The “Ragged Children” of Epping Forest

The “Ragged Children” of Epping Forest

Epping Forest is an escape from the city or town life, you can walk from busy urban roads straight into wild open space, but this is nothing new and has been seen for centuries as an essential benefit to people.

Coming out of Loughton station you probably wouldn’t know which way to walk into the forest if you wern’t local, its poorly signposted now but a long while ago that walk was undertaken by thousands of London’s poorest children all being walked up to the forest in crocodile fashion to get some fresh air and a chance to be children, play games enjoy the natural open space before their return. You can only imagine what that must have been like for those children and the happy memories they would have made there.

Teaching boys to read in the Ragged School Union school, Lambeth, London, 1868. The Ragged School Union was a charity founded in 1844 by the social reformer Lord Shaftesbury to establish schools offering free education to working class children. From The Illustrated London News, 11 April 1868.

The Melbourne Retreat

In 1879 the Melbourne retreat was established on Staples Road, Loughton as a Tea rooms, , even back then as we still have today the good old British Cuppa was an essential feature of your forest visit! however, some fifteen years later it was purchased by the R.S.U the Ragged School Union.

Set up to assist some of Londons most destitute children the Union wanted to provide a retreat for children to benefit from the surrounding environment. .They also provided hospital facilities for children that were in need.The Unions long standing President Lord Shaftesbury had died in 1885 and the retreat, once purchased was named after him, hence the origin of the name for Shaftesbury Avenue in Loughton.

For the next fifty year’s in the summer season train-loads of children would journey out from London to enjoy the forest and the benefit it brings. All that is left of this legacy now is Melbourne cottage in Staples Road.