Gilwell Park

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

The White House - Gilwell Park - geograph-4101991-by-Des-Blenkinsopp

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 locat­ed exact­ly at the cen­tre of 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, 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


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* The pictures of The White House, Gilwell Park, and of Gilwellbury on this page are both adapted from original photographs, copyright Des Blenkinsopp, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.