Jacob Epstein was born in the United States but came to England in 1902, becoming a British citizen in 1911.

He was a painter and sculptor with modern ideas and when his statue ‘Rima’ was unveiled in Hyde Park in 1925 as a memorial to the novelist, naturalist and ornithologist W H Hudson it caused considerable controversy.

Rima is a character in Hudson’s book Green Mansions. She is a wild nymph, or ‘bird-girl’, who lives in the jungle of Guyana and Epstein sculpted an avant garde version of the fictional heroine. She was described as “an awkwardly carved figure of a distorted and explicitly nude girl surrounded by grotesque birds”.

Epping Forest Guardian: Hudson Memorial in Hyde Park.Hudson Memorial in Hyde Park. (Image: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

I interviewed Cliff Ambrose in 1984 (when he was aged 74) and he remembered watching Jacob Epstein working in a shed in a garden near the Forester’s Arms, Loughton, in the mid-1920s. Nora Deery (1899 – 1990), daughter of Forest Keeper Joseph Deery, confirmed that originally Epstein lived at no.49 Baldwin’s Hill where he had a shed in the back garden which could be seen from Whitaker’s Way. She remembered watching him working in this studio, carving the statue of ‘Rima’ which is in Hyde Park.

Later Epstein moved across the road to no.50 –a plaque on the house (Deerhurst) records he lived there from 1933 to 1950. By this time Keeper Deery and his family lived at the keeper’s cottage down the hill behind these houses. In 1983 Nora Deery told me: “The gardens of our keeper’s lodge behind Baldwin’s Hill and Epstein’s house in Baldwin’s Hill itself ran together at the back. At that time the green outside our back gate was clear and you could see across to the spire of High Beach church. It’s all grown up now, but occasionally he might come out there and paint. He was a very reticent, shy man and we didn’t see much of him, neither would we have intruded. We would sometimes see him come out of his back gate, carrying all his clobber in a soap-box thing (his painting equipment in a barrow) and go into the forest. One day my mother did speak to him as he was leaving, and he said he was going to try and catch the beautiful effects of the frost on Blackweir Hill. It was winter-time when there had been a terrific frost and the whole of Blackweir Hill was like pink icing, with the hoar frost, as the sun rose.”

Epping Forest Guardian: Deerhurst, 50 Baldwins Lane, Loughton, in 2018Deerhurst, 50 Baldwins Lane, Loughton, in 2018 (Image: .)

In his autobiography Epstein concentrates on his many sculptures, how they were commissioned, created and received. There is very little about his private or domestic life, but the following extracts do confirm what has already been said.

RIMA: “I made a sketch which was passed by the Office of Works, and I started at once in Epping Forest, in a shed, on the direct carving of the panel from a block of Portland stone. This took me seven months, 1924-1925, working through the winter, solitary, surrounded by silent and often fog-laden forest. In the spring, on a fine May morning, the memorial was unveiled in Hyde Park. . . . . This small and inoffensive panel produced a sensation wholly unexpected on my part.”

PAINTING: “During the summer of 1933 I painted nearly a hundred water-colours of Epping Forest, where I rented a cottage. I would go out with my daughter and we did not have to walk far before seeing something worth painting. As usual with me, what I started as a mere diversion became in the end a passion, and I could think of nothing else but painting. I arose to paint, and painted until sundown, and when later I exhibited these paintings in a London Gallery, it was a source of annoyance to some critics that I had painted so many.”

Epstein’s studio at the back of no.49 Baldwin’s Hill survived for over 90 years but on July 31, 2018 the shed was demolished and thrown into a skip which was emptied that same evening.

  • 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. She was elected a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 2021.