Loughton is a town and civil parish in the Epping Forest District of Essex. It is located between 11 and 13 miles (21 km) north east of Charing Cross in London, south of the M25 and west of the M11 motorway and has boundaries with Chingford, Waltham Abbey, Theydon Bois, Chigwell and Buckhurst Hill. Loughton includes three conservation areas and there are 56 listed buildings in the town, together with a further 50 locally listed.
The parish of Loughton covers an area of about 3,724 acres (15 km2), of which over 1,300 acres (5 km2) are part of Epping Forest. The ancient parish contained over 3,900 acres (16 km2), but in 1996 some parts of the south of the old parish were transferred to Buckhurst Hill parish, and other small portions to Chigwell and Theydon Bois. At the time of the UK 2001 census Loughton had a population of 30,340, and at the 2011 Census, 31,106. It is the most populous civil parish in the Epping Forest district, and within Essex it is the second most populous civil parish (after Canvey Island) and the second largest in area.
The parish was part of the Epping Rural District from 1894 until 1900, when it became an Urban District. In 1933 Loughton Urban District, Buckhurst Hill Urban District and Chigwell Urban District became one entity under the name Chigwell. Chigwell Urban District was incorporated into the Epping Forest District in 1974. In 1996 parish councils were re-established for Chigwell, Loughton and, for the first time, in Buckhurst Hill.
The settlement remained a small village until the early 17th century when the high road was extended north through the forest. The road quickly became the main route from London to Cambridge and East Anglia, and Loughton grew into an important stop with coaching inns. The most significant of the great houses of this period, built as country retreats for wealthy City merchants and courtiers, was Loughton Hall, owned by Mary Tudor two months before she became Queen Mary of England in 1553, and later by the Wroth family from 1578 to 1738. Sir Robert Wroth (c. 1576 – 1614) and his wife Lady Mary Wroth (1587 – c. 1652) entertained many of the great literary figures of the time, including Ben Jonson, at the house. It was rebuilt in 1878 by Revd. J. W. Maitland, whose family held the manor for much of the 19th century.
Loughton's growth since Domesday has largely been at the expense of the forest (Epping Forest). Expansion towards the River Roding was arrested owing to the often flooding marshy meadows, encroachments into the forest to the north and west of the village were nevertheless possible. Loughton landlords and villagers both exploited the forest waste (open spaces and scrub of the forest), but the trickle of forest destruction threatened to turn into a flood in the 19th century after royalty had lost interest in protecting the woodland as a hunting reserve. As the forest disappeared and landowners began enclosing more of it for private use, many began to express concern at the loss of such a significant natural resource and common land. Some Loughton villagers defied landowners to practice their ancient right to lop wood—a series of court cases, including one brought by the Loughton labourer Thomas Willingale, was needed before the City of London Corporation took legal action against the landowners' enclosures, resulting in the Epping Forest Act of 1878 which preserved the forest for use by the public.
The arrival of the railway spurred on the town's development. The railway first came to Loughton in 1856 when the Eastern Counties Railway, (later the Great Eastern Railway), opened a branch line via Woodford. In 1948 the line was electrified and transferred to London Transport to become part of the Central line on the London Underground. The arrival of the railways also provided visitors from London with a convenient means of reaching Epping Forest and thus transforming it into the "East Enders' Playground". The Ragged School Union began organising visits to the forest for parties of poor East End children in 1891.
As the Great Eastern Railway Company did not offer workmen's fares, the town's development was of a middle-class character. Much of the housing in Loughton was built in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, with significant expansion in the 1930s. Loughton was a fashionable place for artistic and scientific residents in Victorian and Edwardian times, and a number of prominent residents were renowned socialists, nonconformists, and social reformers.