Knighton Wood, together with the adjacent Lords Bushes in Essex, is a remnant of ancient woodland of Epping Forest. Knighton Wood was enclosed in the C18th and remained in private ownership until 1930, when it was returned to the forest as public open space. From 1863 the Knighton Estate was owned by Edward North Buxton, a leading campaigner for Epping Forest. He laid out his grounds around the house. His fine gardens included exotic species and shrubs, a 1.5 acre lake with Pulham Rock Bank at the western end. Knighton was known for its spring show of rhododendrons and daffodils.
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The lake at Knighton, 2010. Photo: Sara Tenneson
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Knighton Wood is situated adjacent to Lords Bushes on the boundary between London and Essex and together they form a remnant of the ancient woodland of Epping Forest (q.v.), but detached from the main part of the forest today. Historically linked to the Manors of Chigwell and Woodford, the name 'Lords Bushes' derives from a hunting lodge that existed here by the C17th known as 'Lodge Bushes' whose name became corrupted to 'Lords Bushes' over the years. Documentation in 1135 makes reference to the land here being managed as wood pasture (pasture-woodland, or wood-pasture, is an ancient shared use of the land by a local community, combining the grazing of domestic animals with the cutting of wood), and also that it was excellent for pannage (the practice of allowing pigs to forage for acorns). Cattle were traditionally herded from Epping Forest towards the grazing meadows of the Roding Valley in the east, following Squirrels Lane, an ancient drovers road that is partially still visible as a sunken track. In 1878, the Open Spaces Act enabled the Corporation of London to buy Lords Bushes 'for the recreation and enjoyment of the people of London'. The Epping Forest Act, passed the same year, designated the Corporation of London as the Conservators of Epping Forest, thereby preventing its enclosure and bestowing a duty to ensure its future protection and management. The practice of common grazing and pollarding effectively ceased at this time.
Knighton Wood was enclosed from Lords Bushes in the C18th. The woodland derived its name from the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, who had possession of the land. The first record of Knighton Wood occurs in 1573 when Bernard Whitestone at Woodford Hall wrote of the seizure by commoners of 'his wood Knighton Wood parcel of his manor of Woodford in the Forest of Waltham'. In 1641 Knighton Wood is marked on a Map of the Foresters Walkes part of Waltham Forest, later known as Epping Forest, and in 1670 its then owner, John Hayes, conducted legal and illegal enclosure of his land. There are two maps of the wood dating from 1772, one showing Knighton Wood as part of Woodford Walkes and the other a drawing with details of the condition of the land, ditches and neighbouring owners. In 1774 title deeds between Luke Exall Bamford and Joseph Gover were drawn up leasing Knighton Wood for 23 years. By 1815/6 the owner was Richard Hallett, who paid £100 for the forestry rights to 50 acres of the wood. In 1826 Jesse Gouldsmith became the owner but by 1836 had sold it to Richard Hallett Senior, as shown on John Doyley's 1835 'Plan of the Parish of Woodford in the County of Essex'. Hallett had a legal wrangle with the Crown over rights, which was settled in 1848. He built his house Knighton Villa in the early 1850s, and other houses in the area.
In 1863 Edward North Buxton (1840-1924) purchased the Knighton Estate and moved here with his new wife Emily Digby, who was descended from Lord Coke of Holkham Hall in Norfolk. Knighton Villa was repeatedly enlarged over the years to accommodate their growing family and, according to their daughter Theresa 'to take the trophies of Big Game shooting'. Buxton was a descendent of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton who with William Wilberforce opposed slavery and also of the Quaker Gurney family. With his brother Thomas and their cousin Andrew Johnston, he was a leading member of the Commons Preservation Society formed in 1865 and was influential in the campaign to preserve open spaces for the public. He was particularly involved in securing both Hainault Forest and Hatfield Forest but was equally concerned with Epping Forest and was a Verderer of the Forest for 44 years.
The garden as shown on the 1st edition OS map had various features including an orchard, possible kitchen garden, three ponds, a circular drive with shrub borders, glasshouses and other outbuildings. Buxton landscaped his estate, planting numerous exotic species and shrubs throughout. He had the main road diverted west away from Knighton House, and the picturesque thatched Lodge House remains at the corner of The Glade, built some time after 1866. In 1873 'A Rocky Dell for Fernery and Alpines' was designed for him by James Pulham & Co, whose Pulhamite Stone, an artificial material designed to look like natural stone, became a popular and fashionable addition to Victorian gardens. In c.1883 the 1.5 acre lake was created in the wood, Knighton Lake, sometimes known as Buxton’s Pond, at the western end of which is the Pulham Rock Bank. The lake was popular with his family who swam, fished and went boating here; when it froze in winter its banks were illuminated with Chinese lanterns and local people invited to come skating.
Among his various offices, Buxton was Chairman of the London Schools Board and on 23 June 1883 the Prince and Princess of Wales visited Knighton to observe a Swedish Drill Parade by London Board School children, and both planted a tree, an oak and a maple, which may be the red maple (Acer platanoides) found near the lake today. Buxton had met the Prince, who became Edward VII in 1901, when he was travelling abroad; another distinguished visitor to Knighton was American President Theodore Roosevelt, who stayed here in May 1910 when he came to England for the funeral of Edward VII.
By 1893 Knighton House had been extended and a 44ft conservatory built on the south face; the grounds now had kitchen gardens, orchard, a ha-ha, glass and plant houses. An article in 'Garden Life' of 1909 featured an interview with head gardener Mr Phillips, who gave details about the planting in Buxton's gardens, its roses and bedding, herbaceous borders, small rockery, island and woodland planting with 50 species of daffodil, as well as the kitchen garden, glass and plant houses, vinery, and peach wall. Knighton was known for its spring show of rhododendrons and daffodils, and an announcement was made on Buxton's behalf from the pulpit of St John's Church in Buckhurst Hill inviting local people to come and see his garden on the following Sunday. There appears to have been little change to the layout of the estate over succeeding years, the OS of 1920 closely resembling that of 1893. Edward North Buxton died in 1924, his wife Emily in 1929, and the estate was put up for sale in 1930, by which time it comprised 100 acres. 60 acres were sold for housing development with spacious houses built from 1931, and the 40 acres of woodland were returned to Epping Forest at a cost of 10,000 guineas. This was split equally between the Corporation of London and Woodford Urban District Council, the latter raising the sum by adding a farthing to the rates for 20 years.
In June 1930 the Duke of Connaught, Chief Ranger of Epping Forest, opened Knighton Wood as a public open space for local people, and since that time it has been managed by the Corporation of London. In 1990 Knighton Wood and the adjacent Lords Bushes were designated a SSSI. The Corporation laid out a path around the lake and through the woodland in 1996 with seats at intervals to provide easier access for visitors. The Pulham Rock Bank is still in evidence although in a poor condition (2009) and while rhododendron plantings remain in the woods many have now reverted to Rhododendron ponticum. In 1992 Mark Hanson undertook a private survey of the remaining rhododendrons, identifying 10 cultivars. Subsequent research by Sara Tenneson has revealed that 5 of the cultivars came from 2 nurseries renowned for their American Plants (Waterers and Standish and Noble), which suggests that Buxton may have created an American Garden in Knighton Wood. Tenneson also established that 8 of the 10 cultivars remain in Knighton Wood, together with an apricot azalea.
See research by Sara Tenneson on Knighton Estate, 2008: W R H Reane, 'The Place Names of Essex' (The University Press, 1969); R Morris 'The Verderers and Courts of Waltham Forest in the County of Essex' (Loughton and District Historical Society, 2004); R Fisher, 'The Forest of Essex' (Butterworth, 1887); Mr Pulham 'Pulhamite Rocks in Picturesque Natural Form' brochure, 1877; The Illustrated London News, 30 June 1883; Alfred Wilcox, 'The Gardens of Mr Edward North Buxton' in Garden Life, 29 May 1909; The Woodford Times & Epping Forest District News, 26 July 1930; Peter Lawrence and Georgina Green, ‘Woodford, A Pictorial History’, (Phillimore, 1995); Imogen S.H. Wilde, Draft Integrated Site Management Plan for Lords Bushes & Knighton Wood, Epping Forest 2004-2010 (2004).