The routeways of Snaresbrook

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Verderer Peter Adams MBE invites you to join him this month for a guided walk through Snaresbrook, exploring how Epping Forest routeways have changed over the past 2,000 years.

W hen we think about the layout of roads, there is a tendency to presume that it has always been thus. Indeed, we also think of all roads as being very solid structures made of asphalt or concrete to take the load of heavy motor vehicles.

In reality, most modern types of vehicle have only existed for little more than 100 years. In earlier years, horses were about the only source of motive power and vehicles had wooden wheels with an iron rim. This put considerable stress on the structure of the roads, and whatever we may think of the state of our local streets, those of previous centuries were much worse. The Highways Act 1555 had transferred responsibility for the maintenance of roads from central government, who had done very little, to the local parish, who had few resources to improve them. This process may sound familiar to anyone with experience of politics!

In the Epping Forest area, the population was small and 'traffic' from the west had to either cross the River Lea at Bow Bridge or use very basic ferries. The 'main' roads followed the valleys of the Rivers Lea and Roding, but even these were often impassable in the wet months of the year. The narrow wheels and the iron-shod horses cut up the roads there were, and even in the summer months they could often be heavily rutted and so uneven as to be barely passable.

What were shown on maps, even as recently as the late 19th century, were often merely tracks that were used by just pedestrians or horses, whether ridden or as pack animals. Those who can remember Epping Forest before the Conservators made the metalled horse rides in the 1980s will appreciate how even horses and walkers can cut up the ground in a way comparable to wheeled vehicles. In the southern areas of Epping Forest, such as around Leyton Flats and Gilbert's Slade, the soils are generally more gravelly. This means they are more free draining but nonetheless cut up with heavy use.

The introduction of turnpike trusts and the developments in construction of better-quality roads by the likes of John Macadam did begin to signal a better way forward. However, these did not occur in our area until the 1830s and even then only on what we now consider to be major roads.

Do join my Sunday morning walk if you would like to explore the historic tracks and their relationship with the modern road system in and around the Snaresbrook area.

Peter will be leading a free guided walk through Snaresbrook on 12 November. Meet at the Snaresbrook Road car park at 10.30am. For more information, visit

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