EPPING FOREST: Author draws on forest inspiration for new book
POET, philosopher and teacher, Nicholas Hagger’s career has taken him from the court of imperial Japan to Libya in the throes of the Gaddafi revolution on the 1960s.
Yet it is his childhood in the environs of Epping Forest that he regards as the source of his inspiration, and his new book, A View of Epping Forest, mixes biography, history and literature to form a new perspective on the ancient woodland.
Mr Hagger, 72, who lives in Epping New Road in the midst of the forest, said: “I have had the idea of the book for a long time, and I think what emerges from it is a sense of continuity and a sense of renewal.
“I have tried to give a sense of the connectedness of past and present, of a sense of the layers of the past that are there as you walk through the forest.
“Many people are aware of the present only and not so aware of the past. By being aware of what happened before it gives meaning to what we see today, enriches the imagination and the quality of living in the area.”
“The approach I took was to go right back and look at some of the original sources again. I started again because I found that many books repeat things from previous books without really investigating them.
“For instance, it was believed that the Pillow Mounds in High beach were pyres for Roman soldiers killed by Boudecia, but subsequently it was believed that they were artificial rabbit warrens.
“In the book I look closely at original sources, and compare the mounds with other sites, and I show that there is good evidence to believe that 400 soldiers’ bodies were burnt there, as was the Roman custom.
Mr Hagger has not just explored history in his writing, but has witnessed historical events first hand.
In 1945, when he was six, he saw Winston Churchill give a speech at the war memorial in Loughton High Road, where he congratulated the residents on surviving the bombs of Nazi Germany and assured them that his wife would look after the constituency while he attended the Potsdam Conference, where the future of Europe was discussed by the victorious allied powers after the Second World War.
After attending Oxford University, in the 1950s he moved to Japan and worked as a tutor to younger son of the emperor, Prince Hitachi.
Mr Hagger said: “I remember once teaching him about income tax. He said ‘you mean to say the government take money away from you, I have never heard such a thing, that is terrible,’ and I said ‘I know it is.’ “ After witnessing the first stirrings of the Cultural Revolution on a visit to China, he became a teacher in Tripoli, Libya, as Gaddafi assumed power in 1969.
Mr Hagger said: “I was arrested for writing articles in support of the opposition and was in fear for my life so returned to England.
On his return to the district he became principal of the Oak Tree group of schools, which comprises Coopersale Hall in Epping, Oaklands in Loughton and Normanhurst School in Chingford.
His son, Matthew, is the group’s current principal.
Mr Hagger said: “As a teacher you try to identify the special ability each pupil has and nurture it.
“As a boy I went into the shop of Sir William Addison [one of the greatest historians of Epping Forest] and he helped to spend my first book tokens on a work on the trees of Britain, nurturing my early interest in the forest.
“I hope that the book can act as a similar inspiration to someone in the future.”