George Burney (1818 – 1885) was an industrialist, local landowner and early day militant. His company, Burney & Company based in Millwall, became internationally known for its iron products and for being the supplier of iron water tanks to the Royal Navy. It was however for his role in the campaign to save Epping Forest that he is commemorated here. For centuries Epping Forest, part of the former Royal Forest of Essex, had been subject to Forest Law which not only gave the Crown the right to hunt in it, but also recognised the rights of local people to graze livestock and lop wood for fuel. Over the years these laws fell into disuse and the Crown began selling off its Forestal Rights, spurring landowners to evict their commoners and enclose parts of the forest. By 1865 some 4000 acres had been enclosed. Commoners fought to save their rights and livelihoods, and it was during this time that Burney, a leading member of the Epping Forest Preservation Society and notable local objector, achieved some notoriety by pulling down fences, and defending a subsequent court case for his actions. As gates were removed at Paul’s Nursery in Loughton, Burney famously declared the woodland “free and open to the public that day and for evermore”. It was a phrase taken up by Queen Victoria when she officially dedicated the forest to the public four years later. In 1878 following the passing of the Epping Forest Act, the City of London was named as the Conservators of Epping Forest. This street was laid out between 1947 and 1952 as part of the Debden Estate, the land having been sold in 1944 by John Maitland to London County Council. It roughly follows part of the course of a earlier footpath leading from England’s Lane to Loughton Hall on Rectory Lane.
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