The southern slopes of Pole Hill, Chingford, were enclosed from the forest many years ago and a small brickworks was established there in the mid-19th century. The railway came to Chingford in 1873 with the original station at Bull Lane (by Whitehall Road) but this was extended to the present station site in 1878, the year the Epping Forest Act was passed. This made the area more suitable for commuter development so roads were planned and houses started to be built in what became North Chingford.

By the turn of the century the brickworks covered an area of 15 acres, with six kilns, an engine house, drying house which was 30 feet by 100 feet, several outbuildings and brickmaking plant and machinery. This was located on land to the west of the pathway which leads up to Pole Hill from the top of Kings Head Hill, by Chingford Police Station.

Dick Richards (who was born in 1907) played around the brickfield area where the houses of Woodberry Way are now.

Speaking in 1985 he recalled: “There were all these kilns which smoked as they baked the bricks - which were then laid out in rows. In those days Mornington Road was only two-thirds built, with just a lane up to the forest fenced in between the fields, and Pole Hill was open ground.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

The garden walls in Mornington Road

“We used to walk up the lane beside the police station at the top of Kings Head Hill through to the top, where it met the footpath from the end of Mornington Road. At the top there used to be a lime pit worked by a blind horse. (The lime was brought in for the manufacture of the bricks.) My sister and I used to feel so sorry for this horse, he had to walk round and round the pit to keep the lime stirred with a huge shovel affair.

“The pit would have been where the houses are now on the south side of Woodberry Way, right at the top. Over to the west were the brick kilns operated by the Hastings family who lived in Connaught Road.”

Mrs Lily Chiswell (née Divall) was born in 1915 and moved to Hawksmouth Cottage when she was five. One of her earliest memories was visiting the site of the old brickworks with her younger brother in 1924/5. The claypit was there but the brickworks were not operating. She remembers that they picked red flowers, like delphiniums (rose bay willowherb?)

At that time there were no houses between Hawksmouth and the corner of what is now Woodberry Way, where there was a lodge for the big house behind the Police Station.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Pole Hill, looking across the claypit, in July 1981, above, and September 2020

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

The scar on the side of the hill where they took clay was still visible in the 1950s and older readers may remember sliding down the clay surface on tin trays in the summer, or on toboggans when it snowed. Since then it has grassed over and is now becoming hidden in woodland. Indeed the whole hillside which was open grassland is gradually being encroached by bushes. However visible evidence of the old brickworks can still be seen in some of the garden walls in the district. They were made of the mis-fired bricks and have quite a distinctive appearance.

During the First World War Pole Hill was used for an anti-aircraft gun and the thick concrete base of the ammunition store can still be seen if you know where to look. An Army hut was constructed for the soldiers who manned the gun.

Vyvyan Richards, a teacher from Bancroft’s School, also had a wooden hut further round the hill and in the 1920s his friend T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) purchased the land of Pole Hill – but that’s another story.

Georgina Green has been involved with local history in Redbridge, Waltham Forest and the Epping Forest area for 40 years and served as the honorary secretary of the Woodford Historical Society from 1987 to 2000. She is the author of several local history books and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 2021.