150 years ago today – the story of the Wanstead Flats landmark demonstration

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150 years ago today, on 8th July 1871, thousands of people gathered in Epping Forest to mount a protest. A campaign was beginning – one that the renowned environmental historian Oliver Rackham has called “the origin of the modern British conservation movement.”

1871 poster

image credit: London Borough of Newham Heritage Service

This campaign, to preserve Epping Forest and other commons from unchecked housing development across London, had its watershed moment that day. Thousands of Londoners answered the call to protest against the fencing of precious open land. Defying calls for calm, the crowd smashed the fences, causing the government to rush through legislation which began to protect this much-loved open space for the people of London.

The demonstration started a popular struggle which contributed significantly to a change in the law – the Epping Forest Act of 1878 – the first legal declaration of the public’s right to use an open space for leisure.

Mark Gorman author of Saving the People’s Forest: Open spaces, enclosure and popular protest in mid-Victorian London[1] tells the story in this film which commemorates both the Wanstead Flats demonstration and the wider, continuing struggle for our green spaces https://vimeo.com/567533998.

Read more about the struggle to save London’s green spaces 150 years ago here.

[1] “Saving the People’s Forest: open spaces, enclosure and popular protest in Victorian London” by Mark Gorman, is published by the University of Hertfordshire Press. It is available here and from independent booksellers.

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