EPPING FOREST: Archives offer glimpse into bygone days of donkey drivers and 'disgusting behaviour' (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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London Metropolitan Archives offer new insight into daily life of Epping Forest dwellers
DONKEY tramplings, scruffy keepers and 'disgusting behaviour' in Epping Forest are among the contents of thousands of letters made available to the public for the first time.
The Epping Forest Archive project has seen a vast collection of long-forgotten City of London Corporation documents salvaged from the dusty attic of Warren House in Loughton - where forest superintendents were based until 2001 - and moved to a new home in the London Metropolitan Archives.
Among the boxes were 150,000 letters sent to and from superintendents between 1880 and 1962 - giving a fascinating insight into the worries and wishes of the district's residents at the time.
Twelve volunteer historians have spent three years rifling through the pages and picking out the cream of the crop.
Archivist Katie Keys, 33, said: "They weren't indexed, so volunteers read every one and highlighted about 3,000 that they felt gave a flavour of the time.
"It was a long project and some of the letters were very routine."
Less routine discoveries include a 1894 tirade against rogue donkey drivers in Forest Road, Loughton, sent to the superintendent by a Mr Stock, of Fern Villa.
It reads: "Last year one of my children was knocked down and trampled upon his face being terribly hurt and disfigured.
"The donkey drivers use most disgusting language and upon being spoken to with reference to the accidents were most abusive."
The letter ends by advising keepers to set up a donkey driving track to 'abate the nuisance'.
"There was also a request to sell Italian ice cream in the forest - I don't know if it was granted but I imagine it probably was," said Ms Keys.
"And there was a letter complaining about 'disgusting behaviour of men' frightening ladies in the forest and some telling keepers off for being scruffy."
William Brigden, a 'fly proprietor' of New Road, Buckhurst Hill, pleads to be allowed to 'get a few sacks of leaves off of the forest for my donkeys to lay on' in 1902, while others ask for permission to collect holly and ivy to decorate children's wards at Christmas.
The new Epping Forest collection - based in the Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell - contains nearly 5,000 entries, including files rescued from Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge in Chingford.
They include about 2,500 photographs and 550 autochromes, brochures, leaflets and posters.
Amateur historians can also read through forest keepers' reports and diaries, financial records and ledgers, maps, plans and staff records.
"I have had people come in looking for family history. Somebody came in to look through the staff record to find out about their father, who worked in the forest," said Ms Keys.
"The idea is to preserve the collection and keep it in a stable condition so the paper and photographs don't disintegrate.
"Everything's got something interesting in it - if you are nosy it's a good place to work."
- The collection is open to the public. For opening hours and details about registering for a free history card visit www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma .
- The collection can also be accessed via the 'online catalogue' link at www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma . The catalogue reference for the Epping Forest collection is CLA/077.
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