|Claybury Woods and Park, including Repton Park||Redbridge|
Claybury Park was once part of the Claybury estate, held by Barking Abbey from the C12th; it contains Claybury and Hospital Hill Woods, remnants of ancient woodland of Hainault Forest. Claybury was developed into a fine gentleman's estate from 1786 by James Hatch, who built a new mansion, expanded the estate and commissioned Humphry Repton to advise on landscaping the parkland. By 1847 the estate was c.440 acres and included Claybury Woods as well as a number of properties. In 1887 it was sold and Claybury Asylum was built by 1893, the first mental hospital built by the new LCC. In 1997 the Health Authority sold the Hospital estate for an exclusive private housing development, renamed Repton Park, but 18 hectares of ancient woodland and 38 hectares of parkland became part of a new public park, Claybury Park. This also incorporated Redbridge Open Space to the south, itself part of the Claybury estate until the 1880s.
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Situated upon a hilltop commanding fine views to the south and west towards Woodford and Wanstead, known ownership of the Claybury estate dates back to the C12th when it was a free tenement held of Barking Abbey. The area was within the parish of Barking, King Stephen having granted land here in c.1145 to the newly established Ilford Hospital, which was attached to the Abbey, and this led to naming part of the woodland here Hospital Hill Wood. Claybury and Hospital Hill Woods are remnants of the ancient woodland of the once extensive Hainault Forest. An agreement between the Hospital and the Abbess of Barking in 1219 refers to the 'assart' or clearing as 'their own lands at the Clay'. The land was leased out to provide money for Ilford Hospital and passed through various tenants. When Barking Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539 most of its lands were confiscated by the Crown and the Claybury estate then passed through a number of tenants, including Sir Thomas White, founder of St John’s College Oxford who occupied the estate in 1560. He was followed by Thomas Knyvett, gentleman of the Privy Chamber, who Elizabeth I is known to have visited here in 1597. Other occupants included an uncle of Oliver Cromwell and Alderman John Fowke, Lord Mayor of London, who was here in 1652-53. In 1692 the estate was sold to John Goodere of Wanstead to raise money for legacies to Christ’s, Bridewell and Bethlehem Hospitals. Goodere's son inherited the estate in 1696/7 and in 1703-09 most of the land was being farmed by Hester Goodere, although Claybury Hall was occupied by Sir Caesar Child, who was here for over 50 years. Hester Goodere's grandson John subsequently sold the estate in 1767 to Eliab Harvey. His daughter and heir married Montagu Burgoyne, who sold Claybury in 1786 to James Hatch, a successful malt distiller from Bow, in whose ownership it was developed into a fine gentleman's estate reflecting his status.
Until the C17th and C18th the estate had comprised c.176 acres but it was greatly expanded by Hatch in the early C19th. By 1847 the Claybury Estate would cover c.440 acres and include Tomswood Farm, ancient woodlands of Claybury Wood to the north and east, and a property called Tilekiln to the south. Hatch, who lived at Claybury in the summer months, also purchased other property in the district and when he died in 1806 he owned Great Gales Farm at Woodford Bridge, Monkhams land in Chigwell, the manors of Chigwell and Luxborough, and also leased the manor of Clayhall. On purchasing the Claybury estate, Hatch had demolished the old gabled hall and had a new mansion built in c.1786 to designs of Jesse Gibson on the site of the former grounds of Luxborough House. Claybury Hall was a 2-storey building of gault brick standing near the hilltop, c.300 yards west of the later asylum, with fine views over London and Kent. In c.1789 Hatch commissioned Humphry Repton to advise on re-planning the park although Repton essentially added finishing touches to what had already been carried out, for example suggesting that the entrance, originally on the south, should be changed to the present position. He also recommended removing hedges to improve the view from the house and additional planting on the estate perimeter to create a belt or 'girdle' of trees to unite the existing woodlands. In his Red Book of July 1791, formerly at Claybury Hospital and now at Essex Records Office, Repton wrote: 'when Nature has been so bountiful of charms as in the situation of Claybury, Art can seldom greatly interfere without violating the genius of the place'. He also suggested improvements to paths, a flock of sheep to act as 'natural gardeners', a sunken boundary fence with a small gate and rustic cottage nearby for security. This boundary became redundant when further land was added to the estate. Part of the late C18th landscape survives as laid out to Repton’s advice, including two fine oak trees in parkland south-west of Claybury Hall, although part of the estate's girdle of trees to the south was later lost to housing development post 1887.
A later owner, William Rous, sold the estate to the Justices of the County of Middlesex who began to build a new asylum here in 1887, having set up a special committee in 1885 with the aim of providing 'an additional Asylum for Pauper Lunatics'. The 250-acre Claybury estate was selected as having much to recommend it, including its proximity to a railway station, the position of Tomswood Farm on the lower land of the estate where it could receive the asylum's sewage, the hall itself and the fine views. The buildings covered 16 acres of Golders Field in the north, built on 'an attractively created plateau' without destruction of the woodland. In 1889 ownership passed to the newly created London County Council who completed the Asylum in 1893. Situated north east of Claybury Hall it was designed by the architect G T Hines, who also built Goodmayes Hospital (q.v.); it was the 'first mental hospital built by London County Council' - who criticised it as being too sumptuous. Hatch’s old mansion was retained as an annexe after the asylum was built and Claybury became the first public institution to provide for private patients, who resided in Claybury Hall.
There were numerous timber, slate-roofed garden shelters of quadripartite plan arranged along the south and east sides of the hospital (visible on 1960s OS maps), which used to form the centres of flower gardens. Tomswood Farm provided not only a sewage farm and gas-works but fresh produce for the patients, who also occupied themselves on the farm. The first Medical Superintendent, Dr, later Sir, Robert Armstrong-Jones was among those campaigning for the preservation of Hainault Forest and supervised walks in the extensive hospital grounds were part of the patients' regime from the early days, and the grounds also had facilities for recreation, including tennis. The grounds had notable sycamore, oak, ash, yew and holly, and much rhododendron cover and trees planted in Hospital Hill Woods included sweet chestnut, red oak and Norway maple. The woodland was largely preserved while in hospital use although in the 1920s Forest House was built as an Admission Ward.
The LCC administered the asylum until 1948, when the National Health Act of 1946 transferred responsibility to the North East Metropolitan Hospital Board. It remained in use as a hospital until 1997 when Waltham Forest Health Authority sold the Hospital estate for housing development to Crest Homes (Crest Nicholson). Newly renamed Repton Park, the estate is an exclusive private housing development, the old hospital buildings and the hall converted for private residences, the chapel now housing a private swimming pool, and the boundary wall keeps the outside world out rather than the insiders within.
In 1987, prior to the sale of the Hospital site, London Wildlife Trust had begun to manage the ancient woodlands, orchard, farm pond and part of the grassland, and in 1990 produced a detailed management plan for the woods, with volunteer workdays regularly held. Part of the planning requirement on the new development was to enable the woods, arable land and Repton parkland to be reunited with the southern Redbridge Open Space, which had once been part of the Claybury estate. Owned by the local authority, this 13-hectare site contained largely secondary woodland and a pond. After the residential estate was completed, 38 hectares of parkland and 18 hectares of woodland were restored under a management scheme developed by Crest Homes with LB Redbridge, London Wildlife Trust and London Ecology Unit to be maintained as public open space and woodland. As a result a new public park, named Claybury Park, was created, with funding from Crest Nicholson as part of the company's contribution to the community. The farmland has been re-landscaped with water features, new paths laid out to link Tomswood Hill to Roding Lane North, traditional steel boundary railings erected and security gates provided. The ancient woodland of Claybury Wood is a nature reserve and has mature oak and hornbeam. Redbridge Open Space had been separated from the hospital grounds by a concrete fence, and this is now marked as a straight line of trees.
Victoria County History; Carter, Goode & Laurie, Humphry Repton Landscape Gardener 1752-1818; Edward Walford, 'Village London, the Story of Greater London, Part 2 - North and East', first published 1883/4 (1985 ed., The Alderman Press), Greater London; Claybury Hall, Donald Insall report for Waltham Forest Health Authority, March 1989; Peter Lawrence and Georgina Green, 'Woodford, A Pictorial History', Phillimore, 1995; Claybury Woods leaflet, LB Redbridge, (n.d., c.2009)