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Eric Barker continues the history, life and times of the West Essex R.A. group entitled RAMBLING ON AND ON AND ON.....as it celebrates 40 years during 2010.  The final paragraph of the first instalment invited members to reflect on a particular ramble listed at the end of the August and September 1980 programme.  It is an appropriate opportunity to expand further on details of an event which has taken place continuously for 38 years, and to salute the longevity of one of the leaders.


Ted Ellis wrote a letter to the Chairman of the Epping Society in November, 2001, on behalf of himself and his wife, Mavis, copy to the author in his capacity of Assistant Rambles Secretary at that time.  Having led the walks since October 1981, he wished to give 12 months notice with his final outing being that in November of the following year, a completion of 21 years.  (His knees were becoming less reliable over the distance of 10 to 12 miles!)

So it came to pass that this final ramble, his 280th with the Society and 236th as leader, took place on 24th November, 2002.  Despite a rather dismal day, typical of the time of year, with low cloud and rain in the air, 59 walkers turned out, just short of the record of 64, to complete 8 miles within the time.  The usual 20 minutes stop for drinks only, took place on this occasion at the Kings Head, North Weald.  Len Banister, then Publicity Officer, had featured Ted and Mavis in His Walk of the Month series, with a write-up of their accomplishments being published in the local paper beforehand.

Having been greatly assisted and supported by many members, the author surprised the above during the drinks break with a presentation of suitable gifts and cards, a fitting conclusion to two dedicated organisers, leader and back-marker.  Ted continued to lead short half-day walks for a short time subsequently.

George Pamphilon, the leader listed on page 10 of the narrative, had led the first Epping Society walk in August, 1972, Ted being his successor.  However, it has not been possible to ascertain when the outings first appeared in the group programme, although they were listed in that for August to November, 1978.

The outings are currently led by a small pool of leaders and although the wording and description may have changed over the years, they continue to provide ramblers with the opportunity of a walk taken at a brisk pace with an early p.m. finish.  Long may they continue.....

With the group ever expanding, the date is occasionally altered to accommodate other events.  However, Rambles Secretaries and their assistants have been ever grateful for being able to fill a particular Sunday date automatically.

The Epping Society itself continues to maintain an interest in the development of the area, the monthly walks being just part of their activities.


After a short term in office, Alan Brunsden resigned as Treasurer at the 1981 A.G.M.  Richard Benwell was elected, his position as Auditor being filled by Frank Fuller.  Already a leader, the latter became another enthusiastic member who would continue to serve in different areas for many years.

Over the Easter period of that year, a section of the Harcamlow Way was walked with 8 group members out of 11 completing the full route.  Although 87 tickets had been sold for a social event, a loss of just over £4 had resulted on this occasion.  The minutes of a committee meeting in November, 1981 revealed there was quote “enough paper and stencils to last 4 to 5 years, but not so many envelopes (possibly 2 years)”.

Bill Govey and his helpers were thanked for their bridge building work at the A.G.M. in 1982, 42 bridges/stiles having been constructed during the previous year.  A motion was carried by a large majority that no dogs would be allowed on rambles.  Ticket sales for a forthcoming social at Theydon Bois Village Hall were disappointing as many members did not relish the prospect of walking home late at night from bus stops.....  The cost of coach outings was fixed at £4.50 for the coming season.  North Weald Parish Council had invited the group to appoint 2 representatives to attend their meetings.  Eric Cropper expressed interest, he and Fred would attend.  The Essex Way would be satisfactorily diverted, as a bypass was in the construction stage at High Ongar.

The position of Treasurer continued to be something of a hot seat as Richard Benwell declined to stand for re-election at the 1983 A.G.M. after just 2 years in office.  Reg Rocket became his successor.  Peter Spence was elected to committee, taking over the responsibilities of Publicity Officer from Peter Harding.  He would serve the group in many capacities in the years to come, still being involved in working parties repairing paths, way-marks and stiles at present.  The above meeting observed that footpath problems were taking up ever increasing time. Richard Benwell had visited the landowner with a copy of the relative definitive map regarding a particular problem in White Roding to discuss the situation.  The dumping of rubbish and the need for a signpost in Epping Upland was similarly investigated.  The group had responded to a notice from R. A. Head Office about concerns relating to the possibility of a military firing range at Luddesdown in Kent and a donation of £5 was forwarded. The Epping Forest Conservation Centre expressed gratitude for the group’s assistance in staging an exhibition at their Open Day.

Significant changes in the group’s  future took place towards the end of 1983.  At a committee meeting in November, John Standon wished to stand down as Chairman due to uncertain health, although he was willing to continue as Membership Secretary.   Harry Bitten was co-opted as Countryside Officer.  Sadly, John passed away suddenly over the Christmas period while on a walking holiday in the West Country.  Peter Spence became Acting Chairman at the first meeting of 1984 with Phyllis Govey taking over the position of Membership Secretary.  By a strange coincidence, Harry Bitten and Phyllis would continue to serve in their respective offices for the next 16 years until the end of the 1990’s.  The former was already involved in a countryside role with The Friends of Epping Forest.  A letter in the archives reveals a particular problem concerning access to the Grange Farm Centre, north of Chigwell, with a special emphasis on the use of a footpath being a link between that village and Loughton.

1984 heralded a further change to the committee, Reg Rocket being unable to continue as Treasurer due to ill health.  Gladys Williams was co-opted as his successor.  Peter Spence organized publicity for the group’s activities; 80 programmes were made available for distribution to libraries.  Ann Sansom organized a Y.H.A. weekend at which two group members attended.  A supper night at Theydon Bois Village Hall resulted in a profit of £13.50, 61 tickets having been sold.  Ann Kidd was welcomed on to the committee during the year.  She replaced Joyce Langley as Entertainments Officer.  Fred had received correspondence from R. A. Head Office, the group being requested to consider ways in which the Association’s Golden Jubilee anniversary might be celebrated in 1985.  By contrast Essex Area was in the process of formation.  Each of the above would prove to be pivotal.  Both would intertwine during the next two years.

1985 became a busy year in many other directions.  A publicity effort resulted in 97 enquiries, 17 members joining.  Although reckoned to be a low percentage (?) the committee would persevere.  Much discussion at that year’s A.G.M. centred on the need to vigorously reject a proposition for Stansted becoming the third London airport.  Members were urgently invited to express their opposition in writing.  In the spring, a map-reading course attracted an attendance of 17.  Meetings with Epping Forest District Council were still ongoing regarding the Grange Farm Centre.  It was noted that ink was needed for the Gestetner!

Paul Crosland had completed footpath surveys at Magdalen Laver and part of Epping Upland.  A Y.H.A. weekend had attracted 8 members.  A plaque in memory of John Standon was finally erected on the Ladderstile.  This stile, situated near the farm of the same name, provided access to Warren Wood from the High Road, south-west of Epping, adjacent to the point where the newly-opened M25 Motorway disappeared into a tunnel beneath the nearby cricket ground.  The minutes of the last meeting in 1985 record interesting reading nearly 24 years on.  It noted there was a need for a signpost at the path by the house at the rear of the Travellers Friend P.H. in Epping Long Green.  Bill Govey had observed that the western end of this path required particular clearance, an area which has continued to cause many problems.  As recently as 1st September 2009, a path was cleared in the area, part of the working party’s brief under the direction of Frank Holzman (details in the relevant WEP, refer).

Returning to the 50th year of the Ramblers’ Association’s formation, this landmark would be celebrated nationally and the county of Essex and the West Essex group featured prominently.  A linear walk through the counties of England took place.  The group’s participation covered two days from Blackmore to Epping through to Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, related further overleaf.  Bill and Phyllis Govey acting as backmarkers.  This round England walk triggered further enthusiasm, for towards the end of that year a County Walks Week meeting was suggested in which the group expressed interest.  A decision having been reached, the Essex 100 mile walk was created in 1986 (Already mentioned on page 7 of the story).  Many group members would participate during the next 21 years, some completing the whole 9-day linear route, others walking on separate days.  As an early Essex Area event, it captured further the interest, enthusiasm and organisation of Fred, together with like-minded committee members of other groups in the county.  However, although featuring prominently in the West Essex programme, the annual “100” has just been part of the history for half its existence.  Suffice to record the event became an enjoyable way of meeting members of other county groups .....

Three interesting linear walks were planned during 1985 featuring villages with unusual names, Len Alcott having produced possible routes for consideration.  It is unclear from Fred’s notes whether they were specifically organised with the R.A.’s 50th year landmark in mind.  In ascending order of distance they are:-

Ugley to Nasty.  Two villages situated between Stansted Mountfitchet/Rickling and Ware/Buntingford respectively.  There is no indication, however, of the walk having taken place.  Coincidentally a ramble is due to take place from Ugley on 1st July 2010!

Cold Christmas to Good Easter.  This walk commences just east of Thundridge and finishes very close to the villages of Leaden Roding and Margaret Roding.  Fred led the route on two days during 1986.  Mike Whiteley devised a route in the same direction of some 40 miles as four circular walks, three outings taking place in 2007 with the final one led in September, 2008, postponed from March due to poor weather.  No doubt many members will recall the walks.  Interestingly, the first leg commenced on Good Friday ... Was it a good Easter and did it follow a cold Christmas ...!?

Messing to Mucking.  The route, from an area near Kelvedon and Tiptree, progresses in a south-westerly direction to finish south of Stanford-le-Hope and is by far the longest of the three.

Len Alcott’s diary of 1986 lists the following information:-

Fri, 28th March   from Messing,   leader F. Matthews.                  6 ramblers

Sat, 29th March   from Heybridge,  leader R. Mills                     17 ramblers

Sun, 30th March  from E. Hanningfield,  leader N Skinner           22 ramblers

Mon. 31st March  from Thorndon Park,  leader B Block               20 ramblers

The diaries record two walks on consecutive days in September, 1985 marked “Jubilee Walk”.  On Sunday, 15th, K. Ascott led 94 walkers from Blackmore.  The following day there was an attendance of 61 from Epping BLCP. with L. Alcott as leader.  There was no indication of the number of West Essex members who participated. Together with the Messing to Mucking outing, the numbers and leaders named appear consistent with the involvement of other groups in the county as already mentioned.

These diary entries provide an appropriate opportunity to introduce the writings of Len, a temporary digression from the 1980’s.


The information above represents items gleaned from the second of three neatly-kept notebooks delivered for the archives by Corinna Penny, daughter of Len.  One of the earliest leaders after the formation of the group, he recorded every mid-week, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday ramble by day, date, starting place, leader and the number attending where known for almost 16 ½ years, the majority of his 17 year term in office.  The first and last entries will surely revive venues and leaders for many members:-

Saturday, 3rd March 1979 Brentwood Station G. Farmer

Sunday    4th March 1979 Ongar Station  F. Matthews 15 attended

Thursday  8th March 1979 Epping Station  F. Matthews 22 attended

Wednesday 26th July 1995 Dane End  J. Edler (Joan)

Saturday  29th July 1995 Harlow Town Station B. Speller

Sunday    30th July 1995 Elsenham Station J. Pattenden

Sadly, the last five months to December, 95 are headed but not ruled up, and recorded.  Len resigned before the Annual General Meeting in the autumn and passed away before the end of that year.


Significant changes took place in the legislation of the local area with the abolition of the G.L.C. on 1st April 1986.  A protest was made relating to boundary changes in Harlow.  The Epping Forest Conservators would be taking over Warlies Park in Upshire and it was noted that Hainault Forest might be split between three local councils.  There appeared to be much for Harry Bitten to keep an eye on.  In the same month, an enquiry into the application of dog kennels in Sewardstone Road would be held.

Tickets for a supper evening on 12th April were priced at £2.  A visit to the East Anglian Museum at Stowmarket took place on 16th July.  A full coach load of supporters made the journey under the leadership of Len Alcott. The Forbidden Britain Campaign was launched.  Planning controls on farming and forestry would be looked at.  There was an aim to double the membership of the R.A. over the next 10 years .....

Twenty six members attended the Annual General Meeting in March.  Membership totalled 435.  Footpath surveys had been completed in Moreton and Bobbingworth and work was proceeding in Willingale and Little Laver.  Over 240 people had walked during the day on Sunday 1st September,1985 the occasion of the Centenary Walk with Harry Bitten leading for the first time!! Eleven candidates enrolled for the map-reading course in the spring, 6 took part on the training walk.  Capitation of £189.35 was agreed after exchange of letters with the Area Treasurer.

A committee meeting later in the year revealed problems with the Gestetner, a hand machine being used as a replacement.  Photographs of the plaque installed at the Ladder stile in memory of John Standon had been submitted to the South East Rambler magazine for publication, together with a list of the Group’s activities. Unfortunately, the latter item was omitted.

At an early meeting in 1987, it had been noted that Frank Holzman had offered to assist Paul Crosland with footpath surveys in the Waltham Abbey area.  A surprise party took place at Theydon Bois Village Hall in the middle of August to honour the 80th birthday of Don Goodwin.  This event was organised by Bill and Phyllis Govey after a ramble lead by Len Alcott which attracted an attendance of 63.  A regular leader into the early 1980’s, Don was one of the founder members of the group.

Two particular members who both joined the group in the same year, 1988, would have a profound influence in due course, their commitment and enthusiasm benefiting the West Essex in totally contrasting ways.  Each has recalled an incident during very early outings ......

Feb. 1988


SECRETARY:- Fred Matthews,  Abridge, Essex.


Welcome to the West Essex Group,

You will wish to know that most of our all-day walks start at about 10.00 – 10.30 and are about 10 – 12 miles and half-day walks, which start at 14.00 – 14.30, are of about 4 – 6 miles.  We do have longer walks, but for these, distances are usually given in the programme.  Generally, walks start from a station and return to the starting point for the benefit of members coming by car.  Public Transport is scarce beyond Ongar, so on a number of walks we go by car from a station to a starting point further out in Essex.  This gives us a wider range of walks and we are grateful to the car drivers who provide lifts to people coming by train and thus enable these walks to take place.

Stout shoes or boots and waterproofs should be brought and, on all-day walks, packed lunch should be carried. Where a ‘dry lunch’ is indicated in the programme, something to drink should also be carried.  We usually stop near a ‘pub’ for lunch but not all ‘pubs’ provide food.  When we do use ‘pub’ gardens for eating our own food, please do not take out thermos flasks, etc., as it is unfair to use the facilities of the ‘pub’ and not buy a drink, especially when we rely on the goodwill of the landlord for the use of such facilities.

As regards membership, if you decide that we offer the kind of walking that you like and that you wish to join The West Essex Group, please send your subscription and a completed MEMBERSHIP APPLICATION form to the Ramblers’ Association.  We receive a grant from the Ramblers’ Association in respect of members indicating a wish to join this Group by completing the slip below and sending it to Phyllis Govey  Bearing in mind the work done on countryside conservation and footpath legislation, plus the size and variety of our programme and the Group’s footpath maintenance activities, the R.A. subscription is a very modest one (for details, see enclosed Membership Application form).

Why not come out on one or two of our walks and then, when you find how enjoyable our walks are, join the Ramblers’ Association and the Group.

Looking forward to meeting you.

       Yours sincerely,

        Fred Matthews.

This composition represented the standard letter at that time, a synopsis of the group’s rambles.  A tear-off slip attached invited interested guests to become members, forwarding their details with the appropriate sum

Doreen Lodge was the recipient of one such letter in February, 1988, but is unable to recall whether it was handed to her by the leader of the day, or received a few days later by post.

After Harry Bitten stood down from the role of Countryside Officer at the Annual General Meeting in 1999, the post remained vacant for the following 12 months.  Doreen then volunteered her services and remained for the next 5 years, putting in much time and effort at various meetings, examining plans in respect of local housing and the expansion of Stansted airport.  Driving to group committee meetings from North Weald, she showed much patience towards Fred, collecting him from Abridge on many occasions after an illness resulted in his being unable to drive his own car.  Visiting Fred at Glen view, she was able to take him on very short walks, keeping him in touch with local and group affairs.

A one time regular leader, Doreen does not currently attend group rambles very often, but remains in touch, while committed to keeping an eye on footpath problems, locally.

One wonders how many of these letters were handed out and posted with the results attained.

I was a fairly new West Essex Rambler when I joined the Group (around 1988) for a walk in the Roding area.  In those days the ‘Working Party’ had many improvements on their ‘Waiting List’ –

Many of them to install bridges across ditches.  At that time I was unaware of the hazards of climbing in and out of ditches so was quite surprised to see two ramblers take a ladder from the roof of one of their cars and start walking in front of the leader, Frank Fuller.  All was revealed when they came to the first ditch and placed the ladder conveniently for everyone to get across.  They then left the ladder in a safe place so that on the return journey we were able to use it to re-cross the offending ditch.  The rest of us complemented the owners of the ladder on their ingenuity and agreed that they had helped to make the walk more enjoyable.

Yvonne Marshall it was who became one of the surprised party on this outing, a hilarious occasion surely, a unique situation in the history of thousands of rambles with the West Essex ....!  Len Alcott’s diary of 1988 reveals that on Thursday, 28th July., Frank Fuller was the leader from Aythorpe Roding.  16 attended.  This would appear to be the walk which must have caused so much astonishment.  The letter accompanying the incident cites Frank as being a favourite leader of Yvonne, a quote similarly endorsed by many members of a certain era.

The commitment of Yvonne involved converting the walks leaders’ booking forms received from the Rambles Secretaries and Assistants of the time onto her computer, the first programme thus produced being that for August to November, 1997.  Exactly 10 years later, the August to November 2007 programme became the final one typed at her residence, 31 issues........

The aforementioned officers will recall a table in the back room, covered with an assortment of forms, hand-written notices and information, vital for the eventual understanding of a four-monthly programme put together in neat order.  The hospitality of Yvonne’s husband, John, an active member himself in the 1990’s when the once-a-week mid-week outing was upwards of 10 miles, contributed greatly to the cause.

Happily, Yvonne still walks regularly on the shorter rambles.

David Weekes succeeded Doreen Lodge as Countryside Officer at the beginning of 2006.  Lesley Gillard took over the role of typing the walks programme for December 2007 to March 2008, with the format which is in current use.

Three coach rambles took place in 1988, the usual visit to Sussex at the end of June followed by an unspecified location with Bill Govey in charge in July.  Ann Kidd was the leader for an outing to the North Downs at the beginning of October.  A walk for the blind attracted 22 persons.  The Annual General Meeting, formerly held in March, was convened for November in that year, the month in which it has remained since.  The office of Chairman changed hands, Frank Holzman replacing Peter Spence after the latter’s 5 year tenure.  Having led his first walk for the group earlier in the year and assisted with footpath surveys 12 months before that, Frank’s period as Chairman would span 19 years.  The versatile nature of his roles over the next 20 years is a subject to be enlarged upon as the group’s history progresses.

The committee for the final year of the 1980’s consisted thus:-


Treasurer:  GLADYS WILLIAMS Rambles Secretary: LEN ALCOTT

Membership Secretary: PHYLLIS GOVEY  Countryside:  HARRY BITTEN

Working Party:  BILL GOVEY  Coach Rambles:  ANN KIDD


Derek Ford took charge of 17 people for a Y.H.A. Easter break holiday at the end of March, 1989.  The late summer Bank Holiday saw Ann Kidd the leader of a 3-day coach ramble to the Usk Valley.  The South Downs outing took place on 25th June and Len Alcott’s diary indicates a mid-week Dawn Walk sometime in September, but date, time, venue, leader and numbers involved unfortunately unknown ...

The November 1989 to February, 1990 walks programme makes interesting reading 30 years on, the earliest complete one available in the archives.  In a document of 4 sheets, 7 pages, neatly typed, the notes section included a suggestion that a car lift service might benefit certain members who were invited to contact Derek Ford if able to assist.  Part of Frank Holzman’s initial message as Chairman included quote:- “Come to the A.G.M. on the 15th November.” Fred’s annual report noted a successful year for the group with an increase in activity with regard to bridges, stiles and way-marking.  A public enquiry was awaited on the subject of safer crossings over a major road in North Weald.  Len Alcott welcomed 3 new names to his list of walks leaders:- Len Duffin, Bill Linnell and Peter Jacques.

Harry Bitten’s countryside report dealt mainly with the threat of a scheme to develop Copped Hall and its estate into a leisure and heritage complex, a 250-bedroom hotel with hospitality and hosting facilities was a proposed package.  Although a 10 to 15 year timescale might well be involved, many local relevant societies were currently urging the City of London to acquire the area, thus preventing an adverse effect on the environment of the surrounding countryside.

Phyllis Govey’s report at the Annual General Meeting at the end of 1989 had included a reminder that members of other groups who wished to receive the West Essex programme into the 1990’s were requested to forward £1 to her.  51 had taken advantage currently.  Total membership stood at 613.  Despite many who had assisted in hand-delivering programmes, the bill for postage during the year ending 30th September, 1989 had totalled £97 .....

David Samuel had answered a call to become Publicity Officer at the A.G.M. 12 months earlier, but Ted Ward became the incumbent as the decade of the 1990’s beckoned.  However, already a leader, David continued in that role regularly for nearly 20 years thereafter.


Interest has been expressed in the history of group walks on the above day.  Len Alcott’s notebooks reveal details from his very first year as Rambles Secretary.  One J. Pinder led a half-day outing from the “Castle”, Woodford Green and for the 2 years which followed, the 1980 ramble starting from the Whipps Cross area.  The next year, the “Castle” was the meeting place again.  Frances Staines had 10 in attendance, meeting at Theydon Bois in 1982, but no rambles took place for the next 3 years.  The “Castle” became the venue again in 1986 under the joint leadership of J. Watson and L. Qualiss(?).  The final 3 years of the 1980’s featured Chingford station as the meeting place with Corinna Penny (2) and Len Alcott in charge, 25 people attending the latter’s walk in 1988.

Pinder, Watson and Quallis(?) do not appear as leaders at any other time of year.  Corinna Penny led outings in other programmes occasionally.  Frances Staines’ first ramble as leader had, in fact, occurred 2 months earlier in 1982.  A regular walker and stalwart supporter and leader for the group, she would continue in the latter role for some 20 years into the Millennium.


The author attended a group walk in the middle of March, 2010, which started at Hampstead Heath and struck up a casual conversation with a fellow rambler during the lunch break in one of the cafes at Kenwood House. This person mentioned the first instalment of the history of the group, recently received, commenting on his own early participation.  Names were exchanged:- Peter Harding was the person sitting opposite.

Had he any memorabilia, or would he be able to supply some recollections of those days of long ago?  A deal was struck and meeting on a subsequent ramble, Peter revealed having located his copy of the original pamphlet received from the Ramblers’ Association, inviting his presence at a Public Meeting to discuss the formation of a local group.  Handed over, by arrangement before the commencement of an outing led by the author in May, the reproduction of this valuable document is the ultimate acquisition ....

In an accompanying letter, Peter mentions attending the wedding reception of Patricia Norris and Ron Andrews at Bedford House, Buckhurst Hill.  Peter organised 2 Y.H.A. trips, one over the Easter holiday period in the Cotswolds, Duntisbourne Abbots, the other a weekend at Guestling, near Hastings.

The above chance encounter with its remarkable consequences appears the right moment to end the second instalment of the narrative.  The “new look” of the 1990’s will follow .......




1970 - 2010



Part Two