The WFS have produced an exclusive e-book called ‘Thomas Willingale, Lopping Rights and the saving of Epping Forest’, which can be download by members of the society from the Members Area of this website. The introduction to the e-book is reproduced below :
Thomas Willingale is widely acknowledged as one of the key people involved in the saving of Epping Forest, yet he died some eight years before the Epping Forest Act 1878 saved the Forest by bringing the Forest under the control of The Corporation of London.
Thomas Willingale was a keen Lopper and continued to exercise his right to lop in the face of the enclosure of the forest by the lord of the manor, the Rev Maitland. A number of court cases ensued, one brought by Maitland against Thomas for injuring Forest Trees was dismissed (although Thomas’s son and two nephews were later convicted on a similar charge) and one brought by Thomas, aided by the Commons Preservation Society, which stalled further enclosures of the Forest for four years, until Thomas’s death brought an end to proceedings.
The reason for the prominence of Thomas can perhaps be put down to the likes of Lord Eversley, who gave three distinct accounts of Thomas Willingale’s involvement, all of which had inaccuracies in them, including the death of Thomas’s son in gaol. Other members of the Willingale family sought to make capital out of his actions, such as his other sons Thomas jnr. and William. Other myths also surround Thomas, such as the supper at the King’s Head, which was widely promoted by the Rev J W Hayes in the 1930s.
This account draws on all sources I can find on the subject, including books, newspaper articles, previous research work and historical documents held at the Essex Records Office, London Metropolitan Archives, Public Records Office, Parliamentary Archives and the Museum of English Rural Life.
In this research, I not only give a background of the forest’s history and details of the early forest court rolls, outline Thomas’s involvement up to his death, but go on to detail later events, including the Epping Forest Commissioners, the Epping Forest Acts of 1878 & 1880, the Corporation of London’s eventual conservation of the forest, the Arbitrator’s findings and the construction of Lopping Hall, which was built to compensate the inhabitants of Loughton for the loss of their lopping rights. I also detail some of the later reporting of these events and the folklore surrounding Thomas, right up to the present day.