More Havering History Cameos
This file is a continuation of the weekly local heritage columns contributed to the Romford Recorder ...
and e-published as Havering History Cameos in:
They appeared between November 2015 and June 2016. I repeat my appreciation to the Romford Recorder for supporting this weekly feature.
Ged Martin, County Waterford, 10 June 2016
THE CHANGING LIFE OF ROMFORD MARKET
Founded in 1247, Romford Market was an instant success. Brentwood already had a market on the same day, Wednesday, but after five years it was switched to Tuesday to avoid competition. Brentwood’s market was crowded into tiny Hart Street. Romford’s great asset was its four-acre Market Place, ideal for selling livestock.
In the Middle Ages, there were also markets at Rainham (about which we know little), Grays and Aveley (which specialised in butter and cheese). But by Tudor times, Romford was the dominant centre where London merchants purchased Essex produce. Selling animals from such a wide area tempted thieves to unload stolen livestock. It helped that Havering had its own courts, able to crack down on crime. Havering people claimed the right to use the Market without paying tolls. James I stopped this in 1619.
The Market was closely regulated by the Crown. Specific areas were set aside for different trading activities. However, the 1636 description of Romford Market as “sweet, savoury, clean and gainful” seems exaggerated. New market days sprang up: the official trading day, Wednesday, was reserved for grain sales, while cattle and pigs were sold on Tuesdays. In the 19th century, Wednesday again became the main day for all farm produce, but other goods were sold on Saturdays.
There was an unusual episode in 1831 when Thomas Newcombe auctioned his wife for six shillings (30p), including the rope with which she was tethered. Poor people could not afford divorce. Public sale of a wife was regarded as ending a failed relationship. The couple had only been married for one month. Newcombe was charged fivepence (2 p) in Market fees, probably the rate for selling a beast.
In a strange piece of privatisation, in 1829 the Crown sold its rights in Havering, including control of the Market, to the McIntosh family, who lived at Marshalls, off North Street. By the late nineteenth century, Romford Market faced problems. The railway from Fenchurch Street to Hornchurch and Upminster, opened in 1885, diverted customers to Barking. There was conflict between Mrs McIntosh, the owner, and the Local Board of Health (forerunner of Havering Council), which tried to clean up Romford. The filthy Loam Pond, on the site of Ludwigshafen Place, supplied drinking water for cattle. In 1874, the Local Board filled it in. In 1892, the Local Board bought the Market for £7,000. That’s how Havering owns it today.
Although cattle sales ceased in 1958, Romford Market flourished as a general trading centre, helped by the construction of the Ring Road in 1969, which closed the Market Place to through traffic. In the early 1970s, there were over 300 Market traders. By 2014, there were 110 regulars. Casual vendors could rent pitches at daily rates of £17.80 to £25.05, with cut-price offers to encourage young entrepreneurs. Since the 1960s, fridges, supermarkets, discount stores and out-of-town malls have changed the ways we shop. Havering Council has responded with improved Market lay-out, electricity supply to stalls, and higher standards in lighting and paving. Over the centuries, Romford Market has changed in focus and operation. As one of the largest street markets in the London area, it’s an institution that still defines Romford – as it has done for almost eight centuries.
WHY DID RAINHAM NEVER BECOME A MAJOR PORT?
Why did Rainham never become a major port? In 1801, Rainham was called “the grand lodging and loading place” for the trade of a large area of south Essex. Yet its population was just 444, mostly farm workers. By contrast, London, twelve miles away, was home to a million people
In the fifteenth century, Rainham ships had sailed to Calais. Somebody scratched a carving of a two-masted vessel in the local church. Records mention watermen, in 1533 even a shipwright. In 1571, there was a mariner, although as he was the parish constable, perhaps he did not sail away very often. Why did Rainham's trade fail to grow?
There were two possible locations for a Rainham port. One was alongside the Thames. An 1848 directory reported that “the Ingerbourn rivulet receives vessels at its mouth, where it has a good quay and a ferry.” There were two ferries, one across the Thames to Kent, the other upstream to London. Rainham Ferry was a lonely place, surrounded by marshes which were too squelchy to support a town. Grays, Rainham's rival downstream, had the advantage of a chalk ridge, providing firm ground beside the Thames. Rainham Ferry's principal amenity was an inn. In 1591, barmaid “Bounsinge Bess” gave birth to a child. Her surname was not recorded and the father was not mentioned. This was not an upmarket establishment.
The other possible location was a mile up Rainham Creek at the village. In the 1720s, entrepreneur John Harle dredged the Ingrebourne to re-launch Rainham as an inland port. In 1729, he built Rainham Hall. Harle imported coal, timber and building materials – but what did Rainham export? The fifteenth century Calais trade had shipped wool from marshland sheep flocks. The area also produced hay to feed London's horses. In 1561, 22 year-old William Slane was killed after falling under the wheels of a cart carrying hay to the wharf. It was five o'clock in the morning – Rainham's working day was dictated by Thames tides.
Rainham had no real hinterland: the winding lanes of Upminster and South Hornchurch are enough to prove that nobody had ever wanted to get there urgently. Nothing came of an 1809 scheme in for a canal to Romford. The waterway would have followed the River Rom down to Mardyke, and then cut across to Rainham Creek. Railways invaded Rainham's local trade. When Upminster station opened in 1885, the Abraham family at Upminster windmill became local coal merchants, obtaining their supplies by goods train. Nineteenth-century Rainham was a market gardening area. But fresh vegetables were delivered to London markets horse-drawn waggons. Sending them by river would have meant extra loading and unloading – and Thames barges depended on the wind, which could be unreliable (and often blew from the west anyway). South Essex was cattle country – hence the importance of Romford Market. London butchers either herded animals direct to town or – after 1839 – sent them by train.
From the 1880s, industry spread along the Thames. Cement works and chemical factories engulfed Rainham Ferry. A long jetty encouraged Southend and Margate pleasure steamers to land passengers – but a smelly fish manure plant and barges loaded with dung for the market gardens hardly encouraged tourism. Only small vessels could use Rainham Creek. Barges carried timber to the wharf by Rainham station. When that trade ended in 1949, Rainham effectively ceased to be a port.
TWO HACTONS – ONE HISTORY
Havering Council's Hacton Ward covers a wide area of Hornchurch. The name has also crossed the Ingrebourne, and there is another Hacton in Upminster.
The original Hacton was a narrow tongue of land defined by two physical features, both now lost. One was a small brook running down from Chelmsford Drive, called Hakelondsbroke in 1318. Perhaps it now flows underground. The other was a wide bend in the Ingrebourne just east of Hacton Bridge, removed in modern times when the river was straightened to prevent floods. The name came from a Saxon word, “haca”, meaning a hook. The spelling “Haketon” (it rhymed with “backer” not “bake”) dates from 1310, but the name must be far older.
The bridge of “Hackford” existed by 1290. Until the 17th century it was not much more than a footbridge, so carts and cattle had to splash through the Ingrebourne. But in 1674, the Essex magistrates decided that the “horse bridge” should be widened to help farmers sending produce to Romford Market. John Bloomfield, a Hornchurch carpenter, was given £6 for the job. In 1728, Bloomfield's bridge was rebuilt in brick. The name “Hackford” was still in use in 1561, but after the bridge was widened, it fell out of use.
Hacton Farm stood a quarter of a mile west of the bridge, near a convenient spring for water. – approximately the site of Hacton primary school. From 1542 until about 1786, Hacton Farm was the site of one of Havering's most imposing mansions. A sale notice in 1841 praised the quality of the land, which grew barley, potatoes and turnips.
By 1672, the name “Hacton Hill” had spread across the Ingrebourne into Upminster. Around 1762, William Braund built a mansion called “Hackton Hill”. The son of a London wine merchant who had retired to Corbets Tey, Braund made his money importing port wine. Old maps show an ice house, near Aspen Grove. This was a primitive refrigerator, with thick walls preventing blocks of ice from melting. Maybe Braund preferred his wine chilled. Later called Hactons, the mansion became flats in 1954. It stands opposite the Optimist public house, screened by trees.
The small settlement that sprang up at Upminster's Hacton was no paradise. In 1854, there was a cholera outbreak, all cases being traced to contact with one filthy cottage. A 1915 tragedy gives a glimpse of Hacton. Brothers John and William Rogers were farm labourers who shared a cottage. One Sunday evening, William left John drinking in the White Hart, the Hacton pub which only closed in recent years. William left the door unlocked for John to follow him home, but he was not worried when his brother did not appear. John seems to have had mental health problems. He often slept in the fields.
When William got up to go to work at 3.45 a.m. (farming started early), he found John dead in the well. He had somehow toppled through a narrow opening, fallen twelve feet head first and drowned in ten feet of water below. This tragic accident tells us that 100 years ago, Hacton cottages had no mains water, that farm labourers worked long hours – and that you could go to bed leaving your front door unlocked.
WHERE WAS YOKKESFORD?
The Essex Record Office's Seax website summarises many documents revealing Havering's history. Sometimes they raise mysteries too.
In 1469 agreement, Roger Rede owned a farm called “Nedys”. Nedys lay south of the highway from Romford to Brentwood, alongside “Harestreet”. Hare Street derived from Anglo-Saxon words meaning “military road”. In modern German, “das heer” means “army”. Hare Street was a hamlet at Balgores Lane, but it probably also referred to a stretch of the A118 Main Road. West of Nedys were fields belonging to “Mawnes”. Mawneys farmhouse stood near Romford's High Street – in today's Mawney Road. But Mawneys was a large property, with land all around Romford.
The real mystery was that Nedys adjoined the unknown “Yokkesford Melle”. I wondered if this might refer to the south end of Raphael Park lake. Landscaping of the Gidea Hall grounds created the lake in its modern form around 1776. But a 1618 map shows a pond called “Mill Water”. This suggests the stream flowing out of Raphael Park powered a lost watermill. “Melle” was how Essex people pronounced the word “mill”.
To pinpoint Yokkesford, I had to locate Nedys. Luckily there's an on-line trail. In 1482, Roger Reede (the usual spelling of his name) founded almshouses in Romford for “five poor men of good character”. Leaving aside the area’s ancient churches, the Roger Reede Almshouses are the oldest institution in Havering. Over the centuries, the charity was well managed, leaving good records. The almshouses were rebuilt between 1959 and 1973 in Church Lane, Romford. There are now 49 units.
Reede gave Nedys to endow his almshouses. By the 17th century, Nedys was spelt “Needs”. It was also called Staceys Farm. William “Stace”, mentioned in 1469, probably lived there. That solved the mystery of the pronunciation, but it still didn't reveal the location. Luckily, around 1800, the farm acquired a third name. Gidea Hall, Havering's premier mansion, had an imposing gatehouse near Raphael Park. The farm across the road borrowed the name, becoming Lodge Farm. Documents confirm that it was also Needs, alias Staceys. In 1928, the land was sold for housing around Glenwood Drive. The farmhouse, at the bend in Lodge Avenue, was demolished. Romford Council, Havering's forerunner, bought the rest, creating Lodge Farm Park in 1963.
If Lodge Farm was Nedys (and it was!), then Yokkesford must be where the A118 passes Raphael Park lake. Although we have only one example of the Havering name, it's probably identical with Yoxford in Suffolk, also on a main road. The Suffolk name can be traced back to Domesday Book in 1086. In 1254 it was “Iokesford”. Experts believe it means “ford crossed by a yoke of oxen” – the medieval equivalent of a container truck. That sounds right for a major highway crossing the small stream at Raphael Park. An Essex creek at Foulness was called Yokefleet, “yokkeflete” in 1419. It also probably referred to a crossing for oxen. After all, England's oldest university remembers a place where oxen crossed the Thames.
On such a busy highway, the ford would have been replaced by a bridge, and the old name forgotten. It's fun to rediscover a lost Havering place name after 500 years.
HAVERING: BUILT IN STONE
Havering churches in Saxon times were probably built out of split logs, like the one at Greensted near Ongar which survives today. The Normans began rebuilding. They wanted their religion set in stone.
Essex was short on building stone. Its cliffs yielded a crumbly mixture called septaria. Mid-Essex fields could be combed for flint rubble. These materials were used to build Rainham church, around 1178. Later churches, such as St Andrew's at Hornchurch, also used ragstone, floated across the Thames from Kent. Dragging stone blocks by horse and cart was a tough challenge. Hence some of Havering's oldest stone monuments are the Thames-side churches at Rainham and Wennington, where water transport could be used. Rainham's fine Norman church was probably the project of a Norman bureaucrat, Richard de Luci, who died in 1179.
He founded Lesnes Abbey, across the river in Kent, and gave Rainham church to its monks. The Norman doorway at Wennington church may be even older. The monks of Westminster Abbey owned land there.
The fact that three local communities were all building around 1220-30 suggests local rivalry.
The oldest stone construction in St Andrew's, Hornchurch probably dates from work around 1228. We first hear of Brentwood's St Thomas-a-Becket chapel in 1221. Experts in carpentry work inside the sturdy tower of St Laurence, Upminster, have dated it to the early 13th century. It may be linked to Viel Engayne, a landowner who built up a large estate in Upminster between 1215 and 1223. He died in 1248. His name survives on the Havering map as “Gaynes”.
St Andrew's Hornchurch was enlarged between 1405 and 1408. The project was carried out by New College, Oxford, who controlled the huge parish that stretched from Havering-atte-Bower to the Thames. Interestingly, a rebuilding project immediately followed in Romford. Between 1408 and 1410, Romford's original chapel was moved to a new site in the Market Place. Its original location was remembered as Oldchurch. The Oldchurch chapel had been dedicated to St Andrew, but Romford people wanted their own patron saint and switched to St Edward the Confessor. It looks like an early example of Romford-Hornchurch rivalry.
Thomas Scargill, owner of Bretons in South Hornchurch, left a generous bequest “to the making of the steple att Hornchurch” in 1475. The handsome steeple was probably begun soon after. Other bequests and local rates suggest it was finished in 1492 – the year Columbus sailed to America. The tower at Hornchurch resembles the one at Little Wakering church, near Southend, built around 1425. Check for yourself on your next seaside trip!
Perhaps the Hornchurch project triggered more local rivalry, for the tower of South Weald parish church was begun around 1495. But local people had discovered a new, handy building material – brick. Not until the 18th century would stone be used again in a major local building project.
HEAVEN, HELL AND HORNCHURCH
During repairs to Hornchurch's St Andrew's parish church in 1826, whitewash was stripped from the walls, revealing traces of wall paintings from the Middle Ages. Nobody cared about them. There was no photography in those days, and it was claimed they were too faint to be sketched. But a brief notice which appeared in a fashionable publication, the Gentleman's Magazine, gives some useful clues.
Few people could read in the Middle Ages. Wall paintings were huge cartoon strips, visual aids helping priests to tell their congregations how the Church could protect them.
In the main part of the imposing church, there were faint outlines of skeletons and a dragon. This was almost certainly part of the legend of St George, who is England's patron saint. A city in Libya was terrorised by a fire-eating dragon, which emerged from a lake each day to eat children. When only the king's daughter was left on the menu, St George killed the monster and rescued the princess. In some versions, he made a leash from her underwear, tamed the dragon and led it back to the city, so persuading the people to become Christians. (Then he killed it.) The dragon was an allegory (a coded message) for the Devil. Libya, of course, later become an Islamic country.
The other picture was in the chancel, and the reported detail suggests that it could have preserved. It showed a man sitting in a coffin, with two angels praying plus a gigantic figure of a bishop. In the background were groups of people and a row of windows. In 1826, this was assumed to be the story of Lazarus, raised from the dead by Jesus in St John's Gospel. However, the medieval Church also credited some saints with reviving dead people. One of them was St Martin, who in late Roman times was bishop of the city of Tours in France – hence the buildings.
St Andrew's church was rebuilt soon after 1400, under the influence of William of Wykeham. He was bishop of Winchester – and also a major politician. In 1391, Wykeham bought the lands of the former Hornchurch Priory to endow New College, Oxford – his own legacy project. Wykeham would have liked the idea of featuring a bishop. There is a statue of one high up on the church tower – few people know it's there!
In the Middle Ages, the interior of St Andrew's church would have been bright, even gaudy – but also very scary to the ignorant peasants. A fine timber roof was constructed around 1500. Painted in a red and black chequerboard design, with gold decoration, it was re-discovered in 1957. Imagine a fiery priest, using the paintings to tell the people that the Church could fight the Devil and even overcome death itself, before pointing upwards to the roof, the symbol of Heaven.
Protestants regarded wall paintings as superstitious. During the 16th-century Reformation, they were painted over. I was baptised in St Andrew's church in 1945. I don't remember it, but I'm told I protested strongly. Traces of medieval wall paintings can be seen in Rainham's ancient parish church.
UPMINSTER AND THE GREAT STORM OF 1703
Of course, mighty gales had swept across Havering before. People remembered the storm of 2nd / 3rd September 1658, the night Oliver Cromwell died. Some claimed it was caused by the Devil wrestling for Oliver’s soul. Locally, it was said that a whale was stranded in the Thames that night, and that was how Whalebone Lane got its name. In fact, the name can be traced back to 1641.
Upminster’s rector, Reverend William Derham, was a pioneer scientist. His meteorological records are still studied by climate specialists. Derham lived at the High House opposite the parish church. The site is now Corbets Tey Road shops. He recalled “a terrible storm that did much damage” in February 1699, and a “remarkable storm” in February 1702. But nothing equalled the November 26th 1703 hurricane. (The date was actually December 7th, but the calendar was not corrected until 1752.)
It had been a rainy summer at Upminster. After the wettest May in seven years, June was “a dripping month”. There were intense showers at the end of July and heavy downpours in late September. But October and November 1703 were mild. The Fahrenheit and Celsius scales had not yet been invented. On Derham’s thermometer the freezing point was not 32 or zero, but 82. That autumn, it rarely fell below 100.
The atmosphere was muggy. Derham believed that “vapours” in the atmosphere exploded like gunpowder when lightning struck that fearful night. On Thursday 25 November (really December 6th), there was a brief, violent thunderstorm around nine o’clock at night, “much rain at Upminster”, with hailstorms nearby, “which did some damage”. A south-south-westerly gale blew all day Friday, but Derham went to bed as normal and fell asleep. Around midnight, he was woken by a violent storm. The gale peaked at around 3 a.m., but continued until seven o’clock, when it began to ebb.
At 12.30 a.m., Derham checked his barometer, probably peering at the gauge by the light of a guttering candle. He noted a reading equal to 972 millibars, very low pressure. This means the gale was a Category One hurricane, equal to the Great Storm of 1987 (the one the Met Office famously told us not worry about). Derham was not sure of the precise wind direction, as it was “excessively dark” and his weather vane had blown down. Unfortunately, he omitted “a long history of the devastations” locally as too boring.
We know the storm caused massive havoc. A thousand sailors were drowned in the Channel, and the Eddystone lighthouse was swept away. Chimney stacks were blown down across southern England. A bishop was killed in bed by falling masonry. Queen Anne fled to the cellars of St James’s Palace. Fifteen miles from Romford, the rector of Purleigh near Maldon recorded “the most outragious tempest that was ever heard or read of in England.” The storm “layd naked peoples houses” and smashed trees into firewood. At Finchingfield, the tall spire crashed into the parish church. It was replaced by a pretty spirelet, which today forms the backdrop to a picture-postcard village.
Modern houses are mostly better built, but nowadays we depend on electricity and the Internet. A 1703-style storm would cause worse disruption. And it might happen again.
HORNCHURCH MAN CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS 300 YEARS AGO – FACING A TREASON CHARGE
Exactly 300 years ago, a Hornchurch man spent a bizarre Christmas. Interned as a suspected rebel, John Evered “Esquire” faced possible death for high treason – while feasting on turkey and roast beef, washed down by wine and brandy.
In 1688, Britain had ousted king James II. A Catholic ruling a mainly Protestant country, James aimed to become an absolute ruler. People put up with him because his two daughters were Protestants. Eventually, they would inherit the throne, and play by the rules. But, in 1688, a Prince of Wales was born. The boy would be raised as a Catholic and educated as a despot. James had to go.
He was replaced by his daughter, Mary, ruling jointly with her husband, the Dutch prince William of Orange. William and Mary had no family, and were succeeded by Queen Anne, younger daughter of the ousted James II. None of Anne’s many children survived to their teens. When she died in 1714, Parliament imported George I from Germany. A distant cousin of royalty, he was a Protestant. As he spoke no English, he couldn’t interfere with running the country.
But many felt that the exiled prince born in 1688, now calling himself James III, was their rightful king. They were called ‘Jacobites’, from the Latin for James, Jacobus. In September 1715, Jacobites rebelled in Scotland. In October, an uprising followed in the north of England. The government cracked down, arresting Jacobite sympathisers before they could trigger similar revolts.
John and Jane Evered lived at Redden Court, a large farm that covered much of Ardleigh Green and Harold Wood. John was one of fifteen prisoners interned from Essex, all respectable men, styled ‘Esquire’ or ‘Gent.’ Their arrests warned local bigwigs not to support King James.
But the elite found a way of telling the government to back off. Locked up in a Chelmsford inn commandeered as a prison, the inmates elected their own officers to organise their meals.
Gentry and clergy showered them with gifts. South Weald’s squire Samuel Smith donated four cases of wine. His wife added tea, coffee, chocolate and sugar. Barking’s vicar sent a fat pig. From Redden Court, Jane Evered contributed a loin of pork, plus six hares, two geese and some woodcock – probably caught in Harold Wood fields. Evered himself donated two barrels of oysters, a Colchester delicacy, to the communal mess. Presents included 22 turkeys, 287 bottles of wine and twenty gallons of brandy.
The prisoners won a moral victory when judges pronounced their confinement illegal, but the government immediately re-arrested them under emergency legislation. After mid-November 1715, the crisis passed. The Scottish Jacobites retreated. The English rebels surrendered at Preston in Lancashire. On Christmas Eve, the government decided to release the Chelmsford Fifteen. Communications were slow. Evered spent the festive season eating turkey with his comrades. On 29 December 1715, they were freed on bail. All fifteen duly appeared in court in March 1716. The rebellion was long over, and there were no formal charges.
John Evered returned to Redden Court. He died in 1730, now called not ‘Esquire’ but promoted to ‘Gentleman’ – perhaps a sign of respect for his principled courage.
ROMFORD'S ROLE IN A ROYAL WEDDING – IN 1761
When the young George III became king in 1760, he needed a wife. She had to produce a son, and she must be a Protestant. In 1761, the job went to Charlotte, daughter of the duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, a tiny German principality. She was 17, good-natured, didn't speak English and had never met her bridegroom.
After eight stormy days crossing the North Sea, Charlotte arrived at Harwich on September 7th. She stayed the night at Witham, and next day set off for London.
Around noon, she reached Romford, calling for coffee (and, no doubt, a pit stop) at the house of wine merchant, Richard Dutton, in Romford's High Street. It was a three-storey, flat-fronted Georgian building. Two pillars supported a small portico protecting the front door and partly blocking the pavement. The site is now occupied by shops opposite Angel Way.
Thousands of Londoners had headed into Essex to greet their new queen. Charlotte “was pleased to indulge the spectators with the sight of her person from a window”. She made several appearances, probably from the first floor. At one o'clock she departed on a royal coach sent from London, with two duchesses as minders. Presumably they coached her in basic English phrases, such as “I do”.
Reaching St James's Palace at three o'clock, she met her future husband, but their contact was brief. There was no time for second thoughts. The teenage bride was fitted into her ornate wedding dress. At ten o'clock, the Archbishop of Canterbury tied the knot. Nine hours earlier, Charlotte had powdered her nose in Romford. Now she was queen of England.
That night saw “the greatest rejoicings at Rumford [the town's old spelling] ever known in the Memory of Man, great quantities of liquor were given to the Populace”.
Court rituals followed the marriage ceremony. It was after two o'clock before the newlyweds were left alone to start married life. Last to leave was the young king's uncle, “Butcher” Cumberland, infamous for terrorising the Scottish Highlands after the battle of Culloden in 1746. When the couple retired to their honeymoon suite, the king's mother asked him to stick around in case he was needed. Ever the charmer, the duke replied: “What should I stay for? If she cries out, I cannot help her.”
Nobody expected Charlotte to enjoy married life. However, unusually for that era, the 23 year-old king had been brought up to respect women. He never took a mistress. At 17, Charlotte had certainly never been kissed. Their relationship became an unexpected and romantic success. Charlotte produced an heir just ten months later. The future George IV was followed by fourteen more children, rather more royalty than Britain needed. When George III became mentally ill in 1788, Charlotte nursed him tenderly, a role brilliantly played by Helen Mirren in The Madness of King George. Queen Charlotte died in 1818. The small and delightful Canadian city of Charlottetown is named after her.
For Richard Dutton, hosting a princess on the day of a royal wedding should have been a formula for riches and success. Alas, three years later, he declared bankruptcy. Romford was a beer-drinking town. A wine merchant just couldn't rely on the passing princess trade.
MARY WILKS LEARNS HER LESSON
April 26th 1775 was a Wednesday – market day in Romford. As locals gathered to buy and sell, they don’t know that they’d just entered the modern world. Six days earlier, across the Atlantic, armed farmers had ambushed British soldiers at Lexington, Massachusetts. The American War of Independence had begun. Next year, 1776, the colonies would declare independence as the United States of America. The news hadn’t reached Britain yet.
Imagine the sounds of Romford market – traders shouting their wares, cows mooing, sheep bleating, Mary Wilks screaming in pain and terror. Havering magistrates had sentenced Mary to be publicly whipped, as a “rogue and vagabond”. Criminals were whipped on market day, to ensure a large audience. A good bureaucrat (but he couldn’t spell), Romford jailer Edward Nash kept careful records. He received a “sallery” of £10.50 a year, but charged extra for floggings. His instructions were that Mary Wilks was to be “stript naked from the middle upwards and publicly whipt until her body be bloody.” Her ordeal was pornographic as well as obscene.
I doubt if many sympathised with Mary. Being a rogue and vagabond meant she was unemployed and homeless. If Mary didn’t like being flogged, she should get a job and find somewhere to live. Problem solved. Jailer Nash charged two shillings (10p) for the job, which he carefully invoiced. ‘To wipping Mary Wilks and catt nine tails.’ It seems he bought a new whip for the occasion, a cat with nine evil thongs to maximise her agony. Probably Mary was lashed to a whipping post, although maybe she was tethered to a cart and paraded slowly through the Market, stumbling as she tried to keep up with the horse and dodge the cat. Who decided when Mary’s flesh was lacerated enough to stop the torture? Did somebody throw a bucket of water over her to clean up the mess?
In matters of judicial sadism, Romford was an equal opportunity town. Arrested for stealing hay in April 1775, Thomas Learner quickly escaped. (Havering’s lock-up, at the south-west corner of the Market, was not Alcatraz. The site was cleared in the 1930s.) Learner was re-arrested, and publicly flogged in July. This time, Jailer Nash did a cut-price job, charging just one and sixpence (7½ pence). Maybe he reused Mary’s whip – admirable economy in public expenditure.
Both got off lightly compared with William Pollet back in 1772. He was a far worse case, an “incorrigible rogue”. Havering magistrates sentenced him to six months in jail, with three public whippings to relieve the boredom. Then Pollet was ordered to “be employed in His Majesty’s service either by sea or land.” Joining the army or navy meant more opportunities for floggings. Perhaps he was one of the Redcoats ambushed at Lexington in April 1775.
Should we dismiss the public thrashing of a half-naked woman in Romford market as something that happened a long time ago? After all, we don’t whip homeless people nowadays. Mostly, we ignore them. But maybe our world is closer to 1775 – just three lifetimes away – than we realise. Because of those angry farmers who ambushed British soldiers at Lexington, all Americans have the constitutional right to carry guns today.
HORNCHURCH PRIZE FIGHT WAS OVER IN TEN MINUTES
Bare-knuckle prizefighting was an 18th-century "sport". With few rules and no boxing gloves, muscular giants battered one another in bone-crunching, eye-gouging slugging matches.
Oddly enough, this brutal pastime produced one improvement in social attitudes. On London streets, Jews were often randomly attacked. In self-defence, a young Jewish man, Daniel Mendoza, took up fighting. Five feet seven tall, he developed the techniques of modern boxing – ducking, weaving and parrying blows. Even though he weighed only eleven and a half stone – a middleweight – by 1792 Mendoza was champion of England. Dan Mendoza became a role model. Young Jewish men took up boxing. Anti-Semitic assaults became much less common.
On 15 April 1795, Mendoza fought "Gentleman" John Jackson at Hornchurch, for 400 guineas (£420) prize money. Hornchurch was a convenient venue for Londoners. Fight enthusiast Sir Thomas Apreece, who often umpired bouts, lived at Cranham Hall close by. Havering was a "Liberty", a county-within-a-county, with its own courts. Essex magistrates tried to halt prize-fights, but Havering law was probably easier to dodge.
Best of all, Hornchurch had the Dell, an old gravel pit behind St Andrews church. A fight had been staged in this natural arena in 1793. A contemporary print (it's on the Internet) shows Jackson and Mendoza sparring in a modern-style boxing ring before a few hundred men (women were banned) within a walled enclosure. This was probably an advert. The Dell was an open amphitheatre, holding 3,000 spectators, each with a clear view.
Just after one o'clock, the combatants bowed to the audience, shook hands "and immediately set to". Each round lasted only sixty seconds, with brief intervals. Betting was heavy. Mendoza started as favourite, even though he was much lighter than the huge and scarily ugly Jackson.
But Mendoza had a weak spot. As a practising Jew, he wore his hair long. In round five, Jackson grabbed Mendoza's hair, pushed him down with one hand and battered his head with the other. Mendoza's excited supporters cried foul but the umpires decided no rules had been broken. In bare-knuckle fighting, there weren't many rules to break!
The odds were now two to one on Jackson. Mendoza collapsed in Round 9. In a theatrical gesture, the victorious Jackson leapt down from the ring, "but Mendoza was quite cut up." The fight had lasted ten and a half minutes, the shortest but the hardest that spectators could remember.
Luckily for the crowd, there was a reserve fight, between another Jewish boxer, Black Baruk, and a glassblower called Burk, whose strong lungs made him a tough fighter. It was declared a draw after thirty minutes.
Mendoza alleged he'd been fouled. A month later, he demanded a return fight, but Jackson – he claimed – demanded an astronomical fee. Still angry in 1801, Mendoza tried to bounce Jackson into a re-match. He announced a bout between them, so that Jackson would seem cowardly if he refused. But Jackson gave a sneering reply, and the grudge match never happened.
Mendoza Close in Emerson Park is named after the loser. Since 1965, the Dell has been occupied by an electricity sub-station.
Hair-grabbing isn't allowed nowadays, but since that day in Hornchurch, boxers have favoured crew-cuts.
ROMFORD’S CROWDED HIGH STREET – IN 1848
It’s a brief stroll from the corner of South Street to Rom Valley Way – but few people today really notice Romford’s High Street. Yet the name is a clue that this was Romford’s original downtown. High Street must have existed before the Market was laid out in 1247.
A Directory of 1848 shows it crammed with activity – around 120 enterprises, including six inns, four beerhouses (bars), two chapels and the Ind Coope brewery. Although narrower than today, High Street funnelled coaches, waggons, cattle and sheep through the town. Craft workers included three hatters, three milliners, three straw-hat manufacturers, four tailors, eight boot- and shoe-makers, a dyer, a “currier” (leather-worker) and two watchmakers. You could buy a horse which would make work for two blacksmiths, a saddler, a wheelwright and even Isaac Slipper, the coachbuilder. His enterprise later passed to the Allen family, who kept up with progress: today the business is Allen Ford in London Road.
Among expert woodworkers were three furniture makers, a carpenter, a woodturner and a cooper (who also made baskets). Other skilled workers included two tinsmiths, two bricklayers, plus two plumbers, who also did painting jobs. The food sector was strong, with seven bakers, a confectioner, six butchers (two specialising in pork), two cheesemongers, six fishmongers (they also sold fruit), five grocers (one also supplied candles), a potato dealer and a tripe dresser. Six traders were general “shopkeepers”, and there was a tobacconist and a wine merchant. Along High Street you’d find several drapers, three ironmongers and four hardware stores. One of the two chemists supplied leeches, since bloodletting was still a popular medical treatment. Perhaps competition was tough between the two shops selling china and glassware: the proprietor of one doubled as a chimney sweep.
It’s difficult to see why some businesses needed to operate in Romford’s crowded High Street: where was the work for three gardeners? Maybe the two corn dealers needed to be close to the Corn Exchange next to the Golden Lion, but as it had only opened in 1845, the link was probably the other way round. The two coal dealers would have found the railway station, opened in 1839, more convenient – and bulk trades later moved down South Street. Remarkably, Romford’s High Street also found room for private residents and professionals – two attorneys, three auctioneers, a bank (and its branch manager), a vet, four insurance agents plus miscellaneous officials. Charlotte Poole’s private academy probably educated young ladies. I expect they provided work for the two hairdressers. Let’s hope they also patronised the three booksellers, one of whom operated as a printer.
High Street lost its stagecoach traffic after the railway arrived. Romford’s brewery swallowed up the Star Inn, and the sign was moved to South Street to serve station passengers. But when the High Street was widened in the 1890s, it was still worth rebuilding the former coaching inns, the Woolpack and the White Hart (later the Bitter End) in ornate Victorian style. Now closed, both are identified as part of Romford’s heritage. In 2008, the Romford Area Action Plan noted that High Street had “suffered from loss of trade and activity”. Havering Council is committed to enhancing its medieval curved streetscape. Havering Museum forms part of High Street’s regeneration.
HEROISM AND MEAN SPIRIT IN 1872 HORNCHURCH FIRE DISASTER
It was one of Havering's most dramatic fires, but luckily nobody was hurt – and it could have been so much worse. Right in the centre of Hornchurch, the White Hart was “the most picturesque building in the village.” Back in 1747, the Vestry – the Church council – had spent £1 eleven shillings and sixpence there rewarding their own hard work. £1.57 doesn't sound much now, but it was a night out then.
The White Hart was much older. Some thought it was the site of Hornchurch Priory, the monastery that had closed around 1390. The old building had gables and a projecting upper storey. There were two large chimneys, one with a sundial – presumably at the back, since the inn faced north up Hornchurch High Street.
William Elliott and his wife Elizabeth had not been running the White Hart long when disaster struck in November 1872. Their ten children had been mostly born in Stepney and Walthamstow. William was a Londoner, but Elizabeth probably retained the Norfolk accent of her birth.
Everything was “perfectly safe” when they went to bed around eleven o'clock that Thursday night – the White Hart did not stay open late. Around one o'clock, the couple smelt smoke, followed by “the smell of crackling wood”. Fire had already destroyed the staircase, trapping them upstairs. The terrified Elliotts screamed for help.
Courageously, locals improvised a platform under the windows, passing the children down a human chain. The youngsters were “in their nightclothes, for there was no time to think of dressing.” The village fire engine was based just yards away, in the Hornchurch Brewery opposite the rival King's Head pub (now a restaurant). The Brewery was demolished in the 1920s. But Hornchurch had no mains water supply. There was just one “small tap” to feed the hose. The pub belonged to Romford brewers, Ind Coope. A messenger galloped for help, but the efficient Romford fire brigade arrived too late to save the pub.
The roof fell in “with a tremendous crash”. Firemen struggled to save nearby cottages. In 1874, thirty homes were destroyed in the Essex village of Radwinter after a child playing with matches set fire to a barn. Luckily, there was just a “very light breeze” in Hornchurch that November night. Only one adjoining cottage caught fire. But furniture was damaged as panicked villagers evacuated belongings. The cause of the fire was unknown. The 1871 census shows that the Elliotts had a lodger, a pig dealer called Benjamin Grout. Had he dozed off smoking a pipe?
Alongside local heroism, there were mean thefts. Items saved from the pub “mysteriously disappeared”. Police followed a man rolling a barrel of beer towards Upminster. He tried to run, but was arrested “and became so violent that he had to be handcuffed.”
The pub was insured. Ind Coope built a grim little successor. This was replaced with bigger premises during a 1930s road widening project. The White Hart has seen several name changes in recent years. By 2015, it had been converted into restaurants.
SIR EVELYN WOOD: WAR CRIMINAL OR LOCAL HERO?
A short, unimpressive man, Evelyn Wood was an unlikely military hero. Wood was born near Braintree, son of a “squarson”, a wealthy landowner-clergyman. His sister Emma married Sir Thomas Barrett-Lennard, an eccentric baronet who owned Belhus, a country house near Aveley. Another sister married Irish politician W.H. O'Shea. The marriage failed, and she became the partner of Irish Nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell – the notorious “Kitty O'Shea”.
Wood had first joined the Navy. He switched to the Army during the Crimean War, where his left arm was shattered and he almost died in Florence Nightingale's fever hospital. Aged 20, he won the Victoria Cross in the Indian Mutiny, but lost his hearing in the campaign. Somehow, he overcame the handicap of deafness and rose to high command.
In 1879, Colonel Wood led one of two British columns invading Zululand. A warlike tribe, the Zulu were feared for their disciplined close-order fighting, overwhelming their enemies with their stabbing spear, the assegai. The assegai was regarded as a weapon of mass destruction. The politicians who ran the British Empire decided they must destroy Zulu power. In January 1879 an excuse was found for war. But disaster soon struck. The Zulu massacred one British column at Isandhlwana. Then they attacked British troops at a nearby mission station. The story of the desperate defence of Rorkes Drift is told in the film, Zulu – on TV every bank holiday!
Everything now depended on Wood, but on March 28th he too ran into trouble. The Zulu ambushed his column at Hlobane Mountain, and nearly ended his career. Prime Minister Disraeli was furious at Wood's blunder. Two things saved Evelyn Wood. First, Britain simply could not afford another humiliation after Isandhlwana. Hlobane Mountain had to be portrayed not as stupidity but as heroism.
Second, the next day the over-confident Zulu attacked Wood's battered force at the battle of Khambula. Unlike the British regiment at Isandhlwana, Wood's soldiers had artillery – and cavalry. The big guns beat off the Zulu and a cavalry charge broke their ranks. But Khambula was a controversial victory. Angry for revenge, Wood's men refused to take prisoners and slaughtered the fleeing Zulu.
Today he might be regarded as a war criminal, but in 1879 he became Sir Evelyn Wood. Back in England, in August 1879 he headed for Belhus, where brother-in-law Sir Thomas held a famous annual auction of thoroughbred horses. Rainham station, then the nearest to Aveley, was decked with flags in Wood's honour. It was a typical English summer day. Despite the pouring rain, hundreds turned out to cheer the national hero and escort him to Belhus. When he made his well-timed appearance at the horse sales – just as a colt, “Sir Evelyn”, was up for auction – Wood was cheered again.
But one old woman, who had walked miles to see him, was disappointed. She had imagined an imposing figure in a splendid uniform. Instead she saw a short man in civilian clothes. “What, 'im kill all them Zulus!”, she exclaimed, adding that her “old man” could easily knock Wood down.
To be near Belhus, Wood later rented Gaynes Villa, a country house in Corbets Tey Road, and later Upminster Hall, now the golf club. Was he a hero or a war criminal?
1883: UPMINSTER JOINS THE MODERN WORLD
It's a bizarre Victorian cameo. Deep in the countryside, horse-drawn carriages disgorge a party of top-hatted gentlemen and ladies in long skirts on a green hillside beside a windmill. A silver shovel is presented to one of the ladies, who daintily excavates a few clods of earth and deposits them “in a pretty barrow of polished ornamental woods”.
The year is 1883, and the first sod has been turned on the railway linking Upminster to London. Havering's first railway had reached Romford in 1839, and continued to Brentwood in 1840. A second line, from Fenchurch Street, opened a station at Rainham in 1854. Between the two, Hornchurch and Upminster remained deeply rural. The London, Tilbury and Southend followed a roundabout route alongside the winding Thames. It was useless as a commuter line: barely 8,000 people lived in Southend in 1881.
But in 1882, the LTS decided to build a short cut from Barking to Pitsea, reducing the journey to Southend by seven miles. A huge new docks project planned to shift London's port traffic downstream. Tilbury Docks opened in 1886. The sleepy line through Rainham, Tilbury's only rail link, faced a big increase in freight traffic. So the LTS decided to divert its Southend traffic on to the new bypass line. Incidentally, the peasants of Upminster and Hornchurch were dragged into the modern world.
On October 11th 1883, the official party took a special train to Rainham and then travelled on to Upminster Hill. “For the first three miles, the country was level and uninteresting”. The prospect changed with the hills of Hornchurch, “not, indeed, very high,” wrote one realistic journalist, “but picturesquely wooded”.
Behind Upminster Windmill, the rector of Chadwell St Mary recited prayers. The rector of Upminster was not invited. Locals disapproved of the Reverend P.M. Holden, who had married his mistress and quarrelled with parishioners. The chairman of the LTS railway company, Henry Doughty Browne, presided at the ceremony. Mrs Browne dug that first hole.
The party then took “luncheon” in a marquee, with more speeches. Mr Browne hoped “the construction of this railway would develop a residential traffic from the charming neighbourhood of Hornchurch and Upminster.” General manager Arthur Stride added a warning to developers. They should be careful about “the character of the buildings they allowed to be erected”. The “rigorous exclusion of the 'jerry' builder” would prevent “the ruin of these pretty places”.
Upminster Station opened in 1885. However, problems over landownership slowed suburban growth. But the development of a “garden suburb” after 1906 heeded Stride's advice that Upminster deserved upmarket housing. Although the LTS promised a “first-class railway” with few gradients and curves, so trains could be “safely run at high speeds”, suburban Hornchurch only really grew in the 1930s, when new stations at Elm Park and Upminster Bridge gave the area a frequent District Line service.
As the LTS planned its rapid service to Southend, so the rival Great Eastern began in 1884 to build there from Shenfield. By 1901, Southend was a borough of 28,000 people. Hornchurch and Upminster gained rail services almost by accident – thanks to Tilbury Docks.
HAVERING’S FLOODS CRISIS IN 1888
The summer of 1888 looked promising. By July, Havering farmers were haymaking so they could feed their cattle next winter. Haystacks were casualties when the sudden floods crisis hit. Heavy rain began on July 27th. By the time overnight deluges hit the area on August 1st / 2nd, four inches had fallen – two months’ rainfall in five days. Havering’s tiny rivers could not cope.
The Romford disaster made national headlines. The Rom normally dribbled under the High Street through a narrow culvert. Floodwater backed up from a Collier Row cloudburst, then surged over the roadway to devastate the Brewery below. Casks of beer washed up in South Hornchurch, where there were some notable binges. A wall of water smashed through the cellar of the Golden Lion, destroying £2000 worth of wines and spirits. Eight feet of water was reported in High Street Romford. Boats rescued people from first-floor windows. Mawney Road’s Methodist church had only recently opened. Floods covered the pews. Three feet of water destroyed stock in South Street shops, including a supply of cakes specially baked for a St Edward’s school treat. Pavements were ripped up as far as the station. The railway line channelled water into Junction Road. In Eastern Road, a brick wall was washed away.
Homes around Woodlands Road in Harold Wood were inundated. Cocklebone bridge at Shepherds Hill had to be replaced. Paines Brook overflowed to wreck Church Road’s brickworks (now an industrial estate).
On the Hornchurch side of Upminster Bridge, the Ingrebourne carved out a five-foot deep channel. Badly damaged, the bridge was rebuilt in 1892, wider and longer.
Nowadays, you wouldn’t notice the tiny stream flowing under the main road at Gallows Corner. In 1888, it burst its banks, stranding two hay waggons near the modern Sports Ground. One caught a wheel in a hidden roadside ditch and overturned. The horse pulling the other waggon bucked in panic, upending the load backwards and leaving the poor beast dangling in the shafts. Both animals were rescued, with difficulty.
There were fears for the bridge in Oldchurch Road, after it was hammered by casks swept down from the Brewery. A few days later, it collapsed under the weight of a heavy waggon, plunging three passengers into the torrent. To add to the miseries, a sewer at Oldchurch gave way.
A massive landslide threatened the railway bridge in Upper Brentwood Road. A London-bound mail train was detained at Harold Wood for six hours while railway workers toiled to remove hundreds of tons of earth. The result of the avalanche was that the railway cutting became the broad canyon in which Gidea Park station was located in 1910.
Houses in Hornchurch village were flooded to bedroom level, but here rescuers managed to get through in carts. Misfortunes continued. In Romford, a South Street baker lit a large fire in his bread oven to dry out the premises. Some boxes caught fire, and alarmed neighbours deluged the bakery all over again. At Chelmsford, an old-timer said the 1888 floods were the worst since 1824, 64 years earlier. Remarkably, nobody was killed, although dozens of farm animals perished. A national appeal was launched to raise £40,000 to cover Romford’s losses. It could happen again.
THE ROMFORD COUPLE AND THE ABODE OF LOVE
Charles Read graduated from Cambridge (he’d rowed in the Boat Race). He made enough cash as a stockbroker to retire before he was forty. Charles and his wife Sarah Read sought religious truth. By 1886, they lived in London Road Romford, near today’s Eastbury Road. They were early supporters of the local Salvation Army, but it was not enough.
The Agapemonites were founded in 1846 by Henry Prince, a renegade clergyman. The cult emphasised the spiritual side of marriage. Prince’s followers were mainly women, who became his “spiritual brides”. In 1851, one of them had ceremonial sex with him on a billiard table, but generally they lived quietly at their Somerset commune, the Agapemone (Greek for the “Abode of Love”), where Prince declared he was immortal. After his death, he was succeeded by another cleric, J.H. Smyth-Pigott. In 1902, Smyth-Pigott caused outrage by declaring that he was God.
But for the Reads, this was just what they had been searching for. The 1901 census shows them living at Collier Row, near today’s Irons Way, employing a cook and a governess for their daughters. Soon after, they joined the Agapemone. Charles became its business manager. Eight of their nine children were alive. One daughter followed them into the cult. Perhaps Read split his fortune among the others?
One day in 1905, Mr White, the local Registrar in Bridgwater, Somerset, was summoned to the Agapemone to record a special birth. On arrival, Sarah Read told Mr White that he was to meet Smyth-Pigott or, as she put it, “be admitted to the presence of the Almighty.” Mr White found forty women assembled in a chapel. Reclining on a sofa by the altar was Miss Ruth Preece, accompanied by a baby boy dressed in robes. Smyth-Pigott identified himself and “Sister Ruth” as the parents. As there was already an official Mrs Smyth-Pigott, who didn’t seem to mind, Ruth was his “soul bride”. When asked for the child’s name, Smyth-Pigott replied “Glory”. The congregation chanted “Glory! Glory!” Mrs Read ordered Mr White to “kiss the Divinity”. It seemed prudent to comply, and Mr White duly kissed the boy.
As followers were ordered to hand over their worldly goods, the sect was wealthy. It invested in the V.V. Bread Company, which supplied mass-produced loaves to London shops. As shareholders, the Agapemonites had enough clout to elect Charles Read as a company director. Smyth-Pigott’s sex life proved bad for business, and V.V. Bread asked him to resign from the board. Although the Agapemonites expected the world to end at any moment, Read pleaded their right to protect their investment. A special shareholders’ meeting voted him out.
In 1908, the same parents presented Glory with a little brother, Power. Enraged by this mockery of the Lord’s Prayer, three men travelled from London to tar and feather the Divine One. In a case of mistaken identity, they attacked Read instead. The ringleader expressed regret as their victim “was so old” – Read was 58. Sarah and Charles never recovered. She died in October 1909, aged just 53. Charles Read followed four months later.
Sister Ruth kept the declining community going after Smyth-Pigott’s death in 1927. She died in 1956, and so did the Agapemonite cult.
THE MYSTERIOUS MAJOR OF WINGLETYE LANE
Major J.M. Ewing was a prominent local resident a century ago. Local historian Charles Perfect often mentioned him in his books on Hornchurch. In 1903, Ewing formed the Hornchurch company of the Church Lads' Brigade (CLB), an Anglican organisation like the Boy Scouts. Ever active, he was chairman of the Conservative Club in North Street (it's still there) and commander of the local Army Cadets. Ewing was a hard taskmaster. Perfect was the CLB's first bandmaster, but soon resigned, unable to stand the pressure. I had an image, not of “JR” in Dallas, but of Mr Mackay, the tough Scottish warder brilliantly played by namesake Fulton Mackay in Ronnie Barker's Porridge.
A Wingletye Lane resident, Major Ewing fought for local street lighting. In 1906, Hornchurch Parish Council (Havering's forerunner) had erected forty lamp standards around Emerson Park. But, through a legal quirk, local ratepayers had to give permission to connect them to the gas supply and illuminate the streets. Emerson Park people didn't get rich by paying for street lights. In 1910, two lively public meetings voted against the scheme. But Ewing was determined. In 1912, he demanded a local referendum, confident that he'd organised enough support to secure the necessary two-thirds majority. The forces of light won the poll by 89 votes to 72 – a victory, but not enough. Neighbours had promised the overbearing Major they'd vote Yes, but defied him in the secret ballot.
I knew Ewing was a Scotsman and a natty dresser (he wore tartan socks). He smoked cigarettes – the only light he managed in Emerson Park. I wondered if he'd fought in the 1879 Zulu War. When Hornchurch celebrated George V's Coronation in 1911, Ewing organised a sham battle, a Zulu War re-enactment. Made up in stove black and feathers, the Dagenham CLB performed war dances, and then the Hornchurch and Rainham boys shot them. Not my idea of a fun day out.
Ewing also sang in Haughty Cultural Crows, a local black-face minstrel group who pretended to come from the American South. (Perfect was Uncle Bones.) The Crows were both embarrassing and racist. In 1920, he became Worshipful Master of the Masonic Lodge, and Perfect recorded his full name: John Mooney Ewing. With that clue, I traced his birth on the Internet – in Edinburgh in December 1870. His father was an Orkneyman, his mother from Banff – so he was not, as Perfect assumed, a Highlander.
That meant Ewing was only 32 when he formed the Hornchurch CLB – very young to be a Major. Had he achieved rapid promotion in the 1899-1902 South African War? I searched the official government publication, the London Gazette. Ewing was never “gazetted” as an Army officer. Finally, he was located in the 1911 census – as the sub-manager of an insurance company! In 1896, he'd married Mary Ellen Munro. She came from the Caribbean island of St Kitts where her father, a Scottish doctor, had worked. They had two daughters. Perhaps Ewing formed the Hornchurch CLB because he yearned for a son who didn't arrive.
Major Ewing? It was just an honorary rank in the CLB. However military his dapper bearing, John Mooney Ewing was never one of Queen Victoria's soldiers.
LOCAL POLITICIANS TRADE CORRUPTION CHARGES – 100 YEARS AGO!
People complain about politics. There's too much sordid squabbling, too many strident allegations. Politics wasn't like that in earlier times, when Britain was led by statesmen like Mr Gladstone and Sir Winston Churchill. But there was never a golden age, as a row between local politicians in 1910 reveals.
Romford was politically important on the national scene, because the Romford constituency was the largest by population in Britain. Created in 1885, its boundaries stretched from East Ham to Upminster, flourishing suburbs that were rapidly filling with people. By 1910, there were 53,000 voters (all male) in Romford. Colchester had just 7,000. Sir John Bethell held the seat for the Liberals, but the Conservatives ran him close.
Britain was rebuilding its Navy, constructing super-battleships called Dreadnoughts. Most were built in the North of England and on the Clyde in Scotland. But there was a struggling shipyard, Thames Ironworks, on the Lea at West Ham. As Bethell's power base lay nearby, in East Ham, he persuaded the government to give Thames Ironworks a Dreadnought contract. The shell of HMS Thunderer was launched in 1910, and floated downstream to Dagenham Dock, where it was fitted out.
In days when politicians paid their own election expenses, only a wealthy man could represent Romford. Bethell had lent the shipyard £5,000 to stave off bankruptcy, but patriotically promised that he would make no profit from the battleship. Dagenham Dock belonged to Samuel Williams and Sons. In 1906, Samuel built Upminster Court, the red-brick mansion in Hall Lane, now a training centre. His brother, Varco Williams, was a director of the company. In 1899, he bought Langtons, the handsome mansion in Billet Lane Hornchurch. A major figure in Hornchurch affairs, the fervently Tory Varco Williams was chairman of the Romford constituency Conservatives.
During the bitter January 1910 election, Varco Williams alleged that Bethell was in fact making a profit from his loan to Thames Ironworks. The equivalent of e-mail 100 years ago was the telegram. Messages were sent quickly, tapped into Morse code at one telegraph office, and instantly decoded by another operator maybe hundreds of miles away. However, unlike e-mail, telegrams were vulnerable to mistakes by the Morse code operators.
Bethell promptly sent Varco Williams a telegram denying his allegation. As a gentleman, Romford's Tory boss was bound to accept that the MP was telling the truth. He even attended two Liberal election meetings to withdraw his charges.
His own telegram of reply had accepted that the shipyard deal had not been to Bethell's “advantage”. Unluckily, an unknown telegraph operator changed this to “disadvantage”.
Bethell thought the Tory spokesman was being sarcastic. Despite the public apologies, Bethell ruthlessly sued for defamation. Although the error was not his fault, Varco Williams settled the case by paying costs and £250 damages, repeating his apologies. Sir John Bethell played political hardball.
Unfortunately, Thames Ironworks went bankrupt anyway after building HMS Thunderer. Its works football team had already re-formed, calling themselves West Ham United. But they kept their club badge, featuring two shipwrights' hammers. That's how the Hammers got their nickname.
In 1929, Varco Williams presented Langtons to Hornchurch Urban District, the forerunner of Havering Council, on condition that the mansion would always be used for the public. Today it is Havering's Register Office.
[Note: the unusual name “Varco” has Cornish origins.]
HATLESS HAWKINS DEFEATS HORNCHURCH HEAVIES
Sidney Hawkins was a Hornchurch man who defeated the local Council, and he didn't wear a hat. As a later adman's slogan put it: if you want to get ahead, get a hat. London office workers like Hawkins generally wore a bowler or a trilby. Bosses wore top hats.
Hawkins lived in Ernest Road, Emerson Park – definitely hat-wearing country. Admirers doffed their hats to his bold defiance – after all, he lacked one of his own. Hawkins was the son of a Jewish mother. Orthodox Jewish males wear hats, and Hawkins probably went bare-headed to show he had rejected her heritage.
Hornchurch was governed by a parish council, subordinate to Romford Rural District Council. In 1911, Hornchurch wanted to build the area's first council houses. The Rural District objected to the cost. Local leaders considered moving up a tier, making the parish an Urban District to escape Romford control. But Hawkins, leading the ratepayers' association, objected to the cost. Council chairman Edwin Lambert pompously refused to call a public meeting. Consultation would happen when he decided. But Hawkins wrong-footed Lambert by requisitioning a meeting. Lambert now called his own public meeting. Hornchurch went from no public consultation to two raucous gatherings.
At the first meeting, Hawkins delivered a knockabout speech, alleging that the only motive for an Urban District was “swank”, to make Councillors feel more important. Misjudging the mood, one Councillor talked down to the audience, explaining why it was good for them to pay higher rates. When he quoted a Latin tag, there was an explosion of derision. Amid shouts of “au revoir” (goodbye), some asked why he was speaking a foreign language, others ironically pleaded they were too ignorant to understand. Hawkins rose again to mock the Councillors with a medley of phrases like “Nil desperandum!” (never despair) and “Ici on parle francais” (French spoken here). At ten o'clock, he shouted “tempus fugit!” (times flies). The crowd dispersed, ready for Round Two.
Determined to suppress dissent at his meeting, Lambert ordered a clerk to read a long statement of official policy. When the audience shouted down the official with sarcastic demands for a Latin translation, he took over the document himself. Order was restored by a devastating comment from Joseph Broodbank, a prominent Harold Wood resident, who would be knighted in 1917 for vital War work. “I think we shall save time if we allow this ridiculous document to be read,” he told the hecklers. Lambert thanked him with angry sarcasm, but he had lost control of the proceedings. His proposal for a six-month deferment of any decision was rejected. Hawkins forced a vote, which rejected the Urban District. The meeting broke up in disorder.
A local poll followed: No scored 465 votes against a mere 112 for Yes. Most ratepayers did not bother to vote. Hornchurch became an Urban District in 1926. In 1934 it swallowed Rainham, Upminster and Cranham. In 1965, Hornchurch became part of Havering.
By 1914, hatless Hawkins lived in Rockingham Avenue, off Osborne Road, Hornchurch's longest cul-de-sac. In the First World War, he joined the Hornchurch Volunteers, forerunners of the Home Guard. Typically, he became Sergeant Bugler in its brass band. Maybe they made him wear a cap.
MARAUDING MONSTER DESTROYED BY HORNCHURCH PILOT
In 1915, Britain was attacked by German airships. The hated “baby killers” ranged at will dropping their bombs. London was defended by hastily created fighter stations, like Suttons Farm in Hornchurch, and a ring of anti-aircraft batteries. But, by mid-September 1916, only two of the monsters had been downed. Purfleet's munitions store was surrounded by protective batteries. In March 1916, gunners on Rainham marshes hit Zeppelin L15. It crash-landed into the sea off Margate. Then, on 3 September, using newly invented exploding bullets, Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson from Suttons Farm destroyed a raider over Hertfordshire. His victim was a Schutte-Lanz airship. Smaller than the Zeppelin, its light frame was made of easily inflammable plywood.
The huge “Zepps” still seemed arrogantly untouchable. With cigar-shaped hydrogen-filled cylinders five football pitches long, they were a terrifying sight, visible for miles. The crew were packed in a “gondola” (i.e. a capsule) slung beneath. Powered by six giant engines, Zeppelins could fly at 60 mph and soar to 13,000 feet.
The tide turned on Saturday 23 September 1916. Three Zeppelins attacked London around midnight. One targeted Suttons Farm, but five of its six bombs fell in fields – Elm Park had not yet been built. Around 1 a.m., Zeppelin L32 unloaded its bombs near Purfleet and turned towards Germany. Possibly it was damaged (and slowed down) by anti-aircraft fire. After hearing its engines overhead, Hornchurch local historian Charles Perfect saw the Zeppelin caught by searchlights in clouds north of Upminster.
L32 had also been spotted by Suttons Farm pilot Frederick Sowrey, patrolling over London. His BE2C biplane could reach 90 mph, but Sowrey had to climb 5,000 feet to attack. His closing speed was agonising slow. Somewhere over Great Warley, he launched two attacks from below. But Sowrey's machine-gun bullets bounced off the Zeppelin's tough underbelly.
Leaving the BE2C to fly itself, Sowrey reloaded his Lewis gun, this time with exploding ammunition. Disappointed, Perfect watched the escaping airship soar to shake off the pesky fighter. But, suddenly, there was “small red light” followed by a crimson glow, highlighting the dark outline of an aeroplane in free fall, as Sowrey dived to avoid the inferno.
In Hornchurch, there was “a tremendous roar of exultation”. Spectators “went almost wild with delight”. At Herongate, near Brentwood, the village bobby heard the Germans screaming as they jettisoned equipment from the plunging Zeppelin, scaring horses in Thorndon Park. Shortly before it crashed near Billericay, eighteen crew members jumped to their deaths. They carried no parachutes.
When a plane was heard landing at Suttons Farm, Hornchurch people hoped one of “their” pilots had “done the trick”. At 2.30 a.m., headlights were seen on Suttons Lane. It was Leefe Robinson's open-topped motor car, packed with pilots, carrying the hero to the scene of his kill. Waves of cheers followed them through Hornchurch.
When they reached Billericay, Sowrey had to talk his way through a military cordon urgently mobilised to fend off thousands of souvenir hunters. The Zeppelin commander had hit a ploughed field. Onlookers ghoulishly mocked the impression of his corpse in the soft soil.
The bodies were buried at Great Burstead. In 1962, they were moved to a war cemetery in Cannock Chase. Zeppelin attacks ceased soon after Sowrey's exploit.
SCOUNDREL BREAKS HORNCHURCH GIRL'S HEART
First World War soldiers were not all heroes. William Geer joined the Army shortly before the 1914 war broke out. An “electrical wireman”, he was just the man to lay telegraph cables in France. Unfortunately, the Army didn't operate logically. Geer became a cook at Hornchurch's Grey Towers camp. The military base was overflowing, so he was billeted nearby.
24 year-old Lydia Newman had been working in Westcliff, but returned to Hornchurch to help her widowed mother in December 1915. Lydia's brothers were in the Army, so Mrs Newman could take a lodger in their High Street cottage. Wartime romances happened fast. Soon, Lydia was engaged to William, and preparing to marry him. Although it was never confirmed, she was probably already pregnant.
Disaster struck in a tragic week in April 1916. Geer was arrested, probably for pilfering. With food scarce and expensive, Army caterers were sometimes tempted to steal supplies. Lydia visited Geer at Romford police station on the Tuesday. “She seemed desperately fond of him,” a police officer later commented. Then Geer confessed a dreadful secret. He was already married.
Had he joined the Army to escape a failed relationship? But he was in touch with his wife, Millie, at their home in Plumstead. Lydia threatened suicide. Geer pleaded with her: “If anything happens I will put a bullet through my head.” On the Friday, Lydia travelled to Plumstead. Millie Geer was probably at work, but Lydia tracked down her father who confirmed that Geer was his son-in-law. Millie herself came over to Hornchurch on Sunday, but by then it was too late.
“Goodbye, Mum,” Lydia had said on Saturday morning, explaining that she was going to visit a friend and would be back about twelve-thirty. She never returned. Somewhere south of Hornchurch station, Lydia probably took the path across the fields to the Ingrebourne. There, on Saturday afternoon, a boy called Fred Morgan found her hat, gloves and handkerchief neatly piled on the riverbank. The Ingrebourne was swollen by spring rains. Her body was floating 170 yards downstream. Young Fred ran to nearby cottages, where he found Francis Tapp, a visitor from Forest Gate. Tapp was praised for pulling Lydia's body from the river. He tried artificial respiration, but the rescue was hours too late. A round Lydia's neck hung a locket, containing two photographs. One was of herself. Mrs Newman identified the other as Geer.
The Coroner said there was no point in summoning Geer to give evidence. “He could not improve matters, and he could only be brought there for the purpose of being censured.” The inquest jury suggested a verdict of “found drowned”, adding that Lydia was “of unsound mind.” That sounds cruel, but they aimed to ensure that her body would receive a religious funeral. Churches frowned on suicide. However, the Coroner disallowed their formula. He told the jury that if they returned an open verdict, no question of mental health arose. So the jurors voted for “found drowned” and expressed their sympathy. The Newmans were popular in Hornchurch. One of Lydia's brothers had been the village postman. The brothers made it through the fighting. But Lydia Newman was the family's First World War casualty.
NATIONAL HERO AND ROMFORD TEENAGER DIED IN WARSHIP TRAGEDY 100 YEARS AGO
When war was declared against Germany in 1914, Britain’s cabinet knew nothing about military matters. To fill the gap, they made the country’s greatest soldier minister for war.
Famed for his black moustaches, Field Marshal Herbert Kitchener, Earl Kitchener of Khartoum, announced that the fighting would last three years and that Britain needed millions of soldiers. Within months, he had triumphantly recruited a massive army. A famous poster showed Kitchener’s stern face and pointed finger. The message read: “Your Country Needs You.”
Sadly, by 1916, Kitchener had become a liability. He couldn’t work with politicians, and he squabbled with other generals. But how could you sack a national icon? The politicians decided to send him on a special mission to Britain’s ally, Russia. The hopeless government of Tsar Nicholas was losing the war and heading for revolution. Maybe Kitchener could help them? On 5 June 1916, Kitchener sailed from Scotland on HMS Hampshire.
Also on board was a Romford teenager. The two shared a name, but nothing else. Born late in 1898, Herbert Hills was the son of a Collier Row plasterer. His mother, Alice, came from Stapleford Abbots. She was 18 when Herbert was born. In 1901, they lived in Slewins Lane, Hornchurch, at the corner with Butts Green Road. By 1911, now with five children, the Hills family had moved to Romford’s Milton Road, a back street off Victoria Road. Young Herbert probably attended Albert Road School, which later moved round the corner and was renamed Manor Primary. The old buildings are now Romford’s Century Youth House.
On his thirteenth birthday, Herbert joined the Royal Navy. But his schooling had already finished. He’d been working in a “Cloth Factory” – probably the Great Eastern Railway works near Ardleigh Green, which manufactured tarpaulins to cover goods wagons. The buildings, beside the railway, are now flats. Herbert was sent to a training ship, HMS Impregnable, moored at Plymouth. A wooden sailing vessel, Impregnable’s black timbers were later used to build Liberty’s mock-Tudor store in London’s West End.
Aged 13, Herbert Hills was five foot tall, slender, with fair hair, blue eyes and a scar down the left side of his nose. What was the mystery behind the scar – a fight, an accident at work? In May 1915, he became a stoker on HMS Hampshire, which escorted merchant shipping to the Russian port of Archangel. As her crew knew the Arctic waters of the White Sea, Hampshire was chosen to take Kitchener to Russia.
June 5th 1916 was a stormy day off northern Scotland. That seemed a blessing in disguise. Even if there were German submarines about, they could not fire torpedoes through the heaving waves. Hampshire sailed past Orkney at full speed. Nobody knew that a U-boat had planted mines a week earlier. But mines were small and the ocean was vast. It would bad luck if Hampshire struck one – but she did. At 19.40, there was a shuddering explosion. The stricken warship keeled to starboard, smashing her lifeboats in the heavy seas. HMS Hampshire sank within fifteen minutes. Around 700 men (exact figures vary) were lost. Twelve sailors scrambled ashore on Orkney. National hero Herbert Kitchener, aged 65, and Romford youngster Herbert Hills, just 17, were both drowned. The Navy notified Alice Hills that her son’s body could not be found.
THE ANGRY RECTOR AND THE CRANHAM MAY FESTIVAL
“This meeting is the most egregious example of unbridled impudence I have ever heard of in my life.” Facing his parishioners, the Rector of Cranham, the Reverend Leslie St Aubyn Wright, Doctor of Divinity, was very angry that summer night in 1926.
Cranham’s May Day festival had originated in 1919. It was inspired by the romantic Victorian thinker John Ruskin, who wanted to revive medieval customs. The Cranham celebration was held not on May the first, but on the last Saturday of the month, when the weather was usually good. It was “glorious” in 1926, “splendid” in 1928.
The Cranham May Day was harmless fun – sports, children’s games, dancing round the maypole. Everybody supported it – except the Reverend Leslie Wright. The celebration included a procession to the church, where the May Queen laid flowers under the War Memorial window as a tribute to Cranham men killed in the 1914-18 conflict. This vaguely pagan ceremony took place in the church but was not controlled by the Rector. He didn’t like that.
In 1926, Rector Wright slammed the May Day festival in the local press. In his view, that was the end of the matter. He had spoken. But the outgoing May Queen, young schoolteacher Sylvia Thorogood, organised a parish meeting to rebut his criticism. Rector Wright was outraged. A “young, unmarried woman” had taken it upon herself to call him to account!
“As the parish priest I am the divinely appointed custodian of right and wrong in the parish,” he told the gathering of fifty locals. “Cranham wants a tight hand, like a young woman,” he added provocatively. “If young women do not get it they make themselves look foolish, as Miss Thorogood has done tonight. As rector I will be master in my own sphere.” Boldly, Miss Thorogood replied, criticising the Rector for insulting the May Day festival. When the meeting voted in her support, Wright alleged it had been packed.
The May Day festival was held in a field opposite Cranham primary school, which made a convenient headquarters. But the school was under Anglican control. In 1927, the rector barred the committee from using its facilities unless they apologised to him personally. They refused. Wright’s hostility forced the committee to hire a marquee and a piano for the celebration. By 1929, they were in debt – only £16, but enough to threaten the future of the event. The committee proposed to reorganise as the Cranham Peace Society. They invited the residents’ association and the church each to send three delegates to discuss the plan.
Rector Wright refused to negotiate. Instead, he demanded a fourteen-member committee, half of whom he would appoint. In addition, he would be permanent chairman – controlling the event with a built-in 8-7 majority. As one resident bitterly put it, the Rector was saying: “You are going to play in my back yard. I am going to make the rules. I am going to be captain of the team or I don’t play at all.” Sexist and imperious, Reverend Leslie Wright succeeded in killing Cranham’s pleasant annual festival, with its gentle tribute to local War victims. The divinely appointed custodian had made himself master of his parish.
HOW HAVERING WAS BOMBED IN WORLD WAR TWO
World War Two bombs killed 293 Havering people. They are listed in Peter Watt's excellent book, Hitler V. Havering. The worst periods were the 1940-1 Blitz, and the 1944-45 V1 cruise missile and V2 rocket campaigns.
Hitler failed to develop a heavy bomber, preferring more mobile smaller aircraft to help his army scatter Polish and French forces. The Heinkel He-111, which most often attacked Havering, carried only one quarter of the load of the RAF's Lancaster bomber, which later pulverised Germany. The Luftwaffe simply could not drop enough high-explosives to flatten British cities.
Fire raids, caused by incendiary bombs, offered their most effective strategy. But fire-bomb attacks worked best on closely packed city centres, as at Coventry in November 1940 and in the City of London on 29 December that year. Romford, Havering's capital, was a low density town seventy years ago. Not until Havering's last major air raid, in March 1944, was there a risk of a fire storm, as incendiaries rained down from Pettits Lane to Cottons Recreation Ground. That night, Parklands School and C.H. Allen's garage were destroyed.
World War Two was fought before the era of smart bombs, which pinpoint precise targets. The Germans used radio beams to guide aircraft on major raids, but most attacks still depended on split-second human judgement. The Heinkel He-111 flew at 270 mph and could reach the cruising height of a short-haul airliner. Cloud cover often masked targets.
As bombs drop, they are thrown forward by the aircraft's momentum. (This is why footage taken from an aeroplane of bombs falling seems to show them dropping vertically.) From 10,000 feet at 270 mph, a bomb must be released 1.7 miles short to hit a target. Imagine a five-man crew, crammed into a small bomber, aiming for Hornchurch aerodrome. They're flying at four and a half miles a minute – dodging anti-aircraft fire and in terror of Spitfires. Accuracy was impossible.
On the afternoon of August 24th 1940, Heinkels attacked RAF Hornchurch from the north. Bombs fell in a four-mile corridor, from Minster Way, off Wingletye Lane, to Cherry Tree Lane and Edmund Road in South Hornchurch, and in Rainham's Briscoe Road and Glenwood avenue. Most missed the airfield. Six Spitfires were destroyed in a lunchtime raid on August 30th – but few of the eighty bombs dropped hit the aerodrome. The worst damage was three miles away, in Park Lane Hornchurch and around Randall Road in Romford – an error of 45 seconds flying time.
Havering had some advantages. The area was rarely directly targeted: the Luftwaffe followed the Thames to attack central London and the docks. Then as now, much of the Borough was parkland and farms. The two largest bombs to hit Havering, each containing over two tons of explosives, fell at North Ockendon in January 1944. They destroyed a haystack.
Many bombs failed to explode. Hawthorn Avenue Rainham sat on a huge “UXB” for two years. It had sunk into the soft earth and nobody knew it was there. Eventually, a bomb disposal squad located the monster. Sadly, two sightseers were killed when it blew up. The firebomb raid on Upminster in February 1944 was a poignant episode. Over 700 incendiary bombs failed to explode. Their triggers had been installed upside down, a brave act of sabotage by slave workers in Nazi armaments factories.
CELEBS HAVE SUNNY HAVERING MEMORIES
He remembers lying in his pram in a Romford back garden, looking up at the sunlight streaming through the branches of a pear tree, as petals fell through the air. It must have been May, when he was barely a year old. She recalls an image from a Hornchurch garden, the pink ears of her pet rabbit set against a very blue sky. It's unusual to remember such early incidents, but two celebrities retain sunny memories of Havering childhood.
TV presenter Richard Madeley, the bouncy half of Richard and Judy, grew up a few doors from Rush Green Primary School. In 1962-3, Britain experienced a severe winter. Many children could not even get to school, but Richard struggled in and received weeks of one-to-one tutoring. Aged 11, he won a place at Coopers' Company School. In 1971-3, Coopers' and girls' school Coborn relocated to Upminster. But in Richard's time, attending Coopers' meant a daily journey to Mile End. His experience was not good. The teaching did not inspire and he admits he was lazy. Worse still, relations between the East End boys and the Essex commuters were bad.
When Richard was 14, the Madeleys moved to Brentwood, and he switched to Shenfield High School. He was coasting towards disaster in his O-levels when one teacher gave him a pep talk. He was bright, Richard was told, but he needed to get a grip and do some work. Out in the real world, nobody would offer him a safety net. Richard Madeley smartened up, passed his O-levels and – arguably – he's been driving himself ever since.
It's surprising to learn that writer Jilly Cooper was born in Osborne Road, Hornchurch. Her popular novels are set in the Shires, a world of hunting, shooting and fornication. Jilly's father worked at Ford's in nearby Dagenham. When war broke out in 1939, he joined the Army, and Jilly's mother took the two year-old to the safety of Yorkshire. That glimpse of the white rabbit with the shining pink ears was her clearest memory of those days. She thinks of Hornchurch as a place where the sun always shone. Years later, at her Gloucestershire home, she adopted William, a rescue dog of mixed Labrador and everything else ancestry. He'd been abandoned in Essex. William, she said, was “a real Essex personality,” the canine equivalent of the archetypal Essex Man.
It's an indoor connection that forever links Steve Davis with Romford. Aged 18, his talent with the cue ball was spotted at the Snooker Club in Arcade Place, off South Street. The six-times world champion never looked back.In fact, Steve, born in 1957, spent his early life in south-east London. In 2011, he said he felt he belonged more to Brentwood, the headquarters of his business interests. But Steve Davis has kept his Romford links, returning to support good causes. He has a special relationship with Havering-atte-Bower. In 2012, he played a charity match to raise money for the St Francis hospice in Broxhill Road. “In an area where we have kids hanging around street corners, the chance to play snooker is a great thing,” he told the Recorder. “Everyone should be a member of a club and have that common interest.”
PEOPLE FROM HAVERING'S PAST I'D LIKE TO MEET
Sometimes as I study Havering's history, I come across people I'd like to meet. Matthew Fisher and Elizabeth Grene sound a fun couple. Relaxing with friends one day in 1586 – I suspect it was in Romford town – they decided to slip out into the garden and get to know one another better. Delighted party-goers watched them “committing naughtiness together”. The Church disapproved of illicit sex. The couple were prosecuted, on the solemn allegation that “the said Fisher had the carnal knowledge of the said Elizabeth”. I expect they were ordered to get married, which seems an odd punishment.
James Wilson was “corpulent butcher” and Romford eccentric. He arrived early at St Edward's church on Sunday mornings, entertaining the congregation by singing psalms before the service started. He was an artistic penman. In his butcher's bill, he would use Germanic script for the first line, Roman lettering for the second, then italic and so on – like fonts on a modern laptop. James Wilson was “much respected for his integrity and genuineness of manners”, but his eating habits were bizarre. He took his meals walking the streets of Romford, a joint of cold meat in one hand, a loaf and a bread knife balanced in the other. A lump of salt jammed in the crook of his elbow completed the menu. Ugh! Wilson died in 1799.
Elizabeth Balls must have been Havering's first animal welfare enthusiast. Aged about 60 in 1815, she had a private income but was believed to have been scarred by an unhappy romance. Miss Balls lived as a recluse in a cottage at Havering-atte-Bower. Rejecting people, she found companionship with goats, who shared her small cottage. In 1815, she lived with fourteen goats, two sheep, seventeen chickens and a dog. She also kept a horse and regularly drove a small cart to Romford market to buy hay for her “family”. Sometimes as many as fifty goats lived with her. Twice a year, a cleaner shovelled the muck out of her home. I'd love to have asked her about her unhappy life – so long as I could call immediately after the twice-yearly spring clean.
John Wiseman, the curate at Havering-atte-Bower, never managed a glittering career as a clergyman. The vicar of Havering was so badly paid that he didn't bother to live locally. Wiseman, the stand-in ecclesiastical odd-job man, must have been very poor indeed. John Wiseman worked until his death, aged 76 in 1835. To make ends meet, he also served as curate in Romford and at Navestock. With a large family to support, he rented a farm at Noak Hill as well. Wiseman was a typically outspoken Yorkshireman. “He honoured not the rich on account of their riches, nor despised the poor on account of their poverty.” Splendid sentiments! Unfortunately the rich ran the Church of England, and his attitude probably explains his failure to net a well-paid job. Wiseman boasted that he could preach a sermon, plough an acre of land, and drink a bottle of wine with any man in England. I wouldn't compete with him on the preaching or the ploughing, but I'd be happy to meet him over the bottle of wine.