Woodford Green, Redbridge
The west-central part of Woodford, and for centuries its most fashionable hamlet
Woodford’s wide village green stretches along the eastern side of the High Road for almost a mile and is claimed to have the oldest village cricket field still in use. There was a windmill on the green in the 17th century that formed the nucleus of a hamlet called Woodford Row. By the time the mill was demolished in 1757 a cluster of mansions had begun to appear. One of the grandest of these, Hurst House, was built in 1714 for a prominent brewer and is still a private home. It was known as ‘the Naked Beauty’, either after a statue by the Italian sculptor Francesco Monti that is said to have stood in its garden or because of the house’s formerly isolated and exposed position on Salway Hill.
Woodford County High School for Girls is based at Highams, a mansion built to the west of the green in 1768, with gardens that were later landscaped by Humphry Repton. Its huge grounds stretched a considerable way into Walthamstow and were afterwards developed as the Highams Park.
Woodford New Road provided a stimulus to further development when it was cut through the forest in 1829, allegedly to expedite the king’s journeys to Newmarket. After the mid-19th century the High Road became a prestigious shopping centre for the wider district.
Epping Forest continued to cover much of the area until the 1880s, when high-class suburban estates began to be developed. In the early 20th century the locality absorbed the hamlet of Church End to its south, forming a continuum with South Woodford. By the outbreak of the Second World War it had also fully merged with Woodford Wells to the north.
A statue of Winston Churchill, the local MP for 40 years, was erected on the green in 1959. A village sign near the corner of the High Road and Broadmead Road depicts forest cattle, All Saints’ spire, a cricket wicket and the Churchill statue.
The author James Hilton wrote the novels Goodbye Mr Chips and Lost Horizon at his home in Oak Hill Gardens. Both stories were turned into successful films.