Grange Farm Centre Trust enjoyed the honour of the visit of H.R.H. The Earl of Wessex K.G. G.C.V.O. who opened the new pavilion on 23rd November 2011. Prince Edward was presented with a first edition of Barnaby Rudge, a novel by Charles Dickens that referenced the village of Chigwell. Not only did we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Dickens’s birth, but also we recognise that we had a stronger bond in the past with the City Parochial Foundation.
Dickens wrote of his concerns for the working class of London and in the 1860s a combination of severe winters and the decline of traditional industries caused such poverty that the conscience of Londoners was touched and a great unease was aroused.
Charity occupied a very important place in Victorian life. A society that believed implicitly in laissez-faire recognised that there were going to be those who fell by the wayside and that charity existed to ensure that they were properly assisted in their distress.
Charles Booth’s great survey in the late 1880s classified nearly one third of Londoners in various degrees of poverty. At that time, the myriads of small trusts set up in the City that were contributing to the soup kitchens symbolised the indiscriminate manner that charity was distributed.
Public attention had also been drawn to the parochial charities of the City of London. With the rise of the value of property with the increased income therefrom while at the same time the remaining poor being driven out to surrounding districts, parochial income at todays prices would have approached £3 million a year.
Reform brought the amalgamation of all these charities and the City of London Parochial Charities Act of 1883 established the City Parochial Foundation in 1891.
It is interesting to note that the drive to build houses for the working class threatened the existence of Hampstead Heath. A cry went out to save the ‘lungs of London’. This lobby was able to save the Heath and also protect some other land in East London by the establishment of Victoria Park.
We will now fast forward to 1935, Donald Allen (later Sir Donald Allen) the Clerk to the Foundation, who strongly believed in fresh air, sport and exercise for young people, purchased in Chigwell Row, 50 acres of land suitable for use as a camping site. The Foundation let the site at a rent of £25 a year and gave a grant to the Girl Guides’ Association of £1000 for fitting out the camp.
In 1938, the Foundation purchased 106 acres Grange Farm in Chigwell for £21,430. With war intervening, Sir Donald Allen’s bold plans for the development of Grange Farm were put on hold. After the war, with Sir Donald’s zest for the success of the site, he obtained a grant £80,000 from the Ministry of Education for physical training and recreation and some £214,000 from the Foundation.
Building was speeded up to accommodate over 2000 foreign students for the Festival of Britain in 1951 and was officially opened on 12th July 1951 by Princess Elizabeth, accompanied by Sir Winston Churchill.
A hutted camp was provided and a site for tents to accommodate up to 600 campers while the grounds could accept several thousand day-visitors. An assembly hall, tennis courts, football, rugby and cricket pitches, bowling green, running track, mini golf course, sun garden, children’s playground and large swimming pool with high diving boards ensured all visitors had plenty to entertain them on their visits and provided recreational activities for the local residents throughout the year.
Three acres of the original site had been let to Essex County Council for the building of Chigwell House, a home for disabled and completed in 1966 to which the Foundation provided half the cost with a grant of £140,00.
It was not until 1965, that the Foundation agreed to let the Grange Farm site to Chigwell Urban District Council for £25 a year on a 60-year lease.
Two other areas were leased to Winged Fellowship and Pony Riding for the Disabled. In 1973, as the site was about to be cut in half by the M11 construction, the Council acquired the freehold from the Foundation for £125,000.
Attracting visitors from London and other parts of the UK as well as Europe the site became a regular and very popular destination and. However, during the 1970s, the change in holiday trends, more affordable travel and package holidays to warmer climes saw a decline in Grange Farm’s popularity and by 1983 it had become clear that the site was no longer a viable concern and the decision was made to close the site.
The Grange Farm Centre Trust was established in 1984, their aim “The provision of facilities for recreation and leisure-time occupation for the inhabitants of Epping Forest and the London Metropolitan Police Area”.
1938 – The Trustees of the London Parochial Charities, also know as the City Parochial Foundation purchased 107 Acres at Grange Farm, Chigwell to provide a mixed camping site for the benefit of London residents
1939 – 1945 The Second World War interrupted preparations of the mixed camping site.
1947 – Essex County Council and Chigwell Urban District Council provided grants to the City Parochial Foundation, which enabled the camping site project to commence.
1951 – July, The Grange Farm Centre Camping Site – officially opened by Princess Elizabeth.
1950s – 1960s – The site is extremely popular with holidaying Londoners and travelers from further afield, particularly European visitors who enjoyed the large swimming pool, high diving boards and acres of space for outdoor activities
1966 – Chigwell Urban District Council became the sole Trustee.
1970s – With the rise in popularity and affordability of package holidays to Europe and other distant destinations, Grange Farm witnessed a decline in demand for camping holidays and it became increasingly difficult for the site to remain viable.
1973 – November. The City Parochial Foundation sold the freehold of Grange Farm to Chigwell Urban District Council excluding the sites for Jubilee Lodge, now Vitalise and Pony Riding for the Disabled Trust now Chigwell Riding Trust.
1974 – Chigwell Urban District Council was abolished on `1 April 1974 and succeeded by Epping Forest District Council.
1976 and 1977 – The construction of the M11 split the site in two and caused the loss of a 9-hole golf course. The smaller isolated part (approx. 25 acres) on the north-west side of the motorway forms part of the Roding Valley Meadows Nature Reserve.
1980s – Substantial capital and revenue debts were accumulating
1983 – 31 March 1983, The Grange Farm Camping Centre was closed.
1984 – 25 September 1984, The Grange Farm Centre Trust was established by a Charity Commission Scheme was sealed by order of the Commissioner.
1985 – 2010 On 30th November 1989 a 125 year lease was granted to Boldshire Ltd for them to develop leisure facilities on the site. Despite a number of planning applications none were successful.
2006 – 20th December 2006 125 year lease surrendered and 9 acres sold to a developer on condition he refurbished the balance of the site to a specified standard.
2008 – After a series of public consultation planning application for present pavilion and Interpretation Centre submitted and conditional approval granted 11th June 2008.
2009 – Construction of the new building begins along with regeneration of the site.
2011 – The Grange Farm is opened by HRH Earl of Wessex Prince Edward, 60 years after his mother opened the original Centre.
2012 – The Grange Farm Centre receives the “Green Apple award” for its environmentally friendly design. This was received in partnership with Tooley and Foster architects