Best of the suburbs

Who said the sticks were stuffed with craft fairs and amateur dramatics? We uncover the cultural side of the suburban psyche

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    Chickenshed at the Southgate Theatre

    1 Chickenshed

    This pioneering theatre company started in 1974 and specialises in productions employing able-bodied as well as disabled actors and actresses. They’ve performed at the Royal Albert Hall, Sadler’s Wells and the Shaw Theatre among others. At the Southgate Theatre they run workshops for children and adults, as well as shows for the public (their Christmas show ‘Grimm Nights and Everafter Days’ is on until January 13). Chickenshed Theatre, Chase Side, Southgate, N14 (020 8351 6161/ Oakwood tube. Tickets to ‘Grimm Nights and Everafter Days’: £8.50-£17.

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    Epping Forest

    2 Epping Forest

    The largest public open space in the London area owes its existence to a landmark Act of Parliament in 1878, which entrusted it to the City. It boasts more than 50 miles of tracks that can be explored by foot, bike or on horseback. Epping Forest Visitor Centre, Nursery Rd, High Beech, Essex (020 8508 0028/ Wanstead tube or Chingford rail. Open Wed-Fri 11am-3pm, Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 11am-4pm.

    3 Wanstead Park

    A manor house has stood in the heart of Wanstead since the reign of Henry VIII, but in 1812 the widowed owner of the estate married the Duke of Wellington’s, nephew, who promptly squandered his fortune and had to sell it. The park is Grade II-listed, and its fascinating contents include the decaying remains of formal gardens, a scattering of follies (including a ruined grotto boat-house), artificial ponds and ornamental waters. Wanstead Park, E7. Wanstead Park rail.

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    Rainham Marshes

    4 Rainham Marshes

    This covers 1,600 acres and is home to some 250 species of bird. The RSPB’s newly opened Purfleet Environment and Education Centre has a café, school-room and shop with splendid views over the marshes.Rainham Marshes, Purfleet, Essex (01708 899 840/ Purfleet rail. Open daily 9.30am-5pm. Adm £2.50, children £1, RSPB members and residents of Havering and Thurrock free.

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    Eltham Palace

    5 Eltham Palace

    Initially bought in 1302 by Edward II, and the addition of the beam-roofed great hall in the 1470s turned it into one of England’s largest palaces. The palace was bought in 1933 by the Courtauld family, who restored the hall and also built their own stunning art deco extension – itself restored by English Heritage.Eltham Palace, Court Yard, off Court Rd, Eltham, SE9 (020 8294 2548/ Eltham rail. Open Sun-Wed 10am-4pm (closed Dec 21-Feb 3). Adm to house and grounds £7.60, concs £5.70, children £3.80, English Heritage mems free.

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