An Epping Forest institution re-opened triumphantly today (July 29), ending some of the most uncertain years in its 86 year history.
The tea hut in Fairmead Road, High Beach – now known as the Original Tea Hut – officially opened in a new, larger container at the same site.
Staff and manager Bradley Melton served tea, bacon sandwiches and cake to guests and regulars, including award-winning artist Grayson Perry.
“I am ecstatic,” said Mr Melton.
“It has enabled the family to keep on doing what we have always done since Good Friday 1930.”
He said the upgraded facilities – mains water, 24-hour fridges, picnic benches and more – will continue to attract new customers.
Referring to the disagreement with the City of London, which manages the forest, he said: “We were at loggerheads, now we are not.
“We have got an open dialogue on both sides which allows life to flow a lot more easily.
“Two, two-and-a-half years ago, me and Paul [Thomson, forest superintendent] would never have talked.
“We should never return to that stage again.”
Turner Prize winner Mr Perry described the café as a “men’s mental health facility”.
“This place has been a centre of part of my life for 30 years.
“Especially in the 90s, I spent way too much time here… I use to have a studio in Leytonstone and I used to come up here on my Harley and talk about carburettors and stuff like that.”
Mr Perry even featured the hut in one of his famous pots, which he promptly smashed after deciding he did not like it – but Mr Melton got the piece with his face on.
Epping Forest MP Eleanor Laing officially opened the hut, a shipping container modified in Southend and weighing about eight-and-a-half tonnes.
She said: “I am so delighted to see everybody here this morning, because I am so proud of Bradley and all that has happened here, everybody who has helped bring this about.”
She added: “We were worried about the nature of the tea hut being changed, and worried about having some modern monstrosity… instead what we have is this magnificent hut.”
Regular and long-time supporter of the hut, Paul Morris, said the upgrade is “brilliant”.
“Hopefully it’s an end to all the problems and we can start looking forward and working together.
“Hopefully it can be here for another 86 years longer.
“I’ll be coming here ‘til the day I die.”