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Hatters Wood

Hatters Wood is a remnant of ancient woodland that once covered much of the area now known as Essex, The ancient woodland indicator trees species present are Hornbeam, Oak, Ash, Field Maple, Hawthorn, Holly, Wild Service Tree, Wild Cherry and Rowan. More recent introductions include, Beech, Horse Chestnut, Sweet Chestnut, Sycamore, Cherry Laurel, Turkey Oak, and Holm Oak.

Below that the ground flora is characteristic of ancient woodland with Bluebell, Lesser Celandine, several species of Violet, Dogs Mercury and Wood Anemone dominating.

Up towards the Priory several introduced species are naturalised, Snowdrop, Spring Snowflake and Spring Squill can be seen in early Spring and Greater Periwinkle throughout spring and early summer. Scarcer plants such as Butchers Broom and Primrose can also seen.

In the great storm of 1987 all of the park's woodlands suffered considerable damage, go to Hatters Wood damage

In Hatters wood, (2002) Nuthatches, Tree Creepers as well as all three British Woodpeckers can be found. Hawfinches used to breed in the wood but sadly no longer. In winter if you get up early and are lucky enough you may well flush a Woodcock. Amongst the summer visitors, Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs can still be heard singing. The first Butterflies to appear each year will be the hibernators such as the Peacock and Tortoiseshell and the most striking of these the sulphur yellow coloured Brimstone. A little later you will often see the yellow and brown Speckled Wood.

Quarles Pond

We have called it the Quarles Pond for convenience (Quarles School was at one time very close by, the Quarles buildings are currently (2012) an annexe to a technical College. The Two pictures below were taken by Dave Sampson in the 1990's. The pond is situated in the north west corner of Hatters Wood and over the last 50 years the habitat has varied greatly. At times being virtually dry for years on end and very much overshaded. In the last couple of decades some conservation work has been carried out. These are spring photos with good water levels.

Mud Hill Pond from the north in 2000 by Jim Spencer

Mud Hill Pond from the north east in 2019 by Peter Adams


I met this old man in Dagnam Park in the winter of about 1973. He had an old push chair, for transporting his logs, a bow saw to separate them into reasonable sized chunks and a club hammer and a steel wedge for splitting them . I stopped to talk to him in the narrow strip of woodland from Hatters down towards the old Priory. I spent an hour with him taking a few pictures and asking him far too many questions. Among the freely given answers he explained that he lived in Gillingham House in Lindfield Road along with his wife and that he used fallen wood for their open fire. I asked him if he had always lived on Harold Hill. He said “no, far from it, before I retired  I was a gamekeeper in Suffolk". He told me of his memories as a boy, memories  going back to his village in the early 1900s.

 I was absorbed by his memories of rural life in Suffolk decades earlier. I remember thinking it was so sad that such an obvious countryman was going to end his days on a council estate in Romford but he made no complaints about that. The memories that he seemed most interested in sharing  with me were those of the first world war when he remembered that only a few of the boys who had enlisted just a few years previously  had come back home. He told me how at the end of the war the mothers would congregate every day in the lane into the village from the nearest railway station. They knew that there was one train every day, they knew that the men that had survived would disembark from each day's solitary train and walk or in some cases hobble the final miles back home. They were all ever hopeful. Though as the weeks and months passed less and less mothers congregated as their hopes faded. Until the day came when the last mother gave up all hope and walked back home alone for the last time.

Many never returned. He said "some mothers lost all of their sons".

More mundanely he also told me that every Friday in his village a cart would turn up with fresh fish. All the villagers would collect around the cart to buy their weekly treat. He answered all of my questions but sadly I never wrote all of his answers down and I can only recollect a few of them, but I have kept the photos.

I promised him I would print  the photos and drop them off at his flat and he gave me his address.  In those days I developed and printed all my own black and white film. I was pleased with these photos and about a week after I first met him  I turned up at his ground floor flat with a couple of enlarged prints. On knocking the door was opened by his wife who was seriously suspicious about my story. The old boy was not home but his wife softened when I handed her the photos. She looked genuinely pleased with them.

 Earlier in the woods I had noticed that his bow saw blade was completely blunt and the following week I managed to get a new blade, that looked about the right size from Everards in Hilldene. I paid a second visit to the flat and lied to his wife that I had found the blade in my shed, I handed it over and she was grateful. I never saw her again.

Some weeks later I met up with the old boy in the woods for the second and last time,  I asked him if he had the new blade. Yes he said., I asked him how he got it in and he described to me in detail how to install a bow saw blade using the tourniquet method.

 Simply put, this requires a string loop to be placed around both ends of the bow. Then you need to  insert a stick in the loop and wind and wind the loop;  The string gets shorter and shorter and eventually it pulls the two arms of the bow saw together enabling you to engage the new blade. It was a revelation to me. (Note; nowadays it's all done with a butterfly nut)

 I never knew his name. I don't recall the name of his village and sadly I never saw him again.

 Del Smith       

This set of four pictures of the Quarles Pond were taken by Don Tait in March 2012

Dutch Elm Disease

The photo below was taken in 1973 during the Dutch Elm disease crisis. My wife Gaynor was standing by the huge trunk of a felled elm in the narrow arm of Hatters Wood near The Priory smallholding. It had 193 rings. When Elm disease began to take off in England the government had an early policy of felling healthy elms in the hope of halting the spread of the disease. It didn't work and they gave it up. Dutch Elm disease went on to destroy almost all mature elms throughout Britain. The treescape changed dramatically. Dagnam Park was no exception it lost all of its English Elms. All that is left for today’s visitors to see is the elm scrub that isn’t affected until it grows up. One day in the spring of 1973 we were up by the priory when we came across some huge machines and several workers. They had come in from the Noak Hill Road. I remonstrated with them because they had felled several other mature trees of other species including an Oak. They said they needed to fell them to get their machines in. I was a bit younger and less patient then, I think I was making a bit of a fuss. When one bloke said "I don't like doing it" I said “why don't you get a different job then?” He said "what do you do?" I replied "I'm a carpenter". I slunk off shortly after wishing I had said bricklayer.                                       Del Smith