The Alderton Hall district of Loughton takes its name from a delightful weatherboarded house, which is tucked away behind 20th century buildings. It is a wonderful example of a Medieval timber-framed hall house with weatherboard cladding and a fascinating roof with different angles, attic windows and moss growing on the handmade clay tiles.

In 1907 Edward Hardingham published a book called Lays and Legends of the Forest of Essex, which includes the story of ‘Kate of the Hollow - a legend of Loughton’. The hollow is not a hidden pool deep in the heart of Epping Forest, but a secluded spot along the ancient pathway from Debden towards Abridge, not far from the Roding. It was here that Kate, in true Victorian melodramatic style, drowned herself and her baby in the cold glassy water.

Poor Kate, with a face as pale as a water lily and black ringlets which fall down to her waist. The poem opens with our tragic heroine lingering by the hollow late at night, with the wind moaning across the marshes and a storm lashing the trees. She clutches her hungry baby to her breast and hums a sad lullaby at this hollow where she first met Sir Edward, lord of Alderton Hall and father of her child. Now abandoned and forlorn, Kate is still devoted to her lover and unrepenting of their sinful liaison, while he prepares to wed another. Sadly she calls on the wind: “Edward, traitor, to leave me forlorn, yet still I love him, forgive him, I die!” Still holding her baby she throws herself into the icy water and finds peace at last.

Epping Forest Guardian:

A line drawing of the Rover Roding. Picture: Perceval

Meanwhile at Alderton Hall Sir Edward is making merry with his friends, on the eve of his marriage. The wine flows freely and music is playing almost unheard as the revellers drink the health of the bridegroom-to-be. There is laughter and gaiety when suddenly he hears the voice of despair carried on the wind “Edward...forgive him...I die” and sees a vision of the deathly face. After a sleepless night he rises early and wanders off to find peace in the countryside. Unthinking, he travels the path to the hollow and there finds poor Kate, dead in the water. He rushes away in great distress to face his wedding day, his bride knowing nothing of the tragedy.

Epping Forest Guardian:

The story of 'Kate of the Hollow' compares to that of John Everett Millais' famous painting of 'Opehalia'. Picture: John Everett Millais, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Time passes and Edward becomes a father again. His young son is entrusted to a faithful nurse and one day they venture down to the water-meadows to gather wild flowers. Celandine, violets, primroses and kingcups bloom in abundance and they happily gather flowers along the path until they come at last to the pool in the hollow. Here the young boy is eager to find more flowers and as he reaches over the water the nurse sees a vision of a baby, tangled in the pond weeds. She flees in terror and leaves her young charge alone. He too sees the vision and tries to help his half-sister. The baby hands meet and they sink beneath the water to die in innocence together. Back at Alderton Hall Sir Edward is grief-stricken but feels that at last he has atoned for the maiden he wronged so thoughtlessly.

Is there any basis for this ‘legend of Loughton’? It seems unlikely that this is anything more than a good yarn, invented for a gullible public who revelled in such stories at that time. Are there any ghosts at Alderton Hall? The actor Jack Watling and his family who lived at Alderton Hall in the 1960s and 70s had several strange experiences and two of the Watling children reported seeing a ‘White Lady’ who appeared at the top of a short flight of stairs, walked down them, across the landing and through a doorway where she vanished!

Georgina Green has been involved with local history in Redbridge, Waltham Forest and the Epping Forest area for 40 years and served as the honorary secretary of the Woodford Historical Society from 1987 to 2000. She is the author of several local history books and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 2021.