There was a Roman fort or look-out tower on the site but the settlement of Little Easton was first documented in the Domesday Book, as Estaines Parva. At this time it was a small hamlet in the great forest that stretched from East London through Epping village and on almost to Thaxted. There was a moated manor house and small Saxon church, next to the site of the current church. After the Norman conquest, a fortified dwelling replaced the original manor, and the church was rebuilt.
In 1348, a year before the first outbreak of the plague in Essex, Lady Eleanor de Louvain inherited the estate from her father, the feudal baron of Little Easton. Lady Eleanor married Sir William Bourchier in 1365, uniting two wealthy and influential families. Their grandson Henry married Isabel Plantagenet, aunt of Edward IV and Richard III, and became 1st Earl of Essex in 1461.
Anne Bourchier, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Essex, was married to William Parr, brother of Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife. William Parr obtained his ex-wife Anne’s lands and titles, after their marriage was annulled because she had scandalously eloped with a lover. The Throckmorton family, successors to the Bourchiers, presented the Manor of Estaines to the church in 1558, the same year that Elizabeth I ascended the throne.
Elizabeth I granted the 10,000 acre Manor of Estaines to Henry Maynard as a reward for his duties as Private Secretary to the Lord Chancellor and Treasurer to the Queen. In 1597 Henry Maynard built an Elizabethan mansion, similar to but smaller than, Blickling Hall in Norfolk, on the site of the wooden hunting lodge on the estate. From the early 17th century onwards, the grounds and the house developed more or less with the fashion of the times. The pastureland in front of the Lodge became a late example of a ‘patte d’oie’ design, where three tree-lined avenues radiate out from a central point, in the manner of a ‘goose-foot’.
Almost the whole of the Elizabethan part of the mansion was destroyed by fire. The Jacobean West Wing remained and the rest was rebuilt in Victorian Gothic style.
Frances ‘Daisy’ Maynard, then aged 3, inherited Easton Lodge and its estate, following the death of her grandfather and father in quick succession. Disraeli encouraged Queen Victoria to support marriage between Daisy and Prince Leopold, her youngest son. But Daisy chose to marry one of the Prince’s closest friends, Lord Brooke, heir to the Warwick title and estate.
As the Countess of Warwick, Daisy became an iconic leader in society, not least because of her 9-year liaison with Edward, Prince of Wales. A halt was built on the trainline at Little Canfield for the Countess’ visitors to alight there, when they visited Easton Lodge.
The Countess also played an increasingly active role in the welfare of the local community, with particular emphasis on educational reform and employment skills, especially for women.
The Countess commissioned Harold Peto to redesign the Gardens for her.
Fire severely damaged the Jacobean wing of the house. The fire is thought to have been started by one of the Countess’ pet monkeys. The Jacobean wing of the house was rebuilt after this second fire, and the Countess lived in this wing until her death in 1938.
The Countess joined the socialist movement in 1904 and thereafter actively supported socialists’ campaigns and appointed socialist vicars for the churches at Tilty and Thaxted. She stood as a parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party in the 1923 General Election, but lost to Anthony Eden. To reduce her debt the Countess sought to gift Easton Lodge first to the Labour Party and then to the Trades Union Congress. They held meetings and conferences at the Lodge, but chose not to take on responsibility for the Lodge’s upkeep.
Maynard Greville, the Countess’ son, inherited the estate but continued to live nearby in Little Canfield.
The War Office requisitioned Easton Lodge for use by the Army and the Home Guard. In 1942-43, thousands of trees were felled (and blown up) to create Great Dunmow Airfield on the estate. In 1943 the 386th Bomb group, the ‘Crusaders’ of the US Air Force, took up residence. Many of their Marauder aircraft were involved in the bombing of the Utah landing beaches in Normandy prior to the troops’ arrival on D-Day in June 1944. When the 386th moved to France, the RAF 190 and 620 Squadrons used the airfield and were billeted throughout the estate. Their major operation was the breakthrough into Germany, the Rhine crossing, flying Stirlings and towing Horsa gliders. After VE Day, Easton Lodge became home to 21 VRD RASC (Vehicle Reserve Depot / Royal Army Service Corps).
The Estate was returned to Maynard Greville. He was an arboriculturalist and added to the planting in the Glade to create an arboretum. He demolished the Victorian mansion and planted silver birch on the foundations. He handed over the lakes to the then newly-formed Dunmow Fishing Club. He oversaw the removal of much of the formal gardens and the sale of the statuary and urns, and Ham & York stone paving.
Felice Spurrier, daughter of Maynard Greville, sold the West Wing to Charlie Wearn, a local man dealing in architectural salvage.
Brian & Diana Creasey bought the West Wing, renamed Warwick House. The Creaseys worked to restore Warwick House and the part of the Gardens that they owned. In 1985, they opened their gardens to visitors under the National Gardens Scheme.
The Creaseys got permission from the Spurriers to start restoring the Gardens of Easton Lodge.
In 2003, the Creaseys established The Gardens of Easton Lodge Preservation Trust to continue with the restoration.
The Spurriers sold the Easton Lodge estate and the Gardens to Land Securities.
The Trust took over the day-to-day running of the Gardens, under a lease from Land Securities, who have continued to support the Trust’s on-going maintenance and restoration of the Gardens. The Trust opened the Gardens to the public in 2009, and from 2010 the Gardens have been open to the public to see their Snow Drops in February and then one Sunday a month from April to October.
New owners moved into Warwick House. They are very supportive of the work of the Trust and have continued to open their part of the gardens on public Open Days so that visitors can see the area around the house as well as the Gardens.
The Trust extended their lease to include the Walled Garden and started its restoration.