewardstonebury, between which it lies, this is the only corner of the extended metropolis that is not part of a London borough but falls within a London postal district
According to scouting historian Peter Rogers, the first recorded owner of the land that can now be identified as being part of the Gilwell estate was one John Crow who in 1407 owned several parcels of land in the old parish of Waltham Abbey and called this one Gyldiefords.
Henry VIII is supposed to have built a hunting lodge here for his son Edward, which he later granted to Sir Edward Denny of Waltham Abbey.
Dick Turpin is said to have concealed himself in Gilwell’s woodland during the 1730s – but the legendary highwayman is said to have concealed himself in more places than Henry VIII is supposed to have built hunting lodges.
The lodge was rebuilt in the late 18th century as the White House (shown in the photograph above* and marked with a pin on the map below), with landscaped gardens adorned by a stone balustrade from old London Bridge. The extravagance helped to bankrupt its owner and the Crown seized the property in 1812 and sold it at auction.
The White House had fallen into dereliction when WF de Bois Maclaren bought it in 1919 for £10,000 and presented it to the Scout Association.
In 1945 the association significantly extended the park north-eastwards with the acquisition of Gilwellbury (shown in the photograph below*) and its adjoining land. Gilwellbury is now used as staff accommodation and the rest of Gilwell Park consists entirely of scout facilities: primarily adventure sites and the like but also administrative offices.
Among the park’s features are the ‘bomb-hole’, which was created by a Second World War air raid and enlarged to form a canoeing lake, and the Buffalo Lawn, which has a small bronze buffalo given by the Boy Scouts of America.
The almost endless list of amenities includes a swimming pool, rifle range, climbing wall, zip wire, archery field and a sensory trail. Go karting, grass sledging, rafting and kayaking are among the other activities on offer. There are outdoor and indoor chapels, a synagogue, a Buddhist sala (a gift from the Boy Scouts of Thailand) and a Muslim prayer area (and plans for a mosque).
There are now four accommodation lodges and – as one would expect – acres of campsites for the ever-increasing number of scouts visiting Gilwell Park from around the world for youth work, adult training and recreational purposes. Around 40,000 people attend the centre each year.
To the south-west of Gilwell Park, and prominently labelled on the map below, Gilwell Hill is a compact housing estate recently built on land that had been occupied by kennels associated with Walthamstow greyhound track, which closed in 2008. It is unusual for dense residential development to have been permitted on a site like this – and there were many objections. The key factor in the project’s approval by Epping Forest district council seems to have been the very high proportion of affordable-rent and shared-ownership homes – and the provision of a community centre with an adjacent shop. A cynical observer might also note the estate’s location at a far-flung corner of the council’s bailiwick. Gilwell Hill was completed in 2013. Its main avenues are named Baden Drive and Powell Drive.
The founder of the Scout Association, Robert Baden-Powell, was created Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell in 1929.
Postal district: E4
Further reading: Peter Rogers, Gilwell Park and the White House: A Brief History and Guided Tours, Scout Association, 2006
Web pages: Gilwell Park scout activity centre
Bing bird’s eye view: Gilwell Park