This collection of walks around the “Lower Forest” (Wanstead Flats, Wanstead Park, and the neighbouring parts of Epping Forest) is aimed at two audiences. We wanted to enhance the enjoyment of these open spaces for those who live locally but who may not have explored the area and its history in any great detail. In addition, we wanted to introduce this little known, and to most other Londoners surprising East London equivalent of Hampstead Heath or Richmond Park, to a wider audience. We hope that before too long they will be able to access it using the Elizabeth Line. This is why most of the walks start and end at Manor Park.


Wanstead Flats is a large area of common land, located in what was west Essex.  It now straddles the borders of the London Boroughs of Newham, Redbridge, and Waltham Forest. The soil is of poor quality, best used for grazing. The area was first cleared for sheep by the Abbots of Stratford in the twelfth century. Cattle continued to be grazed on the Flats every summer, frequently straying into suburban gardens and disrupting traffic until 1996, when the BSE crisis ended the practice. The heathland is home to breeding skylarks in the summer and the lakes and ponds attract significant numbers of Canada, Greylag and Egyptian geese as well as a variety of ducks.

Wanstead Park was originally a royal hunting lodge used by Henry VII and Henry VIII to hunt deer, before finding its way via various courtiers into the hands of London merchant Sir Josiah Child. Josiah had become the Governor of the East India Company, and then a baronet. Sir Josiah acquired a vast fortune through his trading, and by marrying well three times. To reflect his status, in 1673 he bought Wanstead Manor, with it's historical royal conections. 

Josiah's son, Sir Richard Child, also married well and added further to the family fortune, using some of it to build Wanstead House (completed 1722), an enormous Palladian mansion, to replace the Tudor Wanstead Hall. This new house was reputedly as large as Blenheim Palace, set within  extensive landscaped parkland and water features. 

Wanstead Park is a distinct habitat within Epping Forest, as the trees were planted for ornamentation rather than managed as a source of timber via pollarding and coppicing, as was the norm further north. Woodpeckers, Grebes, Egrets, Herons and a wide range of ducks are present all year round with the occasional Gadwall and Pochard in the winter.

By the 1870s, London’s growth eastwards had begun to threaten Epping Forest with urban development.  This produced resistance and political agitation from the local population, particularly working class East Enders, who valued the Lower Forest as a place of recreation and assembly. 

Eventually the City of London Corporation purchased both the Flats and the Park, and the Epping Forest Act of 1878 appointed the City as Conservators of the whole Forest. At the end of the nineteenth century, trees were planted to add interest to the visual landscape and to provide a more varied habitat for wildlife. In the twentieth century, sports pitches were laid out with associated changing facilities. The City is entrusted with the management of these green spaces as a public good, a responsibility it continues to discharge.


Most of the walks begin from Manor Park station, but some can also be accessed from Wanstead, Forest Gate and Wanstead Park stations. Most walks are circular, and where walks are linear, an accessible station for return is identified. More details of the history of the Forest, the Park and the places in the wider area are available via links in each specific walk.

As long term residents of Aldersbrook, we and our families have had the privilege of close access to these extensive green spaces, which project  into some of London’s most densely populated, economically challenged, and culturally diverse communities. We hope that these walks give you an opportunity to share the pleasure they have given us.

Paul Hayes & Russell Kenny