The cows in Wanstead

This is the best article Wansteadium has ever published.

Dover Road, Aldersbrook. Photo Roger Godbold
Dover Road, Aldersbrook. Photo Roger Godbold

Our appeal for memories of cows wandering around Wanstead – as mentioned by Ewan McGregor last weekend – has borne much fruit.

Wansteadium reader June Mitchell wrote that she remembers the cows outside her home.
[su_quote]”A neighbour and I (both from farming families) herded them on to The Green. Many an unsuspecting driver had to slam on their brakes as a cow wandered across Whipps Cross Road. That’s why there are cattle grids on the approach to the Green Man roundabout.

“I recall my ex-husband coming home shortly after we moved here and saying with absolute amazement that he had been in a meeting at Whipps, looked out the window and saw a cow! It was not unusual to see a few of them meandering up Redbridge Lane West. It was a particularly large group that my neighbour and I thought we should get on to The Green. They were wandering all over the road and into front gardens and I was worried about them munching on privet. It took me back to watching my grandfather herding the cows in for milking. They could be dangerous, particularly around Whipps Cross and the Green Man roundabout. We miss them!

“We moved here in January 1982. There were cows around that year and thereafter. Don’t know the breed and often wondered who they belonged to. They were obviously not a dairy herd because they would have to have been milked. Never knew where their inside shelter was. I never saw anyone herding them. It was a mystery. They could be seen all over. Often on Wanstead flats. We herded them from all over the top of Redbridge Lane West on to The Green. Don’t know why we bothered. Later on they were in The Avenue. At least it got them off the road and out of people’s front gardens. I was told that the Epping Forest land was Common Grazing Ground and therefore anyone could graze cattle on it. Don’t think they got into Wanstead Park though.

“We assumed they were rounded up and taken in for the winter. They came and went. Anyone living around here was used to seeing them. Sometimes a few, occasionally a bigger group. They were just here! It was hilarious to see them all on the Green Man roundabout. If you drive round the roundabout you will see the cattle grids. I have a feeling it stopped when the tunnel went in but I may be wrong.”

Janet & Roger Godbold sent the photo above of Dover Road, dated from the late 70s or early 80s. Roger writes: “Unfortunately the grazing rights granted to certain Essex farmers for their cows to graze on Wanstead Flats were revoked several years ago due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. It must be remembered that the number of cows that actually made it back to the farms each year was less than the number that started grazing.” There were rumours, he said, about where the missing cows ended their lives. Best not go there.

On the March in Snaresbrook in 1964. Photo: Katriye Ibrahim

Katriye Ibrahim
wrote: “They use to visit our close eat our flowers, trim the grass & leave a deposit 1958- late 90s?”

Rose Marsh added: “When we moved to Wanstead about 23 years ago we used the launderette on the High Street for a couple of months. My 2 oldest daughters, who were then 1 and 3 years old, spent much of the time with their noses pressed to the windows looking out for the cows who used to wander up from Snaresbrook to graze on the grass area by the Church School. Now we have neither cows nor a launderette – not sure if that is an improvement to the area.”

Eileen Wray said she used to have cows regularly eating her hanging baskets at her house on Lake House Road. In the end she gave up growing them.

Cows on Wanstead Flats, about to chase kite-flying children. Photo: June Mitchell
Cows on Wanstead Flats, about to chase kite-flying children. Photo: June Mitchell
Photo: Katriye Ibrahim

More pics are welcome – please send to – with details of where and when the photos were taken. And if anyone can give a full answer of whose cows they were, what they were doing here, and what happened to them, we would be grateful.

78 thoughts on “The cows in Wanstead”

  1. The rite to roam originated from the times when farmers would bring their herd from miles away to London’s Spitalfields Market. They were allowed to let them graze on Wanstead Flats to fatten them up after the long journey before being sold. A few of the pubs on the edge of the Flats were well known for being ‘dealing’ places for cattle to be sold privately over a pint before reaching the Market.
    I moved into Wanstead in 1967 as a very young child and have many memories of seeing neighbours herding the cows out of their front gardens and being very wary on the way home from school if you came across a few of them. I don’t know who they belonged to… but there is a lady in Wanstead writing a book on the subject with her own artwork illustrations at the moment.

    1. Before the war I lived in Woodlands Avenue. Cows grazed Wanstead Flats and Bushwood. There was an old pound for stray cattle on the land behind Woodcote Road.
      In Leytonstone High Road was the Essex Farm Dairy, about the last city dairy. They used to deliver milk to my house. Their cows were driven out from behind he dairy each day and back home at night. The dairy was on the north side of the road about 100 yards along from Browning Road, as I remember.
      Cows grazed the land by the Green Man and down Whipps Cross. They also came across to my road but I believe they did not enter Wanstead Park. I understand there were ancient grazing rights on much of the forest land and on Wanstead Flats. It seemed to stop when the A.A. guns were put on the flats in the war – not to mention a prisoner of war camp.
      Sylvia Stanton (Priske) now 90 so memories of a long time ago.

    2. I used to live in Overton drive and the cows would come along from Leytonstone, eating peoples flowers & shrubs as they made their way to The Green, Wanstead.

  2. I clearly remember when my eldest was a baby in 1995 and I lived on Clavering Road, looking out of the bedroom window with him and a single cow was just randomly walking down the middle of the road.

  3. My son was born 29 years ago in Whipps X Hospital and as I was being ‘prepped’ my last view of the outside world through a window before his arrival, was a small ‘herd’ of cows making a racket over the grid. Happy memories.

  4. I was confronted by one only the other week on the High Street with a clipboard and a pen. She was mooo-ing on about signing something about parking.

  5. They were mostly steers (beef cattle), poor dears; they used regularly to progress down my road on their way from Leyton Flats to Christchurch Green, eating whatever was available in the front gardens on the way. I miss them; they were excellent company.

  6. early 80’s a huge cow’s head suddenly appeared out of the darkness right in front of me on green man roundabout. i was the passenger and it did a lot of damage to my friends car. think poor cow walked away.

  7. Just a few memories :- the first is from a friend and neighbour. She tells that her late father used to walk to Manor Park Station from Aldersbrook every day. It wasn’t unusual for him to hear the very fast clip-clop of high heels and a breathless young lady (a different one each time) would ask to walk with him so she’d feel safe from the cows!

    From my (Roger’s) personal knowledge, I remember the time that my Dad was late for work as a very large cow had taken up residence in our porch in Herongate Road. Dad simply had to wait until the cow decided to move – what else could he do?

    We’re sure there are still many people in the area who had their street football or cricket games interrupted by cows wandering along the streets. Certainly the cows were far more of a nuisance than cars in those far-off days of childhood.

    Janet & Roger Godbold

    1. Heres A long shot for the Godbolds! You said you came from a farming family- Did you happen to come from Metfield on the Norfolk Suffolk border ? if so Id like to meet up to talk about old times as I remember as a child working at the Street farm which was owned by the Godbolds. I live in Wanstead now.
      Tony Cronin

  8. One of the highlights of our childhood car journeys was seeing who would be the first to spot a cow on the Green Man roundabout. Ah, life without the internet, I remember it fondly.

  9. I remember being in Whipps Cross Hospital after an operation. The nurse opened the window to let in some fresh air. A cow came to investigate and stuck her head right through the window to get a good look around. It was very funny.

  10. There is still a path for hooved animals under the Green Man roundabout, it is parallel to the pedestrian and cycle paths from Whipps Cross Road to Bush Road. I do remember cows roaming on the old roundabout, Whipps Cross Road and even as far West as Wallwood Road where it joins Bulwer Road.

  11. Haha loved finding the cows in our bit of front garden in Leybourne Road in the 90’s eating our dusty old hydrangea bush. We loved seeing them walking down the road – we loved that they seemed to own the place…

    1. In my defence the person who reported us to the police had got it wrong, we were trying to chase the cows off the road not into it. we were in trouble when the police van took us home as we were bunking off school at the time. Not the best way to keep a low profile.

  12. I moved to Leytonstone in the early 80s, couldn’t believe I was seeing cows grazing on the Green Man Roundabout on a misty morning, I put it down to too much of whatever I shouldn’t have had the night before.

    1. There was a house on Aldersbrook Road that had a cattle-grid at the front of its drive until fairly recently.

      I also recall that a herd of cattle, with their own herdsman, were reintroduced into a northern part of Epping Forest perhaps 10 years ago. I have never seen them though when in that area and I don’t know if they still roam.

  13. Leytonstone/Wanstead – we had three in our road one morning – mum heard mooing and opened her bedroom curtains to see them trotting up the road into the high road.
    Remember having sports lessons at school on the flats (Davies Lane) and having to dodge the ‘deposits’ they kindly left lol
    Kim Hunter Bill Treeton Nigel Schultz Jenny Townsend

  14. As someone born and bred in Wanstead I well remember my Dad’s consternation when cows ate his beloved plants in our front garden in Gordon Road! This was in the 50’s or 60’s. When I got married and left Wanstead, in the 80’s we invited friends from a Suffolk village to visit my parents and they were astonished to see cattle wandering around a London suburb! Love the website . Brings back many good memories of lovely old Wanstead!

  15. Love this. We had the milk man with his horse that regularly mounted the pavement outside our house to nibble the tree. I loved it & the milkman carried on delivering leaving horse chewing.

  16. In the 1980s I was sunbathing on the grass near the Green Man roundabout when a herd of the cows stampeded. I have never seen my boyfriend move so fast in all my life. When I first moved into Voluntary Place (near the Bungalow Café) I’d just planted some conifers at the front and came home to find them askew. I thought a car had reversed into them until my neighbour said it was the cows. She used to keep a stick in her porch to prod them away as they used to eat her flowers.

  17. We lived on the corner of woodlands and Blake hall road for many years and remember our son James trying to get them out of the front garden as they were eating the roses.
    Also walking to Leytonstone station through the woods and they would come racing through and you’d have to get out of their way sharpish.
    Sadly remember one being impalled on the tennis club fence and the fire brigade trying to get it off.
    Also leaving for work and cow pats all along the tiled pathway.
    And someone leaving the gate open on the golf course and they would be walking all over the greens with their hooves sinking down into the poor green keepers manicured greens.

  18. I grew up in South Woodford on Grove Hill which runs between the High Road and the Waterworks Roundabout, I had forgotten about the cows until I saw this. I can just remember in the early to mid 70’s they would regularly walk from or to (?) the forest at the Waterworks, down our road, eating plants in people’s gardens and leaving their deposits, which were allegedly scooped up by the keen gardeners to use on their roses. I don’t remember seeing them there after 1980 though. I think it was before the A406 North Circular Road was dug out and widened to go under the roundabout, but can’t remember when that work was started.

  19. I remember the cows coming down Herongate Road in the sixties. To our neighbours surprise she lost her prize rose in one mouthful!

  20. The cows used to graze on the mill plain in South Woodford and travel down Chelmsford road. In Stanley road they would eat our roses, and the gardens with open gates would pay the price. I loved them.

  21. I used to live in Harpenden Rd.and it was a regular sight to see the cows walking down the road anytime of the day.It was a great shame when they went .One reason was probably the amount of traffic build up over the years.

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