Havering History Cameos: Fourth Series

The fourth and final series of Havering History Cameos, based on columns published on the Heritage page of the Romford Recorder between December 2017 and January 2021.


The name "Hornchurch" reflects something unique in English history. The east end of St Andrew's parish church is crowned with a bull's head, carved in stone. Churches are usually topped by a cross, the symbol of Christianity. Anything else would be sacrilege.

A Latin document of 1222 mentions "Monasterium Cornutum", meaning "horned monastery" – there was a priory opposite the church – or possibly "minster" – a special church, like the one at nearby Upminster. In English, it was called "Hornechurch" in 1233 and "Hornedechirche" in 1291. Beware! "First written record" does not equal "beginning of story". In earlier centuries, there were few documents. This saga may be much older.

Nobody knows how the name originated. One legend claimed a king killed a deer nearby while hunting, and stuck its horns on the end of the church – but why? Some suggested that the horned church was the trademark of the priory, based here from 1159 to 1384. The priory did use a bull's-head seal on official documents, but this was probably a pun on the name. Holy men would never have removed the cross from a church. Hornchurch was a centre for tanning leather – good reason to name the pubs but not to decorate the sacred church.

We must go back to the beginnings of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England. One day in 597, Pope Gregory spotted some handsome men being auctioned in Rome's slave market. He was told they were Angles, from a distant land, where people sacrificed animals to worship fake gods like Woden and Thor, whom we still remember in the names of Wednesday and Thursday. Angles were heathens, so it was OK to make them slaves. In a cheerful quip, the Pope remarked that they were not Angles, but angels. He sent his top missionary, Augustine, to convert the English.

Augustine never got beyond Canterbury, still the headquarters of the Anglican Church. His associate, Mellitus, first Bishop of London, was given the tough job of converting the East Saxons, whose kingdom covered Essex, Middlesex and parts of Herts. Mellitus asked the Pope for advice on handling the stubborn Essex pagans. Gregory recommended a softly-softly approach. Don't destroy the old temples. Sprinkle them with holy water, turn them into churches. Encourage the people to attend familiar buildings, and slip quietly into their new religion.

In fact, Londoners soon kicked Mellitus out. Not until St Cedd appeared around 653 did Essex become Christian. But Pope Gregory's strategy probably explains our local horned church. It's just an updated form of your old religion, locals were told – look, we've even kept the bull's head that you used to worship.

Gregory's letter also throws light on another Hornchurch tradition. He noted that the Anglo-Saxons sacrificed oxen to their gods. They must be given "some solemnity" in compensation. A sacred day should be chosen for them to "celebrate with religious feasting", killing cattle to give thanks for their new religion.

On Christmas Day, Hornchurch people gathered in a field beside St Andrew's church for a wrestling competition. The prize was a roast boar's head, which was carried in procession to a local pub, where the winner shared it with his friends.  The pagan ceremonies honouring Woden and Thor had been turned into a Christmas sports event, with a boar substituted for a bull.

Hornchurch Priory was a branch of the "Hospital" of St Bernard, at Montjoux high in the Alps. Large friendly dogs from Montjoux rescued travellers from the snow. Montjoux was originally dedicated to the Roman god Jupiter (Jove). The priors turned it into a Christian site. Maybe they were brought to Hornchurch to stamp out a still-persisting pagan culture.

Wrestling for the boar developed into a contest between Hornchurch and Romford. Sad to say, the Romford lads were a rough crowd, and the Christmas ceremony was eventually abolished in 1868.


John and Juliana wanted to retire from farming. That was unusual in the reign of King John (1199-1216). Most people worked until they dropped dead. With medieval life expectancy, that didn't take long. The Southend Arterial Road was built across John and Juliana's farm 700 years later, but old maps identify their land. Their main holding was a twelve-acre field fronting today's A12, from Bryant Avenue to Gallows Corner roundabout. Their "assart" (land cleared from the forest) was near "Haroldsbridge", probably where the tiny Ravensbourne emerges from Gidea Park sports ground.

Havering hanged its criminals across the road. Perhaps that encouraged John and Juliana to move. They sold other property. Two acres of rich Thames-side marshland went for ten shillings (50p) to Alexander of Huppmenister, who sounds a dodgy character. But John and Juliana gave their 12-acre field to Hornchurch Priory. Founded around 1159, the priory belonged to a religious Order from Savoy, run by Frenchmen. Hornchurch Priory was a "hospital". John and Juliana arranged to use it as a care home, donating their field and moving in with the brethren. The deal didn't work. In 1223, the priory promised the couple eleven shillings (55p) a year to settle various rows.

Their gift had included other land, alongside today's Bryant Avenue (then a through road to Hornchurch), opposite Whitelands Way, let to tenants. Leofwin farmed seven acres, now mainly under the Arterial Road, which stretched across to the modern Belgrave Avenue shops. His son, Henry, occupied a small "tenement", on condition that he fight in foreign wars. Another resident was Edmund Barenot. I suspect he was bald.

Around 1233, a new prior arrived from Savoy. No doubt Thorembert was a holy man, but he was a dynamic entrepreneur too. He quickly bought out the Bryant Avenue tenants, extending the Priory's direct control across to Amery Gardens. Hornchurch Priory's holding now bordered the land of Botilda the Widow, beyond modern Ferguson Avenue.

Botilda's property was divided from the farm to the south by a zig-zag hedge. The winding line of Belgrave Avenue echoes its odd shape. "Botilda" means "healer in battle". The name is related to Mathilda and Brunhilda. She was probably a tough Essex girl, not some sweet old lady. She was still remembered 200 years later, when a 1488 document mentioned "Botylfeld".

Thorembert wanted Bothilda's land. I think he was building up a ranch. Havering soils yielded poor crops, but its grassland supported cattle. Romford's cattle market would start in 1247. The prior needed land alongside the main road to supply London's meat market. Cattle needed drinking water. Behind Montrose Avenue, Bothilda's land bordered the Ravensbourne.

But the tough widow wouldn't budge. Thorembert had to wait until around 1240, when Robert de la Heye, son of Ansith, and his wife Nolicia sold him Botilda's land. It seems that Nolicia was Botilda's daughter, and heiress.

Thorembert still wasn't finished. Three and a half acres "in the field called Bothildeland" (possibly now Farnes Drive) belonged to Agnes, daughter of Godwin. Goodwins was the ancient name of a local farm, now the site of the Royal Liberty School. Somehow, part of Botilda's farm had been transferred to the property across the stream.  A hard bargainer, Agnes swapped the land for a load of wheat and a blue cloak.

In 1391, the priory's lands were bought by New College, Oxford. The college sold them to developers around 1927 – two owners in seven centuries. Nowadays, Bryant Avenue is a light industrial zone. Quiet streets branch off Belgrave Avenue. But peer through the centuries, and we can glimpse John and Juliana planning to quit farming, Edmund Barenot with his bald head, Thorembert the saintly entrepreneur and Botilda, doggedly hanging on to her few acres. Arguably, Juliana and Botilda are the first women in Havering history we know anything about.


Medieval England was slow to develop a cash economy. Coinage was in short supply. If the King granted you an estate, you might have to pay your rent by delivering some special service. If you only held a small piece of land, you might be asked to deliver some token that simply recognised the owner's rights. In the mid-thirteenth century, Thomas, son of Alexander de Haveringe, paid two peppercorns for half an acre of land, probably near Havering-atte-Bower.  We still use the term "peppercorn rent".

Local farms had to perform services for the royal palace at Havering-atte-Bower. The owner of Redden Court was required to supply reeds for the King's chamber. There were no carpets in those days. Redden Court stretched to Harold Wood Park: the rushes were probably harvested from the Ingrebourne there.

In 1210, Gooshays in Harold Hill maintained the park around the palace. In 1277, Adam de Cretinge paid a cash rent for his Romford estate – later called Mawneys – but he also had to find "pannage" (acorns and beechmast) to feed the King's hogs. The area was heavily wooded, but if the acorns ran out, Adam was still responsible.  A property called Earls, later Upper Bedfords (near Broxhill Road), supplied the King with a sparrowhawk each year. In 1240, the owner, the Earl of Arundel, was pardoned for forgetting, but the annual sparrowhawk was still required in 1448.

The manor of Gaynes at Upminster acknowledged royal superiority with a pair of gilt spurs worth sixpence (2.5 pence) each year. This was still being paid in 1398. In 1254, South Hall in Rainham – nowadays a farm in Wennington Road – was held "by the service of wardship at Dover Castle" – which may explain how a family called de Dover left their name at a Rainham roundabout. By 1308, this had become a cash payment of twenty shillings a year towards the Dover Castle garrison. As late as 1566, when London merchant Ralph Latham purchased Upminster Hall, he found himself responsible to the Crown for keeping thirty hounds.

Religious houses also imposed strange obligations. In 1377, an estate at Childerditch, the property of Coggeshall Abbey, supplied a wax taper to burn before the High Altar every day during Mass. This suggests a lot of beehives: how else would you get so much wax?

Now a museum, Valence House in Dagenham belonged to the nuns of Barking Abbey. The tenant "was obliged to ride with two horse along with the Abbess, and at her expense, upon reasonable notice" – escort duty.

It's hard to identify land held by peppercorn rents, since the holdings were small. A house adjoining Hornchurch High Street paid an annual clove of garlic in 1242. Another property, perhaps near Station Lane, rendered a cock and a hen at Christmas.

But we can identify "Bemeland", north of Dagenham Road, in the Castle Avenue / Willoughby Drive area. It was bought, around 1237, by John Wallensis, a royal official who probably founded Romford Market. This was a one-off deal, a cash purchase, plus a symbolic clove of gillyflower. The gillyflower was a carnation: I hope they're still grown around South Hornchurch.

In 1478, another powerful man, Sir Thomas Cooke of Gidea Hall, had a sweetheart deal for Bedfords. He gave the Queen one red rose each year, on June 24th. Perhaps Bedfords Park should revive the custom, presenting the Mayor of Havering with an annual buttonhole.

The oddest custom was at Fingrith Hall, in Blackmore, near Brentwood. The owner had to guard the Queen's bedroom on Coronation Day, but was allowed to take the furniture and fittings for his trouble. The owner of Fingrith Hall tried to claim the role at the crowning of George II in 1727, but was told to push off. We weren't living in the Middle Ages any more!


This Heritage column is about the letter N. No, I'm serious. The letter N has an aggressive track record in Havering history.

It's a letter that tends to attach itself to the front of words starting with a vowel. In earlier centuries, many people were known by an unofficial pet name. This was called an eke-name, from the archaic word "eke", meaning extra. Gradually this became a neke-name, and then a nickname. Oliver Cromwell was Noll. Girls called Eleanor sometimes became Nelly.

We preserve the old version of the word "at" in Havering-atte-Bower. It was probably pronounced like "at-a-boy!", not "attee", leaving an awkward gap if the next word began with a vowel.

Enter the letter N. Rising ground in northern Havering was covered with oak trees. By 1490, it was called Noak Hill (atte-n-oak). The same process happened to a clump of elm trees near a farm in Emerson Park. By 1339, its owner was recorded as Semannus atte Nelmes. Nelmes Way preserves this atte-n-elms form. Havering people remembered that in the thirteenth century, the earls of Arundel had owned a property between Harold Hill and Collier Row. Officially called Earls – yes, you've guessed it – by 1627 it was known as Nerles. It's now called Upper Bedfords.

Similarly, the surname Nash indicated somebody who lived at the ash tree.

But you shouldn't believe every intrusion alleged against the letter N. In 1631, an absurd story was recorded that St Andrew's church in Hornchurch had been built by a former prostitute to atone for her sins. Shocked to hear it called "Whore Church", a passing king ordered the insertion of the letter N, and fixed horns to the chancel (they're still there) to underline its new name, Hornchurch. Total nonsense!

The letter N has been around for centuries in Dagenham. An early charter, issued in 695 AD, names the place as Daeccanham – the farm of a man called Daecca. The hard C gradually changed to a G. Actually, the presence of the letter N is fair enough. Anglo-Saxon, the forerunner of English, had case endings, like Latin. That final N represented the genitive, the possessive that we now indicate by adding apostrophe-S.

Sometime around 1330, a Dagenham man brought his axe and his surname (de Dakenham) to Harold Hill, where he cleared woodland, creating what is now Dagnam Park. The name was shortened, but the N clung on.

Something similar happened at Cranham. In 1086, Domesday Book called it Craohu, probably the "hoe" (or ridge) of the crows. By 1397, this was Crawenham, the N indicating the possessive ("crows' ridge"), and "ham" meaning a farm replacing the then-forgotten word "hoe". The poor old crows were smothered by the cuckoo letter N.  By 1486, the village had become Cranham.

Domesday Book also records a lost village between Upminster and Aveley, under the Latin name of Kelituna – probably Kellington, named after a Saxon called Cylla. By 1291, confusion with nearby Wennington had made it "Kennyngton". Bureaucrats assumed that it belonged to somebody from the Kennington that's home to the Oval cricket ground, and added an S. Today, Kenningtons is the name of a school in Aveley.

Further afield, in 894 AD Benfleet was "Beamfleote", the creek of the tree trunk. By 1068, the letter N was shouldering its way in. It even passed itself off as "bend-fleet". Cheeky!

The letter N hasn't always been as aggressive as here in Havering. Our word "apron" was originally "napron", related to "napery", the posh word for tablecloths. A napron became an apron. The same thing happened to the poisonous snake called a nadder. We've one local example of this. Between 1221 and 1297, much of Upminster belonged to a family called Engayne. The first syllable disappeared, and 800 years later, Corbets Tey has roads and a school called Gaynes.


Redden Court is an indeterminate zone between Harold Wood and Ardleigh Green, but it has its mysteries.

In 1212, William the Fleming was granted 100 acres of land, providing reeds for the king's bedchamber at Havering-atte-Bower in return. (There were no carpets in those days.) The holding was called Redene, meaning "reedy valley". In the Magna Carta of 1215, King John promised to sack unpopular foreign advisers. But William the greedy Fleming grabbed even more booty. The original grant probably lay east of Ardleigh Green Road and south of Squirrels Heath Road, bounded by Macdonald Avenue and Coombe Road and stretching to the Ingrebourne at Harold Wood Park – no doubt the source of those reeds. This area was heathland – Ardleigh Green was Hadlee, the heath place. With no woodland to clear, the new fields were large and square – as can still be seen in the lay-out of Harold Wood Park. By 1235, William had added another 100 acres north of Squirrels Heath Road, towards Whitelands Way. (The railway divided this in 1840.)

Sir John Newenton, the constable of Rochester Castle, purchased the property in 1380. Little is known about him. In 1385, he rented land in South Hornchurch, near Dagenham Road, probably for extra grazing. In 1413, "the manor of Reden" was inherited by Newenton's daughter, Joan Swynnerton. Soon after, the property began to be called Redden Court (locally pronounced as Ridden Court).

Why "Court"? It's an unusual addition. In 1868, Goodhouse Farm on Shepherds Hill, Harold Wood, was replaced by a mansion called Harold Court, now flats. In 1906, the ornate Upminster Court was built in Hall Lane. But there's no other 15th-century example of the term in Essex. The nearest equivalent is Hampton Court in Middlesex, recorded in 1476. Cardinal Wolsey later built his palace there. The name suggests Newenton had built an imposing residence.

In 1469, Redden Court was bought by a wealthy London merchant, Sir Thomas Cooke, who was building his own mansion, Gidea Hall. (It stood next to Raphael Park). Not needing two big houses, he perhaps demolished Newenton's Redden Court to re-use the building materials. But the impressive name stuck.

Around 1720, Redden Court was purchased by John Hopkins, a fabulously rich miser. In 1732, it passed to his nephew, also John Hopkins, who lived at Bretons, the Elm Park mansion which he rebuilt. Either uncle or nephew reorganised the property, dividing it into two farms. There was some confusion, but the land north of Squirrels Heath Road became known as Old Redden Court, the land to the south New Redden Court. New Redden Court farmhouse was demolished about 1938 to make way for Redden Court School. Old Redden Court survived until about 1954. I can just remember it! It had a cottagey look, like a picture on a chocolate box. It was replaced by Court Way.

But Havering's earliest detailed map shows an earlier farmhouse, located south of the A127 Arterial Road, near the junction of Cecil Avenue and Harwood Avenue. Perhaps Sir John Newenton's mansion stood there? The site can be pinpointed, because an accurate map of 1898 showed a pond marking the site.

The owner of Old Redden Court, lawyer Alfred Douglas Hamilton, had tried to sell the property in 1894 as "suitable for subdivision into Villa Farms", with "numerous choice sites for the erection of Private Residences". About that time, he laid out two short streets, Douglas Avenue and Hamilton Drive. There was little development until the 1920s.

To cater for the incoming suburban population, Ardleigh Green School opened in 1933, taking youngsters from 5 to 14. The over-11s transferred to Redden Court School four years later. In the 1920s, the Arterial Road cut off the northern end of Wingletye Lane, which became Redden Court Road. An open-all-hours shop. Redden Stores, operated next to the A127. In recent years, it's become private housing.


During her retirement at Upminster, Alice Perrers must sometimes have reflected that being a royal mistress was no bed of roses.

Medieval monarchs acquired wives as part of diplomatic agreements: a foreign prince would be a more reliable ally if you married his daughter. Edward III married Philippa of Hainault to secure friends in Flanders, useful allies against France. Hainault is part of modern Belgium. Philippa had nothing to do with the modern Central Line station. That area, which belonged to Barking Abbey, was originally called hyne-holt, the nuns' wood. In the 18th century, it acquired a posh pronunciation, and a fake association with Queen Philippa. The Queen was charming and popular. She got on well with Edward: they had thirteen children.

But, having made official marriages, kings often turned elsewhere for love. Alice Perrers was born around 1348, when England was swept by the lethal Black Death. Maybe she realised that life was risky, and a girl should grab her chances. She was no aristocrat. Some of her many enemies claimed her father was a roof-tiler. Others said he was a weaver, and that she started life as a skivvy. She became the teenage bride of a jeweller called Perrers, but was soon widowed. Maybe her jewels made her glamorous. By 1366, she was at the royal court, as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Philippa, who was now in her fifties. Alice soon became the king's mistress: she was 18, he was 55. Within two years, she gave birth to three children. (In fact, the first may have been born when she was just seventeen: her job with the Queen was possibly a cover story.)

When Philippa died in 1369, Alice moved centre-stage. In 1375, she rode in state through London, dressed as the Lady of the Sun, to preside at a jousting tournament in Smithfield.

Much of the information about her comes from the chronicle of St Albans Abbey, a business diary kept by the monks, which also recorded national events. Unluckily, the Abbey was locked in a property dispute with Alice, and the holy men were viciously unkind about her. It's often claimed that, between 1370 and 1376, this young woman in her twenties virtually ruled England, by controlling the increasingly doddery king. Critics said she enriched herself with cash and jewels (even getting her hands on heirlooms given to the late Queen). She controlled appointments and intimidated judges. In 1376, an angry parliament briefly drove her into exile. But the doting king soon called her back to his side. Edward III spent much of the final year at his palace in Havering-atte-Bower.

Alice was a shrewd property investor. In 1373, she'd bought an estate nearby, at Gaynes in Upminster. She also secretly married a government official, Sir William Windsor, to give herself a protector after the king's death.

As Edward III lay dying in 1377, enemies alleged that she stripped the rings from his fingers, before abandoning him.  But it seems she stuck by her lover to the end. Perhaps she removed the rings to make him more comfortable – or to stop greedy courtiers stealing them. Fleeing for safety made sense. The male chauvinist monks cruelly claimed Alice wasn't good-looking, but owed her hold over the king to her brains and her wit. Predictably, she was accused of witchcraft.

Alice had to fight to retain her property – after Sir William Windsor's death, his family made problems too – but it seems she retired to Upminster, leaving instructions at her death in 1400 to be buried in St Laurence's church there. Alice's house probably stood near Parklands, the open space off Corbets Tey Road which formed part of the grounds of a later Gaynes mansion. As Upminster people pass the ancient church, few will suspect that a king's mistress is buried there.


If you've ever strolled across Trafalgar Square, you'll have seen the National Gallery. Architect William Wilkins wanted to build "a Temple of the Arts". Unluckily, he was palmed off with stubby second-hand columns. His building resembles an ancient Greek bungalow.

If you don't feel you're into art, the National Gallery can seem off-putting. With 2,300 pictures, where would you start? How could you make sense of them? Allegories of nymphs, portraits of queens and kings – what do they mean to us? Well, here's a start.

Trot up those stone steps, and head for Room 63 in the Sainsbury Wing. Look for the Wilton Diptych – and its Havering story. A diptych was a portable altar piece, two wooden boards hinged together, which opened like a book. This one was painted about 1395, by an unknown artist, for King Richard II. It's small and portable. The king took it on his travels, to be set up wherever he attended Mass. We know he visited his royal palace at Havering-atte-Bower in 1397, on his way to murder his uncle. Local people may have glimpsed the diptych then.

After 600 years, the colours are wonderful. In the right panel, angels in soft blue dresses look like a Gospel choir.  The paint medium is called tempera, based on (of all things) egg. I'd always assumed it was an oil painting. Maybe I'd confused diptych with dipstick.

On the left panel, the young king himself kneels in prayer, wearing a golden cloak. Behind him stand three saints. One is the king's special protector, John the Baptist, in a beggar's ragged outfit. The others are St Edmund, king of East Anglia, martyred in 870 AD, and Edward the Confessor, who ruled England from 1042 to 1066. St Edmund was tied to a tree and shot by invading Danes. He holds the arrow that killed him (there were no guns in those days), and very nasty it looks too.

St Edward holds a ring. That's our clue. Legend claimed that a beggar once asked Edward the Confessor for a hand-out. The saintly king was at his rural retreat and had no cash on him. Instead, he took a valuable ring from his finger and handed it over. It turned out that the beggar was really another St John – the Evangelist. (Since he was the legendary author of one of the Gospels, one thousand years earlier, his presence in the eleventh century is a bit of a surprise.)

Legend also claimed that the place where the two had met became known by the words used by the king in handing over his gift: "Have ring". It's a pretty weak explanation for the name "Havering".

King Richard's patron saints didn't do him much good. He was deposed in 1399, and murdered soon afterwards. But Edward the Confessor was popular locally. When the people of Romford built a new church, between 1407 and 1410, they dedicated it to him. Romford's first post-Reformation Catholic church, opened in 1856, also honoured St Edward the Confessor. A local secondary school bears his name. The shield used as the school badge is actually painted on the back of the Wilton Diptych, although it's not on display.

If you're not a fan of medieval art (most of us aren't), head across to Room 34 when you've seen the diptych, and enjoy the portraits and landscapes by British artists like Constable. Some were painted in Essex. It's worth preparing for your visit by identifying the pictures you'd like to see on the National Gallery website. Admission is free. There are gift shops and smart eating places. Nobody can "do" the whole of the National Gallery in one visit. Start with the Havering connection – I'm sure you'll go back!


Imagine you're a Havering peasant in 1397. It's harvest time and you're working in the fields near Gallows Corner. Suddenly you hear trumpets and clip-clopping horses – oh no, it's the King and his entourage! Richard II was visiting his palace at Havering-atte-Bower. These people have swords and horsewhips. Hide behind the hedge until they've gone!

Richard had become a boy king in 1377. England was ruled by his powerful uncles. It took him years to dislodge them. Richard's grandfather, Edward III, and his own father, the Black Prince, had won glorious battles against the French, at Crécy in 1346 and Poitiers ten years later. But Richard II, a cultured man, preferred peace. Wars were expensive. The Poll Tax of 1381 had triggered the Peasants' Revolt, which began at Brentwood. 

In 1396, as a diplomatic move, Richard "married" the French king's daughter. Unfortunately, Princess Isabella was only seven. It would be years before there might be a grown-up Prince of Wales. Hence Richard's relatives remained important – and they thought him a wimp. Uncle Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, was the classic opposition politician. From his castle at Pleshey, near Chelmsford, he told everybody he could beat the French and cut taxes – an impossible combination. (In fact, his only campaign in France, in 1380, failed because his soldiers caught dysentery.)

In 1397, Richard decided that Thomas was one uncle too many. Some accounts say he borrowed part-time soldiers from the Lord Mayor of London, Richard Whittington – Dick of the pantomime – and arrested his uncle at Pleshey for treason. Another version stresses trickery. From Havering Palace, the king visited Pleshey without warning. We don't know his route, but he probably crossed the woodlands of northern Havering before following the line of today's Straight Road to join the A12 Colchester Road.

Richard reached Pleshey at dinner time, insisting that his surprised uncle must accompany him to London at once. His counsel was needed at an important meeting the next day. Unsuspecting, Uncle Thomas mounted his horse and came along, escorted by just eight attendants. On the return journey, Richard avoided the main road, fearing that unsettling rumours of his coup would spread from towns like Brentwood. Instead, they headed across country and through Epping Forest, uncle and nephew chatting in the saddle as they trotted along.

Somewhere near Stratford, the king suddenly spurred his horse and cantered on ahead. Hidden in roadside trees was an ambush led by another ducal Thomas, Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. He owned the Romford manor of Mawneys: Mowbray Road in Collier Row remembers him. Uncle Thomas was grabbed and hustled away to Calais, then an English foothold across the Channel. Calais was like modern Guantanamo Bay: normal rules did not apply. Soon news came that the king's uncle had mysteriously died. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

The Duke of Gloucester's murder simply stirred more aristocratic opposition. In 1398, Richard was forced to exile his cousin Henry Bolingbroke. A year later, Bolingbroke returned, proclaiming himself King Henry IV. Richard was deposed, and murdered soon afterwards.

Pleshey is a 25-mile drive from Romford. The Duke's stronghold has long since disappeared, but the 50-foot-high castle mound and the watery moat remain.  The pleasant village has a long main street – called The Street. Nearby, the semi-circular Back Lane marks the castle's inner defences. Opposite the church, a half-mile footpath follows the outer earthworks around the village. The castle site is private, but there's a viewpoint and picnic spot halfway along The Street. You might catch a glimpse of one of England's oldest brick bridges, sloping up to the castle site, possibly constructed by Duke Thomas himself.

I do hope Havering's peasants hid behind the Harold Wood hedges and in the Harold Hill woods when their king rode by that summer day. Richard II was in a mean mood. There's a specialist term for murdering your uncle, avunculicide. I'm sure you'll never need it.


When Rainham's Norman parish church, St Helen and St Giles, was built around 1170, a small doorway was inserted in the south wall of the chancel. This gave the priest direct access to the altar. You'd hardly give the narrow timber door a second glance. Its four vertical oak planks are about seven feet tall, roughly hewn and weather beaten. But in 2009, scientists found that they had an interesting story to tell.

Dendrochronology is the science of dating timber. The term is derived from the Greek words for tree, time and measurement. As a tree grows, each new layer of bark forms an annual tree ring. In warm wet seasons, trees grow faster than in cold, dry summers. By comparing the rings from felled trees, it's possible to compile growth patterns over hundreds of years. These are then used to date individual samples. Miniature cores were drilled through the planks. The gaps were blocked with stained oak pellets.

Dendrochronology is impressive, but it can't be an exact science. It's easier to date whole logs than sawn timber, because nobody can know how much has been shaved off the planks to square them. Legend claimed that the famous timber church at Greensted near Ongar had been erected by the Saxons in 1013 AD. But tests showed that the logs were felled fifty years later, around 1063. Allow a few years for the timber to season, and it now seems that Greensted church was erected by the Normans, soon after 1066, using local carpenters who built in the only style they knew.

The Rainham planks came from trees felled after 1379. But how long after? Skilled carpenters would have trimmed away the soft outside layers, called sapwood, from the tree trunk, leaving the hard innards to be cut into planking. Scientists reckoned that they should add somewhere between eight and 24 years to guess a felling date. This gave a range from 1387 to 1403, when Richard II and Henry IV were on the throne.

There aren't many local clues from so long ago. The timber roof inside the chancel of Rainham's church has fifteenth century workmanship. Its sturdy vertical supports called king posts seem to float down from the ceiling. Were the two jobs done together? Unfortunately, we don't have a precise date for the roof. More important, it was obviously built by experts. The door looks like rough planking just knocked together.

There's another intriguing possibility. In 1381, Essex people rebelled against an unfair Poll Tax. Sent to Brentwood to restore order, leading official Sir John Gildesborough narrowly escaped with his life. Gildesborough owned a mansion at nearby Wennington. His property was targeted during the Peasants' Revolt. A rebel rabble probably marched down from Brentwood. Perhaps they wrecked Rainham church on the way? All we know is that the chancel doorway was built around 1170, but the door itself had to be replaced 200 years later.

But there was one more surprise. Obtaining oak planks would be easy, wouldn't it? A few miles to the north of Rainham, the higher ground was thickly wooded. In some places, it still is. Records show that medieval kings often allowed churchmen and other loyal supporters to cut oak trees from the royal park at Havering-atte-Bower palace. However, scientists found that the timber in the Rainham door came from the Baltic. Nobody expected that. Small ships sailed from Rainham as far as Calais in the later 15th century. There was a boat builder working on Rainham Creek in 1533. Evidently, Rainham's overseas trade was older (and wider) than anybody had guessed. We think of globalisation as a modern phenomenon. It's a shock to learn that, 600 years ago, it was easier – and maybe cheaper – to source quality oak timber by ship from Sweden or Finland than to drag it from Warley woods or Epping Forest a few miles away.


I confess to some sympathy for Richard Atkins (who's also called Atkis or Atkyns). From 1561 to 1588, he was vicar of St Edward's church in Romford. The world changed around him, and he couldn't keep up.

At his death in 1608, he was said to be 80. If he was born around 1528, he'd have been in his twenties when England see-sawed between Catholic and Protestant. Although appointed by New College Oxford, he can't be traced as a student there. Atkins accepted the shift to Protestantism under Elizabeth I, but hankered after the old ceremonies. But Romford people backed the new ideas. His traditional homilies caused controversy. In 1572, the vicar's line manager, the Archdeacon of Essex, banned Atkins from preaching altogether. This made matters worse with local Puritans, who loved sermons. In 1584, Harold Hill landowner Thomas Leggett demanded that "idolatrous priests" like Atkins should be "weeded forth of the church".

Romford wasn't an easy job. The enormous parish contained around 1400 people, but the population of Romford town was perhaps half that. Deaths always exceeded births in the unhealthy town, but the place was growing, drawing in migrants from nearby villages. Thus Atkins was constantly dealing with new residents and burying old ones. The plague often spread from London: 1561 and 1571-2 were bad years. Disillusioned with his calling, Atkins even became cynical about this deadly disease. In the parish register, local man William Browne made a note that he'd wagered the vicar twelve pence (now 5p) that the plague was raging in London on the previous St James's Day, which fell on 25 July. Clergymen didn't usually bet on the plague!

Relations with Romford people got worse. In 1583, they complained that he was grazing pigs on consecrated ground: the churchyard was "rooted up with hogs". They demanded that since "he hath the profit of it", Atkins should repair the fence. A Romford couple prosecuted in 1583 for not attending St Edward's at Easter blamed "discord" with Atkins, but added that their home "was infected with the sickness" and they weren't allowed out anyway. Atkins was obviously drinking heavily. In 1584, he denied being out of action twice within a month, but two years later he was found guilty of being too drunk to read evening prayers: he'd even tried to read the same lesson twice.

Richard Atkins was now firmly on the Puritan hit list. In 1585, they criticized him for simply reading services from the prayer book and not preaching – unfair, given that he was banned from the pulpit. He was slammed as a "drunkard". Around 1588, New College stepped in. They were also responsible for providing a clergyman for Havering-atte-Bower's chapel (now St John's church), but the villagers rarely had a full-time minister. The solution was to move Atkins sideways to Havering, handing Romford over preaching Puritans.

There were still problems. In 1591, Richard's son Geoffrey – who wasn't a clergyman – read the Sunday service, claiming his father was away. Did he have a hangover? But the move proved a success. Havering-atte-Bower was an old-fashioned place. Villagers enjoyed ceremonies and rituals, and didn't care that their curate couldn't preach boring sermons. As part of Romford parish, Havering residents paid church rates to St Edward's, and were buried there. But now they were supporting their own chapel, and maybe even clubbing together to pay Atkins a salary.  They began a century-long campaign for independence.

When Richard Atkins died in 1608, he was laid to rest at St Andrew's in Hornchurch. I'd guess it was his dying wish: don't bury me with those horrible Romford people! Nowadays, idealistic people who want to help others become nurses and doctors, teachers or lecturers, but too often find themselves worn down by ticking useless boxes and chasing silly targets. Richard Atkins signed up for a vocation but found that the rules had changed. Across the centuries, I salute him.


Langtons in Hornchurch's Billet Lane is Havering's Register Office for weddings and civil partnerships. The mansion was once the home of a prominent local Puritan – but labels can be misleading. Step in time and meet Thomas Latham.

Four centuries ago, the Lathams were one of Havering's richest families. One branch occupied Upminster Hall (now the Golf Club). Thomas was a business partner of his "cousin Lathum" (spelling was loose in those days) who lived at Stubbers, now North Ockendon's adventure centre. In fact, when young Thomas lost his father back in the 1540s, Havering's manor court allowed him to inherit his property without a guardian – even though he was only five years old! There were enough Lathams around to look after the boy.

Thomas was a Puritan – but that did not mean that he was against having fun. He fathered nine children, so he evidently enjoyed married life. His Puritanism was religious, a belief that arid ceremonies and muttered rituals were not enough. When he was prosecuted for failing to attend services at Hornchurch's parish church in 1591, he slammed the vicar. Clergyman William Lambert rarely bothered to deliver a sermon. When Lambert did preach, Latham heard nothing to "edify his conscience". He would stay away from St Andrew's "until there be a sufficient preacher" in the pulpit.

Maybe Thomas Latham wasn't just being a busybody. His health was probably poor and he worried about his soul. Facing death in April 1593, he made his Will. In true Puritan fashion, he insisted on a plain funeral, the only extravagance to be a piece of carpet "laid over my coffin". (Carpet was a luxury item then.) His "good and loving wife", Frances, came from the north of England. She had "willingly consented" to sell her dowry, land in Yorkshire and Lancashire, so Thomas could expand his property in Havering. In gratitude, he left her £60 a year – a fortune. "I doubt not but that she will rest satisfied, knowing what loving care I have always had of her," he wrote optimistically. He also made arrangements to spare her financial responsibility for their children, "otherwise than her virtuous nature shall move her."

Mistress Latham also received all the corn and cattle on the Langtons property, "and my household stuff so long as she remain unmarried" – not a sign that he distrusted Frances, but rather a device to protect her against amorous fortune hunters. She also inherited the remaining 18 years lease on a nearby farm called Gardens – remembered in Heath Park's Great Gardens Road. This would provide an income for their six daughters – plus a massive £100 apiece to help them get married.

Among the properties Latham had acquired with his wife's capital was a house called "Fayrekytes", next to Langtons, with two and a half acres of "meadow" – probably now the Register Office car park. He owned other Havering land with romantic names that can't now be identified – 3 acres called Pollardes, 20 acres of arable and woodland known as Hedgeland, and a "tenement" called Fysshers rented to the Widow Hasell.

Latham left three young sons. He asked a brother-in-law to take charge of the education of William, the eldest, until he was 21. William would eventually inherit all his father's property, but his younger brothers, John and Thomas, were awarded cash incomes for life. Thomas was obviously his father's favourite. The Will earmarked £10 to buy him a horse on his 18th birthday.

Langtons and Fairkytes were rebuilt in the 18th century. Fairkytes is now Havering's arts centre.

It's appropriate that couples should pledge their vows today at Langtons, where Thomas and Frances Latham enjoyed their successful marriage 400 years ago. But it's sad that he was barely 50 when he died.


It's four and a quarter centuries since William Heard dictated his Will, but you can still catch the bubbling warmth of this Rainham farmer in his jumbled list of beneficiaries. Although he was dying, William remained cheerful. He wanted to a marble stone placed over his grave, with his name carved on it and the message "Man, remember thy end." His coffin was to be carried to the church by six of "the ancientest of Rainham", who were to be rewarded with new caps, costing twenty pence (about 8p) each.

William Heard farmed land at Rainham and Wennington. He lived at "Barwick lodge", a farm near Berwick Ponds, half way to Upminster. He left six shillings and eightpence (33p) for a sermon to be preached in St Laurence's church the day after his funeral. This would let his Upminster friends know of his death.

Although William showered bequests on his extended family, his "loving brother Thomas" did not get much in the carve-up, just a length of cloth to make himself a cloak. Thomas was in trouble as a "recusant", a secret Catholic who refused to attend Rainham church. This made him suspect to the authorities, as England was at war against Catholic Spain. The daughters of "my brother young John" received ten shillings (50p) each, but William obviously preferred the family of his "loving brother George", six of whom received £10 apiece. George Heard may have been a fisherman at Rainham Creek: two of his nets were stolen in 1580. The big winner was George's eldest son, another John. William had already handed over to him land at Wennington. Now he left John his Berwick Ponds farm too.

There are mysteries in the Will. We know William Heard was a widower, because he mentioned his wife's brother. He listed numerous servants and their families, and remembered two godsons, but there is no mention of any children of his own. And there is a large and unexplained bequest to Cecily Franckwell, widow of London: £2 to buy a gown, a silver bowl – and a massive £100 in cash.  William liked his female friends, remembering several of them in his Will. He respected strong women, such as the widow of Richard Baldwin of Hornchurch, to whom he left a small bequest. A recent historian of women in Tudor England cited Cecily Baldwin of Hornchurch as an example of an independent female controlling her own life. Did William Heard fall in love with Cecily Franckwell after his wife's death? Was she reluctant to marry again – or perhaps refused to move from London to Rainham?

There's a clue in an earlier document. In 1578, Richard Heard, a London butcher, left his property to an infant grandson, also called Richard, described as the son of William Heard.

We know this is the same family, because "our" William took over land at Wennington from Richard in 1566. London butchers used Havering farms to fatten cattle for market. In 1598, young Richard turned 21 – then the age of majority – and came into his inheritance, which included two Rainham farms, Launders and South Hall. They're remembered today by Launders Lane and South Hall Drive.

My guess is that William's wife died giving birth to their only child. Young Richard was brought up by Mistress Heard's family. Cecily Franckwell was perhaps an aunt. The large bequest was William's reward for looking after his son. It's strange that William did not mention young Richard – 15 in 1592 – but presumably he thought his son was already well set up in life.

William wanted to be remembered locally. He left £2 a year to pay two shillings (10p) each Easter to "15 of the poorest and honestest householders of Rainham", plus five from Wennington. The charity operated as late as 1812, but ran out of cash soon after.


A large Hornchurch mansion, Maylards, once stood in Harrow Lodge Park. A farm track led to Upper Rainham Road, at the junction of modern Shelley Avenue. The name probably comes from Geoffrey le Mailour, a Havering resident around 1240. He was perhaps an expert in making chain mail armour. In the 16th century a fake D was inserted: Maylors became Maylards.

A memorial in St Andrew's parish church describes Pierce Pennant, who owned Maylards in 1590. He was "servant" to Edward VI and Queen Mary, "and also one of the gentlemen ushers the space of two & thirtie years to our Soveraigne Ladie Queen Elizabeth". A Welshman, Pierce was a junior Court official, who probably steered clear of politics. That's how he could work for Protestant monarchs like the boy King Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth I, and their half-sister, the Catholic Mary. Tudor courtiers traded in heiresses. In a forty-year career, Pierce surely had the connections to find himself a wealthy bride. But it seems he never married. Perhaps he was gay?

Pierce did well in life, amassing property in several counties, as well as a London house, near Smithfield Market. Locally, he owned the Greyhound, a Romford inn, and Celys Place, later called Havering Grange, and now an independent primary school. He wanted Maylards to go to his nephew and godson, another Pierce. But the younger Pierce wasn't old enough to inherit, so his uncle left Maylards to the boy's father, his own brother William. More distant properties went to another brother, John.

Pierce's brothers did not get on. John was actually living at Maylards. William was instructed to allow John to remove his "bedsteads, linen, pewter and other household stuff". Appointing a friend to act as referee between William and John, Pierce ordered them "not to go to law or contend for anything that I have left".

Pierce wanted to be buried at St Andrew's church. He made a large bequest to Hornchurch parish, and gifted expensive cloth to his friend John Legatt, of Hornchurch Hall, so he could make himself a luxury gown. Legatt used the parish legacy to establish Pennants Almshouses. Their site, on the corner of High Street and Billet Lane, is now Sainsbury's.

In 1595, William Pennant made his Will, and died soon after. Noting that his son Pierce was already well "provided for", he left "Elizabeth my loving wife" all his "goods, plate, corn, cattle, household stuff and leases".  Young Pierce would get the mansion, as his uncle had wished, but he needed his mother to have the place furnished and farmed! William noted that a marriage was "intended" for his daughter Mary. Mary could rely upon Elizabeth's "motherly care and affection". I wonder who'd chosen her husband!

William's short time at Maylards had been dominated by the problem of flooding on Hornchurch marshes, where land attached to the farm had been "overflowen with water". The cost of reclaiming ("winning and inning") the flooded land had been high, but it was "likely to grow to great benefit to my son". William also left £2 to the "the most godly and aged" poor people of Hornchurch.

Maylards was a sizeable mansion. The 1670 Hearth Tax charged properties by the number of fireplaces they contained: Maylards had 17. But by the 19th century, Maylards was just a farmhouse. Its name was mangled again, to Maylands. Its buildings stood just north of a tiny stream, the Ravensbourne. It was probably demolished in the 1930s to make way for Harrow Lodge Park, an amenity for the new Elm Park suburb. In the 1950s, Hornchurch Council (now part of Havering) created a large boating lake. Maylards stood close to the north bank, just west of the bridge. So much earth was shifted to dig the lake that it's unlikely any trace remains.


In St Andrew's church, Hornchurch, you can stare into the face of a Gidea Park woman of 400 years ago. Anne Frith shares the memorial to her third husband, Richard Blakstone, who died in 1638. We know it's a good likeness because she organised the monument.

Anne was born in 1586. Her father, Avory Frith, owned Goodwins, a farmhouse, surrounded by a moat, which stood on the site of Royal Liberty School. Anne had a younger sister, who died in 1594, leaving her the sole heiress.

William Frith of Romford was probably Avory's brother. Charged in 1584 with drunkenness, William pleaded that he was "sometimes drunk but not often".

Anne was first married in 1602. Her parents had died, and she needed a husband. He was John Caunt, fishmonger of London. Forget images of a man in a striped apron gutting mackerel. Aged 23, John was the heir to a wealthy business. He lived in the City, but owned property at Rayleigh. A bride at 16, tragically Anne became a widow at 17. In 1603, plague struck London (and Romford too). In October, King James I closed London's theatres to stop it spreading. But John Caunt died on 22 October, aged just 24. His memorial in St Peter, Cornhill – Anne in her grief must have approved it – reported "this young man by his fruits shewed his faith." Although he hadn't studied at Cambridge or Oxford, "he gave bountifully to both Universities". I like him.

Anne probably remained a widow throughout her twenties.  This may help explain why, although married three times, she left no children. With her second husband, George Bland, she sold the Rayleigh property in 1616. They'd obviously only recently married: the land was transferred to them by Edward Caunt, John's brother, who'd probably acted as her trustee. John's estate fetched £630, a huge amount. From 1615 and 1617, George Bland, "Esquire", was the Liberty of Havering coroner. In 1618, the first detailed local map shows him at Goodwins, farming about 80 acres. The property was triangular, bounded by Main Road and Upper Brentwood Road, extending as far west as modern Wallenger Avenue, plus some fields alongside the Ravensbourne, which trickles behind today's Cambridge Avenue.

Nearby Hare Street, the hamlet around The Unicorn, was a major tanning centre, manufacturing leather from animal hides– a smoky and smelly occupation. One ancient timber building survives from Anne's time. The Ship was possibly built by a wealthy tanner before eventually becoming an inn. Beyond Goodwins was Havering's gallows. It wasn't used very often, but in 1611 a felon was hanged at Gallows Corner. I'm sure Anne didn't attend.

With her third husband, she shared the comfortable partnership of a middle-aged couple at Goodwins. His memorial in St Andrew's church refers to "the happy memory of Richard Blakstone". A short man, with black wavy shoulder-length hair, Richard sported the pointy beard made fashionable by Charles I, with a Poirot-style moustache. Anne had traded up the social scale. A cultured "gentleman", Richard Blakstone was a friend of Lord Berkeley, from whom he'd received "many noble favours". Lord Berkeley supported playwrights and poets. One of his scribblers probably penned the lines honouring Richard on the memorial: "Well seasoned knowledge and ye Arts Inricht (enriched) his Soule".

The couple kneel in prayer, facing one another. The pretty bride of 16 has become a solemn fifty-plus matron, with the hint of a double chin. Anne left a blank tablet alongside Richard's poem for her praises to be engraved. But, when she died in 1647, Goodwins passed to a distant cousin – probably a grandson of drunken William Frith. He never finished the job. Anne had decorated the memorial with sculpted angels. Puritan vandals smashed their heads. With a little effort, you can imagine Anne Frith breaking into a smile, her wide eyes sparkling with delight. After so many bereavements, she deserved some happiness.


Rainham records tell us something about how past eras policed moral issues.

In 2015, the parents of almost half the children born England and Wales were not formally married, although most did live together. Nowadays, we can't understand the reference to a baby "unlawfully begotten" in North Ockendon in 1619. How could a child be illegal? Martha Warner's fatherless daughter Ann, born at Rainham in 1723, was a "spurious child". Was she was a forgery?

The problem in bygone times was that each parish was responsible for supporting its own poor people. There was no national system. Your birthplace had a permanent duty to help you, even if you were living somewhere far away decades later. With only 777 people at Britain's first census, in 1801, Rainham's resources were limited. Many vulnerable people passed through the small Thames port. Rainham was keen to keep them moving. In 1729, the parish constable paid 3 shillings (15p) to "a Great Bellyd Woman to get her away." It's an unpleasant description of pregnancy, but Rainham residents didn't want her to give birth on their patch. In fact, three months later, the same constable paid money to "the woman that was with child att my house". In 1730, another "greate bellyed woman" was paid to travel on.

Rainham had its own hard-luck cases, such as "Widdow Philips", who gave birth to a boy in 1669, "her husband leaving her with child". Mother and son would need parish charity to survive. Rainham life was not one long riotous orgy. Births outside marriage were infrequent, and not always the responsibility of local people.

Rainham baptised a little boy described in 1577 as "filius populi" (son of the people), but he'd been born at Dovers (now a local roundabout), across the Ingrebourne in the parish of Hornchurch. The splendidly named "Bounsinge Bess" was a "servant" (maybe a barmaid) at a Rainham Ferry inn when she had a "base daughter" in 1591. Some passing Thames mariner was probably the father. William Dowset, a Rainham tailor, was accused in 1659 of fathering a child at North Weald, whose ratepayers were keen to make him pay.

Where possible, the father was compelled to marry the woman he'd seduced. In 1735, Rainham's parish constable obliged Upminster's ratepayers by arresting James Curtis "& keeping him three nights till he could be marryed per Order of ye Worshipful Justice Branfill", squire of Upminster Hall and local magistrate. James didn't want to be marched to the altar, and men had to be hired to guard him. Rainham billed Upminster for £2, 8 shillings and tenpence (£2.44p) – still cheaper than years of ratepayer-funded hand-outs for the mother and child.

The fate of a young woman contemptuously referred to by her surname ("Pavitt") in 1728 gives us a glimpse of childbirth outside marriage. Tiny Rainham did not even have its own midwife.

Ms Pavitt went into labour on 25 November. A local official's account begins: "Sent for a midwife from Aveley att 12 a clock att night a hard frost & snow". She was paid five shillings (25p.) for her services. Ms Pavitt was given medicine, probably an opium-based pain killer. One shilling and sixpence (7.5p.) was spent on "a comfortable draught for the whore". A young woman called Hannah Ward received two shillings (10p.) for a week's nursing, half of it an "extraordinary" bonus.

Three years later, Hannah had to be hastily married off before she, too, could burden Rainham's ratepayers with a child. The parish not only gave her cash, but even bought her wedding ring "when she was Cast away on Ludgate Hill". It seems Hannah had become pregnant in London. The ponderous phrase indicates that she was married off at St Martin's Church on Ludgate Hill. The shotgun wedding cost Rainham £2, 17 shillings and ninepence (£2.89).


Don't get me wrong. I don't want to stop children having fun. But I don't like Halloween. It's become too American, and too commercial. But my real problem is that, for centuries, people really did believe in witchcraft – even clever people and important people. Thanks to their absurd fears, women were persecuted and killed.

Cecily Glasenberye lived near Barking. Her husband Thomas was a "yeoman", a small-time farmer. The surname probably came from Glastonbury in Somerset – still regarded as a magical place. Neighbours denounced Cecily as "a witch and enchantress". How could they be so sure? Well, they insisted, on August 20th, 1573, she'd bewitched William, son of Barking farmer William Gylett. The boy died on September 10th. Then, on October 2nd, she unleashed her evil powers against John Fyssher, a local tanner. Giles Graye, a glover, was her next victim, falling sick on 13 October. They both died on November 1st. With three victims allegedly to her credit, Cecily might have knocked off for a while. But next summer, on 6 June, she bewitched William Newman, a Stratford farmer on a visit to Barking. Everybody said she was responsible. Newman was lucky: he lost the use of his limbs for two weeks, but the spell wore off.

Let's be clear about this. Cecily was certainly unpopular. She probably cursed people she disliked. (I do all the time.) Maybe she had an ugly long nose. But she did not wear a pointy hat and she did not ride a broomstick. In short, Cecily Glasenberye was not a witch.

But fearful neighbours reported Cecily to the authorities, and were ordered to deliver her for trial at the Essex court in Brentwood. Barking's parish constables would have trussed her up, to prevent any escape attempt, and carted her along the main road, through Ilford and Romford.

I don't suppose anyone respected the principle that Cecily was innocent until proven guilty. I'd guess Romford people turned out to jeer the witch, and maybe pelt her as she passed through the Market. At Gallows Corner, I bet her captors pointed to Havering's gibbet and described her fate in agonising detail. Witches weren't burned. They were hanged.

Appearing in court must have been a surreal nightmare. Surely these learned lawyers, with their gowns and dusty books, would understand that she was innocent? Surely the jurymen (women weren't trusted with such important decisions) – wise landowners and sensible merchants – would see through this nonsense? But her "not guilty" pleas were dismissed.

A list survives naming her among the two women and seven men sentenced to death. Brentwood's gallows was located on Ongar Road, at the junction of the lane to Doddinghurst. The condemned prisoners were probably loaded on another cart for their last journey. I can't begin to imagine Cecily's terror as she faced death by hanging. Can you? Cecily Glasenberye died horribly for a crime she could not possibly have committed. There's no such thing as witchcraft. Nine executions was about average for a Brentwood court session. South Weald's parish register noted the delivery of seven corpses from the gallows in 1553. Usually nobody bothered to record them at all. The bodies were probably thrown into a common grave on the north side of the churchyard – the unlucky side.

In Tudor times, there were witchcraft accusations in Brentwood, Havering-atte-Bower (a sorcery hotspot), Hornchurch, Navestock, Rainham and Romford. A Dagenham woman was hanged in 1591. An Upminster woman who'd played around with a skull taken from St Andrew's churchyard in Hornchurch was hanged in 1614.

Not all alleged witches were women. At late as 1863, at Sible Hedingham in north Essex, a suspected male witch was beaten and thrown into a stream to see if he would float. That killed him.  Any grumpy old man with strange ideas might be accused of witchcraft.  Good job I wasn't around in those days!


In bygone times, clergymen needed to know the boundaries of their parishes. There were no maps: Havering's first field plan dates from 1618. Clergy lived off tithes. They had to watch that their fields hadn't been annexed by some rival reverend.

Each year, parishioners processed around their boundaries, checking that markers remained in place and landmark trees had not been blown down. The ceremony took place around Ascension Day, a religious holiday in late May. Children were involved, so they could memorise parish boundaries for the future. They carried wands, supple branches, often painted white. These were thrashed on the ground at key points as a memory aid. Boys were often bumped at road junctions or near big trees, to help them remember the spot! It was called Beating the Bounds. The official term was "perambulation", the source of our word perambulator – "pram" for short.

In medieval times, Beating the Bounds was a religious ceremony, with prayers and Bible readings along the route. That's how Gospel Oak in North London got its name. Sixteenth-century Protestants banned these rituals as superstitious. In 1605, 57-year-old Collier Row man Samuel Brockis remembered religious banners from Havering-atte-Bower church being carried through the fields. John Shonke, aged 68, had walked the course every year since Henry VIII's reign. He described the route followed by Havering villagers in loving detail, even naming "the great hawthorne bush". At set points, everybody stopped to pray, or to have "a drinking together", with snacks of cakes and cheese. Beating the Bounds created a sense of community. Neighbours from Romford and Navestock tagged along on their shared sections of boundary.

In 1700, Upminster people gathered near the Ingrebourne south-west of Hacton Lane. The oak tree where they met has gone, but the location is part of Hornchurch Country Park. Upminster was a long north-south parish: its 15-mile radius probably wasn't perambulated in one day. Above Tylers Common, a house had been built across the parish boundary. The procession marched straight indoors, checked that the letters X and V were still carved on the parlour doorpost to indicate the frontier with Great Warley, and climbed out of a back window. In Nags Head Lane they solemnly examined a post marking the boundary with South Weald.

In 1830, William Henry Tollbutt, a gentleman who lived in Romford's still-rural South Street, decided to revive the custom. Romford's boundaries hadn't been beaten for fourteen years. Townsfolk assembled in the Market at 8 a.m. (in pouring rain) and were led up North Street by a band, plus twenty "charity children" from St Edward's School.  Varying the tradition, Mr Tollbutt consented to be bumped when they reached the boundary. Not everyone enjoyed the custom. One "furious personage" violently resisted a gang "who claimed the honour of bumping him".

"The cavalcade halted at Collier-row, where they partook of refreshment." They then followed Romford's northern border to Wrightsbridge Farm, at Noak Hill, where there was more hospitality, some of it probably involving alcohol. That may explain why one participant insisted on dutifully walking chin-deep straight through a pond, singing the Scottish ballad "Coming through the rye" as he splodged forward, determined to establish the limits of Romford. Many took part on horseback. Some commandeered quadrupeds that weren't used to passengers. One elderly mare simply flopped on the ground to dump her rider. Two youths who jumped on a mule discovered that mules are obstinate creatures. The cheery procession returned to Romford that evening, now bizarrely accompanied by three chimneysweeps, wearing outlandish fancy dress and riding ponies.

Romford's southern boundary followed Brentwood Road, on past Gallows Corner and along the A12 Colchester Road. There was no need to beat these bounds. The roads were such clear markers that territorial aggression by neighbouring Hornchurch was unthinkable.

The custom died out locally in Victorian times, when detailed maps made Beating the Bounds unnecessary.


We often think of the past as a static world, where people lived all their lives in one place. But the poor were constantly on the move. Only rarely do we glimpse them as real people.

Robert Johnson's love life dragged him before the Church courts in 1607. A labourer, he'd lived at Upminster with Elizabeth Whitland, the mother of his child, "but was not marryed unto her". He wanted to tie the knot, but Upminster people objected, probably thinking he was too poor to support a family. After moving to London, Robert visited Aveley, where he met a widow – from Upminster! They married in London, but settled at Terling, six miles north of Chelmsford – apparently all random moves.

Until 1834, everybody "belonged" to a parish, usually their birthplace. Wherever you ended up, your home parish had to support if you were old and sick. In 1729, Rainham officials paid a pregnant woman to keep moving. If she'd given birth there, Rainham ratepayers could have been responsible for the child decades later.

To be sent back from parish to parish back to your original place of "settlement" could be an ordeal. In 1618, a "vagrant that dyed in the constables hands" was buried at St Edward's church in Romford. To add to their woes, the homeless unemployed could be punished for vagrancy. Mary Wilks was whipped in Romford Market in 1776.

In 1720, officials at Crayford in Kent refused to support a "poor Travelling Boy aged about 14 years."  One March evening, they rowed him across the Thames and dumped him on Rainham marshes. The next day – it was Good Friday – he was found dead from exposure in Ferry Lane. An angry correspondence followed between the clergymen of the two parishes, not over who was to blame, but about who should pay for the funeral.

Parish registers suggest that barns were used as primitive hostels. In 1604, Romford noted that the death of "a poore woman" in "Mawnes Barne". Mawneys manor house stood near the site of the Royal United Services Club. In 1616, a "stranger" died in the barn at Stewards, a lost mansion located in South Street near the Quadrant Arcade. Their names were rarely known. Many were just children. In 1604, Romford's burial register baldly noted the death of a boy in Romford Market. In Hornchurch, a "poore vagrant boy" died at Suttons in 1607. In 1612, St Edward's church buried the "infant" child of "a walkinge woman". Imagine the mother's desperation and grief – no home, no help. "A poor travelling Man that was drowned" was buried in 1615. I wonder where and how he died.

In the 1850s, social investigator Henry Mayhew talked to London tramps who roamed the country begging and seeking casual work. Romford was a popular first stop. The back kitchen of the King's Arms, a Market pub, operated as a doss-house. "Very respectable, sir," one vagrant told Mayhew, "and a proper division of married and single, men and women." "Of course, they don't ask any couple to show their marriage lines, any more as they do any lord and lady, or one that ain't a lady if she's with a lord, at any fash'nable hotel at Brighton." The King's Arms provided forty beds, "some of them with curtains". Somehow, I don't think lords and ladies ever boarded there.  The pub had closed by 1900.

But it was better than the next stopping-off point on the circuit, a Chelmsford hostelry, where you could get a bed, a pint of beer, and a punch in the head, "all for twopence."

From the 1830s, travellers could stay at the new workhouses, in "casual wards", which provided a network of basic overnight hostels. Romford's workhouse later became Oldchurch Hospital. We needn't be sentimental about the "Good Old Days".


Receiving a knighthood – becoming "Sir" or "Dame" if you're female – is an honour. But 400 years ago, new knights were charged high fees, making knighthood a burden. In 1611, to raise cash to send Protestant settlers to Ulster, James I invented an order of Super-Sirs called baronets. Joe Bloggs bought the right to become Sir Joseph Bloggs, Bart. The one-off deal was hereditary. When Sir Joseph died, his son inherited the handle, and so on down the generations. Scottish baronets were invented in 1625, to support a transatlantic colony called Nova Scotia. Edinburgh Castle was declared part of Nova Scotia, so nobody actually had to cross the ocean to accept (or buy) the honour.

The swank appealed to Sir William Ayloffe, of Bretons in Elm Park. Already knighted, he'd demanded the biggest pew in Hornchurch's parish church, displacing six other families. In 1612, he became Sir William Ayloffe, Bart. Philip Matthews lived at Gobions, which stood opposite Lodge Lane in Collier Row. Although his father had been Romford's Roundhead boss, Philip switched to Charles II, becoming Sir Philip Matthews, Bart. in 1662. He's the only Collier Row resident ever granted a hereditary honour. The baronetcy became extinct in 1708 when Sir Philip's son, a soldier with no children, was killed in battle.

Sir Framlingham Gawdy, Bart. was churchwarden at Havering-atte-Bower between 1708 and 1711. The third holder of his family title, he had learning difficulties. Havering villagers were fighting Romford to establish their local autonomy. They apparently used poor Sir Framlingham as a stooge. Inheriting his grandfather's baronetcy only underlined his personal problems.

Gender was another limitation. Officially Sir Joe's wife was just Lady Bloggs. But Ann Cheke deserved respect. Inheriting Pyrgo, north-west of Harold Hill, she married Sir Thomas Tipping, Bart. Locally known as Dame Ann Tipping, in 1724 she left £10 a year for a school in Havering village. Three centuries later, the Dame Tipping School still flourishes. (Its annual budget is larger nowadays.)

By the eighteenth century, baronetcies glamorised money made in business. A Rainham landowner, Sir Thomas Crosse, Bart., made his money as a brewer in Westminster. John Smith became chairman of the East India Company, a trading outfit that looted India. He lived at the Bower House at Havering, and died Sir John Smith-Burges, Bart. Havering's most prominent baronets were the Neaves of Dagnams. The baronetcy was created in 1795 for Richard Neave, former governor of the Bank of England. He also owned slaves in the Caribbean. Slave labour had paid to rebuild the Dagnams mansion in 1774. The family lived there until 1948, when the sixth baronet, Sir Arundell Neave, sold up to make way for Harold Hill. When the fourth baronet, also Sir Arundell, died in 1871, his son was just three years old. Before he'd even started school, the little boy became Sir Thomas Lewis Hughes Neave, Bart. – England's youngest baronet!

Only one local baronetcy was created for services to the community. In 1904, entrepreneur Herbert Raphael gave Romford its public park, named in his honour. In 1910-11, he built the Gidea Park garden suburb, off Heath Drive. His reward was to become Sir Herbert Raphael, Bart. in 1913. As he had no children, the baronetcy died with him in 1924.

Australian politician Charles Nicholson received a baronetcy in 1859, and decided to bring his title and his family to England. His son, an architect, inherited the handle. Sir Charles Nicholson, Bart., designed the Hornchurch's war memorial which stands outside St Andrew's church.

When Harold Wilson's 1964 Labour government refused to create new baronetcies, this strange institution seemed doomed. But Mrs Thatcher (as usual!) defied her critics and made her husband Denis a baronet in 1990. When he died in 2003, the title passed to their son, Sir Mark Thatcher, Bart. In the 21st century, some thought this bizarre. There are still around 1,300 baronets. I doubt if many live in Havering.


"No man is an island entire of itself." Those striking words written 400 years ago by John Donne (his surname rhymed with "fun") still resonate today. He was a reluctant clergyman, persuaded by James I. The King made him Dean of St Paul's Cathedral. But Donne preferred to write love poetry, part mystical, part fruity. In his 1624 Meditation, he insisted "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind." Donne's message is that we're all in this together. You can't wall off somebody else's life and ignore their problems.

It's a message we should apply to Orchard Village, the housing regeneration project that is replacing the failed tower blocks of Rainham's Mardyke Farm estate. It matters to everybody that Orchard Village is a success, not just the people who live there.

In the 16th century, wealthy London merchant, Sir Sebastian Harvey, lived in a fine mansion at Mardyke, listed in 1594 as one of the biggest houses in Essex. However, by 1630, his nephew Samuel had inherited the land, but lived at Aldborough Hatch in Ilford.  Why was the Mardyke mansion abandoned?

In 1591, the Thames broke through badly maintained river walls, and flooded the South Hornchurch marshes – the area we now call Rainham. Flood water spread almost to Mardyke. It took four years to reclaim the land. There was more flooding in 1613. Nearly 700 men were employed to repair the wall.  When the river walls gave way again in 1621, the Dutch engineer Vermuyden, who was draining the Fens, was brought in to tackle the problem. Until the 19th century, the Essex marshes were notorious for ague, a shivering fever like malaria, spread by mosquitoes. Repeated floods would have left ponds of stagnant water, where insects could breed. It made sense for Samuel Harvey to collect rents from his trembling tenants, but live safely on dry ground inland.

In 1630, Samuel Harvey married John Donne's daughter Constance. Harvey's father-in-law was a sick man. A 17th-century biographer blamed "vapours from the spleen". Modern experts think Donne had stomach cancer.  He moved to his daughter's Ilford home to escape the filth of London. But it was probably not cancer that killed him. The story of John Donne's final illness isn't very clear: medical science was so poor that it's often hard to make sense of health problems. But we know Donne "fell into a fever" that made him literally waste away.

The symptoms may have been a by-product of his rampant cancer. But it's also possible that one of England's greatest poets had caught the Essex marshland ague. That shouldn't have happened in healthful Ilford. Maybe he'd accompanied Samuel to collect Mardyke Farm rents. Perhaps Harvey's tenants sent over a wagon-load of farm produce, complete with disease-carrying mosquitoes.

"No man is an island entire of itself." Donne was right. You can't put impassable boundaries around people. Or places. Or diseases.  

John Donne died in 1631. He was obsessed by death. He had himself depicted corpse-like in a funeral sculpture, wearing a shroud. The monument survived the destruction of Old St Paul's in the 1666 Fire of London, and stands today in Sir Christopher Wren's noble cathedral. If you heard the church bell ringing mournfully for a funeral, said Donne, don't ask who has died. Just remember that we're all going the same way. "And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

The alarm bells have been ringing at Orchard Village. If the regeneration project fails – I hope it won't – it will cast a blight across a wider neighbourhood.

We'll never know if John Donne was killed by the malarial mosquitoes that once infested Orchard Village.  But his message remains clear. We don't live on isolated and impregnable islands. We're all in this world together.


Ralph Josselin was Vicar of Earls Colne, near Colchester, from 1641 until his death in 1683.

After studying at Cambridge, he became a young, unemployed clergyman. Josselin was a grim Puritan, but he was also in love and desperate to get married. His uncle, also Ralph Josselin, who farmed at Cranham, invited him to preach two sermons there in July 1640. The visit was a success. "My uncle and all the Towne [i.e. township] desired mee to live with them; and I seemed not much against it." Within a few months, he was curate at All Saints' church, and married. For a godly man, he drove a tough bargain: Cranham was to pay him £44 a year, a decent salary. He also "taughte schoole at Upminster" (we don't know where). Sad to say, this first reminiscence by a Havering teacher was negative: the job "was great trouble" and "no great advantage unto mee".

Although Cranham people were "loving", the parish had its downside. The young couple lodged with Uncle Ralph, and longed for the "conveniency" of their own home. Worse still, Josselin's health was bad. He was "continually subject to Rheumes" (head colds). Cranham was too near the unhealthy Essex marshes. Years later, he noted "a great mortality" among Cranham people, and was glad he'd left. In those days, able clergymen were head-hunted. Hornchurch offered him £80 a year, "without any trouble on my part". He would only have "to preach twice on the Lord's day without meddling with other dutyes".

Eventually he preferred an offer from Earls Colne, but he often returned to Cranham. Revisiting meant arduous travel on horseback. In 1644, "I was taken ill with a cold which sadly afflicted me for about 3 weekes". He came back again in the winter of 1647. "It snew," he wrote, using an antique past tense of "to snow", but he "came safe at night to Cranham, yet very weary and sore, my horse trotting hard." A later journey left him "very weary and sore, the wind blow [blew] hard in my face." Visiting in 1651, he was really sick, so cold that he could not feel his own pulse. "I was very empty, and full of winde and sicke ready to swoone". By contrast, in June 1653, "the heate was extreame" as he journeyed to Cranham and Ilford.

When he preached at Cranham in 1654, he found "but 5 men householders in the towne that were there in my time." The turnover of rural population was greater than we sometimes imagine.

In April 1659, a wealthy Earls Colne parishioner died visiting Buckinghamshire. As a mark of respect, Josselin accompanied the body home for burial. The cortege was forced by a "dismal tempest" to stop in Romford on a Saturday night. Funerals could not travel on Sundays. He spent the whole day in Romford. That must have been fun! In March 1660, Josselin travelled with friends to London by coach, a more comfortable excursion: "wee dined at Burntwood", the old name for Brentwood.

Josselin enjoyed news of his Cranham friends, but in 1646 Uncle Ralph told him an alarming story. England's Civil War, Charles the First against Parliament, was in full swing. Puritans were taking control of Essex parishes. In 1645, they'd booted out the official Rector of Cranham, and appointed their man Robert Watson. But there was soon "a sad fall". The daughter of a local farmer became pregnant. She was engaged to somebody else, but the Watson was the father. To general disapproval, the couple hastily married. Josselin thought "the act was foule especially from a minister". In 1651, there was another murky "scandall" about Watson, and the prodigal clergyman left Cranham soon afterwards.

Ralph Josselin was never a very happy man, but he gave us fascinating glimpses of our area long ago.


If Sir Gabriel Poyntz hadn't made such complicated rules in 1605, North Ockendon Hall might not have been wrecked by soldiers in 1648. Sir Gabriel divided his property between his daughter Katherine and his son Thomas. In 1595, Katherine had married James Morris, an Ongar landowner. Sir Gabriel wanted North Ockendon Hall to pass to Katherine's male descendants, but by the 1640s, three Morris sons and a grandson had died.  The property passed to Thomas's daughter Audrey. She was married to Sir Adam Littleton, whose family were powerful lawyers. When Audrey died in 1648, her son William Littleton moved into the Hall. But another member of the Morris family claimed the property.

John Morris, a cousin, produced documents which claimed to prove that Sir Gabriel had actually sold his property to Katherine and James Morris when they had married in 1595. Therefore, John Morris insisted, James had owned North Ockendon Hall outright. As his uncle's heir, John insisted he'd inherited the property.

There was only one problem with the claim – all the documents James produced were bare-faced forgeries. (The forger was called Isabel Smith – an unusual occupation for a woman.) In 1647, the House of Lords rejected his case outright. How could Sir Gabriel have handed over North Ockendon Hall in 1595, when he was still deciding who would inherit it ten years later? James Morris claimed the alleged 1595 sale had been ratified by an act of parliament passed in 1601. After searching the records, officials reported that no such act existed.  The forged documents listed property that Sir Gabriel only acquired later, and some that he never owned at all. The Littletons denounced the forgeries as "the boldest and grossest that were ever set on foot or excogitated in any Age".

James Morris was heavily fined, but retaliated by accusing his opponents of corruption. Although England's Civil War had ended in 1646, the country remained unstable. Parliament couldn't afford to pay off its Army. Refusing to go home without their wages, the soldiers became a radical force in politics. In 1648, now fearing the military more than the monarchy, moderate Roundheads tried to strike a deal with the defeated Charles I. On December 6th 1648, a radical Army officer, Colonel Pride, seized control of Westminster, and barred moderate MPs from taking their seats. After "Pride's Purge", what was left of the House of Commons was rudely called the "Rump" – the sitting part. During December, the extremists decided to put the King on trial, aiming to execute "Charles Stuart That Man of Blood" for causing the Civil War.

England was now on the verge of anarchy. John Morris saw his chance. In the paranoid atmosphere, he easily persuaded discontented soldiers quartered at Barking that he'd been wronged, and deserved their support. At 3 a.m. on December 31st 1648, firing pistols and brandishing swords, twenty troopers took violent possession of North Ockendon Hall. William Littleton promptly appealed to the local Roundhead boss, magistrate Carew Harvey Mildmay.

Presumably assembling his own force, Mildmay hurried the nine miles from his Collier Row home. That same day, he arrested ten soldiers still occupying the Hall.  John Morris had some local support. One of the intruders was a North Ockendon farm labourer, John Wilmore.

In July 1649, Wilmore was tried on token charges, including the theft of a hat worth seven shillings (35p) and "twoe pistolls". The soldiers were probably released.

John Morris did have a genuine claim to inherit his uncle's Ongar estate. Unfortunately, the House of Lords had banned him from ever giving evidence again in any court case. When two relatives challenged him, he could not fight back – and so he lost Ongar too.

Charles I was executed on January 30th 1649. North Ockendon Hall survived almost 300 years. In January 1944, it was wrecked once again, this time by Nazi bombs. It had to be demolished.


Shortly after midnight on 2 September 1666, fire broke out in a bakery near London Bridge. Fanned by an east wind, the Great Fire of London raged for five days, destroying St Paul's cathedral, 87 churches, most of the City's public buildings and 13,000 homes. Refugees fled to nearby towns like Romford with cartloads of possessions snatched from the flames.

England was fighting the Dutch. The war had been going well: in 1665, their American colony, New Amsterdam, had been captured and renamed New York.  But the French king Louis XIV had just allied with the Dutch. The Great Fire looked like a double whammy.

In 1605, Guy Fawkes had led a Catholic conspiracy to blow up James I and Parliament. Some Catholics in Ilford had been heard predicting hot weather (not unusual in September). Suspicious! Paranoid Londoners suspected the French or the Catholics had started the Great Fire. A Frenchman, Robert Hubert was a skilled watchmaker in his mid-twenties who'd worked in London before. In September 1666 he was returning to France after visiting Sweden when his ship was diverted into the Thames. A foreigner and an oddball who attracted attention, Hubert arrived in Romford on 11 September. He announced he was heading for the coast to find a ship home – and boasted that he'd started the Great Fire.

Thrown into Havering's gaol (located at the west end of Romford Market), Hubert was examined by local magistrate Carew (pronounced Cary) Harvey Mildmay, who lived at a mansion called Marks in Whalebone Lane North, Collier Row. Aged about 70, Mildmay had fought for Parliament in the Civil War, but had switched to Charles II when the monarchy was restored in 1660. He played safe, and sent the strange Frenchman under arrest to London.

Robert Hubert was obviously a troubled person, seeking attention by confessing to a crime he couldn't have committed. His story kept changing. He described the place where the Great Fire had broken out – no surprise as everybody was talking about it – but he claimed to have thrown a firebomb through a window that didn't exist. Later, it emerged that his ship had reached the Thames two days after the Fire had started. But Hubert was a convenient scapegoat. Thomas Farriner insisted on his guilt – for Farriner owned the Pudding Lane bakery that the Frenchman claimed to have firebombed. If the Great Fire wasn't caused by arson, then people might blame the careless baker.

Londoners had been looking for a French Catholic terrorist. The problem was that Hubert was a Protestant, a member of France's Huguenot minority. (That probably explains his visit to Protestant Sweden.) Put on trial in October, Hubert pleaded not guilty, but his "confession" was used as evidence against him. In fact, it had become vital for Londoners to hang him. The law said that if a rented building was destroyed by fire, the tenant, not the landlord, was responsible for rebuilding. Our modern insurance industry is largely a by-product of the Great Fire. In 1666, contracts required tenants to keep paying rent and make good the damage – but many of them had lost everything in the flames, and nobody had fire insurance. But there was a loophole. Tenants would be off the hook if the Fire was caused by enemy action. That meant curtains for Robert Hubert, the mostconvenienrly available "enemy". On 27 October, he was publicly hanged at Tyburn, near today's Marble Arch. When his corpse was lowered the gallows, a vengeful crowd tore it to pieces. On 5 November, the government announced that the French had caused the disaster, and landlords must pay to rebuild London.

It's a problem for police today that disturbed individuals confess to terrible crimes.  Sensible people in 1666 knew Hubert was innocent: the historian Lord Clarendon called him "a poor distracted wretch, weary of his life".  By talking wildly in Romford, he made himself a convenient sacrifice to public anger.


The accounts recorded every penny spent on the two young gentlemen's study tour of France, right down to the very last leg, the stagecoach home to Hornchurch. Dacre and Richard Barrett were the teenage sons of the owner of the Aveley mansion Belhus. In May 1670, they left for a 19-month immersion in French culture, escorted by their German tutor Henry von Bobbart.

On reaching Paris, they hired a "lacquay" – a lackey or manservant. He was given a smart uniform, complete with "ribbands". Later, a cart ran over his foot, and his broken bones required surgery. The young men ordered ornate outfits from Parisian tailors, such as "Twoe silk suits with pantaloons", and 22 pairs of gloves.  France imported furs from its colony, Canada. The brothers each purchased a "bever", a tall hat made from beaver pelts. These were stiffened with mercury, a chemical whose fumes caused brain damage – which probably explains our phrase, "mad as a hatter".

The French monarch, Louis XIV, was Europe's grandest potentate. The youngsters toured "the King's houses about Paris", visiting the Louvre and Fontainebleau. (Louis only moved into his grandest palace, Versailles, in 1682.) At the Palais de Luxembourg (where the upper house of the French parliament meets today), Richard Barrett's sword was stolen. Later, after relocating to Orléans, in the Loire valley, they made an excursion to the magnificent Château de Chambord, where the French Court was in residence. There they probably saw the "Sun King" in all his majesty. To use the Château as a summer hunting lodge, Louis XIV built stables for 1200 horses. Not surprisingly, Chambord eventually became too expensive even for Europe's richest ruler.

It wasn't just a sight-seeing holiday. Dacre and Richard were in France to become cultured gentlemen. They studied the language (although not for long) and employed a "Dancing master for ten months & a half". Musicians taught them to play the lute, "the guitarre" and the "castaniettes". They gave up fencing lessons after just two months: the equipment was expensive, and maybe the pastime was too dangerous. A great deal was spent on a "tennis master", who coached them in "tossing of balles &c." This was Real (i.e. Royal) Tennis, an indoor game like squash. Lawn tennis was only invented in 1873.

Sometimes they misunderstood French customs. "We were invited to a Christmass supper, but payed for it." An educational visit took them to see criminals broken on a wheel. France executed its felons by tying them on their backs around the rim of a huge cartwheel. The executioner then smashed their bones with a sledgehammer, starting by breaking the legs, which caused agonising but non-fatal injuries. It could take hours, even days, for criminals to die. Eventually, the executioner would take pity and aim a massive whack at the victim's chest, triggering a fatal heart attack. This was called "the blow of mercy". We still use that French term, "coup de grâce", although in a rather more general sense. Dacre and Richard paid to watch three criminals killed in this way. As a bonus, a fourth offender was "shot to death". The French revolutionaries replaced the punishment in 1791 with the quicker guillotine.

In December 1671, Von Bobbart and the young Barretts headed slowly back towards "Cales" (the English pronunciation of Calais). The brothers made a short side trip on their own to Dunkirk, their first time off their tutor's leash. Loaded with luggage, the three reached London just after Christmas. On 30 December, they caught a stagecoach at Whitechapel, "and soe to Hornchurch", where the Belhus coachman probably met them. I imagine Dacre and Richard jolting along Hornchurch High Street, their heads full of elegant palaces and screaming criminals. When they caught sight of the spire of St Andrew's church, they'd have known they were almost home.


In 1348, bubonic plague (the "Black Death") arrived in Britain. We don't know much about its impact locally, but a Havering document of 1351 mentioned "the immense mortality of the present time arising from the plague". Professor Marjorie K. McIntosh of the University of Boulder, Colorado, the expert on medieval Havering, estimated that the Black Death killed 800 to 900 people – one third of the population –in Romford and Hornchurch. Until 1410, St Andrew's churchyard in Hornchurch was the only cemetery for both places. Probably there were mass burials in pits. Plague often returned. The manor of Havering suffered badly in 1361. By 1369, houses and farms were without tenants.

Outbreaks in Romford were caused by travellers from London, where epidemics were devastating. When the diarist Samuel Pepys visited during the Great Plague of 1665, he found Havering people "afeard of those of us that come to them". Around eighty Romford people had died of plague in 1571 – terrifying in a town whose population was probably less than 1,000.

There's a glimpse of a community in fear in 1603, another bad year. Innkeeper William Rame received an urgent message to visit Thomas Kempe, who was "lying sick of the plague in his house in the town of Romford". Since Kempe's home was quarantined, Rame stood in the street outside and called to ask what he wanted. Bubonic plague covered the body with stinking pustules. A pane of glass had been cut from a bedroom window for ventilation. Shouting through the gap, Kempe asked Rame, a literate businessman, to make his Will. While other locals looked on, the dying man listed his wishes. Returning later with the document, Rame stood "as near to the house as he durst" and read it aloud. From his "chamber", Kempe approved the contents. Bystanders witnessed that it was a valid Will. Actually signing it would have risked spreading infection

Both Romford and Hornchurch were ravaged by plague in 1625. The last big epidemic came in 1665. That year, Pepys met an interesting clergyman at Dagnams, the Harold Hill mansion. He returned two weeks later to find that his new friend was dead. In 1666, Romford established a primitive isolation hospital, called the Pest House. It stood near Prospect Place in Collier Row Lane. During the eighteenth century, it was used to confine people with smallpox.

A much-feared disease, smallpox was also bad for trade. In 1764, an advert appeared in an Ipswich newspaper denouncing "evil-minded people" who spread rumours that "the Small-Pox still rages in the Town of Romford to the great Detriment of the inhabitants there". Romford insisted it was clear of disease and open for business. Smallpox was eradicated by inoculation. Upminster had spent a lot of money on "nessares" (necessaries) for a smallpox patient in 1766, including wages for a woman who "nust" (nursed) him. Twenty years later, Upminster paid a doctor to vaccinate its poor people.

In 1831, a new threat appeared – cholera. A meeting of Hornchurch residents decided to use lime and whitewash to disinfect the village poor house, which stood at the corner of Billet Lane – on the site of Sainsbury's. Ditches and privies from Harold Wood to the Thames were to be cleaned out. Pubs were to close at 11 p.m. – but how this prevented cholera wasn't explained.

A local man was hired as a security guard, given a uniform and a big stick, and ordered to tour the parish, "to caution all beggars and vagrants and suspicious characters to leave the place". Driving potential health risks out of Hornchurch was a great way to spread infection. Upminster, especially Corbets Tey, suffered a cholera outbreak in 1854. The cases were all traced to "a cottage of the dirtiest description" at Hacton. Three people died.

With modern healthcare, we became relaxed about the danger of epidemics. That's why Covid-19 was such a shock.


Our dedicated NHS medical staff  provide professional service, but it's no fun being in hospital.

It was infinitely worse 200 years ago.

There were no medical facilities locally. Around 1200, a leper hospital opened at Brook Street, near Brentwood, on the corner of Spittal Lane. Probably just a wayside chapel, it closed in 1553. In 1588, residents of Havering Liberty secured royal permission to establish a hospital – probably, in our terms, a hospice – but nothing came of the project. During an outbreak of plague in 1666, Romford opened a "pest house" (isolation ward) in Collier Row Lane. It was used for over a century, but no medical care was provided.

Serious cases were sent to London. Each parish was responsible for its own poor people. Sending a pauper patient to hospital was complicated and expensive. In 1811, Upminster officials humbly petitioned St Bartholomew's Hospital (Barts) to admit Eleanor Hummerson because she was "afflicted with sickness and lameness". Hospitals didn't ask: is this patient sick enough to need a bed? They wanted to know: who will pay? Upminster promised to take Eleanor back when she left hospital, "and to bury her if she dies there."

Conditions were terrible. Nurses were untrained, often illiterate and usually forced to work 16-hour shifts. Everybody stank of tobacco, the only defence against the stench. There were no anaesthetics. Patients were tied down for surgery. Hardened medical students smoked and joked as they watched operations. If you think NHS food is dull, listen to Francis Freeman, a patient in the Middlesex Hospital in 1813. He apologised to Upminster officials for his "rud[e]ness in writen to you", but asked for money: "wee have so litel in the hospitel to live on". The Middlesex supplied meat three times a week, with broth and gruel on other days. The daily allowance of bread was inadequate, and "wee have no tee no sugar no buter no chis [cheese]". "Wee ar all most starved for wont I thank god I am geten beter".  I'd get "beter" too to escape from such conditions.

A shattered leg put Thomas Briggs in the London Hospital (now the Royal London) in 1806. He begged Rainham officials for "a triffel of Money to pay for my washing and to Gett me Some Little nourishment". Hospitals rarely changed bedsheets: you paid for your own laundry. Thomas also thought he was "a Getting a Littell Better", but he was still in hospital two months later. "I have no Prospect of coming out soon I expected my leg comeing off a Fortnights ago but, Sir Wm Blizards alterd his mind and would not take it off." Sir William Blizard was a prominent surgeon who treated his patients as human beings, actually bothering to visit them on ward rounds. Unfortunately, he refused to retire. By the time he performed his last amputation, at the age of 84, he was nicknamed Sir Billy Fretful. Medical students jeered in his operating theatre.   We don’t know if Francis and Eleanor returned to Upminster, or Thomas had his leg removed.

Romford's Victoria Cottage Hospital opened in 1888, celebrating the Queen's Golden Jubilee. It's now Pettits Lane's medical centre. Oldchurch Hospital was added to Romford's workhouse in 1893, based on an earlier infirmary.  Rush Green Hospital was built in 1900. West Ham Council started a convalescent home at Harold Wood in 1909. It became a major hospital, but is now the Kings Park housing development. St George's in Hornchurch cared for elderly patients from 1939 to 2012. It was sold for housing in 2018. Now apartments, the Shepherds Hill mansion Harold Court was a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients from 1919 to 1958.

In 2006, the Queen's Hospital brought centralised modern healthcare facilities to Havering.

We rightly demand high standards of medical care. But at least there's been progress over 200 years.


Stephen Bunce was born about 1680. A natural scammer, Bunce's cunning aroused admiration – and amusement. Like the highwayman thug Dick Turpin, he became something of an anti-hero.  One hot summer day he hid alongside the main road to Romford, probably somewhere around Gidea Park or Harold Wood, waiting for a victim.  On the lonely highway, he spotted a well-dressed man, obviously wealthy, astride a handsome horse – an obvious target. The rider was probably Abraham Bartlett, a cordwainer (shoemaker) of Maldon. A very wealthy businessman and property owner, Bartlett would have stopped in Romford to rest his horse when travelling to London.

Bunce rarely used violence. He stretched out across the road, pressing his ear to the ground.

Bartlett was not pleased by the obstruction. "What the plague are you listening to?", he demanded. Bunce gestured to him to be quiet, before sitting up and answering in wondering tones. He'd often heard people talk about fairies, he explained, but he'd never thought he'd encounter them himself. But now, on this main road near Romford, he was listening to their underground orchestra. "In this very place, I hear such a ravishing and melodious harmony of all kinds of music, that it is enough to charm me to sit here, if possible, for all eternity."

Abraham Bartlett was a rough man, but even he was tempted. Dismounting, he ordered Bunce to hold the reins of his horse, knelt down and placed his ear on the ground. "I can hear nothing," he complained. Bunce gently suggested he was using the wrong ear. Bartlett turned over, now facing in the opposite direction. That gave Bunce the opportunity to leap on to the steed and gallop away.

However, as he approached Romford, Bunce knew he had a problem. Horse thieves were hanged. Bartlett's mount had distinctive markings which made it easily identifiable, and so it would be too risky to try to sell the animal. How else could be turn his trick to a profit?

Bunce guessed that Bartlett was a regular traveller who probably called to a favourite Romford inn – and that the horse knew its way there. When he reached the Market place, he jumped down, patted the animal to continue walking, and followed close behind. The horse turned into an inn yard – you can still see a Romford inn yard at the Golden Lion. Its reins were grabbed by an ostler, who called out "Here's Mr Bartlett's horse". The landlord promptly appeared, alarmed that an important customer had perhaps suffered an accident.

Bunce had played a classic scammer's trick: he could now use his victim's name. Brazenly, he told the innkeeper that Mr Bartlett was playing cards at Ingatestone, and had lost money gambling. Urgently needing to borrow fifteen guineas to settle his debts, he'd sent Bunce to offer his horse to the friendly innkeeper as a security for a loan. A guinea was 21 shillings, fifteen guineas was £15.75p – but worth about £1600 in modern money values.

Of course, said the landlord. Indeed, he'd hand over 100 guineas if the excellent Mr Bartlett needed the money. Bunce pocketed the cash and was well away by the time Bartlett trudged to the inn, hours later, covered with dust and perspiration. The landlord was full of concern. He'd been delighted to help. There'd been no need for Mr Bartlett to pledge his horse.  He shouldn't have walked so far to settle this trifling debt on such a sultry day.

Bartlett of course was angry being swindled, but even he saw the funny side of the trick. Decently, he made good the landlord's loss. "The rogue has made me pay fifteen guineas for hearing one tune of the fairies!", he exclaimed. To make matters worse, Abraham Bartlett hadn't heard a single note.

Bunce's luck eventually ran out. He was publicly hanged at Tyburn, site of London's Marble Arch, in 1707. He was 27.


It's a fundamental principle of English law that trustees cannot benefit from the affairs of the person they're looking after. If you're acting on behalf of a child, or somebody who's sick, you must bend over backwards to avoid taking a rake-off. This was the judges' message in the case of Keech v. Sandford in 1726 – also known as the Romford Market Case.

The Crown owned the tolls paid by people using Romford Market, but the government leased the fiddly job of chasing the small sums involved, usually to some businessman who then sub-contracted the actual collection work locally. Around 1700, the Crown leased the tolls to Mark Frost, a brewer from Bow. He sub-leased their collection to a Romford resident, Mr Keech.

Sadly, Mr Keech died, and the agreement was inherited by his infant son Charles. The boy's guardian, William Sandford, continued to collect the cash in his role as trustee.

When the sub-lease ran out, Sandford very properly asked Frost to renew it on behalf of young Charles Keech. But the Bow brewer refused, saying he wasn't happy about dealing with a minor. As Sandford had been doing the work, why didn't he take over the sub-lease himself?

William Sandford began life in Ingatestone working as a woolcomber, cleaning wool for sale to textile manufacturers. By 1714, he'd moved to Romford and become a wool dealer. He also dabbled in property. Sandford rented Risebridge Farm from New College, Oxford. (Now a golf course, it gives its name to Romford's Rise Park.) Risebridge Farm was a plum investment. In addition to rents and taxes, all farmers also had to pay tithes, one tenth of their produce, to the Church. Havering tithes went to New College. Risebridge Farm collected their tithes across northern Havering, and of course its tenant made a profit from the operation.

Since Sandford was geared up to collect tithes (usually commuted into cash payments), it made sense also to take over the sub-lease of the market tolls – a job he was already doing. Frost had refused to deal with Charles Keech, so the youngster was out of the picture anyway, and Sandford didn't think he was doing anything wrong.

By 1724, William Sandford was calling himself "gentleman". But Keech, now grown up and married, didn't think his trustee's conduct was gentlemanly. It was probably his wife Susan who pushed him to take legal action. They put a bomb under English law. The case arose soon after the South Sea Bubble scandal of 1720. Thousands of naive investors had put money into the South Sea Company, a Ponzi scheme that promised to make them rich overnight. Life savings were lost. An angry public demanded higher business standards.

Keech v. Sandford gave the judges their chance. The court accepted that Sandford had intended no dishonesty. All the same, he'd been wrong to take over the sub-lease. "This may seem hard, that the trustee is the only person of all mankind who might not have the lease," one judge commented.  But without an absolute rule, trustees would find reasons to divert property to their own use, and orphans would be cheated of their inheritance. The profits of Sandford's lease had to be handed over. Unfortunately, the windfall didn't do Keech much good. He became a "chapman", a general trader. I suspect he was something of a Del Boy. In 1734, a news magazine announced the bankruptcy of "Charles Keech of Rumpford, Essex". The rude spelling was a sarcastic allusion to the reputation of Havering's chief town for its illicit sex industry.

Three centuries later, the principle of Keech v. Sandford holds true in every country whose legal system derives from Britain. In 1995, it was cited before the High Court of Australia. In 2019 it was mentioned in a pensions case before the US Supreme Court. Keech v Sandford is Romford's contribution to fair play across the English-speaking world.


In 1992, astronomers detected the existence of planets revolving around distant stars. It was the first evidence of other solar systems beyond our own. I say "detected" because these exoplanets are too far away to be seen. Ancient exploded stars called pulsars emit steady beeps. Any distortion of the call sign may indicate an orbiting body. Some stars wobble slightly, revealing the gravitational pull of invisible exoplanets. Faint interruptions to starlight, mini-eclipses, are also evidence of the transit of some orbiting body. By August 2020, over 4,300 exoplanets had been identified. Thousands more awaited confirmation. Since only tiny corners of the nearby sky had been searched, it's likely that trillions of exoplanets exist out there. Most seem ghastly orbs of frozen rock or molten gas, but the law of averages suggests that some must resemble our Earth.

Although the discovery of exoplanets was an exciting breakthrough, it wouldn't have caused any surprise in Upminster 300 years ago. The Reverend William Derham, rector from 1689 to 1735, was a pioneer scientist. A Fellow of the Royal Society, still Britain's premier scientific body, he attended lectures in London but insisted on riding home afterwards to spend the night in his parish. Derham lived at High House, a seventeenth-century mansion which stood opposite St Laurence's church, behind today's Corbets Tey Road shops. The footpath across the graveyard along which he walked to work is still there, its gate between the War Memorial and Upminster Park.

Keen on astonomy, Derham made observations from the church tower. He also borrowed a giant telescope, 124 feet long, which he had to wedge in tall trees until he could find a 40-foot- long pole to support it. In 1715, William Derham published Astro-Theology, a tome designed to reconcile science and religion. Pulling together suggestions by earlier thinkers and writing for a popular audience, he unveiled a new view of the universe.

Broadly, there were two astronomical theories. The first, proposed by the ancient Egyptian Ptolemy, put our Earth at the centre of the universe, with the Sun and the Moon revolving around it. That seemed obvious – after all, the Sun rose every day in the east and set in the west. But in 1543, the Polish scientist Copernicus argued that the Sun was really the focus of the solar system, and the Earth orbited around it. Church disapproval of this downgrading of our world made astronomy a dangerous business. Galileo had to apologise for supporting Copernicus, Bruno was burned at the stake. But by Derham's time, the Copernican theory was generally accepted.

However, because both Ptolemy and Copernicus saw our solar system as the centre of the cosmos, neither could really explain the stars. They vaguely assumed that stars were cosmic street lamps, designed to provide a helpful glimmer at night.  Dismissing this unimpressive idea, Derham boldly proposed a third overarching theory. Borrowing a French spelling, he called it his "New Systeme". Stars were not just strobe-lights in a celestial ceiling. "The New Systeme supposeth there are many other Systemes of Stars and Planets, besides that in which we have our residence. Every Fixt Star is a Sun, and encompassed with a Systeme of Planets." Our solar system was just one among many. Deep in space, thousands of Suns – so distant that we see them just as twinkling points of light – must be orbited by millions more planets.

When asked, "what is the use of so many Planets as we see about the Sun, and so many as are imagined to be about the Fixt Stars?", Derham boldly replied: "they are Worlds, or places of Habitation." Peering into the Upminster sky, William Derham reformulated our conception of the universe, liberating human imagination to soar beyond the confines of the Copernican solar system. Three centuries later, he was proved right about exoplanets. He was probably wrong in assuming that they're all inhabited – but we'll never know.


Nowadays, scientists specialise in minute research. But, 300 years ago, they were interested in anything and everything, designing their experiments as they went along.

The Reverend William Derham, rector of Upminster from 1689 to 1735, was a friend of Sir Isaac Newton, who discovered gravity, and Dr Halley, the expert on comets.  He played with clocks, barometers and magnets, and investigated strange phenomena. A Hornchurch woman gave birth to a baby that had reportedly cried while still in the womb, Derham rode across the Ingrebourne to inspect mother and child. Both were doing well, but whether the story was true he couldn't tell. Upminster's parish church was infested with destructive death-watch beetle. Derham put one in a box to study its habits. Surprise – it ate its way out!

His most celebrated project, between 1705 and 1707, was an attempt to measure the speed of sound. Two great pioneer scientists, Newton and Robert Boyle of Boyle's Law, had failed to crack the problem. From the tower of St Laurence's church, Derham could see prominent buildings, such as his friend Mr Barrett's mansion, Belhus, at Aveley, and the windmill that stood on Shepherd's Hill to the north.

He persuaded his neighbours to fire guns at set times from local landmarks. For instance, on 3 February 1705, he sent his servant to Belhus with a request to have guns fired at 6 o'clock that evening, the first towards Upminster, the second up in the air, the third "fromwards" (backwards). There was no standard time in 1705, so the servant showed Mr Barrett the rector's pocket watch "by which you may see when I account it 6 at Upminster."

Perched in his church tower, Derham used a telescope to detect the flash when the gun was fired. He was also equipped with a clock that ticked in half-seconds, operated by a lever, which he could push the moment he spotted the flash without looking at it. When the rumble of gunfire reached him, he pressed the lever again for a timing. Because sound takes only about five seconds to travel a mile, the half-second clock was vital. Unfortunately, Derham was so excited when he spotted the first gun from Aveley that he jogged the clock and lost his calculation. Mr Barrett obligingly repeated the experiment a few days later. The rector lit a bonfire to show he'd received the signal.

The experiment was so important that Derham published the results in Latin, still Europe's international scientific language: North Ockendon and South Weald appear as Ockendon Borealis and Weald Australis. Results included four and a half seconds from St Andrew's at Hornchurch, eleven seconds from Shepherd's Hill windmill and 17 seconds from Rainham church. The furthest guns observed by Derham were fired by the Army at Blackheath, twelve and a half miles away.

Distances were measured by triangulation. Draw a baseline 100 feet long at Upminster, and measure the angles at both ends of the lines leading to the spire of St Andrew's. Then draw a much smaller triangle with the same angles, but a twelve-inch baseline, and measure at right angles to the apex. Multiply by 100, and you have the precise distance from Upminster to Hornchurch.

Since light travels at 186,000 miles a second, the 3.6 miles covered by a flash arriving from Rainham could be ignored. Combining all his results, Derham calculated the speed of sound at 768 mph. When jet planes were developed in the 1940s, Derham's experiments acquired practical importance. Aircraft breaking the sound barrier created sonic booms, which could smash windows: calculating the exact speed of sound was not just a theoretical exercise. Physicists were impressed by Derham's work. His results were slightly amended: with normal air pressure at 15 degrees Celsius, the speed of sound is 760 mph. Derham was out by just 8 mph. Not bad for 1705!


In June 2020, Britain marked two whole months without any electricity generated from coal.

Medieval people heated their homes by burning wood. Northern Havering was forest country. Firewood was sold to London: in 1451 a consignment was stolen from a wharf by the Thames.

Charcoal burners, called "colliers", worked at Collier Row.

By the 15th century, firewood was being replaced by coal, shipped down the east coast from Newcastle. But before you could burn coal, you needed a chimney. In medieval houses, the fireplace was at the centre of the room. Pleasant smelling wood smoke filtered out through thatched roofs. Dirty, sparky coal needed a fireplace. In 1469, a Romford man asked a friend to find him a skilled bricklayer (they were Dutch) to build him a chimney. It's one of our first documents in English.

Maldon had a "Towne Coleheape" by 1598. At Colchester in 1627, coal from Newcastle was taxed to pay for protection against pirates based in Dunkirk. The use of coal spread inland. In 1724, the garden behind a blacksmith's premises in Romford town was piled high with it. Maybe the smith doubled as a coal dealer. In 1714, the lease of Lee Gardens, a mansion in Wingletye Lane Hornchurch, included provision of "sea coales" to be supplied from Barking.

In the 1720s, entrepreneur John Harle built a wharf on the Ingrebourne at Rainham, where he unloaded "Newcastle, Sunderland, & Scotch coal". In 1766, obstacles were cleared from the River Roding, so that coal unloaded at Barking could be brought upstream to a "convenient Wharf" at "Illford Bridge".  The aim was to supply Newcastle coal to a wide area "as cheap as at Raynham, Barking, or Stratford".

By 1810, the Wedlake brothers operated a foundry at Hornchurch. Upminster windmill, built around 1803, is a local symbol of renewable energy, but, by 1818, it had an auxiliary steam engine, for days when the wind did not blow. Romford's first gasworks opened in 1825.

Each of these enterprises depended on bulky loads of coal supplied by wagon. Local highways were better than we sometimes believe. In 1805, agricultural expert Arthur Young commented that while gentry and tradesmen had long used coal, Essex farmers had chiefly burned timber – no doubt from their hedgerows – "but coal is everywhere gaining ground upon wood". By the nineteenth century, even the poor depended upon coal. In Romford, inhabitants of Roger Reede's almshouses were allocated coal by 1837. Special supplies were arranged for poor people in Hornchurch during the cold winter of 1860.

The arrival of the railway in Romford in 1839 probably made little difference to supplies at first. There was no through rail network to the coalfields, so trains could only deliver coal brought by boat to Stratford and Ilford. Anyway, early Puffing Billy engines weren't powerful enough to haul huge goods trains.

In 1848, Romford had three coal dealers. Two were in the traditional business hub of the High Street, and were almost certainly supplied by wagon. The third, in Waterloo Road, probably relied on the railway.  By 1886, Romford had three coal suppliers in South Street, near the station. One of them was the Silkstone Colliery Company, a Yorkshire coalmine supplying customers direct. A fourth coal business operated in Carlisle Road, serving the growing population south of Victoria Road. Delivering coal was a grimy, beefy activity. Mrs Catherine Earps, coal and coke merchant at Rainham, was probably a widow carrying on her husband's business. Breaking into the local trade was J.A. Abraham of Upminster Windmill, who had arranged supplies from "the leading English and Welsh Collieries". Upminster's railway station had opened the previous year.

By the 1950s, most Havering homes had a coal bunker in the back garden. But the Great Smog of December 1952, when London was blanketed in filthy, choking fog, led to Clean Air Acts and the general phasing-out of fires. Havering's 500-year affair with coal came to an end.


In 17th century England, when few people could read, businesses used pictorial signs to identify themselves. The tradition continued with public houses. Sadly, none survive locally, although there are some modern replacements.

The Thatcher's Arms at Warley Street showed the craftsman with his labourer. One side read, "Says the thatcher to his man Tom what does thou think, Can we raise the ladder. Yes Master first let us drink." The story continued on the reverse, "Says Tom to his Master the Ladder's raised high I must have some Ale I'm always a-dry." A miserable brewery scrapped the sign a century ago.

Local pub names remind us that Havering was agricultural country. Some probably used redundant farm implements as symbols – like the Harrow in Hornchurch, the Plough at Gallows Corner (now replaced by a McDonald's) and the Drill in Gidea Park. Nowadays The Drill has a sign showing a Guardsman barking at squaddies.

North Essex flourished on the wool trade, but it was less important in our area. Romford's Woolpack became a nightclub in the 1980s: the boarded-up building stands at the corner of Angel Way. Brook Street near Brentwood still has a Golden Fleece. The Ship is a popular pub sign (ours is in Gidea Park). Maybe it's a mistake. There's a theory that "sheep" and "ship" were both pronounced "shep" in the Essex dialect. Perhaps the Ship was bleating, not sailing.

Heraldic symbols made convenient signs. These include Romford's Golden Lion (probably the Red Lion mentioned in 1553), and at least five White Harts, all now closed – in Romford, Hornchurch, Hacton, Hare Street (Gidea Park) and Collier Row, remembered in White Hart Lane. Some symbols were over-used. Two pubs called the Crown, in London Road Romford and near Roneo Corner, are barely a mile apart.

The smartest heraldic sign was the King's Arms. There was one in Romford Market, ironically a dosshouse so awful that it lost its licence in 1889. Pubs gradually adopted the names of local landowners, such as the Headley Arms at Great Warley (now a restaurant). The Tower Arms at South Weald (recently closed) was originally the Spread Eagle: two stone raptors decorate the gate pillars. It was renamed in the nineteenth century after Squire Tower. John Laurie tried to develop Romford in the 1840s: the Laurie Arms in Waterloo Road lasted until demolition in 1972. But the "Arms" pubs became a bit silly. Romford had a Drover's Arms and even a Romford Arms. Hornchurch had a Foundry Arms. The Durham Arms in Brentwood Road and the Spencer Arms at Ardleigh Green (now the Ardleigh) are complete mysteries.

Another popular name was the King's Head, which some say refers to Charles I, who lost his. Romford's King's Head relocated from the Market to the Liberty Shopping Centre in 1971, but later closed. The Hornchurch King's Head became a restaurant in 2007.

Havering had two other "Head" pubs. Our Prussian allies saved the Duke of Wellington at the battle of Waterloo in 1815. By 1822, Romford had a Blucher's Head, in honour of their general. In 1915, with the Prussians now our enemies, it was renamed the Duke of Wellington. It lasted until 1967. The Squirrels Head was an echo of the days when Gidea Park was called Squirrels Heath. Later called just The Squirrels, it was replaced by housing in 2014.

Some pubs are named after mythical creatures, like the Unicorn in Gidea Park, which existed by 1658. The Phoenix at Rainham can be traced back to at least 1719: in 1740, the parish "ofsers" (officers) spent five shillings (25p) at "the fenix at Raynham". The phoenix was a legendary bird that rose from the ashes of a fire. The pub burned down in 1891, so the name seems appropriate.

It's said The Good Intent in South Hornchurch was started by a landlord who'd failed in other careers. This time he aimed to do better!


When a Rainham man died of dysentery in 1798, the parish register noted that he'd worked hard in the fields but "drank water imprudently". Water from wells, streams and ditches could be dangerous stuff.

The first mains supply reached Romford in 1863 but it was forty years before most of Hornchurch and Upminster could turn on a tap. Even in the 1920s, suburban development in Cranham was hampered by water supply problems. So everybody drank beer – processed, purified water. Even children were given a low-alcohol version, small beer. In the 16th century, most local pubs brewed their own. Although its population was under a thousand, Romford town had at least fourteen brewers around 1570. Farms and mansions also made beer. When Hare Hall, now Royal Liberty School, was built in 1768, the architect designed a brewhouse in one wing.

Gradually, one local producer became dominant. Edward Ind began brewing in High Street Romford in 1799. Major investment by the Coope brothers in 1845 created an industrial operation, linked to Romford station by its own sidings. Its last local rival was the Old Hornchurch Brewery, established in 1789 near St Andrew's church. In 1925, it was bought out by a chain, which asset-stripped its pubs and closed it down. At a celebration for Ind Coope employees in 1856, a "jovial drayman" recited this ditty:

"Ind and Coope's strong beer your hearts will cheer / And put you in good condition;

And the man that will but drink his fill / Has no need of a physician.

'Twill fill his veins, exalt his brains, / And drive out melancholy;

Thus a man with pence, and common sense, / May soon get fat and jolly."

In 1787, a Romford pub claimed to have sold 4,000 pints over nine days of Christmas. In 1848, when the area of modern Havering contained 12,000 people, there were eighty licensed premises – one pub for every 150 people (and half of those children).

Romford inns were selling wine by the 16th century, perhaps to upmarket travellers. Good vintages required specialist handling. "Matthew ffrancis, drawer of ye wine at ye Sun in Rumford" died in 1685. (There's a modern hostelry on the same London Road site.)

The 18th century saw an insane craze for bingeing on gin. The human havoc this caused was lampooned by the artist Hogarth. In 1764, Gabriel Cole, a Brentwood bricklayer, embarked on a boozing marathon, knocking back gin in eighth of a pint measures (about 60 millilitres a time). He consumed eleven (almost a pint and a half) in under an hour, "but attempting to drink a 12th expired." Another man died from excessive gin drinking at the Thurrock village of Stifford in 1767.

Coffee was slower to catch on. By 1835, Romford's White Hart Inn had a coffee lounge. A "gentleman" from Thurrock (I use the term loosely) horse-whipped another customer for allegedly insulting his sister. By 1886, there were two coffee houses in Romford High Street, and a third in Victoria Road. In Hornchurch, you could get a cup of coffee at Mrs Manning's bakery. Coffee drinking was a genteel pastime. However, Havering-atte-Bower had a Coffee and Reading Room, paid for by local gentry to keep villagers sober. With three pubs for fewer than 500 residents, this was a challenge.

Of course, our area was loyal to Britain's favourite, a cup of tea. Into the twentieth century, grocers mixed their own blends. John Drury's lively history of Upminster quotes the advert for Joseph Wenn's Broadway grocery shop.

"A cup of Wenn's Tea / Is acknowledged to be / A famous restorer in sadness.

It quickens life's flame / And enlivens the frame / And diffuses a spirit of gladness.

When acquaintances meet / By way of a treat / In fellowship social and hearty,

A cup of Wenn's tea / Increases the glee / And greatly enlivens the party."

Reading about Havering history can be thirsty work. Time to put the kettle on!


Readers of the London Chronicle on 29 October 1776 would have been shocked by a report from Gravesend. Newspapers hadn't yet developed sensational headlines, so the paragraph was buried away. But the "terrible affair at Tilbury Fort" was a big story. That very day, a cricket match between Essex and Kent had been abandoned in mayhem without a ball being bowled.

Trouble had begun when Kent tried to field a player who "should not have been there". The Essex team objected and "a very bloody battle ensued". When the Kentish men realised they were "likely to be worsted", things got out of hand.

Tilbury Fort was garrisoned by just a sergeant and four "invalids". They weren't soldiers on the sick list, but old warriors too creaky for active service who were still useful for guard duty.

The name was borrowed from France, where the mighty Louis XIV had built an elegant Parisian retirement home for old soldiers called Les Invalides. A Kent player ran into the guard-house, grabbed a gun and "fired and killed one of the opposite party". Both sides now tried to seize any weapon they could find. One old soldier was run through with a bayonet. Bravely trying to restore order, the sergeant was shot dead. Eventually the Essex players fled over the fort's drawbridge, and the Kent team "made off in their boats". Readers were assured that they would be hunted down.

The clash became a hoary legend in the history of Essex cricket. But, in the 1960s, historian Leslie Thompson took a doubting look at the evidence. Officially, the Essex County Cricket Club was founded a whole century later, in 1876. But in the eighteenth century, local teams often adopted county names. For instance, Hornchurch was a cricket stronghold from the 1780s. The village was a manufacturing centre, making farm equipment like ploughs. Its muscular foundrymen were fine cricketers. Hornchurch against Ingatestone was a game between two villages.  Hornchurch against Dartford became an inter-county clash.  Famously, in 1791, Hornchurch beat the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) at Lord's. In a return match on the cricket pitch at Langtons – now Havering's Register Office – the home team was renamed "Essex".

A row over an ineligible player was understandable. When two unequal teams met, the weaker side was often allowed to include a professional, like the bowler Thomas Lord, an ambitious businessman who operated MCC's cricket ground – Lord's. But this required agreement, because there was heavy betting on cricket matches. It would have been unfair to the punters for the Kent side to smuggle in a top-class player – just not cricket!

But – as Leslie Thompson argued – the rest of the story seems, frankly, dodgy. Near Cambridge, joke cricket matches were sometimes played on ice when the Fens froze in midwinter. But, then as now, the regular season ended around the end of September. You couldn't trust the weather after that. The match wasn't announced in advance – odd, if the teams wanted to encourage wagers. There's no evidence of a cricket ground at Tilbury Fort. Indeed, the surrounding area was still squelchy marshland, one huge sticky wicket.

Although newspapers from Chelmsford to Chester copied the report, there was no follow-up story. A gang of masked thugs might have got away with two murders, but surely somebody could have named a cricket team? In 1776, we were at war with our rebel colonies, who'd just cheekily renamed themselves the United States of America. The Army would have wanted their guns back. In short, the report was a spoof.

The legend sharpened rivalry between the two counties.  At Brentwood in 1934, Kent hammered weak Essex bowling to reach 803 for 4 – still one of the highest recorded first class scores. It's enough to make any red-blooded Essex supporter grab a musket. But the tale of two killed at Tilbury in 1776? Fake news!


The first detailed atlas of Essex, published in 1777 by John Chapman and Peter André, gives us a portrait of Havering almost 250 years ago – just as the USA was proclaiming its independence from George III. It's been put on online, free, by Southend web designer Tim Fransmen, at https://map-of-essex.uk/. Each page forms a "tile". You can zoom in to see where you live today.

Havering's main centres were surprisingly small. Our chief town, "Rumford", was just three streets, with hardly any building east or south of the Market. Hornchurch and Rainham were compact villages, Upminster a cluster of cottages. Railways had not been invented. There was still a gallows at Gallows Corner. The mapmakers had fun sketching it, complete with a dangling corpse. In fact, it hadn't been used for over a hundred years. Locals had their own jokes. Hunger Down Farm in Straight Road obviously wasn't fertile land.

Three types of open spaces dominated the local map. Along the Thames, the marshes were wild and squelchy. They stretched a long way inland, right up to today's Orchard Village. Broad commons dominated northern Havering. They were enclosed in 1814, a land grab to grow food in the war against Napoleon. Most of modern Collier Row was open space: Collier Row itself was a hamlet near Whalebone Lane North. There was a heath at Squirrels Heath (opposite Gidea Park Station) and Ardleigh Green Road was a long narrow green. Butts Green was a grass strip between North Street, Hornchurch, and Billet Lane. It's thought locals once practised archery here.

The private estates of Havering's big houses loomed large. Some partly survive as modern recreation areas: Bedfords Park, Dagnam Park, outdoor centres at Bretons and Stubbers. Raphael Park is a fragment of the Gidea Hall grounds.  Langtons Gardens provide a glimpse of country-house life in bygone Hornchurch. But the gentlemen's parks at Hackton Hill in Upminster and Nelmes in Emerson Park are long gone.

There was no Eastern Avenue or Southend Arterial Road, no Romford ring road or Rom Valley Way, and no A13 around Rainham. Yet the country lanes of 1777 remain the skeleton of Havering's road network. The nineteenth century added Victoria Road and its extension, Heath Park Road – but, otherwise, most of today's local bus routes could have operated on yesterday's highway system. Of course, the road surfaces would have been bumpy. The main London Road (now A118 / A12) was a toll road. You can see the turnpike, where travellers had to pay, marked in Romford Market. A gate stopped cattle straying from Collier Row Common. That's how the Bell and Gate pub got its name.

Some names seem strange. Gooshays, on Harold Hill was Gooses – close to its original meaning, goose-enclosure. Gubbings in Harold Wood (now King's Park) is remembered in Gubbins Lane.

Chase Cross was called Cheese Cross. It's sad that this delightful name was changed. The map is full of clues to the future. Elm Farm gave its name to Elm Park, Harrow Farm to Harrow Lodge. A Cherry Garden in South Hornchurch explains Cherry Tree Lane. Pains Farm, near Harold Hill, is now called Manor Farm, but the nearby stream is still Paines Brook. Moor Lane, Cranham, then called Back Lane, helps explain the strange name of its neighbour, Front Lane. It's almost unique – there's one other, near Swindon!

Upminster Windmill, the only one to survive in Havering, was not built until 1802. But in 1777, there were three windmills around Romford, one behind St Andrew's church in Hornchurch, and one on the breezy slopes of Shepherds Hill, near Harold Wood.

It's fun to roam further afield, diving back into days when Stratford and Ilford were tiny villages, and there was no bridge to Canvey Island. Another gallows, by the Thames at Dagenham, was a warning to pirates.

Note: Two Romford Recorder Heritage columns on old maps and photographs, written for the 2020 lockdown, are available in edited form on https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/321-lockdown-in-havering-exploring-old-maps-and-photographs-online.


Havering has few remaining mansions. Gidea Park's Hare Hall survived because it became the home of the Royal Liberty School in 1921. 2018 marks the 250th anniversary of its construction. (It was completed for occupation in 1769.)

Hare Hall replaced a farmhouse called Goodwins, perhaps named after Godwin of Doe, Keeper of Havering Park in 1217. The house was built by John Arnold Wallinger, a merchant who traded in Portland stone. Gentry looked down on "old Wallinger the stone mason". Hare Hall was his way of gatecrashin0g the elite. Most stately homes faced south, to catch the sun. Wallinger's mansion faced north, to be seen from the main highway. Of course, its frontage was built from white Portland stone.

James Paine, the architect, was building the much grander Thorndon Hall near Brentwood for Lord Petre at the same time. Employing an architect who worked for aristocrats was another coup for the social-climbing tradesman. I doubt if Paine took much trouble over Hare Hall. It resembles an earlier project, Belford Hall in Northumberland (now apartments).

It's also very small for a country house.  Paine's standard design was an oblong central box with two square wings. The squire's family lived in the three-storey main block. The smaller "pavilions" provided kitchens, a laundry, and servants' bedrooms. The high-ceiled first floor was the main block's living area, reached through a vestibule and an oval staircase, lit by a skylight two floors above. A butler's pantry, housekeeper's room and storage space were crowded into the ground floor. A high water table made it impossible to dig cellars. The attic-like second floor of the central block provided bedrooms, dressing rooms and two "closets". There was no indoor plumbing until 1897.

The layout was inconvenient. The kitchen was in the west pavilion, the dining room on the east side of the first floor. Food had to be carried through an open colonnade – cold in winter – and up a steep back staircase.  The main frontage was only 60 feet. It was the Portland stone, with its Roman columns and topknot pediment, that made the house seem imposing.

The first floor contained just four rooms – a drawing room (now a Conference Room), a small breakfast room (headteacher's office), and a dining room, with a small boudoir, rooms since combined to form the School Office. On the second floor were four bedrooms. Four beds, 4 receps – a des. res. no doubt, but hardly a stately home.

One owner, Benjamin Severn (1813-29), combined an extravagant lifestyle with cattle farming.

Robert Pemberton (1852-95) described himself in census returns as "farmer" or "yeomen".

The mansion became a giant farmhouse, and was very run down when he died.

Hare Hall had another problem. In 1753, the deeds had been destroyed in a fire in Fulham.

With the death in 1805 of the second owner, the wonderfully named John Wallinger Arnold Wallinger, it proved hard to sell the property, because potential buyers were deterred by the uncertain title. In 1811, his widow secured a special Act of Parliament to validate the Wallinger claim to Hare Hall. Even so, there were lengthy periods in the 19th century when buyers were scarce.

In 1897, Edward and Lucy Castellan purchased Hare Hall. He was a wealthy investor in bank shares. They spent much of their time travelling in Europe. The Castellans remodelled the house. They preferred to live on the ground floor, adding two handsome rooms at the back of the house (one later the school staff room), plus a pimple-like porch at the front.

The Army occupied Hare Hall from 1915. Enrolments quickly soared at the Royal Liberty School. In 1927 work began on a three-sided classroom extension at the rear. Hare Hall has experienced some bumpy history over 250 years. It's not just its anniversary that should be celebrated, but its survival.


It didn't really matter that the steps up to the guillotine were steep and narrow. The French Revolution used the efficient neck-slicing machine to eliminate its enemies.  Far more people struggled up those steps than ever walked down.

Marie Antoinette, the ex-Queen of France, was understandably nervous on 16 October 1793 as she was hustled to her death, in front of a vast crowd who hated her. In the confined space of the scaffold, she accidentally trod on the executioner's foot. "Forgive me, monsieur," she said, "I did not do that on purpose." They were her last words on Earth.

Imported as a fourteen year-old princess from Vienna to marry the future Louis XVI (who'd been beheaded nine months earlier), it was hardly surprising that Marie Antoinette was frivolous and extravagant, a symbol of the rottenness that the Revolution swept away.

When starving Parisians rioted demanding bread, her enemies claimed she joked, "Let them eat cake!". It was probably an invented tale but, unfortunately, Marie Antoinette's unpopularity made it all too easy to believe she was heartless and sarcastic.

Fast forward 105 years: in 1898, a party of tourists, from – of all places – Upper Norwood, were welcomed to Havering's next-door village, South Weald, by the vicar, Canon Duncan Fraser. Fraser was keen on history, and liked a good story. He conducted the visitors around Weald Hall, home of the local landowners, the Tower family. (It was demolished in 1950, and its site is now a car park in Weald Country Park.) The Upper Norwoodites enjoyed the stately home: "of peculiar interest was the guillotine said to have been used at the execution of Marie Antoinette". 

This report raises many questions. Why would anybody want such a grisly item in their home? Had it really chopped off the ex-Queen's head? (Madame Tussauds waxworks also displayed the blade claimed to have done the deed.) How did it get there? Captain Tower, younger brother of a previous squire, had escorted Napoleon to his exile on Elba in 1814. In gratitude for the Captain's courtesy, the fallen Emperor's sister, Queen Caroline of Naples, gave him a portrait of her brother, which was also on display at Weald Hall. However, Napoleon only burst on to the French scene (literally, turning his artillery on a royalist mob) two years after Marie Antoinette's execution, so there seems no connection there.

Sad to say, the ex-Queen was never a major figure in Havering life. There was a rare exception at Romford's carnival in 1913, when second prize in the under-15 fancy dress competition went to a girl in Marie Antoinette costume. Did she wear a long dress and carry a basket of cakes?

The marriage of Miss Dorina Neave in 1936 provided one last local echo of the tragic Queen. Miss Neave was the daughter of Colonel Sir Thomas Neave, Baronet, of Dagnam Park, the Harold Hill mansion whose park is still a local amenity. Dorina's wedding, to an Army officer, was a major Society event. Because the tiny church of St Thomas at Noak Hill was too small for all the fashionable invitees, the nuptials were shifted to St Peter's at South Weald. The bride wore a massive outfit – "white satin, cut on classical lines, with the train falling from the waist, and a tulle veil with orange blossom headdress outlined with pearls." There were pearl earrings too, but the most eye-catching jewellery item was a diamond-star brooch. The diamond, it was said, once belonged to Marie Antoinette. It seems likely. The Queen of France had been greedily fond of diamonds. Balancing a massive bouquet of white lilies, and so heavily loaded with satin and stones, it must have been a challenge for Dorina to walk up the aisle and pledge her troth at the altar. I hope she didn't tread on anybody's toes.


Benjamin Severn has long seemed a mystery owner of Hare Hall, the Gidea Park mansion that is now the Royal Liberty School. He bought the property in 1813 as part of a syndicate, his chief partner being a man called Frederick King. However, it was Severn who lived a squire's life at Hare Hall until he lost his home when the syndicate went bankrupt in 1829. The story has recently become clearer, but it's still strange.

Benjamin Severn and Frederick King ran a grocery business off London's Cheapside.

In 1794, they branched out and established a sugar refinery in Whitechapel. The business flourished, apparently enabling Severn and King to become sleeping partners, leaving others to run the enterprise. The sugar refinery purchased Hare Hall, allowing Severn to launch into a new activity, half business, half hobby. "Mr Severn indulges in taste for the management of a very large stock of cattle," commented an 1819 guidebook. But he was no mere dude rancher. Severn's herd was "so well and so conveniently conducted as to claim the admiration of every visitor." An auction notice in 1830 mentions "an extensive range of farm buildings" behind the Hall, close to today's Royal Liberty School classrooms. There was a "Slaughter house field" across the road, south of modern Cambridge Avenue. Contemporary prints show Hare Hall parkland had short grass. That was the work of cattle, not lawn mowers. By 1828, Benjamin Severn also occupied grazing land stretching across to Ardleigh Green. He was a cattle baron, producing meat and sharing his profits with partners. It seems Severn was popular locally. In 1822, he became a trustee of Roger Reede's Almshouses, Havering's oldest charity.

Sugar refining was a dangerous process. Raw cane, boiled to around 240 degrees Fahrenheit (115 degrees Celsius), easily caught fire. Naturally, Severn and King had fire insurance. Indeed, they paid danger-level premiums. But when the factory burned down in 1819, the insurance company refused to pay for the £70,000 loss. The insurers argued that their clients had failed to disclose the introduction of a new process. Hence their policy was invalid. A three-day court hearing in 1820 became a landmark case in insurance law. The partners lost. With no compensation, they struggled to finance a new, seven-storey, fireproof factory.

By 1827, Hare Hall was heavily mortgaged. Bankruptcy followed in 1829. In May 1830, the contents of Hare Hall went under the hammer. I don't want to sound snobbish, but Severn's taste in "modern and costly furniture" seems vulgar. There were "costly coach-top bedsteads, with white chintz cotton hangings" – beds with ceiling-high canopies above the pillows.

Today's school Conference Room contained "an elegant drawing room suite of curtains and couches in crimson velvet, trimmed with gold coloured silk fringe and lace". The furniture was mahogany. There was a six-feet square chimneypiece mirror. Hare Hall was obviously a family home. A Broadwood grand piano and "a fine-toned chamber organ" suggest a wife and daughters; three "fowling pieces" may indicate sons. Perhaps Mrs Severn had sounded a warning note: "Benjamin, are you sure we can afford all this?" Also for sale were Axminster carpets, "300 volumes of well selected books" (did anybody read them?), plus 220 dozen bottles of wine, sherry and port, "many years in bottle". I suspect Severn liked to entertain, to show off his "elegant glass dessert service".

The four-day contents sale must have been a sad affair. But nobody wanted the mansion itself. 

Indeed, the Severn-King bankruptcy case dragged on for an astonishing 43 years. It was eventually wound up in 1872, creditors receiving a final dividend of twopence and thirty-one thirty-seconds of a penny in the pound – about one percent. The moral? If you want to turn Gidea Park into a cattle ranch, check the small print in your insurance policies. Severn Avenue, off Main Road, preserves Benjamin's surname.


It's strange that a stately home could vanish completely. There's no trace of the imposing Hare Lodge in Ashlyn Grove, the quiet Ardleigh Green street that ends at the railway line. In 1825, it was stated that the "first-rate mansion" had been "erected not more than thirty years ago".

Other documents suggest work began soon after 1790.  Previously called Watts Farm, its new name was "borrowed" from Hare Hall, the Gidea Park mansion that is now the Royal Liberty School.

It's likely that Hare Lodge was built by Thomas Jackson "Esq.", named as the owner on a map of 1812. In 1825, Hare Lodge was described as a "Capital Freehold Mansion, agreeably removed from the high road, ideally adapted to accommodate a large family with perfect convenience."

The 1812 map shows a central range, with two L-shaped wings projecting southward. Hare Lodge faced north: its 15-acre "Front Field" is now under the railway. Access was along a drive from the east, now roughly the line of Hillman Close. An oval "banjo" enabled coaches to turn in front of the mansion. Another drive led to Upper Brentwood Road. The western section of Stafford Avenue follows part of it. 

 When the contents of the "spacious mansion" were sold in 1825, they included luxury furniture, glassware, china, "grand pianofortes" and "fine old pictures". Bounded by Squirrels Heath Lane and Ardleigh Green Road, the property stretched across to Durham Avenue.

Its 76 acres included "very superior meadow", with shrubberies and "productive walled gardens". A map of 1777 shows the gardens already existed, covering much of today's Stafford Avenue. The land was also attractively ringed by trees – hence the name of Ashlyn Grove. A large fish pond is now a side street, The Limes.

By 1825, Hare Lodge belonged to Zachariah Button, a lawyer from Grays. He was keen to sell.

When no buyers appeared at a May 1825 auction, he offered the contents and the land separately. The fields were "abounding with fine brick earth". Perhaps it could become an industrial site. The house could be demolished for its valuable building materials: "good sound brickwork", fine timber panelling, two staircases, a turret clock and a very unusual amenity, a water closet. There were still no takers: an 1829 sale suggested Hare Lodge would make a "first-rate seminary".

In 1839, the Eastern Counties Railway was built right past the front door. That finished Hare Lodge as a stately home. Luckily, the railway company bought the estate. They used about 50 acres to erect a factory, which manufactured tarpaulins to cover goods wagons. By 1850, 48 adjoining terraced houses for workers – later called Factory Road – were "newly built". At the 1841 census, a family called Manning farmed at Hare Lodge.

In 1850, the railway company offered "Hare Lodge Farm" for sale, with now only "27 acres of capital pasture land", not luxurious parkland but a "grass farm". But the 1851 census reported just two railway labourers and their families living in cottages on the site. Maps still marked Hare Lodge, but the railway had cut the link to Hare Hall, so the name made no sense. Perhaps it was the 34-acre Hardley Green Farm offered for sale in 1875. (There were two spellings for Ardleigh Green back then.)

Ardleigh Green's Hare Lodge was probably demolished around 1900. An old drawing held by the Local Studies section of Havering Central Library shows the house at about that time. Not surprisingly, many of the front windows were bricked up: the Liberpool Street line was one of the few railways in Britain to operate 24 hours a day. The name Hare Lodge was used for a house built in Upper Brentwood Road in 1904. This was demolished in 2018.

Ardleigh Green was developed around 1930: its primary school opened in 1933. A triangle of grass in the school precinct is all that survives of the "fine old meadow". Factory Road was replaced by Elvet Avenue in 1964. The railway factory became apartments. Bungalows line the site of Hare Lodge. It's as if the mansion and its walled gardens never existed.


The burial register of St Edward's church, in Romford Market, recorded a sad funeral in December 1794. "James Martin (a King's Messenger) shot near the Stoup by five footpads."

The Stoup took its name from a dialect word for a post marking a boundary, in this case between Ilford and Dagenham. In 1901, the Great Eastern Railway opened a station nearby to encourage suburban development. The real estate business liked cuddly names, so the station was called after a local farm, Goodmayes. The Stoup was forgotten.

A corps of official government couriers, called King's Messengers, carried important documents to embassies abroad. Their travel arrangements seem slapdash. For speed, they travelled by post-chaise, a small luxury horse-drawn carriage. The much larger stagecoaches usually carried an armed guard. But thieves could be confident that passengers in a post-chaise were wealthy and defenceless.

Sometimes, the thieves were unlucky. In January 1787, a Mr Scott was returning from Romford to London. Two robbers jumped him near Whalebone Lane. He was carrying a blunderbuss, a primitive shotgun. One hoodlum was killed, and the other left a trail of blood in his escape.

Sadly, resistance only made the gangsters more ruthless. The Reverend Charles Cowley, rector of Goldhanger near Maldon, was stopped near Ilford in April 1787 by two thieves "who order him to deliver" – an echo of the notorious highwaymen's cry, "Stand and deliver!" When Cowley hesitated, one of them smashed the side window of the carriage with his pistol butt to hurry him up. They stole about £12 in cash – hardly enough to risk their necks on the gallows.

James Martin was carrying despatches to the British mission in Florence. Italy was a patchwork of small states, and Florence was an important diplomatic centre. Britain was at war with France, whose armies had overrun Belgium. This dictated a roundabout journey to Italy, across Essex to Harwich and then through Holland and Germany. James Martin teamed up with another courier who was heading for Switzerland. In an amazingly casual arrangement, they hitched a ride with a Mr Derby, a wealthy traveller with his own post-chaise. Derby had lashed his luggage, a huge portmanteau, to the back of the vehicle, offering a tempting target to thieves.

About 8 o'clock on a dark December evening, they were waylaid at Goodmayes. Reports call the attackers "a gang of footpads", which makes them sound like pantomime characters. In fact, they were violent thugs, who fired into the carriage to terrify their victims. Derby was slightly wounded, but James Martin's thigh was smashed by the close-range shot. The gang stole "a considerable booty". Martin was carrying 70 gold coins to pay for his journey to Italy – obviously a huge haul. The thieves escaped, and the post-chaise galloped on to Romford, seeking medical help (such as it was in those days). But James Martin died from his wound.

There were lonely stretches on the main road from Romford to London, today's A118. Chadwell Heath was still common land, risky to cross at night. Nearby Hainault Forest provided hiding places. With no regular police forces, each parish was responsible for catching criminals. Dagenham, with its long northern panhandle alongside Collier Row, was a weak link in law-enforcement.

James Martin's attackers escaped, but there must have been Underworld rumours about the perpetrators. Disposing of seventy gold coins would have created some clues. Suspicion fell on a crook called Leonard Tomkinson. He was arrested in 1796, but no link with the Goodmayes attack could be proved. Instead, he was sentenced to death for a highway robbery near Croydon. Newspapers did not bother to report his execution.

Robberies continued. Late one night in June 1797, five thugs, "armed with pistols and bludgeons", robbed four ladies and a gentleman of their watches and cash at Chadwell Heath.


In 2016, the Borough of Havering had an estimated population of 252,800, up by 15,000 since the 2011 census. At Britain's first national head-count, in 1801, the area that's now Havering returned just 6,481 people. That's probably an under-estimate. The 1821 figure, 8,334, is more trustworthy.

Census statistics were compiled by parishes. This creates a problem, because Romford parish covered 11 square miles, stretching through Collier Row to Noak Hill. We have to estimate the size of Romford town. Hornchurch, with roughly the same area, had 1,331 people in 1801. Since Romford parish contained 3,179 people, we can guess the town at about 2,000 inhabitants.

An Army barracks to protect London against French invasion closed in 1825, possibly slowing Romford's growth. Romford parish grew from 4,294 in 1831 to 5,317 in 1841. The arrival of the railway in 1839 had brought additional people, but jobs were lost when the railway knocked out the town's stagecoach trade. The whole parish had gained only 500 people by 1851. But Romford town was growing. A new suburb of 200 houses arose on the old Barrack Ground in Waterloo Road. In 1845, wealthy investor Octavius Coope enlarged Edward Ind's brewery, creating new jobs. By contrast, rural areas were shedding workers. Mechanical reapers now harvested crops. Cattle, producing meat and milk for London, replaced labour intensive arable farming.

In the mid-1850s, Eastern and Western Roads were laid out, and the first houses built in Victoria Road. Romford's parish population reached 8,239 in 1871. Liverpool Street station opened in 1874, replacing the previous inconvenient terminus at Shoreditch, but commuters only poured in when Mawney Road was developed in the 1880s.

Hornchurch parish also grew slowly, even losing people between 1841 (2,399) and 1861 (2,247). An attempt to create a suburb around a new railway station at Harold Wood from 1868 made little difference. By 1881, Hornchurch parish had 2,824 people. Hornchurch Station opened in 1885. Commuters followed: the population was 3,841 in 1891. A new housing development, Emerson Park, helped boost numbers to 6,402 in 1901.

Upminster's parish population was also static from 1841 (1,117) to 1881 (1,202). Its station also opened in 1885, but lack of building land meant that there were only 1,477 people by 1901 – and that included Corbets Tey and Tylers Common.

Rainham's 1801 population of 444 people covered a large parish, with clusters of cottages at Parsonage Farm, Ferry Lane and Berwick Ponds. The village itself was home to barely 300 people. The arrival of the railway in 1854 had little impact: numbers rose from 868 (1851) to 924 (1861). Two developments helped Rainham grow in the later nineteenth century. Noxious industries were encouraged to move downstream from London. Chemical factories were established around Rainham Creek by the 1880s, providing local jobs. Inland, market gardening required intensive labour. Melville and Cowper Roads were laid out about 1880. Population reached 1,725 by 1901.

Marshland Wennington had 91 people in 1801. When numbers soared to 281 in 1841, the official report explained that the census had been held at pea-picking time, when the population was swelled by Irish migrant workers. Cranham (240 in 1801, 397 by 1901) barely grew. North Ockendon went from 243 to 340. A visitor around 1840 commented that although North Ockendon was 18 miles from London, it felt like 118.

In 1801, Havering-atte-Bower was home to 188 people. Numbers increased to 450 in 1891, dipping to 405 in 1901. Wealthy people built mansions around Havering village – mostly since demolished – to enjoy the peaceful views. Many locals worked as servants. It was a feudal, forelock-tugging place.

In 1901, our area contained 25,123 people – one-tenth of the modern Borough. About half lived in Romford town, where the Brewery employed over 400 men and had its own railway sidings. Country people even had a nickname for Havering's hectic, noisy capital. They called it "Blairum".


Richard Harding Newman became the owner of Nelmes in 1781. The largest estate in Hornchurch, its 530 acres were developed from 1895 as the suburb of Emerson Park.

Ambitious landowners experimented with new methods to increase output. When agricultural writer Arthur Young studied Essex farming in 1807, Newman supplied useful information. He could be dogmatic about his methods. Cabbage seed must be sown on February 12th. Land intended for barley should not be ploughed in springtime: rather, leave the soil to crumble like ash in winter frosts. Bean rows must be hoed when the plants flowered. (Luckily, farm labour was cheap.)

One thirty-acre Nelmes field was notoriously the worst in Hornchurch – "very wet and heavy land, on a rank clay". It had once grown just three sacks of wheat. Newman used a mole plough – a cast-iron torpedo fixed to a deep blade – to create underground drains across the field, about eight feet apart. Crops improved dramatically. He also pioneered the use of green manure, such as "winter tares" (vetch). These crops were ploughed in to enrich the soil. Swedes did well with this preparation.

Traditionally, wheat was sown by hand, "broadcast", a term later applied to radio and TV output. In 1803, Newman introduced a mechanical drill, a more efficient way of distributing the seed. The machine was so successful that he insisted he wouldn't sell it for one thousand guineas.

Although potatoes had been introduced from America two centuries earlier, they were only just being grown commercially. In 1806, Newman planted fourteen acres of potatoes, in rows thirty inches apart, convenient for weeding by hand.  They were mulched with well-rotted manure, which prepared the ground for other crops. He harvested 150 tons of spuds.

Knotgrass (probably hogweed) was "the most troublesome weed on his farm". Its bulbous roots had to be dug out by the wagonload and burned. Charlock (wild mustard) was another nuisance. Perhaps its yellow flowers still infest Emerson Park gardens? The Nelmes knotgrass problem was probably worsened by intensive sheep farming. In 1781, the farm carried fewer than 100 sheep. By 1806, Newman was running 770 Southdowns, including 310 breeding ewes.

Except in very bad weather, the sheep were "folded" into moveable pens at night, to protect them against foxes and to concentrate their supply of manure. Income from sale of wool and lambs more than paid the wages of shepherds.

A dairy of ten cows provided butter, and fresh milk for Newman's pack of foxhounds. In 1804, he purchased eighteen oxen from Somerset, importing Somerset men to train them. Three beasts which failed to adapt to Hornchurch "made famous beef", but the rest were "uncommonly quiet", and proved superior to horses at ploughing. They consumed more hay, but increased wheat yields produced bumper hay crops.

Newman's farming experiments cost money. In 1806, he built an expensive threshing mill, which separated the ears of wheat from the straw, state-of-the-art equipment operated by a foot pedal. It's shocking to discover the source of Richard Harding Newman's investment. He was co-owner of a slave plantation, Blue Hole, on the north-west coast of Jamaica.  In 1804, the year Newman purchased his oxen, the Blue Hole accounts included income from the sale of mulatto children. Mulattoes were the children of one black and one white parent. It's likely that Newman's European plantation managers were impregnating vulnerable Jamaican women, and selling their own kids into slavery. The profits were literally ploughed into Emerson Park soil.

As a teenager, Newman's portrait had been painted by the artist George Romney. Hard to believe the young man in the elegant pink silk suit was a fan of using pigeon dung as manure! In 2014, the "Pink Boy" was auctioned for £194,500. It's illustrated on Christie's website. Nelmes was controversially destroyed in 1967, its owner claiming the mansion was too dangerous to repair.


Say "Ford" and most people think of the Dagenham car factory. But long before the Ford Motor Company arrived in 1930, the name was honoured locally.

Dagenham sheep breeder William Ford farmed at Eastbrook End, near Rush Green. He would have been a familiar figure in Romford Market. A bachelor, "Billy" Ford was mean and bad-tempered. Wearing labourer's clothes, he sat at the back of Dagenham's parish church on Sundays, thus dodging the collection plate that passed among the well-dressed parishioners near the altar. He'd quarrelled with the local gentry, the Fanshawe family, and hated the vicar, the Reverend John Fanshawe. Billy drove a "tumble cart", a vehicle with a single wooden chair nailed on as a driving seat. No point in asking him for a lift!

But when Billy Ford died in 1825, he left a massive £10,000 (about one million in modern cash) to found a school. Children would be taught free, and even given a uniform. A school started by Vicar Fanshawe had failed to attract pupils. Billy's school would teach Church of England principles, but nobody called Fanshawe was ever to become a trustee! Billy also banned the new-fangled classroom-assistant method of education called "pupil teaching". Trainees (usually teenagers) drilled groups of children mechanically, thus saving money by enabling one qualified teacher to oversee an enormous class.

Ford's Endowed School got off to a shaky start. In solidarity with the Fanshawes, posh Dagenham people boycotted the scheme. The Bishop of London refused to act as a trustee.

Havering residents saved the project. Octavius Mashiter of Priests, in Rise Park, and his brother Thomas, of Hornchurch Lodge, joined Digby Neave, squire of Dagnam Park, to act as trustees.

Their mansions are remembered in Romford's Priests Avenue, Lodge Court in Hornchurch and Harold Hill's Dagnam Park Drive. All three also owned land in Dagenham, but didn't care about offending the Fanshawes.

A permanent school building was erected in 1841. From 1854 until 1935, there was enough money for a second Ford's Endowed School in Whalebone Lane. The original school is now William Ford Primary. The address is Ford Road, Dagenham – named not (as you might think) after Henry the car manufacturer, but to honour Billy the stern, miserly farmer!

James Ford was fifty when he became Rector of Navestock in 1830, after 24 years as an Oxford don. Like his Dagenham namesake, the Reverend Ford was a gruff man. One Sunday morning, his wife, Laetitia, arrived at church late – she was a butterfly collector who'd been chasing a specimen. Denouncing her from the pulpit, the Rector asked if she would also be late for the Day of Judgement.

The couple had no children. Like Billy, James was careful with money. A widower when he died in 1850, he left instructions for a simple funeral. The money saved paid for blankets for the poor. He also left £2,000 to Oxford University to establish a professorship in English History. James Ford knew that £2,000 wasn't enough to endow a professorship. He instructed Oxford University to invest the money until the fund would yield £100 annual interest.

Unfortunately, by the time that happened, in 1894, academic salaries had risen. Oxford decided to use the money to fund a lecture series on English history. Every year since 1896, a distinguished scholar has been invited to speak. Many important books have had their origins in the Ford Lectures, although nowadays probably few dons know much about their benefactor.

The series is now called "Ford's Lectures on British History", with contributions about Scotland and Ireland.

It's a strange coincidence that two unrelated local personalities, sharing the same surname, should have been so generous to the cause of education. There's a memorial to Billy Ford in Dagenham parish church, and one to James in his church at Navestock.


It's fun leafing through old travel guides. John Hassell's Picturesque Rides and Walks, published in 1818, described excursions around London. George Cooke's Topography of Great Britain or, British Traveller's Pocket Directory, appeared about 1820. Cooke published 25 volumes, and they weren't small books either. You'd have needed large pockets!

Hassell visited Romford from London. Beyond the "straggling villages" of Bow and Stratford, the countryside around Ilford ("a pleasant village") "may literally be termed a potato garden; this vegetable is cultivated in Essex with great success". A roadside feature two miles from Romford was "an immense whalebone", the relic of a creature stranded in the Thames. Whalebone Lane preserves its memory. Approaching Romford, "the scenery on the left begins to assume a hilly appearance": Hassell made Havering-atte-Bower sound like the Alps! He was impressed by the town's stagecoach traffic. "Conveyances are going through Romford all day", heading to and from Aldgate and Whitechapel. It cost four shillings (20p) to ride inside, two and six (12.5 pence) to perch outside.

Hassell admired Romford's stately homes. Marshalls, on the road to "Collier's Row" (later North Street), was surrounded by 172 acres of "gardens, pleasure grounds, paddocks", ornamental hot-houses, exotic shrubberies and "a noble sheet of water". Marshalls belonged to a flamboyant banker, Rowland Stephenson. In 1828, he became bankrupt and fled to America, owing a lot of money to Romford shopkeepers. The lake is still there, well-hidden next to St Edward's primary school. Another "pleasant spot" was Pettits, a mansion that stood near the site of Marshalls Park Academy. Hassell also liked Hare Hall, "a handsome stone building, with two wings connected by colonnades." It's now the central block of the Royal Liberty School. Sad to say, the "tasteful lodge" on the A12 Colchester Road which marked the entrance to the Dagnam Park estate has not survived. It stood for many years at the corner of Petersfield Avenue, even after Harold Hill was built behind it.

If you were a Londoner on horseback who'd reached Aldborough Hatch at Ilford, "you may prolong the ride to Collier's Row, and from thence to Havering Bower", with its "uncommonly beautiful" views – all in a half-day. But if you wanted "a pleasant day's excursion", you could continue from Havering village to South Weald, returning via Ongar and Chigwell. (Remember to feed your horse!)

George Cooke regarded the Havering area as "the most beautiful part of Essex". There was "fine country" between Romford and Brentwood, while the views from Noak Hill and South Weald were "truly beautiful". Upminster was a "pleasant village", and Upminster Hall (now a golf club) "enjoys the advantage of extremely delightful prospects" – presumably views northward, towards Brentwood. Although "a populous town", Romford "principally consists of one long wide street". This of course was the Market Place. South Street was still just a country lane.

There was an interesting scheme under discussion to construct a canal between London and Romford. The capital depended upon horse-drawn transport, and horses were not toilet-trained. Canal barges could deliver manure to Romford for use as fertiliser, and "farmers might double their crops within the year." The project never came about.

Further afield, Cooke noted that Southend had "become of late a place of much fashionable resort, during the sea-bathing months: its retired and delightful situation particularly attracts visitors." Before the A127 Arterial Road was built in the 1920s, there were two routes from London to Southend. The "upper road" ran through Romford and Billericay, the "lower road" through Barking and Rainham. The lower road, said Cooke, was "more beautiful" – perhaps not a description of the modern A13.

Neither writer had much to say about Brentwood. Cooke called it a "village", "meanly and irregularly built." Hassell praised it for having "a silk rug manufactory", turning out products "of extraordinary beauty and durability". Like so much else, Brentwood's silk rug factory is long forgotten.


Strange though it seems, a challenge facing an Australian newspaper editor 150 years ago gives us a glimpse of Victorian Romford. The New South Wales country town of Goulburn (pronounced "Goal-bun") is 120 miles from Sydney. In 1869 it was home to just 2,000 people. Frankly, there wasn't much reason to buy the weekly Goulburn Herald. So its editor serialised a novel, one chapter every week. Once hooked by the story, readers would buy the paper, however dull the local news. He chose A Fight for Life, published in 1868 by London journalist Moy Thomas, an associate of Charles Dickens.

Chapter 29 appeared on 29 May 1869. Wearing a black veil, heroine Isabel has escaped from her father's London house, and must reach the Essex village of Borley. (It seems this was a literary reference to Warley Barracks.) I'm afraid I haven't read the whole tale, so I can't tell you why. But Isabel's adventure gives us a glimpse of our area 150 years ago.

Milestones on the high road tell her she is near Romford. She asks a passer-by for directions to Borley. He has never heard of Borley, but suggests catching a train to Chelmsford. "Go on into the town, and take a lane to the right beyond the brewery," he advises, giving directions to Romford station. Romford Brewery was in the High Street. Modern South Street was called Hornchurch Lane. There were some buildings at the Market end, but South Street still looked like a country lane.

At Romford station, a ticket clerk tells Isabel a train to Chelmsford was due. Victorian ladies travelled in the comfort of first class, but Isabel could only afford third-class, crammed among grubby poor people on hard seats. "The snorting sound of the approaching train was audible as she hastened up the flight of steps. There were but few passengers going from Romford further down the line at that hour; but the carriages were nearly all filled." It was risky for a lady to travel alone. "Isabel walked along the platform, looking into each, until she found a compartment, all the occupants of which, save one, were women." The "rapid motion" of the train soon left Romford behind.

"The women who occupied the carriage were clean country folks, some of them returning from market, and most of them carrying baskets or bundles." They seemed embarrassed by the intrusion of a lady. Hiding her face behind her veil, Isabel "listened for the announcement of every station", wondering how far it was to Chelmsford. There were no train intercoms in 1868. Porters must have called out the station names. There was no Gidea Park either, while Harold Wood Station only opened that year. So few passengers had used Shenfield that its station was closed between 1850 and 1887. Isabel's train probably called only at Brentwood and Ingatestone. The only male in the compartment was "a tall, bony man," wearing a blue butcher's smock. "A butcher in a third class carriage in a train from Romford is not so rare a sight as to attract much attention" – but we can be sure he's a villain, and Isabel must give him the slip at Chelmsford.

We have acres of maps and yards of statistics from Victorian England. We know that railways were vital to economic and social life. But it's rare to catch a glimpse of what it was like to run for a real-life train. Passengers still hurry up the steps at Romford Station, although – unlike Isabel – few wear long heavy skirts. The arriving train is a purring electric unit, not the clanking, smoky locomotive of 150 years ago. Today's Romford passengers are more likely to clutch smart phones than baskets.

Moy Thomas campaigned for copyright laws to protect authors like himself. I don't think the Goulburn Herald paid him.


If you catch a train from Harold Wood or Gidea Park or Romford, you probably take the Liverpool Street line for granted. But it's long been one of Britain's busiest railways, a transport artery of world significance.

The Eastern Counties Railway was opened to Romford in 1839, extended to Brentwood in 1840, and to Chelmsford and Colchester in 1843. By 1851, the line continued through Ipswich to Norwich. Poorly managed, in 1862 it was merged into the Great Eastern Railway (GER), which served Essex and East Anglia. The energetic GER soon opened additional stations such as Harold Wood (1868) and Chadwell Heath (1873), plus a new terminus at Liverpool Street, in 1874-5.

Although a second line, via Cambridge, also served East Anglia, huge amounts of traffic flowed through Romford and Stratford.

Branch lines also fed in freight and passengers. Braintree was reached in 1848, Clacton in 1882 and Southend, through the Shenfield branch in 1889. A suburban route from Stratford to Epping and Ongar is now part of the Central Line. In the 1850s, the Barking Creek fishing fleet, which supplied London, mostly relocated to Great Yarmouth, closer to North Sea fishing grounds. Their catch now went to Billingsgate by rail.  

In 1883, the GER opened Parkeston Quay, a new port on the Stour estuary near Harwich. The 600-yard quay was extended in 1911 and 1934. Luxury "boat trains" delivered passengers to the Hook of Holland ferry. Freight was equally important. In 1906, 1300 steamers docked at Parkeston Quay from the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark alone. Much of their cargo clanked on to Stratford and Liverpool Street.

As goods traffic increased, so too did pressure from commuters. Ilford grew from 8,000 people in 1881 to 41,000 twenty years later, its City workers entirely depending upon GER services to London. In 1839, 14 trains had run through Ilford each day. By 1876, the average daily number was around 90. In 1900, there were 450 trains a day in winter. The GER marketed seaside excursion tickets, increasing the number to 520 in summer. In 1913, it was claimed that the Liverpool Street line was the only railway in the world to operate day and night.

There were four solutions to the increasing congestion. In 1903, the GER opened its Fairlop loop line, now absorbed by the Central Line. The loop branched off the main line between Ilford and Seven Kings, curving back to join the Epping line near Woodford. Suburban development was not a priority: Hainault was not built up until after the Second World War. The Fairlop loop allowed the GER to divert goods trains, around the clock, on a roundabout route to the freight yards at Stratford, thus taking pressure off the main line approaching London. Sidings were built near Seven Kings for goods trains to wait their turn to Fairlop. They're now the Ilford depot.

Remarkably, the Liverpool Street line mostly operated with just two tracks, one up and one down. Any breakdown caused chaos. Double-tracking each way made it possible to separate fast and slow trains. The process was completed in stages, to Seven Kings by 1899, but to Shenfield only in 1934.

A third solution was to transfer some suburban lines to the London Underground. In 1946, the Central Line (which had terminated at Liverpool Street) was extended to Stratford. A short tunnel to Leyton annexed the line to Epping. Another tunnel, from Leytonstone to Newbury Park, turned the Fairlop loop into the Central Line's Hainault branch. The line between Seven Kings and Newbury Park was closed in 1956. It's now allotments.

The final solution to relieve pressure was electrification, which made possible more trains. Electric trains ran to Shenfield from 1949, although Norwich was only reached in 1986.

Now the Elizabeth Line promises a new future for one of Britain's busiest transport routes.


The railway reached Romford in 1839, but the Liverpool Street Station only began operating in 1874, opening fully in 1875. Earlier, the terminus was located half a mile further north, in Shoreditch.  This was inconvenient for central London, and delayed suburban development around Romford.

In the 17th century, the site of Liverpool Street had been occupied by the Bethlem (Bethlehem) Hospital, an asylum for mentally ill people. It was a tourist attraction: visitors laughed at the mad inmates. Bethlem Hospital gives us our word "bedlam". In a Liverpool Street rush hour, it's an appropriate word! Excavations for Crossrail found a 17th-century cemetery for plague victims under the station.

Liverpool Street Station took 10 years to build, displaced 10,000 people and began with 10 platforms on a 10-acre site. Its high glass roof allowed smoke from steam engines to circulate and escape.  The station was called Bishopsgate until 1909. It's named after Lord Liverpool, prime minister from 1812 to 1827, not the city.

Critics claimed it was too big, but in 1895 – after just twenty years – it was extended to 15 acres, with eight new platforms for suburban services. Havering commuters still head for Platforms 11 to 18. Liverpool Street was now one of the busiest stations in the world. By 1912, it handled 200,000 passengers daily – about the same as in 2018. From the start, Liverpool Street was linked to the London Underground, through the Metropolitan Line. In 1912, it became the eastern terminus of a "tube", the much deeper Central Line.

On 13 June 1917, the station was attacked by German bombers in a shock daylight raid. It's sometimes said that 162 people were killed at Liverpool Street, but that was the total death toll across London. The writer A.C. Benson arrived soon after the raid on a delayed train from Cambridge. He noted ambulances and "an immense crowd, pale, silent, not in any panic. I saw a shrouded figure carried out: the officials grave and absorbed."

In the late 1930s, there was a major expansion scheme for the Central Line. By 1940, deep tunnels had been excavated from Liverpool Street toward Stratford. These were used as mass air raid shelters during the Blitz. Remarkably, Liverpool Street Station suffered little damage during World War Two.

But it had become scruffy. Investment went into electrification: the new trains ran to Shenfield by 1949. In 1954, the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner blamed "the squalor of Liverpool Street Station" for the fact that rural Essex was not well known. He called the station "cavernous", and the waiting room "suicidal".

Planners condemned the 1895 extension as really a separate station. Next door, there was even a third station, Broad Street, inefficiently handling just local trains from Willesden and Highbury. In 1975, British Railways announced plans to demolish all three. A new Liverpool Street would be built, financed by selling Broad Street for development. Victorian enthusiast John Betjeman led a successful campaign to save the glass roof, so modernisation took place within the original station shell. The new Liverpool Street was inaugurated by the Queen in 1991. With North London Line trains diverted into Liverpool Street, Broad Street was replaced by the Broadgate office complex.

In 1993, a Provisional IRA truck bomb in nearby Bishopsgate caused considerable damage, closing Liverpool Street for two days. In 2005, seven people plus a suicide bomber were killed on a Circle Line train that had just left Liverpool Street Underground heading for Aldgate.

One legacy of Liverpool Street's history is its bottleneck of access tracks. Squeezed into an already built-up district, there was only room for six lines serving the eighteen platforms. High quality traffic management keeps the trains moving smoothly. In 1894, the signal box had 396 massive mechanical levers. Nowadays, everything is electronic.


You'll know the stations to Liverpool Street by name. Each one has its own story. I'll start with those closest to Romford. Ilford, opened in 1839, and Chadwell Heath, in 1864, are the oldest.

Three of the stations on the Ilford to Romford section are associated with a Glasgow politician and property developer, Archibald Cameron Corbett. Corbett specialised in building large-scale suburban estates – always working closely with the railways to ensure commuter services. Corbett was a temperance enthusiast. His developments have long, straight streets and no pubs. The original Ilford Station was built when the line opened. It's said sixty houses were demolished to make way for it. The old station "could not be called an object of beauty", and it became inadequate as Ilford grew. In 1894, it was replaced by "a more commodious erection".

Corbett promptly buit new streets built of houses off nearby Cranbrook Road. In 1898, he helped pay for two extra platforms. Commuter services, which had previously only run to Forest Gate, were now extended out to Ilford. Making developers contribute to local infrastructure is a good idea. It should happen more often!

Corbett also named two other stations along this section of the line.  The name "Seven Kings" dates back to early Saxon settlement in Essex. It wasn't written down until 1285, when it was "Sevekyngges". It means the "ingas" (people or followers) of somebody called Seofeca: we know nothing about him. The lost Old English word also appears in the names of Havering and Wennington. By 1456, it made no sense, so locals called the district "Sevyn Kynges". In Saxon times, England was divided among seven kingdoms – Essex, Kent, Sussex, Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria. Local legend claimed that all seven monarchs once met here, although it didn't explain why. Their horses drank from the stream, which became known as Seven Kings Watering.

For Corbett, the name bestowed a touch of tradition upon a mushroom suburb. "What was but agricultural land in 1896, with scarcely a house within a mile of it, is now covered by bricks and mortar," an Ilford historian noted in 1901. Corbett had turned farmland north of the High Road into "a town without going through the preliminary stages of hamlet and village." The first residents felt remote from the facilities of Ilford. Unmade streets became thick mud in winter (helped by the stream, which frequently flooded), while dust storms blinded inhabitants in summer. A gold rush was under way in the wilderness of western Canada. Corbett's estate was sarcastically nicknamed "Klondyke". Conditions improved after Seven Kings Station opened in March 1899. There were 28 "up" trains (to London) each day, and 32 "down": the evening rush hour was longer than the morning.

Corbett now moved further east. In February 1901 another station opened. "Why the stopping place is called Goodmayes is not quite clear," sniffed one local expert. Goodmayes was a farm "some distance from the site".  Barley Lane would have been "a more correct name, but perhaps the developer, who cuts up fair fields, waving with golden grain, to cover them with bricks and mortar, prefers the name of Goodmayes." It can certainly be traced back a long way, to "Goodmaistrete" in 1456. Goodmayes probably owes its name to John Godemay, who lived locally in 1391.

The original Chadwell Heath Station was "primitive and comfortless". It was apparently intended to serve scattered communities like Little Heath and Becontree Heath. Dagenham itself had no station until 1885, when the Fenchurch Street line was constructed through Hornchurch and Upminster. Chadwell Heath Station was rebuilt in 1901, largely displacing an ancient mansion with the strange name of Wangey. Suburban development soon followed.

Around 1900, another station was planned, at Crowlands, near Jutsums Lane, to fill the gap between Chadwell Heath and Romford. Platforms were built, but the project never happened.


Opened in 1839, Stratford has seen many changes. There was a major reorientation of platforms when the Central Line interchange opened in October 1946. The station was rebuilt in the 1990s to integrate Liverpool Street services with the Docklands Light Railway and Jubilee Line. Architects love it; passengers are just keen to get away.

Maryland is a double mystery.  Why is part of London apparently named after somewhere in the United States? Usually it's the other way round! And why is there a station here at all, just around the corner from Stratford? Maryland Point (as the station was called until 1940) first appeared on a map of 1696. In 1768, it was reported that the "cluster of houses" here had been built by a merchant, who'd made his fortune in the American colony of Maryland. It's been suggested that this referred to Richard Lee, a London tobacco dealer who lived for a time in Virginia. He returned to England in 1658, leaving a son to run his plantations. Robert E. Lee, the Southern general during the Civil War, was a descendant. Richard Lee bought property around Stratford, and lived somewhere nearby. But the link can't be proved. Anyway, Lee's estates were mostly in Virginia. At Kelvedon in Essex, a farm called Marylands probably owes its name to an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a boundary. This may also be true of Maryland Point, which was close to West Ham's northern border. The apparent link with the USA is probably accidental.

Nobody knows why Maryland Station opened in 1873. Maybe it aimed to serve West Ham's workhouse (later Langthorne Hospital, closed in 1992), about a mile north. In 1864, it had opened a general "infirmary". Perhaps the station was a favour to local resident, retired civil servant Sir Antonio Brady. His son was rector of Wennington. Nowadays, street access is difficult, and there's no room for platform extension. Crossrail wanted to close Maryland, but Newham Council campaigned to save it.

Forest Gate Station first opened in 1840, closed in 1843, and reopened in 1846. The open space of Wanstead Flats, half a mile north, is part of Epping Forest. It's said the station took its name from a gate preventing cattle from straying off the Flats.

Manor Park originated from a pompous petition of 1871 to the Great Eastern Railway from residents of Little Ilford, a hamlet across the River Roding from Ilford proper. Promising to "use your Railway if favourable facilities were offered", the signatories explained they were important people with "business transactions which call them frequently to and from London". 

Existing stops at Forest Gate and Ilford were inconvenient. The owners of plots near the proposed station "would deal liberally with you for the sake thereof". Essex had a county prison at Little Ilford. Criminals could be moved by train to and from court appearances. But the petitioners' clinching argument was the nearby City of London Cemetery, opened in 1854. With 140 burials every week, its funeral trade would be "a source of large and progressive traffic to the said Station." After such a fawning petition, "The Chairman and Honourable Directors of the Great Eastern Railway Company" could hardly refuse. The station opened in 1872. But calling it "Little Ilford" would cause confusion. The City of London Cemetery occupied the former Aldersbrook Manor. A local mansion was called Manor House. Hence the invented name, "Manor Park". Although a bit twee, it sounded a nice place to live, and the suburb grew. The gaol closed in 1878, and was soon demolished. So much for long-term planning! The original Manor Park Station was rebuilt in 1893-4. There's still a Little Ilford Lane about a mile east of Manor Park Station. It's so narrow, it's a one-way street.


Americans elect their judges. In Britain, they're appointed. Our system puts them above politics. But there was one exception. In 1465, the royal manor of Havering (the modern borough west of the Ingrebourne) became a Liberty, a medieval unitary authority carved out of Essex. One of the "discreetest and honestest" inhabitants could be elected a magistrate.

The choice was usually settled among influential local families. Magistrates needed to understand the law, and have leisure to attend courts. But when a vacancy occurred in 1836, Havering exploded. Four years earlier, the Reform Act had challenged ancient institutions. Now the issue was personal. The local elite nominated Octavius Mashiter, of Priests, a mansion he'd built off Collier Row Lane. Priests Avenue marks the spot. Octavius was a lifelong resident, with "an independent fortune".  Unfortunately, his brother, Thomas Mashiter, of Hornchurch Lodge (the site is now Lodge Court) was already the Liberty's High Steward, president of the Havering mini-republic. For a century, John Tyler's family had farmed at Mardyke in South Hornchurch (now Orchard Farm). Tyler thought Octavius was "a very worthy man", but insisted it would be "impolitic" to have two brothers running Havering. Tyler nominated a rival candidate, Edward Young Hancock of Hornchurch. Nothing is known of Hancock.

It was decided to hold a poll, spread over a Monday and Tuesday in February. To avoid any suspicion of favouritism, the High Steward recruited two independent gentlemen to act as tellers. There was no secret ballot. But who could vote? There hadn't been a contested election since 1608. Legal opinion advised that any male householder, rich or poor, was eligible. (Women were excluded from such serious matters.) But in the 19th century, many single men were lodgers, renting rooms in other people's houses. Havering's lodgers objected to their exclusion from the election. Some claimed they occupied side premises – we'd call them granny flats – and so had separate accommodation. Others said they were trusted with front doorkeys, which they argued made them co-householders. The tellers decided to allow everybody to vote, but to register the lodger votes separately.

Passions ran high. It's noteworthy that Hancock's election manager was the Reverend Samuel Carlisle, a combative Nonconformist minister who challenged the local Anglican elite. Hancock won few votes from Noak Hill or Havering: in these sleepy areas, landlords ruled the roost.

Most Romford shopkeepers refused to vote at all, thus avoiding giving offence to either side.

Coming to Romford to vote on a working day was a big effort for many Hancock supporters. If you'd walked all the way from Collier Row or Hacton Lane, you expected some appreciation. As a friendly gesture, the Hancock party bought drinks in the pubs. Mashiter's supporters denounced this as "treating", an offence against election law akin to bribery. In retaliation, Hancockites alleged intimidation by their posh and powerful opponents.

When the poll closed on the Tuesday, the High Steward and tellers "most wisely" scuttled away to count the votes, followed by "the most respectable part of the audience", leaving "Mr Hancock's friends" engaged in angry "speechifying". The officially accepted votes put Octavius Mashiter ahead, with 455 votes to Hancock's 341. But, if the disputed lodger votes were included, the result was Hancock 511, Mashiter 503.

With an unofficial majority of just eight, Hancock was unlikely to get over the line. To win, he'd need almost all the disputed ballots to be allowed, which was a long shot. A barrister who was an expert in election law checked each voter's qualifications and – you've guessed it – Mashiter was declared the winner.

He proved a diligent official, not just in hearing court cases. In the days before elected councils, magistrates dealt with local emergencies, which meant they had to be constantly available. For thirty years, Octavius Mashiter rarely spent a night away from home.

Elections sometimes trigger – or reveal – deep divisions in a community. But, eventually, the passions subside, the issues are forgotten and everybody moves on.


Duffield Coller was a Chelmsford journalist who wrote with a flowery flourish that's charming in small doses. In 1837, he created a word-picture of the "warm and alive" scene of Romford Market.

Born at Ingatestone in 1805, Coller was unusual in coming from a Catholic family. The Petre family at Ingatestone Hall had stayed with the old religion, and protected members of their minority Church. He was named in honour a nun, Sister Duffield, who wanted him to become a priest. Instead, he was twice apprenticed, first to a tailor and then to a shoemaker. Hopelessly unsuited to either trade, he ran away each time. In 1827, he started a third apprenticeship, this time training to be a printer. His employers soon discovered that he enjoyed scribbling. It was a short step to journalism.

That's how he found himself surveying the bustle of Romford Market one Wednesday in May 1837. The ageing William IV was on the throne. It was the last hurrah of Hanoverian England.

"These are not dim shadows, seen through the telescope of history – they are the living, moving, money-making forms of 1837", he proclaimed of the jostling market day throng.

To Coller, Romford Market was a strange cross between "the country and the metropolis", the place where the "rough honest simplicity" of Havering country folk collided with "the doubtful politeness, the babble and the trickery" of the city slickers. The "honest, working, warm-looking Essex farmers" could estimate the exact weight of a bullock just by looking at it. They sank their pints, rejecting new ideas. The railway was under construction. The first train would steam into Romford two years later. But these solid locals "shake the head at railroads". But on Wednesdays decent Havering people mingled with a different species of humanity, men from Whitechapel who would cheat them out of sixpence, pickpockets who could magic a silk handkerchief from a pocket. Coller advised male shoppers to stitch their watch chains to their waistcoats as a precaution against theft.

Coller sketched the Market's characters. He enjoyed the "happy-looking, easy, red-faced London butcher, who laughs at a joke before it is half-spoken". Money somehow slipped into his pocket "like Mr Ind's XX down a drayman's throat." Edward Ind was Romford's premier brewer, noted for his 2-X beer. He later went into partnership with two brothers called Coope, making Ind Coope a power in the world of ale. In Australia, they would do things on a grander scale – out there, the beer would be 4-X!

Coller was less charmed by the "smart, jockeyfied little man, who knows everything, if not a little more, about horses". He was "a character of another cast": don't trust him! It just happened that he had "a beautiful little nag" for sale, on behalf of some gentleman forced to part with it only because he must go overseas. Beware, was Coller's message. This character could steal "your favourite brown mare", disguise it as dapple-grey and sell it back to you "for a trifle more than she was worth".

Havering had no police force in 1837. Presiding over the Market was an "official-looking personage, encased in an official-looking coat, turned up with red, and a gold-laced hat" – a battered uniform that looked as if it had been handed down for centuries. Paid to watch over the morals of market place and its varied clientele, the official cast "a suspicious eye" at the reporter scribbling barbed comments in his notebook. Coller decided it was time to slip away from Havering's "ancient bailiwick".

William IV had ten children – David Cameron is a descendant – but unfortunately, thanks to arcane royal rules, he wasn't officially married to their mother because she was an actress. Six weeks after Coller visited Romford, the old king died. The Crown passed to his niece, Princess Victoria. Romford Market entered the new, starchy, Victorian age.


The first official Aintree Grand National was run in 1839, the year the Eastern Counties railway reached Romford. One February day in 1842, the railway company staged a promotional steeplechase at Romford, a curtain-raiser for the fourth National, a fortnight later. With the help of local farmers, a two mile course was laid out alongside the line, from South Street to Crow Lane. There were thirty fences. A special train, carrying 250 London businessmen, operated as a mobile grandstand, allowing them to follow the race at close quarters. With a one o'clock start, the jaunt was an extended lunch break – a good advertising stunt for the new railway.

Prize money of £100 attracted one star entry. Lottery, ridden by Jem Mason, had won that first Grand National. The Red Rum of his day, Lottery drew the crowds. But, even with a two-stone handicap, it was hard to attract rival entries. Lottery could trot faster than most nags could gallop. Lottery's owner, London horse dealer John Elmore, also entered Sam Weller, named for one of the characters in a Charles Dickens novel. Sam's rider, P. Barker, had twice finished fourth in the National. Anonymous, ridden by Irish amateur jockey Allan Macdonough (second at Aintree in 1841) was another challenger. Lottery (6-5 on) was the favourite. You could get 3-1 against Sam Weller and Anonymous. Even though jockey Bartholomew Bretherton had won the 1840 Grand National, nobody rated his mount, Buffoon. The horse was well named – it fell three times. Creole, ridden by Tom Olliver (who would ride in nineteen Nationals!), completed the field of five.

The paddock was near Romford station. Victoria Road cut through it about 1855. We can picture the scene: Barker in green silks, Mason and Olliver wearing crimson, Bretherton brown with purple sleeves, Macdonough white with black sleeves. All sported gleaming white breeches.

They're off! Anonymous led the pack past today's Lidl, where they forded the Rom – "a rummy little river" but still too wide to be a safe water jump. Local farmers on horseback had gathered at Waterloo Road, where field gates were opened to let the horses pass. The going now became heavy. Anonymous was still ahead at Jutsums Lane, where a high bank and ditch led down into the roadway, with a small hedge beyond. Then came the biggest obstacle on the course, a six-foot bank with "an ugly drop" – a "yawner" in racing slang. Lottery and Sam Weller cleared the bank together – Elmore's two jockeys now working as a team.

Opposite today's West Ham training ground, all five runners skidded at a half-way flag and turned back for home. Presumably the train also clanked into reverse, shunting the VIP punters back towards Romford station. Creole threw his rider and bolted, but was caught by a spectator. Although briefly stunned by his fall, Olliver determinedly remounted.

Crossing Waterloo Road again, it looked like a sprint finish between Anonymous and Lottery.

But, approaching the Rom, Anonymous fell badly at a rail fence, rolling over his jockey. Somehow Macdonough got back into the saddle, but his chances were gone. It was a tame finish. Lottery coasted home eight lengths ahead of stablemate Sam Weller, with the unfancied and clumsy Buffoon coming third.

Although the train returned to London, many racegoers remained: 150 joined a celebration dinner at the King's Head, a Market inn. A horse dealer and racing enthusiast, landlord Henry Orbell would have welcomed the business: he'd narrowly escaped bankruptcy in 1838.

At Aintree, two weeks later, Sam Weller dumped Barker before Becher's. Anonymous, ridden by its owner, ran nowhere. Still tired from the Romford outing, Lottery was pulled up by Mason at the Canal Turn. Tom Olliver won on a 12-1 outsider, Gaylad – not a Romford entry.

Nothing came of local big talk about further steeplechases. Indeed, the day the Grand National came to Romford was forgotten – until now!


What really angered people was that their local bank closed its doors on a Thursday.

For 597 years, Wednesday had been market day in Romford. As usual, on June 5th 1844, unsuspecting traders and cattle dealers had deposited their cash. The Romford Bank also issued its own notes. Technically, banknotes are IOUs for real cash: "I promise to pay the bearer on demand". Local farmers went home not knowing they had worthless paper in their wallets. Somebody must have known the Romford Bank wasn't going to open the next day.

It wasn't Romford's first financial crisis. Surridge and Joyner's Romford Agricultural Bank had collapsed in 1826. It wasn't encouraging that Surridge became manager of the successor institution. The new boss was Thomas Johnson, senior, but the brains came from his son and namesake. The elder Johnson was a partner in an Aldgate oil business. Forget Texan millionaires: this was a steady trade selling whale oil for lamps. It was profitable, but Johnson's capital was smaller than people thought, because he was buying out a previous owner by instalments. His smart son married a rich bride in 1831, and withdrew from the bank. This left the 65 year-old father juggling three businesses.

The third, a white lead mill in Southwark – making paint and putty – was losing money. Over the years, Johnson senior diverted over £8,000 from the Romford Bank to support his white lead business. He'd also served as Lord Mayor of London in 1840. Lord Mayors were expected to spend freely. Johnson drew several thousand pounds from the Romford Bank to make a splash.

Nearly eighty in 1844, Johnson was infirm, deaf and nearly blind. Most of his time was spent in his Aldgate and Southwark ventures. He visited Romford on Wednesdays, but mainly shook hands with customers, uttering such platitudes as: "How do you do? This is a fine day."

In 1843, Johnson tried to head-hunt a new manager, a clerk in a rival bank called Burness. But he obstructed Burness's attempts to examine the accounts. When he finally saw the books, Burness was aghast to discover that the Romford Bank was carrying an impossible £31,000 deficit. In denial, Johnson disputed the calculation, claiming that his Aldgate business could cushion any loss. In the bankruptcy hearings that followed, a clerk called Copley gave evidence. He'd worked for the Romford Bank for four years, and claimed he'd realised within three months that it was bust. But bank clerks were bound to confidentiality. Whistle-blowing was not encouraged. Amazingly, the Romford Bank had just £23, 5 shillings and sixpence (£23.27p) on deposit with the Bank of England. Central banking did not extend to regulation, and no alarm bells rang.

Sadly, Johnson had persuaded his Aldgate business partner Charles Mann to join him in the Romford Bank, promising him easy profits. "I was never at the bank; I knew nothing about banking affairs; I never saw an account of any sort," Mann admitted. Charles Mann had ignored a basic business rule: avoid any deal that sounds too good to be true. "I now stand before the world a ruined man." He was 71, and lost everything he'd worked for.

Harvey George, a Romford auctioneer, reckoned he'd lost £3,000 in the disaster. Accusing Johnson of submitting fake accounts, he blocked his release from bankruptcy in 1845.  Johnson complained this prevented him from claiming a City of London pension as a destitute alderman, because bankrupts were ineligible. He showed no sympathy for the Bank's victims.

In 1844 Parliament passed a major Banking Act, the work of Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. Effectively, it gave the Bank of England the monopoly of issuing banknotes in England. Banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland still issue their own notes.

It's astonishing that Johnson's Romford Bank was run in such a reckless, selfish way. That couldn't happen today, could it?


For the Reverend George Fielding, North Ockendon must have seemed a snug billet. The job was well paid, with a comfortable Rectory. The "scattered village and parish", as it was called in 1848, contained just 300 people – but it supported two grocers, a shoemaker, a baker, a blacksmith and a village inn. Unlike radical South Ockendon, where barely a dozen people attended the Anglican church, North Ockendon's peasants deferred to the parson and the local farmers.

Hence James Lister's private life was a shocking problem. A farm labourer and skilled at managing horses, James Lister was born about 1813 at Little Wakering, on the marshes behind Southend. By 1840, he was living at North Ockendon, with his wife Sarah. Ten years older than James, it was her second marriage: as Mrs Skimpley, she already had seven children. James and Sarah went on to have two more children of their own.

By the time of the 1851 census, only three of the nine offspring lived at home: Ann Skimpley, reported to be 21, and her 13 year-old brother Richard, already working on a farm, plus six year-old Henry Lister. Aged 47, Sarah had died during the summer of 1850.

The census, taken on 30 March 1851, revealed the horrifying sequel. Ann Skimpley had succeeded her mother not just as Lister's housekeeper. One month earlier, she had given birth to a boy, Alfred Lister. James was the father. Sarah had barely gone to her grave before James Lister had seduced his own step-daughter. He'd told the census taker that Ann was 21, and so an adult, but she was probably just sixteen when the relationship started.

But the Reverend Mr Fielding could do nothing about this scandal. Although the census described Ann as Lister's adopted daughter, there was almost certainly no legal connection between them. Nor were they blood relations. Prosecution for incest was impossible. In those barbarous times, the age of consent for sex was just twelve. (It was raised to sixteen after an outcry over child prostitution in 1885.) If Ann agreed that she'd consented to the relationship – as she would have bullied into saying – nobody could intervene.

Lister was sacked from his farm job and evicted from his tied cottage, but he quickly secured work as an ostler at the village inn. Worse still, Ann had a second child. But there were strains in the relationship, with some blazing rows. In one of them, Ann yelled at James: "You are not going to poison me as you did my mother." Tipped off by concerned locals, Rector Fielding pounced. Maybe the problem could be solved by getting Lister hanged for murder.

Fielding travelled to Romford and persuaded the district Coroner to authorise an inquest on Sarah's death. On Friday 29 October 1852, her body was exhumed from North Ockendon churchyard, and taken to a nearby shed. A coroner's jury watched as a local surgeon removed the innards from the badly decomposed corpse for investigation. "Lister stood close by during the examination, apparently an unconcerned observer." The jurors were ordered to return to consider medical evidence ten days later. Everything looked set for a sensational murder case, with a sordid sex angle throw in – just what the Victorians loved!

But – that's where the story ended. There were no further reports. Obviously, no trace of poison was found. James Lister was not hanged. But he did leave North Ockendon. The 1861 census found him working at Chadwell St Mary, near Tilbury. His son Henry, now sixteen and an agricultural labourer, was still with his father. He can't have had much of a childhood. Mary Warner, a married woman, shared the cottage as a "lodger". By 1871, she was the third Mrs Lister. How much did she know about her husband's earlier life?

The abused stepdaughter Ann Skimpley and her children disappear. Perhaps she married. Maybe she emigrated. Perhaps they died.


Major royal weddings usually take place in London, but in 1863 the future king Edward VII – eldest son of Queen Victoria and her humourless husband Albert –  got married at Windsor. Two years earlier, then aged 19, the Prince of Wales – "Bertie" to his family – had been se nt to Ireland (still part of the UK) for intensive military training. Army officers took pity on his strict upbringing, and helpfully smuggled an actress into his bed. (In those days, the term "actress" had a range of meanings). Inevitably, Bertie's parents heard about the escapade and – equally predictably – they were shocked. On a November day, Albert took Bertie for a long walk so they could have a Serious Talk. Father and son got soaked in a rainstorm. Albert became ill. Three weeks later, he died.

He'd probably already caught typhoid – Victorian drains could be lethal. We'll never know: it was said that Albert's personal physician wasn't fit to treat a sick cat. Victoria, never Bertie's biggest fan, insisted her husband had died of a broken heart. But the heir to the throne had discovered sex, and had to be married off, fast. The bride must be a nice girl, a princess and a Protestant. Alexandra of Denmark ticked the boxes. The youngsters met, and obediently fell in love. And so, in March 1863 as in May 2018, Windsor celebrated.

Romford also took "active and vigorous measures to celebrate the nuptials of the Prince of Wales." The town's biggest employer, Ind Coope's brewery, presented new uniforms to the local band, and allowed its employees the day off. Each brewery worker was given two pounds of meat, two pounds of bread – and four pints of ale. Married men with families received extra – extra food, that is.

Funds collected to support the poor through the previous winter were diverted to give local schoolchildren "a good English dinner". One well-wisher provided rosettes for policemen. Another wealthy resident offered "two ounces of good tea" plus a pound of sugar to every poor widow in Romford. It seems poor widows didn't drink much tea. On the evening of the big day, important local buildings – the town's bank and court house – were "illuminated". This involved placing candles and oil lamps in the windows.

Brentwood went one better, persuading its local Volunteer soldiers to fire a 21-gun salute! Havering-atte-Bower was conscious of its history as a "royal village" (there'd once been a Palace there).  Local gentry forked out to ensure "the day was celebrated in the most enthusiastic manner". There were flags and banners everywhere. Gifts of over 500 pounds of beef provided the poor with a decent feed.  Bread and beer were included too. Havering-atte-Bower's schoolchildren were lavished with eggs, plum puddings, buns, oranges (a rare luxury), figs and gingerbread, "to the joy of their young hearts". They were also each given sixpence (just over 2p). Youngsters paraded the village singing God Save the Queen and "merry glees". At night, there was a huge bonfire on the Green.

By contrast, there was little local interest in a later royal event, the July 1893 wedding of Victoria's grandson, Prince George, to Princess May of Teck. She'd been engaged to George's elder brother, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, known as "Eddy". Eddy's tutor politely described his mind as "abnormally dormant". Had Eddy become king, Britain would probably now be a republic. In fact, he suddenly caught 'flu and died.  Suitable royal brides were scarce, so Princess May was traded on to the next brother.

Tactfully, Romford people were reported to be "exhausted" by organising a recent agricultural show.  In truth, this arranged marriage inspired little sentimentality. The town managed "a moderate display of flags". Some shops closed so people could watch a cricket match against a team from Hackney. The royal couple later became King George V and Queen Mary.


There was no Havering Council 150 years ago, but the area's first elected body, Romford's Board of Health, faced a crisis in April 1868. Don't read this over breakfast. With around 6,000 people, Romford produced masses of sewage. Much of it ended up in the River Rom (downstream, in South Hornchurch, called the Beam).

In 1858, Chelmsford had completed a filtration scheme, pumping its sewage through a series of tanks, finally discharging the purified liquid into the Chelmer. Romford lagged behind. Complaints from Dagenham forced the penny-pinching Board of Health to build a primitive sewage works at Oldchurch in 1861. The Chelmsford scheme involved spraying fresh water into the tanks. No such system was used at Romford, where "foetid and offensive matter" simply sat in the Oldchurch reservoir for a few days until, suitably ripened, it was dumped in the Rom. Unlike the navigable Chelmer, the Rom is not a major river. In summer, it often ran dry. The result was an open sewer, "the stench unbearable for miles around". Fish died. Cattle refused to drink the water.

Early in 1868, a resident of Havering Well – the area now called Roneo Corner – took legal action to stop the Board of Health polluting the Rom. On 20 April, the Board held a crisis meeting. They had just four days before the case came to court. The Board's engineer, Mr Russ, had a scheme. Two miles south of Romford, an ancient mansion, Bretons, with fifty acres of land, could be leased to become – literally – a sewage farm. A sewer down South Street and along Upper Rainham Road would carry the effluent by gravity, eliminating the cost of pumping. The sewage would then be spread around the farm, like compost.

The Board's chairman, High Street innkeeper William Cowland, tried to get some sense from members. Thomas Haws, a Rush Green farmer, warned against covering the same farmland with sewage year after year. "It would be just like feeding you on roast beef and plum pudding always," he explained. "You would get tired of it, and so would the land." It was a vivid image.  Another member wondered whether fifty acres would be enough.

Haws favoured creating a pumping station at Oldchurch. Mains water had reached Romford in 1863. It could be sprayed to cleanse the sewage. Samuel Springham, a gentleman resident of London Road, thought the Board was being bounced into Russ's scheme. Why not send a deputation to Chelmsford to study their system? After much discussion, chairman Cowland reminded the Board that they faced legal action. "Something must be done, gentlemen." He suggested the immediate adoption of the Bretons project. "I can't make up mind to think about it at all," Springham unhelpfully replied. Another member, Mr Marrett, exploded at this. "Really, Mr Springham, it is no use our sitting here night after night, talking incessantly, like old washerwomen, saying 'This is no use' 'I shall oppose that' 'look at the expense' and such stuff." "We are now in this position," Marrett insisted: "something must be done."

Of course, the crunch meeting dodged making a decision, but Romford was moving towards an inevitable solution. Bretons was purchased in 1869. Eventually, the sewage "farm" became the location of a treatment plant. Overloaded and smelly thanks to suburban growth, it closed exactly a century later, in 1969. It's now Elm Park's outdoor recreation centre. 

A year later, in 1870, Councillor Springham complained that a local newspaper (not the Recorder!) had wrongly reported that he'd backed the appointment of an extra council official. In fact, "he was dead against such an appointment." Barely bothering to apologise for the mistake, the reporter curtly explained that four members had been speaking at the same time. Local communities get the representatives they deserve.


Nobody knows the origin of the custom, but for centuries Hornchurch celebrated Christmas Day with a wrestling contest. The ritual was apparently unique in England. The prize, a roasted boar's head, was awarded by the farmer at Hornchurch Hall, which stood opposite St Andrew's church. The first known account, in 1826, dated the event to "time immemorial". The boar's head was decked with ribbons, holly and bay leaves. With an orange in its mouth, it was paraded on a pitchfork from Hornchurch Hall across the road to the Dell behind the church. The wrestling bouts took place there in the afternoon.

In 1837, there was a white Christmas. The ground was "as hard as frost could make it". For the twenty contestants, it really was a knock-out competition. By tradition, the winner and his friends carried the boar's head off to a local pub, where it was "feasted upon, with all the merriment peculiar to the season". The trophy was usually "paraded around the village" first.

It wasn't the heroes of Hornchurch who wrecked the ancient custom, but the roughnecks of Romford. The population of Romford increased from 5,000 in 1841 to over 8,000 by 1871. That figure included Collier Row, plus the future Gidea Park and Harold Hill, but it's clear the town was growing. Romford Market was a major centre for cattle trading. Romford Brewery was booming. Cattle drovers were tough characters. The Brewery employed muscular draymen.

Hornchurch was still just a village. Every Christmas Day, it faced an influx of Romford ruffians. Hornchurch versus Romford rivalry now dominated the wrestling matches. The crowds were "nothing but a tumultuous rabble". (A Romford rabble!)

In 1868, chaos erupted. A pompous journalist told the tale. The procession carrying the boar's head "was surrounded by a considerable body of persons from Romford, who were desirous that the honour of possession should fall to their town; but the means they adopted were not of a legitimate character, inasmuch as they took forcible possession of the coveted dish."

The mob marched their booty back to Romford, and feasted at the New Mill Inn, a cattle-dealers' pub. (It stood near the London Road roundabout of today's ring-road.) The police soon arrested the chief culprit, 22-year-old Herbert James, a drover living in a boarding house in Queen Street off Waterloo Road. Later, a teenage tearaway called Thomas Cooper was rounded up too.

Unfortunately, there was a problem for law enforcement. The Liberty of Havering had its own courts, but there were only three magistrates. Two were needed to hear a case. One was on holiday. Octavius Mashiter of Priests (remembered in Romford's Priests Avenue) took his duties so seriously that he rarely spent a night away from home during 33 years on the bench. But on New Year's Day 1869, he slipped and broke his thigh. With only one magistrate available, the case was postponed until April. By then, the local elite wanted to move on. James and Cooper were charged with theft. Lawyers mused that it was really a case of violent assault. This technicality enabled them to release the prisoners.

The real priority was to tackle the core problem, put an end to an annual custom that had become a liability. Havering magistrates said they would be "pleased to hear of its cessation." In September 1869, it was quietly announced that Christmas wrestling would cease. The event had caused "disgraceful proceedings", infesting Hornchurch with "the lowest rabble from the surrounding country" on what should be a sacred day. Herbert James did well enough. By 1881, he'd made his own home, in nearby St Andrews Road. Still a bachelor, he employed a housekeeper. The Waterloo Road area was later redeveloped. The New Mill Inn was demolished around 1970. It's sad that Havering lost its ancient custom, but Christmas in Hornchurch certainly became much quieter.


Harold Hill Man Killed in Senseless Knife Attack. Maybe you'll shrug at the headline: it happens all the time, London just isn't safe. But this stupid, squalid killing happened in the western USA in 1873.

Nor was the victim, Reginald Neave, from a disadvantaged background. He grew up at Dagnams, the Neave family's Harold Hill mansion. (It was demolished in 1950, but the park remains.) Reginald was sent to Eton, and studied at Cambridge University. But he was a younger son. When his father died in 1868, the family wealth all passed to an older brother. 

Poor Reggie Neave had to earn his own living! Reared among the farms of Harold Hill, he decided to start a cheese factory in Colorado. In October 1873, another young Englishman arrived at Neave's property, Wet Mountain Valley.

Aged 31, Reginald Neave was "genial and hospitable, generous almost to a fault." Four years younger, Theodore Douglas Bulstrode Pryce was a violent scoundrel. He'd fled South America, where he'd been cattle farming, apparently to escape a murder charge. Pryce talked of buying a ranch in Colorado. Their parents were friends. Neave welcomed him. 

The Wild West was a whisky culture, and the two men drank too much. One December day, socialising with neighbours, they squabbled over a clay pipe. Very drunk, Pryce refused to hand it over. While Pryce was boasting about his skill with knives, Neave slipped the pipe from his friend's pocket, filled it with tobacco and lit up. When Pryce realised Neave was smoking his pipe, he strolled outside, calling over his shoulder in a friendly voice, "Come out here, old boy, I want to speak to you."

Briefly hesitating as if he sensed trouble, Neave followed. There was a scuffle. Neave returned, clutching a bloodstained flick knife that he'd grabbed in self-defence. Muttering that he'd been stabbed, he insisted it was "only a flesh wound." "I haven't cut you old boy, have I?"  pleaded the suddenly sober Pryce. Moments later, Reginald Neave collapsed. The attacker desperately rubbed his victim's hands to keep him alive, but Neave died within minutes.

"I have cut many throats, but never before have I killed my friend," Pryce wept. "I suppose I shall swing for this." In fact, wealthy relatives in England mobilised to save him from the gallows. They lobbied the British government to express concern in Washington, and hired a top defence lawyer for his trial.  Theodore Pryce was sentenced to life imprisonment. In those days, that sentence meant "a murderer's cell for all the remaining days of his natural life."

Arrogant as ever, he refused to do prison work. Defying the warders is never a good idea in a US penitentiary. Day after day, Pryce was hosed down as a punishment. As he became wetter and weaker, his influential family alleged cruelty. His desperate mother bombarded the State Governor with pleas for his release. "We have had Pryce for breakfast, Pryce for dinner, Pryce for supper and Pryce re-hashed," grumbled one State legislator. In 1882, Pryce ended the story. He went on hunger strike, and starved himself to death.

Or did he? Ten years later, a Colorado rancher holidaying in England noticed a man playing cards in a London club. He was the image of Theodore Pryce! The rancher was terrified when their eyes met. If Pryce had indeed escaped, he'd kill to keep his secret. But the lookalike slunk away, leaving a mystery. Had the hunger strike been a charade to cover a daring escape? One American newspaper demanded:  "Is there a skeleton in that coffin?"

There's a lesson in the Reginald Neave's pointless murder. Pryce carried a knife to convince people he was a hard man. In a crazy moment, he destroyed two lives, his friend's and his own. If you don't want to be caught up in knife crime, don't carry a knife.


St John's church at Havering-atte-Bower was rebuilt between 1874 and 1878. Half a century later, local historian the Reverend Harold Smith wrote about the project. A lifelong resident, Harold Smith belonged to one of the important families who ran the village.  His father served on the planning committee. Reading between the lines, it seems clear there were some mighty rows over the scheme.

Wealthy inhabitants had wanted a larger church, but were blocked by their vicar. Although barely four feet tall, the Reverend Richard Faulkner was a determined personality, who liked the old building as it was. Soon after Faulkner's death in 1873, the leading residents started formed a committee to plan their new church. The village was dominated by two Big Houses, now demolished, owned by Mr McIntosh and Mrs Pemberton-Barnes. In addition, Mr Hope lived nearby at Havering Grange, now a school. In 1873, a new resident, General Albert Fytche, arrived at the Broxhill Road property, Pyrgo, another mansion that no longer exists. He was invited to join the committee.

The committee initially planned to extend the existing church, but an architect's report was discouraging. There was dry rot and the walls were fragile (in fact they proved tough to demolish!).  In March 1875, it was decided to spend £3,000 building a new church on the old site. Then the problems began.

The crumbling building was topped by a funny little spirelet. The architect condemned its "rude and very inferior workmanship", but humble villagers liked this symbol of Havering's cosy insignificance. Remembering that there had been a royal palace at Havering-atte-Bower in the Middle Ages, the committee had wanted a medieval-style church. Now they decided to add a battlemented tower. Negotiations began with Mr Hammond, a Romford builder. He could construct the church for just over £3,000 – but the tower would cost £1,000 extra.

It took until March 1876 to agree a contract with Hammond. At that point, General Fytche "withdrew" from the committee. A cousin of the poet Tennyson, Fytche had spent his adult life in India. After Britain annexed the Irrawaddy delta in 1852, he led expeditions to eradicate dacoits (bandits), destroying villages and sometimes exercising the power of life and death over captives. The British laid out a new city around the fishing village of Rangoon, centring on a public park called Fytche Square. (The city's now called Yangon, with a population of 7 million, and Fytche Square is Maha Bandoola.)

The British Empire was not run by committees, and General Fytche probably found working with his new neighbours frustrating. Although he had little experience in agriculture, he was trying to get into farming, and at a time when cheap grain imports from the USA and Canada were hitting the industry. By the 1880s, he was heavily mortgaged, and he sold up in 1887. Fytche probably objected to the cost of the new church, although he did subscribe £250.

The committee insisted that all promises be paid up by 31 March 1876, so that "when differences arose among members of the Committee", nobody could block the project by withdrawing financial support.

There were other problems about re-creating a church from the Middle Ages. Medieval England had been a Catholic country, where people venerated saints. Protestant Havering didn't want any of that. The architect was instructed that any external niches "should be so made as to be impossible to have figures placed in them." Result: the niches are either shallow or narrow!

Mrs Pemberton-Barnes had recruited a semi-retired clergyman, the Reverend William Cope, to succeed the Reverend Faulkner. Nearly sixty when he arrived in 1874, he came from an industrial parish near Birmingham. Comfortably off, the Reverend Cope moved to Wandsworth Common in December 1877 – just three months before the new church was consecrated. (He didn't attend the ceremony.) Had he also quarrelled Havering-atte-Bower's bossy gentlefolk? Today, St John's church is a haven of calm – but I suspect there were massive rows during its construction.


We might have had a racecourse just three miles from Harold Hill, but Navestock's race meeting collapsed in 1877. Cricket was played on the tiny village green at Navestock Side from the eighteenth century. By 1835, there was a "horse-race ground" behind the Green Man pub (now a restaurant). The "pleasant country meeting" was held on the Tuesday of Whitsun week, a traditional holiday.

In 1871, Navestock races were "looked forward to with considerable interest by the country folk in this neighbourhood". In 1872, crowds included "a fair sprinkling of the sporting fraternity", betting men from London. In 1874, a police contingent kept order among "a large assemblage of persons from the neighbouring towns and villages". In 1875, in wet weather, came the first signs of trouble. "The betting fraternity" appeared "in rather strong force." The 1876 meeting attracted a national politician, Sir William Harcourt, later the Chancellor who introduced death duties. The event was moving up a gear, with an extended course and increased prize money, subsidised by local gentry. A "new and valuable feature" was a grandstand for 600 paying customers. Navestock, it seemed, might become a major racecourse – maybe even an Essex Epsom.

In fact, that grandstand was part of the crisis that destroyed the event. Erected slightly short of the winning post, its location meant that most race-goers had to watch close finishes from a reverse angle. On 22 May 1877, there was a large attendance. Overcoats were needed against "a cold searching wind". But Navestock's race meeting was still "the popular annual holiday" locally. The grandstand was packed.

Lord Carlingford of Navestock's Dudbrook House sponsored one race. Prize money and a silver trophy for another came from Sir Thomas Barrett-Lennard, the eccentric horsey baronet of Belhus at Aveley. He was brother-in-law of Kitty O'Shea, mistress of the Irish leader Parnell. The owner of Pyrgo Park near Havering-atte-Bower, General Fytche, was one of the stewards. He was the retired governor of Burma. The key decisions were entrusted to a judge based at the finishing post, "Mr A. Hunt". This was almost certainly Alfred Henry Hunt, a South Street Romford solicitor, who was secretary of almost every committee in the town. He'd judged the races at Navestock for several years, and was respected for his experience.

The second race was not the big event. A handicap with little prize money, it drew just four entrants. A filly, Susannah, was 5 to 4 favourite, but smart money backed Bay Malcolm at 3 to 1. The mile-and-a-half race, with six hurdles, took the runners twice around the course. Entering the home straight, Susannah had a slight lead, but there was a "splendid" finish as Bay Malcolm's jockey challenged hard. As the nags thundered past the grandstand, Bay Malcolm seemed a clear half length ahead. But, at the post, Mr Hunt awarded the race to the favourite, insisting that Susannah had just regained the lead at the finishing line.

Bay Malcolm's owner protested, angrily backed by a large section of the crowd who'd backed his horse. Politely described as "turf adventurers", these men of "desperate character" became "violent and threatening". The meeting was almost abandoned in disorder. Eventually calm was restored and the card resumed. Not only were the "betting fraternity" present "in rather stronger force than usual", but the meeting had attracted more "cardsharpers, pickpockets, and other questionable characters" than ever before. Despite the police presence, two gold watches were pilfered, one from an Army officer and the other from a clergyman. Another race-goer returned home to find his house had been burgled.

Standards for race meetings were rising, with pressure for more prize money, and stricter rules about the number of fences per mile. But, after the souring events of 1877, there was no enthusiasm for upgrading Navestock races. The race meeting on Havering's doorstep came to an inglorious end.


Mary Benton was born in 1855 at Wennington, Rainham's twin village. Her prosperous father, Aaron Benton, farmed 250 acres at East Hall, employing sixteen labourers. Around 1859, the family moved to nearby Lenthorpe House, still standing in the fields opposite Wennigton's church. Mary's mother died when she was very young. She was brought up by a young governess, Emily Pollett from Dagenham, who later ran her own school in West Ham. Emily seems to have inspired Mary with a love of learning.

When Mary was nine, she was sent to an academy for girls in Ramsgate, to learn "ladylike" skills that would attract a gentlemanly husband. She disliked the curriculum: marriage was never on Mary Benton's agenda. Aaron sent her to another school, in Germany – an adventurous move for a farmer's daughter, especially so soon after the 1870-1 Franco-Prussian War. Then she worked as a governess in France. By the age of nineteen, Mary was fluent in both German and French. But she still yearned for more a structured education.

Two women's colleges had recently opened alongside the men-only Cambridge University. One, Newnham College, welcomed students without formal school qualifications. In 1875, Mary Benton enrolled. The Principal of Newnham, the kindly but muddle-headed Miss Clough, was backed by a handful of sympathetic male dons. They supported female education but didn't want to rock the gender boat. Newnhamites should be discreet and feminine.  Mary Benton was a challenge. She adopted masculine attire, despite Miss Clough's pleas that Victorian opinion was shocked by cross-dressing. Mary Benton's attempt to organise a cricket match – a men's sport – was vetoed by a flustered Miss Clough, who claimed it would injure the grass!

After one year at Cambridge, Mary left to become a teacher. New independent schools were springing up, providing academic training for girls. One of them, South Hampstead High School, hit problems after moving into modern premises in 1882. It needed a headmistress who could supply firm leadership. In 1886, Mary Benton got the job. She filled the role – for 32 years.

Short, thickset and determined, she wore a tailored trouser suit, with shirt, collar and tie. Younger girls were scared of "the brigadier general", but older pupils found her a lifelong friend. Her standards were high. Insisting that there were no "girls' subjects", she encouraged her students to study science. Many went on to take science degrees, something revolutionary a century ago.  Girls also had to study three languages, until a parents' revolt forced her to drop German in 1917. Miss Benton did not welcome parental involvement. She received complainants standing up: if they weren't invited to sit down, awkward interviews were soon over. The headmistress reserved a chair in every classroom, so she could drop in and intimidate staff and students alike. She taught Scripture – probably a legacy of Sunday services in Wennington church – but her main subject was Geography. A familiar sight in the corridors was this small woman carrying a huge globe.

Naturally, Mary Benton supported wider feminist campaigns. In 1909, she signed a memorial from 200 headmistresses asking Prime Minister Asquith to give the right to vote to "properly qualified women". Officially a Liberal but actually a male chauvinist, Asquith refused even to meet the signatories. She backed one of her teachers who was imprisoned in Holloway for violent suffragette activities.

Mary Benton retired in 1928, and settled in the New Forest, where she reportedly took control of the nearest village. She died in 1944. Aaron Benton had died in 1879, and was buried at Wennington. Nowadays East Hall Farm is mostly used for gravel extraction.  Today, Newnham is one of three women-only colleges at Cambridge University. A century and a half on, Britain still needs confident women in leadership positions, the classic Newnhamite role. If you're a Havering student, female and planning to do well, really well, in your GCSEs, think about applying to study there. Just say Miss Benton sent you.


On Tuesday 18 January 1881, Britain was hit by a severe blizzard. Accompanied by a "terrific gale", the "blinding fall of snow" caused deep drifts: at Rainham, paths were cut six feet deep. Temperatures were already freezing. A joke cricket match was played on a frozen lake at Navestock, north of Harold Hill. The slithering players were an "amusing feature of the game". Fortunately nobody was injured.

In 1881, only two railways served our area: the line through Hornchurch and Upminster opened four years later. Many trains on the Liverpool Street line were cancelled.  Some struggled to Brentwood (where the snow was "unusually heavy") ninety minutes late. But on the Fenchurch Street line, through Rainham, services stopped altogether. Near Tilbury, passengers were rescued from a stranded train by workmen who cut holes in the carriage roofs. Next morning, not even the engine's tall funnel was visible. Exhausted and soaked from tramping across fields "many feet deep in snow", those travellers were still lucky compared with passengers on a train "embedded" in a drift at Wennington, near Rainham. They were trapped all night, without food or heating.

A police officer recently transferred from Grays was moving furniture to his new home in Brentwood. The wagon "set fast at Cranham" and had to be abandoned. The mail cart from Grays set out for Romford as usual on the Tuesday evening, but couldn't get beyond Purfleet. Next morning, the mailman removed the sacks of letters and "courageously set off on foot". Despite falling neck deep into a snowdrift, he delivered them to Romford that evening, 24 hours late.

Although there were snowdrifts in Romford Market, most damage around the town was caused by the gale. One of the largest and oldest oak trees in the grounds of Gidea Hall (now Raphael Park) was blown down. Flying tiles in Victoria Road smashed windows. At the weekly Wednesday market, "hardly a dozen beasts" were offered for sale. Romford's stationmaster slipped on a frozen step as he was crossing the tracks, falling on to the rails as a train approached from Harold Wood. In the nick of time, he was rescued by a porter and the manager of W.H. Smith's bookstall.

There was one local tragedy, which became controversial. Mary Cope lived at Becontree Heath, in Dagenham. Her husband was a patient in the infirmary that later became Oldchurch Hospital. She visited him, on foot, on Tuesday, trudging back across the fields during the snowstorm. When she did not return home, her children alerted the local policeman, who organised a search on Wednesday morning. Mary Cope was found "buried in about four feet of snow" in a field at Rush Green. She was "quite dead". 

A coroner's inquest revealed unpleasant details. Mary had gone into Romford, perhaps to shop, before visiting her sick husband. She'd called to a couple of pubs, taking a tot of rum and some "warm beer". It seems landlords heated their ale to combat the low temperatures. Returning, Mary insisted on taking a direct route across the fields from Crow Lane. She was unsteady. A Dagenham neighbour, Louise Saltmarsh, failed to dissuade Mary, and hadn't the strength to guide her. Forced to abandon her friend, Louise headed for Bellhouse Farm (remembered in Bellhouse Road, north of Rush Green Road), to appeal for help. Richard Dennis, the farm foreman, told the inquest that his clothes were wet through and frozen, he had cattle to rescue, and "no time to go and look after a drunken woman". But Louise insisted he'd contemptuously rebuffed her, saying: "Let the drunken bitch lay; when she's tired she'll get up." Dennis denied using such language, and claimed to be sorry he hadn't helped. The jurymen ruled that Mary had died from exposure, criticising Dennis as "inhuman". They donated their fee for expenses to the Cope family.


Nowadays, we think of tricycles as children's toys. But in the 1880s, they were popular with adults too. The modern safety bicycle, chain-driven with two equal-sized wheels, only developed around 1885. Earlier bikes had been cumbersome to ride and difficult to steer.

The front-steering tricycle was invented in 1881: you could use the handlebars to guide the machine.  A 3-wheeler felt safer, and it suited ladies in long dresses. By 1884, twenty British companies were manufacturing 120 models. Queen Victoria bought two tricycles. (She didn't ride them but believed in supporting British industry.) Her prime minister, Lord Salisbury, solemnly rode his tricycle across St James's Park for exercise, followed by a footman who pushed him uphill. He weighed eighteen stone.

Oscar Browning was another tricycle fan. Browning was a bachelor don at Cambridge, and a famous pain in the neck. Nicknamed "the OB", he sped around Cambridge's flat streets at 8 miles an hour. He even toured Europe on his tricycle. Yet "the OB" still became enormously fat, diubkle the size of a normal human being. According to jokers, that's the origin of the word "obese". Browning lobbied influential friends to get him a knighthood. The thought of Sir Oscar was too absurd. He was eventually awarded the OBE.

In 1884, a fashionable ladies' magazine, The Queen, reported a tricycle expedition by two young ladies. We don't know their names, but they were educated and obviously well-off. They lived in smart St John's Wood, near Lord's cricket ground. Their 3-wheelers gave them a freedom that was new for women.

They left home one September morning.  Avoiding central London, they chose a roundabout route, through Walthamstow and Snaresbrook, joining the Romford road at Manor Park. That's where their problems began. "Owing to heavy traffic, the road as far as Romford is very bad."

There was no tarmac in those days. With ladylike distaste, they complained of "inequalities of surface, and stones and dust galore." Poor road surfaces were tough on tricycles. Cyclists could weave past potholes, but it was harder to manoeuvre a tricycle. With three wheels, the chances of hitting a bump were high. Solid rubber tyres gave some protection, but the Ilford to Romford stretch of today's A118 was endured in grim silence.

"About a mile from Romford we became aware, by meeting herds of cattle, that something was going on." That "something" was Romford Market, a major centre for the cattle trade. Expecting "a trying time" among the crowds, the two women resolved not to risk provoking anybody by tinkling their bells, "and rode as fast and quietly as possible." To their surprise, "people were much too busy to attend to us". They survived Romford without a hitch.

Soon, "we found ourselves toiling up Hare Street Hill almost with the road to ourselves." This was the section of Main Road from Raphael Park to Balgores Lane. It doesn't seem very steep today, but its long slope revealed another downside to the tricycle. The young ladies were proud to own up-to-date models. "Our machines were both very light" – but, even so, each weighed 70 lbs (over 30 kilograms) – four times heavier than a modern bicycle, making them hard work on even a slight incline. The highway levelled out around Gallows Corner. "The road between Romford and Brentwood is very pretty; the surface is good, and in some places it is like riding in an avenue." Sad to say, a century of road-widening has removed most of the stately trees of Gidea Park and Harold Wood.

They took a scenic route home to London, "determined to give the disagreeable Romford Road a wide berth." Around Abridge, they even hit six miles an hour! It's fun to think of two young ladies in their long skirts, toiling on tricycles through Romford. But, within a few years, the bicycle became king of the roadsters, and only small children rode on three wheels.


I believe I'm the world expert on Sootigine, but that's mainly because the other 7.8 billion people on the planet aren't interested. I owe my global status to a man in Romford 's North Street. Looking through an 1886 local directory, I found Thomas Burbrow, "Sootigine agent". I'd never heard of Sootigine. Nor had the Oxford English Dictionary. I explored the mystery.

Wesley Darley was born near Luton around 1844. As his siblings were called Dorcas, Maximilian and Theophilus, he probably came from an odd family. He sounds like a chancer and a fantasist. By the age of 33, he'd chalked up four business failures. In 1877, he was joint proprietor of a company called Government Carbolic Disinfectants – which, of course, had no link with the government whatsoever. When it, too, failed, he emerged owning a chemical works under the railway arches near Hackney Downs Station. Soon after, Sootigine was born.

Don't read this over breakfast. Many Hackney homes had no connection to London's sewers. Their waste materials had to be carted away. Bodily products were usually mixed with ash from fireplaces. That's why other countries have garbage collectors but we have dustmen. Houses were heated by coal fires, which produced masses of soot. Darley decided to treat sewage with carbolic and pour in soot to create an artificial fertiliser which would also kill insect pests – hey presto, Sootigine!

Cheaper than its rivals, it was backed by a massive promotional campaign – stalls at country fairs, endorsements from farmers (how collected I do not know), newspaper adverts. With an endless supply of raw materials, Darley surely had a winner: by 1884, his Hackney Downs plant claimed to employ 300 people. There was just one problem. Sootigine was useless. It was tested by Britain's leading farm scientist, Dr Voelcker of the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester. He called it "RUBBISH sold at an extravagant price". That killed Sootigine. Yet again, Darley went bankrupt in 1889. He died in Leytonstone six years later, leaving a young widow, a Romford woman. His local agent, Thomas Burbrow, became a painter and decorator.

Around 1960, Dagenham's enterprising council sold a fertiliser called Dagfert, made from crumbly dried sewage. I've seen Brussels sprouts six feet tall grown in Dagfert, and that was in Rush Green, not the Canadian prairies. Unfortunately – those pesky scientists again – Dagfert  was banned because it's best to keep human waste products out of the food chain.

Baxtrol had such a short career that not much is known about it. Postwar Britain was hard up. Petrol was rationed. In 1949, an industrial chemist from Cheshire called Baxter invented a substitute fuel. Baxtrol was a mixture of acetone (paint thinner) and methanol, a basic and dangerous form of alcohol. Baxtrol worked when mixed in a three-to-one ratio with petrol. Although it was much dearer, it was not rationed, thereby making the motorist's petrol coupons go further. But Baxtrol needed a distribution network, garages with special tanks and pumps to sell this new fuel. Only one petrol station made the attempt. A garage at Rainham – I think it was located on the A1306 New Road – proclaimed "Petrol worries over. Use Baxtrol the coupon-free motor fuel." An amusing 50-second clip from Pathe News (it's on YouTube) showed jalopies rushing to Rainham, queuing for the miracle fuel.

In fact, Baxtrol probably harmed car engines. To make it work, you needed to pull your choke full out, which also increased fuel consumption. But the real problem faced by Baxtrol was that its components came from the United States. With Britain short of dollars, imports from the USA were tightly controlled. In December 1949, the Board of Trade cut off the raw materials, and that finished Baxtrol.

It's an old problem – how to encourage entrepreneurship, while protecting customers, ensuring public health and using scarce resources wisely? Alas, Sootigine, Baxtrol and Dagfert failed the tests.


There are around 6,000 of them in the UK, people who never grow taller than 4 feet 10 inches. The medical condition is "dwarfism" but they prefer to be called "persons of restricted growth". In Ireland, with nice humour, they're the "little people". In olden times, they were employed as jesters in great houses. In 1578, Richard Cooke of Gidea Hall arranged a pension for "little Will Cooper", paid out of rent from the Cookes' Harold Wood farm, Redden Court. Will enjoyed his pension for 37 years. In 1616, "Wlm. Cooper, ye dwarf of Giddie-hall" was buried at Romford.

A very short man with a large head, Richard Faulkner was Romford's curate from 1815 to 1823. He worked hard, preaching enthusiastically, visiting the poor and sick. Faulkner was "the idol of the town, generally and deservedly adored." In 1825, he became vicar of the Round Church in Cambridge. They called him "the dwarf Faulkner". In 1835, he was also appointed vicar of Havering-atte-Bower. Faulkner kept his Cambridge job, hiring free-lance clergyman to take his services. Married, with a daughter, he preferred village life.

Faulkner was energetic, repairing the church in 1836 and rebuilding the village school in 1837. Havering's church had needed renovation for years, but the previous clergyman had not even lived locally. A local poem celebrated his dynamic impact.

"A pastor to the flock is given / Whose zeal inspires their hearts. / The rich large offerings bring to Heav'n, / The poor his mite imparts." (Victorians made "heaven" rhyme with "forgiven".)

I suspect Faulkner wrote that poem! He was certainly a great fund-raiser: even Queen Victoria agreed to give the school £20.

His strangest scheme was for local landowners, from Noak Hill down to South Hornchurch, to pay for repairs to St Edward's church in Romford Market through a voluntary wealth tax of a farthing in the pound on their capital (about 0.2 percent). "What difficulty can there be in this?", he asked in his 1841 appeal, written from Havering Parsonage. It might as well have come from Cloud Cuckoo Land. In 1847, he provided a celebration dinner for local labourers. It was held at the precise hour the Faulkners had arrived in Havering twelve years before.

Faulkner loved children. Each July he marked his daughter's birthday by giving a party for all local youngsters. He was deeply moved by one village tragedy. Victorians didn't believe in gun control. In 1846, nine year-old Emma Vale was shot dead by a small boy playing with a loaded pistol. Faulkner later wrote a now-forgotten poem about the tragedy.

Although small, Faulkner was "rather a fighting man".  In the absence of the previous vicar, church affairs had been run by Samuel Gardner, local farmer, brickmaker, undertaker and churchwarden. Soon after Faulkner's arrival, he sacked Gardner. From 1849, Havering had two churchwardens, one chosen by the vicar, the other elected by the inhabitants. With fewer than 500 people in the parish, the selection was made by just a handful of prominent residents (all male). In 1863, Samuel Gardner was the local candidate. Faulkner opposed him. The vote was a dead heat, nine on each side. Presiding at the meeting, and having already voted once, Faulkner now gave a casting vote, against the meddlesome undertaker. Gardner appealed to the bishop, who ruled that the vicar shouldn't interfere with the congregation's choice. Returning home, Gardner strolled through Havering-atte-Bower waving his top hat in triumph. It was a rare defeat for the tiny cleric.

By the 1870s, Faulkner wouldn't accept that the church he'd remodelled back in 1835 had become too small for local needs. He died in December 1873, aged 82. Within months, Havering was planning to build the present St John's church. But there's no doubt that the diminutive vicar was popular and respected. Short but determined, the Reverend Richard Faulkner proved that little people can make a big impact.


For a fortnight in 1890, two very different Englands met at South Weald. Its cottages were only fifteen miles from the slums of Bethnal Green, but their inhabitants might have lived on separate planets.

The poverty-stricken parish of St Andrew lay across Weavers Fields, the open space that you can see from the railway near Bethnal Green Station. Two dynamic young clergymen arrived there in the late 1880s. The Honourable Algernon Lawley, heir to a peerage, was the Vicar.

Helping him were serious young men from Oxford University, led by the dynamic Arthur Winnington-Ingram (nicknamed "Chuckles"). Algernon and Chuckles persuaded the Vicar of South Weald to sponsor a holiday trip, so that twenty ragged urchins could breathe some country air.

Still active in his mid-seventies, Canon Duncan Fraser assured the people of South Weald that the young visitors would be "carefully selected" by the St Andrew's clergy, to exclude "children of depraved tastes and habits" from their village. Money was quickly raised. Local schoolchildren, "of their own free will", collected seven shillings (35p), in pennies.

The strange little aliens from the alleys of Bethnal Green "were, for the most part, very kindly received" in South Weald. The masterful vicar persuaded villagers to open their cottages: after all, he offered a shilling a day for bed and breakfast. The village was hardly luxurious: few homes had access to tap water, none to sewerage. But the country people were shocked by the poverty of their visitors.

One "somewhat rough" girl revealed that her family slept seven in a bed, "three at the bottom and four at the top". A boy of sixteen, "delicate and diminutive" as a twelve year-old, refused to stay for long. He supported himself and his widowed mother by selling newspapers outside Bethnal Green Station, and feared losing his pitch. His story had a happy ending: a local employer spotted his "quickness and intelligence" and gave him a job in the country.

Canon Fraser was astonished at how much these wild creatures cared about one another. They possessed real human emotions! "Little Charlie", seven years old, was one of sixteen children. Seven had already died, and Charlie was "in a decline". The others showered him "with tenderness and love", wheeling him around in a miniature carriage, and helping him "to gather blackberries from the hedgerows". Twelve year-old Nellie suffered from an endemic chest infection. Her mother wanted her to work in the local Bryant and May match factory, hoping the scent of the wood used to make matchboxes would cure her. In fact, the phosphorus used to make matches caused major health problems. In 1888, the heroic matchgirls had staged a long strike in protest against working conditions. Soon after her arrival, a postcard summoned Nellie home to her little brother's deathbed.

Reflecting on the visit, Canon Fraser urged South Weald children to be grateful for the comfort (such as it was) of their cottage homes. He hoped too that acts of kindness might rescue even these "gutter children" of the slums "from a life of sin and shame" and make them "good citizens". It didn't occur to Fraser that anything might be done to improve their lives. Indeed, he feared that "little Charlie" would soon follow his brothers and sisters to their "untimely graves". In 1890, the London County Council (forerunner of today's GLA) began slum clearance in Bethnal Green. It took fifty years (and Hitler's bombs) to regenerate the area.

St Andrew's church was demolished in 1958. In 1918, Algernon Lawley inherited the family peerage, becoming Lord Wenlock. "Chuckles" Winnington-Ingram was appointed Bishop of London in 1901. Nearly forty years in office, his bouncing bone-headedness steadily became a liability to the diocese. The fate of the young visitors from Bethnal Green is unknown.


Mawneys farmhouse stood on the site of the United Services Club, just yards from downtown Romford. Parish records show that destitute travellers trudging to London often slept overnight in its barn: some died there.  By the 1880s, cheap North American grain imports had created a crisis in English agriculture.  Around London, dairying was the only profitable form of farming, supplying the capital with milk. When foot-and-mouth hit Mawneys in 1881, it was the last straw. The next year, Benjamin Harding Newman of Nelmes in Hornchurch inherited the 265-acre estate and decided to sell it for building.

To level the area for construction, hedges were cleared, and nine-inch pipes laid in the ditches, which were then filled in. After torrential rain in August 1888, eight feet of water flooded Romford's High Street. Some blamed poor drainage on the Mawneys estate.

At first, progress was slow. In June 1887, a poorly attended site auction at the Golden Lion was abandoned after only six plots were sold, for low prices.  Two years later, magistrates decided that a Mawneys off-licence was "altogether unnecessary, as the estate was not developed."

Development picked up in the early 'nineties. There was a "good attendance" at a site auction in 1894 held in a marquee. "Luncheon was served to the purchasers", which may explain why "satisfactory prices were realised".

By 1893, there were plans for a school. Local worthies chose a site in Mawney Road, rejecting a cheaper option in Como Street. Romford planned a school accommodating 700 children and costing just under £10,000. It secured government approval in September 1895. The school opened on 31 August 1896. It was demolished and replaced by a modern Academy building in 2016. Construction required the felling of a giant elm tree, sixteen feet in circumference and estimated to be 260 years old.

The school's headteacher was paid £175 a year. The caretaker received much less, but was awarded a bonus of three shillings (15p) a week to fetch coal for the classroom fireplaces, and two shillings (10p) to wash the towels. Mawney Road School was divided into girls' and boys' section. When the School Board failed to hire a man to teach the boys at £60 a year, one member suggested that they should advertise for a "female teacher" (they came cheaper) instead. The chairman doubted whether government officials would approve such a radical idea.Cookery classes were planned from the start "to teach the senior girls how to cook a plain working-class meal." Evening classes in cookery were financed by selling the food produced.

The Mawney Arms, built during the summer of 1894, received its licence that October: a nearby beerhouse was closed to keep a limit on Romford pubs. Its unknown architect designed a friendly village inn, with a few Naughty Nineties touches in the porches and windows.

One problem with Mawneys was that the estate was very scattered. Marks Road was built up by 1895, Olive Street by 1898. But whatever was constructed in Poplar Street was probably sub-standard. Its Victorian houses have not survived: in 1901, there were nine people living in a single room in one of them. As late as 1898, there was still room in Mawney Road itself to erect Romford's new swimming baths, an ornate building sadly demolished in 1975. Away to the north, houses were being built in Marlborough Road by 1897, with more cheap lots sold there and at Hainault Road in 1900. Luckily, this dispersed sprawl left room for a new highway, the A12 Eastern Avenue, to snake through in the 1920s.

Between 1896 and 1901, the large-scale contractor A. Cameron Corbett, created massive mushroom suburbs at Seven Kings and Goodmayes, persuading the Great Eastern Railway to open convenient new stations to attract commuters. The development of Mawneys stalled. Not until the 1920s and 'thirties did its half-empty streets fill with houses.


It's not easy to get teenagers out of bed in the morning, and Jessie Bartlett was happy to let her two older girls lie in on Saturdays. It wasn't a school day, and the weather in March 1898 was awful – high winds, driving snow. Anyway, she was kept busy around breakfast time in the Mawney Road bakery as her husband George produced batches of fresh loaves for early customers.  Eventually, around 10.30, Jessie found time to head upstairs to rouse thirteen-year-old Ada – known as Dolly – and her sister Florence, aged ten. Their tiny bedroom was ominously still:  to Jessie's horror, her daughters were dead.

Dr Ryan, the local medic, arrived quickly.  The girls had been suffocated by coke fumes from the bakehouse. Time of death: between 1 and 3 a.m. The bedroom, he said, was still "choky". Dolly had collapsed on the floor: perhaps she'd tried to get help.

Born in Devon around 1856, George Bartlett had moved to Romford to work as a pastry cook for a High Street cake shop. In the early 1890s, he started his own business in Como Street, moving to larger premises in rapidly growing Mawney Road in 1895. The Bartletts also had two younger daughters.

Viewing the girls' bodies, laid out in the bedroom where they'd died, the coroner's jury found their "peaceful expressions" deeply moving.   Dolly was "an especially fine-looking girl." The formal inquest followed at the Mawney Arms. With little doubt about the cause of death, the inquest reconstructed the girls' last hours. George mysteriously reported that, on Friday, "the children were eating snow ". Was "snow" some egg-white meringue – a delicacy prepared by their father – or were the youngsters guzzling white flakes from the sky? Perhaps the latter, for Jessie despairingly wondered whether eating snow had killed her girls.

Jessie had put Florence and the younger sisters to bed around eight o'clock. As a treat, Dolly as allowed to stay up late to have supper with her parents. When she went to bed, around eleven, her mother checked that the other girls were safely asleep. There was a smell of burning coke throughout the house, which Jessie blamed on the wind. Both parents insisted that they'd noticed fumes indoors only once before during three years at Mawney Road.

The bakehouse fire was stoked up late at night, perhaps by Walter Wyatt, the baker's boy, who lived with the Bartletts. Coke produced a fierce but even heat, ideal for baking. The oven was at peak efficiency when George started baking around 5 a.m. The bakehouse flue ran up the side of the house, discharging its fumes alongside the chimney pots.

The key factor was the weather. Training that Friday for the Boat Race and doggedly rowing into zero visibility, the Cambridge crew were almost engulfed on the Thames. At Luton, a snowdrift blocked the railway. Dolly and Florence slept in a bedroom barely eight feet square. Windows were obviously firmly closed. There was a fireplace, but no fire. Gusting gales and blanketing snow had driven the bakehouse fumes down the chimney, killing them both.

When George Bartlett died in 1913, he was "well known and much respected" in Romford. "Among the wreaths was a tribute from the Poor Children's Boxing Day Dinner Committee." He'd honoured the memory of his lost daughters by helping disadvantaged kids.

Urging the construction of an entirely separate bakehouse flue, the coroner's jury blamed coke gas for the tragedy. They were only half right. The acrid fumes burned off by coke contain carbon monoxide, silent, odourless and deadly. Once it gets into the human bloodstream, it blocks the oxygen that keeps us alive. The death of the Bartlett sisters was no Victorian melodrama. Carbon monoxide still kills around sixty people annually in England and Wales. Solid fuel, gas and oil-burning appliances can all be dangerous if not properly ventilated. 


After 64 years on the throne, Queen Victoria was so venerated that it's hard to believe that she'd been the target of assassination attempts earlier in her reign. Most would-be attackers were sad figures.  Suffering from severe disability – he could hardly walk – teenager John Bean loaded a pistol with tobacco and shot at Her Majesty from close range in 1842. His cry for help was answered by a prison sentence with hard labour.

On 27 June 1850, the Queen visited the Piccadilly mansion of her uncle, the Duke of Cambridge. The last of George III's useless sons, Prince Adolphus was on his deathbed, and Victoria had come to say farewell. News of her visit quickly spread, and a crowd gathered, hoping to watch their monarch depart. As the Queen left in a landau, a small open carriage, a tall man with a military bearing lunged forward and struck at her with his stick. Although visibly bruised, Victoria firmly ordered her coachman to drive on. The attacker, Robert Pate, was an eccentric and embittered ex-Army officer, who lived alone, taking exercise by goose-stepping across Hyde Park.  Sentenced to seven years' transportation, he was one of the last convicts sent to Tasmania. After serving his time, he married an Australian heiress, and returned to England. Pate died in 1895, a wealthy man.

Four years later, with remarkable bad taste, his stick, with its brass ferule that had crushed Her Majesty's bonnet, came up for auction. This prompted a Harold Wood resident to reveal the real story of Queen Victoria's escape. The Reverend William Holder was a Congregational Church minister who'd retired to King Alfred Road. On that fateful day, 49 years earlier, he'd positioned himself at the front of the Piccadilly crowd waiting to glimpse their sovereign. The arrogant Pate had tried to shove him aside but, as Holder recalled, "I stubbornly refused to move an inch, as I wished to get a good view of the Queen.  I intended that nobody should oust me from my position." His obstinacy probably saved the monarch's life.  

As the Queen's landau swept out of the gates, Holder recalled that the man behind him "raised his stick and made a desperate attempt to strike Her Majesty a terrific blow on the head."  Although evidently several inches taller than the teenager who blocked him, Pate was not big enough to lean right over young Holder. "Happily the full force of the blow was spent on the top of my head", Holder explained. The Queen was only slightly injured. "Happily" is a nice touch: the Reverend William Holder was a royalist and a patriot! The "stunning" blow threw him against the Queen's carriage. Assuming he was the attacker, the police seized him, but somebody shouted, "That's the wrong man; it's the one behind", and Pate was arrested.

Although badly dazed by the blow, Holder retained vivid memories of the incident. He heard the Queen calmly remark to her coachman, "I am not hurt, drive on".  An elderly American tourist (yes, we had tourists even then), shouted "God bless your Majesty that you are saved".  The police protected Pate from the angry crowd, who wanted to lynch him.

Half a century later, Holder still suffered occasional headaches and even attacks of giddiness, from the blow he'd received protecting his Queen. He had retired from the ministry in 1897, but the Congregational Church was not a wealthy organization. His pension was only £20 a year. (When the State pension was introduced for the elderly poor in 1909, the rate was £13 a year single and £19.50 for married couples.) Holder broke his silence hoping that Queen Victoria might reward him with employment in the Royal Household. Instead, he obtained a nice part-time retirement job, open-air work with a chance to meet new people. He became a funeral chaplain at Manor Park Cemetery. 


Thursday 24 June 1897 was a special day in Victorian England. People were getting ready to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee – sixty years on the throne. It was early afternoon. In a field near Epping, a Jubilee meal was laid out on tables inside a large tent. At South Weald, children gathered in the park of the local mansion – now Weald Country Park – to honour their sovereign. A cricket team left Romford station, to play a late match at Ingatestone, into the long midsummer evening shadows.

Although the weather was "intensely hot" (temperatures were over 30 degrees Celsius), farmers were busy harvesting and making hay. There were distant rumbles of thunder, but nobody expected the tempest that followed. Suddenly, Essex people saw an angry mushroom-shaped black cloud approaching fast. A high wind brought lashing rain, which quickly turned to hail. Reflected heat from the baking earth had abruptly forced the cloud into higher layers of cold air, freezing the moisture which then fell as large, vicious hailstones. The Jubilee tent at Epping was torn to shreds, and the festive meal washed away. At South Weald, terrified children ran for shelter.

The hailstorm passed through a narrow corridor, about nine miles wide. "At Ilford and Romford, it was quite fine, but at Brentwood rain fell heavily." North of Brentwood, the devastation was terrible. In just twenty minutes, the harvest was destroyed. A Kelvedon Hatch farmer suffered a nervous breakdown when he saw the damage to his fields. Birds were slaughtered by the massive hailstones – not just wild birds, but also poultry, the chickens on which poorer country people relied for eggs and income. Greenhouses were smashed. The noise was terrible. Some people emerged from shelter to find chimneys blown down and buildings demolished – but they'd never heard them fall.

Ingatestone suffered terribly. Twenty four hours after the storm, there were still hailstones a foot deep in some places. One was over four inches across. A coachman who'd tried to rescue a horse was so badly cut across his arms and chest that he looked as if he'd been in the ring with a prizefighter. Pea-pickers near Blackmore were covered in blood. At Margaretting, near Chelmsford, a farmer clung to the top of a haystack after his ladder was swept away. He was lucky. Most haystacks evaporated. Hellfire religion was strong in rural Essex. Some people thought the world was ending. The Romford cricket team arrived at Ingatestone station just as the storm passed. They crunched across the line and caught the next train home. Chelmsford looked as if it had been "bombarded by a hostile army". Tiptree's famous strawberry crop was pulped. The storm ebbed as suddenly as it had started, causing little damage when it [assed over Colchester. Thousands of pounds were subscribed to relief funds, but some Essex farmers went bankrupt.

An even more localised freak weather event was the Elm Park tornado of Friday 26 August 1960. "Suddenly it became as black as ink," reported a local resident who'd been walking along Upper Rainham Road in the early afternoon. "There was an explosion and a tornado-like wind. Everything went up – leaves, bits of wood and slates – I have never seen anything like it."

Fifty houses in a short stretch of Rainham Road were damaged. At one property, roof tiles were torn off, garage doors smashed in, and a 25-foot high apple tree uprooted and thrown into a neighbour's garden. At Hornchurch Council's yard – now Havering's Central Depot – walls were blown down and shed roofs ripped off. A stack of tiles was thrown sixty feet into the air. Debris smashed windows in nearby houses. One woman was taken to hospital after being struck by flying masonry. She seems to have been the only local casualty.

Global temperatures are rising. Freak weather events may happen more often.


Shortly before the 1914 War, a little girl called Winifred lived in a house on Main Road, Romford, just up the hill from the Market. She'd go to bed in a silent world, for there were few cars and no traffic hum in those days. Around midnight she'd be woken by the distant "clop-clopping" of horses drawing heavy wagons from the direction of Gallows Corner. There were other noises, like the clanking of badly fitted wheel hubs, and the rattling of buckets hanging from the axles, for use in case of fire. Winifred half-dozed as she listened to the wagons passing – traffic flowed through the Market until 1969 – and the noise gradually became fainter as they headed for London.

The wagons were carrying vegetables to early morning London markets at Spitalfields and Covent Garden. Some were loaded twelve feet high with cabbages and turnips, others carried more specialised produce like radishes or rhubarb. The largest, drawn by four fine horses, seemed as big as houses. In Hornchurch, heavy wagons were reported in 1917 to rumble through the village every night, "laden with seasonal field produce", on their way to London.

Wagons were brightly painted, in orange, yellow and cream – like trucks in Africa and India today. With few streetlamps in those days, gaudy colours and individual designs helped identify them even by faint starlight.

Slow journeys meant early starts and long hours. Frank Clarke began driving a wagon from Corbets Tey to Covent Garden in 1902. In summer, he worked up to 120 hours a week, usually in continuous three-day periods. After a day of farm work, the wagon would leave about 5.30 p.m. on Monday, heading through Romford or Rainham and returning early the following afternoon.  Drivers were expected to load another consignment right away, often from fields several miles away. "So we were out of our beds from 5 a.m. on Monday till 9 p.m. on Wednesday." The process was repeated from dawn on Thursday until late on Saturday.

Saturdays were the only nights the wagons didn't operate, because the London markets were closed on Sundays. But there was no rest day for the wagon men: their horses needed to be scrubbed down.

Wages were good, but the lack of sleep was punishing. Tom Stokes worked at Elm Farm, which gave its name to Elm Park. He left for market each day in the early hours, and promptly dozed off. His horse was trained to stop at a café in Manor Park where he woke up, had breakfast and then continued to Spitalfields. Most drivers nodded off on the return journey, and were sometimes nabbed for "driving asleep" by officious policemen. Many kept small terriers, which were trained to yap when strangers approached. Some wagons had a two-man team. It was common to see one of them stretched out on top of the piled-high vegetables taking a nap.

Generally, sleeping wagon drivers were no safety hazard – the faithful horses knew their way home! However, on one occasion a team bolted at Mountnessing on the Chelmsford road, dragging their swaying wagon three miles to Brentwood, where it collided with a lamppost in the High Street.

Market gardeners were at the mercy of any sudden glut of vegetables. A Chadwell Heath smallholder once dumped a cartload of marrows in a ditch after the wholesale price fell to sixpence (2 and a half pence) for sixty.

Many wagons returning from London reached Romford around 9 a.m. A cafe, the Globe Dining Rooms in the Market Place, specialised in serving drivers with revitalising breakfasts. Wagons lined up on the cobbles near St Edward's church.  Supplied with fresh nosebags, the horses tossed their heads, jingling their decorative brasses in the morning air.

In the 1920s, motorised lorries replaced the horse-drawn wagons. They were much quicker, and nobody then cared about the damage they might do to the environment.


Nowadays, we're told nobody has a job for life. Everybody can expect to retrain for new challenges in mid-career. And you may have to work beyond the retiring age too. Maybe we can learn something from the Reverend Frederic Tugwell, who became vicar of Havering-atte-Bower at the age of 70, and worked enthusiastically until his death ten years later.

His first half century is easily summarised. Born in Wiltshire in 1812, he became a successful grocer (specialising in bacon) in the cathedral city of Salisbury. Marriage to Elizabeth Andrews in 1840 produced eleven children, four of whom died young. Then, in his late forties, he changed direction, and became an Anglican clergyman. Mid-life crisis, or a desire for a fulfilling vocation? What did Elizabeth think?

Most clergy were graduates, but in those days a middle-aged grocer was unlikely to get to university. Luckily, there was a backdoor. St Bees College, on the Cumbrian coast, trained humbler candidates for the Church. The family relocated 400 miles north.

In 1865, Frederic Tugwell became vicar of a poor parish in Lambeth, the start of seventeen years of hard work. In 1881, when a Thames high tide caused severe flooding, he raised relief funds. Publicly thanking subscribers, he described his "joy" at helping people.  The Reverend Frederic Tugwell sounds a lively and a lovely person.

The next year, aged 70, he moved to Havering, exchanging a working-class parish of 9,000 people for a forelock-pulling community of just 473, a village dominated by the wealthy residents of a few Big Houses. An active member of the village Conservative Association, Frederic Tugwell had no problems about this. His first public appearance, in October 1882, was at a "Harvest Home", a traditional autumn celebration for farm labourers. On leaving Lambeth, he'd been told "he would find nothing to do in a small place like Havering." In fact, he had big plans for "their nice little church". He'd already raised money to install new lighting. He wanted to redecorate in bright colours to make the interior "look pleasant and warm in winter time". Good-humouredly, he added that "there was plenty of money in Havering, and he meant to have some of it." In short, he was "as busy as a bee, and as happy as a bird, and had received a hearty welcome everywhere."

Unlike many aloof clergymen, Frederic Tugwell was a very human person, keen on practical hobbies like fretwork. He was energetic too. Using clergymen's jargon, Havering's historian, the Reverend Harold Smith, said Tugwell "worked the parish as well as it has ever been worked."

Living at Havering vicarage with Elizabeth, one unmarried daughter plus a cook and a housemaid, Frederic Tugwell might seem isolated from the wider world. In fact, two of his sons had emigrated to Australia. A third, Herbert, became a clergyman and a missionary in Nigeria.

In 1890, aged 78, Frederic Tugwell was diagnosed as diabetic. Almost certainly, he had late-onset Type 2 Diabetes, which was difficult to treat and must have made him very tired. Yet in 1891, aged 79, he organised the rebuilding of the local school, Dame Tipping Primary. There's still a commemorative plaque on the outside wall recording his name.

In April 1892, he chaired a village meeting to select local officials, and that month celebrated his eightieth birthday. A few weeks later, he lapsed into a diabetic coma. Frederic Tugwell died on 28 May 1892. A local newspaper wrote that he was "universally and most deservedly respected." Havering turned out in force for his funeral at his church. At the graveside, the church choir and local schoolchildren sang the hymn, "Now the labourer's task is o'er." Elizabeth died in 1903, and was buried with him.

Frederic Tugwell proved that a veteran who loves his job can make a contribution beyond the retiring age. Of course, it helped that he could walk to work!


On that November day in 1891, few Havering-atte-Bower villagers would ever have seen a Black person. They were often asked for cash to spread the Gospel among the people of Africa. There was to be a missionary meeting in the parish room on Havering's village green that evening. The surprise was that the visiting speaker was himself an African.

Their vicar, the Reverend Frederic Tugwell, elderly but still spry, welcomed the Reverend James Johnson. The vicar's son, the Reverend Herbert Tugwell, was a missionary in Lagos. James Johnson was one of Herbert's colleagues – hence his decision to call at Havering during his visit to Britain.

How did an African clergyman come to have a European surname? Although Britain abolished its slave trade in 1806, Brazil and the USA continued to import slaves from Africa. For once, British arrogance had a positive side. The Royal Navy patrolled the Atlantic, rescuing terrified captives from other countries' slave ships. If returned to their homelands, the victims would be enslaved again. Instead, they were settled in Sierra Leone, Britain's colony for ex-slaves (its capital is called Freetown). There they learned English and many adopted new surnames.

James Johnson's parents were Yoruba people, from modern-day Nigeria. Born about 1836, he was educated at Fourah Bay, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) college, West Africa's first university.

Johnson became a clergyman. Since he spoke Yoruba, the CMS sent him to Lagos, but he had little success as a missionary. Fiercely puritanical, "Holy Johnson" denounced the Yoruba practice of polygamy, and made few converts. In 1880, he became pastor of the principal Anglican church in Lagos, the Breadfruit Church. Families like the Johnsons were called Creoles – Africans who'd adopted European lifestyles. The British Empire saw them as intermediaries who would "civilize" Africa: Christianity, cricket and capitalism would turn the Dark Continent into a copy of Europe.

But James Johnson had radically subversive views. He wanted Africans to become Christians, because a single religion would overcome tribal divisions. But he rejected other European values, institutions and products – especially alcohol. His vision was of a continent united in religion, but run by Africans on African lines. James Johnson was a pioneer of the ideology called pan-Africanism, expressed today in the international body, the African Union. The Reverend Johnson was perhaps too polite to tell the vicar of Havering about tensions among the Nigerian missionaries. Africans like himself objected that young Englishmen from British universities despised African cultures, and lacked respect for their Black colleagues. Was Herbert Tugwell, a Cambridge graduate, one of those?

A crossroads decision loomed for Anglicanism in west Africa. A new bishop for the massive diocese of Western Equatorial Africa would soon be needed, to replace the ageing and saintly Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first Black bishop in the Anglican Communion. Another Sierra Leonean, Crowther had been rescued by the Royal Navy from a Portuguese slave-ship when he was twelve years old. Bishop Crowther died a few weeks after James Johnson's visit to Havering. Johnson had argued strongly for African leadership in the Anglican Church in west Africa. But Whitehall and Canterbury wouldn't take the risk, and kept control in European hands. In 1894, Crowther's successor was appointed: Herbert Tugwell, still a relative newcomer, became the new bishop of Western Equatorial Africa. James Johnson considered forming a breakaway African church, but in 1900 accepted appointment as Tugwell's assistant bishop. He died in 1917.

There's no report of the speeches delivered that night in Havering village. No doubt there were prayers and hymns, and villagers listened awestruck to a learned address from a Black gentleman. Havering-atte-Bower collected £91 for the CMS that year. But its generosity financed a form of religious colonialism, with Europeans deciding what was best for their African charges. Had he been supported by the Anglican Church, James Johnson might have led a revolution on his own continent, working towards an Africa run by and for Africans.


In 1901, 407 people lived in the parish of Havering-atte-Bower, but they supported three shops and three pubs! The village was dominated by a few Big Houses, such the Bower House, the Hall and Pyrgo Park. The Round House was supposedly built by a successful tea merchant in the shape of a tea caddy. It was the home of the Reverend J.H. Pemberton, a famous rose grower, who doubled as the unpaid curate at the church of the Ascension in still-rural Collier Row.

In the early 1960s, Phyllis Harvey recalled that everybody worked for the gentry, and they knew their place. The class system was on display every Sunday at St John's church. "Pews to the front of the nave were exclusively for the gentlefolk." These pews had cushions, even curtains, and some even had a little gate to keep out interlopers. From the back of the church, Phyllis watched breathlessly as the gentry took their places. "I felt quite certain God looked down in a special way upon these very special people." That, of course, was what she was supposed to think. The pecking order kicked in again as the congregation left the church after service. "The village children were expected to bob and curtsey as the elegant ladies and grand gentlemen drove off in their highly polished carriages." And we're talking about 1920, not the Middle Ages!

One imposing but over-dressed lady, large and purple-faced, was attended by an obsequious footman, who carefully tucked a fur cloak around his mistress. A local horror story claimed that the cloak was made from the skins of cats, shot on her orders by the gamekeeper "whenever one of the unfortunate animals dared to stray over the precincts of her vast domain." Villagers whose pet pussies were slaughtered for trespassing dared not complain. (I suspect this tale was exaggerated.)

One the plus side, there was a reciprocal element to the forelock-tugging. Ordinary Havering people could turn to their wealthy neighbours if they fell sick or became too old to work. 

Treats for children were paid for by the Big Houses. Phyllis affectionately recalled the annual Sunday School treat, given on the last Saturday of the year. Here youngsters encountered Havering's other power structure, the clergy. Oddly enough, the job of vicar at St John's was not well paid, because the parish had only been split off from Romford in recent times. Clergy tended to come and go. The vicar, the Reverend Edward Symonds, had previously worked in South Africa, which suggested that he lacked influential backers who might have found him a job in England. He'd been appointed by Mrs Pemberton-Barnes at the Hall. The children's party was held in the parish room, built in 1903 and paid for by Mrs Pemberton-Barnes. The Reverend Symons was assisted by a curate. They seemed to have a competition to see which of them clould recite the longer grace. "Thank-yous" were offered to all the bountiful well-wishers, and the hungry children had to bow or curtsey to each one.

There was no electricity in Havering, and parish room was lit by paraffin, which flavoured the sandwiches and cakes.  The parish room was also draughty. Some youngsters grabbed places near the stove, and soon resembled "small boiled lobsters". Those relegated to the frozen periphery could hardly grasp their mugs of tea in their numbed fingers. The party closed with the local baker handing out sugar buns as the children scrambled into their overcoats. Some put their buns carefully on the floor while donning their coats, only to have them trodden on in the crush. Others tried to hold their confectionery while shoving their arms into their sleeves, with equally disastrous results.

Feudal Havering collapsed when Collier Row's suburban frontier crept towards the village in the 1930s. The gentry fled to quieter pastures. Mansions like Pyrgo and the Hall were demolished, others like the Bower House and Havering Grange were adapted for institutional use.


When the Reverend Doctor Harold Smith died at his Havering-atte-Bower family home in 1936, one obituary said he was "passionately fond" of the village. He'd spent his childhood there, and returned in retirement. His father, Benjamin Smith, was one of Havering's churchwardens from 1873 until his death, a few weeks after his son – an impressive 63 years.

Even when he worked elsewhere, Harold Smith was never far from home. He was born at Havering in 1867. His father was a wealthy merchant. His mother's maiden name was Barnes, probably related to the family who lived at the Round House, Havering's quirky tea-caddy mansion. Havering-atte-Bower was packed with mansions, built by rich families to enjoy the district's wide views.

When St John's Anglican church was rebuilt in 1876-77, the wealthiest residents contributed over £5,000. Just £18, 15 shillings and twopence (£18.76) came from the villagers! Havering needed a new, larger and better designed church. In Victorian times, the parish's privileged residents had erected comfortable but inconvenient high-backed pews. Young Harold had to stand on his seat to watch the service. Poorer residents were herded on to hard benches in a gallery. "I well remember watching the progress of the new church," he recalled. Builders took over the village green to cut stone blocks dragged uphill from Romford.  During construction work, services were held in a rat-infested barn.

Young Harold first knew Romford's South Street when it was still basically a country lane. An ancient milestone showed the distance to Upminster. It was removed when shops were built. He also remembered the windmill on Harold Wood's Shepherds Hill, demolished around 1880. The junction near today's Bower Park Academy was called the Four Want Ways, an Essex dialect term for a crossroads – "want" was connected with the archaic verb "to wend". Young Harold was told the name meant that you wanted to know which way to go!

Smith honoured his first teacher, the Reverend James Goodday. Lacking influential Church connections, Goodday worked as the chaplain at Romford Workhouse, later Oldchurch Hospital. He lived at Tysea Hill, north of Havering, where he taught private pupils for extra income. Goodday retired to Harold Wood shortly before his death in 1889.

Harold Smith went on to King's College School in London. In 1886, he entered St John's College, Cambridge. In a brilliant academic career, he achieved First Class Honours in both Classics and Theology, specialising in New Testament studies. He became a Scholar of St John's College, and won three Cambridge University postgraduate awards.

But he switched to a career in the Church, including nine years as curate at an unfortunately named village called Grimley, near Worcester. In 1906, he joined another St John's, a training college for Anglican clergy in north London – conveniently close to Havering. There he produced six volumes analysing theological interpretations of the Gospels written before 325 A.D. – useful material for intending clergy. London University rewarded him with a doctoral degree. In the words of Gilbert and Sullivan, Harold Smith was now a Doctor of Divinity who resided in our vicinity!

He turned next to Essex history. In 1925, he published his History of the Parish of Havering-atte-Bower Essex. It's still reliable and readable almost a century later. Shortly before his death, the Lordship of the Manor of Havering came up for auction. Once the powerful tool of England's Kings and Queens, it was now mostly an empty title. Harold Smith bought the rights, and transferred them to Romford Council. That's how Romford Council's successor, the Borough of Havering, is also Lord of the Manor, and owner of Havering's village green.

One April morning in 1936, Harold Smith's sister took him a cup of tea, and found him dead in bed. He was buried in St John's churchyard. Havering-atte-Bower was the love of Harold Smith's life. He never married.


In 1903, the Anglican Church started planning for Essex to break away from the diocese of St Albans and have its own bishop. The existing diocese was too big for any one bishop to manage. Essex had over a million people, half living in "London-over-the-Border" (LOB), as the capital sprawled towards Leyton and Ilford. LOB areas like West Ham were poor. Few people went to church. Parishes had enormous populations. The new diocese would tackle these challenges. 

Seven communities competed to become the diocesan headquarters. Only a big church could become a cathedral. With 461 Essex parishes, the cathedral town needed a large conference hall, plus hotels for overnight visitors. Access was crucial. The main railway lines through Essex, from Cambridge, Colchester and Southend, all converged on London. Cross-country travel, even where branchlines existed, was a headache.

These criteria virtually ruled out four of the runners. Thaxted had a glorious church but the village was in the middle of nowhere, with no facilities. Henry VIII had planned to promote Waltham Abbey's ancient church to cathedral status, but  things had moved on. The small town was remote from the rest of Essex. Woodford's case was frankly snobbish – big church, nice area, lots of money, swanky place for a bishop to live. Barking's Abbey church was large, and its vicar argued it would be "a magnificent thing" to locate a cathedral in such a poor community. But Barking lacked hotels and conference facilities.

Two Essex towns put in strong bids. The Romans had founded Colchester, but unfortunately they'd stuck it in one corner of Essex, forty miles from crowded LOB. Chelmsford was smaller but it had a large and handsome church. Its comfortable inns already catered for lawyers attending the county courts. Anglicans had used its thousand-seat Corn Exchange for an anti-government protest meeting in 1906. Chelmsford also predicted that a new invention, the motorcar, would improve access from rural Essex.

The place to beat was West Ham. If LOB was a key reason for giving Essex its own bishop, surely he should be based in its most challenging district? Essex railways all led to Stratford, where the great Victorian barn of St John's church at Stratford Broadway would make a fine cathedral. The nearby town hall could host conferences. London had Westminster, with its magnificent Abbey. Visionary Stratfordites dreamed of a new Eastminster.

Clergy were clever operators. West Ham's rivals avoided direct attack. Instead, they argued that the Surrey diocese had made a mistake in choosing Southwark Cathedral for its headquarters.

Southwark, they said, was too close to St Paul's and too far from the suburbs. It was a coded message: avoid Stratford.

Why wasn't Romford a candidate? Romford Market linked London and rural Essex. It was on the main line to Colchester, with connections through Upminster and Shenfield to Southend. Unfortunately, with seating for 650 people, St Edward's church wasn't big enough, and its town-centre location made extension impossible. Romford lacked a large public hall. Its inns catered for cattle drovers, not clergymen. St Andrew's, Hornchurch, had a cathedral-like dignity, but held only 500 worshippers.

The cathedral was chosen by a bizarre one-parish-one-vote system. Tiny villages outvoted large urban parishes. The Church of the Ascension at Collier Row was still part of the parish of Romford; Harold Wood's congregation belonged to Hornchurch. They had no vote. In each parish, the parson and churchwardens were to choose. This excluded women.

Seventy parishes failed to return ballot papers. South Weald, near Brentwood, abstained on principle. The four outsiders polled badly: only Thaxted voted for Thaxted. Chelmsford, with 191 votes, beat Colchester, with 101. West Ham, with 63, was a distant third. Barely one parish in eight wanted to send its bishop to the raw urban frontiers. Even many LOB parishes preferred Chelmsford, because eccelsiastical  conferences would give them a nice day out.

The diocese of Chelmsford came into being in 1914. The first bishop solved the problem of travelling around Essex. He hired a chauffeur.


In the early twentieth century, local versifiers produced poetry that was so curious it deserves to be remembered, if only with amusement.

In 1914, Upminster historian T.L. Wilson hymned his native village:

'Tis sometimes asked if any claim

Upminster has to age or fame?

Why, yes, it's not a modern place.

The name for centuries eight we trace.

Wilson was embarrassed that one of Upminster's most famous residents was Alice Perrers, mistress of King Edward III. She had made gifts to the parish church.

But all she did to hide her errors

Has not sufficed for Alice Perrers.

No power can ever free the shame

Or shift the sin that stains her name.

Wilson, who was in the building trade, welcomed Upminster's smart suburban development:

Upminster's well maintained her place

With, may I say, a worthy race?

And now, besides, to look more pretty,

She's building fast a Garden City.

In 1905, an anonymous bard published a tribute to Henry Pammett, who'd become a successful shopkeeper. In 1859, he left the family home at Rainham's twin village of Wennington to seek his fortune:

The small thatched-roof cottage he looked on with pain

When he left the old spot he might ne'er see again.

This seems exaggerated, since he only moved as far as Woolwich. There he became a shop assistant, specialising in courteous customer service:

He would answer each one with a "Yes, Ma'am" or "No, Sir",

And everyone flocked to this popular grocer.

The Reverend Herbert Dale, vicar of Hornchurch, defied convention by refusing to wear the clerical dog collar and clergyman's standard black outfit. Hornchurch historian Charles Perfect satirised Dale's critics:

He wears a layman's collar, and a simple bow of white!

I ask you, Christian brethren, do you think that this is right?

He may be a good parson, and maybe he can preach,

But if he don't know how to dress, how can he morals teach?

Perfect also wielded his pen in support of the campaign by his friend, Scotsman Major Ewing, for street lighting in Wingletye Lane, an unpaved road notorious for hazardous potholes and puzzles. Although Ewing wanted only six streetlamps, penny-pinching ratepayers attacked his scheme, resorting to underhand stratagems the block it:

The gallant Major shouted, "Halt, there's treason in the camp!

'Tis said that darkest Wingletye won't have a single lamp!"

"We must have six," quoth he, "or, sure as my name is Ewin',

We'll bust these bloomin' gas bags, their little scheme we'll ruin."

Another newcomer to Hornchurch rallied to the cause:

"Oh, right you are, my bonnie Scot," said an Irishman named McQuire,

"In Wingletye, 'let there be light', as well as mud and mire."

After an initial defeat, Ewing forced a local referendum. His Light Brigade won the poll, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed formally to carry the proposal. Charles Perfect offered lyrical consolation:

Black darkness brooded o'er the land,

When homeward sped the vanquished band;

They'd fought their second fight and failed –

The powers of darkness still prevailed.

The Major scowled – then struck a light,

(Their only "glim" that dismal night);

He lit his fag, then heaved a sigh,

And thought of Darkest Wingletye.

One of England's most famous poets, Edward Thomas, was stationed at Gidea Park during the First World War, and used local place names to create a moving picture of rural Essex in his verse. But I think we've had enough poetry for one week.


We know little about William Groves. On that dramatic spring evening in 1904, he was aged 53, a labourer lodging near Ardleigh Green.

He'd been born in Blackmore, ten miles north of Romford, probably in 1851. The village was packed with families called Groves. At the 1861 census, when he was 9, he shared a cottage with his grandfather, Robert Groves, an agricultural labourer. A sister, Fanny, only appears in a later census. This suggests that their parents were dead, and the youngsters had been split up among relatives. Although Blackmore is an attractive village today, it was backwater then. In 1861, it was described as a place where "pauperism" was "rife".

William's next few decades aren't clear. It seems he left for London where he got married. Sadly, his wife died giving birth to their only daughter, Eliza. In 1891, William Groves, now a policeman in Southwark, was rearing Eliza with the help of his sister Fanny. Both women then disappear from the story.

The Great Eastern Railway operated a factory near Ardleigh Green. It made tarpaulins to cover goods wagons. Converted into the Kidman Close apartments in the 1960s, it's still a trackside landmark. The "Romford Factory" sidings were used as a marshalling yard for trains on the Liverpool Street line. By 1901, William Groves had left the police and was working as a railway labourer, part of a track maintenance team. He lodged in nearby Factory Road. Its grim terraces of housing for railway employees were later replaced by Elvet Avenue.

On Friday 15 April 1904, the gang worked an eleven and a half hour shift at Stratford. Groves caught the evening train which reached Romford at 6.20. He was allowed to remain on board as it continued to the sidings. This was standard practice. When the train halted alongside Factory Road, he opened the carriage door and braced himself to jump down beside the track. But the train hadn't reached its final stop. Suddenly it jolted backwards, throwing him under the wheels. His right foot was "severely crushed". His left leg was severed.

He must have been rushed – as fast as horse and cart could carry him – either to Romford's Victoria Cottage Hospital in Pettits Lane (now a health centre) or to the workhouse infirmary at Oldchurch – eventually replaced by the Queen's in 2006. I doubt if surgeons could do very much.

An official enquiry followed. The Inspector, Mr A. Ford, reached a bleak verdict. "I attribute the accident to want of caution on the part of the injured man." He made no safety recommendations. We often laugh at our over-protective health and safety culture. But Ford might have suggested that nobody should leave a train in sidings until the engine whistle had signalled that it was safe. It was important for the system to blame William Groves to avoid paying him compensation.

Railways were shockingly dangerous. Nowadays, apart from the tragic scourge of suicide, few people are killed on Britain's railways – just 23 in 2015, mostly because they trespassed on the tracks. But in 1907, an astonishing 1,100 people were killed, including 454 railway employees Over 5,800 railway workers were injured.

William Groves was probably granted a small disability pension, and maybe some cash to pay for crutches. In 1911, he boarded in Douglas Road Hornchurch, off Brentwood Road. His landlord was another railwayman, his cousin Thomas Groves. Six adults shared a small house, half-way down a very long street. Yet, despite his disability and his isolation, William, now 62, was described as "general labourer". It's hard to imagine what work he did.

Gidea Park station opened in December 1910. I picture William hitching a lift to see it, levering himself across the footbridge and reflecting how things might have been different if it had been there a few years earlier.


Everybody agreed the dirty ditty should never have been performed in polite company. But the saucy song raised a basic question: what kind of place was Harold Wood in 1907?

Harold Wood began in 1868 with plans to build upmarket houses around the newly opened station. But the train service was poor and progress was slow. The ambitious King Harold hotel failed to lure fashionable visitors. Harold Wood remained small.  Just 53 people voted at a Council by-election in 1907. Its few smart residents lived alongside farm workers and railwaymen, plus draymen employed at the Gubbins Lane flour mill opened in 1906 by the brothers James and George Matthews. Holdbrook Way occupies the site.

A prefabricated church had been erected in 1871, giving its name to Church Road. Officially subordinate to Hornchurch, its clergyman was called the curate-in-charge. But when the Reverend Joseph Toole Stott arrived in 1907, he promoted himself to Vicar. A Northerner in his early forties, Stott was determined to make his mark. He quickly announced plans to raise £5,000 for a permanent church. The 1871 building wasn't elegant, but it seated 300 people. A new church was Stott's vanity project.

In the era before cinema and TV, people made their own entertainment. Harold Wood's working men's club met for singsongs and humorous recitations.  In 1907, there were 42 members. Some were middle-class well-wishers, who paid their sub just to help the funds.

The men's club met in the parish room, adjoining the iron church.  Stott wanted to control it.

One summer evening, a visitor to the club contributed a song, "The good, old-fashioned pub." The words can't be found on the Internet (believe me, I've looked) but they were "objectionable". The salacious singer "was politely told that he had mistaken the nature of the club", and banned from warbling again.

But the Reverend Stott sent an ultimatum. He must be elected club president, and his two churchwardens added to the committee, with absolute control over future programmes. The churchwardens were Charles Payton, a stockbroker who lived in Avenue Road, and Robert Warren, a businessman in the London Docks. At issue was the future of Harold Wood. Was it going to be like Cranham and Havering-atte-Bower, rural backwaters where Anglican clergy ruled the roost, or like busy Romford and Hornchurch, where clerics were respected but not obeyed?

The club committee denounced Stott's demands as "a gross insult" to their intelligence. As working men, they refused to defer to their social superiors. The small community supported them. The club called a public protest meeting at the Gubbins Lane school, now a neighbourhood centre. Permission to use Council property showed that public opinion was on their side. In another sign of solidarity, twenty new members joined. Local people supported an appeal to raise £300 for the club to build its own premises: over £50 was soon collected. Meanwhile, businessman and club supporter Otto Seefels, offered the club the use of an empty house. A naturalised British subject from Germany, Seefels manufactured dressing cases, luxury goods for ladies. He'd named his Harold Wood home Baden House after his birthplace. Maybe he'd invested in local property – but couldn't find a tenant!

In effect, Harold Wood had massively rejected the Reverend Joseph Toole Stott. In March 1908, he resigned. A local newspaper reported that he was moving to Cheltenham, "where one of the largest men's services in England is held"– spiteful "spin" from the rejected reverend. By 1911, he was living in south London.

In 1919, the men's club took part in planning Harold Wood's War Memorial Hall, which still stands in Gubbins Lane. Their unspent clubhouse funds probably went into that project.

St Peter's church, the permanent building Stott had dreamed about, was built in 1939 by loca millers, the Matthews brothers. That, too, was a war memorial, honouring their brother who had died serving in France.


Roneo Corner, where Rom Valley Way meets Rush Green Road, recalls a local factory that once led the world in office technology. Born in Prague in 1862, Augustus David Klaber emigrated to America, where he worked as sales agent for the office equipment company Gestetner – who later sued him over copyright! Klaber developed a simple printing machine, the Rotary Neostyle duplicator. "Roneo" machines produced 70 copies a minute, each looking like a typed letter. 

In 1907, Klaber's Roneo company opened its factory near Romford. It was a genuine Havering project. The address was Romford, the site was just inside Hornchurch. Its location was a hamlet called Haveringwell. Haveringwell House, near today's Burger King, was a quaint mansion topped by a tiny belfry. Nearby was the Crown pub, grandly rebuilt in the 1920s. An old graveyard, now a public garden, faced Upper Rainham Road. Only a footbridge crossed the River Rom. Rush Green Road was a major cattle route to London. Animals and wagons splashed through a ford. From this backwater, the new office equipment company conquered the world.

The First World War boosted Roneo. The Army needed duplicators to issue thousands of orders. The Romford factory also produced munitions. Its works hooter became the local air raid warning siren. In 1920, during Ireland's War of Independence, British forces raided Sinn Féin's Dublin headquarters. They found a Roneo machine churning out republican propaganda. In 1926, Britain's newspapers struggled to publish when the TUC called the General Strike. With their printers on strike, The Times and the weekly Spectator produced skeleton editions on Roneo duplicators. The Oxford English Dictionary recognised "roneo" both as a noun (for the machine) and as a verb (documents were "roneo'd").

Roneo's Romford factory also produced other office equipment, such as filing cabinets. Unlike wooden boxes, Roneo's steel cabinets resisted mice and could survive a fire. The Romford factory was doubled in size between 1909 and 1911, and extended again in 1920. In 1930, the Post Office approved the large-scale use of franking machines. Businesses could now produce mass-marketing material on their Roneo duplicators, and quickly mail it to customers through their Roneo-Neopost equipment. Gone were hours of licking stamps. By 1962, a quarter of all letters handled by the Post Office were franked. In 1936, the new Daily Mail offices were fitted with Roneo steel and glass moveable partitions, designed to allow future redesign of internal space. The company boasted that a building in Venezuela incorporated three miles of Roneo partitions! Internal fire doors on the famous liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were made by Roneo's Romford factory.

It was a good place to work. By 1912, there was an Athletics Club, with its own ground in nearby Clydesdale Road. In 1927, competition between teams from different departments at the annual sports day was "keen".  A fancy-dress dance followed in the evening. An amateur Roneo Concert Party organised popular variety shows. Disputes were few. In 1946, 1500 women workers briefly walked over pay. The factory was closed in a one-day national engineering stoppage in 1953.

The cramped Romford site became a problem. In 1958, Roneo switched some production to Norwich, a scheme abandoned in 1962. A year later, 600 Roneo workers were made redundant. They marched in protest through Romford, carrying a black coffin. In 1966, Roneo became part of the Vickers engineering group, which planned a new £4 million Romford factory in 1978. The company was sold again in 1980, to the French group Alcatel. But photocopiers now made duplicators old-fashioned. The Roneo brand was phased out around 1990. The factory site became the headquarters of a successor company, Neopost. In 2018, plans were announced to replace its multi-stporey office block with a 234-home building project

Officially, Roneo Corner ceased to exist when South Street was diverted to join the Rom Valley Way relief road. But the area where a Havering factory gave its name to the English language is still called Roneo Corner.


Until recently, only famous men were commemorated in the statues in London's Parliament Square. In 2018, a statue of Millicent Garrett Fawcett gave Parliament Square its first woman. It marked the centenary of the winning of votes for women, a campaign she'd led for 30 years.

Millicent came from a remarkable family.  Her sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, was the first woman to qualify as a doctor in Britain, overcoming dogged male skulduggery aimed at blocking her. Millicent's marriage to politician Henry Fawcett placed her at the centre of events. Although blinded in an accident, he became a cabinet minister. As both wife and secretary, Millicent briefed him on policy issues from confidential documents. She proved that women could be trusted with responsibility. In the 1870s, Millicent helped establish Newnham College at Cambridge, an institution for the higher education of women. In 1890, her daughter Philippa Fawcett beat all the male students in the University's maths examinations. After Henry's death in 1884, Millicent campaigned for women to be allowed to vote. People often associate that struggle with Mrs Pankhurst and her militant suffragettes. In fact, Mrs Fawcett's non-violent movement had 50,000 supporters, while Mrs Pankhurst's breakaway group – which Millicent opposed – attracted only around 2,000.

Wealthy entrepreneur Herbert Raphael planned a "garden suburb" around Romford's leading mansion, Gidea Hall. Raphael knew philanthropy was good business. In 1904, he gave part of the Gidea Hall grounds to the community: Romford Council would pay to run Raphael Park, adding an amenity for his new estate. When the Great Eastern Railway opened its station at Squirrels Heath in 1910, his Gidea Park housing project went ahead. The station was renamed in 1913. To promote the scheme, he asked famous people to advise on house design. Flattered, many responded. As Britain's leading campaigner for women's rights, Mrs Fawcett was an obvious target.

In 1911, Raphael held a marketing exhibition to sell the houses. The catalogue featured the celebrity replies, passed off as endorsements. Novelists Thomas Hardy and E.F. Benson pleaded for ensuite bathrooms and central heating, luxuries that took decades to arrive. Sci-fi writer H.G. Wells disliked open fireplaces; Jerome K. Jerome, author of Three Men in a Boat, disagreed. The Headmaster of Eton recommended glass-panel sliding doors. Arthur Benson, who'd written the words for Land of Hope and Glory, favoured "anything that tends to diminish unnecessary labour for servants." Gidea Park had its origins in a bygone age. Only the evolution theorist Alfred Russel Wallace politely refused to comment.

Typically, Millicent Fawcett thought deeply before responding, consulting other women activists for ideas.  "Inattention to aspect" was the worst fault in modern houses, she insisted. The best rooms were usually situated closest to the road. They should face south, no matter the street frontage. Even if the site didn't face south, "the maximum of sun should be aimed at."

It would be "a great practical convenience" to design small rooms so "they could be thrown together to make one large room". "Water supply should be arranged so that it can easily be entirely cut off during frost to prevent damage from burst pipes." Did the leader of the women's movement think up the external stopcock? Of course, Millicent Fawcett approved of indoor bathrooms, but she added a feminist angle. "Smaller baths than those usually supplied would suffice for every need." If large men had to bathe with their knees under their chins, tough luck! She condemned architects who built fussy and expensive roofs, which caused "a very serious deterioration" of the awkwardly shaped bedrooms below. But perhaps her most serious concern was storage. In a plaintive cry on behalf of harassed housewives, she insisted that "the cupboard accommodation in most modern houses is inadequate."

Winning the vote for women was a step towards creating a better world – one in which women would insist on homes with cupboards and sunny living rooms.


Havering wasn't always a haven of rural peace. John Cedric Coates was the son of a prosperous family in Streatham. He trained as an engineer, but – aged just 21 – decided to switch to farming. He claimed he'd "gone into farming for his health". By 1911, he was running a farm in the Ingrebourne valley, near Harold Wood. It's now included in Pages Wood, part of the Thames Chase forest project. Coates admitted that he "suffered from inexperience". Worse still, he got into dairying. Cows have to be milked every day, and they can be cussed creatures.

A married couple helped run the farm. Frank Bosworth was a general handyman. His wife, Emily, was the housekeeper. The Bosworths were horrified by their employer's antics, and reported him to the police for animal cruelty. Coates had problems with two of his cows, one white and one red – probably a rich-brown Aberdeen Angus. Once, Mrs Bosworth saw Coates pepper the red cow with two blasts from his shotgun, causing it to bleed in its hindquarters. He then beat the animal with a stick. On another occasion, the two beasts invaded a field of oats. Coates unleashed both barrels to encourage them to leave.

Appearing in court in Romford, Coates vigorously defended himself. He carried a shotgun to exterminate rats and stoats. He'd only fired it over the heads of the cows to drive them out of the oats. Under questioning, he shifted his ground. "It was possible he might have shot these cows, but he had not done so intentionally." In any case, the red cow had charged him. As he took evasive action, his gun accidentally discharged. The cow "did not apparently suffer much pain."

Coates had hired a defence lawyer. Macrae Diggle was a young barrister, the son of Joseph Diggle, a well-known clergyman, politician and high-grade scoundrel, whose lavish lifestyle had recently led to spectacular bankruptcy. Macrae Diggle wasn't responsible for his father's sins, but he had inherited his impudence. Since the red cow could not give evidence, Diggle decided to blame the victim. It was "the worst cow in the county". It jumped fences "like a Welsh sheep" and "ate all it could lay its hands on". It even drank its own milk! In effect, Diggle pleaded provocation. The red cow had been rooting for a shooting. This was a case of self-defence.

The episode was gleefully reported around the world. An Australian newspaper ran the headline: "The Wicked Cow". The townie lawyer's belief that cows had "hands" also aroused mirth.

Were the two animals badly hurt? A policeman reckoned "there were hundreds of shots in the red cow". But the expert opinion of Louis Barrett, a vet from Western Road Romford, played down the injuries to the red cow, and found no wounds on the white one. "Both animals were in good condition and showed no sign of cruel treatment." (Apart from being shot.)

Coates saw himself, not his cow, as the victim. He complained at "the manner in which the professional farmer looked down upon the amateur." This was a warning shot against one of the magistrates, Abraham Saltwell, who farmed at Upminster Hall, across the Ingrebourne. And Coates specialised in warning shots. The magistrates fined him £5, emphasising that "the practice of using guns to shoot cows was most reprehensible and unheard of."

In 1912, Coates got married in Romford, but as the couple's only child was born in Croydon in 1914, it seems he abandoned farming. Macrae Dibble's career as a barrister ended soon after too. His wicked cow defence would hardly attract clients. Coates joined the Army in the First World War. Had the Germans used cows on the Western Front, his talents might have been useful.  He died young, aged 35 in 1925. It seems his health was indeed bad. So was his temper.


People who live in Harold Park generally don't get obituaries in The Times. The Top People's newspaper records deaths of the rich and powerful, not somebody who lived in a bungalow on the A12 Colchester Road.

Walter Southgate was a tiny man who fizzed with fun. A lifelong socialist, he cheerfully despised wealth and power. Born in London in 1890, he had to leave school when he was twelve because his father was unemployed. As he said of those distant days in the title of his autobiography, That's The Way It Was. He was the proud owner of a certificate stating that he'd never missed a day's schooling.

In his teens, Walter joined Labour Party's forerunners, the Social Democratic Federation and the Clarion movement. Nowadays we'd call them far-left organisations, but they stood for brotherhood and sharing. As The Times said when he died in 1986, Walter's socialism was "ethical, expansive and gentle, with a simple belief in social justice." He formed a Clarion cycling club, exploring the roads of Essex before cars made them a racetrack.

At fourteen, he became a clerk in a solicitor's office.  Hi-tech it was not: the firm even trained him to write with quill pens. (In his later years, Lloyd's of London sometimes commissioned him to cut quill pens for use on ceremonial parchment documents.) But he learned the importance of filing documents. Walter saved the leaflets and posters from the various campaigns he'd supported. They filled his bungalow near Harold Court Road. In 1964, he showed me placards from a demonstration he'd organised denouncing the Tsar of Russia. In 1908, it was dangerous to criticise royalty. Walter was a clever cartoonist. His ugly caricatures of Nicholas II attracted police attention. Half a century later, he still described that day with sardonic mockery.

"He sought neither office nor limelight", wrote The Times. Walter always worked behind the scenes. He'd founded a union branch at the age of 15. If he was not a conventional hero, he'd shown the courage of his principles. When war broke out in 1914, Walter decided it was an imperialist conflict, and refused to fight. An official tribunal tried to catch him out with a trick question. Surely he'd fight the Kaiser to defend his own home?  Typically cheeky, Walter replied that the Kaiser must be very hard up to want his tiny terraced house in Hackney. Maybe Walter was too short for the Army anyway. As a conscientious objector, he was sent to still-rural Dagenham to do farm work.

This led to a change of career following his marriage in 1918. The Southgates bought a smallholding near Ongar, where they lived until moving to Harold Park in 1955. Walter saw the Second World War as a people's conflict. He gladly used his administrative skills to help find accommodation for people bombed out of their homes. In his seventies, he worked as a part-time gardener. How could a senior citizen do such heavy work? Easy! Walter was a pioneer of "no dig" gardening – you piled weeds on other weeds, clearing and mulching your garden without backbreaking work. Labour's 1978 Blackpool conference honoured his "outstanding voluntary service".

Walter wanted his collection to tell future generations about his fight for social justice. When the National Museum of Labour was started in 1975, he donated 600 items. It's now the People's History Museum in Manchester. Present at the official handover was Labour prime minister Harold Wilson. Refusing to be overawed, Walter asked Wilson if there was still a warrant out for his arrest for skipping military service!

In 2004 came further posthumous recognition, a place in the multi-volume Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, alongside legendary heroes like Winston Churchill and Florence Nightingale –although they did get rather more space! The tiny glowing man from Harold Wood merited his place among the Top People and the country's icons. He was a Havering treasure – and a national benefactor.


Although rivalry between the British and German navies helped cause the First World War, the two fleets clashed only once, at the battle of Jutland in 1916. Germany's High Seas Fleet was smaller than the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet. Mostly, the Germans stayed in port, emerging occasionally to bombard towns along Britain's east coast. The Kaiser relied on U-boats to attack Allied shipping. The fastest ships on either side were the battlecruisers. In May 1916, the Germans planned to send their fleet north along the Danish coast. This move would draw out the British battlecruisers from their base at Rosyth in Scotland – straight into a planned ambush by submarines. Britain would lose its naval supremacy.

Everything went wrong with the plan. Technical problems delayed the sailing of the German warships. High winds prevented their Zeppelins from scouting over the North Sea. Most crucially, the British broke the German codes. Admiral Sir John Jellicoe knew an attack was planned. In a pre-emptive strike, he mobilised the entire Grand Fleet before the U-boat screen was in place.

On 31 May and 1 June, the two navies clashed. With 151 British ships fighting against 99 Germans, the Royal Navy had every advantage. But German gunnery was lethal. "There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today," one admiral remarked, when three of them blew up within 24 minutes. Eventually, Jutland proved to be a British victory. The High Seas Fleet never dared to emerge from port and fight again. But at the time, with fourteen British warships sunk against just six Germans, it looked like a defeat.

Britain badly needed a hero. The Navy duly supplied John Travers Cornwell. Sixteen year-old "Jack" Cornwell, from East Ham, was one of the forward gun crew on HMS Chester, a badly mauled light cruiser. Jack's orders were to remain at his post and await instructions. His comrades were blown to pieces. He was badly wounded, but he'd been ordered to stay at his gun, and he did his duty. Jack won the Victoria Cross – one of the youngest recipients ever. Alas, the award was posthumous. He died two days after the battle.

Politician Sir Edward Carson told striking workers to honour Jack's memory: "Obey your orders, cling to your posts, don't grumble." Carson led Ulster's Protestants. They grumbled a lot. They didn't obey anybody's orders. Jack's rank, "Boy (1st Class)", became a symbol. It was claimed he'd been a scruffy urchin – until he'd joined Sir Robert Baden-Powell's youth movement, the Boy Scouts. In the Scouts, he'd smartened up and learned to do his duty. The Scouts created their own bravery award, the Cornwell Badge.

East Ham mayor Robert Banks-Martin had led his Borough in mourning when Jack was buried at Manor Park. In 1928, he organised a national memorial to the boy hero, six cottages for disabled ex-Royal Navy men. An architect by profession, Banks-Martin lived in Woodlands Avenue, Emerson Park: being mayor of East Ham didn't mean you had to live there. He probably designed the memorial, and chose its location, at the corner of Station Lane and Suttons Avenue, near Hornchurch Station. The garden paths were arranged to form the letters VC. Jellicoe, now an Earl, spoke at their inauguration in June 1929. HMS Chester, he explained, had spotted a German warship through the smoke of battle, and closed in to attack. Unluckily, Chester's captain couldn't see that he was challenging not one, but four German vessels. That was why Jack's ship was so badly damaged, and how he'd come to die so bravely.

Today, the six cottages are managed by the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust. The Trust calls its responsibility "a great privilege". In a particularly mean crime, the memorial plaque in Jack's honour was stolen by metal thieves in 2011. Local businessmen and residents clubbed together for a replacement. Hornchurch still honours the memory of Jack Cornwell, Boy (1st Class).


Criticised when the British Army failed to break through German lines in March 1915, the generals claimed they'd run out of shells. This caused a political crisis. The dynamic Lloyd George was appointed Minister of Munitions. His job was to produce shells, lots of them, by any means.

A pair of Swiss scientists had invented a new process to manufacture picric acid (trinitrophenol), a volatile component of explosives. They needed investment. Two unlikely backers appeared. Samuel James Feldman was a retired solicitor. Robert William Partridge was art dealer, who lived in London's West End. They knew nothing about chemistry, but Partridge had money and Feldman was a smart lawyer.

Feldman and Partridge hired a manager, Captain Church, and secured a government contract to manufacture munitions on very favourable terms. Safety was not a major concern. Before the war, fireworks manufacturer Brock had operated a factory deep in the fields beyond Prospect Road, Harold Wood. Bangers and sparklers were made in huts scattered across a large area, to contain any risk of fire. By contrast, Feldman and Partridge rented a cramped site at Rainham from a company that made soap. Buildings were close together, and surrounded by other riverside warehouses. Amazingly, the location was directly under the route flown by Zeppelins on their way to bomb London. Workers were not even warned that they were handling a dangerous substance.

On 14 September 1916, fire broke out, and quickly spread. Within minutes, the whole factory blew sky high. An official report (kept secret in wartime) blamed an employee for smoking, but this was never proved. Alerted by the explosion and a massive plume of smoke, Romford's fire brigade rushed to the scene. Seven people were killed, 69 were injured, over twenty of them seriously. Among the dead was the manager, Captain Church, praised for his "energy and bravery" in the disaster.

But another report, in 1917, criticised "futile efforts to extinguish the fires". Priority should have been given to evacuating people. In fact, a brave young Welshman, Griffith John – a science teacher in peacetime – lost his life warning women workers to get away. Hiding behind wartime press censorship, the government issued an anodyne statement, intended to check rumours. It didn't even mention Rainham. Not until 1919, after the War, did the truth emerge.

The explosion had damaged nearby buildings, including warehouses belonging to Ind Coope, the Romford brewery. Ind Coope sued for compensation. Feldman and Partridge argued they'd been working for the Ministry of Munitions, so the government was responsible. Judges rejected this defence. The defendants also claimed that it wasn't their factory anyway.

In March 1916, Feldman and Partridge had transferred ownership to a company, Rainham Chemical Works Limited. But this outfit was completely controlled by two directors – Feldman and Partridge. Its formal capital was £5,000, made up of 100,000 shilling (5p) shares. But only two shares were actually paid up, making the company's actual resources a mere two shillings (10p). Feldman and Partridge had each contributed just 5p. If you've a problem, they told their Rainham neighbours, sue the company that owned the chemical works. Of course, it had gone into liquidation.

The case dragged on until 1921, with appeals all the way to the House of Lords, then Britain's highest court. At every level, their learned lordships decided that the company, Rainham Chemical Works Limited, was "essentially a sham". The business was "substantially carried on by Feldman and Partridge".  Verdict: they were "personally liable for damages". It was a good decision. Feldman and Partridge had aimed to profit from the war. When lives were lost and families torn apart, they tried to hide behind the dodgy device of a phantom company. In recent years, stories in the Romford Recorder has lifted the veil on this forgotten tragedy. There's now a local project to create a memorial that will name the victims. I'm sure it won't mention Feldman and Partridge.


Wounded in the First World War, New Zealander Thomas Fyfe was sent to recover at the country's military hospital at Grey Towers, Hornchurch. Fyfe described Hornchurch for newspapers readers back home. "The village is surrounded by rich productive farms", growing "abundant grain" plus vegetables for the London market. "Every night along the quiet country roads go the little processions of lumbering wagons, with sleepy drivers, and swinging lanterns, going to Loudon for the market in the morning." But Hornchurch was also becoming suburban, with "modern houses to meet the ever increasing demand for homes in Essex." Luckily, the village centre "retained much of its old quaintness and simplicity." In its winding main street stood "many of the old cottages and shops that are peculiar to rural England [with] quaint old gables and upper storeys that project into the street often covered with moss grown tiles." One of Fyfe's comrades, "a modern progressive young man", wanted to level the "ancient cottages" and replace them with "flourishing shops and restaurants ... marble bars and theatres". This Kiwi vision came about half a century later, costing anonymous modern Hornchurch its ancient charm.

Fyfe was impressed by St Andrew's church. "I know no finer sight in the district than the old church at sunset. As you mount the hill from Upminster it presents a beautiful sight, with the dark outlines of the building and the trees silhouetted against the golden sky. Strangest of all is that peculiar freak of the failing sunset that lights up the stained glass windows from within." He was moved, too, by the "lovely mellow tones" pealing from the church tower on Sunday mornings. "There are only eight bells, but when the chimes ring out, there seem to be a thousand." (Nowadays, there are ten bells.)

Thanks to the "horrible discoveries made by modern germ hunting physicians", the village pump was "fenced off, a relic of former days", replaced by a piped water supply. Fyfe described the stately homes of Hornchurch. "Grey Towers is not a very ancient mansion." (It was built in 1876.) "The entrance is through a fine old gateway, with iron gates mounted on grey castellated stone pillars." Grey Towers was demolished in 1931, but those entrance pillars survived opposite Abbs Cross Lane until about 1960. Grey Towers park was "covered with snug little huts for the soldiers." Part of the grounds had been "converted into gardens, where the blue-clad invalids potter about planting vegetables, and amusing themselves generally." This may be the origin of the modern Grey Towers allotments.

Langtons, now Havering's Register Office, was "the largest and one of the most imposing homes in Hornchurch." Fyfe admired its "large glass orangery" and the lake. They're both still there, although I wonder whether Havering Council encourages the use of Langtons Gardens as "a favourite skating resort in winter."

Fyfe's injuries made walking difficult. Addressing him as "cobber", the "sound legged soldiers" assured him there was nothing worth seeing beyond "the Halt", Emerson Park Station. But an ancient villager, "with a fringe of greybeard round under his chin", encouraged Fyfe to visit Nelmes, telling him the "old manor house is almost overgrown with ivy". Somehow he limped to Emerson Park.  "The gardens and lawns are faultlessly kept." Nelmes mansion was "famous for its staircase, which is of carved oak in the Jacobean style." Tragically, Nelmes was destroyed in 1967. Nobody knows the present whereabouts of that fine staircase. By 1918, houses were being built in Nelmes Way, but there were still "broad fields and scattered woods" nearby.

Exhausted, Fyfe stretched out under a tree. "A fine old collie came over from the house and spent the half hour with me." Hard to believe there was a war going on! Fyfe smiled at the thought that the owners of Nelmes wouldn't have tolerated trespassers in olden days, "but they hadn't met New Zealanders then."


In 1918, New Zealand soldier Tom Fyfe explored Havering as he recovered from wounds at the Grey Towers military hospital in Hornchurch.

He could have travelled to Upminster on the "handy little railway" from Hornchurch Station. (Today it's the District Line!) But he preferred the "pleasant and interesting walk", along what is now the busy, built-up A124. "You go up through the old rambling village, past the church, and on reaching the top of the hill you have before you a pleasant little valley," he explained to New Zealand newspaper readers.  "The road is lined with poplars and hawthorns, and pretty little homes provide a constant source of interest by the way." Beyond the green fields, Upminster's parish church was "almost hidden" among trees. The village had "one business street", consisting of "two blocks of shops, those in one block being all of one pattern and those in the other being of another." You can still trace the Edwardian shopping parade in Station Road, but downtown Upminster is bigger nowadays! Fyfe wasn't impressed by Upminster's "side streets of terraced houses", but he liked the "picturesque little suburb" beyond the railway. "Giant oaks line the streets." Gardens were meticulously tended. "The houses, though no two alike in shape, are all alike in style." He admired their fancy woodwork, coloured glass and the "russet brown tiles" of the roofs. "Individually the houses and the gardens form a charming little picture, and the effect as a whole is splendid."

Havering's other smart suburb was Emerson Park, part of the Nelmes parkland "subdivided into building sections for modern residences." Unlike Upminster, its streets had not been laid out "with the aid of mathematics, but so as to conform with the features of the estate." "The old cottages are still carefully preserved, and form a pleasant contrast to some of the neat modern villas that are their neighbours." (Few ancient cottages survive in modern Emerson Park.) There was nothing like the uniform architectural design of Upminster. "You pass along the streets in wonder at the variety in style and architecture of the houses. Some are plain English, some the Indian bungalow, others the masterpieces of French architects with curved tile roofs well nigh touching the ground." There were "twisted oak fences mingled with gateways that would be fitting entrances to a pagoda." Fyfe thought Emerson Park's fine gardens demonstrated both "the quality of the Essex soil" and a "healthy rivalry" among the residents. 

He didn't think much of Romford, "a populous town, with miles of terraces, running at all sorts of angles." Romford had two commercial streets, "one of which is the old cobbled marketplace, and in the other are the modern essentials of the town, the new shops and the railway station." The "modern" thoroughfare, of course, was South Street. It's interesting that Fyfe didn't mention North Street, still a country lane, or High Street, a backwater. Romford was mainly as a commuter town, with "thousands of passengers" travelling to London very day. One of its "few beauty spots" was "a large extensive park with a pretty lake, beautiful walks, and neat gardens". This was Raphael Park, presented to the town in 1904. "Round the town are acres of allotments, where the townspeople compete very spiritedly in the growing of vegetables."

Fyfe was told that Havering-atte-Bower, two miles beyond Romford, was "a beautiful old place" but he couldn't hobble so far. Hornchurch was his favourite spot.  "There are no homes and no gardens that can compare with Emerson Park, and no building of such charming antiquity as the old houses in the village that straggles around the crooked streets careless alike of architectural unity, and the convenience of traffic."

Thomas Fyfe recovered from his wounds and returned to New Zealand. He served again in the Second World War, and was killed defending Crete in 1941.


Respectable Hornchurch pretended that Ettie Rout never existed. During the First World War, villagers were proud hosts to Empire soldiers from distant New Zealand, at their Grey Towers camp west of Billet Lane. But a wall of silence blocked the controversial woman who'd followed them from Christchurch. Born in 1887, Ettie Rout was an early feminist (she defied convention by refusing to wear corsets), who became interested in social issues.

When war broke out, New Zealand sent an army to Egypt. The Kiwis fought in the 1915 Gallipoli campaign. Ettie Rout formed a Volunteer Sisterhood, women who travelled to Egypt to run canteens for soldiers and help in hospitals. Every army faced a stark problem. Away from home, young men engaged in risky sex. Hundreds of New Zealand soldiers contracted sexually transmitted infections – venereal disease, or VD. The French Army even established official brothels, where sex workers could be medically supervised. Ettie Rout campaigned for New Zealand soldiers to be issued with condoms (then ponderously called "prophylactics").

When Allied troops were withdrawn from Gallipoli, wounded New Zealanders were sent to the Grey Towers convalescent hospital. Hornchurch was less exotic than Cairo, but soldiers on leave headed for London, where sleazy sex was on sale.  In Hornchurch, Ettie Rout set up her New Zealand Medical Soldiers Club, turning a High Street cottage opposite the Black Bull (later the Fatling) into a clinic which supplied soldiers with kits containing condoms and lotions.

Disapproving Hornchurch ladies established a comfortable club in Butts Green Road, called "Te Whare Puni" (Maori for "the meeting house"), to create a rival place of relaxation. Ettie Rout was badly treated by her own country. The New Zealand Army quietly adopted her kits, supplying them to soldiers as a safe-sex precaution. But wartime censorship laws made it illegal to mention her name in any Kiwi newspaper. There was one exception. Back in 1893, a formidable political organisation, the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) had forced male politicians to grant votes for women, making New Zealand a world leader in gender equality. But the 1918 WCTU conference denounced "the effrontery of Ettie Rout in implying that New Zealand boys must be supplied with remedies to make wrong-doing safe and sin easy." Optimistically insisting that their sons were fighting "for purity and righteousness", the WCTU expressed "emphatic rejection of prophylactics and the woman who advocates them."

The splendidly named Lady Stout, wife of a former prime minister of New Zealand, lobbied for Ettie to be driven out of Hornchurch. The result of Stout v Rout was that Ettie left for Paris. There she welcomed New Zealand soldiers as they arrived on troop trains, recommending them to patronise Madame Yvonne's brothel, where sex workers were hygienically supervised. Ettie Rout settled in Europe after the War. In 1922, she published a family planning manual, Safe Marriage. The New Zealand government banned it as "indecent literature". "It's a mixed blessing to be born too soon," she wrote to her friend, novelist H.G. Wells (who called her a "heroine"). However, attitudes slowly changed. In 1919, the Archbishop of Canterbury had denounced Ettie in the House of Lords. In 1930 the Anglican Church lifted its ban on artificial contraception. And the easy-going French even gave Ettie a medal for her war work.

She died in 1936. An Auckland newspaper enigmatically referred to her wartime campaign: "Her work was criticised in various quarters but finally it was recognised by the New Zealand Army authorities." No details were given.

Modern feminists may feel that Ettie Rout was wrong to accept the degrading exploitation of women through prostitution, but her views on safe sex are now generally accepted. In 1988, Christchurch named its AIDS clinic after Ettie Rout. Hornchurch too can be proud of its association with this brave and forward-looking woman.


December 1917 was the fourth Christmas of the First World War. Everybody was weary, and there was little celebration around Havering. The worst was obviously still to come. Our Russian allies, in the grip of revolution, were falling out of the War. If the Germans could switch their forces from the Eastern Front, they might overwhelm the Allied Armies in the West. The United States had now joined the War, so Germany needed to strike fast, before American forces could reach Europe. Terrible battles would follow in March 1918.

Conscription had been introduced in 1916, compelling men to join the Army. The age limit was eventually raised as high as 51. Local tribunals heard applications for exemption from married men who argued that their work was of national importance. Henry Randall, 36, Collier Row's sub-postmaster, double-jobbed as a blacksmith. He secured conditional exemption "on business grounds". Horses were still vital to the transport system. There was even a blacksmith's forge in Romford's South Street. William Adams, 38, was a "fat, bone and refuse collector" in Romford Market. He won three months' conditional exemption, "if a substitute was not found in the meantime". 36 year-old Herbert Butterworth, "sanitary engineer, plumber, and house decorator" from Brentwood Road, secured six months' exemption, but was told he must serve as a Special Constable. Leonard Burn, 37, was the landlord of the Old Oak pub (now The Oak.) at the corner of South Street and Brentwood Road. He was released from military service on condition he also worked as a farm labourer "during as many hours as he could spare." How he could do both jobs wasn't explained.

Pub opening hours were now controlled. Romford magistrates noted with pleasure that Christmas 1917 produced not one alcohol-related case. Of course, most regular drinkers were away fighting. Many had been killed. Local police reported an overall 50 percent fall in cases of drunkenness.

There was a row at a Romford Council meeting about a Masonic dinner at the White Hart in High Street, later The Bitter End.  The menu included oysters, two soups, two fish courses (with tasty sauces), chicken cutlets, roast mutton, beef sirloin, pheasant, desserts, wines, spirits and punch. One angry councillor contrasted this "gluttony and guzzling" with the experience of most Romford people: "in this town queues for margarine, tea, sugar and other necessaries of life are of frequent occurrence". The White Hart's proprietor argued that the numbers attending made it "necessary to have a variety of dishes but each guest did not partake of the whole of the dishes. The working man was not being robbed of anything, because they were all on the market."

Unfortunately, wartime high prices meant that the working man couldn't afford oysters and pheasants. I'm sure farm labourer Henry Wright, who'd been caught stealing four cabbages at Corbets Tey, would have enjoyed the evening. The Council passed a motion demanding government action "for the purpose of preventing class feeling and unrest".

Alice Brooker, who lived in Poplar Street Romford, appeared in court charged with throwing a poker at the school attendance officer, Benjamin Keeble. He'd called to demand why her eleven year-old daughter was absent from school. Alice claimed she was annoyed that he'd walked in without knocking while she was bathing the naked girl. She admitted throwing the poker at him, but pleaded that she'd missed. In any case, the child had been ill. I wonder if Alice's husband was away fighting? She was bound over.

The residents of Upminster had a friendlier attitude to authority. Their long-time village bobby, PC James Beasley, had just been transferred by Essex Police to Harwich. Upminster people made him a "handsome presentation" – £50 in War Savings Bonds, and a gold wristwatch for his wife. I doubt if any policeman would be allowed to accept such gifts today.


By November 1918, everybody knew the First World War was nearly over.  One by one, Britain's enemies collapsed – Bulgaria in September, Turkey in October, Austria-Hungary on November 3rd.  Revolution swept Germany. On November 9th, Kaiser Wilhelm fled to neutral Holland.

For Hornchurch local historian Charles Perfect, Armistice Day, November 11th, was an ordinary Monday morning. Too old to fight – he was 54 – he caught the train as usual to his London office. But when the magic hour of 11 o'clock arrived, he was out in the Strand, listening for the thunder of the guns from the Tower, the signal that the Armistice had come into effect. In central London, the "cheering, flag-wagging populace" exploded in joy. People piled on to buses and lorries. Perfect remembered a dozen young men and women sitting on top of a coal wagon, laughing and shouting. But when he returned home that evening, Hornchurch was quiet.

Everybody savoured the "great news" but – right across Havering – there was no outward rejoicing. As the chairman of Romford magistrates later commented, "during the last few days of excitement not a single case of misconduct had been reported." Why were Havering people so subdued? One obvious reason was that, if you wanted to celebrate, London, with its swirling, happy crowds, was the place to be. Many local people caught trains to Town, and joined the revelry there. They weren't deterred from travelling by the cold, wet weather, but the rain certainly didn't make local streets very inviting. Members of the Baptist Church in North Street Hornchurch – the congregation had lost seven men – gathered for an impromptu thanksgiving service that evening. Other churches waited for the following Sunday.

Another factor keeping people indoors was the severe influenza epidemic, the sudden and lethal "Spanish Flu". Responding to the "very severe" outbreak, all Romford schools had been closed on October 21st. They did not reopen until November 18th, a week after the Armistice. Even then, attendance was poor and many teachers were off sick.

But the major reason for restraint was that too many families were still plunged in grief. It was OK to rejoice with the anonymous crowds in central London, but too unfeeling to cheer and shout outside the homes of neighbours who were still mourning relatives who would never come home. From Romford (including Collier Row and Gidea Park), 359 men had been killed. Hornchurch had lost 170, Upminster 66, Rainham around 60. Even rural Cranham had sacrificed seven of its residents. Of the Hornchurch casualties, 26 came from Harold Wood, then little more than a few streets around its railway station. There were 24 deaths from South Hornchurch, then just a scattering of agricultural workers' cottages.

Not surprisingly, people marked the Armistice quietly and privately.  In Romford, an anonymous donor gave £50 – a lot of money in those days – to provide the town's children with a victory dinner, planned for Christmas week. At his home in Station Lane, Hornchurch, Charles Perfect celebrated that first evening of Peace with a little ritual of his own. In wartime, there'd been a rigid blackout – no streetlamps to guide enemy aircraft. Cars and bicycles had bumped and clattered around in pitch darkness. No glimmer of light was allowed to escape any window in case it offered a target for Zeppelins. The rules were enforced by special constables, middle-aged volunteers who'd replaced regular policemen enlisted in the Army. "Specials" were often busybodies, who bullied householders for revealing the slightest chink of light. Perfect had served as a "Special" himself. Now he raised the blinds in every room, and turned up the gas light – electricity hadn't reached Hornchurch – until his home was a beacon of happy illumination.

Three days later, Romford magistrates fined Alice Monk of Allandale Road two shillings and sixpence for cycling without a rear light. Britain was at peace once again.


By late November 1918, men who'd been taken prisoner during the First World War were returning home. Caught on holiday in Germany in August 1914, one young Romford man had been interned for four years. He reported that Britain was "much hated" by the Germans.

A few prisoners of war (POWs) had got home before the fighting ended. The Reverend Charles Steer was an adventurous clergyman, a former curate at St Edward's church in Romford. Serving as a chaplain in the trenches, he was taken prisoner in May 1918. Since he was a non-combatant, the Germans released him. He was soon appointed vicar of Hornchurch. Captain Philip Dale, son of the previous vicar, was taken prisoner in 1915. After four failed escapes, he made it across the border into neutral Holland in May 1918. When he reached London, George V welcomed him at Buckingham Palace.

Let's be clear: Germany then is not Germany now. The country was gripped by a harsh militarist culture. The Allied naval blockade cut off Germany's food imports. The Kaiser's armies had captured 2.4 million prisoners. With the Germans themselves close to starvation, POWs were not their priority. On his release, Sergeant Richard Borer visited relatives in Collier Row. Captured in August 1914, soon after the War began, he was held in a camp on windswept moorland. German officers removed doors and windows from their huts, and refused to issue blankets. The men shivered through the nights, wrapped only in tablecloths. "The guards behaved like fiends," Sergeant Borer reported.

Lieutenant Lionel Mullis, from Manor Road, Romford, was just nineteen when he was reported missing in France. After weeks of desperate worry for his parents, news came that he was a prisoner. Conditions were terrible. Food was "vile". Mullis received one loaf of black bread per week, with a pat of butter on Sunday nights. One consignment was green with mould. The hungry prisoners stewed the loaves and ate them anyway. Ground-up burned turnip was substituted for coffee. Officially, the the government of the Netherlands, a neutral country, protected the human rights of British prisoners. Mullis and his comrades wrote protest letters to the Dutch ambassador in Berlin. The camp commandant tore them up.

Major Alfred Ruston, from Herbert Road in Emerson Park, had thought about being killed or wounded, but he was surprised when he was taken prisoner, captured in a German raid. He was having breakfast at the time, and joked that he expected the knock at the door to be a postman, not a German. Unlike other POWs, he had "no complaints", only a few "grouses". It helped that Ruston had been at boarding school. Camp life was like "a great boys' school during the holidays, none of the boys having been sent home." But his experience "went a long way to destroy in my mind the notion of German efficiency."  Officials were fussy and incompetent.

Ruston and his comrades were allowed out for exercise once a week, carefully guarded. Ordinary Germans showed them no hostility. Once the Armistice was signed, there was even "a certain distinct attempt at friendliness". Poorly nourished children gathered around the British prisoners on their walks. Red Cross food parcels included chocolate, and Ruston sometimes made friends with the youngsters by sharing his ration. "Our captors treated us pretty well," he reflected. But he was glad to sail home, via Copenhagen and a North Sea gale, in mid-December 1918.

Germans POWs were housed in a camp at South Ockendon. They were put to work as farm labourers, and became a familiar sight locally. In the evening rush hour, they could be seen at Upminster Station, under armed guard, waiting for their train on the Grays platform. They gave no trouble. Local people sardonically concluded that "the Bosche (a nickname for the enemy) knew when he was well off". But there was no point in escaping: Britain is an island!


It was shock news that a chemical company had purchased a 13-acre site to build a factory in Gidea Park. The year was 1919. Soldiers who'd fought in the First World War were returning home, and looking for work. Local Liberal politician Lord O'Hagan argued that the project would create much-needed jobs. Lord O'Hagan lived at genteel Havering-atte-Bower. He could take a detached view.

The company, Stafford Allen & Sons, had relocated from London to Long Melford in Suffolk around 1900. They manufactured oils from spices and sandalwood, but the pleasant nature of the product didn't mean that the process was equally aromatic. Critics claimed their Suffolk factory was locally known as "Stinkpot".

Their new site was north of the railway near Gidea Park Station, to the east of Upper Brentwood Road, stretching as far as today's Cambridge Avenue. The Great Eastern Railway already had a tarpaulin factory across the tracks. You can see it from the train, but it's been apartments since the 1960s. The chemical plant could share access to railway sidings to distribute its products. Some locals said if there was a factory on one side of the railway, why not on the other?

But Gidea Park residents objected. In 1910-11, a "garden suburb" had been launched around Reed Pond Walk, north of the main Romford to Brentwood road. To serve the new commuters, Gidea Park Station had opened in 1910. Elegant housing had spread down Balgores Lane and adjoining streets. The Upper Brentwood Road area seemed an obvious area for more quality housing. Across the road from the proposed chemical factory stood Hare Hall, an 18th-century mansion that had been a wartime Army camp. Nearby were two charming Edwardian houses designed by the architect W.H. Seth-Smith, Hare Cottage (now St Mary's primary school) and Hare Lodge (recently demolished). Hare Lodge, a period gem, would be right next to the factory fumes. Some Gidea Park people had paid as much as £1100 for houses in the upmarket suburb. They weren't going to sit back and allow a factory to destroy the value of their property.

Stafford Allen bought the site in late May 1919. They later angrily claimed that they had briefed officials from Romford Council, Havering's forerunner. When the officials seemed happy, the company went ahead and ordered steel for their factory. Suddenly, early in September, Romford Council invoked the 1909 Town Planning Act, and zoned Gidea Park exclusively for housing. Stafford Allen appealed. Early in December 1919, a planning inspector held Havering's first public enquiry. The company insisted that they had no plans to manufacture noxious chemicals. But they could give no promises should the factory pass to other owners. The residential zoning was upheld.

Although driven away, Stafford Allen did not go very far. They found an alternative site across the railway, in Ardleigh Green. This was under the gentle rule of Hornchurch Council, which didn't object to factories – not in Ardleigh Green, anyway. At a Paris trade fair soon after, Stafford Allen issued a leaflet describing Ardleigh Green as their "Magasin d'Exportations". From Ardleigh Green, their products were loaded on to railway wagons and sent around the world. The company had agents in Argentina, Japan and Poland. Around 1931, Stafford Allen built houses for employees on their Ardleigh Green site – calling the street Stafford Avenue. But in 1936, they sold the factory to a plastics manufacturer. Today, the site is the Stafford Industrial Estate, Hillman Close.

In the 1920s, Gidea Park rapidly developed as a residential area. It's unlikely this would have happened alongside a chemical factory. Between 1922 and 1925, the Southend Arterial Road was constructed eastwards from Gallows Corner. Had Stafford Allen built in Upper Brentwood Road, the whole area would probably have become industrial. A forgotten planning decision a century ago shaped one of Havering's leafiest suburbs.


Two fine paintings show us what Romford Market was like a century ago. Both are beautifully illustrated on the ArtUK website. Louis Burleigh Bruhl, an English artist of Austrian descent, captured Market Day in 1891, the town so crammed with people you can hardly see the cattle staring at passers-by. Edith Mary Garner's colourful painting of 1917 shows sheep crowded in a pen, plus a few puzzled cows. In both pictures, traffic is sparse and horse-drawn. Edith Garner included a cyclist, plus a long-skirted nursemaid pushing a pram along the middle of the road.

But the end of the First World War brought changes to Romford Market, and the vicar of St Edward’s, the Reverend G.M. Bell, didn't like them. Wartime food prices had soared. It was decided to increase the number of stalls, in the hope that competition would cut the cost of living. Extra jobs would also be provided for ex-servicemen. The result, said the Reverend Bell, was disastrous.

On Wednesdays and Saturdays, large crowds filled "the lower part of the market" – right outside his church – "only a tenth of whom have come on any real market business". People gathered around half a dozen "cheap jacks", who hawked rubbishy toys and trinkets. These undesirable hucksters "compete with one another in the loudness of their vociferations". (The Reverend Bell had studied at Oxford, which is why he talked like that.) Their "intolerable din" could be heard in Junction Road, 500 yards away (and, of course, ruled out prayerful contemplation inside St Edward's). These "plausible gentlemen" swindled the public and made life difficult for "legitimate stall-holders". They also took trade from shopkeepers who paid rent and rates for their premises. Not only was Romford Market being turned into "a cheap edition of Petticoat Lane", but money was flowing out of the town, into the pockets of "these men and women who come by train or car and take away, and spend away, what they have taken."

Mr Bell's solution was to make it "very expensive for those who come from outside the area of the old Liberty of Havering for which the market was originally intended". Since the Liberty had been abolished in 1892, this might have been legally and politically difficult. He also favoured "absolutely prohibiting the calling out of wares in stentorian voices", which was Oxford-speak for "keep the noise down". Open-air political rallies annoyed the vicar too. Romford Council banned public meetings "except at one particular spot" and "only if they are satisfied with the speakers' good faith" – a condition that suggests censorship of radical opinions. "Yet every Wednesday and Saturday they allow six public meetings to crowd up the road and the space near the church without any such guarantee, and with a babel (uproar) of competitive noise." This new, democratic Britain was hard for a traditional clergyman to take.

The function of Romford Market was obviously changing. But the Reverend Bell also pointed to a "big matter" – the larger question of whether the Market should be there at all. Was it right to continue "the cattle market with all the movement of beasts which it implies, on an area closely bordering a main road which has become as full of fast moving traffic as the present London-Chelmsford road"? The vicar feared the combination too often caused cruelty to the animals.

The traffic problem was eased by the opening of Eastern Avenue (A12) in the mid-1920s. But Romford Market continued to change. As housing spread across the fields of Romford and Hornchurch, there were fewer farmers to deliver cabbages and cows every Wednesday. The cattle market closed in 1958. With the opening of Romford's ring road in 1969, through traffic came to an end. After 770 years, most people want Romford Market to continue. But its identity and function are still debated locally, sometimes even with loudness of vociferation.


Havering people probably didn't realise it, but Christmas week 1920 saw the founding of two enduring local institutions. On December 20, a public meeting launched the United Services Club for First World War veterans. Army life had often left rank-and-file soldiers distrustful of their officers. The founders of the local club aimed to bridge class distinctions, stressing their organisation's "democratic" character. The club aimed to create "a spirit of sociability that had not previously existed in Romford." Originally located in High Street, it moved in the 1930s to a new building in Mawney Road, which now looks out over the ring road.

That same day, the Essex Education Committee considered plans for a boys' secondary school in Romford. Long demanded by local residents and delayed by the 1914-18 War, the project was now "urgent". A Gidea Park mansion, Hare Hall, was available. Unfortunately, times were hard, money was scarce, and some members grumbled at the cost of educating Romford teenagers. The owner of a mansion near Epping, William Chisenhale-Marsh was a product of Eton, and a skilled polo player. "Other people always talked of economy," he sneered, "but when they got nearer home their own little scheme was always the ewe lamb of the flock."  The committee disagreed, backing Romford's demands by 21 votes to five. The despised ewe lamb opened in September 1921 as the Royal Liberty School.

Collier Row turned to self-help to raise money for its community hall, with a Christmas sale: "only useful articles were sold". Competitions drew a crowd: prizes included half a ton of coal, a leg of mutton and a week's supply of bread. "Practically the whole of the village attended."

Economic problems were not the worst legacy of the War locally: hundreds of lives had been lost too. A Christmas party was arranged at Mawney Road School for 221 widows and children of Romford's fallen heroes. The gathering was entertained (let's hope) by the Frivolities Concert Party from Chadwell Heath. It's a strange name: Chadwell Heath has always seemed a very serious place.  Harold Wood threw a party for all its children, in the War Memorial Institute in Gubbins Lane – which recently celebrated its centenary. After a "ventriloquial performance" and some conjuring tricks, Father Christmas arrived to distribute gifts from a "huge" Christmas tree. It had to be big: there were 221 youngsters in attendance. "The whole of the expense was defrayed by subscriptions collected from within the village." It's strange nowadays to see Collier Row and Harold Wood described as "villages".

On Christmas Day, the Salvation Army held services at Victoria Cottage Hospital (now a medical centre in Pettits Lane) and the Workhouse Infirmary (later Oldchurch Hospital). "The patients greatly enjoyed the singing." The Salvation Army band played cheerful carols. Romford's Workhouse mainly housed the aged poor. Staff decorated the wards. Local people contributed gifts. Inmates were given a roast beef and plum pudding dinner, washed down by beer and mineral water. Sweets, oranges and tobacco were distributed, and there was cake for tea – obviously not part of the regular diet. Similar festivities were provided for the tuberculosis patients at Harold Court Sanatorium in Harold Wood. As at the local children's party, Father Christmas dropped in. Maybe Santa lived in Harold Wood. In Hornchurch, children at Langton's Primary School gathered on Christmas morning to receive presents from staff.  You'd think the teachers would have wanted the day off!

One Yuletide drama had a happy ending. Although PC Brown probably expected his Mawney Road beat to be quiet on Boxing Day, crisis intervened when James Cockerton of Vine Street rushed up to him with an alarming report. A neighbour, Frank Taylor of Essex Road, had visited his home – and suddenly dropped dead. Constable Brown rushed to the house, to find the alleged deceased sitting on a sofa and chatting to Mrs Cockerton. Happily, Frank had only fainted.


Oliver Simmonds was ten when his father, the Reverend Frederick Simmonds, was appointed Romford's Congregational Church minister in 1908. The family lived in Western Road. The church stood in South Street. It was replaced in 1965 by the United Reformed Church nearby.

Romford had no boys' secondary school. Oliver was sent to boarding school, but his father campaigned for local educational opportunities. In 1916, Oliver planned to study History at Cambridge. But first, it was his duty to fight in the First World War. He became a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps, later the RAF. A small man, he flew spotter planes observing enemy movements. Unlike most fighter pilots, who were quickly killed in combat, he survived the war. Now an aircraft enthusiast, he switched subjects at Cambridge and gained an Engineering degree.

On graduating, he worked at Farnborough, Britain's aircraft research establishment, before joining a team creating the elegant Supermarine racing seaplane. Oliver's part in the design included sitting on the floor leaning against a sheet of plywood, while his outline was drawn on the wood, making a matrix for the cockpit. Later, the designer R.J. Mitchell (remembered in a South Hornchurch primary school) developed the seaplane into the Spitfire, Britain's famous wartime fighter. By then, Simmonds had established his own company. Keen on detail, he focused on small items – screws and levers – which could be mass-produced as standard fittings for all types of aircraft.

In 1931, he became a Conservative MP. After a visit to Hitler's Germany, he warned parliament in 1937 that Britain's air defences were inadequate. Winston Churchill supported him. Oliver Simmonds also campaigned for air raid precautions, shelters and gas marks to protect civilians against Nazi bombers. He was knighted in 1944 but lost his seat at the 1945 election.

In 1948, he moved to the Bahamas, where he built a traditional English mansion. He became prominent in the local tourist industry, ending the absurd colour bar that prevented Bahamian bands from playing in holiday hotels. It all seemed a long way from Romford, which his family had left in 1918 to move to another church. The school that Frederick Simmonds had demanded, Royal Liberty, had opened three years later.

But Sir Oliver remained proud of his father's connection with the area. In 1961, on Royal Liberty's fortieth birthday, he agreed to fly the Atlantic (which not many people did then) to be guest speaker at Prize Day. Speaking warmly of his father's work, he announced that he was giving the school two Simmonds Prizes in his memory. Down in the Hall among the blue-blazered throng, I was waiting to collect my Year Eleven History prize. We were all awestruck when Sir Oliver told us he often popped over to Florida. He'd actually visited the fabulous USA!

In America, he said, they didn't just mend the roads, as we did (sometimes) in England. They tore them up for miles to build new highways, leaving automobiles to pick their way through the construction work. Recently, he'd seen a roadworks sign warning: "Get in a good rut. You'll be in it for the next eighteen miles." "That's my advice to you, boys!" he boomed. "When you leave school, get in a good rut because you'll be in it until you're 65."

With hindsight, it wasn't good advice. Anybody planning on a lifelong job in 1961 would have been in for a shock when traditional industries collapsed twenty years later, and computers invaded the workplace. But Prize Day speeches often contain well-meaning flim-flam. It was good of Sir Oliver to make the journey, and generous of him to establish the Simmonds Prizes. Royal Liberty School still awards them.

Next time you see a film about Spitfires, remember the cockpit was designed around a Romford man. Sir Oliver Simmonds died in 1985.


Essex were not a strong team in 1932. Facing formidable Yorkshire in mid-June was a big challenge. Cricketers weren't the athletes of today. The Essex side came straight from a gruelling game against Surrey, where the famous Jack Hobbs had hit them all round the Oval. The team was tired and downhearted. Their most devastating bowler, Kenneth Farnes from Gidea Park, was away studying (sometimes) and playing cricket (often) at Cambridge University. Essex didn't even have a regular captain. Their skipper that day was the inexperienced Charles Bray. He called it an "unenviable distinction".

Essex played most home games at Leyton, where the notoriously dead wicket was a gift to batsmen. Bray hoped workhorse bowler Arthur Daer would contain the Yorkshiremen. Daer's family ran the Golden Lion in Romford. In later life, he became a partner in Avery & Daer, a sports shop in North Street. His figures of 0 for 107 reflect his doggedness.

The Yorkshire openers, Percy Holmes and Herbert Sutcliffe, formed one of the great duos of cricket history.  Yorkshire already held the record for a first-wicket partnership: Brown and Tunnicliffe had scored 554 in 1898. Facing weak and weary opponents on a perfect wicket, Sutcliffe and Homes decided that if Yorkshire won the toss, they'd try to break that record.

The coin flipped the right way, but the marathon nearly ended when Holmes was just 3 not out. Strangely, he was complaining of lumbago and made a shaky start.   Daer tricked him into putting up a catch, but it was dropped – an expensive mistake. By teatime, the pair were 237 not out. Suspecting that they were going for the record, Bray decided to delay taking the new ball until next morning, when his bowlers would be fresher. He ordered Daer's bowling partner, L.C. Eastman, to aim at the off stump, hoping to tempt the Yorkshiremen into putting up catches. The strategy failed.  Sutcliffe and Holmes went into overdrive, adding a staggering 190 runs in the last session.

Sensing cricket history, sports journalists descended on Leyton the next morning, along with a large crowd. One man drove overnight from Hull – in the days before motorways – to cheer his heroes. With the scoreboard at 551, Sutcliffe hooked Eastman to the boundary. 555, a new record! A touch arrogantly, he threw his wicket away the very next ball. He'd scored 313.

Yorkshire declared, and the excited crowd milled around the scoreboard while celebratory photographs were taken. Then – drama! The scoreboard silently shifted back to 554. The record, it seemed, had been equalled but not broken. What had happened?

The two scorers, Yorkshire's Bill Ringrose and Charles McGahey of Essex, occupied a box with their backs to the scoreboard, which was operated by volunteer youngsters. Mistakes were unavoidable. Umpire "Tiger" Smith insisted he'd no-balled Daer in the first over that morning, but the scorers had missed his signal. McGahey had played for Essex between 1893 and 1921. He was now in his sixties and hard up. The County generously employed him as its scorer. It was said that he liked his beer, often sending the boys on the scoreboard to buy him bottles of ale. This meant frequent bathroom breaks. Some claimed he'd left Ringrose to enter both scorebooks at the crucial moment, which explained how the umpire's signal had been missed.

Whatever the truth, Bray was a sportsman. Sutcliffe and Holmes, he said, had played magnificently, and deserved the record. He agreed to add the alleged missing no-ball. Ringrose reluctantly accepted, but McGahey insisted that the run had been invented.

A cigarette manufacturer used 555 as a brand name, and a carload of free fags quickly arrived in the Yorkshire dressing room. But this was no advertising stunt. Bray's decision has often been criticised. As he said, it would have been better if Sutcliffe had scored a few more runs to make the record watertight. Yorkshire won by an innings.


During the Lockdown, reading has helped us visit distant places that are off limits right now. But two authors, one of them a great figure in English literature, can take us back in time and behind the walls of two Havering institutions, one of them designed to be grim, the other with a murky past.

George Orwell is remembered for his novels Animal Farm and 1984. Animal Farm warns how revolutions can go wrong. A cruel farmer is driven out by his livestock, who proclaim that all animals are equal. But the pigs take control, and announce that some animals are more equal than other. 1984 is a nightmare vision of a society totally controlled by a dictator, Big Brother, modelled on Stalin.

George Orwell also wrote Down and Out in Paris and London. In the 1930s, he had become a tramp to find out what it was like to be homeless. In chapters 26 and 27, he visited Romford, thinly disguised as Romton. Romford Workhouse, later Oldchurch Hospital, had a casual ward, a primitive overnight hostel or – as the tramps called it – a "spike". Orwell calmly described the humiliations inflicted upon the destitute. The spike opened at 6 p.m. There's an excruciating scene at a local church, where homeless men could get a cup of tea beforehand. The price was compulsory prayers and embarrassed hymn-singing.

At the spike, "a grim, smoky cube of yellow brick", fifty homeless men were ordered to strip naked and queue for two grimy baths. Dinner was a chunk of bread and margarine, washed down by cocoa. Men slept two to a cell. There were no beds, so the tramps were forced to sleep on the floor, rolling up their overcoats for pillows. His cellmate wanted gay sex, but Orwell had been at Eton and easily fended him off. The next morning, the inmates emptied chamber pots and shared a single tub of water if they felt like washing – Orwell couldn't face it.  After peeling potatoes, they stripped again, this time for a token medical inspection.  Orwell's description of their "physical rottenness" is stomach-turning. Finally released, even Orwell could hardly describe the sweet air of Rush Green. The text is on the Internet. Check out how a great writer can convey powerful meaning through simple, almost conversational English.

As a novelist, William Pett Ridge wasn't in the same league as Orwell. But he was an attractive personality who wanted children to lead better lives. His 1900 novel, A Son of the State, is the tale of little Bobbie Lancaster, who gets into trouble on the streets of London. Around page 40, Bobbie is sent to a detention centre in Essex. He's ordered to address the couple in charge of his unit as "Father" and "Mother". He has to do housework and learns to play the cornet in the institution's band. Of course, the story ends happily. Ridge based his story on the Shoreditch Cottage Homes, built in 1889 by an inner London authority in the Hornchurch fields, opposite the Harrow Inn. It was later called St Leonard's Cottage Homes and run by Tower Hamlets Council. Buildings were arranged around a village street. Most accommodated around thirty youngsters, cared for by house parents. Ridge paints a benign picture of life in the Cottage Homes. Punishments were few and minor. Everybody was kind to Bobbie, even when he ran away.

St Leonard's closed in 1984, and was attractively converted into housing. Years later, sickening stories emerged. A paedophile ring had operated in the Cottage Homes throughout the 1970s, openly abusing girls and boys. Two perverts were sent to prison in 2001. A third was convicted in 2017, when the outcry over Jimmy Savile encouraged a new investigation. Were the Shoreditch Homes a sink of cruelty when Ridge wrote A Son of the State? Was his charming tale part of a cover-up? Decide for yourself. The text is on the Internet, via archive.org.


Kenneth Gandar-Dower was a 1930s James Bond figure. Of course, it helped that he was born very rich. Although he lived in a gilded universe, he chose Romford Greyhound Stadium for his most spectacular venture – cheetah racing.

In 1927, "Gandar" – as everyone called him – won a scholarship from a top public school, Harrow, to study at Cambridge. He took the by storm, winning "Blues" for representing Cambridge in seven different sports, from tennis to billiards. He turned down the chance of an eighth, for cricket, because he couldn't be bothered. In the Cambridge Union debating society, his impromptu gibes (all carefully rehearsed) demolished opposing speakers.  He could have become President of the Union, but it was too much effort. However, he did edit a student magazine, which explains why he missed graduating with First Class Honours.

Not needing a job, he embarked on a life of pleasure, playing tennis at Wimbledon, and qualifying as a pilot. Most pilots flew at weekends for fun. Gandar headed for India. He soon turned African explorer, excited by legends of the marozi, a shy dappled lion in Kenya's remote Aberdare mountains. He financed and led an expedition, but never saw his marozi. Nor has anybody else. But in Kenya he fell in love with another big cat. The cheetah was a four-legged Gandar, elegant, athletic – the fastest creature on the planet. Gandar tamed twelve of them, and brought them to England. Greyhound racing was popular in the 1930s. In Romford, hundreds attended meetings at the track opened in 1931. In 1935, grandstands were erected, and Romford Stadium formally opened. Why not race cheetahs – in Romford?

In Africa, cheetahs work with jackals, wild dogs that help corner their prey and share in the carcass. Hence Gandar's cheetahs had no problems with greyhounds – they were simply smarter, cleaner jackals. After quarantine, and training in racing technique, the cheetahs made their first public appearance, at Romford Stadium, on Saturday 11 December 1937. "The cheetahs which will appear at Romford answer to their names, follow readily, walk into their starting boxes, and are absolutely safe with strangers," Gandar assured the public.

The first race, over 265 yards, pitted a female, Helen, against two greyhounds. She bounded out of her special cage into a fifty yard lead before the dogs had even left their traps. With "effortless ease", Helen finished in 15.86 seconds, breaking the course record. Less successful was the second race, between two male cheetahs, Gussie and James. Unlike lions, which operate in packs, cheetahs hunt alone. Thus when Gussie got well ahead, James simply stopped running.

Cheetah racing was a failure. Like all dogs, greyhounds are happy to oblige humans by doing daft things. But cheetahs are cats. Just like any domestic puss, they please themselves. Jumping hurdles to entertain greyhound fans in Romford was just not on their agenda. In the wild, they're brilliant at leaping sideways to confuse their prey, but they're not much good at running in narrow lanes around a curving dog track. Cheetahs were also quick to spot that there's no food value in an electric hare. It's hard now to imagine these wonderful creatures pounding the track at Romford Stadium.

Kenneth Gandar-Dowar became unpopular in fashionable circles after he took a pet cheetah on a leash into the bar of Queen's Club, London's posh tennis venue. He returned to Africa, photographing gorillas in the Congo. When war broke out in 1939, Gandar finally got a job, as a press photographer and war correspondent in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). He joined the first invasion wave of the Allied occupation of Madagascar, jumping ashore in a bowler hat, carrying his camera and typewriter. Luckily, there was no resistance. Soon after, in 1944, he joined a troop ship sailing from Mombasa to Colombo in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). It was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, and Kenneth Gandar-Dowar was among the 1,297 people who drowned.


Elm Park was built in the 1930s by Costain, the builders, who aimed to create a "garden city" of 35,000 people, with schools and shopping centres. As well as donating part of Harrow Lodge Park, Costain opened the Elm Park Hotel in 1938. (It's now shops). By 1939, with 2,600 houses completed, the suburb was about one-third built.

To sell Elm Park, Costain used modern promotion tactics, including "events" with celebrity appearances. That's how 5,000 people turned out to welcome Miss Jean Batten in March 1938. The company had organised a house-furnishing competition, and they needed a big name to present the prizes. The 1930s were a golden age for aviation. It was also an era when women were carving out new roles. Female pilots – "aviatrixes" – broke through gender barriers. One day in 1930, Yorkshire woman Amy Johnson climbed into her tiny plane and took off from Croydon airport. Nineteen days later, she landed at Darwin in northern Australia, 11,000 miles away. American heroine Amelia Earhart flew the Atlantic solo in 1932.

Jean Batten was the third of the trio of famous flying females. Born in New Zealand in 1909, she moved to England when she was twenty and trained as a pilot. She bought her first plane with a £500 loan from a man who hoped to marry her. A second admirer borrowed £400 from his mother to fund her purchase of a larger aircraft. Jean Batten wanted to beat Amy Johnson's time to Australia. Her first attempt ended in a sandstorm near Karachi. Second time, she ran out of fuel and crashed in Italy. She's been criticised for taking advantage of men to finance her adventures in the air. But who else could she exploit? Hedgehogs? Tortoises? Men controlled money and power. When the aviation industry held a banquet in her honour, she was the only woman present!

By 1934, she was engaged to a third boyfriend, a stockbroker and amateur pilot. Returning from Italy, she took the wings off his plane to make her own machine airworthy again. I wonder what a psychiatrist would say about that! On her third attempt she reached Australia, breaking Amy Johnson's record by four days. Everybody wanted to meet the beautiful and resourceful Jean Batten. At Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) "was wonderfully charming, and with her sweet smile and gracious manner immediately put me at my ease". Jean also met "little Princess Elizabeth". Our future Queen was eleven years old. "She has a charm of her own, and with a delightful gesture brought her pet terrier into the room to show me." Her Majesty still loves her dogs.

No wonder Elm Park turned out in force for this superstar of the skies. One schoolboy remembered her looking like a film star. The President of the Residents' Association proudly told Miss Batten that New Zealand soldiers had been cared for at a convalescent hospital in Hornchurch during the First World War. Welcoming her, local MP John Parker predicted that Elm Park would become "a happy family of 30,000 people." Miss Batten found this amazing, remarking that the whole of New Zealand contained barely one million people. It was an odd comment: she'd lived in Auckland, a city of almost 100,000.

This was Jean Batten's first visit, but she delighted the crowd by adding that "she had many times flown over Elm Park". This was probably true: she would have used the runway at nearby RAF Hornchurch as a visual navigation aide. Indeed, after inspecting the households that had entered the furnishing competition, she visited the RAF station.

The Second World War put an end to her long-distance solo flights. But Jean Batten should remain a role model for girls. There were no glass ceilings for a woman with her own aeroplane.


The burglaries began around Easter 1938. Over the next fifteen months, 116 homes were raided, in Romford and Hornchurch, as well as Barking, Goodmayes, Ilford and Seven Kings. Two police forces hunted for the housebreaker. The Essex Constabulary upheld the law in Havering, but west of Chadwell Heath, the Met was in control. They had Britain's finest detective team, but Scotland Yard were baffled too. The thief forced window catches or prised open fanlights. Often, the gap was so small that police initially assumed it was a Fagin operation – a burglar using a child to gain entry.  But stray sightings soon established that this was an elasticated criminal working alone. A cool operator, he smoked cigarettes and even made himself meals as he robbed people's homes.

The cinema sensation of 1934 had been a crime movie, The Thin Man, starring the glamorous Myrna Loy. The nickname was applied to the mystery criminal. The police traced footprints, as in the days of Sherlock Holmes, and they could now use fingerprints. But The Thin Man operated in stocking feet and wore gloves. There was no DNA or CCTV. Scotland Yard had only recently solved the decade-long mystery of Flannelfoot, a burglar who wrapped his feet in rags to cover his traces. Flannelfoot was even said to telephone the police to tell them when he was going on holiday. He'd finally been caught in December 1937. The Thin Man revived their nightmare. He caused Essex CID "many a sleepless night" too. Romford divisional chief, Detective-Inspector Baker, tried to second-guess The Thin Man's next move. Detectives patrolled a different area each night, "but whenever they were in the southern half of the district, a burglary would occur in northern territory". One night police received a hot tip, and threw a cordon around three houses where an intruder had been spotted. The houses were searched – but somehow the phantom thief melted away.

There was one other clue about The Thin Man. He liked animals. Breaking into a house in Goodmayes, he disturbed a barking puppy. "Unperturbed, he picked the dog up, gave it some milk, and put it out in the garden." That humanising weakness triggered his downfall. The lucky break that the police so desperately needed came early one summer morning. Francis Rutland, who lived in Glanville Drive, Hornchurch, opened his bedroom curtains to check the weather. Across the gardens, he was startled to see an unknown man ushering a kitten out of the back door of a neighbour's house in Wingletye Lane. Puss, it seems, had mewed to be let out.

Mr Rutland rang the police – luck again, for in 1939 few people were on the phone. Swooping on a house opposite today's Havering College Sixth Form, "officers found the burglar seated on a settee, examining a handbag in his gloved hands. He had left his shoes on the lawn outside." The intruder was carrying loot from four earlier burglaries overnight. Tall and slender, Alfred Simmons readily admitted that he was The Thin Man. Aged 31, and born in Belfast, he had three previous convictions. Prosecuting counsel at his trial called him "an artist in the burglary line". Simmons wasn't driven to crime by poverty. It was a lifestyle choice. He was a skilled printer, with good employer references. He'd been a lecturer in a technical college, and had worked on a cruise liner producing the ship's newspaper.

The Thin Man probably should have been caught sooner. With a head of bushy hair, Simmons ought to have been to identify. He reconnoitred the houses he planned to burgle, sometimes even knocking at the door and pretending to ask for directions, so he could check window fastenings. It counted in his favour that Simmons had never used violence, and he'd co-operated with police after his arrest. He was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment, with hard labour. The Thin Man was finally off the streets of east London.


Around 6.15 a.m. on 6 September 1939, three days after the outbreak of the Second World War, Britain's new radar defence system detected incoming aircraft crossing the Essex coast. Although it proved to be a false alarm, it was mistaken for an enemy air raid. Fighter Command scrambled Spitfires from RAF Hornchurch and Hurricanes from North Weald. 

Without orders, two young North Weald Pilot Officers, Frank Rose and Montague Hilton-Harrop, jumped into their Hurricanes and followed. Putting enthusiasm before discipline, they chased the main body of fighters. Flying at a lower altitude, they were spotted by a flight of three Hornchurch Spitfires. None of the pilots had been in combat. They were flying into cloud and early morning sun. The RAF was experimenting with transponders, which emitted and received bleeps – an electronic signal identifying friendly aircraft. They hadn't been fitted to these planes.

With top speeds of over 300 mph, British fighters flew a mile in twelve seconds. Pilots could only rely on instant visual recognition. The elegant Spitfire was easy to spot. But, unfortunately, the workmanlike Hurricane resembled the German Messerschmitt 109. The three Spitfires were commanded by a South African, "Sailor" Malan. (He needed a nickname, however silly, because his parents had unfortunately called him Adolph.)  There would be controversy over what happened next.

Mistaking the two stray Hurricanes for German aircraft, Malan used the radio telephone to issue the codewords that ordered an attack, "Tally Ho!" He also claimed he realised his blunder and immediately radioed, "Friendly aircraft! Break away!" But Pilot Officers Paddy Byrne and John Freeborn insisted they never heard the command to stop. They opened fire. Pilot Officer Rose survived a crash-landing. But Montague Hulton-Harrop, shot in the back of the head, was dead before his Hurricane hit the ground. Aged 26, he was the first RAF casualty in World War Two, the victim of what appalling military jargon calls "friendly fire".

Although the story was banned in Britain, newspapers in the still-neutral USA reported the shambles.  The encounter was derisively nicknamed "the Battle of Barking Creek", a joke location roughly about half way between the two airfields. In fact, the action had happened near Colchester. A court-martial acquitted Byrne and Freeborn. Some alleged that Malan had lied about trying to stop the attack to protect himself. Certainly, communications between pilots needed improvement. The only positive thing about the Battle of Barking Creek was that it forced the RAF to develop efficient aircraft identification systems before the summer of 1940. In those desperate days of the Battle of Britain, Fighter Command, "the Few", needed every aircraft to resist the Nazi onslaught.

Frank Rose returned to the skies, and was killed defending France in May 1940. Paddy Byrne was shot down over occupied Europe and taken prisoner. By clever and determined acting, he persuaded the Germans that he was mad. In 1944, they handed him to the Red Cross which repatriated him through neutral countries to Britain. He rejoined the RAF, but was not allowed to fly – in case he fell into Nazi hands again.  With 27 "kills" to his credit, Sailor Malan later returned to South Africa, where he regarded white racism as just another version of the fascism he'd fought in Europe. He led a mass protest movement called the Torchlight Commando, and is regarded as a hero of the campaign against apartheid.

Like Malan, John Freeborn fought desperate actions over Dunkirk to protect British troops on the beaches. He twice won the Distinguished Flying Cross, but left the RAF in 1946, disillusioned by the "nincompoops" in command. In 2009, confined to a wheelchair and within a few months of death, John Freeborn made an emotional visit to Montague Hulton-Harrop's grave.  "I think about him nearly every day," he said. "I've had a good life, and he should have had a good life too." The grave, facing the war memorial in the churchyard at North Weald, is honoured and cared for by the local community.


When Prime Minister Churchill said, on 20 June 1940, that the Battle of France was lost, and "the Battle of Britain is about to begin", he was warning of an expected Nazi invasion. Only later – as the danger receded – did that inspiring phase describe the struggle in the skies that Churchill himself initially called "the great air battle".

Hitler's Army could not cross the Channel until Germany dominated the skies. The braggart Goering claimed his Luftwaffe could destroy the RAF, flatten the aircraft factories and drive British shipping from the Channel.  Even with 400 bombers and 700 fighters, operating from recently conquered airfields in France, it was a tall order.

The RAF had around 700 fighters, including the superb Spitfire and the reliable Hurricane. Guided to their targets by top-secret radar and communicating by radio-telephone, British pilots operated close to their bases, unlike the Germans who were flying at the limit of their range. The Recorder's War history, Ordeal in Romford, recalled how local people watched German aircraft approaching, "dozens of little silvery specks flying in formation against the blue sky. Then we would hear the drone of our fighters, and the sky would be criss-crossed by the vapour trails of the aircraft as they fought above."

In late August, Goering switched to bombing RAF stations, hoping to force Fighter Command to abandon the south-east of England. Airfields along the coast came under heavy attack. RAF Hornchurch's out-station at Rochford, now Southend Airport, was sometimes out of action. The front line of freedom was now the ring of airfields protecting London – like Biggin Hill and Kenley, south of the Thames, Hornchurch, North Weald and Debden in Essex.

On 24 August, RAF Hornchurch was attacked. Flying high and fast, the Germans could not pinpoint targets. While seven high explosive bombs cratered the airfield, around fifty more hit Rainham and South Hornchurch. Luckily, there were few casualties, but 32-year-old John Richard Lewis of Hillview Avenue, a civilian worker at the aerodrome, became Havering's first fatality.

One Nazi bomber crash-landed at North Ockendon. Scrambling free before it exploded, the five-man crew surrendered to farm workers, but arrogantly insisted that Germany would soon be victorious. In fact, their war was over. By contrast, RAF pilots who were shot down landed on home ground and usually returned to combat. On 31 August RAF Hornchurch received what Peter Watt, in his book Hitler v. Havering, called "its worst hammering of the war". In two raids, six Spitfires were destroyed, some as they took off.  

A German bomber flew low across Havering, chased by a Spitfire, machine guns blazing. The raider dumped its bombs, killing two people in Park Lane, Hornchurch, and three more in central Romford's Randall Road and Richmond Road. Thousands watched when a German pilot parachuted out of his crashing aircraft, drifting about as he descended. There was general satisfaction when he landed in Elm Park's Bretons sewage works.

The RAF was holding its own in aerial combat, but more raids like that might make it impossible to fly from Hornchurch. Fighter Command's airfields were saved partly by luck. On 24 August, stray German bombs fell in central London – poor aiming again. Churchill ordered retaliatory raids on Berlin. Hitler was furious, and decided to crush the British people through mass terror bombing. On 7 September, waves of German aircraft used the Thames to guide themselves to pulverise the docks. The Blitz had begun. On 15 September, Goering made one last effort to destroy the RAF in battle. His gamble failed. There would be no invasion.

The East End suffered most in the Blitz, but bombs fell locally too. On 21 September a landmine wrecked houses in Gidea Park's Carlton Road and Stanley Avenue. One woman who lost her home simply said, "This sort of thing will never beat us. We have got to go through with it to the bitter end."


On 7 September 1940, waves of German aircraft unleashed the terror-bombing of the Blitz upon London. In 1938, with War looming, the government had warned local authorities to organise air raid precaution (ARP) schemes. As with Covid-19, nobody knew how devastating bombing might be. To mark its promotion to Borough status the previous year, Romford had built a new Town Hall (now Havering's headquarters). Its reinforced basement, designed for the storage of important documents, became the Report Centre. It contained a control room, which co-ordinated responses to "incidents", a switchboard, an office and a dormitory stacked with bunks. Personnel were allowed to smoke. With "the nervous tension induced by war conditions, the atmosphere was often somewhat cloudy."

The machine was headed by a Controller. Poor health quickly forced Councillor G.F. Chaplin, an estate agent, to hand over to Labour Alderman William Russell, who did "magnificent work" throughout the Blitz. He left public life in July 1945, saying it was "imperative that he take a rest". The Report Centre team included the Borough Engineer, the Medical Officer of Health, representatives of the Fire Service and of gas, water and electricity utilities. Youngsters with bicycles waited patiently through long hours but provided vital communications when phone lines were blasted down. Home Guard sentries stood ready to defend the Town Hall against Nazi parachutists. Hornchurch had a similar operation at Langtons in Billet Lane.

The Report Centre controlled Civil Defence depots in the Market, Havering Road and Oldchurch Road. The destruction of the Oldchurch base in a December 1940 air raid was a blow, since it was also the ambulance headquarters. Other services came from first-aid stations, rescue parties and road-repair teams. The ARP operated through 43 wardens' posts. In the British tradition of burdensome bureaucracy, wardens were supposed to complete report forms to provide a permanent record of bombs that fell: one commented that he was more concerned during air raids with his posterior than with posterity.

 The Romford joke that ARP stood for 'Anging 'Round Pubs was forgotten when an unexploded Nazi landmine hit Birkbeck Road, on 23 September 1940, forcing the evacuation of one thousand people. A bomb disposal squad removed the detonator but the Army lacked manpower to remove the still-dangerous monster. On 5 October volunteers and Council staff gingerly loaded it on to a lorry which was driven by a roundabout route to Bedfords Park. There the bomb was blown up, and Rush Green people returned to their homes. Public air raid shelters, supervised by volunteers, accommodated only one tenth of residents. The government's outdoor Anderson shelter was unpopular, because in Havering back gardens it usually flooded. The Borough Engineer, F.V. Appleby, designed an alternative, nicknamed the Appleby Dumpling, but many people slept under their stairs. Even a dining table might give some protection against falling rubble.

In 1940, everyone assumed that men would perform masculine roles like searching for survivors in bombed buildings, while women would staff mobile kitchens and run centres for the homeless.  But with so many males away in the Forces, gender roles became blurred. Large numbers of firewatchers were needed to tackle the menace of incendiary bombs.  One local recalled "the horror which filled many of us mere men at the possibility of having women on duty with us", but in emergencies, it was all hands to the stirrup pumps.

Fortunately, some preparations weren't needed. Romford Council distributed 62,000 gasmasks. The Nazis never dropped poison gas. Invasion committees were formed for Romford, Collier Row and Noak Hill, to evacuate residents should the Germans land. They never came.

Although Havering was not the bombers' chief target, Peter Watt's book, Hitler v. Havering, lists 148 people killed between September 1940 and July 1941. Of course, local politics today involves vigorous, even divisive argument. But, eighty years on, let's look at Havering's Town Hall as symbolising a community that was united, prepared and defiant.


After the War, the Recorder's editor was amused to recall Romford's reaction when its first bomb fell on 27 August 1940. Although everybody rushed to see the crater, the blast had caused little damage in the wide sweep of Jubilee Avenue. Some were secretly sorry they'd missed hearing the whistle of the falling bomb, "and wondered if they would ever get a chance to hear another"!

Optimists insisted only a few random bombs would land locally. By December, those stray bombs from the London Blitz had already killed 57 Havering people. The tragedies came in clusters of deathly horror: four members of the Rycraft family in Havering Drive, Romford; Mr and Mrs Chipp and their three small children in The Drive, Collier Row; six people including a baby killed by a direct hit on a shelter in Cottons Park; three people in each of Clydesdale Road and Matlock Road in Hornchurch, five in Cecil Avenue, Ardleigh Green, five more in Cedric Road, Romford.

But the raid of 8 December 1940 was targeted on the town, and almost broke its civil defence system. Parachute mine were the Nazis' killer weapon. With roughly a ton of explosives, they were harnessed to bombers two at a time, one under each wing, and released simultaneously to preserve the plane's balance. Hence parachute mines fell in pairs. Around 11 o'clock that December night, two aircraft attacked Havering. The first unleashed its load over Harold Wood. One mine damaged 400 houses, killing a woman in Arundel Road. Its partner drifted harmlessly into the fields north of the A12, where Harold Hill had not yet been built.

The second pair of mines, dropped over Romford, found crucial targets. Civil defence headquarters at the Town Hall assessed reports of "incidents" and directed rescue services decentralised around the Borough. Communications were vital, especially with the two ambulance stations. There were special phone lines to the telephone exchange, which was located in a side turning off South Street. At their Oldchurch Road depot, ambulance men on stand-by were playing billiards when a lookout spotted the white blur of the falling parachute mine, highlighted in the inky blackout by flashes from anti-aircraft guns. He rushed to give warning, but the direct hit trapped many of the drivers. One was killed. The depot's superintendent brought his five-year-old son to work, hoping to keep him safe at his side. The little boy died. Exploding fuel tanks destroyed half the town's ambulance fleet. Valuable stores were lost too.

Could Romford's other ambulance station, at Havering Road, handle the crisis? Smaller bombs were falling from Collier Row to Rush Green, producing a flood of calls for help. Minutes later, the Town Hall's phones went dead. The second mine had wrecked the telephone exchange, breaking every shop window in South Street. Emergency messengers – mostly teenagers with bikes – filled the gap, bravely pedalling through the streets even though the air raid still in progress. Telephone contact with Chelmsford was established from a police station at Gallows Corner, and Essex civil defence mobilised reinforcements.

At Romford Gas Works, beside the Station, engineer John Grayston and foreman Bert Poole worked desperately plugging holes in a gasholder that was spurting out plumes of flame ignited by a German bomb. They received the George Medal for their heroism.

In 1940, Havering was still supplied by horse-drawn carts. It's hard to believe, but there was a blacksmith's shop just off South Street, next to the telephone exchange. The smithy took the full force of the parachute mine. Its centrepiece, a five-hundredweight (254 kg) anvil, was blown high into the air. It sailed almost a quarter of a mile, right over Romford High Street, smashing into an air-raid shelter, whose occupants were surprised but mercifully unhurt. The flying anvil was later used to raise money for local charities. The death toll might have been higher, but the Luftwaffe's two lucky hits came close to paralysing Romford's defences that December night.


In August 1941, sixty boys from Gidea Park's Royal Liberty School lived under canvas in rural Essex, working for local farmers. Many agricultural labourers had joined the armed forces. Extra hands were needed for the harvest. Women became Land Girls. Why not use schoolboys too? The Royal Liberty boys were sent to Radwinter, in glorious countryside, near the historic towns of Thaxted and Saffron Walden. Picture-postcard Finchingfield is just down the road.

But Radwinter is different – thanks to the central event in its history, the 1874 Fire. A little girl playing with matches set fire to straw in a thatched barn. In hot, dry weather, the village was soon ablaze. The rector, who was also the squire, hired architects from the Arts and Crafts Movement to rebuild Radwinter as the Victorian ideal of a village. It sounds chintzy and fake, but Radwinter is quietly charming.

The war disrupted schooling for the Royal Liberty boys, as their teachers were called up to join the Forces. "Before we have properly had time to settle down with a master he has had to go," Year 10 reported in the school magazine.  They'd just lost their form master, Mr Brooks. The boys hoped "he will come back with a few VCs and MCs and looking like Goering" – a Nazi leader who festooned himself with medals. Humour masked tragedy. There had been months of terrifying air raids. Most were aimed at central London but, on 19 April 1941, parachute mines had fallen locally, killing 55 people. Outsiders called it the Romford Blitz. Locals talked of Essex Road Night. In the quiet street north of Eastern Avenue, 38 people had died. In Hillfoot Avenue, Collier Row, and Brentwood Road, whole families were wiped out.

Normal seaside holidays were impossible. Sending youngsters to the country was a good idea. Even so, one boy was called back to Romford as his father had died, probably a casualty.

The Essex skies were quiet that summer. Hitler had invaded Russia, switching the Luftwaffe to the Eastern Front. The boys arrived to find eleven large tents pitched on a sloping hillside. The ground was covered with nettles, which they partially cleared. Two tents were moved down to a stream. One, located near an open-air fireplace – let's hope not too close – became a kitchen. The other was probably a wash-house. Three teachers took turns to help, wives in tow, but for their final week, the boys were left to their own devices. Some parents also visited. The local rector, the Reverend Cecil Brigley, kept careful watch.

The boys slept six or seven to a tent, each with a scratchy straw mattress, a ground sheet and a blanket. Basic supplies were officially rationed, but in the country food was "plentiful".  Meals were washed down with cider: it was an urban myth that boys couldn't get drunk on fermented apple juice! A friendly farmer allowed access to a meadow where, being Romford lads, they played football, as well as cricket and rounders. The Royal Liberty boys were proud that they undertook 3707 hours and thirty minutes of farm work. In reality, that wasn't very much – maybe about 15 hours a week each.  The problem was the weather – weeks of constant rain. Only in their last few days at Radwinter did the sun break through, and the boys did some "real" harvesting, giving them a feeling of achievement. Farmers paid them six pence (2 and a half p) per hour, cash which went into a central kitty and roughly covered the cost of the camp.

Over one hundred Royal Liberty former pupils would be killed in World War Two. But Year 10 form master Mr Brooks did return for a postwar classroom career. Like many others of his generation, he never talked of his experiences. But he was one of two brilliant masters who taught me Geography, and he didn't look like Goering at all.


Miss Elin Walsh was a Geography teacher at Romford County High School for Girls (now Frances Bardsley Academy). She had large ideas and dynamic organisational skills. In 1944, she mobilised the whole school for a year-long project aimed at understanding the Romford area. Each class tackled "a piece of work most suited to their age, interest and ability". Individuals were even set tasks suitable to their abilities, so that "the girl's originality might be combined with the teacher's experience." Somehow, all this was achieved despite "wartime travel difficulties" and "with negligible curtailment of the normal syllabus."

The project started with the basics. Year 13 drew geology maps. Year 8 made coloured diagrams comparing Romford's year-round local temperatures with those in New York, Moscow and Hong Kong. Year 9 studied a farm at Stapleford Abbotts, month-by-month to July 1945 –drawing more maps, even sketching Friesian cows and collecting samples of fertiliser. Younger girls in Year 7 monitored Park Farm at Havering-atte-Bower, making a cardboard model of a harvest scene.

Using lists of the jobs done by their relatives, Year 10 mapped the distribution of occupations in Romford, Gidea Park and Hornchurch – not a very scientific exercise. Sector diagrams showed the proportions working locally. Year 12 examined railway and bus routes, emphasising how buses converged on Romford's North Street and South Street, avoiding the busy Market.

Another Year 9 class studied Hitchman's Dairies, a company which delivered milk from a depot in nearby Brentwood Road. Maps showed how the fresh milk was sourced from as far away as the Bristol area. A diagram explained the change caused by wartime shortages from cardboard to aluminium bottle tops – a detail that's escaped historians!

Year 8 descended on Romford Market, mapping the stalls and counting the animals sold every Wednesday.  Year 10 students were allocated Romford's famous brewery. Maps traced the origins of the ingredients. A diagram explained how wartime shortages had forced a reduction in the strength of Ind Coope's beer, another of Hitler wicked crimes.

Year 12 used information supplied by Romford Council (Havering's forerunner) to produce  maps of the built-up area in 1903, 1914 and 1935, showing how Romford began as "a separate town, then combined with Hornchurch to form one urban area". These maps demonstrated just how small an area was actually covered with houses. Throughout 1944-5, V1 cruise missiles and V2 rockets were falling locally. Mercifully, half of them landed in fields where they did little damage. Year 12 also mapped churches and pubs to assess how far they served recent housing developments. Year 7 girls went around collecting the basic information about the pubs, let's hope from the outside.

The downside of Miss Walsh's elaborate scheme was that individual classes probably didn't grasp how their assignments fitted into the bigger picture. Set to study land use across the area, Year 11 girls also contributed a watercolour showing two girls tramping through a muddy field, probably an artistic protest against a chore that they didn't understand.

The year-long effort culminated in an exhibition. The displays conveyed a great deal of information, although it was still not obvious how everything fitted together. Year 12 had copied out the local entries in 1086 from Domesday Book, but how did this tie in with Year 13's study of ribbon development along the B175 north of Havering-atte-Bower towards Passingford Bridge? Why was there a model of Upminster in 1800, when Upminster hardly featured in the overall study? Still, it was an imaginative exercise, something that would be difficult to fit into school timetables today.

Best of all, by the time the project was completed, Nazi Germany had collapsed.  It was time to build a new Romford in a better world. Maybe there are veterans of that project still living in Havering? Perhaps there are former pupils (I'm too polite to call them Old Girls) who recall the energetic Miss Walsh?


Britain had won the War, but life was tough in the late nineteen-forties. Basic goods, including food, were rationed. Everything was in short supply. Across the world, a friendly nation rallied to help. Australians clubbed together to send food – usually tins of meat and fruit – to help our most vulnerable people. There were luxury items too. In 1947, Romford's Oldchurch Hospital thanked the people of Lismore, New South Wales, for sweets and jam, "welcome additions to the diet of the patients and staff".

In 1947, an Adelaide newspaper copied from an impeccable source – the Recorder – an account of "the distribution of tins of food that had been sent as a gesture of goodwill from the people of South Australia" for Romford's over-seventies. The Town Hall (now Havering's headquarters) was "besieged" by seniors, all carrying proof of their age. Each pensioner received two tins, with a choice of bacon, lard or jam. "The gifts were in no way a charity," said the scheme's organiser, who'd travelled 12,000 miles to oversee their distribution. Families collected money by having a "guest day". An extra plate was set on the dinner table for an imaginary visitor from the Old Country. To encourage recipients to feel they were actually dining in an Australian home, the name and address of a donor went with each gift. The aim was "to cement the sincere bond existing between the two countries."

Letters of thanks were heartfelt. Writing on behalf of her frail mother, Mrs Read, of White Hart Lane, Collier Row, drew a larger moral: "it is as if one nation to another speaks of peace. So prosperity to Australia's future!" Two years later, Emily Pittman wrote from Romford thanking the people of Bathurst in New South Wales for their generosity. "Although we are not starving, we are still short of food. My meat ration is only enough for Sunday and the rest of the week I have salads." She'd planned to keep her Australian gifts for some special occasion, but succumbed to temptation. "'Your tin of sausages was too much for me and I could not resist opening it. They were very enjoyable." Emily added that popular entertainers from Down Under on BBC Radio made British people feel even closer to their faraway cousins. She was a fan of Australian comedians Joy Nichols and Dick Bentley, stars of Frank Muir and Denis Norden's popular Take It From Here, and Bill Kerr, "the boy from Wagga Wagga", later the straight man in Hancock's Half Hour.

Individual Australians made spontaneous gestures too. David McBain lived in the South Australian ship-building town of Whyalla. He spotted a small ad in a British trade magazine: Ralph Christian of Romford appealed for help in finding a lost toolkit. Mr McBain didn't have any tools, but he sent a food parcel instead. Ralph gratefully replied, telling him about a friend in Dagenham who wanted to take his family to Australia, but needed a sponsor. Mr McBain obliged, and the Dagenham folks emigrated to Adelaide in 1948.

Perhaps it wasn't only food that came from Australia in those grim years. In 1947, a Sydney newspaper published a letter from Mr Long of Oldchurch Road. He was helping to start a youth club in Romford "but we are prevented from making it a real success by the difficulty in buying sports gear". Could sports-crazy Australians help by sending unwanted equipment? "I am sorry to have to make this appeal for our young folk, but I know you are a very generous people, from my contact with you while in the Royal Navy." Mr Long called the youth club "Romford LP League of Youth". The description was a little coy: "LP" stood for "Labour Party"!

Playing at Southend in 1948, the Australian cricketers humiliated Essex by scoring a massive 721 runs in a single day. But they were better fed than us.


For the four sun-tanned teenagers, two days back in Hornchurch was enough. To escape wartime bombing, around 500 British children had been evacuated to Australia during the Second World War.  When the Hare family youngsters came home in 1946, it should have been a happy reunion with their parents and three other siblings – one too young to have travelled, another born since they'd left. But the austerity and the shortages of postwar Britain were too much.  Wearing kangaroo badges, the four besieged the immigration desk at Australia House in the Strand, chorusing: "We want to go back to Australia!" "We all want to go," insisted their father, Walter Hare. They had a grown-up son who was keen to emigrate too, Mrs Hare added.

Speaking with an Australian accent, 17-year-old Betty Hare complained: "It's awful here, queuing for everything."  Unused to rationing of luxuries, 15-year-old Joan grumbled: "People here laughed at me when I tried to buy chocolates." John, aged 13, was shocked to encounter traditional English classroom discipline. "Australian schools are beaut – they let you talk all day!" The three had lived at Bendigo, a small inland city in Victoria. Their older sister, Peggy, who'd worked as a sales assistant in Melbourne, had the saddest tale of all. "I want to go back to get married!" Why had she bothered to return at all? A railway worker, Walter Hare insisted he "could do anything" and "would give anything to go to Australia". But immigration officials seemed wary of their pushy approach, and told them to join a two-year waiting list.

In 1948, an Elm Park resident tried a novel approach. Would-be migrants could move up the queue if they had a sponsor in Australia, somebody who'd guarantee them accommodation and support on arrival.  Frank Scruton of Elm Park Avenue wrote to the Brisbane Telegraph appealing for someone to nominate his family. He insisted he was prepared to "go anywhere and do anything." An experienced butcher, he'd additional experience as a dock worker, bus conductor, decorator and gardener. Australia, with a population of only eight million, needed people to fill its empty continent, so Frank enclosed an engaging picture of his four children, aged 6 to 12. This gave Brisbane's daily paper a great human interest story.

Frank's plea was answered by Mr and Mrs Clack, from the Brisbane suburb of Windsor. Mr Clack, himself an emigrant from England forty years earlier, believed in the Australian principle of the fair go.  Asked by a reporter why the couple had made such a generous offer to complete strangers, he simply replied, "wouldn't you do the same?" "If people have a chance to do a good turn," added Mrs Clack – also British-born – "why not do it?" The six Scrutons arrived in Brisbane in February 1949.  Frank told a waiting reporter that discontented British migrants – the notorious "whingeing Poms" – should "be kicked back to England".

Another lucky migrant was Sidney Mole, a skilled apple packer from an Upminster fruit farm, who brought his family to the Huon Valley, Tasmania's orchard country, in 1949.  A house awaited them, stocked by welcoming neighbours with sacks of potatoes, pounds of butter, pots of jam – all in short supply back home. In Britain, rationing was so severe that the family had been allocated just one egg per month. Now Mrs Mole was astonished to find two dozen in her larder. It was the first time their six children had seen fresh cream: "I have never seen anything vanish quite so rapidly!"

In 1950, paparazzi snapped Mr and Mrs Dennis Stokes on their arrival in Melbourne with their ten-month-old son, Peter. Just before they'd left England, Peter had won the title "Bonniest Baby in South Hornchurch". Weighing a formidable 28 pounds – 12.7 kg – Peter was a promising addition to Australia's population.

By the 1960s, Britain began to prosper, and Havering started to receive its own immigrants from overseas.


Britain annexed New Zealand in 1840 through a disputed treaty with some (not all) Maori leaders. An early enthusiast for colonisation was Lord Petre of Thorndon Hall near Brentwood: one of his twelve children emigrated there. The North Island city of Whanganui was originally called Petre. In 1844 settlers insisted the name was "universally disliked" and urged adoption of the original Maori version. The waterfront in New Zealand's capital, Wellington, is still called Thorndon Quay. Settlers wanted to create a replica southern Britain.  In 1860, Lord Petre caged three red deer from Thorndon Park and sent them to the Nelson settlement on the South Island. Within six years, the stag and two hinds had become a thirty-strong herd. By the 1920s, they were a pest.

Local people emigrated to New Zealand. Martha Thompson's family left their High Street, Hornchurch home for Nelson in the 1850s. She married a Scotsman called Rutherford. Their son Ernest (later, Lord) Rutherford became the famous pioneer nuclear physicist. Romford's Catholic priest, Father Colomb, was sent to Greymouth on the South Island, where he drowned crossing a river in 1871. After an Army career, Colonel Benjamin Branfill retired into poverty. His pension was small, his Upminster Hall estate yielded little income and he'd split from his "expensive and worldly" wife. In 1880, he too took refuge in Nelson, choosing a place called Brook Street (perhaps it reminded him of Home), where he started to build a replica of Upminster Hall. An amateur painter, Colonel Branfill supported himself giving art classes. In 2013, the Nelson Mail published an article – it's online – about Branfill's self-portrait, showing himself at the easel. His weirdly pointed white beard and moustaches resemble a propeller. His thumb protrudes through the palette: some people fear he'd cut it off!

In 1916, New Zealand troops arrived in Hornchurch from the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. A convalescent hospital was established at Grey Towers, a Victorian mansion now remembered in Grey Towers Avenue. Hornchurch people welcomed their colonial cousins, exchanging hospitality and entertainment. For the first time, locals became aware of New Zealand's Maori identity. A hut erected in Butts Green Road as a social centre was called Te Wharepuni (the meeting house).  One terrifyingly memorable night, twenty Maori soldiers performed the haka (a war dance, "very fearsome and haunting"), shaking a local hall to its foundations. Christchurch feminist Ettie Rout followed the troops, establishing a clinic opposite the Black Bull, now the Fatling. There she distributed contraceptives to protect Kiwi soldiers from venereal infections. Once disapprovingly written out of the official story, she is now a national heroine. Sadly, the 2,500-bed Army hospital was dismantled after the War.

Local links with New Zealand then took to the skies. The celebrated pioneer female pilot, Jean Batten, made a celebrity visit to Elm Park in 1938. Al Deere, from Westport on the South Island, was a Battle of Britain pilot at RAF Hornchurch. Injured when his Spitfire was shot down as he took off, he defied the doctors and returned to combat within two days. King George VI visited the aerodrome to present him with the Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1944, an RNZAF Spitfire squadron operated from Hornchurch covering the D-Day landings.

In 1950, Havering's New Zealand links headed towards an unlucky climax. The Mayor of Dunedin visited Hornchurch, where the local authority was building the Dovers Farm housing estate. To honour the connection, Hornchurch Council named the principal road New Zealand Way, with streets commemorating Kiwi place-names, Auckland, Christchurch, Gisborne and Queenstown. Dominating the development were two tower blocks in Dunedin Road, named after the pleasant North Island cities of Napier and New Plymouth. Six decades later, those skyscraper flats had become – so the Recorder reported – a "hell hole". To general delight, Napier House and New Plymouth House were demolished in 2019. It's sad that a friendly gesture to a distant country ended so unhappily.


Thanks to Australia's National Library, which has digitised most of the country's newspaper archives, we can see how our area was reported 12,000 miles away. In the decade after the Second World War, Australians must have thought Havering was a very strange place.

One night in 1952 local police checked a report of an escaped convict wandering around Gallows Corner. They found a disoriented 17-year-old called Jim wearing an outfit covered with broad arrows. His mates in Chelmsford had kindly decided to stuff him into fancy dress before trussing him up and dumping him fifteen miles away. The police flagged down a lorry driver who gave Jim a lift home.Two years earlier, a woman had run into Romford police station gasping for a glass of water. Fearing a health emergency, the duty officer obliged. She produced three live goldfish and dropped them in. Her son had bought them from a Market stall, but the bowl had smashed when he dropped it.

Even community leaders seemed oddballs. A prominent member of Romford Council was heavily fined in 1946 for making fake gin from methylated spirits and fruit juice. He claimed he'd drunk it without ill effects, and as his friends liked it, he'd decided to go into business. "I knew it wasn't gin but I had to call it something." Unluckily, party-goers had become violently ill. An expert witness said the concoction was potentially lethal.

Romford's coroner suggested pedestrians should "treat all motorists as if they were homicidal maniacs." His advice to motorists was similar but cannot be quoted in our politically correct age. A sport-mad local vicar asked parishioners not to get married on Saturdays when Arsenal were playing at home.

Compulsive behaviour seemed widespead. A Hornchurch GP followed an anti-burglar ritual whenever he left home, locking all doors and windows before closing the front door behind him. One day in 1949 he left his keys indoors. Not even the fire brigade could help. In 1950, an inspector checking tickets on a Romford bus encountered a passenger who rummaged through 185 used tickets before locating the right one.

Where else would you find a couple who lived in a concrete flat? They complained they had to use a broom to clean the concrete furniture, and on winter nights they froze in their concrete bed.

Some local people were heroically daft. In 1946, a 47-year-old man – admittedly from East Ham – decided to break the record for walking 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours. It had been set in 1809 but apparently nobody had ever bothered to challenge it. He spent several weeks striding around Romford Greyhound Stadium, the rules requiring him to walk even between races. He drank "buckets of tea", lived on sandwiches and pills, smoked forty cigarettes a day and barely slept. His ambition was to walk across America. "If we don't do this now, we never shall," said a 21-year-old Romford man in 1951, as he set off hoping to hitch-hike to Australia. Accompanied by a friend from Down Under, they aimed to reach his pal's home in Ballarat within four months. I don't know if they made it.

Even local disasters were bizarre. To mark the official Victory Celebrations on 8 June 1946, Hornchurch planned a two-hour firework display. It lasted just two minutes. A stray spark set off all the bangers and rockets at once. Onlookers fled in terror.  Next year, a fire at Romford Brewery caused a massive explosion. Hundreds of barrels and 480,000 bottles of beer blew up. Not even the Luftwaffe had managed to inflict that much damage. An engineering works in Elm Park was fined under safety regulations after a machine sliced off a female employee's hair. A fellow worker had told her a very funny joke, causing her to throw back her head back as she laughed. Was Havering really such a strange place seventy years ago?


Britain's National Health Service was born in July 1948. Everybody had the right to free health care. But, two years later, Upminster GP Doctor Ernest Anthony condemned the NHS as "a vote-catching piece of political propaganda". In a long letter to the British Medical Journal, he voiced the anger of many doctors.

"Our status in the social scale is going down week by week," he grumbled. Ordinary people "can march into our surgeries" and demand free services. "The patients have little respect for us.  Gone are the days when the doctor was lawyer, philosopher, and friend." He raged that patients possessed "the unqualified right to ring up the doctor at any hour of the day or night and demand the doctor's presence". A woman had phoned in the early hours claiming her little girl had meningitis. He got up, dressed and drove seven miles – for a false alarm. The child had asked for a glass of water and complained of a headache. Her mother had panicked. Meningitis is a deadly illness, and needs to be tackled as soon as symptoms appear. The mother was right to worry.

But Dr Anthony scornfully asked: "are we never to sleep while there is a patient awake?" Doctors had become "general errand boys for every neurotic in the district." GPs needed running shoes, not medical equipment. If "vote-sensitive politicians" refused to "discipline" demanding patients, doctors should be allowed to impose call-out fees. At first, the NHS was completely free: charging (for false teeth and spectacles, and later for prescriptions) began in 1951, to pay for the Korean War. Dr Anthony believed free treatment encouraged freeloaders. He argued that "only one item be allowed free on a prescription". GPs could then "penalize the patient out for all he can get by adding an item for which he would have to pay." Just imagine any government proposing that! He also attacked the "new army" of NHS bureaucrats, who saw administration as "an end in itself".

Dr Anthony accepted that many patients came to see him "because of genuine need". Indeed, he worried about "those who do not come and who ought to come but who feel they are being a nuisance." But his abusive labelling of patient types hardly welcomed people. He sneered at "the moaning neurotic" and "the over-anxious mother", worried by "every trivial and often imaginary complaint".  Furiously, he predicted that if doctors were not given "the whip hand", the NHS would "ruin the nation financially".

Of course more resources were needed. It was difficult to locate beds for sick patients: he made the sensible suggestion that each hospital group should operate an admissions bureau to allocate services efficiently. He cited the case of a seriously ill elderly woman. She arrived at a local hospital at 12.15, "was kept on a chair until 3.45", and then transferred to another hospital, where there was no bed either. Sounds familiar?

Dr Anthony bemoaned his impossible workload. "I see no prospect of living to retiring age and collecting my pension." He ran his practice alone, complaining that NHS funding models stopped him from taking a partner. If a second doctor arrived, his own income would simply be halved – and he had teenage children to put through university. Within a few years, his son John graduated from medical school, and did join the practice.  To avoid surname confusion, they agreed to become Dr Ernest and Dr John. Over the years, other medics have renewed the team – now called Upminster Family Doctors – but the tradition of patient-friendly use of first names continues. They're still in Little Gaynes Lane, where Dr Ernest Anthony had his base. In 2007 a second surgery was opened, in Ingrebourne Gardens, to serve residents of Cranham.

Dr Anthony should have thought twice about publicly abusing his patients. All the same, seventy years later, nobody has solved the resources issue in Britain's NHS.      


The mile and a half of Lower Bedfords Road linking Harold Hill to Collier Row ought to make a pleasant stroll – it's tree-lined, with a good footpath – but the thundering through traffic is a disadvantage. It's a road with stories about the best and worst of the ways people behave. 

John Frank Ketley was born in Dagenham in 1909, before that area was built up. Although he was actually named Jonathan, after his father, he became known as John Frank. He married Shelagh Williams in Romford in 1937. The 1939 wartime census recorded Shelagh, in the sexist language of the time, as engaged in "unpaid domestic duties".  John Frank was a farm produce salesman. They lived in Lower Bedfords Road. Their son, another Jonathan, was born in 1940.

Sometime later, John Frank Ketley took an office job at Romford Brewery. Then his life changed dramatically. Perhaps his eyesight was already weak. Although of fighting age in World War Two, apparently he didn't serve in the armed forces. But when John Frank Ketley became severely visually impaired, he had to give up his clerical job. To survive, the Ketleys started a poultry business on a three-acre block of land further along Lower Bedfords Road. Shelagh's "domestic duties" now included feeding hens and collecting eggs. To protect the birds from thieves, the family needed to live on the property. John Frank decided to build a four-bedroom house.

He was not completely blind. "He could see dimly about a foot in front of his eyes." But he knew almost nothing about building. "Neighbours told him he was attempting the impossible." However, he had a rough idea of what he wanted – a house big enough to provide a home both for young Jonathan and for Shelagh's mother. An architect friend helped him draw up the plans.

With shortages of construction materials in postwar Britain, the building trade was tightly controlled. Somehow, in December 1949, John Frank obtained a builder's licence. "For months he began work in early morning, finished late at night, squeezing all the spare time he could from his poultry-keeping." Much building work could be done by touch. He'd stick a pin in a plumb line to help him check vertical alignments. Jonathan was now old enough to read a spirit level and ensure that bricks were laid horizontally. John Frank Ketley laid 32,000 of them. When the shell of the house was built, he set about installing plumbing and fittings.

As he completed his home, in the summer of 1951, newspapers as far away as Australia carried celebratory reports. "They told me I'd not be able to do it, but I was sure I could," he told the press, although he admitted: "It's been hard work and at times got me down." John Frank Ketley built well. The house, a private residence, still stands almost 70 years later.

In fields opposite stood Bedfords, the 18th-century mansion that gave the area its name. (Vehicle access is from Broxhill Road, along one of Havering's prettiest drives.) Romford Council, Havering's forerunner, bought it in 1933. The house became a museum, the park a recreation area. After the war, Bedfords became infested with woodworm. In 1959, it was demolished.

But one local resident blamed vandalism. Youngsters had broken in at night. "In every room, floorboards have been torn up, doors wrenched off, beautiful ceilings destroyed, all windows smashed." A handsome carved oak staircase had been totally wrecked.

Lower Bedfords Road had seen the best and worst of human behaviour. Happily, in recent years, the story has once again been positive. Formed in 2004, the Friends of Bedfords Park have cleared overgrown shrubs, and repaired fences and paths. John Frank Ketley moved to the Braintree area, and died there in 1992. But I'd like to feel that his indomitable spirit urges on the Bedfords Park volunteers. 


Gender issues are popular with intellectuals, so this week's column looks at the opinions of Havering people about the roles of women and men in the years after the Second World War.  Between 1939 and 1945, Romford women had played vital roles on the Home Front. They'd managed air-raid shelters and staffed the Mawney Road School rest centre for people bombed out of their homes. Local women's organisations ran emergency mobile kitchens, and collected furniture across East Anglia for families who'd lost everything in air raids. Would their new status develop post-war?

In many professions, women were still paid less than men, leading to demands for Equal Pay for Equal Work. Hornchurch teacher Mr L.P. Jones believed in speaking his mind. Denouncing the demand for equal pay, he told an education conference in 1951 that women teachers, who were mostly single "were holidaying in Sweden while men teachers with families couldn't afford even a seaside holiday." The weakness in his argument was that Jones was a bachelor himself. One irate female delegate told him to get married and father some children, thereby making work for other teachers.

There wasn't always solidarity among the sisterhood. In 1953, Romford's mayor, Mrs Lillian Irons, talked about the juvenile delinquents she encountered as a magistrate. She would "much rather deal with a naughty boy than with a naughty girl. There is usually a chink in a boy's armour which you can get through — but not with a really naughty girl." Perhaps she was thinking of the eighteen-year-old contestant in Romford's 1950 August Bank Holiday beauty competition. Angry at failing to take the crown, she bit the winner's ear.

Some challenges to gender roles were spoofs. In 1954, Hornchurch primary pupil Gloria Richards had a great experience: she was cast in the first of the famous St Trinian's films, knockabout movies about an anarchic girls' boarding school. Among the evening classes on offer in Hornchurch in 1961 was a course on How To Find A Good Wife. It was cancelled because nobody signed up. Perhaps most local men had already wedded ideal spouses. Maybe everybody knew that Hornchurch girls were goddesses anyway. More likely it was a patronising, male-chauvinist idea that even amorous men found embarrassing.

Unfortunately, not all marriages were perfect. In 1954, a Romford man left his wife to live with another woman. A fair-minded chap, he offered to return to the marital home on compromise terms. He would live with his lawful spouse six days a week, and with the Other Woman on the seventh. Unfortunately, this imaginative scheme was a decade too early for the Sexual Revolution, which was never going to start in Romford anyway.

In 1953, a Rainham man's emotional chaos (it didn't sound like a love life) landed him in court on a double bigamy charge.  The accused was a complete pig, but his attitude to the institution of marriage was – to say the least – ingenious. His first wife, Lillian, had left him in 1945 to protect their two children. Convincing himself that seven years' separation was enough to end a marriage, he found a second bride in Christina. She fled after a few months when he threatened her with a razor. However, since they'd married in a register office, and as Christina was a Catholic, he claimed it didn't count. His third victim, Jean, met him in January 1953, broke off her engagement to another man, married him (so she thought) in February and walked out in April. A prison term interrupted his matrimonial marathon.

Gender attitudes were changing, but only slowly. It was big news in 1963 when a 15 year-old schoolboy "amazed" the people of Romford, by winning first prize in the local Women's Institute cookery competition. His batch of scones beat all the lady competitors, including his own sisters. But it was his mother's recipe.


It was a big event in our Harold Wood home when we got our first television, in November 1951. Aged six, I'd already seen TV at the home of family friends. Their set was a huge box with a tiny screen like a peephole. Ours was more like a modern TV, but the picture was weak. You had to block out every chink of light from the room to see anything. The set needed to "warm up". Our first programme was a boxing match. The fighters seemed to be swimming in cocoa.

The BBC had started the world's first television service, from Alexandra Palace in 1936. It stopped during the War. We paid the price for pioneering: Britain's 405-line TV pictures lacked sharpness. Other countries started later, using classy 625-line equipment. Cathode ray tubes often exploded. I celebrated England winning the Ashes in 1953 listening to the Oval Test on the "wireless" (as we called the radio) because the TV tube had "gone" (again!).

The original BBC service was confined to the London area. In 1951-2, six new TV masts were erected to give near-nationwide coverage throughout our long, narrow island. I loved their exotic names – Sutton Coldfield for the Midlands, Holme Moss and Pontop Pike up North, Kirk O'Shotts for Lowland Scotland, Wenvoe in Wales.

In July 1952, I was allowed to stay up late to watch the flickering images of the first TV broadcast from Paris. England qualified for the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland. One evening we were promised a live match. Since England were playing that night.we expected to watch our hjeroes. People were furious when the game turned out to be between two foreign teams. What became Eurovision in 1956 couldn't handle more than one outside broadcast.

There was only one channel, provided by the BBC, with programmes in black and white. In 1956, the rival ITV service began. Funded by adverts, it was called "commercial television". In a rare piece of creativity, I stuck a piece of white paper on a cardboard box and pasted it with adverts cut out of a newspaper. It was displayed at my primary school as "commercial television".

People either loved or hated the ITV adverts. "You'll wonder where the yellow went, when you clean your teeth with Pepsodent". Some said that was disgusting. Oil stoves were popular. The cartoon advert for Esso Blue parafiin showed a little man answering a phone as the Esso Blee dooler. The hint of a rude word reduced even respectable people to hysterics. People were very proper then. A kind lady neighbour was shocked when I mentioned watching "telly".

Technical progress was rapid. The Telstar satellite provided the first live transatlantic link in 1962. BBC2 began in 1964, although its opening night was banjaxed by a power cut. Colour TV started in 1967. In 1969, there were even ghostly pictures from the Moon.

But what had this to do with Havering? Ah, that's the point! In those early years, television was a window on the world – always about things happening somewhere else. A few TV performers were local, like the King Brothers from Hornchurch, a pop trio who sometimes featured on the Six-Five Special, a surprisingly bold programme for the BBC.  It broadcast rock-and-roll early on Saturday evenings. You might also see Victor Maddern, a popular actor who lived in Upminster. He was a fervent Tory, and enthusiastically supported local Conservative candidates. In 1963, the BBC daringly got into satire. The vibrant vocalist of That Was The Week That Was, Millicent Martin, had been born locally.

But our area was only once mentioned in those early years. A short comedy sketch showed a TV interview. "You're Ron Ford from Stanmore?", the interviewer asked his victim. "No," came the side-splitting reply, "I'm Stan More from Romford." Romford had been mentioned on the telly! It was a memorable night.


Half a century ago, the initials "HUDC" were a familiar sight throughout the eastern half of today's Borough of Havering. Hornchurch Urban District Council became part of Havering in 1965. In the 19th century, Britain evolved two forms of local government below county level. Towns became boroughs, each with a mayor, aldermen and councillors, running a broad range of services. Country areas were run by parish councils, loosely grouped under rural districts. But some parishes grew in population and importance. Although not big enough to become boroughs, they needed more powers to tackle local problems. A half-way category, urban districts, met their needs.

Hornchurch became an urban district in 1926. One complication was that urban districts usually evolved from historic parishes, whose boundaries dated from the Middle Ages. The various communities in the long north-south parish of Hornchurch had little in common. Emerson Park and Harold Wood people rarely visited South Hornchurch. The Park Lane area was really an extension of Romford. Nearby Upminster and Rainham also sought promotion from parish status, but Whitehall thought them too small to become separate urban districts. In 1934, they were added to Hornchurch UDC. Upminster flowed into Cranham, Wennington was an adjunct of Rainham. In 1935, part of North Ockendon was added. But the invention, around this time, of the concept of a Green Belt around London meant that expected urban growth to the east stopped dead. In the 1930s, Elm Park's "garden city" completed the ribbon of housing north to south, but strong local identities survived. They still do.

Hornchurch UDC was a curious mixture, half farmland, half disparate suburbs – 30 square miles in total. Yet it was a success. Population rose from 12,000 in 1926 to 131,000 by 1961. Hornchurch Council built 3,600 council houses, including over 1,000 in Elm Park, nearly 600 at Hacton and 400 on South Hornchurch's Dovers Estate. There were 27 public parks and playgrounds, the largest being the 120 acres at Harrow Lodge, where a boating lake was created in the 1950s. Other major facilities were the recreation grounds at Harold Wood and Upminster, Haynes Park with its bowling green, the half-hidden Grenfell Park near Roneo Corner, Hylands Park and a children's play area at Rainham.

In 1929, the Billet Lane mansion, Langtons, was gifted to Hornchurch UDC. (There were already Council offices nearby). Its fine gardens became headquarters of the Council's parks service, its greenhouses producing flowers and plants for all the public areas. In 1950, land was purchased at Upminster Bridge to build a sports stadium. The local football team, the Urchins, moved in two years later. AFC Hornchurch play there still. The Queen's Theatre followed in 1963, originally housed in an old cinema in Station Lane. Quite a coup for a mere urban district! Hornchurch Swimming Pool at Harrow Lodge opened in 1956. Then one of the most modern in Britain, it's functioned for sixty years.

Hornchurch wanted to move up another notch. Romford, a borough since 1937, had a mayor, with robes and a cocked hat. Hornchurch UDC had only a chairman. But it wasn't just about swank. As a borough, Hornchurch could operate a wider range of services, such as libraries which were controlled by Essex County Council. In 1955-56, Hornchurch made a strong case for borough status. The question was put on hold while a Royal Commission looked into local government across Greater London. Hornchurch Council called its 1960 report "a brilliantly composed document" – it endorsed Hornchurch's claims for promotion. Then came a bombshell. The government announced that the new London boroughs must have a minimum population of 200,000. There was no alternative: Hornchurch had to merge with Romford.

The Hornchurch motto was "A Good Name Endureth". Sadly, that did not prove to be true. But Hornchurch UDC deserves to be remembered for helping to lay the foundations for modern Havering.


It's not the snappiest 23 minutes you'll ever watch, but an Internet search for "Hornchurch good name endureth film youtube" will take you back to Havering sixty years ago. (It's at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9oNfc0fAJs.)  The documentary was made in 1952 by the Cine Group of Ardleigh House, an adult education centre that grew into Havering College. The original Ardleigh House was demolished to make way for the modern campus, but an active community association keeps the name alive. The film was made for Hornchurch Urban District Council. Hornchurch UDC extended from the Thames to the A12 Colchester Road. In 1965, it merged with Romford to form the Borough of Havering.

Hollywood quality it is not. You get the impression that it's always about to rain in George VI's England. It shows a different era. At Cranham a farm worker cuts hay with a scythe. Corbets Tey is "a queer island of real old Essex". In 1952 it still had a working smithy. A man goes for a stroll on Rainham marches – wearing a jacket, a tie and a hat. The women are all in flowing skirts: only bad girls wore slacks in 1952. You'll laugh when the fruity-voiced commentator praises Hornchurch's modern transport. Vans and buses seem to have escaped from museums. All the cars are black. Steam trains run to Liverpool Street.

The film opens with splendid views that few people ever see – from the tower of St Andrew's church. But it's hard to make out landmarks. There was no high-rise building in 1952. There are glimpses too of Hornchurch's ancient mansions. The footage of Nelmes in Emerson Park is poignant. Fifteen years later, on a stormy night in 1967, its owner demolished the building, claiming it had become structurally dangerous. It was a controversial move, but quaint old Nelmes was no more.

The Council headquarters was Langtons, the Billet Lane mansion that is now Havering's register office. Pompous councillors engage in silent but melodramatic debate. We follow a candidate called Smith as he contests the local elections. We're not told Mr Smith's political affiliation. Maybe he represented the Popular Front for the Liberation of Emerson Park.

The film defends Hornchurch Council, rebutting complaints about the cost of the rates (the forerunner of the Council Tax). So we're shown Council services – dustcarts, the bowling green in Haynes Park ("a billiard table carpet of beautiful turf"), soccer at Harrow Lodge, cricket in Upminster. Council planners work imaginatively to design the new Dovers Farm estate off Cherry Tree Lane. We see their blueprint, featuring the curved outline of New Zealand Way. Mixed styles are used for the houses in Christchurch Avenue. But along Hacton Lane, still a country byway, the housing crisis has led to a dreary uniformity of prefabricated homes.

Still, children at the new Hacton primary school are developing skills in a pleasant, open environment. At an unidentified secondary school, boys are busy in their metalwork shop. There's no school playing field, but youngsters with cricket bats line up in the playground to practise forward defensive shots. England will win back the Ashes yet!

Lacrinoids, the Ardleigh Green plastics factory, represents Hornchurch's light industrial base. It's almost laughable. Automation is a long way off. Women workers pick dud buttons off a conveyor belt. No wonder they all scoot out of the factory gates on their bicycles when the shift ends. We see Bretons in Elm Park, but the film crew never made it to Harold Wood.

It all seems another universe. But hang on – there's a fuzzy shot of three small boys chatting at the kerbside in Ardleigh Green Road, the chimney pots of Stafford Avenue in the background. I lived just around the corner in 1952. Was I one of those bare-legged urchins? The one in the school cap, maybe?

Congratulations to Havering Library service for mounting this vintage movie on Youtube.


I never thought I'd become an old buffer talking about events seventy years ago. And the truth is, my memories are vague. One summer day in 1950 my mother marched me to the local school at Ardleigh Green. I faintly recall being taken along a corridor to the reception class. My mother often claimed that I resentfully kicked her in the shin. As it took me decades to escape from the education system, I do not feel guilty.

The infant school headteacher was a small lady called Miss Mann. There are playgrounds at either end of the school. Miss Mann had Victorian principles: boys cavorted in one playground, girls paraded in the other. She soon retired. Her successor was the large and jolly Miss Bush. Year One now mixed in one playground, Year Two in the other, boys and girls together. Shocking! In Year One we were issued with bead mats and told to lie down for an afternoon nap. I revived this civilized custom in later years.

I owe a huge debt to the teachers through my six years at Ardleigh Green, infants and juniors. They taught me to chant the twelve times table, to read, write and spell. I still remember being gently told, aged about six, that there is only one R in "father" but three Es in "cheese". Giving children individual attention was a challenge: there were 48 in my class. The memory of one classroom crisis still freezes my blood. A nice girl answered a Geography question, saying Eskimos lived in the Ar-tick. The teacher went crazy, shouting ArK-tic, ArK-tic. I've never dared repeat that mistake.

The junior school headteacher was Mr Price Rees, a short, sparkling Welshman. We had many Welsh teachers (the alternative back home was coal-mining). They liked the Romford area because teachers were paid an additional London Allowance, but we had much lower housing costs.  We walked to and from school without supervision. Ardleigh Green's catchment area extended to Cambridge Avenue in Gidea Park, a mile away.  Some children went all that way home (and back) for lunch. (We called it "dinner". We weren't posh.)

There was a surprising amount of equipment for Austerity Britain – film projectors, a Wendy House in the reception class, and radios fixed to the classroom walls. Sadly, I don't remember any BBC educational programmes. However, on the fateful 25th of November 1953, we listened to England v. Hungary, broadcast from Wembley. As we'd invented football, we assumed England must win. But Hungary had scrapped centre-forwards and half-backs for a ruthless system of strikers and midfield control. They won 6-3.

To give us some culture, the corridors were lined with reproductions of pictures by Van Gogh – poppies, stars, the famous broken chair. Decades later, I had a strange experience when I saw the originals in a Dutch gallery – the sounds, even the smells, of primary school crept back around me. We sang lots of songs. Our music teacher was the delightfully chubby Miss Noel. When we sang Christmas carols, she told us she would be the Last Noel because she couldn't find a husband. Years later, ex-Ardleigh Greenites were delighted to hear of her marriage. I recall warbling a French song, about dancing on the bridge at Avignon. In the mouths of Hornchurch youngsters, "Sur le pont d'Avignon" became "Sewer le pong daveenyong".

I first encountered religion at school. The Ten Commandments caused some problems. Honouring your parents made sense. So did banning stealing and murder. But "thou shalt not commit adultery" puzzled us.  Was adultery another word for adulthood? Surely you couldn't be sent to Hell just for being a grown-up? That wasn't fair. It didn't occur to us to ask our teachers to explain. They would probably have been embarrassed if we had.

In 1956, I moved on to secondary school, equipped with basic skills for later life. Thank you, Ardleigh Green.


It remains a clear memory, even though it happened nearly seventy years ago. Wednesday 6th February 1952 was a typical morning at Ardleigh Green Infant School, where I was learning to read and so sums. I don't know what we were doing, but we were busy. Of course we all looked up when a girl from the senior class brought our teacher an urgent message from the headteacher. It was dramatic news. The King had died in the night!

Grown-ups  liked George VI. They also felt sorry for him. He'd never wanted to be King. The job was dumped on this shy, stammering man when his selfish brother, Edward VIII, had abdicated, to marry an American divorcee. And the royal couple (his wife was later the Queen Mother) were admired for staying in London throughout the War, refusing to dodge the Nazi bombs. The media respected the royal family in those days.  The public weren't told that His Majesty was a heavy smoker – but we knew the King had been ill, and had survived a serious operation. Even so, nobody expected him to die, aged just 56.

His elder daughter, Princess Elizabeth, had just set off to tour what was still called "the Empire". She was in Kenya ("Keen-ya" we called it in those days). I'm afraid that, although I was only 6 years old, I was already a trainee male chauvinist. I assumed we now had King Philip reigning over us. But our teacher explained that Philip's wife, the Princess, was now Queen Elizabeth. That weekend, my parents drove me to visit cousins at Rush Green. Across Hornchurch and Romford, there were flags everywhere. Flagpoles had been improvised on buildings where you'd never expect to see the Union Jack. They were all flapping at half-mast, in mourning for the King.

A few months later, Ardleigh Green Infant School held a parents' day. The highlight was children dancing around a maypole. Each child held a ribbon tied to the top of the maypole. Forming a circle, boys and girls facing alternately left and right, we danced, boys moving to the left, girls to the right, weaving past one another. The ribbons gradually wrapped around the maypole, and we all ended up in a muddle in the middle. I can hardly believe I once danced around a maypole! Our teachers made one point very strongly during rehearsals. Festivities would end with the singing of the National Anthem. We must remember not to sing "God Save the King". We now had a Queen.

In March of the following year, 1953, there was another royal landmark, the death of Queen Mary, wife of George V and mother of the late king. The BBC cancelled Children's Television as a mark of respect. Nonsense, said my mother. Queen Mary would never have wanted the children to lose their TV programmes. Ordinary people always claimed expert insider knowledge about the opinions of the royal family. It always seemed that, for all their pomp and majesty, the royals were sensible people who invariably thought just like us!

It rained the day the Queen was crowned, June 2nd 1953. Nevertheless, across the country, there were street parties for children, who were encouraged to show off their talents by performing. I lived on the Southend Arterial Road, which isn't really a street, but some energetic Mums organised a celebration anyway. It took place in a field at the corner of Wingletye Lane. It's now the Campion School! I liked the American entertainer Danny Kaye, and sang his hit number, "Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen". I hadn't grasped the significance of the Coronation as a Commonwealth event. I can still sing the first two lines, but nowadays I prefer "Waltzing Matilda".


The "Eleven-Plus" was an examination taken by children to decide what sort of secondary school they should attend. The exam was held in Year Six: many youngsters were still only ten when their fate was determined. The thinking behind it came from a Glasgow-born educational theorist, Sir Will Spens, whose ideas shaped the 1944 Education Act. Spens didn't like people who disagreed with him. As a result, his arguments were never properly challenged. He claimed children could be split into three groups. Clever youngsters, who did well at maths and science and history, should have an academic education at grammar schools. Practical types, good with machinery, would go to technical schools. The rest were consigned to secondary moderns, to be taught woodwork and cookery.

Officially, the Eleven-Plus determined the best school for each child. But everybody talked about "passing" (going to grammar school), or "failing" (ending up in a secondary modern). The system was unfair. Some areas had enough grammar schools to educate one child in three, while others could only squeeze in one youngster in five. The same child might be a potential genius in one place, but written off somewhere else.

The Eleven-Plus was an all-day exam, with papers on arithmetic and composition, coupled with a mysterious paper testing general knowledge and verbal reasoning. The exam had a class bias. Youngsters from working-class families usually lacked the vocabulary to play IQ word games. A grammar school opened on Harold Hill in 1958, but drew students from a much wider area.

I sat the Eleven-Plus in 1956. Forgive me if I'm vague about the details – it's over sixty years ago.

My parents were supportive but not pushy. They put me on a diet of fish, which was thought to be good for brainpower. (Most people only ate their fish fried, with vinegar and chips, as a treat.) They also tested me from a general knowledge book. One set of questions formed the female noun from the male equivalent: "queen" for "king" and "ewe" for "ram". Why was this important?! My parents thought I needn't learn the female partner for "Viceroy". We no longer ruled India, so there hadn't been a Viceroy since 1947. (The answer, in case you ever need it, is "Vicereine".)

At primary school, we took practice papers. One question chilled my blood. It asked: "What was the prime minister's name in 1938?" Already keen on History, I knew that Neville Chamberlain had been prime minister in 1938. But that wasn't the answer. You see, in 1956, the prime minister was Sir Anthony Eden, who'd recently received a knighthood. So the answer to the question, "What was the prime minister's name in 1938?", was – "Mister Eden"! On such nonsense were children's futures decided.

Of course, it was stressful. As a child, I was prone to sleepwalking. The night before the Eleven-Plus, I was found wandering downstairs in my pyjamas, fast asleep! I vaguely remember heading down Park Lane, Hornchurch, to the test centre, Hylands Secondary School (which no longer exists). I'd taken the bus on my own: parents didn't fuss over children 60 years ago. In due course, a printed postcard arrived through the letterbox. It didn't say that I had "passed", but it did announce that I'd been accepted by the Number One school on my parents' list of preferences. Of course, most families put the grammar schools top. Schools didn't hold Open Days in 1956. I first set foot in my secondary school on Day 1 of the new school year.

A back-up exam, the Thirteen-Plus, transferred a few children to grammar schools, but the system didn't really cater for late developers. Like so many "experts", Sir Will Spens got it wrong. For two generations, the majority of children were written off at the age of ten. I salute those who survived.


Over the years, some schools have held mock general elections, to teach students about politics and citizenship. At Gidea Park's Royal Liberty School for boys, the first recorded contest was in 1929. The local council even supplied official ballot boxes.  Although Stanley Baldwin's Conservative government was defeated nationally, his party easily won the school election. The victorious candidate, teenager Ralph Bennett, later became a Cambridge don. In World War Two, he worked with the code-breakers at Bletchley Park.

There are legends about Royal Liberty elections in the 1950s. (Legends aren't always true.) At one contest, the popularity of the Communist candidate among younger boys worried the headmaster. It was the time of the Cold War against Stalin's Russia. A Communist victory, even in a pretend election, might become a Soviet propaganda coup, terrible publicity for the school. Luckily, Year 7 and 8 boys rioted at an election rally. The headmaster decreed that they were too young to understand politics, and banned them from voting.

Another tale concerns a Tory Boy Conservative candidate, a natty dresser who wore a waistcoat under his school blazer. He was a prefect, with a devotion to enforcing school rules made him unpopular with Royal Liberty's less studious inmates, whose attitude to discipline was relaxed.

But the well-attired teenager formed an unexpected alliance which carried him to victory. Smoking was a serious offence. In the era of corporal punishment, it had painful consequences. When the Conservative standard-bearer caught a habitual malefactor puffing an illicit fag, the two struck a deal. In return for not being reported, the offender mobilised his friends to vote Conservative. A persuasive youth, the secret smoker organised a Tory majority. 

Royal Liberty's 1955 mock general election took place almost two months after Sir Anthony Eden's Tories had defeated Labour under Clement Attlee. It was an end-of-term festivity, with polling on 19 July. There were four candidates – Communist, Conservative, Labour and Liberal. A fifth had withdrawn. He'd planned to campaign as a Yeti Nationalist, supporting the legendary Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas. Somehow the support just wasn't there. The campaign was lively. Candidates, Year 13 students, perched on cycle shed roofs to address rowdy meetings, their supporters yelling at one another through loudspeakers.

One veteran remembers Conservative lads denouncing Labour's lavish spending plans. "Where are you going to get the money from?"  The socialists (as Labour supporters were called in those days) replied: "From you Tories; you've been keeping all the money for yourselves.  That's where!" Sounds familiar?

In the real general election, the Liberals (forerunners of today's Lib Dems) had elected just six MPs. But their schoolboy candidate rallied support with a lively campaign song. Popular vocalist Alma Cogan had a hit song about an expectant mother looking forward to her new arrival. The lyrics were very slightly naughty (for 1955):  "On the baby's knuckle, on the baby's knee / Where will the baby's dimple be?" The Liberal strategy targeted low Labour morale after Mr Attlee's defeat, aiming to squeeze their vote. Liberals sang:  "Where will the Labour Party be/ In nineteen-ninety-three?"

A physics lab was fitted up as the polling station, complete with polling booths and voting lists. There was a heavy turn-out. Voting was held at lunchtime, so the result should have been clear that afternoon. But the three parties were so close that a recount was required. Not until next morning's school assembly could the returning officer announce the surprise result, a Liberal majority of just five votes. The figures were Liberal 189, Conservative 184, Labour 151. The Communist candidate was recorded as 22 votes (official), 38 (unofficial). It's whispered that there were attempts at electoral fraud. Later, the victorious Liberal actually stood for Westminster, contesting a Midlands seat in 1964. His magic touch didn't work, but he managed to save his deposit – in third place. Brilliant educational devices or silly stunts? It's hard to say, but those mock elections were obviously fun.


Before the Lockdown, I was chatting to an old friend about our days at Royal Liberty School (we left in 1963!). Out of the blue, I threw him a name to test his reactions: Mr LeMin. My friend sat bolt upright. "Short man," he said, delving six decades into memory. "Very well dressed." Later, other veterans added "a thoroughly nice man who was respected" and "a gentle personality and an effective teacher".

Alas, I can't say that Mr LeMin taught me much.  His subject, physics, wasn't my favourite. And he was often absent on sick leave. One morning in November 1960 came news that he had died. Everyone was sad, but, at fifteen, if you're lucky, you don't really understand death.  It's taken me 60 years to realise that Roy LeMin was a very brave man.

His unusual surname comes from a tiny place in Cornwall. His forebears must have decided to Frenchify it. I expect they disliked being called "Lemon" – the nickname Royal Liberty boys tried to fix upon him, but it never stuck. Roy LeMin was born in 1918, shortly before the end of the First World War. His family lived in the Devon fishing village of Brixham. I think he learned to swim there. I assume he acquired his enthusiasm for science at secondary school in Torquay. He was lucky: good science teachers were rare in the 1930s. Although few students went on to higher education, there was a small college in Exeter – today the mighty Exeter University. Roy LeMin became one of the few hundred undergraduates there.

When war broke out in 1939, he joined the Fleet Air Arm, the Royal Navy's flying reconnaissance force. Like most men who served, he never talked about his experiences. They'd seen things they preferred to forget. Roy LeMin was trained as an observer, work which included taking aerial photographs to identify enemy forces. The Fleet Air Arm worked closely with the RAF. Roy LeMin became a liaison officer in the Mediterranean theatre. One day he was on a flight that crash-landed in the Libyan desert. He was lucky to be rescued: Libya is eight times the area of Britain. But he'd endured days of punishing heat and freezing nights, without water.

Roy LeMin was invalided home, finished his degree and trained to be a teacher. In 1947, he was appointed to Royal Liberty. He and his wife Eileen – she was from Brixham too – bought a house in Ardleigh Green, near the corner of Kingsley Gardens and Rowan Walk. When a colleague got married, the LeMins generously hosted the reception in their quiet garden. In the 1950s, poorly paid teachers couldn't afford lavish weddings.

Despite his fragile health, Roy LeMin organised swimming competitions and cheered school football teams from the touchline. But by the mid-1950s, it was clear that his desert ordeal had caused permanent kidney damage. There were no transplants. Only hospitals had dialysis machines. He cheerfully coped with long periods as a patient. His students never knew how ill he was. Eileen lovingly nursed him, and never gave up hope.

In Cold War days, Royal Liberty had a cadet force. In September 1960, the cadets joined Romford's Battle of Britain parade, flourishing a new standard. The school borrowed a cine camera to film the event. Who better to direct the movie than the trained Fleet Air Arm observer, Mr LeMin? It would be his last contribution. He died two months later, aged just 42.

At the funeral service in St Michael's, Gidea Park, his headmaster, Mr Newth, spoke movingly of Roy LeMin's courage and his faith. Eileen returned to Devon, where she died, aged 98, in 2019. They had no children. When we see names neatly carved on a war memorial, we tend to think it was all over in 1945. But some brave men and women became war casualties long afterwards.


Two problems faced Ronald Threadgall when he became a teacher at Romford's Chase Cross Secondary School for Boys (now Bower Park Academy) in 1962. He was in charge of the "remedial" department, a clinical, cruel word for lads of eleven to thirteen with learning difficulties. Many had missed out on learning to read. Ron Threadgall taught them using a 44-character phonetic alphabet. Boys would have fun making ooo and ahh sounds, then learn to make words – before being eased into the standard English spelling. He was a great promoter of the scheme, but it never caught on.

Another problem was self-confidence: the boys felt rejected. Mr Threadgall's solution was – a cycle tour. A Scoutmaster, he was used to leading trips. Roads were quieter then! Advance planning gave the youngsters a sense of purpose. They learned how to maintain their bicycles, and pass the cycling proficiency test. They practised writing postcards home, and budgeting their pocket money. Each boy was responsible for planning a section of the route. The class re-enacted historical scenes from the places they would visit: Boadicea fighting the Romans in Epping Forest, St Cedd arriving at Bradwell to convert the Essex heathens, Saxons massacred by Vikings at the Battle of Maldon.

Accompanied by another teacher, Mr McDermott, the expedition left one Monday morning in May 1963, cheered by the whole school. That first day, they cycled to Bradwell, on the windy Blackwater estuary. The boys tried to imagine life behind the earthworks of the Roman fort.

Their first night was spent at Maldon's youth hostel, a new experience but "good fun". Next day, they toured the jam factory at Tiptree. The smell of blackcurrant jam was "delightful", but the deep freeze, where fruit was stored, left them shivering. Then it was off to Colchester, to be thrilled by the Castle dungeons.

On Day Three, they left their kit at Colchester's youth hostel and rode to Harwich. Mr Threadgall came from Dovercourt, and he used his local connections. A motor launch took the party out to the Royal Sovereign lightship. There was excitement when a giant North Sea car ferry churned past their tiny craft. Later, they toured another Hook of Holland ferry at Parkeston Quay. The boys were tired when they got back to the Colchester hostel that evening, but – this was 1963 – there had to be prayers before they went to bed. On Day Four, they took things easy, in a much-needed break. At school, they'd studied the artist John Constable. Now they relaxed in Constable country, where he'd painted his beautiful landscapes, sunbathing and even swimming in the Stour – almost as cold as the Tiptree refrigerator!

Day Five brought problems. On the sixty-mile trek to Cambridge, they struggled against headwinds and heavy rain. On the narrow streets of the university town, a careless motorist collided with one of the bikes. Next day, after visiting the colleges, the party split into four groups, each taking a separate route to Saffron Walden. With only two supervising teachers, this meant that half the pre-teens were let loose on their own – a risk that wouldn't be allowed nowadays. But they all arrived safely, even managing to raise a welder at ten o'clock at night, who cheerfully mended a cracked frame.

There were more problems, punctures and jammed gears, as they headed to St Albans and Whipsnade Zoo, but they made it safe home by way of Epping Forest. The boys had learned that Essex wasn't dull and flat, as many people claimed. More important, they'd gained confidence through team work. An exhibition in the school underlined their achievement. The headteacher asked his two colleagues to make the tour an annual event.

Ronald Threadgall later moved to a comprehensive school at Clacton. Sad to say, he died in 1998, not long after retiring.


The son of an insurance executive, Tyrrell Burgess was born in Osborne Road, Hornchurch, in 1931. His family moved to the Romford end of Carlton Road. When war came in 1939, he was evacuated to safety in south Wales. There, he sat the "eleven-plus", the exam that determined children's future schooling, a test heavy in word games and comprehension. The bright boy won a place at grammar school – despite the handicap that the exam was in Welsh!

Back home again, he went to the Royal Liberty School in Gidea Park, where he became Head Boy and won a place to study History at Oxford. He was an amusing extrovert, although some felt sometimes a bit too pleased with himself. He confidently threw himself into the debates of the Oxford Union. His skill at arguing left-wing causes to an audience of young Tories – Michael Heseltine was a rival – led to his election as President in 1954. Too busy debating, he didn't do well in his exams. However, he launched into education research, using his plausible talents to persuade grammar schools to go comprehensive. His own eleven-plus success in Welsh became a trademark.

He loved exciting journeys, travelling by car (he couldn't drive himself) from Uganda to Cape Town in 1959. Next year he helped establish the Advisory Centre for Education, which publicised new ideas for schools. At the 1964 general election, he was the unsuccessful Labour candidate in marginal Croydon South, where he lived. When Harold Wilson called an early election in 1966, Tyrrell Burgess was visiting India. With another candidate, Croydon South went Labour by just 81 votes. He was probably too independent-minded to be a successful MP. His role was to push radical ideas.

In 1981, he joined the new Social Democratic Party, and was the first to urge a pact with the Liberals. He also argued that only SDP MPs should choose elect the leader, insisting that any party that allowed ordinary members to choose their leader wasn't fit to form a government.

Unfortunately, the SDP didn't have many MPs: Tyrrell Burgess fought twice under their banner, losing badly each time.

In the 1960s, Britain created an alternative system to the universities, called polytechnics. Tyrrell Burgess championed them, arguing for flexible forms of study instead of old-fashioned "subject" degrees (like his disappointing Oxford History BA!). In 1972 he started a new programme at North East London Polytechnic, creating opportunities for students with few school qualifications. Promotion made him "professor in the philosophy of social institutions". Most professors are "of" something, meaning that they know everything about, say, History. Tyrrell Burgess insisted on being professor "in" to show he was still learning. He disliked the 1992 rebranding of the polytechnics as universities, insisting that the new University of East London should avoid "academic drift" and continue to stress vocational education and training.

He also encouraged local communities to become involved in their schools. In 1970, he set up the National Association of Governors and Managers to press governments for more money. Its nickname, Nag'em, appealed to his sense of humour. The Conservative Leon Brittan was vice-chairman.

Like all reformers, he sometimes got it wrong – in 1968, for instance, arguing that the planned "University of the Air" should be "buried", and the money spent on schools. The project became the highly successful Open University. Tyrrell Burgess was a complex character, a reformer who was not bothered when the men-only Oxford Union refused to admit women. A critic of elites, he was a member of the select and all-male Savile Club in Mayfair. He was a moderniser who hero-worshipped nineteenth-century statesmen, like the reforming Tory Sir Robert Peel. He enjoyed opera and the stately music of Haydn, the lugubrious portraits of the Scottish artist Allan Ramsay, the gloomy churches of Butterfield, the architect who'd designed his Oxford college, Keble. You couldn't pigeon-hole the boy from Osborne Road. Tyrrell Burgess died in 2009.


Yvonne was born in Romford in 1946. Her family moved to Rush Green when she was a baby. Although they lived on the Dagenham border, she always felt she belonged to Romford. Most Saturday mornings she headed into town, spending her weekly pocket money of one shilling (5p!) at special cinema shows for kids. Romford had exciting department stores. "The Market was great for everything from dress material to fruit," she recalled. Farmers sold sheep, but she hated to see tortoises for sale. "They were piled high in boxes, poor things."

Her childhood memories are more about feelings than events. "I always felt safe out and about, kids did in those days. I thought nothing of walking through the local park on my own." Even at infant school, Yvonne walked on her own every day.

People still had dirty coal fires. Yvonne remembers a lethal "smog" outbreak in 1952. "You had to feel along the front garden walls all the way home as you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. When we finally got home we kept blowing our noses until our hankies turned black. Thank goodness for the Clean Air Acts!"

Yvonne's family bought a television in 1953 to watch the Queen's Coronation. "After admiring the coach and her jewellery, the Coronation got extremely boring for a seven year-old," she confesses. "I popped upstairs to dress up in a bedspread and came down again as the Queen." She's never been allowed to forget that episode.

"We never seemed to go anywhere much," she recalls. "Outings to the seaside were the highlights." Her father bought an old car. "We had to stop regularly to let the engine cool down." Even Shoeburyness was an all-day trip! But she has fond memories of South Weald, and exploring its Country Park with friends. There was a direct bus service all the way from Rush Green to Brook Street. "We walked for miles and on one occasion had the cheek to walk into the pub and ask for pints of milk which they happily supplied," she recalls. "We were only about 14 so underage for anything stronger."

Yvonne is critical of her schooling. "The attitude of the education system in the 1950s was that girls weren’t worth educating. They'd just get married and breed." She went to St. Edward's secondary school. "In those days, it was at the top of Romford Market. The whole area is now under concrete. The beautiful original school, built in 1710 – later the Library – is no more." Yvonne cycled to school – along South Street and through Romford Market. Before the ring-road was built, the town centre was full of lorries and buses. "I never considered the journey to be dangerous. The worst bit was getting through the Market with so many people buzzing about, totally ignoring a kid on a bike." Her verdict on St Edward's 60 years ago is: "OK, not much expected of us." She took the commercial course, learning shorthand and typing for office work.

Her grandfather, who'd served in the First World War, died when she was 14. "He always had a twinkle in his eye." She wishes she'd asked her father about his experiences as a prisoner of war. He was captured in Italy in 1944 and held in a camp in eastern Germany.  "Dad hardly ever mentioned the war. He once said he'd tried to escape from the Germans by climbing a tree and throwing bricks at them." As the Russians advanced, guards threw open the gates. He walked across Germany to freedom. "I always regret not asking him more but suddenly he wasn’t there any more. Like so many people of that generation, he died too young."

Yvonne lives in Suffolk now. She hopes Havering Council will never move Romford Market. "It's well known all over the country."


One day in 1964, a local resident caught a bus into Romford. Maybe not a major historical event, but let's follow the journey. A local magazine published the odyssey by author B.E. Speed. I assume this was Mr Speed – but I may be wrong! Twenty years earlier, he'd written a schoolboy essay about the future of wartime Romford. With its weekly cattle market – closed in 1958 – it had still felt like a country town. Older people called it "Rumford". That essay had featured an imaginary bus journey. Now he wanted to check what had really happened.

Mr Speed boarded the 86 bus at Hainault Road – not the thoroughfare that crosses the A12, but a side street off the A118 London Road just over the Dagenham boundary. We'll join him on the top deck. You can still see the spire of St Edward's church ahead, although perhaps few people now think of it as "pointing to heaven".  Away to the left "the little houses of north Romford" basked in sunshine that lit up Havering-atte-Bower's white-painted water tower.

Some farmland had become school playing fields, although St Edward's hadn't yet moved out here from its location near Romford Market. Mr Speed spotted Crown Cottages, with their "VR" tribute to Queen Victoria. They're still there. But a dilapidated farm on the right had been replaced by housing. Another casualty was a bungalow near the Greyhound Stadium. Its owner had sold plaster ornaments, and Mr Speed mourned its pretty fishpond surrounded by garden gnomes.

In those days, fresh milk was delivered to your doorstep before breakfast. There was a dairy next to Crowlands primary school – the name was new since Mr Speed's days as a pupil. He spotted the outbuildings where the milkmen had stabled their horses, but by the 1960s the firm used humming electric delivery vans. The site's all housing now, and we buy our milk in supermarkets. There were few cars in the 1930s, and private motoring was restricted by petrol shortages in wartime. Now everybody wanted wheels. London Road was lined with garages and ugly used-car lots.

The "inadequate and dreary" housing around Waterloo Road had been replaced by a "well laid-out" estate, including two blocks of "skyscraper flats". "We certainly would not have imagined these twenty years ago." A twisted bottleneck entering Romford High Street had been widened, "and a pleasant new curve of shops substituted." They're still there, opposite the Salvation Army. High Street's coaching inn, the White Hart, had just been smartened up, with the addition of a burger bar. Across the road, the overhanging upper storey of the Golden Lion was a traffic hazard. "Will it be pulled down in the name of progress, or saved to add a little of Romford's past for our children to see?" The Golden Lion had been threatened with demolition in 1959, but it survived. The White Hart, renamed the Bitter End, closed in 2012.

Mr Speed left the bus at the traffic lights to look around. The town centre was dominated by the brewery. It would be replaced by a shopping mall in 2001. South Street's railway bridge was dingy. "Romford still needs several new restaurants." (In fact, the first Chinese and Indian restaurants arrived soon after.) Built around 1850 by developer John Laurie as part of a planned garden suburb, Laurie Hall, at the east end of the Market, was now a dance hall. Romford's new ring road was planned to run alongside. Mr Speed hoped that banning traffic from the town centre might make a reality of John Laurie's vision of Romford as a garden city. Alas, Laurie Hall was demolished to create Ludwigshafen Place. Downtown Romford became a concrete jungle.

The town had changed over twenty years. It would develop even more in the half century that followed.  But you can still catch the 86 bus at Hainault Road.


When Barbara Parkin arrived in Ingatestone in 1860 – her husband had been appointed Rector – she visited the villagers in their homes. She found one elderly couple sitting on either side of their fireplace. "Well, Mrs Brasier, I hear you have been married over sixty years." "I was married sixty years ago," the old lady agreed, adding, "and I have been regretting it ever since." She glared at her husband, who shook his head in silent dismissal.

Divorce was too expensive for poor people, but there was a primitive folk equivalent. In 1831, after one month of marriage, Thomas Newcombe auctioned his wife in Romford Market for six shillings (30p). Public sale of a wife was regarded as transferring her to a new partner.

Marital disharmony could disrupt small communities. In 1591, there was a row between two Collier Row men, John Coxe and Geoffrey Luckin. "I cannot live in quiet with my wife," Luckin complained, "for when I am from home then Coxe is at my house with my wife, and when I am at home my wife will be at Coxe's house."

The Church wanted married couples to live together. Local officials tried to provide relationship counselling, but major breakdowns were referred to ecclesiastical courts. A Romford man, John Crookes, alleged in 1613 that his wife had left him to live with a new partner in Wennington, near Rainham. Meanwhile, Crookes was reported "by common fame" to have taken up with a woman from East Ham. Wennington's churchwardens tried to mediate, but the "contention" between Mr and Mrs Crookes was "greater than by private exhortation can be quieted", and the case went to the Church courts. Not everybody accepted this interference. In 1584, Agnes Quicke of Romford was accused of committing adultery with, Nicholas Lucas, also of Romford. She abused the churchwardens for reporting her, saying that if she'd been a man, she would have taken revenge on them, and that she would not appear in a Church court "for a hundred pounds".

The Church lost its authority over people's private lives, but matrimonial quarrels still sometimes came to court. Stephen Gilbey and his wife – it's so typical that her full name wasn't even reported – were married in 1890, and lived at North Ockendon. Mrs Gilbey apparently worked in a shop, and her husband regarded her as a cashpoint. On one occasion, he threatened to throttle her unless she gave him money and her watch. His descriptions of how he would break her neck were frighteningly detailed. On another occasion, he was prosecuted for knocking out her teeth, and putting her out of action for five weeks. The couple separated after two years. In 1895, parliament gave married women rights to claim support. Mrs Gilbey took her husband to court demanding maintenance. Branding her husband a "little villain" and a liar, she proclaimed: "He don't marry me, but only my money." The male chauvinist court clerk remarked "that people would understand why he left her". Magistrates declined to intervene. Perhaps there were faults on both sides. Gilbey alleged that he had rushed to his estranged wife after she wrote to tell him she was dying, but "found her dancing a can-can". The can-can was a very provocative dance in the Naughty Nineties. A reporter thought the case "very amusing", but violence against women is no joke.

The Essex town of Dunmow has an ancient tradition of awarding a side of bacon (the "Dunmow Flitch") to couples who can prove they haven't exchanged a cross word for a year and a day. In 1921, organisers of a local fete at Navestock, three miles north of Harold Hill, offered a similar prize. The contest collapsed when every couple in the village insisted their relationship was perfect. Journalists proclaimed Navestock the happiest place in England. I hope that's still true.


The shops and pubs of Hare Street are still there, but the name is forgotten. In 1876, the Gidea Park hamlet at the corner of Balgores Lane and the A118 Main Road resembled Dodge City. Wagons lumbered through Hare Street on their way to London, and cattle were driven to Romford Market. Aged sixteen, Daniel Ellingworth ran errands from his father's farm across the fields near Straight Road. The family lived at Park Farm. The farmhouse stood between Bell Avenue and the A12 Eastern Avenue, which wasn't built until the 1920s.  Hare Street's blacksmith, Thomas Staines – later landlord of The Unicorn – repaired the Ellingworths' farm implements. As sparks flew from the anvil, Daniel fell in love with the blacksmith's daughter, fourteen year-old Julia. After an eight-year romance, they were married at Romford's St Edward's church in 1884.

Daniel became a farmer too. By 1891, the Ellingworths were running Harold Wood Farm, tucked into the south-west corner of modern Harold Hill. Their farmyard was located opposite the junction of modern Faringdon Avenue and Ashton Road. Daniel's career followed the advice, "Go west, young man" – but he didn't go very far. He took over Park Farm from his parents, then moved to Risebridge – now a golf course – before settling in 1910 at Great Pettits, an ancient farmhouse located in Pettits Lane, opposite Parkside Avenue. There, his herd of 125 cows supplied Romford with milk.

When Daniel and Julia celebrated their Diamond Wedding in 1944, they were Romford's oldest and most popular couple. With the advance of suburbia, Daniel – at 83 – had retired from farming. Julia now needed full-time care. A "quiet and retiring" elder of Main Road Baptist Church, Daniel was keen on chess. He also enthusiastically supported the Boro, Romford's football team, and was a member of the Liberty of Havering Bowls Club. (The club's now based at Harrow Lodge Park, its third home in 111 years.)

When Romford was still a rural area, Daniel had taken his turn as an unpaid highways surveyor. Often there wasn't enough money to keep the road gang employed repairing potholes year-round.  Later he was elected to the Council, where he "preferred to render solid service in an unostentatious way". As one of area's oldest residents, Daniel told stories of olden days with a characteristic quiet chuckle. He recalled the long-vanished tollgate at the top of Romford Market. Carts had to pay fourpence to go through, but pedestrians passed through a side gate free.

The Ellingworths briefly moved to Bedford after a bomb damaged Great Pettits, but they belonged to Romford and soon came home. Not all of their seven children and nine grandchildren could attend the Diamond Wedding celebrations – one son had emigrated to Australia and two grandsons were in the Forces overseas – but two of Julia's bridesmaids were there. They were her sisters, one living in Romford's Craigdale Road, the other a farmer's wife at Little Nelmes in Hornchurch. The family gathered around Julia's bed, where an eleven-year old grandson "made a happy little speech", promising to "do his utmost to carry on the good name of the family ". Despite Julia's poor health, the couple would pass another major landmark, celebrating 65 years together shortly before she died in 1949. After Daniel's death in 1952, Great Pettits was demolished, and its site incorporated into the grounds of the school that's now Marshalls Park Academy.  

Four centuries earlier, Hare Street was home to another happily married couple, although, sadly, the memorial in St Edward's church to John and Joan Outred is now lost. Don't be put off by the phonetic spelling – "wyff" and "stryff" for "wife" and "strife".

Here lye John Outred and Jone his wyff,

Who livyd long togeddyr withouten stryff.

John left this world, and passyd to heven

One thousand five hundred and eleven.

Try reading it aloud – the English language really hasn't changed much since 1511.


Until 1967, homosexual men could be sent to prison in England for having gay sex. Many had their lives ruined by gaol terms. Antony Grey devoted his life to campaigning to end this persecution. He would talk to anybody – from student groups to bigoted opponents – to argue that gay men should be allowed to live as they pleased.

Back in 1965, I was enthusiastically and ineptly interested in girls. I assumed homosexuals were rare exotics, not knowing that some of my friends were secretly gay. But, if homosexuals were attracted to their own sex, it seemed crazy to lock them up with hundreds of other men. At the age of 19, I attended a meeting about homosexual law reform. Afterwards, I chatted to the speaker – Antony Grey.

I mentioned that Hornchurch MP, Godfrey Lagden, was anti-gay. He'd made a lurid speech in parliament on 29 June 1960. You can read his remarks on the Hansard Millbank website. I'd rather not quote them.  Mr Lagden was a family friend. I should stress that he was a kind man, although his views now seem outdated. When he complained in parliament about traffic problems at Gallows Corner in 1956 (yes, there was congestion even then), a Labour MP joked that he was an expert on the gallows.

Smiling at my mention of Godfrey Lagden, Antony Grey told me a strange story about a discussion between them. The tale was so bizarre that, in later years, I wondered if I'd misunderstood it. But Grey recounted the episode in his autobiography, Quest for Justice. He was a very serious person, and I trust his account.

A television station in Cardiff fed a controversial weekly discussion programme into the ITV network. They decided to tackle the law against homosexuality, and invited Godfrey Lagden to argue against repeal. Antony Grey agreed to put the other side of the case. He spoke with his back to the camera, in a shadow, to stop the Welsh police swooping on him as he left the studio. The broadcast went well. The next morning, the two men caught the same train back to London. They decided to travel together, grabbing a table where they could sit face-to-face, read newspapers and chat. For Antony Grey, this was an opportunity to provide "some elementary education". A friendly conversation might prove that homosexuals weren't all (as his companion had called them) "evil".

Near Reading, Godfrey Lagden suddenly leaned across and dropped a bombshell. In a puzzled voice, he asked: "Is it really true that homosexuals find the idea of going to bed with a woman distasteful?" Astonished, Grey could only reply, "Yes, some of us actually do." The Hornchurch MP had assured parliament he understood homosexuality. A former police sergeant, Godfrey Lagden had probably arrested gay men. Cynics said the police found rounding up "queers", as they were insultingly called, easier than catching real criminals. Gay men were dismissed as "effeminate". Strangely, police evidence often claimed they'd violently resisted arrest. This explained why many homosexuals appeared in court badly beaten up.

Maybe Godfrey Lagden was trying to sort out the difference between gays and bisexuals. But it was a remarkable confession of ignorance. A later Conservative politician, Robin Squire, MP for Hornchurch 1979-97, supported gay rights. Heterosexual himself, he strongly believed in fairness. The 1967 law change involved a compromise: boys and girls could legally make love at sixteen (although it's not usually a good idea), but sex between men remained illegal until they were 21. In 1994, Squire helped reduce this to eighteen.


On May 7 1964, voters elected the council that would oversee the merger of Romford and Hornchurch into the new Borough of Havering. Havering was divided into twenty wards, fifteen with three councillors apiece, five with two. Over half a century, boundaries and names have changed – for instance, Havering Park replacing Collier Row, Brooklands spanning Oldchurch.

Most wards were safe seats. In Romford, Bedfords, Gidea Park and Heath Park were solidly Conservative. Harold Hill – Gooshays, Heaton and Hilldene wards – was equally strong for Labour. So were Central, Mawney and Oldchurch, around the town centre. Collier Row was comfortably Labour too – cynics said Romford's ruling Labour group had swung the vote by building council houses there.

As a perceptive observer remarked, Romford was a town, Hornchurch a series of villages. Five years earlier, Upminster's Ratepayers' Association (RA) had won its first Council seat. By 1964, the Ratepayers dominated nearby Cranham and Hacton too. Residents' Association candidates dominated Rainham local elections. But the various "RA" councillors were Independents, not a political party. Many Rainham streets were bumpy tracks needing major upgrades. Upminster ratepayers wanted the Council to spend money wisely. Rainham residents just wanted the Council to spend money. Hornchurch Tories were sure of two wards, Emerson Park, and St Andrew's. Labour dominated Elm Park and neighbouring Hylands, but were challenged in South Hornchurch by a Residents' Association. Harold Wood was a swing seat. It had elected a Conservative in 1961 and a Liberal in 1962, but Labour had won in 1963. With Labour likely to win the forthcoming 1964 general election, Harold Wood seemed likely to vote for Harold Wilson.

Labour fielded a full slate of candidates. The Conservative gave the anti-Labour Residents a clear run in Rainham and South Hornchurch. Just one Tory candidate carried their flag in Elm Park, a tacit endorsement of the Liberal ticket. In fact, smaller parties did badly. Emerson Park was a disappointment for the Liberals. Although the area was no socialist hotbed, they were pushed into third place by Labour in a ward they'd won during the "Liberal revival" two years earlier. Four Communist candidates, three on Harold Hill and one in Rainham, did even worse, netting a total of 365 votes.

Election night saw few surprises. Turn-out was over 40 percent. Labour beat the Residents in South Hornchurch. Two results were especially popular. Conservative Stanley Shute won in Bedfords. Wheelchair bound, he was an unusual example in those days of somebody with a disability achieving a role in public life. Labour veteran Arthur Twigger headed the poll in Hylands. Widely respected, he would become Havering's Charter Mayor.

The main parties had adopted different strategies. The Tories recruited a quarter of their candidates from their youth wing, the Young Conservatives, although this new blood was mainly shed in hopeless seats. Their youngest standard-bearer, a final-year mathematics student at Manchester University, decided to entrust his fate to the voters.  If he lost, he'd study for a PhD. He eventually became a professor of statistics!

Labour shuffled their team around. Romford Labour's austere chief, Arthur Latham, lived in Gidea Park. His popular deputy, Michael Ward, came from Pettits Lane. Both were elected in Harold Hill. Stanley Heath-Coleman, well-known Harold Wood Labour activist, was awarded a safe seat in Elm Park. Instead, the party nominated a hard-working Romford councillor to contest Harold Wood. This was probably a tactical mistake. Harold Hill voters were loyal to party. Harold Wood people were suspicious of outsiders.

Whatever the reason, there was a shock on election night. Unexpectedly, news came of a recount in Harold Wood! Against the national trend, Harold Wood had swung to the right, narrowly electing three Tory councillors. A mere eighteen votes separated the two "tickets". This left Labour, with 27 seats, just short of a majority on the new 55-seat Council. But their internal strains prevented the twelve "RA" councillors from forming a coalition with the sixteen Tories. Havering Council got off to an uncertain start.


[Note: when I looked at the history of the "temporary" flyover at Gallows Corner in 2018, I was outraged that Havering had been palmed off with this Meccano-style contraption for – 48 years. Unusually, I had two bites at the topic, returning to offer an ironic celebration of its half century in 2020.]

We're just two years away from the fiftieth birthday of Havering's least popular landmark, Gallows Corner's "temporary" flyover. It's time to plan the party!

Gallows Corner was a wayside junction where Straight Road met the ancient London-Colchester highway. Havering once hanged its criminals here. When the new A12 Eastern Avenue – A127 Southend Arterial Road was built in the 1920s, it became a five-way roundabout. The quiet byway Straight Road became the main traffic outlet for Harold Hill, built between 1948 and 1958. Two-mile tailbacks followed. The solution, in 1957, a bigger roundabout, was a temporary fix.

In 1968, the government promised a "temporary flyover" for Gallows Corner. In January 1970, Parliament was told that the "temporary" flyover was "under construction". Note that T-word! Using their precast FliWay system, Midlands engineering firm Braithwaite erected the structure in just five nights, using specially constructed 62-foot roadway spans designed for the location. A fine piece of engineering, it created a narrow switchback, one lane each way – fine for 1970 levels of traffic. How did the "temporary" flyover become a semi-permanent nightmare?

From the 1960s, planners aimed to build the M12 motorway from Woodford to Brentwood, part of a "box" around London. There would be a services area near Havering-atte-Bower.

In 1971, the government announced a new London airport, on Maplin Sands, mudflats beyond Southend. (Yes, they were talking about a new airport even then!) To provide access to Maplin, the planned M12 would be extended to Southend, diverting traffic away from Gallows Corner. Maybe people would picnic on the roundabout and skateboard along the flyover. But Maplin Airport was cancelled in 1974. The M12 slipped down the queue. Once the M25 was built, a Woodford to Brentwood motorway made little sense. The project was scrapped in 1994.

The M12 leaves just two traces – a slip road leading nowhere alongside the M11 at Woodford, where it was to branch off, and a sarcastic page on the Pathetic Motorways website.

After a quarter century of waiting for a phantom motorway to solve its problems, Gallows Corner fell into a planning hole. Highways investment now concentrated on the A13 around Rainham. Worse still, in 1997 the A127 was downgraded ("de-trunked") from top-class road status. With the Southend Arterial no longer a major national route, Gallows Corner became just a local problem. The A13 upgrade included a magnificent mile-long concrete viaduct around Ford at Dagenham. Oh yes, it could be done!

In 2008, Gallows Corner was described as London's eighth most dangerous road junction. That year, the 38-year-old temporary flyover was found to be badly corroded. For nearly a year, the eastbound lane was closed. Because it had been specially designed decades earlier, standard modern safety railings could not be fitted. One-off steelwork was required. For two months in 2009, the flyover was closed altogether for renovation. Transport for London (TfL) claimed their repairs "significantly extended the life of the flyover". It was unlikely that "further large scale maintenance" would be needed "for at least a decade". There's a clue there – another ten years, eh? "Temporary" was turning into a very long time.

Local politicians of all parties pressed for action, some arguing for a proper flyover, other suggesting an underpass. In 2012, the Romford Recorder described Gallows Corner as "driving motorists to despair", but added: "there is no sign of a permanent solution to its gridlock."

The flyover faces new pressures. Southend Airport handled one million passengers in 2017. Planning permission for terminal extension was granted last December. Summer 2018 will see new routes to destinations as varied as Dubrovnik and Carlisle. Southend Airport's ambitious owners aim to handle five million passengers annually by 2022, with an eventual target of ten million. The A127 provides major road access to Southend Airport. As Gallows Corner's temporary flyover approaches its fiftieth birthday, it can only get busier. [The Covid-19 crisis has probably delayed the growth of Southend Airport, but a new Lower Thames Crossing project will add to traffic.]


You hate to forget a birthday. You wish you'd sent a card, or even phoned a greeting on the day. It's embarrassing, but we've all forgotten an important anniversary, a Big 5-O too. Sometime during the Covid-19 crisis, Gallows Corner's "temporary" flyover notched up its half century.

Havering hanged its criminals on a gallows here. It resembled a playground swing – two uprights and a crossbar, an efficient device for breaking three necks at once. It was last mentioned in 1816, but the grim name, Gallows Corner, was applied to the point where Straight Road met the Essex high road.

When the new A12-A127 superhighway was built in the 1920s, it transferred to the roundabout where the four roads met. Yes, only four. Straight Road wasn't part of the original traffic flow. That's one reason why congestion had become a problem in the 1950s. Hornchurch's Conservative MP, Godfrey Lagden, pressed for action.  A burly ex-police sergeant, he wasn't part of the Tory inner circle. In 1956, he invited the Minister of Transport to take a helicopter ride over Gallows Corner to see the traffic jams for himself. "Attractive as I should find that helicopter journey with my hon. Friend, there is really no need", came the haughty reply. In 1957, the roundabout was enlarged, but problems soon returned. In 1968, the Wilson government announced plans for a temporary flyover. Precast in sections, it was quickly and efficiently erected early in 1970.

Officials planned to divert traffic from Gallows Corner by building the M12 motorway from Woodford to Brentwood – and later on to Southend. An interchange was built to join the M11 at Woodford (it's still there), but the project was cancelled in 1994. The flyover was closed for lengthy renovations during much of 2008-9. There were no spare parts for a one-off job undertaken nearly 40 years earlier. Special new steelwork was needed to replace rusty sections.

Transport for London (TfL), who did the job, said the repairs would last "for at least a decade". Pretty good for a "temporary" structure designed for a fifteen-year lifespan.  Astronomers estimate that the Sun will burn out in five billion years. I suppose the Sun is "temporary" too.

In 2018, Havering Council argued that the A12-A127 link should be "decked over" – a cross between a cutting and a tunnel that would split the traffic into different levels. By July 2019, TfL was reported to be looking at two options. One would add a second flyover, providing a fast route between the A12 Eastern Avenue and the A12 Colchester Road. The existing flyover would become a Y-shaped overhead junction. The other would replace the 1970 temporary structure with a permanent flyover. Let's hope it would be wider. TfL hoped to put a final proposal to Whitehall in January 2020, to bid for some of the £50 million of promised government funding for major schemes. The deadline was missed. And then Coronavirus happened. TfL's March 2020 draft budget document promised "to progress our Major Road Network funding bids to refurbish key bridges on our network". Don't hold your breath. When the "temporary" flyover was built, transport decisions were taken at national level. Now, priorities are sorted out on a London-only basis. Gallows Corner is one of five projects across the capital on the 2020 wish list. Many of the drivers who endure Gallows Corner live in Basildon or Brentwood. They don't vote in London elections.

Is the flyover is showing signs of a midlife crisis? It was closed for resurfacing over August Bank Holiday 2019, and briefly for emergency repairs last October.  In the midst of this crisis, we've all forgotten to say "happy 50th birthday" to Gallows Corner's clanking temporary flyover. But I don't think anybody would add "Many happy returns".


Fifty years ago, betting at greyhound tracks was organised through a primitive computer called the Totalisator. The "Tote" added up how much money was bet on each dog in a race, and calculated the odds, ensuring lucky punters a fair return. In 1961, off-course gambling was legalised in Britain. Betting shops opened in every High Street. Off-course bookmakers took bets on dog races at Tote odds, usually covering the risk themselves. But if a betting shop received a surge of money on a particular greyhound, it could phone in to the stadium, effectively hedging its bets by feeding its data into the overall Tote calculation.

A greyhound enthusiast from the Oldchurch area of Romford spotted an opportunity. I'll call him Mr Whippet. Tote odds were finalised just before a race. As greyhounds were led to the traps, experienced punters at the track rushed to back the friskiest dogs. Mr Whippet realised that if Tote odds at the track could be made to favour some bow-legged mutt with no chance of winning, bets placed on healthy hounds at remote locations might harness a bumper return. He found backers to finance a scheme that required cash, military precision and total secrecy.

On 30 June 1964, six dogs ran in the 4.05 afternoon race at Dagenham greyhound track, which was then a subsidiary of Romford Stadium.  Two of them were fancied runners, two were outsiders, two were no-hopers. On the two fancied runners, non-Tote bookies offered 2 to 1 against Buckwheat and 9-4 against Handsome Lass. These two did indeed run home first and second. On a non-Tote combination bet, you'd get odds of something like 9-2.

Mr Whippet insisted that it was not trickery but his knowledge of dogs that lay behind the "Dagenham Coup". He recruited no fewer than 170 men, organised into two groups. Shortly before the race, the first group crowded the 31 Tote windows at the Dagenham track, blocking genuine punters. They bet heavily on the two no-hoper outsiders, forcing their odds down, thus making the other four runners an attractive proposition. Meanwhile, just minutes before the race, at betting shops around Britain, men from the second group put money on various combinations of the other four dogs. At a crucial moment, unknown persons – their identities were never established – sabotaged the stadium's phone lines. With the telephones suddenly gone dead a few minutes before the race, off-course bookies and betting shops were prevented from feeding their bets into the Dagenham Tote, and so overcoming the distortion in the odds.

Only one ticket for Buckwheat and Handsome Lad was sold at Dagenham, but the combination was heavily backed off course. A two-shilling (10p) stake stood to win over £987. Over 300 similar wagers had been placed around Britain. If the betting shops paid at track odds, anyone who bet on Buckwheat and Handsome Lass would net, not 9-2, but over 9,200-1. Bookmakers faced losing a fortune. The syndicate's gains would more than cover all the 11,000 wasted bets they'd placed to influence the odds. Profits were estimated at £600,000 – millions in today's values.

The bookmakers refused to pay. They sued the Romford Stadium Company, Dagenham's owners, claiming it had failed to safeguard its Tote operation. They also went after Mr Whippet and his backers, alleging unlawful practice. Because nothing like the Coup had ever happened before, the law wasn't clear. In 1966, a judge turned himself into an arbitrator. He told Romford Stadium to pay the bookies' legal costs. This huge bill forced them to sell their Dagenham operation, which closed. Mr Whippet was allowed to collect on the one winning ticket. The judge advised betting shops to refund all bets, but urged them to take pity on genuine punters – their own regular customers – if they had winning tickets. Mr Whippet unsuccessfully demanded that the bookmakers lose their licences for failing to honour their bets.  Nobody was prosecuted for slashing the phone wires.


Some Rainham people complain that they live in the Borough's Cinderella district. But visiting Havering's Deep South isn't like a mission to Mars. Honestly, Rainham even has shops and car parks! There are frequent buses from Hornchurch and Romford. Here are ten things everybody should know about Rainham.

One. A Grade II listed building, Rainham Hall is Havering's only National Trust property. Built around 1729, it has the trademark flat facade of an elegant Georgian house.  Exhibitions explain its history, and bring to life characters like Captain John Harle, the entrepreneur who developed the village as a Thameside port. There was a £2.5 million restoration project in 2015. With gardens and a cafe, it's a great place for a family visit. Check the website for details.

Two. Although linked to London by the Thames, Rainham remained isolated from the city by land until 1810, when New Road was built through Dagenham and South Hornchurch to provide a fast route to Tilbury Fort.

Three. One of Havering's oldest organisations, the Rainham Horticultural Society, approaches its centenary in 2020-21. An earlier body, the Rainham Literary Society, began in 1879. Its reading room grew into Rainham Library – today, one of the biggest branches in the Havering network.

Four. Rainham is the last stretch of the London Loop, the walking track around the capital. The Thameside landscape is grim but interesting. Look out for abandoned concrete barges, built for the D-Day landings, and for the metal statue of a diver standing in the river. Some enthusiasts prefer the walk in winter, when the landfill project is less aromatic.

Five. Rainham Marshes are a major bird sanctuary. The RSPB has an information centre and glitzy cafe, but – be warned: it's at the Purfleet end of the marshes, a four-mile trek from Rainham village.

Six. In Victorian times, London-to-Margate pleasure steamers called at Rainham and deposited trippers for a day's fun on the muddy riverside beach. Havering's Riviera went out of fashion when industry spread along the Thames.

Seven. The history of Rainham Village primary school can be traced back to 1779, when the vicar left £50 to educate local children. It's been closed twice in its history, the first time from 1838 to 1846, when villagers ran out of money. The second interruption came in 1944 when Nazi bombs destroyed the buildings. For the next three years, youngsters were bussed to Dagenham for their education.

Eight. A First World War tragedy at Rainham was hushed up for 97 years. In September 1916, seven people were killed when a munitions works blew up. The full story was finally broken by the Romford Recorder – in 2013. A memorial tree planted outside Rainham Library commemorated the centenary of the tragedy.

Nine. When suburban growth spread into Rainham in the 1920s, some house sites were so cheap that the linoleum used by the new residents as floor-covering was more expensive per square yard than the land. Much early development was of poor quality. In 1944, a government report even recommended clearing the east side of Rainham and returning the land to agriculture. For years, many local streets were just mud tracks. Rainham people fought to get them properly surfaced – and they still fight for their interests.

Ten. Rainham's Anglican church is the oldest in Havering. Built around 1170, the style is Norman. The chancel arch is a mystery. It has the classic semi-circular shape of Norman work, but it's unusually large. Experts think it must have been widened, but when and why, nobody knows. The architect who restored the church in the 1890s liked the robust 15th-century timber roof in the chancel, so he copied it for the whole church. See if you can spot the difference. Outside, Havering's most dignified War Memorial dates from 1920. 

So it's ten out ten for Rainham. Go and take a look for yourself!


A century ago, Essex folk had their own way of talking. Their dialect was stamped out by the school system, by the BBC and by the advance of London. Luckily, it was immortalised in 1923 by the Reverend Edward Gepp, vicar of High Easter, in his Essex Dialect Dictionary.

Was Essex speech a funny variant of standard English? Or was it really a distinct but related language, as Swedish is close to Danish, or Spanish to Portuguese? Examining Essex speech means looking at more grammar than you've suffered since schooldays (and, maybe, not even then!).

Let's start with pronouns. By instinct, we know that I, he, she, we and they are subjects, words that do things, while me, him, her, us and them are objects, words at the receiving end of actions. "I love her, she hates me."  But in Essex, they were mixed up. When Gepp arrived in his village, one local remarked, "Parson's comin' to live atween we; us'll have to moind our manners". "I don't know her" became "I don't acquaint along o' she." Bad English – or a different language? The possessive pronouns, hers, ours, yours and theirs, were replaced by hern, ourn, yourn and theirn.

Now let's look at verbs. (Wake up at the back!) Most verbs form the past tense by adding –ed: chew becomes chewed. A few change their vowel sound: grow becomes grew, I dig today, I dug yesterday. Essex speech was all over the place. Instead of blew, knew and threw, Essex people said blowed, knowed and throwed. We say floated, heated, snowed and weeded. They used flet, het, snew and wed. Instead of helped, they said holp, hoed was replaced by hew, dug became digged and came was comed. Other past tenses were shortened: for cleaned, heaved, peeled and scalded, Essex peasants said clent, heft, pelt and scolt.

Participles (you'll know them when you hear them) were changed too, frorn for frozen, gove for given and took for taken. Singular and plural verbs were interchangeable. We might say "those plums were ready for picking", but in bygone Essex you'd hear "them there plums was good and ripe". We'd say "she lives nearby", their version was "she do live near". It sounds like a foreign language, doesn't it?

Adverbs, which modify adjectives and qualify verbs, generally end in –ly – but not always in Essex, where "wonderfully kind" became "wunnerful kind". Our commonest adverb, well ("you did that well!"), doesn't end in –ly – and it hardly existed in Essex, where people said "I've clent that there up good." ("I have efficiently cleaned that location.")

Mostly we form plurals by adding the letter s. In Essex, this sometimes became an extra syllable, nestes for nests, waspes for wasps. A few words become plurals by changing their vowel sound: one mouse, two mice. The Essex plural was meece. Three words in modern English preserve an early plural form, by adding the letters –en: oxen (from ox), brethren (from brother), and children (from child). The plurals men (for man) and women (from woman) are related forms. But there used to be many more examples. Shakespeare, for instance, used shoon for shoes. In Essex, slone was used instead of sloes, and fitten for feet – the word sometimes indicating footprints. The local plural of house was housen, much easier on the ear than our modern "howziz". Housen was identical in pronunciation to the related plural word in Dutch (huizen). In 1935, there were cottages at Upminster called Bluehousen. The term was still used in Thurrock in the 1950s. Housen was one of the "incorrect" terms targeted by schoolteachers anxious to spread civilization among the benighted youngsters of Essex. For more information, see: https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/222-housen-evidence-for-the-survival-and-decline-of-an-essex-dialect-plural.

Essex people preserved older forms of English – and maybe they were speaking not dialect but a slightly different language.


London Transport called him Driver J. London. Although christened James, he called himself Jack – causing mild confusion with the famous American author, Jack London. Born in Suffolk in 1898, he grew up on the Essex marshes near Maldon. There he learned Essex speech. It was only when Driver London started school that he discovered that he wasn't talking "proper" English.

He joined the Essex Regiment and served throughout the First World War. He almost certainly wasn't old enough when he enlisted at Brentwood in 1914.  Two years later, after being slightly wounded, the Army discovered he was underage and ordered him leave the front line.

He seems to have found postwar life difficult, for he re-enlisted in 1921, serving in a short-term unit called the Defence Force, which had been set up to maintain public order during a wave of strikes.  Soon after, he emigrated to Australia, possibly helping to build the bush city of Canberra, which became the national capital in 1927. Unfortunately, Australia's economy was in poor shape, and he soon returned to Britain. By 1933, he was driving a London bus. He lived in Lowshoe Lane, Collier Row, worked out of North Street garage and drove a 174 between Dagenham and Harold Hill.

He also wrote verse in the old Essex speech, to keep it alive. On paper, his poems look like scripts for The Two Ronnies. Here's one about an Essex custom called "take top orf 'ee". When you bought your pint, you handed it to a friend to take the first sip. Unhygienic, and open to abuse! Try reading it aloud.

Thet oi loikes a drop o' beer, ut's plain f'r onny fule ter see,

An' when in the Feathers Three Josh says "take top orf 'ee!"

Oi lifts 'is mug, tips a wink; an' oi takes a deep drarft,

F'r 'e doos same to moine yinna! cuz he finks oime bit daft.

I'll translate: Any fool can see that I enjoy a drop of beer. At the Three Feathers, Joshua invited me to take the first sip of his pint. I lifted his mug, winked and took a big swig. For he does the same to mine, you know! Because he thinks I'm stupid.

Somehow, Jack London became interested in the remote Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha. The community of 250 people spoke a dialect that sounded very Essex. After visiting the island in 1957, the Duke of Edinburgh commented that he couldn't understand them. Driver London helpfully sent Prince Philip a copy of his own poem, Ware Woild Woilets Grew (Where Wild Violets Grew), and received a polite letter of thanks from the Palace.

He wanted to make more gramophone records of Essex poetry for the people of Tristan. The British Council, our national cultural organisation, wished him success but refused him cash. He asked the BBC to commission him to read his verse on the Third Programme, its intellectual network (now Radio Three). He planned to use the fee to make recordings. But the rotten snobs who ran the BBC wouldn't give air time to a Romford bus driver.

Jack London wrote other poems, like "Strow Up-stret" about a kindly Essex custom. When somebody was seriously ill, neighbours would spread straw on the road outside their home, to reduce the noise from the clip-clopping of passing traffic – especially if they lived on a busy main road, "Up-stret". There was also the sad tale of Rat-Tayled Tinker, a skinny old horse, retired to plough the fields of an Essex farm after a lifetime on the cobbled streets of London. The experiment failed:

Cuz 'e 'ouldn't walk a furrer, 'ould that owd bag o' bones!

Thet 'ud warked orl es loife up the Smoke on ther ston's.

Translation: The old bag of bones had worked all his life on the hard paved streets of the Smoke (London), and he couldn't plough a straight furrow. 

Next time you board a 174, think of Driver Jack London.


Few Havering people took foreign holidays in 1957. For Mr and Mrs Dawney of Glanville Drive, Hornchurch, their vacation in Canada was "a wonderful trip". As their transcontinental train clattered across northern Ontario, they were surprised to pass through "a small station which, believe it or not, was called Romford. It seemed so strange to see a familiar name so many thousands of miles away." When the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was built in the 1880s, square-mile blocks of land alongside the route were marked off and named for settlement. One became the city of Sudbury: legend says the surveyor named it after his wife's birthplace in Suffolk, England. Since northern Ontario also has a Chelmsford, Romford was probably an exercise in nostalgia too. Although Romford, Ontario never grew into a town, it's an important place on Canada's ocean-to-ocean railway, the junction with the branch line to Toronto, 200 miles to the south. To control the traffic, Romford Station opened in 1905, employing three men. Replaced by automation, it closed in 1979: Romford is now described as a ghost town. But you can "visit" on Google Street View, cross the tracks from Regional Road 67 and stroll along Chisholm Street, with its scattered homes and scrubby woodland.

In the early twentieth century, Romford in Saskatchewan, Canada's booming wheat province, had its own local school and farmers' organisation. Mysteriously, it disappeared around 1915. The Saskatchewan Archives kindly tracked doen the story. Romford was abandoned when a railway was built through a nearby settlement called Tribune. The USA has its own Romford, in Litchfield County, Connecticut.

Havering's capital has three English namesakes. Romford Bridge is a mile west of Verwood in Dorset. Nearby Romford Mill Farm has a lively Facebook page: Ferdy the Bull is the star turn. There's another Romford near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. The narrow Romford Road leads east from Pembury through glorious Wealden countryside, past Romford Farm. It's only an hour's drive from Havering – if you don't mind the M25.

Bert and Eliza Hazelgrove emigrated from Pembury in 1923 to become pioneer farmers at Northcliffe in the forests of Western Australia. They named their property Romford Farm after Eliza's birthplace. "Australia is a wonderful country," their eleven-year-old daughter Lillie wrote to the children's page of a Perth newspaper. "We have a nice farm and an orchard. We always look out for snakes. My eldest brother killed one last week." Romford Farm was merged into other properties in the 1950s, and was forgotten until the Northcliffe Historical Society helped me rediscover the story.

Until the nineteenth century, our Romford was often called Rumford. The name transferred to Rumford, New Hampshire in 1734. After a massive row with nearby Bow, it was renamed Concord in 1765 to symbolise hopes of harmony. It's now New Hampshire's State capital. There's another Rumford in nearby Maine, a town of 6,000 people, and fun to roam around on Street View. Rumford, South Dakota is 3,500 feet above sea level – think of the winter blizzards! There's still a ranch there, but a Bluegrass band called Banjo Dan and the Mid-nite Plowboys had a hit song in 1974, "Rumford, South Dakota is no more." Hardly anybody lives at Rumford, Virginia, although you can pick your own blackberries at a local farm. Rumford, Rhode Island is part of the city of East Providence.

Nearer home, Falkirk in Scotland has a quiet suburb called Rumford. It's also the name of a Cornish village of haphazard stone houses near Padstow.

There's even a Rumford on the Moon. The eighteenth-century American inventor Benjamin Thompson so impressed the king of Bavaria that he was awarded an aristocratic title. Having family connections with New Hampshire, Thompson became Count Rumford. A lunar crater is named in his honour. It's thought to be a mile and a half deep and around 25 times the area of the Borough of Havering. Unfortunately, it's on the far side of the Moon, so we can't see it. 


This week's column is about five unexpected local oddities. Ever heard of a crinkle-crankle wall? Stubbers, the North Ockendon outdoor adventure centre, has one, a reminder of the stately home that once stood here. A crinkle-crankle wall weaves in and out in semi-circular loops. It's probably the work of Gidea Park landscape designer Humphry Repton, and dates from around 1796. Stubbers is packed with family activities, so if you visit, you won't just be hitting a brick wall.

When Rainham's war memorial Clock Tower was unveiled in 1920, it was called "an artistic piece of work in the Georgian style". The style was a polite architectural gesture towards nearby Rainham Hall, the 18th-century National Trust property open to visitors. The memorial cleverly combines a six-sided stumpy tower with three clock faces, fronting on to the three-way road junction. Its red bricks were specially imported from Belgium, a tribute to the country that British soldiers fought to protect during the 1914-18 War.

In South Hornchurch, hidden off South End Road, there's an echo of the Second World War. This was the location of RAF Hornchurch, the fighter station that defended London against Nazi bombers. The formal porch tells you that the plain single-storey building in Astra Close has a story to tell. Astra House was the Officers' Mess, where pilots gathered for breakfast each morning, grimly noting the empty chairs of comrades killed in the previous night's combat.

A copper beech picks out the quiet tones of the brickwork. Completed in 1938, the Mess is now a health centre.

At Brentwood, St George's church in Ongar Road was built in 1934, an Art Deco design that the church's website jokily calls the "Gaumont-Odeon style". Its bizarre feature is an outdoor pulpit at its east end. One journalist called it "the motorists' pulpit", reporting that "in fine weather clergy will deliver from it addresses for motorists". It's unlikely that many clergy have tried the gimmick, which nowadays would cause a traffic hazard. Luckily, a fine tree has grown up, blocking the pulpit from passers-by. 

It's back to Romford for our final oddity, the phantom Spoon Pond in Raphael Park. Landowner Sir John Eyles, who rebuilt Gidea Hall around 1720, was probably the creator of the long, eye-catching water feature, stretching around 400 yards north of the mansion. Its inspiration must have been the ornate gardens of French king Louis XIV at his imposing palace of Versailles. There was a statement here: Gidea Hall was England's Versailles. A later owner, Richard Benyon, remodelled the grounds around 1776, creating the present-day Raphael Park Lake. Maybe it was then that the long narrow formal water feature was given a rounded extension at its far end. Hence its name, the Spoon Pond. Nowadays we'd think of it as a thermometer, with its rounded bulb. In 1902, wealthy politician Herbert Raphael presented part of the Gidea Hall estate, including the Lake, to become a public park for Romford. The Spoon Pond was added later. In 1910, Raphael developed another section as the Gidea Park garden suburb, a block of streets from Heath Drive across to Parkway, which adjoined the Spoon Pond. Built to high standards, the new suburb's drainage system soon lowered the local water table. Raphael Park Lake, fed by Black's Brook, was not affected, but the Spoon Pond rapidly drained away. This was a loss to local anglers, but an even worse crisis for the fish, which were left floundering in the muddy bottom. Many were carted away to Romford. One observer recalled that "it was curious to see the more robust fish leaping into the air as the carts passed through the market place." Nowadays, the outlines of the Spoon Pond can be traced through a procession of tennis courts and a children's playground. 

Within Havering's suburban sameness, there are some interesting oddities – if you know where to look!

Note: Two Romford Recorder Heritage columns on the Victorian and Edwardian streetscapes of Havering, written during the pandemic restrictions of 2020, are available in an edited version on https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/327-victorian-and-edwardian-havering.


Romford's original church stood half a mile south of the town. Its location gradually became inconvenient. In 1406, king Henry IV authorised a new church, St Edward's, on the north side of Romford Market.  The original chapel probably stood near Homebase. The area's still called Oldchurch.

During the Middle Ages, there was a private chapel at Suttons, a farm which stood where Suttons Lane meets Airfield Way, Hornchurch. At Berwick Farm at Rainham, now a hotel, a chapel dedicated to "Our Lady of Berwick" existed from 1315 to 1525. Carved stones and tiles have been found nearby. A medieval chapel at Upminster Hall (now a golf club) was probably connected with the Abbots of Waltham Abbey who owned the property from 1062 to 1540. It contained a baptismal font, given to Upminster church in the 18th century, when the building was demolished. Bones have been found nearby, suggesting a graveyard.

All Saints' chapel shared Rainham's churchyard with the parish church. It was endowed in 1348, possibly to say prayers against the Black Death. By 1521 the income was so small that no priest would take it on. It was demolished about 1548. A parish church was a financial asset, because the faithful made gifts, called "oblations". In 1267, John de Dover was forced to close a chapel he'd built on his manor, Dovers in South Hornchurch, a name remembered in a Rainham roundabout. The prior of Hornchurch, who controlled St Andrew's parish church, objected to the competition. In 1344, Pope Clement VI launched an investigation from Italy into claims that another John de Dover, perhaps a grandson, had also opened an unauthorised oratory. A deal was struck in 1345. John's chaplain was forbidden to minister to Hornchurch people. The prior claimed two third of the oblations. How long the oratory lasted, nobody knows. In this case, History repeated itself. In 1967, Rainham's Catholic church, Our Lady of La Salette, was built on the site.

The London Loop footpath crosses Pyrgo Park, site of a Broxhill Road mansion. The aristocratic Grey family had a chapel and private burial ground here from 1564. The building was demolished about 1770, and the coffins removed to St John's church at Havering-atte-Bower. St John's served the villagers of Havering. Another chapel, inside the royal palace, was for the king's private use. Unfortunately, the buildings fell down around 1650.

Harold Wood's first church, a prefabricated building erected in 1871, was replaced in 1939 by St Peter's, on a new site in Gubbins Lane. That's why Harold Wood has a Church Road with no church. Two Havering churches were destroyed in World War Two. Bombed in 1941, All Saints' Squirrels Heath (near Gidea Park Station) was moved to Ardleigh Green in 1957. In 1944, a V1 flying bomb destroyed the Hall Lane chapel, near Tylers Common. Although later rebuilt, it was demolished about ten years ago.

Built in 1800, Upminster's original Congregational church stood opposite the windmill. In 1911, worshippers relocated to Station Road. The old building is now part of Sacred Heart of Mary's School. A small chapel in Park Corner Road, Hacton, has become a children's nursery.

Missionaries from Grays founded a Primitive Methodist church in Victoria Road, Romford, in 1875 ("primitive" referred to their pure principles). Rebuilt in 1950 after wartime damage, it's now home to Havering's Learning Disability Society.

Near Roneo Corner, the original burial ground of Romford's Congregationalists faces Upper Rainham Road. In 1877, a new Congregationalist church was built in South Street. It included a family clubhouse, which even had a smoking room! Rather than undertake costly modernisation, the building was sold, and a new church (now United Reformed) built in 1965 in Western Road. (Santander Bank occupies the old site.) Reckoning that Romford people had made South Street real estate a bonanza, the Congregationalists shared their windfall, helping to start the Samaritans telephone helpline.


There's something reassuring about our ancient churches. As they've survived for centuries, surely they'll last for ever? Wrong. Our historic churches have had a rough time.

Romford's original church was St Andrew's chapel, near the junction of South Street and Oldchurch Road. In 1406, the building was described as "frequently damaged and spoiled", presumably when the river Rom flooded. Legend claimed it was swallowed by an earthquake, and you could hear the bells ringing underground on St Andrew's Day, 30 November. A new church, St Edward's, was built alongside the Market Place in 1410.

Working mainly with timber, Essex builders didn't understand that stone buildings needed strong foundations. Damp courses were unknown. The south aisle of Wennington church collapsed about 1600. As there were only twelve houses in the parish, the internal arches were bricked up and the few parishioners gathered in the nave. The fallen aisle wasn't re-erected until 1886. Storms caused problems too. In 1639, lightning dislodged a stone cross from the roof of Upminster's St Laurence church, almost braining the rector, who was in the churchyard. Holes in roofs let in rain: in 1683, the beams in St Laurence's were rotten.

Eighteenth-century population increase meant that more and more graves had to be crammed into already crowded churchyards, sometimes undermining walls. This probably explains why South Ockendon's distinctive round tower fell in 1744. Hastily rebuilt, it tumbled again in 1745 during a downpour. Dagenham had plenty of warning that its church was unsafe. Around 1770, the tower was propped up and given a cast-iron corset. Cracks were constantly filled in. One December Sunday morning in 1800, the congregation gathered in the churchyard, waiting for the curate who had the key to let them in. Luckily, he was late. People were probably stamping their feet to keep warm. Suddenly, the tower fell "with a tremendous crash", pulverising most of the building. Amazingly, nobody was hurt. Important people demanded to be buried inside churches, further weakening foundations. In 1800, workmen digging a grave in Chelmsford's parish church (now the Anglican cathedral) failed to shore it up when they went home. That evening, the building collapsed like a row of dominos.

After four centuries, St Edward's in Romford was in poor shape. A scheme for a new church on a third site, at Coronation Gardens, ran out of money in 1844. In 1849-50, St Edward's was rebuilt on its existing site. At Childerditch, the church was in such a dangerous state that by 1859 the tiny congregation gathered in "the only safe place", the belfry. Lord Petre, who owned most of the parish, was a Roman Catholic and refused to help.  The church was eventually entirely rebuilt in 1869. Three more ancient but tottering churches were rebuilt around the same time – South Weald in 1868, Cranham in 1873 and Havering-atte-Bower in 1874-7. They all look venerable but they're really Victorian  fakes.

Great Warley's inconveniently located parish church was abandoned when a successor was erected further north at Warley Street in 1902-4. Later cut off by the A127, it was left to decay. The last vestige, its tower, was demolished about 1966. A public footpath still crosses the site.

Similarly, at Kelvedon Hatch the remote parish church was replaced in 1895 by one located in the village. An unkind critic likened the new building to a cricket pavilion. The original church now in ruins, is hidden in woodland.

Victorian churches were sometimes ramshackle:  it took half a century to overcome the jerry building in St Thomas' at Brentwood. A church built at Theydon Bois in 1843-4 was so poorly constructed that it had to be rebuilt after just six years. "In the foundation mainly was the flaw / That did the fabric unto ruin draw," says an inscription in the porch. "Examine well on what foundation stands / The hope of Heaven which in thine heart expands." The Victorians were a smug crowd.


In 1421, Beatrice Curzon, owner of Cranham Hall, bequeathed £5 – big bucks – to install bells at nearby All Saints' Church. Havering churches probably already had bells. Two survive from before the Reformation. One at Upminster is inscribed (in Latin) "Saint Gabriel, pray for us". A  Cranham bell has a similar prayer to St Peter. Catholic inscriptions were generally erased by Protestants, but bellfounding is a delicate art: file off an inscription and your clanging bell becomes a clunking can.

Romford's oldest bell dates from around 1410, when St Edward's church was built. By 1800, there were eight bells, one of the largest peals in England. Most had been recast in the 17th century, but it's said an earlier bell was inscribed "The Bachelors of Romford made me 1578".

St Andrew's in Hornchurch had five bells in 1552. These were recast in 1779, by the famous Whitechapel foundry that only closed in 2017. Two more bells were added in 1901 to greet the twentieth century. With two more in 2001, Hornchurch ten-bell peal equals Westminster Abbey!

Most bells have religious or patriotic inscriptions. "God save our nobel Queene Elizabeth" was Upminster's message in 1602, months before she died. One Hornchurch bell conveys lifestyle advice: "Ye ringers all the prize your health and happiness / Be sober, merry, wise, & you'll the same possess."

If bells were simply fixed to the walls of church towers, their weight and vibrations would soon destroy the stoutest stone structure: the ten Hornchurch bells weigh 4.3 tons, around 4,400 kg. Bells are contained within cages: Hornchurch installed a steel frame in 1909, Romford in 1922. Rainham's bells can't be rung because their cage is too decayed. Cranham's bells can only be chimed, dinged but not donged. In 1897, four local landowners replaced a single cracked bell at St John's, Havering-atte-Bower, with a peal of six. St Michael's, Gidea Park, was given a peal of five bells by a Romford businessman in 1947. Some modern Anglican churches, like All Saints', Ardleigh Green and St Nicholas', Elm Park, announce services by tinkling a single bell. At St Edward's Catholic church in Romford, the bell is automated, timed to announce Mass and ring the angelus.

Continental churches play tunes on carillons. (I'm told that, sixty years ago, St Peter's, Harold Wood had a device called Ellacombe Chimes, a control panel of ropes that allowed one person to ding an entire peal of bells by pulling and striking them with a hammer. There was a row when a choirboy used the device to play a pop song.) The English tradition is change-ringing, tolling bells in permutations with wonderful names like Bobs, Grandsires and Stedman, creating cascades of sound.  There's an audio clip on the hornchurchbells website. On 27 May 1912, visiting bellringers rang a peal at Hornchurch lasting 9 hours and 41 minutes, with 15,264 changes. More recently, a three-hour peal was rung for Prince Harry's wedding in 2018. Bells rang in August 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ Day.

Campanologists (their official name) are a special breed.  Guilds like the 18th-century "Hornchurch Youths" had strict rules to maintain harmony. If you swore, you were fined a pot of ale. There was a dress code too. "If you ring in spur or hat / Three pints of beer you pay for that." Ringers liked their beer: St Andrew's has two large pitchers, dating from 1731 and 1815.

The start and finish of trading in Romford Market were marked by ringing a bell. Mansions and farms used bells to summon labourers. That's how Aveley's Belhus got its name: its site is now a housing estate. A Rush Green farm is remembered in Bellhouse Road. Rainham Village Primary in 1874 was given a bell. In 1929, Harold Court School at Harold Wood was built with a bellcote. When Gidea Hall was demolished in 1930, Ernest Jobling, a teacher at Royal Liberty School, rescued the stables bell cast in 1787. In 1954, Royal Liberty persuaded 28 former head boys to pay for its installation, to ring in morning and afternoon school. Mr Jobling didn't live to see his dream come true, but the bell was named in his honour.


Centuries ago, it wasn't always easy to tell the difference between a highway and a footpath. Some Havering footpaths are now busy roads. Many have vanished, some under bricks and mortar, others just forgotten. Locals doggedly defended rights of way.  In 1591, the Rainham people complained that the landholders of "Jarpines" had destroyed foot-bridges and closed the footpath leading to North Ockendon, so that Queen Elizabeth I's loyal subjects "cannot pass as they have ever done heretofore." The rehearsal and recording facilities of the Farm Studios now occupy the site of "Jarpines". The footpath probably survived as Gerpins Lane, although it's hard to see how it led to North Ockendon.

When Lewis Betts of Collier Row made his Will in 1669, he was wanted to ensure that his neighbours could get to church in Romford. (The Ascension and Good Shepherd churches hadn't been built then). Betts was a wealthy gentleman, who owned The Golden Lion, still standing in the centre of Romford. He left forty shillings (£2) a year to be divided among eight "decayed" husbandmen (elderly farm labourers) from Romford and Collier Row. He also left twenty shillings (£1) annually for the "reparation" of the footpath from his Collier Row home as far as the "stile going into the lands of Mr. Osbaston" near St Edward's church. Henry Osbaldeston owned Mawneys, a mansion that stood near the south end of today's Mawney Road. The footpath, or "causeway", evidently ran along Collier Row Lane and down North Street, probably as far as the ring road, where the stile enabled churchgoers to cut across fields to St Edward's. That £1 a year was used to mend the footpath until 1862.

When Havering's commons were enclosed in 1814, there was an attempt to block a long-distance footpath across the fields between Romford and Hornchurch. It started at "the mill in Hornchurch Lane". This stood in a field behind The Goose, a South Street pub. When the railway was built in 1839, the embankment obstructed its puff. It was replaced by a steam mill, recalled in Victoria Road's Old Mill Parade. The Romford end of the footpath gradually vanished as housing spread towards Park Lane. After zig-zagging near today's Hillcrest Avenue, it emerged opposite Abbs Cross Lane. The petitioners denounced the threatened closure as "the unprovoked oppression of the Rich".  Hornchurch Road and South Street were major routes to Romford Market, often blocked by herds of cattle. Cattle drovers were notoriously foul-mouthed. The footpath enabled "the Women & children of the industrious tradesmen to enjoy the benefit of the Air free from the danger and dread of the numerous droves of Cattle & from the greater dread of insults from the drovers". Campaigners threatened legal action to defend their rights.  They obviously won their case, and some alley ways linking local streets may be survivals of the path. But only one definite trace of the footpath can be identified today – the footbridge across the Ravensbourne in the middle of Grey Towers allotments.

Another footpath ran due east from Romford, until it hit Balgores Lane near the modern Gidea Park Library. When the railway was extended from Romford to Brentwood in 1839-40, this right-of-way was cut in two. Local magistrates ordered that a new footpath should run alongside the railway, meeting Balgores Lane at the "north-west corner of bridge over railway". It's now Carlton Road. The decree indicated through precise measurements the exact point where the existing path from Romford met the new railway. The spot, charmingly called The Bogs, must be the slight dip in Carlton Road (hardly noticeable nowadays) east of the junction with Stanley Road. There must have been a small stream here, long since piped underground. Maybe when the railway embankment was built, this tiny dell flooded. Luckily the ugly name soon disappeared. I'm sure Havering's estate agents are pleased they don't have to sell desirable homes (for it's a nice part of Romford) with addresses in The Bogs.


We need exercise and fresh air, but social distancing is vital to beat Covid-19. Luckily, Havering has some large parks where you can roam freely. Several of them were planned centuries ago. They can be traced on Chapman and André's 1777 map of Essex, zoomable on https://map-of-essex.uk/.

Romford's first public park was the gift of banker-philanthropist Herbert Raphael in 1902. (It opened two years later.) Part of the Gidea Hall estate, its history began in 1461, when London merchant Thomas Cooke secured a royal licence to "empark" the property. After Cooke was imprisoned for treason in 1467, his enemies wrecked the Gidea Hall grounds, killing his deer and poaching his fish. Eighteenth-century owners created "pleasure grounds" of stately avenues and ornamental ponds. They even grew grapes and melons. Raphael Park's popular lake dates from this era. A pond by the main road, probably originally powering a watermill, was dug out and lengthened, the soil piled up to create islands.

Romford Council, Havering's forerunner, purchased the 215-acre Bedfords Park in 1933. It's probably named after John Bedford, a local landowner in 1362, in the era of the Peasants' Revolt. Would he approve Havering peasants roaming his park today? Lawyer John Heaton bought Bedfords in 1771 and erected a gloomy mansion, demolished in 1959 after vandals had wrecked it. In recent years, Heaton's walled garden was rescued by the Friends of Bedfords Park. Bedfords has great views over London and across to the hills of Kent. Bring your binoculars! If you plan to feed the deer, give them carrots, broken up for easier digestion.

Deer also roam Harold Hill's Dagnam Park (184 acres, locally known as The Manor). The original 17th-century mansion was rebuilt by Sir Richard Neave around 1772. Earlier formal gardens were replaced by a park, designed around 1800 by Humphry Repton, the famous landscape gardener, who lived in Gidea Park. The mansion was demolished in 1950 after a caretaker stole the lead off the roof. Close to Dagnam Park's Settle Road entrance, the moated site of a former manor house, Cockerels, is home to a colony of great crested newts. They are very rare. Be nice to them.

Parklands in Upminster includes the lake and ornamental bridge completed in 1789, part of the grounds of Gaynes, a mansion built about 1771 and demolished fifty years later.

The eighteenth-century park around Bretons at Elm Park later reverted to agriculture. In 1869, it became Romford's sewage farm. "Farm" wasn't just a polite term: sewage was spread around the land to grow bumper crops which paid for the disposal costs. Later, a modern sewage works couldn't cope with the growth of local population. Its closure in 1969 allowed Bretons to become a park once again. The eighteenth-century house (some of it probably older) still stands.

Langtons, in Billet Lane, Hornchurch, is Havering's register office. Its six-acre gardens are a delight. John Massu, a wealthy silk merchant of Huguenot (exiled French Protestant) descent, purchased Langtons in 1797, extended the mansion and commissioned Repton to redesign the grounds around 1800. A miniature lake was a must-have feature. The splendid Orangery, an elegant greenhouse now adapted for weddings, is a gem – a bit of Kew Gardens in the middle of Hornchurch.

When the Upminster mansion, New Place, was built around 1775, its stable block had a very modern feature – a clock, the only public timepiece in the village. It had come from Woolwich Arsenal. The big house was knocked down in the 1920s, but the surviving stables give their name to Clockhouse Gardens, a three-acre shady enclave with another historic water feature. Parking is scarce, but – like the Langtons Orangery – it's a hidden gem.

Two centuries ago, parks were exclusive places, a sign of private privilege. Now many are open to us all. Bedfords, Dagnam and Raphael Parks have Friends organisations with lively websites. For information on opening times and facilities, check Havering Council's site: https://www.havering.gov.uk/info/20037/parks/.


Havering's parks are often half-hidden: even nearby residents hardly know they're there. How many Collier Row people know Lawns Park? Do Hornchurch residents know St Andrew's Park? Some, like Rainham's 15-acre Spring Farm Park, bring a surprise rural touch to urban life.

Most local parks owe their origin to far-sighted local authorities in the 1920s and 1930s. Hylands Park was established by the newly established Hornchurch Council in 1927, after a battle with a developer who'd installed a track for trotting races. Harold Wood Park began as a cricket ground in 1934.

Benefactors donated some local parks. Herbert Raphael presented part of the Gidea Hall estate to Romford in 1902, and the park was named in his honour. In 1935, the building firm Costain added 35 acres to Harrow Lodge Park, to promote their Elm Park Garden City. Rise Park was the gift of Thomas England, a visionary local citizen. It was a link in his planned a "green lung" through Romford, from Carlton Road to Bedfords, starting with Lodge Farm and Raphael Park. At Rise Park's official opening in 1937, the Mayor and the Town Clerk, in their official robes, merrily rode on the playground roundabout.

Central Park was planned as part of Harold Hill from the start of the estate in 1947. Paines Brook sometimes flooded, so it made sense to keep houses away and create a public open space along its banks. Many parks doubled as sports grounds, like Brittons Playing Fields in South Hornchurch. Some open spaces, like Harold Wood, were originally called recreation grounds: children would say they were going "over the rec". The name's still used at Collier Row and for Rainham's tiny play area.

Some Havering parks bear ancient names. Haynes Park can be traced to 1492. The Cottons family farmed in London Road Romford from the 16th century.  Their name survives in Cottons Park. Two open spaces commemorate royalty. King George's Playing Fields, north of the A12, are a memorial to George V. In 1953, the year the Queen was crowned, headstones from a former cemetery were cleared to create Coronation Gardens alongside Havering Town Hall.

Some Havering parks survived by luck. A sewage works until 1968, Bretons Outdoor Centre was gradually converted into a public amenity. Lodge Farm Park was used as a rubbish tip in the 1930s. Landfill was also used to level Grenfell Park near Roneo Corner, and to restore Hornchurch Country Park after gravel working. Upminster Park was glebe, land belonging to the rectors of the parish. In 1929 it provided the growing suburb with an open space right in the middle of the village.

Lakes were created at Harrow Lodge Park in the 1950s and Bretons in the 1980s. The late twentieth century saw a new wave of parks, with fresh thinking about recreation space. The 185-acre Havering Country Park opened in 1976. It was once the estate of a mansion called Havering Park, which itself succeeded the former royal palace, holiday home of England's monarchs. Its most celebrated feature is the Wellingtonia Avenue, giant sequoia trees now about 160 years old. Most people associate this Country Park with Havering-atte-Bower, but there's access from St John's Road and Clockhouse Lane in Collier Row too. The successor to the Battle of Britain aerodrome, Hornchurch Country Park was landscaped and planted with trees in 1980s. It's become a successful Ingrebourne valley conservation area. Havering has benefited from the Forestry Commission's Thames Chase Community Forest project. Pages Wood, 183 acres in Hall Lane, with four miles of footpaths and 100,000 now-maturing trees, was opened in 2002. It effectively links Harold Wood Park to Havering's oldest open space, medieval Tylers Common. The Thames Chase project also includes woodland at Harold Court and Cranham.

Check opening hours – don't get locked in! – and enjoy Havering's parks responsibly during this Covid-19 crisis.


Around 1260, Geoffrey Scurrell was the king's bailiff in Havering. He collected rents and enforced regulations. We rarely know what medieval people looked like, nor much about their health. But I suspect Geoffrey had high blood pressure and an over-active thyroid. Why? Well, surnames were just beginning to evolve from nicknames. By 1280, we hear of John Esquirrel, probably Geoffrey's son – spellings varied a lot. High blood pressure meant a red face, thyroid problems cause protruding eyes. I'm sure Geoffrey earned his nickname because he looked like a russet-furred, pop-eyed red squirrel! The family probably farmed near Gidea Park station. A triangular block of common land across to The Drill, called Squirrels Heath, was enclosed in 1814.

In medieval times, our squirrels were red, not grey. Red squirrels are sweet little beasts. White furry tufts in their ears give them a puzzled look. They've good reason to be flummoxed, since very few survive.

When Beatrix Potter wrote the children's story Squirrel Nutkin in 1903, naturally the hero was a red squirrel. But a menace was lurking. Wealthy British travellers crossing the Atlantic were charmed to discover American squirrels, larger than ours, and grey. Definitely a must-have item for your country estate! In 1890, the Duke of Bedford imported ten of them. Some were released at Woburn Abbey, others in London's Regents Park. This was a disaster. Grey squirrels can produce eight offspring ("kittens") each year. Half don't survive infancy, but the rest start breeding at thirteen months. With a life span of three to ten years, numbers grew terrifyingly fast.

But surely, the British red squirrel could repel the invaders? Unfortunately, the greys carry a virus, squirrel pox. They've developed immunity to it, but the reds had no resistance. Red squirrels feed on ripe brown acorns, which they store for the winter. That's why we talk about "squirrelling away" our savings. But the greys gobble up acorns when they're young and green, leaving nothing left their cousins to gather when autumn arrives.

The Duke's exotic pets exploded across southern England, but they were slow to penetrate Essex. The Lea Valley, with its factories and reservoirs, formed a barrier. The first grey squirrel was spotted near Epping in 1921. By 1935, they were colonising Epping Forest, despite a campaign in which 150 were shot. Around 1947, red squirrel numbers suddenly dropped dramatically in Epping Forest, probably through disease. Ten years later, they'd almost vanished across Essex. The invasion slowed down, but not for long. By 1945, grey squirrels were spotted at Havering-atte-Bower. Greys were still rare around Romford and Hornchurch in the 1950s. Not any more! It's fun watching dogs chasing them in Havering parks (they never catch any), but the grey squirrels are a pest. In 2013, a squirrel chewed through a power cable at a house in Main Road Romford, causing a fire and £20,000 worth of damage. Although they're not a protected species, you can be prosecuted for cruelty if you kill them. Leave any squirrel problems to experts.

A 2017 project planned to lure grey squirrels into eating hazelnut spread (their favourite treat) laced with oral contraceptives. Backed by Prince Charles, this dotty-sounding scheme might reduce their numbers. There are now over two million grey squirrels in Britain. A few thousand reds hang on, mostly in Scottish pine forests. In 2012, a fight-back began.  Mersea Island is joined to Essex by a causeway, covered at high tide. Grey squirrels had kept clear. Twenty red squirrels were released on the island, with hopes they would breed. So far, the experiment's gone well. But there was a crisis in 2018 when two greys were spotted on Mersea. They'd probably swum across from the mainland. Volunteers tried to trap them. Mersea's red squirrels are shy (can you blame them?), but some visitors are lucky enough to spot them.  Be kind if you meet one. They've had a hard time.

SNAKES ALIVE – LUCKILY HAVERING'S REPTILES ARE SHY! (The editor of the Romford Recorder had the brilliant idea of calling this a piece of local hiss-tory.)

In August 2016, a Harold Hill resident was bitten in her back garden. She thought she glimpsed something slithering into long grass. Two days later, her foot swelled up. Only then did doctors realise she'd been attacked by a poisonous snake. Picnicking with her family in Upminster Park in June 2017, a woman felt a sharp pain in her leg. She assumed she'd been stung by an insect. In fact, it was a snake bite. Essex has two snakes. The culprit in these attacks was the adder (or viper), identified by a zig-zag mark down its back. Its poison is nasty, but rarely fatal – but an eleven year-old South Benfleet boy was killed in 1809 "by the bite of a Serpent".

The shy grass snake is harmless to humans. A third creepy, the slow worm, is a legless lizard, not a snake. A 1990 survey found it was fairly common in south Essex, but under threat. A 2012 atlas of Greater London reptiles noted five sites within Havering. (Their exact location is a secret.)

Snakes are rarely mentioned in historical documents, because they didn't pay tax, and nobody wanted to eat them. Essex has some reptile legends. A "Dragon of marvellous bigness" terrorised the coastal village of St Osyth around 1170-1. It was probably a stranded whale, but the tale grew in the telling, giving it fiery breath that burned down houses. A 1669 pamphlet, Strange News out of Essex, reported a flying serpent at Henham, near Stansted Airport. (Luckily, there was no airport then: a flying serpent would have caused air traffic problems.) The monster (nine feet long, with sharp teeth) has been dismissed as a hoax. But it might have been a migrating bird, blown off course – maybe a rare goose (it had small wings and hissed when approached). Few 17th-century people wore spectacles. Most peasants probably lived in a short-sighted haze, and were easily persuaded that they'd seen a serpent. An illustration shows locals trying to kill it with pitchforks. Everybody seems very cheerful.

In 1903, the Victoria County History of Essex briefly commented on snakes. Numbers had declined since 1850. Traditionally, Essex fields were bounded by wide hedge banks. Victorian farmers cut them back to clear more land, destroying reptile habitats. Adders are becoming rare in Epping Forest, but colonies survive on the Essex marshes. Site clearance on Canvey Island in 2006 disturbed 400 of them! Grass snakes swim in ditches on Rainham Marshes. You can see one on YouTube.

Occasionally exotic snakes turn up, like the deadly saw-scaled Indian viper on a container ship at Tilbury in 2012, or the python, probably an escaped pet, found under a toilet seat in Southend in 2017. Holidaymakers fled a Canvey beach when a four-foot long venomous krait swam ashore one summer day in 1925. One of India's deadliest snakes, it was thought to have been thrown overboard from a passing ship.  The krait grips victims with its fangs to pump in its deadly venom. "A boy on beach, in a spirit of bravado, seized the reptile." He was saved by a man who'd lived in India and recognised the danger.  Grabbing a child's toy spade, the unknown hero flicked the snake from the boy's hands, and chopped off its head. Used to India's tropical climate, the cold-blooded krait was probably inert in the chill waters of the Thames.  That's why it didn't retaliate.

Snakes Lane at Woodford was named after John Sake, who lived there in 1404. In time, he was forgotten, and people assumed the road was haunted by adders. There's no black mamba in Woodford, only a red herring.

When reptile expert Stephen Mitchell caught the Tilbury viper in 2012, a colleague explained that his secret was "to grab the snake before it has a chance to realise what's happening." Sounds right to me, but don't try it at home.

In the Essex Journal for 2020, historian Dr Christopher Starr related a reptilian legend from Havering's doorstep. It was recorded in 1712 as a tale passed down in the Tyrrell family, Essex gentry. Sometime in the Middle Ages, a ship trading from "Barbary" (a general name for anywhere beyond Europe) arrived in the Thames carrying a serpent, which escaped. The creature slithered as far as the woods south and east of Brentwood, between Herongate and East Horndon, where it terrorised the neighbourhood. Eventually it was killed by brave Sir James Tyrrell, who unfortunately over-exerted himself, caught a fever and died. As we can see from more recent episodes, the idea of a ship accidentally introducing a snake into our area is easy to believe. Sir James is said to have used a mirror to distract the reptile into ducking and weaving at its own reflection. This could suggest that the snake was a cobra, in which case it probably wouldn’t have lasted long in the Essex weather. Thus there may be some kernel of truth in the legend, although Dr Starr regards it as an "origin myth". The Tyrrells, he says, were originally upward-mobile peasants who managed to acquire enough property to turn themselves into gentry. They were sensitive about their humble origins, and needed a knightly tale of chivalry and courage to add some glamour to their lineage. The theme of the brave knight fighting the monster – it goes back to St George and the Dragon – is not uncommon in England: the best-known example is the story of the Lambton Worm in County Durham. Sir James is said to have beheaded his serpent near East Horndon church – a familiar landmark on a hillside beside the A127 to Southend.


This marks the close of my eight and a half years as a volunteer correspondent for the Romford Recorder Heritage page. There have been around 350 columns, a total of over 200,000 words. I am glad to have had the opportunity to make a contribution to the area where I spent my early life (I don’t claim to have grown up), and I have learned a great deal myself by uncovering many new stories. I hope above all that some of the Recorder's readers may have caught an enthusiam for local history, the sense that even suburbs have their own past, which I first imbibed through the Havering Library service and the Essex Record Office – well ... a very long time ago. I am glad, too, that the heritage page continues, with lively and interesting contributions from a new contributor.

For other collections from the Romford Recorder heritage page:

"Havering History Cameos"


"More Havering History Cameos"


"Havering History Cameos: Third Series (2016-2017)"


Havering History Cameos: Exploring Essex