When Karen Humpage told people how cows used to roam the streets of the east London suburb where she grew up they said she was “barmy”.
But the 52-year-old artist was so determined to prove her point, she took to social media asking people whether they too remembered the lost cows of Epping Forest.
After posting in the Epping Forest Forum, Wanstead Community Hub, and Remembering Woodford Green Facebook groups last year she was inundated with over 500 responses.
And so fond were the memories and hilarious the anecdotes that she has decided to write a book about them.
Karen with some cows at a safari park in 1969
Karen was born in 1964 and grew up in Rokeby Gardens, Woodford Green with her mother, father, and two older sisters.
From as young as nine or 10-years-old Karen and her friends used to spot cows on the loose in Churchfields Recreation Ground and carelessly wandering down Derby and Chelmsford Roads in South Woodford.
Karen's painting of cows causing chaos at Woodford Green Primary School
She said: “It’s always been a very built up area, so I suppose that’s why it seems so unusual.
“But they were just part of everyday life – like part of the furniture.
“They used to get everywhere.
“Eating people’s rosebushes, stopping traffic, holding up football and cricket matches, and getting in people’s gardens.”
Karen's painting of cows on the cricket pitch in Woodford Green
Cows have grazed freely in the woodland and grass areas of Epping Forest for over 1,000 years.
But when farmers used to move them they would often veer off, getting everywhere from Wanstead, Woodford, Loughton, Epping, and even Walthamstow and Manor Park.
More cows let loose around the Hollow Ponds
Tragically most of them were killed after BSE or “mad cow disease” broke out in the area in 1996.
At first Karen, who now lives in Chadwell Heath, wanted photos of the cows, but ultimately decided to paint pictures of them instead.
Karen Humpage at home in Chadwell Heath
She said: “I suppose back then it wasn’t like now where we have smartphones to take photos of everything.
“But people’s stories were so lovely I wanted to do something with them.
“Someone told me how the kids used to play hopscotch over the cow pats and stick little flags in them when they found them on the pavement.
"I think the mums and dads used to find them a bit of a nuisance but us kids loved them."
Karen has painted 15 cow pictures so far and has nearly finished writing up her collection of anecdotes for a book proposal.
With the working title “Cows in my front garden” the Ilford County High School art technician is hoping to get a publisher for either a local history or children’s book.
Karen's painting of cows in the subway at Woodford Station
She said: “I’ve always done art in some capacity and work in a gallery and on privately-commissioned pieces on top of my day job.
“But this is the first time I’ve focused so intently on cows.”