Notable Pubs: The Royal Forest Hotel, Chingford

The Royal Forest Hotel in full view.

The Royal Forest Hotel in Chingford is a mock Tudor behemoth deformed by fire and forced to live out its old age bedecked with Premier Inn and Brewers Fayre branding.

When Jess told her Mum that we were stay­ing there her reac­tion betrayed her mem­o­ries of The Roy­al Forest’s rep­u­ta­tion in the 1960s: “Ooh, get you!”

The Royal Forest in 1986.
SOURCE: What­pub (CAMRA)

As a child grow­ing up in Waltham­stow Jess knew it as a place where you parked to eat your fish-paste sand­wich­es but would­n’t dream of enter­ing. It was alien ter­ri­to­ry – Essex cul­ture, with Essex prices, not posh but still out of reach. We think with research that it was a Schooner steak­house, Wat­ney’s answer to the Berni Inn, if that helps place it in terms of cul­ture and class.

Cer­tain­ly its loca­tion between golf course and a gen­uine Tudor build­ing, along with the sheer rag­ing pre­ten­tious­ness of its archi­tec­ture, per­mits a cer­tain grandeur to linger.

The approach to the Royal Forest along the main road.

Ray’s first encounter was this week­end, round­ing the cor­ner on foot to see its high flank with black-and-white tim­ber­ing and mul­ti-pane win­dows peer­ing between the branch­es of old oak trees: “Bloody hell, it’s Non­such Palace.”

Brewers Fayre.

Faded sign on the front of the pub.
“Scotch Ales”

The cor­po­rate makeover isn’t ele­gant – plas­tic signs glued here, gaudy menus nailed there – but there’s the ghost of some old brew­ery liv­ery at the front and a mag­nif­i­cent stained glass win­dow inside, which you’ll prob­a­bly only find if you’re stay­ing over, or nosy.

Stained glass pub-hotel window.

Pin­ning down its his­to­ry proved tricky, even with a trip to the local library on Sun­day morn­ing. Was it ter­ri­bly ancient, or built in 1880, 1890, or the 1920s?

Even­tu­al­ly we decid­ed the most effi­cient approach would be to con­tact Lon­don tour guide and Ching­ford his­to­ry expert Joan­na Mon­crieff. We’ve fol­lowed on Twit­ter (@WWalks) for years and know that runs a guid­ed tour of Ching­ford.

She laid it all out for us in an email (light­ly edit­ed):

It was built in 1879 as a hotel to accom­mo­date the hordes of peo­ple vis­it­ing the For­est. It was renamed the Roy­al For­est Hotel in 1882 after Queen Vic­to­ri­a’s vis­it to Epping For­est to ded­i­cate it to the Peo­ple.

It was orig­i­nal­ly built by Edmond Egan, the Loughton archi­tect who was respon­si­ble for some of the very dec­o­ra­tive hous­es in The Dri­ve and Cres­cent Road, Ching­ford.

The hotel’s busiest peri­od was around 1910 but then there was a seri­ous fire in 1912 which result­ed in the hotel being re-built minus its top storey.

Until 1968 it was a ter­mi­nus for bus­es.

1890 advertisement for the Royal Forest.
SOURCE: Hathi Trust.

Because it was a cen­tre for tourism there are quite a few con­tem­po­rary sources, such as A For­est Hol­i­day from around 1890:

On the walls are some fine water-colours of for­est scenery.

The wide stair­case is dec­o­rat­ed with a fine stained-glass win­dow rep­re­sent­ing Queen Eliz­a­beth and her Court at the famous Epping Hunt.

The land­ing is of noble dimen­sions, and light­ed by anoth­er large win­dow, open­ing on a broad bal­cony, from which is obtained a charm­ing and exten­sive view of the For­est.

This source goes on to tell us of the great din­ing hall with its tapes­tries and heraldic designs, and of the six pri­vate din­ing rooms: Japan­ese, Wat­teau, Span­ish, Queen Anne, Indi­an and Queen Eliz­a­beth themed, with “fur­ni­ture and appoint­ments in har­mo­ny”. (An ear­ly theme pub?)

Lawn Tennis at the Royal Forest.

The fire is inter­est­ing. Of course “leg­end has it”, accord­ing to to hack-work local his­to­ries, that guests and fire­men were killed and of course they are “now said to” haunt the hotel. But we looked at some con­tem­po­rary news­pa­per arti­cles and if any­one was killed, jour­nal­ists were odd­ly silent on the mat­ter, sug­gest­ing instead that most of the guests were out at the time.

At any rate, it did­n’t feel haunt­ed to us, as a live­ly 50th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion rocked the wood­en beams, and the beer gar­den heaved with drinkers despite the whis­per of driz­zle.

Or did we per­haps hear the chug of a spec­tral bean­feast chara­banc in the night?

One thought on “Notable Pubs: The Royal Forest Hotel, Chingford”

  1. there are so many sim­i­lar “road­house” mono­liths in the West Mid­lands. I’d always assumed they were gener­ic 1950’s mock Tudor built to cash in on the rise of motor­ing as a leisure activ­i­ty. Their mas­sive foot­print means only the largest pub chains squeez­ing big dis­counts from their sup­pli­ers can pos­si­bly make them finan­cial­ly viable. If each one could yield the inter­est that you found at The For­est I might inves­ti­gate, but sad­ly it’s a case of too many pubs, too lit­tle time.

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