A G Askew & Sons of Smarts Lane, Loughton, had about 40 horses based at their premises before the Great War. They were used to pull various vehicles for local traders, to fetch and carry as required. They were the local ‘removal men’ and ‘dustcart’ for the council. They ran large vehicles for special events like a coach firm today and provided a ‘taxi’ service with landaus for hire, with a driver, but they were also employed by the local council to supply the various materials needed for road maintenance. During the summer they would fetch the gravel, hoggin and sand and place it at the sites specified by the council.

Frank Askew (born 1896) recalls how the gravel was taken from a pit in the forest, which was later to become known as the Lost Pond: “My father would get permission to dig the gravel etc from Mr. F. F. McKenzie, who was the Superintendent of Epping Forest. Everything would be level at first, so they had to fell a few trees, and then start digging by hard labour with picks and shovels, none of the machinery you have today. The usual staff were used to collect the gravel, but during the summer extra men were employed for gravel digging. These were two of the sons of old Thomas Willingale (who saved the forest) and two of the sons of old Jobber Saville. They would have known where to find the gravel.

Epping Forest Guardian:

‘The Gravels’ was another name for the pond on Blackweir Hill, photographed by Nora Deery in 1929

“When they had been digging for a while the horses and carts would come and take the gravel out to wherever the council had said. Stacks were made 100 yards long by one yard wide by one yard high, and we put them at Ash Green or opposite Earl’s Path pond, or by the cricket field at Traps Hill. (100 yards = 91 metres)

“Now as time went on the pit, in places, got deeper, but before it was very deep the men had carved out a cave in the side where they could sit and eat their food. I remember a cousin of mine staying and I took her there to show her. As you came through the forest, if you knew the way you could go on a little path and get in the cave - my cousin watched the men and sketched as we saw the carts and horses going down into the depths of the pit. That cave would now be under the water on the eastern side of the pond.

Epping Forest Guardian:

“The road made by the carts came down into what is now the pond, and as they dug out more from either side, so the road got lower and the banks of the pit got higher. Eventually the carman, even with an empty cart, had to look where he was going, although the horses knew it well too. Parts of the pit might have become filled with water on occasions, but they were clever enough to dig so that it more-or-less drained away. Their predecessors had probably dug some of the older pits before them.

“When enough gravel had been dug out for that year, my father had to put the Clay Ride back into a reasonable state; that was one of the conditions imposed by Mr. McKenzie. They might spend three months working at the pit each summer, and then a week putting everything right and making good the road. Later in the year we took the material from those stacks and put it down on the roads, under the direction of the council road foreman.

Epping Forest Guardian:

“I’m not sure when they first started digging for gravel on Blackweir Hill, but it continued through my childhood and I think stopped with the outbreak of war in 1914. By that time sand and gravel were not used so much, as they could lay granite once they had steam rollers.”

It was James Brimble who used the name ‘Lost Pond’ in his book London’s Epping Forest, published in 1950. He says how he stumbled across the pond by accident and afterwards couldn’t remember how he got there or where to find it again.

Georgina Green has been involved with local history in Redbridge, Waltham Forest and the Epping Forest area for 40 years and is the author of several local history books. Frank Askew features in her book ‘Keepers, Cockneys & Kitchen Maids’ which was published in 1987 but has long been out of print.