Purlieu Bank, Epping


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Section 1: Boundary between Theydon Bois golf course and Great Gregories Farm, west of M25 Jn27. Section runs south-north between NGR 545094 200106 and 545121 0200491.

Section 2: Within woodland south of the B181 (The Plain and Epping Road) running east-north-east between NGR 547090 202957 and 547168 202987.


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Section 1: Boundary between Theydon Bois golf course and Great Gregories Farm, west of M25 Jn27. Section runs south-north between NGR 545094 200106 and 545121 0200491.

Section 2: Within woodland south of the B181 (The Plain and Epping Road) running east-north-east between NGR 547090 202957 and 547168 202987.
Epping Forest (District Authority)
Epping Forest (District Authority)
North Weald Bassett
Epping Forest (District Authority)
Theydon Bois
National Grid Reference:


Two stretches of a C13 purlieu bank, comprising a bank, ditch and track near Epping.

Reasons for Designation

The two sections of C13 purlieu bank at Theydon Bois Golf Club and Epping Lower Forest are scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Rarity: as a very rare surviving example of a C13 purlieu bank. A physical manifestation of the signing of Magna Carta in 1215 and the controversial setting out of the boundaries of the royal forest. The charter became the fundamental principal of English justice, the basis of the United States Constitution and part of the law of all modern democracies.

* Documentation: with both historical documents and recent archaeological survey providing considerable detail of the construction, development, function and significance of the boundary.

* Group value: for the close proximity to a number of scheduled monuments including the Iron Age monuments of Amresbury Banks and Loughton Camp, and the medieval manorial settlement of Hill Hall and Ongar Park Pale all of which aid the understanding of the landscape development and the context in which the purlieu banks were constructed.

* Survival: the two stretches of purlieu bank survive in good condition, with the ditch and bank system measuring up 1.7m from base of the ditch to the top of the bank.

* Potential: for the depth of silted deposits in the ditch which offer considerable potential for the survival of significant archaeological material including waterlogged organic material. The buried land surface beneath the bank also has the potential to retain significant information about the landscape in which the boundary was constructed, providing a stratigraphic relationship which, if analysed, will enhance our knowledge and understanding of the chronological sequence of the purlieu bank and the wider landscape in which it functioned.


The medieval Forest of Essex was formally established under forest law in the late C11, following the Norman conquest of England. Forest Law, as it was defined by the Assize of Forest of 1184, gave the king more or less exclusive hunting rights within the defined area of the forest, and was independent of ownership. The law curtailed the rights of individual landowners and tenants to cultivate the land, keep animals or collect wood.

In the C12, Henry I (r. 1100-1135) and Henry II (r. 1154-1189) enlarged the area of the forest jurisdiction (a process known as afforestation), and met with considerable opposition from landowning barons. During the reign of King John (r. 1199-1216), roughly a third of the country was royal forest, and the penalties imposed for forest offences were a major source of revenue for the king. A charter known as Magna Carta was drawn up in 1215 to resolve a number of disputes. One aim of the charter was to reduce the area of the royal forest, which was vastly extended by Henry II. The charter declared: ‘All forests that have been created in our reign shall at once be disafforested.’ Magna Carta banned the use of capital punishment for forest offences (such as poaching or hunting the protected deer), and exempted those having woods within the forest from fines for erecting buildings and creating new arable land.

King Henry III (r. 1216-72) issued a new version of Magna Carta in 1217, together with a new charter dealing with the royal forest. In 1225, at the same time as issuing the final and definitive version of Magna Carta, Henry III issued a new version of the Charter of the Forest. Three years later, however, Henry claimed that the forest boundaries were in fact the rather larger area that existed during the reign of King Henry II, before the area was reduced by King John. Documentary evidence therefore suggests that the precise boundary of the Forest of Essex was formed in the C13 as a result of at least one perambulation. It is quite possible, therefore, that it was at this time that a ditch and bank system was first dug to mark the disputed boundary.

The ‘purlieus’ of the forest were the areas outside the strict forest jurisdiction but over which the king still had limited hunting rights. Forest Law defined the forest purlieu as: ‘a certain Territory of Ground adjoining to a Forest, meered and bounded with immoveable Marks and Boundaries, and known by matter of Record only; which Territory of Ground was once Forest-Land, and afterwards disafforested by the Perambulations made for dividing the new afforested Lands from the old.’ The king could chase animals from the forest proper into the purlieu, yet the owners of the purlieu did not possess the reciprocal right to chase animals from their land into the royal forest. The ranger of the purlieu monitored the edge of the forest to ensure that the king’s rights were maintained.

A record of a perambulation of c1225 survives in the medieval register of Waltham Abbey, but it does not contain a detailed description of the boundaries of the north-east corner of the forest. The first surviving perambulation that has a detailed description of the forest boundaries is that carried out on 20 May 1300. It is difficult to follow the boundary with certainty since it is identified only by the names of the landowners whose properties abutted the limits of the forest. The boundary perambulation at Theydon Bois began at the church of Theydon Bois and continued as far as the messuage of John de Russelep. The boundary then ran by the side of the wood belonging to the rector of Theydon Bois (per costeram bosci), and adjacent a hedge owned by Gilbert de Theydon, who is identified as the ‘lord of the Gregories manor’ (near the present Great Gregories Farm). From Theydon Bois the boundary ran along Spriggeslane and on as far as an unspecified ‘vill’, probably Epping since the boundary is described as being on the side of Epping Heath (super costeram de Eppyngheth). From Epping the boundary continued as far as the wood called Old Winter (ad caput bosci vocati vet Wynter), which is identified on the 1650s plan as ‘Wintry Wood’, now known as the Lower Forest. From the Lower Forest, the boundary continued into the heart of Essex and included the King’s demesne land as far away as Colchester.

Evidence from the C17 shows that disafforestation (with the Crown obtaining payment for the release of land from forest jurisdiction) and afforestation (with the Crown attempting to enclose new land as deer parks) were both taking place. A map of the whole of Epping Forest was drawn in the 1630s, to inform the Crown about the value and extent of the forest. Following attempts by Charles I to further extend the forest boundary, a commission was set up and a new perambulation of the forest was ordered. The perambulation was duly carried out on in 1641 and it is this survey which cleared up earlier anomalies and defined the forest boundary without ambiguity. From the church of Theydon Bois the boundary followed the ‘Purlieu Hege’ (hedge) to Piershorne Corner (the junction of modern Piercing Hill and Little Gregories Lane). The boundary then follows the purlieu hedge (presumably by the modern Theydon Bois golf course) as far as Hawcock Lane (the path now known as Fishers Lane, just behind Ivy Chimneys Road). The boundary then runs along the bank by Epping called ‘Purlieu Bank’ (presumably on the south side of the Epping road) and on to the stone or marker at Bennetts Corner (‘per ripam predictem usque ad bornum vocat Bennettes Corner’). It is not clear where Bennetts Corner is, but it may indicate where the town of Epping meets Epping Plain and the Lower Forest. The boundary is then simply described as following the bank to the end of ‘Ducklane’ (Duck Lane) in Thornwood.

Significant enclosure of forest land took place in the C18, as individual or corporate tenants and freeholders cleared trees and enclosed areas for agriculture and houses. The Crown was increasingly unwilling or unable to enforce the outdated forest law concerning enclosure, hunting and collecting firewood. Towards the end of the C18 a commission was set up to examine the state of the royal forests and explore means of increasing Crown revenue by sales or leases. A surviving copy of Chapman and André’s 1777 map of Essex has the full boundary of Epping Forest marked in pink wash; this may have been annotated in the 1780s as part of the commission. The commissioners reported their findings in a series of printed reports for parliament, published between 1787 and 1793; the fifteenth report of 1793 concerns Epping Forest. Piecemeal sales and enclosures continued in the first half of the C19. A detailed plan was prepared in 1856 in order to define the unenclosed forest ‘wastes’ and their boundaries. The forest boundaries were carefully surveyed and annotated, and ‘Purlieu Bank’ is annotated in eight locations between Theydon Bois and Thornwood. In the area of Epping Green, the forest boundary is marked by a long green path called Epping Long Green; this survives more or less intact to the present day. In 1871, the first Epping Forest Act of Parliament was passed and the City of London Corporation purchased the remaining parts of the forest, culminating in the final Epping Forest Act of 1878. W R Fisher, the barrister acting for the City Corporation, published the definitive history of Epping Forest in 1887.


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS The C13 boundary known as Purlieu Bank, survives in the form of a track, ditch and hedge-topped bank at two locations near Epping: at Theydon Bois Golf Club and in Epping Lower Forest.

DESCRIPTION The stretch of purlieu bank at Theydon Bois Golf Course runs northwards between NGR 545094 200106 and 545121 0200491, and measures approximately 385m in length. The boundary of the former historic forest comprises a ditch, which is bounded to the west (interior of the historic forest) by a tree-lined track, and bounded to the east (exterior of the historic forest) by a bank topped with a hedge. The ditch measures up to 0.8m in depth and the bank measures up to 0.9m in height, from the current land surface and has a combined width of up to 7.9m. In its original form the ditch and bank may have had a combined height of 3-4 metres but silting of the ditch and natural attrition on the top of the bank over time has reduced the scale of the earthworks. To the west of the ditch and running parallel is an historic trackway. The track survives as a level terrace c2.5m wide lined on both sides by trees and with a low bank on the western edge.

The bank, ditch and track are intersected by a gravel path at NGR 545113 200346, and by a bridge at NGR 545113 200360, both running on an east-west axis. North of the intersection the line of the purlieu bank, ditch and historic trackway is less clearly defined. The gravel path appears to follow the line of the historic track but has been terraced into the current ground surface and will have degraded any surviving remains of the historic features in this area. It also appears that section of the ditch north of the intersection has been partly re-cut by a mechanical excavator in modern times, presumably as part of the routine maintenance of the golf course.

Another stretch of the purlieu bank survives in Epping Lower Forest, to the north-east of Epping and approximately 3.5km north-east of Theydon Bois Golf Course. This stretch of purlieu bank runs east-north-east between NGR 547090 202957 and 547168 202987, and measures approximately 85m in length, truncated to the north-east by flooded quarries and their associated earthworks. The ditch and bank at the Lower Forest are slightly wider than the section at Theydon Bois, having a combined width of up to 8.6m. Here the bank survives a little higher although, conversely, the ditch is not as deep. The ditch here has largely silted up through natural processes but is still evident. In contrast to the bank at Theydon Bois, that in the Lower Forest is not topped with a hedge.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING The two areas of protection include the track, ditch and bank of the purlieu bank. The following features are excluded from the scheduling: modern paths and track surfaces, fences and signs, although the ground beneath all of these is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


Holder, Nick and Bazley, Ken, 'Survey and Historical Investigation of the Purlieu Bank and other historic forest boundaries', report for the City of London Corporation, October 2011


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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