Havering History Cameos: Third Series (2016-2017)

This file is a further continuation of the weekly local heritage columns contributed to the Romford Recorder

...

and e-published as Havering History Cameos in:

http://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/235-havering-history-cameos

and as:

http://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/239-more-havering-history-cameos

These columns appeared between June 2016 and December 2017. Once again, I repeat my appreciation to the Romford Recorder for supporting this weekly feature.

Ged Martin, County Waterford, 22 March 2018

HAVERING HISTORY CAMEOS THIRD SERIES (JUNE 2016-DECEMBER 2017)

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GOING "UP WEST"? THAT'S NOT BAD ENGLISH, IT'S OLD ENGLISH

Going Up West this weekend – for a night of fun in Soho or Oxford Street? Please!! That's how they talk in East Enders. "Up West" is terrible English! In fact, "up" is a form of speech used around Havering for a thousand years.

When the author of Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe, visited the Essex in 1722, he found that ague, a form of malaria, was endemic in the marshes, and often fatal. The locals had immunity against the disease, but when they imported brides from higher ground, their wives sickened and died. "We go to the uplands again, and fetch another," explained one joker.

Brentwood town was squeezed into one corner of the large parish of South Weald. For administrative purposes, the parish was split into two –  the "Hamlet" (Brentwood) and the "Uplands" (Brook Street, Coxtie Green and Pilgrims Hatch). It was odd terminology. At 365 feet above sea level, Brentwood was higher than the "Uplands"!

In Newham, Upton was a township slightly higher than the marshland. It was West Ham's football ground for a century. Upney in Barking was an island in the marshes. Ilford had an Uphall.

The powerful monks of Waltham Abbey once controlled their own "shire", a county within Essex. A charter of 1108 called it "Waltamscire". The shire is remembered in the name a village near Epping, Upshire.

Locally, a Collier Row mansion was called Uphavering. First mentioned in 1202, it stood near the junction with Hog Hill Road. Around 1467 it was purchased by John Gobyon, and "Gobions" gradually replaced Uphavering.  The old house was demolished in 1880, but the name Gobions was later used for a now-closed primary school at Chase Cross.

Havering's best known – and most mysterious – example is Upminster. It's first recorded as "Upmynstre" in 1062. The French clerks who compiled Domesday Book in 1086 called it "Upmonstra". The name is so familiar, we never ask how it came about.

The words minster (meaning an early church) and monastery have a common origin, so Upminster could have been the oldest local church, or a religious community. Southminster, on the Essex marshes, was south of the ancient church at Bradwell. Westminster is west of the City of London. Upminster was probably named by Rainham people, as to them it was on higher ground.

But where was the minster? Upminster Hall (now the Golf Club) later belonged to Waltham Abbey. This may be a clue. Skeletons were found in the Hall gardens during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Archaeologists have excavated a Saxon monastery at Nazeing, near Epping, which also belonged to Waltham Abbey. It's thought that Nazeing was destroyed by Danish raiders. The Danes based themselves at South Benfleet in 894. Violent heathens, they didn't like monks.

Another clue may be the dedication of Upminster's parish church, to St Laurence. Legend says poor old Laurence was martyred by being cooked on a gridiron. Were the monks of the minster "up" from Rainham burnt to death by cruel Danish raiders?

Alas, we'll never know.

If you're going Up West this weekend, you're not talking slang, or Cockney, or Estuary. "Up West" is a form of English that's a thousand years old in Havering.

HAVERING AND THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS

Battle of Hastings, 1066. It's the one date everybody's supposed to know. Friday 14 October marks 950 years since the battle that changed English history.

The crisis of 1066 began when the old king, Edward the Confessor, died without leaving a son. Legend made him into a saint – remembered in two Romford churches – who retreated to the royal palace at Havering-atte-Bower. There, it's claimed, he prayed to get rid of the noisy nightingales that disturbed his devotions. They never sang at Havering again.

But Domesday Book, drawn up in 1086, records that the Confessor had given Havering to his pushy subject, Earl Harold of Wessex. Harold also owned South Weald and part of Upminster, which he presented to Waltham Abbey in 1062.

The rules of succession to the English throne were fluid. Earl Harold crowned himself king the day after Edward's death, claiming the Confessor had appointed him. But Duke William of Normandy insisted he'd been promised the Crown. King Harald of Norway also made a claim.

In September, a Norwegian army invaded Yorkshire, but Harold defeated Harald at the Battle of Stamford Bridge (not the football ground). Harold's brother, Tostig, backed the Norwegians – nice crowd, weren't they?

Harold's army then marched south, to confront William at Hastings, where mounted Norman knights overwhelmed the Saxons fighting on foot. Harold was killed by an arrow – probably the origin of our phrase, "getting one in the eye".

Now the Conqueror, William grabbed the whole of England, gifting estates ("manors") to his followers. We know the names of some of the Saxons who lost their property. Sweyn the Swarthy had owned much of Upminster. He probably had a five o'clock shadow. Alwin lost his Cranham home. Lefstan the Reeve was driven out of Rainham, where Berwick Farm had belonged to Aluard.  Alsi – a "free man" not a peasant – lost a Rainham estate later called South Hall, remembered in South Hall Road.

They were replaced by invaders like Walter of Douai in Upminster, and the odious Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, who'd swung a heavy club in the fight at Hastings. Clergy weren't allowed to draw blood with swords, but they could bash Saxon skulls.

William himself held the manor of Havering, the modern borough west of the Ingrebourne. He also briefly owned North Ockendon. The Conqueror wanted to build a fortress to control the Thames valley, and a hill at Windsor seemed the best location. Windsor belonged to Westminster Abbey. Around 1075, William ordered the monks to exchange it for North Ockendon. A Havering land swap made Windsor Castle possible.

I'm sure Havering's Saxon inhabitants hated the invaders. In 1086, locals reported that the manor could pay taxes of £40 a year (a huge sum), but the Normans were extorting £80, plus another £10 in "gifts". Norman kings enjoyed the royal hunting ground that stretched from Collier Row across to Straight Road. Locals still thought of it as Harold's property. In 1618, the area was called "Horrolds Wood". In 1868, the name was moved to the east, used to promote a new railway station and housing development in Gubbins Lane.

To this day, the name Harold Wood recalls how Havering people defied William the Conqueror and his thuggish Norman crew.

750-YEAR-OLD HORNCHURCH BULLION ROBBERY REVEALED

It was an August day in 1938. Workmen were widening the road from Hornchurch to Upminster. Digging opposite St Andrew's church, they spotted silver coins glinting in the clay. Next day, more were found. There were 448 of them, from the reign of King Henry III.

The coins came from the site of Hornchurch Priory. Unlike an inward-looking monastery with its abbot and monks, this was a community of canons ("brethren") whose job was to pray in the church across the road.  

The Hornchurch brethren were French. That seemed to explain why the coins had been buried. Forcing a civil war in 1264-65, a nobleman called Simon de Montfort challenged Henry III's unpopular French advisers, notably Peter of Savoy. Although French himself, de Montfort stirred English resentment against foreign influence. Fearing attack, it seemed the canons had buried their cash for security.

But why hide the coins beside a road – and in a hole only 18 inches deep? And why did they never dig up their money when quieter times returned? Richard de St Sulpice, Master of Hornchurch Priory from 1257 until 1281, had plenty of time to recover the priory's treasure, or to tell his brethren where it was hidden.

I believe the Hornchurch coin hoard tells us about a burglary, an insider job that went wrong.

You didn't get much sleep in the religious life. Canons attended half a dozen services every day. At midnight and again before dawn, the black-robed brethren would walk in procession to chant their prayers in St Andrew's church.

Somebody working at the priory must have discovered where the holy men stored their cash (there were no banks in those days). The canons' absence at prayer gave just enough time for Stage One of the heist. The coins were probably scooped into a couple of sacks, which had rotted long before 1938.  

But there wasn't enough time to get the loot safely away.  So it was buried, in a shallow hole, quickly dug beside the road where it could be recovered later. But something went wrong. Stage Two of the daring crime never happened.

Maybe the burglary was discovered right away – and the obvious suspect promptly hanged for theft. Havering conducted executions at Gallows Corner. In 1285, the priory claimed the right to its own gallows at Suttons. Hanging people was easy.

Perhaps the offender fled, and never dared return. Maybe he failed to remember precisely where he'd buried the sacks that dark night. We'll never know.

We can even narrow down the date of the crime. A new "moneyer" (coin-maker) took over a London mint in May 1260. The hoard contained just one of his coins. In July 1261, the king exempted Hornchurch priory from paying tax – a sign that the brethren were hard up. That dates the theft to the winter of 1260-1.

The crime was a terrible blow. Peter of Savoy gave Hornchurch Priory a valuable London property. In 1270, the brethren were forced to sell it. The Savoy Hotel occupies the site.

Poverty dogged the small priory until it was closed in 1391. Ironically, the stolen treasure was there all the time, under the feet of the holy men as they made their stately way to prayer. 

WHERE WAS ABENHATCH?

The Abenhatch family were prominent in Havering during the Middle Ages, from Thomas of Abbenhache around 1200 to Walter of Habenhatche who sold up around 1321. The name had many spellings but was evidently pronounced with a short A.

Where was Abenhatch? A hatch was a gate controlling cattle, usually entering a forest. Local examples include Pilgrims Hatch and Kelvedon Hatch near Brentwood and Aldborough Hatch at Ilford.

Surnames often indicated place of origin. Thomas of Dagenham was active locally from 1285 to 1306. His farm, near Harold Hill, became Dagnam Park. Bedfords Park in north Romford and Dovers roundabout in South Hornchurch recall incomers from distant towns. But there was no town or village called Abenhatch.

Surnames were not hereditary: Richard of Havering was the son of Richard of the Elms (Nelmes in Emerson Park). The Abenhatch surname continued through several generations, suggesting it referred to somewhere local.

A document of 1355 reported that Gidea Hall had once belonged to John of Abenache. The Gidea Hall estate was one of the largest in Havering. It extended from Raphael Park to Gallows Corner. Its northern boundary (roughly) followed the modern A12 Eastern Avenue.

Nicholas Redynges bought Walter's estate around 1321. He promised to maintain a cattle-proof hedge separating his land from Risebridge Farm (now a golf course) and "the King's wood called Horoldswode" – common land west of Straight Road, enclosed in 1814. This confirms that that Redynges had purchased the Gidea Hall estate.

Gidea Hall stood just east of Raphael Park. It was demolished in 1930. The name Gidea Hall is a mystery. It's first mentioned in 1251 as the home of Simon of "Gidiehulle" – probably an alias for Simon of Abenhatch. Giddy Hall seems to have been a nickname. With so much land, the Abenhatch family was wealthy. Simon, who died in 1307, owned extensive property in London.

The Abenhatch house would have been a big one. Sometime in the Middle Ages, people began to build two-storey houses.  Those surviving from the fifteenth century usually have an overhanging upper floor, convenient for throwing out slops in the days before bathrooms. You can see this in the Church House, dating from around 1480, next to St Edward's in Romford Market, or at Upminster Hall. Perhaps the Abenhatch hall was the first double-decker building Havering peasants had seen. Maybe they joked that the monster mansion would topple over – the Giddy Hall.

By 1777, an alternative spelling, Gidea Hall, masked the original joke name. Whatever its origins, Gidea Hall was so prominent that it blotted out Abenhatch as a place, especially after the family bearing that surname vanished from Havering after 1321.

Abenhatch wasn't written down until about 1200, so its meaning isn't obvious. Comparison with similar names suggests it recalled a Saxon owner. Abberton near Colchester, recorded earlier, was named after a woman called Eadburg.Saxon names went out of fashion after the 1066 Norman Conquest. By 1200 they were forgotten. Maybe one of Havering's Saxon pioneers, Eadburg or Eadbert or Eadbald, once owned a gate entering the forest. We'll never know.

But, 700 years ago, Abenhatch was almost certainly the name for Gidea Park north of the A118 Main Road.

SUTTONS – ANCIENT PLACE NAME WITH A PHONEY EXTRA LETTER

When Suttons Primary School moved into new buildings in 2016, it carried forward one of Hornchurch's oldest place names. But that final letter S is a 600 year-old mistake.

The story starts in 1158. Henry II founded a priory at Hornchurch, giving it land called "Sutton".  The Old English word "tun" meant an enclosure. It's given us our modern terms "township" and "town", but in Dutch, a closely related language, "tuin" means "garden".

Sutton was Hornchurch's southern enclosure.

When surnames began, people were often named after the place where they lived. By a backwards process, the farm owned by people named Sutton became known as Suttons.

The key person here was probably a local man called Nicholas of St Remigius, also known as Nicholas Sutton. He witnessed documents in 1391 when the Priory closed and its lands passed to New College Oxford.  That final S is a mistake, but as it's 600 years old, we're stuck with it!

Suttons Farm stood a mile south of Hornchurch. Suttons Lane terminated at the farm, but in recent years it's been extended into Airfield Way. Conifers were often planted to shelter farmyards. Three pine trees in Hornchurch Country Park near the Airfield Way bend probably recall Suttons Farm. In 1777, there was a fine avenue of trees from the site of Hornchurch Station south to today's St George's Hospital. The farm was demolished about 1934 – by coincidence, the year Suttons Primary started.

With around 400 acres, Suttons was one of the largest farms in Havering. Its size and flat fields made it ideal for the air base established in 1915. This later became RAF Hornchurch.

Suttons was run as a separate manor within Havering. In 1285, the Priory even claimed the right to hang local criminals. It was the first farm in Havering to specialise in dairy production. When the Priory leased Suttons in 1384 to a local couple, William and Dyonisia atte Lake, the annual rent included a giant cheese. Around 1400, New College Oxford invested heavily in equipment for cheese making. Suttons Farm was Havering's first factory.

John Wattes, who took over Suttons in 1474, was one of Havering's leading citizens. But he found himself prosecuted heresy ten years later for commenting that "it would be better if there were no priests in the world."

The northern stretch of Suttons Lane was renamed Station Lane after the railway arrived in 1885, but the area was still thought of as part of Suttons. Until about 1840, there was a gate across the road, south of Ravenscourt Grove, probably to control cattle. It gave its name to a handsome mansion, Suttons Gate, demolished in 1936 to build Cumberland Avenue.

Most Hornchurch streets were laid out in the fields by developers, but Suttons Lane and Suttons Gardens preserve an ancient link road across to Abbs Cross Lane. It was called Cobbeslane in 1297, but this time the S disappeared. By 1318, it was simply Cobbelane. By the 19th-century, it was so overhung with trees that maps called it Blind Lane. 20th-century builders straightened and widened Suttons Lane, but Suttons Gardens preserves the track's narrow wiggles.

Good luck to Suttons Primary as it takes an ancient name into a new home!

DEER IN HAVERING

Centuries ago, there were probably more deer than people in Havering. Most lived in the grounds of the royal palace at Havering-atte-Bower, about four times the area of today's Country Park. In 1352, the park could support 500 deer. By the 17th century, the estimate was 1,200.

Monarchs used their Havering estate to grant favours. Around 1,400 deer were killed to make gifts of venison between 1230 and 1259. In 1238, 120 deer were sent as a gift to the Count of Flanders, in modern Belgium, in specially built cages. As late as 1621, a buck was presented to the French ambassador.

Outside the park, deer also roamed the woodlands that stretched across the north of the modern Borough. In 1225, the Sheriff of Essex was ordered to organise men to drive wild deer into the royal park. You can imagine grumbling peasants forming a cordon as they swept Collier Row to shoo wild deer towards the Palace.

Although kings often visited Havering, we know little about their hunting – they did not record killing their own property. Richard II used a hunting trip to Havering in 1397 as cover for murdering his uncle. In 1482, Edward IV invited prominent Londoners to enjoy the park – Havering's first hospitality package. James I (1603-25) usually spent September hunting at Havering. I'm sure the thundering hooves of royal horses have hammered every inch of our Borough.

James II was the last monarch to slaughter a stag locally, in 1686. The poor creature was chased from Chelmsford to Wanstead, where it doubled back and "was at last killed between Rumford and Brentwood, or neerer Rumford," says an account in ancient spelling. It's strange to think of the king of England killing a beautiful animal, maybe in Gidea Park.

After Charles I's execution in 1649, Havering Park became farmland. The deer disappeared, although some remained at Hainault, a forest until its trees were felled after 1851. In February that year, a hind (female) was chased from Noak Hill through Bedfords, to North Street, "the outskirts of Romford". After a two hour chase, the animal not surprisingly "looked tired" – but she escaped. Hooray!

The dainty red deer of Epping Forest were removed to Windsor Castle around 1820, and by 1870 even the tougher fallow deer were almost extinct. Local huntsmen sometimes used a "carted deer" called Tom Tickler, a hapless stag taken in a crate to be chased – but not killed. Of course, terrified Tom Tickler didn't know this. In 1833, he took desperate refuge in Gidea Hall, the Romford mansion beside Raphael Park. The hounds cornered him in a bedroom, to the fury of the Hall's owner, Alexander Black. Another local gentleman, Sheffield Neave of Harold Hill's Dagnam Park, exhausted three horses that day.

After Bedfords, in north Romford, became a public park in 1934, red deer were re-introduced. There were Japanese Sika deer at South Weald. Unfortunately, the Army occupied Weald Park during the Second World War. Armoured vehicles practising for D-Day destroyed fences, and the deer escaped. However, nowadays deer are back in Weald Country Park, in their own enclosure. There, and at Bedfords, visitors are allowed to feed the deer. Please follow guidance from the Park authorities, as deer have delicate stomachs.

THE LIBERTY OF HAVERING:  THE MINI-REPUBLIC THAT LASTED 427 YEARS

In 1465, Edward IV issued a charter giving special privileges to the inhabitants of his royal manor of Havering (the modern Borough west of the Ingrebourne – Rainham and Upminster were not included).  As tenants of the king, Havering people already possessed various privileges, such as exemption from paying tolls at markets and bridges throughout England. The reason for these privileges was not swank, but the king's need for his own tenants to have money in their pockets. If parliament was reluctant to vote him taxes, he could impose a "tallage" on his own estates.

The 1465 charter was probably the idea of prominent local landowners who wanted to run the district as a private fiefdom. The most likely godfathers of Havering Liberty were Sir Thomas Urswick of Marks, near Collier Row, and Sir Edward Coke of Romford's Gidea Hall, both wealthy London merchants and influential in politics.

Officially, as described in Elizabeth I's 1588 confirmation of the charter, residents formed a body called "The Tenants and Inhabitants of the Lordship or Manor of Havering-atte-Bower". But most people called it "The Liberty of Havering". Havering had its own courts. Local people could not be forced to plead elsewhere.

The Liberty was headed by a Crown-appointed Steward. He was one of two magistrates, the second being elected by the inhabitants – an arrangement unique in England. A 1554 charter reissue allowed the appointment of a Deputy Steward, who acted as the third magistrate. Havering's magistrates were kept busy. Octavius Mashiter of "Priests" (now Priests Avenue, Collier Row), elected in 1836, rarely spent a night away from Romford for thirty years.

The Liberty had its own court-house and primitive prison at the west end of Romford Market. The site was cleared in 1934. Criminals were hanged at Gallows Corner. There's no record of any executions after 1665. The law was upheld by local men taking turns to serve as enforcers. The Liberty was divided into two "Sides", Romford and Hornchurch, each having a High Constable, backed by nine petty constables, two of them for Romford town.

Havering's business methods do not always inspire admiration. In 1730, the jury couldn't agree in an assault case, seven opting for guilty and five insisting on not guilty. Eventually jurors agreed to put twelve shillings in a hat and shake them about, determining the defendant's fate by counting heads or tails.  He was acquitted, "the chance happening in favour of not guilty."

Liberty courts could handle small debt cases. The ability to settle disputes quickly and on the spot probably helped Romford's market become the dominant trading centre in south Essex.

As a county within a county, Havering was sometimes seen as a soft target for dubious activities, such as prize-fighting. As with illegal raves today, venues for bare-knuckled boxing contests were only revealed at the last minute. In December 1789, there were rumours that fight was planned between Thomas Gray, a Romford labourer, and "Shock Will" Bridges, to take place at Havering Well (later Roneo Corner). Magistrates banned any such encounter, citing "the great and enormous mischiefs, evils, riots, strifes, discords, thefts, robberies, and other grievances" caused by the influx of thousands of fight fans. They sweetly added that they would feel "the most sincere concern" at the "disagreeable necessity" of asking the government to send a troop of cavalry to keep order, "well knowing how extremely burdensome it would to the publicans to have a body of horse[men] quartered upon them during the winter." Back the big fight, was the message to Havering's innkeepers, and we'll bring in the Army to commandeer your scarce hay stocks.

Gradually, through the 19th century, Havering Liberty lost its autonomy. In 1892, it finally came to an end. A local school and a shopping centre recall its 400-year history.

ROMFORD MAN HANGED UNDER MARTIAL LAW

We don't know his name. We're not even sure about his job title, but we do know that a ruthless government condemned "the bailiff of Romford" to a horrible death.

The royal manor of Havering operated through various officials, including a bailiff, who enforced local regulations. There are some indications that the bailiff was regarded as unofficial mayor of Romford. Local men took annual turns to do the job. In 1549, the bailiff was "a man very well beloved" by Londoners. He was probably a Romford tradesman who often visited the capital on business, perhaps a cattle-dealer or a supplier of provisions.

1549 was a crisis year for England. Edward VI was a boy king. The country was ruled by a "Protector", the duke of Somerset. A Protestant, Somerset had just introduced a new prayer book, switching church services from Latin to English. The government also banned prayers to saints, and ordered the removal of their images from churches. Most people relied on a favourite saint to protect them. The religious revolution disturbed them.

In Cornwall, many people spoke a language like Welsh, and regarded English as a foreign tongue. Cornishmen rose in revolt. By July, they besieged Exeter. That same month, there was an uprising in Norfolk, a county dominated by cloth manufacturing. Wealthy "clothiers" were evicting desperate poor people from the land to make way for sheep. Soon, well-organised Norfolk rebels threatened Norwich. In London, Protector Somerset issued strict orders "for the suppression of rumours". Martial law was declared, giving the government power to hang people without trial.

It was early morning on St Mary Magdalene's Day, Friday July 22. Sheriffs brought the bailiff of Romford to a specially erected gallows at Aldgate. As he was forced up the ladder to be hanged, the bailiff cried out to the crowd: "Good people, I am come hither to die, but know not for what offence." Arriving from Romford the previous evening, he'd been asked: "What news in the country?" "Heavy news," was his reply. "It is said that many men be up in Essex." "Up" meant "in rebellion". We still use the figurative phrase, "up in arms".

In fact, the bailiff was misinformed. Essex and Suffolk had not joined the Norfolk revolt. Indeed, he claimed he'd added: "Thanks be to God, all is in quiet about us." Trembling as he faced death, the bailiff insisted that was all he had said. He'd intended to report that Havering was loyal to the government. But it was enough.

When rumours spread in Tudor England, there was no TV news to challenge them, no e-mail or telephone to check the facts.

Romford was one of the leading market centres around London. You'd credit a report from Romford, because the town had commercial links across Essex and into East Anglia. The chatty bailiff had talked his head into the noose. Aldgate was chosen for his execution because the main road from Essex entered London there. Arriving travellers would be shocked to see the dangling corpse of a man many of them knew. They would keep their mouths shut.

We can only imagine the horror of the bailiff's family. A husband and father had set off on one of his regular trips to London. He'd be home in a day or two. News of the bailiff's fate probably reached Romford about mid-afternoon. At first, the story would have seemed too horrible for his family to believe. But soon they had to accept the terrible truth. Probably they also faced grinding poverty after the killing of their breadwinner.

London historian John Stow witnessed the grisly episode. Forty years later, he angrily recalled the bailiff's death. "I heard the words of the prisoner, for he was executed upon the pavement of my door where I then kept house." Tudor England did not encourage free speech.

HACTON'S LOST MANSIONS

For almost 250 years, Hacton was the site of two fine mansions, both now long vanished and forgotten.

Around 1540, Thomas Richards, a wealthy London tailor, bought an estate off Hacton Lane in Hornchurch. Perhaps it was the farm mentioned in other records called The Brewhouse, which doubled as a brewery. It was also called Hasylwells, after John de Hasilwell who lived nearby in 1375. Access was by an east-west track about 150 yards north of the modern Central Drive. Near Chepstow Avenue, it made a right-angled turn south.

Here, in 1542, Richards erected a brick mansion. The two-storey house had a central range, with an ornate bay window, probably parallel to Goodwood Avenue. There was a 64-foot long north wing, and a 78-foot south wing. This was a quality project. Richards instructed his carpenter to copy the roof of Lincoln's Inn, the London lawyers' headquarters.

Thomas and Agatha Richards had no children to inherit their stately home, but they regarded former apprentice Thomas Powle as their honorary son. When Thomas died in 1557, Agatha transferred the house to Powle and moved into a nearby lodge, which Powle promised to supply with firewood. She also had the right to stay in his London house, since she had been "his maystress" (i.e. boss).

Soon after, Hacton was purchased by William Jackman, a London grocer. A 1594 county survey listed John Jackman of Hacton, probably his son, among the leading residents of Essex.

Around 1700, another Londoner, John Sherwood, erected a new mansion, slightly to the north. In 1856, local historian T.L. Wilson described it from a drawing. Sherwood's mansion was a two-storey, red-brick building, nine "bays" (windows) wide and decorated with an imposing portico.

What happened to the 1542 house? A 1923 official heritage survey gives some clues.

It seems that the central range of the earlier mansion was demolished, perhaps to re-use its bricks. The south wing became a farmhouse, although an ornate Tudor chimney revealed its high status origins. The north wing was converted into a handsome barn. From its blocked fireplaces and doorway, locals knew this had once been an important residence. People claimed (wrongly) that Queen Elizabeth I had stayed there.

After Sherwood, the next owner was William Smith, an official of the South Sea Company, a shady outfit which dabbled in the slave trade and manipulated the national debt.  After Smith's death in 1753, the Harding family took over. When young Richard Harding inherited money from his maternal grandfather, he gratefully changed his name to Harding Newman and, around 1781, moved to Nelmes in Emerson Park. Not needing two mansions, he demolished Hacton soon after.

Sherwood had planted plane trees, turning the farm track into a shaded avenue. In 1856, seven of them remained, the tallest 85 feet high. Ornamental gates leading to a walled garden, with a dovecote, survived into the nineteenth century.

The farm and the barn were swept away for housing soon after 1923 – a sad loss. I have studied maps and even a Luftwaffe reconnaissance photograph of Hornchurch, taken by Hitler's air force in 1940 –  but I can only report that the lost mansions stood somewhere near Hacton primary school. It's strange that two such fine houses are so totally forgotten.

UPROAR IN UPMINSTER OVER UNFAIR TAX BURDEN, 1598

British people don't like tax avoiders, the can-pay, won't-pay crowd who dodge paying their fair share of the nation's budget. Upminster was certainly angry over the issue in 1598. The 1590s were a tough time in England. Defeating the Spanish Armada had seemed glorious in 1588, but the costly war against Spain dragged on. A run of poor harvests caused a social crisis.

In 1597, a radical new measure, the Elizabethan Poor Law, made each parish responsible for supporting its own destitute population. At local level, this involved deciding who should pay, and how much. The standard system of was to charge rates on farmland. The more land you farmed, whether you owned it or rented it, the more you paid.

Upminster protested that the new assessment was "to the disadvantage of the meaner sort, who being charged according to the number of acres of ground they occupy are burthened (burdened) at an unjust proportion in respect of others who haply (perhaps) keep fewer acres of ground in their occupation and yet are wealthy men." Farmers paid, fat-cats got off lightly.

Two manors covered most of the parish of Upminster: Gaynes, near Corbets Tey, and Upminster Hall (now a golf club). In 1543, Ralph Latham, a wealthy London goldsmith, had bought Upminster Hall, later adding Gaynes. His son William briefly sold Gaynes, but re-purchased it in 1593, financing the deal by selling Upminster Hall in 1594 to Roger James, a London merchant who lived in Kent. The Lathams lived at New Place, a small mansion in St Mary's Lane. Rebuilt in the eighteenth century, New Place was demolished in 1924, but its stable block survived as the Clockhouse.

New Place had about fifty acres of land attached to it. Even this may have been let to local farmers, leaving the Lathams to enjoy just the six acres that form today's public space, Clockhouse Gardens. Clearly, charging rates on farmland suited Upminster's two richest men. William Latham occupied little more than a large garden. Roger James collected Upminster rents but didn't even live in the parish. In addition, the Lathams almost certainly retained business interests in London. In 1633, William's fourth son, Charles, was a grocer in the city.

William Latham may have been unpopular for other reasons. Throughout the 1580s, he was regularly summoned to the courts in Chelmsford. Since he never bothered to turn up, we don't know what charge he faced. But in 1586, a local jury reported he hadn't attended church for seven years, although New Place was only a quarter of a mile stroll from St Laurence's. Probably, like many other rich Londoners, he was a Puritan, who disliked Anglican ceremonies. In 1574, he'd called the parson a knave. When he did show up, in 1600, probably reluctantly, Latham staged a scene by claiming the right to sit in best pew.

Loadsamoney Latham evidently thought he was above the law. In 1588, he'd quarrelled with the rector over payment of tithes, the ten percent levy on all produce that went to the Church. t's unlikely that he was keen to pay taxes to support the poor.

Upminster's grumbles reached Queen Elizabeth's Privy Council, forerunner of the modern cabinet. Her Majesty's advisers agreed that taxation must be fair: "the rich sort may not shift the burthen from their own shoulders upon those that are of meaner ability." Essex magistrates were ordered to investigate. If Upminster's rating system was unfair, they could "give orders for redress". But if they found "sufficient ground" for the existing assessment, they should explain their reasons frankly, "that the petitioners may be better contented to yield."

Since the paper trail peters out, the magistrates probably said, "Sorry, folks, if you farm the land, you must pay the rates." Latham Place, off Deyncourt Gardens, recalls the family on the modern map.

CANDIDATES CLASH IN HAVERING ELECTION – 410 YEARS AGO

A controversial election split the Liberty of Havering – 410 years ago, in 1607. The Liberty covered those parts of today's Borough of Havering, west of the Ingrebourne – Upminster and Rainham were not included. Since 1465, inhabitants of the royal manor had the unusual right of electing a local magistrate. But the charter of privileges issued to the Liberty that year did not say who could vote.

Sir William Ayloffe of Bretons in Elm Park, and Hornchurch lawyer and farmer Thomas Legatt were deadly rivals. Through his carelessness, Ayloffe had been responsible for flooding the south Hornchurch marshes in the 1590s. He had refused to pay towards cleaning up the mess, and had physically harassed Legatt, who took charge of the remedial work.

Both wanted the magistrate's job. Running the election was Havering's Steward, Edward Cooke of Gidea Hall, a mansion which stood next to Raphael Park. As the local first family, the Cookes always held this top job. But 27 year-old Edward, who disliked Ayloffe, was deeply in debt. Legatt lent him money.

In 1607, Legatt helped Cooke by buying an outlying Gidea Hall property, Redden Court, a farm that stretched from Ardleigh Green to Harold Wood. Ayloffe later claimed the deal disguised a bribe to get the magistrate's job.

Havering's manorial court always chose a jury of 24 men, who decided legal cases and discussed local issues – a combined court and council. Juries were chosen with informal deference, places being tacitly conceded to wealthiest and best educated residents. But in October 1607, Cooke and his Deputy Steward, Romford lawyer Thomas Freshwater, decided to hand-pick their own jury, choosing less prominent residents who would vote for Legatt.

Ayloffe accused them of "a desire to sway and rule all matters within the said manor or Liberty of Havering-atte-Bower according to their own wills or pleasure". To their dismay, prominent residents who volunteered for jury service at the October meeting were rebuffed. Instead – claimed Ayloffe – Cooke packed the jury with "drunkards and disorderly persons", men "of very mean estate and substance".

Even so, when choosing a magistrate, the jurors split, fifteen backing Legatt, nine supporting Ayloffe. Despite Cooke's objection, the manorial court insisted on polling everybody who had turned up. The result was a 38-18 majority for Ayloffe. The electoral college had voted for Legatt, but the popular vote was for Ayloffe.

Although Legatt immediately took office, prominent Ayloffe supporters appealed for government intervention. The Ayloffe camp spanned Havering from north to south, John Wright of Wrightsbridge at Noak Hill signing alongside James Harvey of Mardyke, now Orchard Village, in the far south. James I's ministers overturned the election in Ayloffe's favour. But, as Steward, Cooke ordered all Havering officials – the gaoler, constables, bailiffs and ale-tasters – to ignore the interloper. Havering's citizens re-assembled in April 1608. When Ayloffe took his seat in the court house, Cooke, Freshwater and Legatt led a walk-out, and reconvened business in a nearby inn.

The row dragged on for several years. Legatt was forced out of office.  Ayloffe does not appear to have taken his place. Rather, he became an Essex county magistrate, using his position to undermine Havering's autonomy. In defence of their privileges, Liberty of Havering magistrates actually hanged a criminal in 1611 – something they hadn't done for years – to show Essex they were still in business. His name was Ollyver: let's hope he recognised that he died in a good cause.

There was another dispute over the right to vote for Havering's magistrate in 1836. The last election was in 1891. Colonel Holmes of "Grey Towers", Hornchurch (a mansion remembered in Grey Towers Avenue), won by 78 votes to 32. Colonel Holmes did not hold office for long. The Liberty of Havering was abolished in 1892.

Around 120,000 Havering citizens will vote on June 8th 2016 – about 5,000 times more than the electorate of 1607.

UPMINSTER WOMAN HANGED FOR WITCHCRAFT

Four hundred years ago, an Upminster woman suffered a terrible injustice. After a trial at Chelmsford in July 1616, Susan Barker was hanged as a witch. She was a real person. Maybe you know a Susan Barker today – teaching or working in an office? But Upminster's Susan Barker doesn't make me think of the cheerful TV presenter Sue Barker. Henry Barker's wife was obviously unpopular with her neighbours. Perhaps she cursed them, making them think she had evil powers.

Shakespeare died that year, 1616. His great tragedy, Macbeth, assumed that audiences believed in witchcraft.  The witches told Macbeth he was destined to become Scotland's king, driving him to murder King Duncan, seize the crown – and come to a sticky end.

But allegations of witchcraft were not always believed. When Margaret Saunder of Rainham was accused of killing a child by witchcraft in 1576, she was acquitted.  In 1627, another Upminster woman, Barbara Augur, survived allegations that she was a witch who'd killed three people.

Susan Barker was caught in local quarrels. In 1613, she allegedly bewitched Mary Stephens of Hornchurch, "so that she was consumed and mutilated" – skin cancer perhaps? Susan was also accused of using spells to murder a Hornchurch blacksmith, Edward Ashen. Related to the Stephens family, Ashen was a former parish constable, perhaps earning curses as he enforced the law.

Three elements worked against Susan Barker. First was the sensational claim that she'd had stolen a skull from St Andrew's churchyard in Hornchurch, to use as a charm. Second, Edward Ashen's son, another Edward, had also died – that seemed too great a coincidence.

But Stephens family evidence could be dismissed as some local quarrel. It was surely evidence from Francis Rame, Esquire, that convicted her. A learned lawyer, Francis Rame was Havering's chief administrator for forty years, micro-managing local affairs. He was 79 years of age – amazingly venerable for those days. His monument in St Andrew's church shows a devout man praying with his wife Helen. If the learned Master Rame said Susan Barker was a witch, no court would argue.

Oddly enough, 400 years later, there is a link with modern Havering. 1616 also saw the death of Anthony, one of the Rames' ten children. A successful London goldsmith, Anthony left £40, asking his father to found a charity for the Hornchurch poor. The money was invested in two cottages, sites now in the commercial heart of Hornchurch. Nowadays income from Rame's Charity goes to the Hornchurch Housing Trust, supporting its Skeales Court retirement units in Sunrise Avenue.

As the Rame memorial in St Andrew's church states: "their charitie doth still in dure". I am sure Francis Rame was a good man, who believed in doing his duty. But I wish his devoutness had not included belief in the nonsense of witchcraft. It's terrible that his sense of duty led him to send Susan Barker to her death, for a crime that did not even exist.

Susan was convicted on July 16th 1616. The old calendar was ten days out, so that's really July 26th. There were no appeals. The condemned had a few days to say their prayers, and then they died.  I don't think Susan Barker was a friendly neighbour. But, 400 years on, let's remember the injustice she suffered.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE: THE SHAKESPEARES OF HAVERING 

You may be surprised to read that William Shakespeare was born in Romford in May 1637.

Surely, William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in April 1564?

Experts believe that the surname "Shakespeare" arose as a nickname, for aggressive people who angrily shook an imaginary weapon.  That means all the  Shakespeares in the world aren't necessarily related.

The "real" William Shakespeare was indeed born in 1564. He wrote 42 plays between 1590 and 1613 (nobody's sure about the exact dates). He died in 1616 (possibly after a drinking bout with fellow dramatist Ben Jonson), and was buried in his Warwickshire home town, Stratford-upon-Avon.

We can't even be sure how the great playwright pronounced his name. He never signed himself "Shakespeare", preferring forms such as "Shakspere", "Shaksper" and "Shakspear". But a piece of theatrical bitchiness back in 1591 dismissed Will from Warwickshire as a "Shake-scene", so his name probably rhymed with "bake", not "back". Our local crowd weren't consistent either. The 1637 Romford baby was recorded as "Shakspurre".

In 1863, as Britain prepared to celebrate the Bard's 300th birthday, a gentleman called Augustus Charles Veley Esquire explored the Essex connection, "in case any future investigator should think fit to pursue the inquiry." Augustus, a century and a half on, that day has arrived!

Was Romford's William Shakspurre a relative of the Bard? To simplify the story, it's unlikely there was any link between the playwright and the Havering Shakespeares. Aged eighteen, the Bard hurriedly married 26 year-old Anne Hathaway. They had one son, Hamnet (not Hamlet). The boy died when he was eleven. At most, our local Shakespeares could only have been distant cousins. Parish registers began in 1538, but birth records were often sketchy, so we can't be sure.

Joseph Shakspeare alias Shakespeare of Havering died in 1640. He left forty shillings for a sermon to be preached at his funeral in Romford. His brother was Samuel Shakspurre, whose baby son William we've already met. Samuel was a "yeoman" (farmer). Samuel's "widdow" Susan, who died in 1678, called herself "Shackspear".  Her home was in "in the Northend of Hornchurch in the Libertie of Haveringe atte Bower in the Countye of Essex". In the next generation, two sons of Samuel and Susan lived locally. Thomas "Shakesphere", who died in 1703, farmed in the Southend of Hornchurch. Hornchurch was divided into two segments, North (up to Harold Wood) and South (down to Thames). Southend Road in Elm Park recalls the division. His brother, another Samuel, actually used the spelling "Shakespeare". He lived at Squirrels Heath, in the parish of Romford – somewhere near today's Gidea Park station – and died about 1710.

Then the family moved away. John Shakespear, another "yeoman", who died around 1727, farmed at Rawreth, between Wickford and Rayleigh. He seems to have been a nephew of both Thomas and Samuel, the Havering brothers. There's no trace of any connection with England's greatest playwright.

Augustus Veley found a priest called Thomas Shackspere, who wrote a quaint Will as he faced "the howar of dethe" in London in 1557. But neither Father Thomas, nor a James Shakespeare who lived in Barking in 1586, can be fitted into the Stratford-upon-Avon story. They can't be linked to Havering either.

Without any evidence, Veley also suggested that our Joseph Shakespeare was perhaps the playwright's nephew. The great Shakespeare did indeed have three brothers. Two followed him to London. Both died young, one of bubonic plague. None of the three married. The William Shakspurre, born in Romford in 1637, is described in Susan's Will as her son, "William Shakspere", but she did not say where he lived. He was 40 in 1677. Perhaps he was tired of jokes about his namesake. Maybe they're all related, not to author of Hamlet, but to the former manager of Leicester City football club, Craig Shakespeare.

CIVIL WAR TOUCHES HAVERING, 1648

The main battles in the English Civil War, between 1642 and 1646, took place far from Essex. The county supported Parliament against King Charles the First. But, in May 1648, Royalists staged uprisings around the country. In Kent, they were hammered by the ruthless Parliamentary general, Sir Thomas Fairfax. The remnant of the Kentish rebels, no more than 500 men, crossed the Thames and occupied Stratford. They were in poor shape, "almost ready to fall down in the Street for Want of Food". Across the river Lea, Parliamentary troops – militia from London – prepared to attack them.

Tired of Parliament, and its expensive Army, opinion in Essex had switched to support the King. The Royalist general, the Earl of Norwich, dashed to Chelmsford (despite "his great age" – he was 63), where an enthusiastic Royalist, Sir Charles Lucas, persuaded Essex men to fight. On Wednesday 3 June 1648, General Lord Norwich sent orders to his men at Stratford to march towards Chelmsford.

"On Wednesday Night, we met the General at Rumford," a Royalist veteran recalled. The eleven-mile march had been harassed by the Parliamentary troops. The Royalists had probably moved in slow leapfrog fashion, Section A protecting the rear while Section B regrouped a few hundred yards further east, allowing Section A to pass through them to a fresh defensive position, and so on. As a result of this prolonged defensive action along today's A118, not all the Royalists could reach Romford that evening. "The Enemy coming after us, so obstructed our march, by alarming us in the Rear, that the whole Body could not get up till the next Morning, though the Enemy dare not venture to fall upon our Rear Guard."

Romford town probably contained about 1,000 people – we don't know the exact number. The arrival of even a few hundred soldiers was bad news. They would have forced their way into inns and homes, commandeered food and supplies without payment – and women were in danger. Havering's leading Roundhead, Carew Hervey Mildmay, lived at Marks, a moated mansion west of Collier Row. He's said to have fled from the advancing Royalists by swimming his moat.

On Thursday morning, the Royalists probably formed up in the Market Place. Then "we marched on towards Burntwood" (as Brentwood was often called). There's no mention of any volunteers from Romford joined their bedraggled force. The Royalists were fortunate that the Parliamentary commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax, was still in Kent. He arrived later, passing through Horndon-on-the-Hill. Fairfax would certainly have attacked and overwhelmed the weak Royalist remnant. Wayside pubs, like the Ship in Gidea Park and the Golden Fleece at Brook Street, were probably plundered for food and drink. Parliamentary soldiers immediately entered Romford "and followed us with Alarms in our Rear". There are no reports of casualties, but it took all day for the Royalists to cover the six miles through Gidea Park and Harold Wood.

At Brentwood, their prospects improved. Sir Charles Lucas arrived with reinforcements, and more volunteers appeared at Chelmsford the following day. Lord Norwich's force soon grew to 4,000 men. But the 1648 uprising ended in tragedy. The Royalists took refuge in the walled town of Colchester, hoping that other uprisings around the country would come to their aid. They endured a thirteen-week siege, until starvation forced them to surrender. It's likely that 2,000 people died in the misery. Colchester took decades to recover.

The vengeful Fairfax had Lucas and another Royalist officer, Sir George Lisle, shot by firing squad outside Colchester Castle. Lord Norwich escaped the death penalty thanks to the casting vote of the Speaker of the House of Commons. Charles I also paid the price for being the focus of the uprisings. He was executed in January 1649.  It's said that grass never grew on the spot where Lucas and Lisle fell. Today it's tarmac.

 

HAVERING'S REFUGEE CRISIS, 350 YEARS AGO

350 years ago, Havering faced a refugee crisis. In April 1665, bubonic plague broke in London. By late July, official statistics showed the disease killing 2,000 people a week. The real totals were higher: maybe 100,000 Londoners died that summer. Wealthy people relocated from the stricken city; ordinary Londoners simply fled.

The diarist Samuel Pepys visited Dagnams, the Harold Hill mansion. As he rode through Ilford and Romford, he encountered "all the way, people, Citizens", asking for news of the plague "a sad question to be asked so often." In Havering, he found locals "afeard of those of us that come to them".

Travellers had to produce documentation showing they were from plague-free areas. At Old Ford, near Stratford, a dishonest local official sold fake passes. Refugees menacingly reminded Epping people that local farmers made their living by selling produce in the capital. They would be stoned in the streets of London if they refused to help. A "great rabble" of 200 Londoners plundered Walthamstow, behaving like an enemy army of occupation. At Wivenhoe, Colchester's outport, a boatload of refugee Londoners attacked local officials who tried to stop them landing.

Aggressive bands also headed towards "Rumford" and Brentwood. A broad strip of common land stretched from Hainault Forest to Noak Hill, mainly covered with trees and scrub. According to author Daniel Defoe, refugees formed squatter camps in "Henalt Forest, reaching near Rumford". They were "so desperate that they robbed and plundered, and killed cattle". Many built "huts and hovels by the roadside", intimidating local people into feeding them.  Open ground in Collier Row and along Straight Road probably looked like the 21st century Calais "Jungle" camp.

Not surprisingly, plague spread to Romford and Brentwood, "so that the people durst not to go to market there as usual." Victims died in the fields alongside the main road between the two towns. At Dagnams in mid-July, Pepys argued about religion with a local clergyman. When he returned two weeks later, he learned that his "healthful" adversary had "fallen into a fever" and died. Defoe reported that the plague killed 109 people in Romford. There were around 2,000 people in Romford parish, stretching from Rush Green to Harold Hill. If the epidemic was concentrated in Romford town, where rats could freely spread the plague-carrying fleas, the death toll was perhaps as high as one in ten. Romford established a "pest house" (an isolation hospital) in Collier Row Lane.

Curtains were drawn in a carriage carrying sick maidservant from Kelvedon Hatch to Brentwood's pest house. As it squeezed past another coach in a narrow lane near South Weald, a young gentleman leaned out of the second vehicle and boorishly peered through the curtains, assuming that they masked a beautiful lady. The sight and smell of the sick girl horrified him. Defoe said seventy people died in Brentwood.

Hundreds died in Colchester and Braintree. When plague hit the Chelmsford suburb of Moulsham, armed guards stopped Moulshamites from bringing their dead to the parish church (now the Anglican cathedral). They were buried in a plague pit, site (until 1997) of Chelmsford City football ground.  Closer to Havering, Barking, Ilford and Horndon-on-the-Hill were also hard-hit. We have few Havering records, but the crisis must have been massive.

ARRANGED MARRIAGE ON HAROLD HILL

"Harold Hill Teenager In Forced Marriage." Imagine the headlines if it happened today. But 350 years ago, top families thought it OK to control every aspect of their children's lives.

You might think the Earl of Sandwich had other priorities in 1665. Head of Charles II's Navy, he was fighting a war against Holland. Plague had broken out in London. But Sandwich was impressed by 24 year-old Philip Carteret, son of Admiral Sir George Carteret. He'd fought bravely at a sea battle off Lowestoft, despite being severely lame. A birth defect had left Sandwich's 17 year-old daughter, Lady Jemima, with a twisted neck. They'd make an ideal couple. Philip's parents were enthusiastic about marrying into the aristocracy. Financial terms were quickly struck.

There was just one big problem. Jemima and Philip had never met. Sandwich asked his right-hand man, diarist Samuel Pepys, to organise their wooing. Sandwich's sister-in-law, Lady Anne Wright, offered her country mansion for the courtship. A young widow, Lady Anne lived at Dagnams, alongside modern Harold Hill. Pepys was impressed by the "bigness" of the "noble and pretty house". As Pepys travelled by coach with Philip from the Isle of Dogs (now London City Airport), he encountered another difficulty. Brave against the Dutch, Philip Carteret was scared of girls. As the carriage clattered towards Romford, Pepys, himself a serial sex-pest, gave him some tips, in a "silly discourse" about "love-matters".

On Sunday, the families went to St Edward's church in Romford Market, where a local man did penance, humiliatingly forced to apologise for "his wicked life". By contrast, Philip lacked courage even to hold Jemima's hand. Next day, Pepys cornered "Lady Jem" and asked her if she liked Philip. What real choice did she have? Shy, seventeen and with a disability, she probably suffered from low self-esteem. Lady Carteret was showering her with lavish gifts, "as if they would buy the young lady," Pepys noted with disgust. "She blushed and hid her face" as Pepys pressed her to answer. Eventually she agreed to obey her parents.

With the plague causing so much uncertainty, Philip and Jemima were married within two weeks. Pepys arrived late for the wedding, meeting the newlyweds as they returned from church. They were probably married at South Weald, where Lady Anne Wright's husband had been buried the previous year. His gravestone still paves a churchyard path.

Pepys joined the wedding festivities. The couple were escorted to the bridal chamber and placed in a four-poster bed. Everyone kissed the bride, then the curtains were drawn and Philip and Jemima were left alone to start married life. Things evidently went well. Next morning they were "red in the face and well enough pleased with their night's lodging."

In 1672, war broke out with Holland again, and Philip went to sea with his father-in-law. Their ship caught fire in a naval battle off Suffolk. Philip got into a boat, but panicking sailors jumped from the decks and swamped it. He was drowned, Sandwich was burned to death. Jemima died soon afterwards, giving birth to her fourth child.

Dagnams was rebuilt in the 18th century. The mansion was demolished in 1950 after a caretaker stole the lead off the roof and wrecked the building. Only Dagnam Park survives.

UPMINSTER SEA CAPTAIN WAS SLAVE TRADER

For 200 years, the Branfill family owned Upminster Hall, now a golf club headquarters.

Andrew Branfill, a ship's captain from Stepney, bought the estate in 1686, for £7,400. The Hall was let as a farmhouse, but he reserved part of the mansion for use as a rural retreat and an office for collecting rents.

Legend says Branfill was born at Dartmouth in Devon around 1640. He went to sea as a boy, captained his own ship at nineteen, and moved to London. His surname was also spelt Branfil, Bramfill, Brandfield and Brownfill. They weren't strong on spelling in those days.

In 1681, he married Damaris Aylett, from Kelvedon Hatch near Brentwood. Her family were gentry, who'd fought for Charles I in the Civil War. Captain Branfill was going up in the world. He needed a country home, near his wife's family. 

Branfill's ship was called Champion. Andrew and Damaris called their son Champion. The name was handed down through the generations. It's remembered in Upminster's Champion Road and Branfill Road.

Legend says Branfill operated on the west African coast. The papers of the Royal African Company, recently published for 1681-88, confirm what historians have grimly suspected – he was a slave trader. The Company ran the English slave trade, providing goods which sea captains traded for prisoners captured in local African wars. They sailed the Atlantic to sell their human cargo in Barbados, to sugar planters who needed replacements for the slaves they'd worked to death. The Triangular Trade was completed by shipping sugar back to London. The Company split the huge profits with the captains.

The African coast was unhealthy. Branfill sold his goods quickly, dumping surplus stock at low prices, thus making room on board for more slaves. In 1681, he reported, "I am now in good health, praised be God for itt, and have all my slaves on board". In 1682 there was a revolt among slaves awaiting shipment at Accra, now Ghana's capital. Angered by their disobedience, the Company's agent handed the ringleaders ("the four greatest rogues") to his toughest sea captain – Andrew Branfill.  Included in the cargo were "four woemen".

Branfill did not retire after purchasing Upminster Hall. In 1686 he was at Sekondi in modern Ghana, delivering barrels of beer to a Company agent. "One of your casks is leakt out, which I canot help", he reported. You didn't argue with Andrew Branfill. We hear of him at other places – Anomabu, now a Ghanaian beach report, and Tantumquery, a national heritage site. Later that year, Upminster's squire took aboard fifteen slaves at Ouidah in Benin.

A healthy slave could be sold for £21 in Barbados. Branfill probably spent 30 years people trafficking in west Africa. That's how he got the £7,400 to buy Upminster Hall. When Andrew Branfill died in 1709, he was buried in Upminster's parish church. Only important and respected people were buried inside churches.

Erasing Branfill from the map wouldn't change the past. Anyway, the local primary school commemorates a family who were part of Upminster for 200 years. But there may be Havering residents who are descended from his victims. I hope Upminster will find some way of setting the record straight, telling the shameful true story of Andrew Branfill. 

GREEDY RECTOR FOUGHT UPMINSTER FARMERS

Traditionally, the Anglican Church levied a religious tax, ten percent of all farm produce.

These "tithes" caused much friction between parsons and farmers. Rather than handle quantities of wheat and wool, milk, butter and beans, most clerics agreed to charge a few shillings per acre.

The fertile parish of Upminster stretched from Tylers Common in the north to Corbets Tey in the south. Around 1780, the Holden family of Birmingham bought the right to appoint Upminster's rector. Down to 1959, five Reverend Holdens occupied the rectory in succession.

In 1793, Britain declared war on France. With imports disrupted, food prices shot up.  Upminster windmill, built in 1802-3, dates from those boom times.

The Reverend John Rose Holden thought it unfair that Upminster's farmers were cashing in on the bonanza, while he was still collecting flat-rate payments. In 1798, he announced that, starting next May, he would take his tithes "in kind" (the actual produce). Alternatively, farmers could pay him an increased rate of six shillings an acre – which would give him a massive annual income of £1,000. The rector also handed on his post to his son and namesake.

In May 1799, the new Rector Holden toured Upminster, not to meet his parishioners, but to value their crops and count their animals. Local people responded to Holden's "friendly caution" to cough up with an angry public meeting. They hired a London lawyer to search the records, hoping to find a legally binding agreement underpinning the current system of fixed payments. No such agreement could be located, so a second meeting offered Holden a compromise. They would increase his payments to £610 a year.

The offer was conveyed by a deputation consisting of two leading local squires: William Russell of Stubbers in North Ockendon, and Thomas Barrett Lennard of Belhus at Aveley.

Both owned land in Upminster. Their decision to confront Rector Holden was a signal that the gentry backed the farmers. The rector refused to compromise, provoking a full-scale confrontation with villagers. Local people resolved to offer a common front, confident that their pastor would back down in the face of united opposition.

Holden retaliated by sub-contracting his claims to an enforcer, called Edwards, whose employees began seizing harvest produce. Farmers resisted, sometimes violently.

Farmer Gibling at Tomkyns called the Edwards gang "a parcel of thieves", and refused to co-operate when they demanded ten percent of his hay crop. Farmer Wadsworth at Page's, on Shepherds Hill, also had a nice line in invective. He called the rector a "swindler", and informed him that "you are no more fit for the station you are in than I am for a bishop."

Farmer Mann at Tylers Hall (next to Tylers Common) was another resister. He duly piled up ten percent of his hay crop for the rector's men to collect – and then dumped the remaining nine parts across the gateway to bar access. Milk from a newly calved cow is unfit for human consumption. Mann poured ten percent of his daily yield into the rector's tub – and then threw in milk from a cow that had just calved, thus spoiling the lot. There were further negotiations in 1800, but Holden insisted he was committed to his contract with Edwards.

In 1842, under reforming legislation, Upminster's tithes were commuted to cash – and the Reverend J.R. Holden was awarded £1052 annually – much what he had claimed forty years earlier. The tithe row left a long-term mark on Upminster. Although they had to pay for Reverend Mr Holden, local people refused to pray with him. In 1800 they founded Upminster's Congregational church, now the United Reform Church in Station Road. Relations between the denominations are friendly nowadays, but the split goes back to the Holdens' selfish desire to maximise their income. Tithes were gradually phased out in the 20th century.

ROMFORD PEOPLE OFFER DIGNIFIED TRIBUTE TO MISTREATED QUEEN

They should never have married. But the Prince of Wales had to produce an heir to the throne. His bride seemed the only princess available for the job. No, I'm not talking about the Windsors, although public anger at the death of Caroline of Brunswick in 1821 uncannily resembled the grief that honoured Diana.

The future George IV married Caroline in 1795 because he wanted Parliament to pay his huge debts. Imported from Germany, Caroline was lively, but she was not strong on tact, nor on personal freshness. On meeting her, George called for brandy. For her part, Caroline found her new husband disgustingly fat. George survived their wedding night by getting drunk. The couple stayed together just long enough to produce a daughter, Princess Charlotte. Charlotte died in 1817, and the throne eventually passed to her cousin, Victoria.

Caroline was now exiled, touring Europe with a scruffy retinue. There were rumours about her lifestyle. When George became king in 1820, he hoped to divorce her. Rejecting an offer of £50,000 a year to stay abroad, Caroline returned to England and tried to gatecrash the Coronation. Then, suddenly, she fell ill and died. Many suspected murder.

George IV was a king who united his people. Everybody hated him. Caroline's last journey, to Harwich and on to her funeral in Germany, triggered popular protests against him. There were riots as the cortège crossed London. Two demonstrators were shot dead. "The cavalcade then moved on towards Rumford," a contemporary account reported. Could Romford people act with dignity on behalf of the nation?

A mile west of Romford town, the dead Queen was met by "a deputation of the inhabitants, attired in deep mourning". They escorted the procession to the White Hart in Romford's High Street (now the Bitter End), where her entourage had dinner. The hearse was parked "a hundred yards further into the town," almost certainly just inside the Market. Dragoons from Romford's barracks in Waterloo Road patrolled the streets on horseback to discourage protestors.

It was now evening. The Queen's exhausted supporters wanted to stay overnight, but a government agent haughtily insisted they must continue to Chelmsford. At quarter to midnight, a bugle sounded and the cortège moved slowly off. Now came Romford's finest hour.

Carrying blazing torches, around 100 local residents led the way. It was an August night, with a full moon in a cloudless sky. Amidst the clopping and creaking of the procession, you could just hear the tolling of a distant church bell, probably from St Andrew's in Hornchurch. Onlookers lined the roadside, many weeping as the coffin passed. Some cursed those who'd driven Caroline to her death.

Somewhere between modern Raphael Park and Balgores Lane, Romford's guard of honour offered a simple salute of immense dignity. Was it spontaneous, or had they rehearsed? Dividing to left and right of the main road, each man respectfully removed his hat and blew out his burning torch as the cortège headed into the night. "There was something highly affecting in this little ceremony," wrote an eye-witness.

Beyond the Unicorn, "the military put their horses to a sharper pace". The procession raced past Gallows Corner towards Brentwood. On behalf of the outraged British people, Romford had honoured a rejected Queen and censured a loathsome King.

HAVERING PEOPLE IN AUSTRALIA'S EARLY NEWSPAPERS

Britain founded its first Australian colony, New South Wales, in 1788. Initially an open-air prison for transported criminals, Australia quickly attracted free settlers too. One of the last consignments of felons reached Sydney in 1849 on a convict ship called the Havering!

By 1830, Australia had a lively free press, which reported news of people from our area.

In the early years, newspapers carried notices about escaped convicts. Samuel Henry had been sentenced to transportation for life in 1818 – the records don't explain why. He reached Van Diemen's Land (later renamed Tasmania) in May 1819. Nine years later, he absconded from a public works project in the island's second town, Launceston.

Samuel Henry was described as "native of Romford", aged 42, a shoemaker by trade. He was 5 feet 1 inch tall (people were poorly nourished and generally shorter in those days). He had a dark complexion, brown hair, brown eyes, with scars across his right arm and upper lip. With only 13,000 European males on the island, the description ought to have identified him. But in 1830, two years later, despite a reward (£2!) for his capture, Samuel Henry was still free. He'd probably escaped to the lawless world of the bush. Say "bushranger" and you'd think of Ned Kelly – not a shoemaker from Romford.

In October 1831, the Sydney Gazette advertised for another Romford runaway, John Gribbin. Just 23, he was a carver and gilder by profession, 5 feet 6 and a half inches tall, with hazel grey eyes, light brown hair and a ruddy freckled complexion. Gribbin had only arrived in Sydney on New Year's Eve 1830, packed into a convict ship with 191 other felons. It was no pleasure cruise.  He was still at large in November 1832. Perhaps he'd managed to work his passage back to Britain.

A sign of a changing Australia was the 1846 announcement in the Sydney Morning Herald (which is still published) that Samuel Wadeson, of Pitt Street in the city's business district, was "applying for admission as a solicitor" in New South Wales. He had trained under "Samuel James Wadeson, of Romford, in the county of Essex", and learned his colonial law in an attorney's office in the inland town of Bathurst. Samuel Wadeson had taken articles with his father, a South Street lawyer, back in 1834, when he was seventeen. As the eldest of at least ten children, he was probably expected to make his own way in the world. Wadeson first emigrated to New Zealand in 1840, becoming one of the pioneer settlers in Wellington.

But he quickly crossed the Tasman Sea, and was in Australia by 1842. Wadeson's story ended unhappily. He suffered from epilepsy, couldn't maintain his law practice, apparently took to drink, and died in poverty in 1872, at the outback town of Orange.

In 1851, a gold rush turned the new colony of Victoria into a bonanza. Immigrants ("Jimmy-granates" – "pomegranates" – "Poms") poured in, making its capital, Melbourne, an instant city. A newspaper advert in 1853 appealed to Mr Thomson, from Hornchurch. "He would oblige Mrs Stephen Collier, from Romford, by writing to her address, Post Office, St. Kilda, as he is supposed to have brought a parcel for her from home." St Kilda is a Melbourne suburb, home of a major Australian Rules football team. I hope the parcel was delivered.

Australia welcomed Romford produce as well as Havering people. In 1845, businessman Octavius Coope invested in Edward Ind's brewery. The reorganised company targeted the Australian market. By 1848, Ind & Coope's Romford Ale was a recognised brand name Down Under. As a local distributor put it in 1856, Romford Strong Ale had "a good reputation for up-country trade, in consequence of its preservative properties".

Twenty years earlier, Romford convicts had fled into the bush. Now Romford beer flowed to the frontiers of settlement.

BALLOONS OVER HAVERING 

The first hot air balloon was developed by the Montgolfier brothers in Paris in 1783. Their rival, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, soon staged several flights of hydrogen balloons in London. In May 1785, watched by a large crowd, he released a small balloon, before taking off himself in the "boat" of a larger balloon. The small balloon was "picked up in the meads below Hornchurch" by a boy working for a local miller. The "meads" were probably in the Hacton area. Blanchard sailed over Hornchurch shortly afterwards.

Balloons launched in London usually floated on westerly winds over Essex. Skilled "aeronauts" often descended locally, to avoid being carried out to sea. Charles Green was a leading balloonist from the 1820s. In June 1823, he came down at Noak Hill. In August 1836, Charles and his brother George launched two balloons from London's Vauxhall Gardens. One came down in Hainault Forest, the other near Romford. Charles flew a large balloon from Chelsea in 1845, carrying no fewer than seven passengers. "He descended safely at Hornchurch." It was his 301st flight!

Another intrepid aeronaut was Margaret Graham. In 1836, she was 32, with seven children under the age of twelve.Despite being pregnant again, she carried a distinguished passenger, the Duke of Brunswick, on a flight over Essex. Both were badly shaken by a crash-landing at Doddinghurst, near Brentwood. Mrs Graham suffered a miscarriage.

On a two-hour flight in 1865, Victorian scientist James Glaisher measured height and temperatures in a forty-mile swing around south Essex. From 3,000 feet, he was struck by the "innumerable dykes" of Rainham marshes. The breeze carried him north over Billericay, to land near Chelmsford.

In 1898, balloon manufacturer Percival Spencer decided to test a dangling rope as a possible steering device. He took three passengers from Earls Court, reaching the Isle of Dogs in eighteen minutes, and on to "the swampy wastes and broad flats of Barking and Dagenham".

Over Rainham, Spencer dropped 500 feet of rope, which steadily dragged the balloon lower.

Soon, over 200 feet of rope dragged along the ground, drifting north through ploughed fields and woodland. Nobody seems to have minded the damage it must have caused. The crew were now low enough to exchange shouted messages with people on the ground. One "countryman" told them they were at Cranham.  Using the straight axis of the Upminster-Grays railway as a baseline, Spencer tried (and failed) to steer a right turn. The balloon landed between Brentwood and Billericay.

It was impossible to control a round balloon. German inventor Count Zeppelin found the answer: fit a gasbag into a cigar-shaped frame, and then attach a rudder.  The British pioneers of the "dirigible" (a balloon that could be steered) were F.A. Barton and F.L. Rawson, who built a 180-foot long airship in 1905. Instead of a gondola, a lattice-work of bamboo poles below the gasbag supported a narrow walkway. A test flight, from Alexandra Palace in 1906, ended in disaster.

The airship drifted low over Romford. Two labourers tried to catch its dragging ropes. Guests at a garden party at Heaton Grange, near Harold Hill, applauded the sinking craft. houghtlessly, Barton and Rawson moved forward along the walkway to acknowledge the cheers, and upset the balance. Britain's prototype airship crashed in a Straight Road potato field, "like a broken wicker basket".

An international balloon race filled Havering skies on a May afternoon in 1909, with fifteen entries from Belgium, Britain and Germany. Competitors ascended from Fulham, aiming at an imaginary finishing line 25 miles to the east, beyond Billericay. Each balloon carried three passengers. Two crews drifted close enough to chat over Havering-atte-Bower. A German entrant came down in Bedfords Park, east of Collier Row, while a British balloon sank into Dagnam Park, next to Harold Hill.

Six years later, almost to the day, Zeppelin raids began on London.

STAGECOACH DAYS

On a July morning in 1826, Prittlewell doctor Jonas Asplin rose at 3.30 a.m. to catch The Monitor, Southend's stagecoach to London, which passed his house half an hour later.

It was a fine morning, so he rode outside until rain started to fall at Billericay. Stagecoaches generally changed horses every nine miles, so there would have been another stop in Romford. He reached the terminus, a Whitechapel inn, at 9.30, in time for a late breakfast. Later that month, he travelled up and down to London in a single day.

Romford and Brentwood inns were geared to the stagecoach trade. The guard announced their approach by blowing his posthorn. Ostlers and chambermaids sprang into action, changing horses and providing food, with the speed and efficiency of a Formula 1 pit stop. The smartest coaches had fancy names, like the Norwich Phenomena and Ipswich Quicksilver. (The Phenomena was a grammatical error. It should have been The Phenomenon, but the owner didn't know ancient Greek.) The Yarmouth Star came "down" from London on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, returning "up" on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Railways later borrowed the terms "up" and "down" for travelling to or from London. Smaller coaches ran to Braintree, Burnham-on-Crouch, Coggeshall, Maldon and Sudbury.

When a mansion was offered for sale at South Weald in 1821, the advertisement claimed that coaches passed within half a mile every hour between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. On a March day in 1838, 17 coaches passed through Shenfield from London, carrying 133 passengers, with 15 taking 116 people in the other direction.

Drivers, like "Brandy George" of the Norwich Times, were "characters", who sometimes broke the rules. The driver of the "Rumford" stagecoach was fined in 1794 for carrying more than the permitted six passengers on the roof. When the Southend coach crashed near Rayleigh in 1824, a witness claimed it was "going at the prodigious rate of between 18 and 20 miles an hour." The driver, James Palmer, denied he was drunk. He simply stated that he'd stayed up so late the previous evening with friends that it hadn't seemed worth going to bed. Two rival drivers exchanged abuse as they passed at Ingatestone in 1826. One flicked his whip painfully across the hands of his competitor, risking that he would lose control of his coach and cause an accident.

Maintenance could be an issue. In August 1801, the "iron-work" (probably the axle) of the Billericay coach broke just west of Romford. All seven passengers were badly hurt, five of them sustaining broken arms and legs. A strap holding a horse's collar snapped on the Colchester Eclipse at Brentwood in 1816. The coach overturned and a passenger suffered a broken leg.

Stagecoach travel was for the elite. Poorer people rode on slow goods waggons, or just walked long distance.  At the 1838 Shenfield survey, the Colchester Wellington carried most passengers – but only fifteen of them, four inside and eleven perched outside. A single train could move far more people, faster and cheaper. When the railway reached Romford, in 1839 and Brentwood, in 1840, coaching collapsed.

High Street Romford, location of the town's main coaching inns, never recovered its glory days.

Brentwood struggled on for a few years, with stagecoaches operating as a "feeder" to the railway system. We know of a Southend service, because that coach crashed near Brentwood station in 1841 when a bolt snapped. In 1848, there was just a daily coach from Brentwood to Bury St Edmunds, collecting passengers from towns like Dunmow that still lacked railway communications. But by the 1850s, it ran only as far as Chipping Ongar. Small boys cheered as it sped along Ongar Road at 5.30 every afternoon.

When the railway extended from Epping in 1856, the coachman became Chipping Ongar's stationmaster. The familiar phrase, that he'd "swapped horses", goes back to stagecoach days!

EARLY RAILWAY JOURNEYS WERE DANGEROUS

The Eastern Counties Railway opened from London to Romford in June 1839. Brentwood was reached in July 1840. Early travel was dangerous. On the line's second working day, an engine was derailed by a broken line and thrown into soft mud near Bow. The boiler exploded, killing the driver and stoker. On early trains, passengers were locked into carriages, and were let out at stations by porters. Terrified by clouds of hissing steam, they tried to smash windows to escape.

August 1839 was a bad month. A farmer with land near Crow Lane decided to jump out of a train rather than walk home from Romford station. He was lucky to survive. A railway worker who hitched a lift on a late-night train from Romford was less lucky. Attempting to jump clear, he fell under the wheels and was killed. Romford Station was blocked when the driver of a down train failed to stop in time, and hit a waiting engine. When somebody threw a bottle on the line, the company offered a £10 reward to catch the culprit. A railway worker identified the offender. He claimed the reward, he was sacked.

In August 1840, a points failure west of Romford sent an up train on the wrong line. Luckily the driver proceeded cautiously and was able to slow down when he saw a train approach from Ilford. Nobody was hurt in the minor collision.

September was another bad month. Four people died in a derailment at Brook Street when an engine was driven downhill from Brentwood at reckless speed. Late one night, two railwaymen placed wooden blocks behind the wheels of their engine, its boiler steaming, while they strolled into Brentwood Station for a meal. Hearing a loud whistle, they ran out to see it speeding towards some wagons. A dazed local drunk was thrown clear of the resulting collision. He was sent to prison, but critics asked how an engine could be left unattended with steam up.

In October 1840, only luck avoided another fatal accident at Brook Street. A driver coming from London one evening spotted animals on the line in the beam of his lamp. Although he braked and cut off steam, two valuable oxen were cut to pieces. The beasts had strayed on to the line thanks to a "dilapidated" fence.  The line had only been working for three months, so the fence was new. There was another drama at Bow in November 1840, when an engine ran into the back of a passenger train, smashing the rear carriages. Luckily the few passengers managed to get clear.

In December, a train from Brentwood began jolting violently as it approached Stratford. The guard, who was riding on the roof, hung on for dear life. One carriage had come off the line, and had been dragged along, destroying track for over a mile. The wheels were not in gear. They had not been checked. The next train from Romford was switched to the down line. Railway police signalled it to stop at the crash scene and pick up the stranded passengers, but the driver ignored the warning sign and sped past.

Safety standards gradually improved, but early rail travel was dangerous for Havering people.

WAS HAROLD HILL CHURCH SLAVE OWNER'S "SORRY"?

Just north of Harold Hill, St Thomas' church at Noak Hill is a charming spot, although the echoes of rural Essex struggle with the hum of the M25. The church was built in 1841-2 by Sir Thomas Neave, of nearby Dagnam Park, a huge mansion demolished in 1950. A plaque records that Sir Thomas built the church "at the earnest desire" of his wife, Frances, who'd died in 1835. It's said Frances thought their local Anglican churches – at Romford and South Weald – were too far away. She'd wanted her servants to attend worship – and then cook dinner. A church on their doorstep was the answer.

Noak Hill's church cost £1,883, mostly paid for by Sir Thomas Neave. It was built in friendly red brick, with a faintly Tudor air.  The funniest feature is its narrow tower, a brick cylinder, topped by a goblin's hat of a steeple. In 1843, Karl Marx called religion "the opium of the people". Here's a church with its own hypodermic needle!

Does the legend of Frances Neave's wishes tell the whole story? The family fortune had been made a generation earlier, by Sir Richard Neave. His memorial at South Weald describes his business activities – Governor of the Bank of England, a businessman who traded with the West Indies. But he did not just trade in the Caribbean. Sir Richard owned plantations on the tiny island of Montserrat. Plantations were worked by slaves. The mansion that he built at Dagnams in the 1770s, the £150,000 that he left at his death in 1814 – much of that came from slave labour, "owning" other human beings.

By the 19th century, campaigners denounced slavery. In 1833 the government agreed to end the evil system. But the politically powerful slave-owners demanded compensation. They received £20 million from the suffering taxpayer – around £2 billion in today's values. As Sir Richard's heir, Sir Thomas Neave received £5,890 for 361 human beings on Montserrat. He also had claims to £10,785 awarded for mortgaged properties on nearby St Kitts and Nevis, although he did not receive all that cash.

I believe Sir Thomas was embarrassed by his tainted inheritance. He gave money – £30 a year – to educate Montserrat's children. Few slave-owners followed his example. It would be a cheap shot to suggest that Noak Hill's church was built with compensation cash for slaves. The wealthy Neaves could afford the cost anyway.

All the same, the dedication is intriguing. Few churches are named after the Bible's "Doubting Thomas" – he's not an inspirational role-model! Maybe the dedication was just swank, Sir Thomas parading his namesake. But India's ancient Christian minority claims the Apostle Thomas its founder. He came to the sub-continent in New Testament times, they say, as a slave. William Neave, youngest son of Sir Thomas, was a judge in Madras (now Chennai), where St Thomas was said to have been martyred. It's likely that Sir Thomas and France knew the legend.

 Was Noak Hill church named for St Thomas to signal the Neaves' shame at their involvement in one of the greatest crimes in British history? We'll never know. Thanks to the Neave connection, one corner of Montserrat was called "Dagnam" (later spelt "Dagenham"). It was abandoned after a volcanic eruption in 1995.

HAVERING NEWS IN AUSTRALIA'S EARLY NEWSPAPERS

Nineteenth-century Australia had a vigorous newspaper press. Most people had migrated from Britain – some as free settlers, others as convicts – and they wanted news from "Home".

Some lively stories from Havering can be traced, through the National Library of Australia's "Trove" website.

Sometimes stories carried a coded message: Australia wasn't the only country with ruffians.

In 1834, a Hobart paper reported that a "Mr Andrews" from Romford was subjected to a "novel method of stopping passengers on the high road" as he rode home from Dagenham, late one night. An assailant at the roadside "threw a hook at him, with a rope attached to it." 

However, Andrews spurred his horse and escaped, minus his trousers which had been yanked off.

In 1835, a Sydney newspaper gleefully reported a clash between two huntsmen from Thurrock, who happened to meet in a respectable Romford coffee lounge. Claiming that his sister had been "most ungallantly and grossly slandered", one of them "applied his hunting whip or rather the handle of it, to the shoulders of the offender".

Australian newspapers were also interested in Britain's new rail network: the continent's first line, eighteen miles out of Sydney, only opened in 1855. Shortly after the Eastern Counties railway reached Brentwood in 1840, colonists chortled over the fate of a man who didn't realise how fast trains ran. One Sunday evening, a train from London passed Romford when "the hat of a man named Meury Jay was blown off". His brother-in-law, a fellow passenger, pleaded with him, but Mr Jay jumped down on to the track to recover it. This was a bad idea: the engine was belting along at 25 miles per hour. "The train was stopped as quickly as possible, and the poor man was taken up senseless". He was rushed to a surgeon who operated on his broken skull, "but he is now lying at Great Warley without the smallest hopes of recovery."

But journalists were also keen to stress the positive value of railways. In 1846 report from a Sydney newspaper highlighted the Havering area as "a striking illustration of the creative effect of railways upon the trading resources of a district". A few years before, locals would have "laughed at the idea of sending their milk to the metropolis". Now, passengers on the Eastern Counties line "can hardly fail to have seen huge canister-shaped tin vessels" at Romford and Brentwood stations (Gidea Park and Harold Wood didn't exist then). They were loaded into a special van to ensure that "the milk reaches London in prime condition."

In 1849, Sydney's "sporting" newspaper reported a boxing match beside the Thames at Rainham. Harry Adams and Jem Herbert were flyweights, both weighing in below 7 stone 9 pounds (109 lbs, 49.5 kilos). The two tiny pugilists were "both in tip top condition", and walloped one another to the crowd's delight for 21 rounds, when the fight came to a controversial close. Both boxers reeled to the ground, but Herbert's fans cried foul, claiming that Adams punched their man as they fell. The referee was intimidated into awarding the fight to Herbert, but it was thought that the contest would have to be re-run.

A later bout on Rainham marshes in 1853, between two fighters called Parker and Sims, was even more gruesome. In the 38th round (no, "38th" isn't a misprint), Sims was "rolled completely over" by Parker's killer punch, "his head appearing to be doubled under". Sims was carried away unconscious. The marshes provided a safe venue for illegal prize fights. The local bobby was stationed over a mile away in Rainham village. Reinforcements from Romford would have been required anyway before  police might dare to intervene.

It's odd to think of fans on the sunny shores of Sydney Harbour avidly reading reports of near-slaughter on the distant marches at Rainham.

ROMFORD'S FIRST BUS CONDUCTOR?

The old gentleman was amused by the thought of his life story appearing in a local newspaper. "There's old Billy Manning!", he imagined people saying. "Thought he was dead." A sprightly 83 year-old (slightly deaf, he admitted), in 1909 William Manning lived in Roger Reede's Almhouses, then located in North Street, Romford (later rebuilt in Church Lane).

Billy was born in Suffolk in 1825. He started work at the age of five (yes, five), for ninepence (nearly 4p.) a week. His job was the shoo birds off the crops, a live scarecrow. He soon learnt to work with horses. In 1849, as he put it, "I emigrated to Romford," at first lodging in a High Street pub.

Twenty earlier, Romford had prospered servicing passing stagecoaches. But the arrival of the railway in 1839 destroyed the coach trade. What brought an expert on horses to Havering's capital? Only one horse-powered service could compete with the trains, not a smart stagecoach, but a more mundane "omnibus". It's a Latin word meaning "for everybody", now shortened to "bus". Billy was the omnibus conductor, and later became the driver.

At eightpence (3p) a mile ("that isn't much," Billy insisted), the omnibus carried 28 passengers, twelve inside, the rest perched on the roof. The journey, from the White Hart (later the Bitter End) in Romford, to St Paul's cathedral, was supposed to take an hour and a half. But picking up passengers on the way meant travel time was "generally about two hours." The railway was faster, but in its early years trains only ran to Shoreditch, inconvenient for central London. "We were patronised all right," Billy recalled, mainly by older people, "them as didn't like going in the train." On Sundays and market days, customers had to be turned away.

The omnibus left Romford at 9 o'clock on weekday mornings, returning in time for a second service at 3.30 p.m. Billy failed to move the Sunday departure time back to 8 a.m. "Them old ladies they used to take such a lot of time to dress, or else they wouldn't get up soon enough, so we made it nine," he reminisced. "We used to carry a fine lot of old ladies." Other passengers he remembered with less pleasure. "Once picked up a man that had committed a murder. He was hanged afterwards." In days of coal fires, thick fog was a hazard. Billy remembered "leading the horses all the way from London to Romford. That was a lively business."

The service ceased around 1880. Railway safety had improved. Liverpool Street station opened in 1874, reducing the advantage of an omnibus right into the City. But Billy continued to work with horses, delivering goods from a depot in North Street. "Many a time I was out all night with them." He gave up the carrier business after falling under his wagon, "and the wheel went over my leg". For a time he worked as a caretaker.

William Manning's wife Ann came from Wennington, near Rainham. They married about 1858. Their only child, a little boy, died in infancy. Left a widower in his eighties, Billy retired to the Almshouses, taking up rug-making as a hobby. "People have been wonderful kind to me," was his verdict on Life.

NORHERN HAVERING: A WHEAT BELT AND CATTLE COUNTRY

Although it's barely five miles from Hornchurch village to the Borough boundary at Noak Hill, the northern half of 19th century Havering contained both a wheat belt and cattle country. The contrast is explained by the Thames terraces, former valley floors shaped by the river in past Ice Ages. The Thames terraces are like shelves. The lowest, at Rainham and Elm Park, only rises a few feet above sea level. The middle shelf stretches from Romford (20 metres or 55 feet above sea level) across to Upminster and Cranham, which are both slightly lower. This central terrace isn't completely flat: St Andrew's church in Hornchurch stands on a hill 100 feet (40 metres) above sea level. Parts of the top terrace are much higher, and have great views across the Thames. Havering-atte-Bower is 344 feet (105 metres) above sea level.

The terraces have different soil types. This explains why the central belt was arable land, but the mountainous north was more suitable for growing cattle feed, such as hay.

Wheat had always formed part of Havering's farming economy. However, in medieval times, local farmers struggled with the stiff clay soil. Yields were poor. Agricultural techniques improved in the 18th century. During the wars against France from 1793 to 1815, government policy encouraged national self-sufficiency. Wheat was grown right across Havering. But by the later 19th century, Rainham, Corbets Tey and South Hornchurch had switched to vegetable growing for London consumers.

Havering's wheat belt stretched from Cranham to Romford. "Here may be seen some of the finest grain crops in the kingdom," wrote a patriotic Hornchurch resident in 1917. "The sight of the golden corn in August, when the fields are ripe for the harvest, is a thing of beauty, and worth coming many miles to see." Upminster Windmill survives to remind us of those waving fields of grain.

Stiff London Clay on the higher ground further north also challenged farmers, especially since Ice Age glaciers had crowned the hilltops with patches of gravel. Pasture predominated. Collier Row to Harold Hill was cattle country. At Havering-atte-Bower, entrepreneur Collinson Hall pioneered commercial dairying from the 1840s, using the new railway to whisk milk churns from Romford station to London. His son extended operations to South Weald. By the 1880s, the business produced 6,000 gallons daily. In 1886, a Butts Green (Emerson Park) farmer doubled as a straw dealer. A Hardley (now Ardleigh) Green man operated as a hay carter. There was a hay and straw binder working at Noak Hill. These occupations aren't found further south. Grassland was also horsey country. Hardley Green had a full-time "colt breaker", who tamed young horses – a horse whisperer in Ardleigh Green?

Conditions for farm labourers were tough across northern Havering. Branches of the agricultural labourers' union were formed in 1874-5 at Collier Row and Hare Street (Main Road, Gidea Park). At Romford Common, a scattered settlement north of Gallows Corner, the union branch pledged to "fight the battle for liberty" – but the movement was too weak to last.

There was some overlap in farming methods. Around 1815, a farmer at Chase Cross, Collier Row, experimented with root crops for winter cattle feed. Hops, usually associated with Kent, were grown at Havering village in the 1820s, presumably for Romford Brewery.

Collinson Hall tried boosting wheat yields with artificial fertiliser. He also invented a steam plough to tackle tough soils. Grain crops were probably driven off Havering's marginal upland soils from the 1850s by competition from cheap American (and, later, Canadian) imports. Collier Row's windmill, in Lawns Avenue, was demolished by 1871. The ancient mill on Shepherds Hill, Harold Wood was taken down in 1882.

Local gardeners, take heart. Even our rural forebears had to work hard to coax anything out of Havering's cussed soils.

HAVERING'S PUB GEOGRAPHY A HANGOVER FROM RURAL DAYS

There must be a posh word for the study of public houses. Maybe it's boozerography. Havering has some modern taverns, but basically the Borough's pub landscape dates from times before the suburbs invaded.

In 1762, Romford had 22 pubs. There were five in Collier Row, and four in Hornchurch village. Small hamlets alongside the Great Essex Road (now A118 / A12) had clusters of inns to service travellers. Brook Street, near Brentwood, retains its watering holes. At the Gidea Park settlement of Hare Street, The Ship and The Unicorn flourish within one hundred yards. Both existed in 1762, and probably earlier.

Some local hostelries have long histories: Romford's Golden Lion can be traced to 1440. The Phoenix at Rainham, the Cherry Tree in South Hornchurch and Havering-atte-Bower's Orange Tree all existed by the eighteenth century. Ardleigh Green's Spencer Arms (now the Ardleigh) was built on enclosed common land – the former Hardley Green – around 1816. Another enclosure of common, in 1846, created the site for the Shepherd and Dog at Harold Wood.

The King Harold was built in 1868 to serve travellers at the new Harold Wood railway station. The Albion in Rainham Road opened around 1880 to cater for amateur soldiers who trained on Rainham's rifle range. It was originally called The Canteen. Pubs were rarely built to serve newly built-up areas. Exceptions include the Prince Albert in St Andrews Road, Romford, opened about 1860, the Old Oak (now the Havering Oak), at the corner of  Brentwood Road, dating from around 1875, and the New Inn near Ardleigh Green, intended to serve a colony of railway workers.

Breweries pressed the local licensing authority for permission to open new pubs as population grew in the 1930s. Only a few projects, such as the Elm Park Hotel (now closed) were approved.

There was a proposal in 1927 to build a pub at Harold Wood, where Gubbins Lane meets Colchester Road. The forecourt would eliminate a blind corner, and part of the site was offered for road widening. Local Methodists, whose church was nearby, objected.

The scheme was also opposed by the landlord of the Plough at Gallows Corner. At the licensing hearing, his lawyer asked a witness: "You think you ought to have a public house every mile for the benefit of motorists?" The reply was: "We have one every fifty yards in Romford." Revived in 1938, the plan was blocked when Hornchurch Council refused planning permission. The site became the Ingrebourne telephone exchange.

Another unsuccessful scheme was for a pub on the A12 at Maylands, opposite Harold Park. One local supporter complained that he had to walk to Brook Street for a drink, "and by the time he got back, he would want another." Holiday traffic was the reason behind a 1938 application to build a "road-house" on the Southend Arterial Road at Redden Court Road, Harold Wood. Nobody challenged the idea of selling alcohol to motorists.

Havering's pubs are changing. Some have closed, or become restaurants. The Drill in Gidea Park may be a model for the future. A rural beerhouse which existed by 1841, it's named after a seed drill, not military square-bashing. In 2016, it reopened after a half-million pound facelift.

PROSPECT PLACE: COLLIER ROW'S LOST SETTLEMENT

Prospect Place still appears on the Havering map, preserving the name of an otherwise forgotten Collier Row settlement.

Prospect Place had a poor start. In 1666, Romford was hit by bubonic plague, a carry-over from the Plague of London the previous year. Needing an isolation hospital, the town established a "pest house" in Collier Row Lane, in a field just south of Maidstone Avenue.

It probably continued to be used to dump poor people until replaced by Oldchurch workhouse – later Romford's main hospital – in 1838-9. The re-development of the site began soon afterwards.

An exercise in re-branding, "Prospect Place" was a row of cottages on the east side of Collier Row Lane looking across open country to the scenic beauty of the River Rom. Two residents from 1841 would become mainstays of Prospect Place. Robert Cole was a baker, who doubled as a beer-seller. Running a pub and baking bread – when did he sleep? After a few years, he concentrated on his bakery. After all, the Bell & Gate, still a Collier Row hostelry, was a only short stroll away. His neighbour, John Sapsford, grandly called himself a "cordwainer". Later records use the prosaic term, "shoemaker".

Located a mile north of Romford, the cottages were perhaps cheaper than renting in the town, where some residents worked. In 1851, the 51 residents in fifteen cottages included 28 year-old brewery worker George Bloomfield, and 25 year-old Mary Carr, "workhouseman's wife", whose husband may have been on duty on census night. William Richardson, "hat trimmings manufacturer", probably also worked in Romford town. There was no Eastern Avenue, and no buses. If your job was in Romford, you walked.

Several residents were farm labourers, natives of Essex and Suffolk. Some must have worked at nearby Mowbray's Farm. Others trudged for miles seeking employment. Shoe repairing was a vital service at Prospect Place.

The small cottages were faced with the Essex building material of weatherboard, overlapping planking to keep out wind and rain. No photograph survives, but a Collier Row veteran gave me a description. Around 1860, a couple of smarter dwellings called "Prospect Houses" were added by the bend in Collier Row Lane. In 1881, they were occupied by George Knox, a 78-year old retired gardener from Scotland, and James Simmons, a farm manager.

In a dramatic explosion of bricks and mortar, Romford suburbs surged around the hamlet in the 1930s. To serve the new residents, Good Shepherd church was built across the road.

Its elegant architecture contrasted with the chicken and pig farm behind the cottages, which bore a sign proudly proclaiming "Prospect Place". One cottage was a small grocer's shop, run by a family called Newman.

In 1955, Romford Council (Havering's forerunner) decided to clear the settlement and build flats. No doubt the accommodation was primitive, and there was a national housing shortage. Still, the loss of a century-old community seems a pity. Residents in nearby streets resisted the scheme, preferring their semi-rural outlook over the cottages. But Prospect Place was swept away, and the site packed with four-storey apartment blocks. Three of these were grouped around a cul-de-sac, which inherited the name, Prospect Place. Otherwise, it's as if the home of Robert Cole and Mary Carr never existed.

THE PECULIAR PEOPLE – AN ESSEX RELIGIOUS GROUP

Strange religious groups appear around the world. Essex produced one – and even they called themselves the "Peculiar People".

James Banyard was born in 1800, in Rochford – a lonely town on the marshes. He was a wild young man, a poacher who mocked religion, throwing peas on the steps of the local chapel to upend worshippers. One neighbour called him "the ugliest man I ever saw." Banyard used to impersonate horses – making his lips stick out, it was claimed!

Then came a dramatic conversion. Banyard gave up alcohol, joined the chapel and even became a preacher. But Banyard found Methodist services tame. He broke away, preaching dramatic sermons at open-air meetings. Critics pelted him with filth. The publicity brought this striking figure followers among local farm workers. In 1838, he started his own chapel. It had the discipline of a cult – daily prayers at 5 a.m. (the farm day began early), four services on Sundays, including a shared meal.

In 1852, the group became a formal church, with Banyard as its bishop. Their Biblical name "Peculiar People" meant "special" or "chosen". They refused to consult doctors. When believers fell ill, others prayed over them. People sometimes do recover from illnesses. These cases were claimed as miracles. However, in 1855, the Peculiars split. When one of his children fell sick, Banyard called in a doctor!  The faithful tried to depose him, but he owned the chapel.

"Peculiars" were sometimes prosecuted for refusing medical aid. You can kill yourselves with your strange beliefs, warned one Essex coroner, but we won't let you kill your children.

But the law faced a problem. In the era before X-rays and antibiotics, medicine was hit-and-miss. Children too often died of diseases, even if the local GP gave them a bottle of coloured water. So prosecutions might fail because doctors could not swear they would have saved a youngster's life. The movement split again after a diphtheria epidemic in 1910. Some parents went to prison, but most Peculiars reluctantly accepted that medical science had improved.

Most of the 2,000 Peculiar People lived in villages around Southend. By the 1880s, they had a chapel in Grays, and about 30 followers at Herongate, near Brentwood.  A hard-working community, the Peculiar People looked after their own sick and unemployed. Hence they tended to remain in rural Essex when other farming people left for the cities. However, the sect established congregations in West Ham and Woolwich.

Havering proved harder to crack. Romford had several evangelical chapels, while the Salvation Army was active. Enthusiastic hymn singers who refused to use instruments, the Peculiar People disapproved of the Salvoes for their drums and bugles. In the early 20th century, the Peculiar People met in a former Congregational chapel in North Street. It was also the first home of the Romford Recorder! In 1937, there was a Peculiar People chapel in Richmond Road, Romford, off Brentwood Road. They vanished locally soon afterwards.

Eventually, the Peculiar People accepted that their strange name put people off. In 1956, they became the Union of Evangelical Churches. With a headquarters near Rayleigh, there are still fifteen congregations across Essex and London. Faith healing is no longer a central belief.

"HE DIED AS A FOX OUGHT TO DIE": HUNTING ACROSS HAVERING IN 1863

Most of us regard fox-hunting as a cruel pastime, but 150 years ago it was a major part of country life – and Havering was still very rural. Let's join the Essex Hunt on a February afternoon in 1863 as they gather at Kelvedon Hatch, near Brentwood. Keen huntsmen in scarlet jackets – strangely called "pink" – mingle with gentlemen in top hats and some farmers in their working clothes. Most farmers resented the damage the hunting crowd did to their crops. Few "ladies" rode to hounds.

After a fruitless trot through Navestock, the hunt plunged into woodland near Passingford Bridge, four miles north of Romford. There "the welcome music of the whole pack" confirmed that the hounds had scented a fox. Hunting was defended because foxes were vermin that killed lambs and chickens. But farmers were bullied into protecting them, to give the huntsmen something to chase!

Their quarry fled south, towards modern Harold Hill, heading – the experts thought – for a drainage pipe off Broxhill Road, a favourite refuge for hunted foxes. But the pipe had been blocked, and the animal streaked to the west, through Bedfords Park to "Cheese Cross", the old spelling of Chase Cross. There it turned south. There was no Eastern Avenue in 1863. The terrified animal quickly dashed across crossed the Gidea Hall grounds, part of them modern Raphael Park. Somewhere along today's Carlton Road, it jumped the railway, turning sharply eastward, heading – it was thought – for the safety of thick woodland  beyond Tylers Common.

The huntsmen probably crossed the railway at the Balgores Lane bridge, before galloping towards Ardleigh Green. However, near Nelmes, in Emerson Park, the fox doubled back towards The Drill. After a "gallop across Squirrels Heath", huntsmen chased it through Heath Park to Hornchurch Road (the A124), near the Crown Inn. Crossing the busy highway delayed the hunt for several minutes. Then they splashed through the River Rom near Grenfell Park and pounded on through Rush Green.

But the fox had veered north alongside Whalebone Lane, before turning east, and finally north again across the fields of Rise Park, seeking safety in familiar country. Fanning out in search of the scent, the hounds lost a quarter of an hour before resuming the chase alongside Collier Row Lane, crossing the grounds of Priests, a former mansion remembered in Priests Avenue. The "run" had now lasted three hours and covered over 20 miles. The winter daylight was fading. The hounds, "intent on a late supper", were still in full cry, but the climb up Orange Tree Hill was too much for the exhausted fox. The pack cornered its quarry in woodland near Havering village. After a few desperate attempts to escape, "he died as a fox ought to die" – so wrote the hunt's historian. The hounds tore the animal to pieces, "struggling for the dainty morsels while the shades of evening fell fast around." Usually, the fox's "brush" – its tail – was cut off and used to "blood" newcomers, by smearing gore on their faces. But today only a few experienced huntsmen were in at the kill. They enjoyed "a most satisfactory finish" to a great day's "sport".

Hunting was outlawed in 2004.

TALLY-HO! AT HAROLD WOOD STATION

The cruel "sport" of fox-hunting was cruel was a feature of 19th-century Havering life.

Two gentry families, the Harding Newmans at Nelmes in Emerson Park, and the Neaves at Dagnams on Harold Hill, were big supporters.

Each of the four Essex hunts had its own territory, called a "country". The main road from London to Brentwood was the boundary between the Essex Foxhounds and the South Essex Hunt. But the foxes didn't know this, so hot pursuit was allowed across "country" boundaries. In a dramatic run around 1870, the South Essex disturbed a fox near Aveley. Huntsmen and hounds chased it through Cranham to Upminster Hall (now a golf club).The terrified animal fled along the Ingrebourne north to Harold Wood Station. The fox probably leaped the railway and raced across modern-day Harold Park. The hounds later picked up its scent in Dagnam Park. The pursuers in their scarlet jackets ("hunting pink") must have clattered over the bridge in Gubbins Lane. This slowed them down, and their quarry escaped around South Weald. Good luck to it!

In 1894, a fox was pursued from Dagnams to Havering-atte-Bower, and then back past Harold Wood. Huntsmen struggled across the "heavy fields" of Harold Hill and on to Harold Court Road, towards the "inviting archway" of its narrow bridge under the railway. But first they had to cross the Ingrebourne, "deep and murky" with winter rain (and Brentwood sewage), its banks "steep and rotten" (and its bridge, it seems, swept away). One bold huntsman spurred his horse to leap the flood. The riverbank crumbled, plunging horse and rider into the stream. That fox headed for Tylers Common, and escaped.

Some accounts make terrorising a fox sound romantic. In December 1894, the hunt pursued its victim from Gidea Hall (today's Raphael Park), galloping "like smoke" east to "the Gallow Road" (Straight Road) across gently sloping grassland, "where a high bullfinch cut the horizon".

But hunting was hard on riders and horses. The novelist Anthony Trollope was heavily built, short-sighted – and a reckless follower of the Essex hounds. Once he had to be patched up at The Priory, a vanished mansion recalled in Harold Hill's Priory Road. His horse had jumped a Noak Hill hedge, but fell in a hidden drainage ditch behind it – like the water jump in the Grand National.

In a gallop from Harold Hill to Navestock in 1899, one rider "had the cruel misfortune to kill a horse". "I have never heard more genuine sympathy expressed," wrote one huntsman. My sympathies are with the horse.

Hunting was about power, the gentry's right to smash through hedges and trample down farmers' crops. Once the hounds were away, nobody knew where the agony might end. In November 1890, a three-hour chase ended with the fox being torn to pieces in Brentwood High Street. One of the riders who made it to the kill was a 79 year-old clergyman.

A lost rider once asked a Havering-atte-Bower farm worker: had the huntsmen galloped through nearby woodland? Contemptuously, he replied that if the hounds had "been in that 'ere wood", they must have been very quiet about it. That farm labourer is the voice of Havering people who resented the arrogant vandalism of the hunting crowd.

RUMBLINGS UNDER ROMFORD: THE 1884 ESSEX EARTHQUAKE

Although we don't think of Britain as an earthquake zone, the UK experiences hundreds of minor earth tremors each year.  Occasionally, there is a serious earthquake. Canterbury cathedral was damaged by a severe shock in 1382. Planning for the Channel Tunnel had to research the Dover Straits earthquake of 1580. There was a violent shock across north Essex in 1692.

Around 20 past 9 in the morning on 22 April 1884, Colchester was hit by a major quake.

Its epicentre was a few miles to the south. Wivenhoe, on the Colne estuary, looked as if it had been shelled by enemy forces. A famous pub, the Peldon "Rose", was wrecked. The church at Langenhoe was never properly repaired, and was eventually demolished. Modern research suggests nobody was killed, a miracle given the amount of crashing masonry in Colchester.

The shock wave was accompanied by a rumbling noise. "Great alarm" was felt at Chelmsford, where people thought the gasworks had blown up. At Southend, there were fears of an explosion at the Army's artillery range at Shoeburyness. In south Essex, people guessed the government's gunpowder store at Purfleet had gone up.

Brentwood was perhaps cushioned by its hilltop location, but a lady having breakfast in bed spilt her coffee. Furniture moved and lamps were upset at South Weald. But at hilltop Havering-atte-Bower, the earth did not move. However, in an Ilford hotel, servants scurried around answering bells jangled by invisible hands.

Miss Kate Robinson ran a school for young ladies on the south side of High Street Romford.

"I heard a cracking noise in the north-east corner of the room," she noted, "the house seemed to sway forwards towards the south." For a few seconds, the building trembled, as if a traction engine was passing down the narrow High Street. A picture rattled against the wall.

Miss Robinson checked her watch. It was exactly 9.20 a.m.

"The shock was distinctly felt in Romford," an Essex newspaper reported, "especially in the vicinity of South Street." That's intriguing. Romford's original medieval chapel had stood further down South Street. Probably built close to the river Rom, it was subordinate to the parish church at Hornchurch, and shared its dedication to St Andrew. It was replaced in 1410 by St Edward's, in the Market Place.  The original location is still remembered as Oldchurch.

As late as 1880, local tradition claimed the chapel had been swallowed by an earthquake. Locals claimed that if you stood at the corner of Oldchurch Road on St Andrew's night, 30 November, you might hear the bells still ringing deep underground! Was Romford's first church damaged by the earthquake that hit Canterbury – just 45 miles away – in 1382? Maybe, as at Langenhoe, it was easier in the long run to abandon it than repair the damage.

Romford's Congregational (United Church) minister, the Reverend Frederick Sweet, saw a message in the 1884 earthquake. Preaching to a packed congregation, he warned: "All scripture prophecies pointed to a time when the earth should be destroyed, and no one knew how near that time might be at hand." Doubtless our Borough will one day be hit by another earth tremor. But I don't expect Romford to drop through the Earth's crust.

EDGAR BRATCHELL – HAVERING'S FORGOTTEN BOSS

You won't have heard of Edgar George Bratchell, but in his day, he was a big name in local politics. Edgar was born in Corbets Tey in 1868. He inherited his names from his father, usually called "George", a coachman, probably working for one of Upminster's genteel families.

In 1877, a businessman called Henry Holmes built a fake medieval mansion, Grey Towers, now recalled in Hornchurch's Grey Towers Avenue. George became his head coachman. Nine year-old Edgar moved to Hornchurch, and there he stayed. In 1913, Henry's widow left George a pension of fifteen shillings (75 p.) a week, for 36 years of loyal service.

The Bratchells were an ambitious family. Calling herself a "respectable young person" and claiming to be good at needlework, Edgar's 18 year-old sister Agnes, wanted to become a ladies' maid. In 1882, she advertised for a job – in Britain's top newspaper, The Times.

Young Edgar became a painter and decorator, operating from Hornchurch High Street. Later he branched out into plumbing and gas fitting.

His energy was formidable. For fifty years, he sang in the choir of St Andrew's church.

In November 1889, he joined the newly formed Hornchurch cricket club, becoming vice-captain, and later secretary, organising the matches. By 1910, he was the star player, having scored 2,726 runs and taken 1,115 wickets – at a remarkably economical average of 7.46.

In 1911, aged 43, he scored his only century, 103 not out, against Harold Wood.

In 1898, Hornchurch established a fire brigade. Edgar Bratchell was appointed captain, and ran the unit for over twenty years. Of course, as a plumber, he could locate and operate hydrants on the spreading system of water mains.

Working for the gentry, the Bratchells were Tories. In 1910, a company was formed to build a Conservative Club in North Street (it's still there). Edgar became one of the directors.

When Hornchurch celebrated George V's Coronation in 1911, he was a member of the four-man finance committee that raised the cash.

Maybe his activity masked personal sadness. In 1896, aged 28, Edgar had married local woman Emily Camp. In 1898, the couple had a son – the third-generation Edgar George. Their second child, a girl, was born in 1905. Mother and daughter died in childbirth.

Bratchell hired a housekeeper, and was elected to Romford Rural District Council, one of Havering's forerunners. He became a magistrate, and a Poor Law Guardian.  Edgar remarried in 1914. His second wife, Annie Read, supported his local activities.

The First World War provided new opportunities – 31 jobs in total. He became Chairman of the Council. He served on the tribunal exempting men from military service, on the food economy committee, the fuel and lighting committee, and their assorted sub-committees.

Honouring Emily's memory, he supported maternity and child welfare projects. At night, he patrolled the streets as a special constable. His son survived the War, and became a local builder.

Edgar Bratchell's public career continued postwar. He was elected to Hornchurch Council when the area became an urban district in 1926. (In 1965, Hornchurch merged with Romford to form Havering.) He died in 1934, aged 66. A carved oak screen in St Andrew's church is his memorial. Our local democracy depends upon people like Edgar Bratchell.

FREDERICK WESTGATE, ROMFORD BUSINESSMAN

Frederick Westgate was born in 1839. Son of a Norfolk farmer, he was one of thousands who left the countryside for the growing cities. The 1861 census records Frederick, aged 22, living near the Elephant and Castle, in a hostel packed with drapers' assistants. It was probably run by a London store, where the young man was apprenticed.

After marriage to Sarah Maddams in 1866, Frederick launched out for himself. In 1871, the Westgates lived off Romford's Victoria Road. The first three of their eleven children had already arrived. Only seven would survive childhood. In 1871, the family could afford to employ a 13 year-old girl as a servant. Somehow, they also squeezed in five shop assistants as lodgers into their Victorian house in Kings Road.

By 1881, the growing family occupied an imposing building at the South Street end of Romford Market. Now a leading Romford leading shopkeeper, Frederick employed nine staff. There were also twelve young lodgers, eleven of them drapers and one a dressmaker.

Like many shopkeepers, Westgate was a Wesleyan Methodist. Methodists were hard-working and trustworthy teetotallers who formed a handy business network. Over the years, he "held every office which it was possible to hold" in Romford's Wesleyan congregation, including thirteen years running the Sunday School. In 1887, Frederick Westgate was a driving force behind building Mawney Road Methodist church.  Nowadays it's awkwardly squeezed alongside Romford's ring road. His daughter Kate laid a foundation stone on behalf of the family.

Westgate's prime Market location was a mixed blessing. In 1888, he complained about the way it was run. Market day was Wednesday, but the organisers started setting up stalls early on Tuesday, and often did not clear them until Thursday.  Stalls were crammed close to shops, forcing Westgate to rent a space himself to keep his entrance clear. Itinerant fairground operators were another nuisance. They would set up roundabouts on Thursdays, and churn out raucous music until Saturday. On Sunday mornings, the fairground people washed themselves in public, "nearly naked".

Soon after Westgate made a career change, becoming a house agent in Eastern Road. His main business was renting properties (few people purchased in those days) in the fast-growing suburb. Westgate was also elected to the Local Board of Health, distant forerunner of Havering Council. He clashed with the Board's medical officer, Dr Alfred Wright. Westgate thought Dr Wright was officious and over-zealous.

In October 1893, Romford was hit by an outbreak of scarlet fever, a throat infection especially dangerous to children. The epidemic was part of wider local public health crisis. Diphtheria was rampant in Hornchurch. In the first ten months of 1893, Rainham had 100 cases of diphtheria and scarlet fever. Even the dreaded disease smallpox had appeared.

Dr Wright advised headteachers to close Romford's schools. Westgate was furious. The medical officer was their servant, not their master. Dr Wright had been "disrespectful" in not consulting the Board. Newspaper reports of a town "stricken with a plague of fever" were "most detrimental to the letting of houses."

Of course, Westgate was wrong. Scarlet fever did not hang around waiting for Romford's civic leaders to hold meetings. Covering up the crisis would have been irresponsible.

Relocated in Romford's rising commercial heart, South Street, Westgate's business flourished. He moved to a large house in Mawney Road (near Palm Road). Sarah died there in 1909. Soon after, Frederick's health broke down. A partner now ran the business. His daughter Annie, now a widow, returned to nurse him.

An honoured citizen, Frederick Westgate died in May 1917, during the First World War. One of his sons attended the funeral in uniform. He left almost £10,000 – worth about £350,000 today. But property prices have risen faster than general inflation, and Frederick had also set up his children with their own houses. Fifty years in Romford had made him a rich man.

THE RUSH GREEN SHOPLIFTER WHO NEEDED HELP

When I first read about the conviction of a Rush Green woman Maria Kelly for shoplifting in 1893, it seemed an amusing episode of brass-necked pilfering. But as I dug deeper, the story became darker. Was there a miscarriage of justice? Did Maria need help, not punishment?

26 year-old Maria Tooley and 40 year-old builder Conrad Kelly had been both married before when they wed in 1876. She had a small boy, he was father of at least five children. They would have six more together. Around 1880, they moved to Romford, living first in Junction Road. By 1887, they'd gone to a new development at Rush Green. Isolated beyond Romford cemetery in the fields towards Dagenham, Birkbeck Road was perhaps not a smart address.

But Conrad Kelly was moderately prosperous. He owned property, almost certainly houses he'd built for rental. He'd retired by 1901. He must have had an assured income to quit work: there was no State pension until 1909.

Maria was "respectably dressed" when Samuel Thompson nabbed her in his South Street fish shop in November 1893. It was Wednesday, Market day, when Romford was busy. Thompson also sold shopping bags, with fancy designs. He didn't trust Maria. She purchased some prawns, popped them in one of Thompson's bags and was leaving when he stopped her.

It was a mistake, she insisted. She had a similar bag at home and had momentarily confused the two. "You make so many mistakes" Thompson drily retorted.

Romford magistrates adjourned the case for two weeks so she could produce the bag that had caused the alleged confusion. She re-appeared with one that was a different shape and colour.

Court procedure then broke down. "I've spent pounds in his shop," Maria protested. "Yes, and you've taken pounds too," Thompson retorted. "It was purely accidental, and my character has been disgraced dreadfully over it, already. I don't suffer from kleptomania, and I never took anything in my life," Maria claimed.

The magistrates asked Inspector Willsmer if Maria was known to the police.  "She's not been before the court," he replied but "I have had many people come to me about her." An aggressive solicitor would have slammed the magistrates for allowing unsubstantiated hearsay, and bullied them into letting her go.  Unfortunately, Rush Green housewives did not hire lawyers.

Maria was fined £1, plus costs, or fourteen days in prison with hard labour. She was still in the cells when the court rose. Maybe Conrad was at work. I hope he paid the fine: Chelmsford Gaol was no holiday camp.

Of course, Inspector Willsmer did not invent the complaints against Maria. It's interesting that she used the word "kleptomaniac". That was a specialist medical term, suggesting that maybe she'd consulted a doctor about her unorthodox shopping habits. Nowadays, magistrates would ask for a psychiatric report, but no such support was available then.

Things went downhill for Maria Kelly. Two years later, she was arrested "helplessly drunk" late at night in Romford High Street. She had "several previous convictions". The 1901 census locates Conrad a couple of streets away, in Wolseley Road, Rush Green. By then, he was a widower. No doubt Maria Kelly was a pest to honest shopkeepers. But she needed help, not humiliation.

PARISH PUMP POLITICS IN HORNCHURCH ELECTION

People sometimes argue that elections would be better without political parties. If all candidates stood as Independents, voters could choose the best qualified regardless of their politics.

In 1894, Hornchurch had its first nearly-democratic election (it was male-dominated), for the thirteen seats of the newly created parish council. Every elector could cast thirteen votes.

The problem was that Hornchurch did not really have a common identity. The parish stretched from the Thames all the way up to Harold Wood and the modern-day A12.

Hornchurch village had been growing since the railway had arrived in 1885. There were commuters and brickworks employees at Harold Wood. South Hornchurch was inhabited by market gardeners. A fourth population centre, around Park Lane and Brentwood Road, was really an extension of Romford. Fields separated them all.

You might be the Winston Churchill of Ardleigh Green, but if only Ardleigh Green voted for you, you wouldn't get elected. So the seventeen candidates formed two rival alliances and – of course – they soon started abusing one another. Hornchurch had party politics without political principles. One side publicised its "ticket" in a leaflet called "A Rambling Rhyming Rigmarole". It began:

"P stands for Paxon and Payle, that is clear,

A for 'Alf' Norris, who to speak does not fear.

R stands for Rayment, a working man sound,

I for integrity in Baker is found."

The other camp retaliated with "A Peculiar Pertinent Parody", which was countered by "A Reflective Relevant Rejoinder". Some of the doggerel was libellous.

Hornchurch parish council first met at a school in North Street on December 31, 1894. Its first project was to refurbish the village pump in Billet Lane, so that its water supply could be used to clean up the dusty roads – there was no tarmac in those days. Unfortunately, the well promptly ran dry.  But the Council had many successes. By 1917 there were 152 gas lamps in the parish – although Harold Wood and Emerson Park preferred darkness.

In 1900, Hornchurch parish council bought a modern fire engine. (Upminster only got around to this in 1927; Rainham waited until 1933!) A fire station opened in Billet Lane in 1907. The parish council pressed the next tier of local government, Romford Rural District, to build the area's first council houses in 1913. Eighteen cottages were erected in Abbs Cross Lane, rented at five shillings and threepence (26p) a week. Hornchurch parish council also provided 166 allotments, and defended public footpaths on Great Gardens Farm (Heath Park) and at Haynes Park. The big achievement was drainage. Despite campaigns against the cost, sewers were installed in the Brentwood Road area in 1898, in Hornchurch village by 1902, and at Harold Wood in 1903. Unfortunately, South Hornchurch lagged behind. In 1917, it still lacked piped water.

The first two council chairmen were gentlemen. Henry Compton's mansion, The Grange, became Harold Wood Hospital. His successor, Thomas Gardner, a Justice of the Peace, lived at Dury Falls, now a care home near Havering's Sixth Form College. Gardner travelled up to London every day. For years, he was only the First-Class ticket holder from Hornchurch station.

But in 1912, Council leadership passed to Charles Baker, who ran a grocery store in Hornchurch High Street. But it was an upmarket emporium. (He was the agent for Gilbey's Gin). However, snobbery gave way in wartime. By 1917, Alexander Ferguson, a North Street butcher, was chairman of Hornchurch parish council. Baker was among those first elected in 1894, thanks no doubt to his "I for Integrity" slogan. In 1916, another pioneer, "Alf" Norris ("who to speak does not fear"), presented an oaken throne for the use of future Council chairman.

In 1926, Hornchurch council gained extra powers by becoming an urban district. In 1934, Hornchurch UDC absorbed Cranham, Rainham and Upminster. In 1965, Hornchurch merged with Romford to form the Borough of Havering.

ROMFORD METHODISTS AND THE ROYAL MISTRESS

In 1888 Romford's Methodists built themselves an imposing church in Mawney Road. They had to borrow money for the project, and Methodists were careful people who didn't like debt. Seven years later, in June 1895, they held a fund-raising bazaar in the Corn Exchange, a High Street public building next to the Golden Lion, to raise the £375 that was outstanding.

It was a jolly event. Volunteer stall-holders came in fancy dress, some as cowboys, some as fortune-tellers, others in Japanese costume. A "galvanic battery" was a novelty sideshow: for a few pennies, you could feel a shock – probably the first time many Romford people had encountered electricity.

They needed a celebrity to open the bazaar and bring in the punters. The glamorous Countess of Warwick – "Daisy" to her friends – was an obvious choice. Heiress to Easton Lodge, an estate near Dunmow, Daisy liked Essex good causes. She also enjoyed passionate extra-marital sex. Her life has been called a mixture of philanthropy and philandering.

In 1881 Daisy had married Lord Brooke, who later became Earl of Warwick. She soon embarked on aristocratic adultery, including an affair with Britain's top admiral, Lord Charles Beresford. When Beresford's wife threatened a public scandal, Daisy tearfully appealed to the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, to intervene. His Royal Highness hushed up the row – and made Daisy his mistress in 1889. She liked to gossip about their relationship, and was nicknamed the Babbling Brooke.

In 1898, Edward moved on to Mrs Keppel, great-grandmother of the Duchess of Cornwall. She shared him with Queen Alexandra until the king's death in 1910. Mrs Keppel's role as royal mistress was widely known (in London, at least). Once, she rushed out of Buckingham Palace and hailed a taxi. Out of breath and fearing she would miss a train, she gasped to the driver "King's Cross!" "I'm sorry to hear that, ma'am," replied the cabbie.

At his Coronation in 1902, Edward VII arranged for all lady-friends to share a pew in Westminster abbey. Out of respect for the monarch's enthusiasm for horse-racing, the pew was called "the king's loose-box".

South Street Romford was hung with flags for Daisy's short drive from the Station.

Introducing her,   Methodist minister Reverend John Westlake said the name of the Countess of Warwick was "honoured throughout the world". Obviously, Romford hadn't heard the gossip. Daisy was "becomingly attired in a black and white check costume, with a light blue silk bodice covered with black net", a glamorous lace head-dress and a bouquet of carnations.

She referred to "my dear old county of Essex", and uttered worthy thoughts about Christian unity. You'd never have guessed that Daisy was sleeping with the future king.

Socialist journalist Robert Blatchford attacked Daisy's extravagant lifestyle. An angry Daisy confronted him – and he converted her to socialism. She became an early member of the Labour Party, even though it aimed to rid Britain of butterfly parasites like herself.

Daisy had money problems. Years later, she tried to blackmail on George V, by threatening to publish his father's love letters. The government persuaded a helpful businessman to buy them for a massive £64,000 (over £6 million today). He was made a baronet. But spendthrift Daisy was soon forced to sell the family treasures. When thieves broke into Easton Lodge not long before her death in 1938, they found nothing worth stealing.

Daisy had arrived in Romford that June day at 2.30 p.m. After inspecting the stalls, she left on the 3.53 train. But she spent 83 minutes longer in Romford than her lover, who never visited at all. Let's hope she told the future king Edward VII about his loyal subjects in this distant corner of the Empire.

The Corn Exchange was demolished in the 1920s. In 1970, the Methodist church was cut off from Mawney Road by Romford's inner by-pass.

CHARLES CASTELLAN – THE MAN WHO SHAPED GIDEA PARK

Born in 1875, Charles Castellan was the son of wealthy parents, Edward and Lucy, who loved continental travel. Charles himself was born in Geneva, and grew up speaking French and Italian as fluently as English. In 1897, the Castellans bought Hare Hall, the Romford mansion that is now Royal Liberty School.

After an unimpressive spell at Cambridge, Charles qualified as a solicitor in 1900, and practised in South Street, Romford.  In 1904, Charles married Hilda Compton (remembered in nearby Compton Avenue). The couple set up home in the newly-built Hare Cottage, close to the Hall. Today it is St Mary's Hare Park School.

After Gidea Park station opened in 1910, Charles joined a London partnership. One case, in 1915, involved famous entertainer Marie Lloyd. A London cinema had run a double bill of silent movies, one starring Ms Lloyd, the other exposing the slave trade. Implausibly, Marie Lloyd claimed the poster portrayed her as a people trafficker. It was a brazen case, but the cinema paid £500 to shut her up.

For a hobby, Charles Castellan bred spaniels. In 1908, his exhibited Bengairn at Cruft's, the famous dog show, and won second prize. (King Edward VII's dog came first.) Another spaniel, Haro Jack, did well at Richmond, the UK's oldest dog show.

Charles was also a reserve officer, serving in an artillery unit of the Territorial Army.

His father Edward died in 1901, his mother late in 1912. Expelled from the Stock Exchange in 1908, elder brother Victor probably could not afford to live in Hare Hall. Probably only the outbreak of war in 1914 delayed its sale.

In 1915, Hare Hall became a training camp for officers heading for France. Charles also joined the Regular Army. Aged 40, he does not seem to have taken part in the fighting. In any case, in 1917, he left the Army to resume his legal career. Soon, he was not just back in court, but standing in the dock. Solicitors required an annual licence to practise. Serving in the Army, Charles had let his licence lapse. The Law Society, which regulates solicitors, prosecuted him for resuming practice two years later without the precious document. Charles claimed he'd applied for a new licence, and assumed it was in the post. He was fined £5, plus costs.

After the war, Hare Hall was sold for development. Planning a boys' school for Romford, Essex Education Committee hoped to buy the mansion and 11 acres of land for £7,000. The Castellans drove a hard bargain – Royal Liberty cost £9,000 for 6 acres. The rest became Edward Close, named in their father's memory. By 1922, the parkland was laid out in streets named after former owners of the estate, Wallenger, Severn, Pemberton and – of course – Castellan.

Sandwiched between a secondary school and a suburb, Hare Cottage had become less idyllic residence. Charles still lived there in 1927, but he moved soon afterwards. He was only 60 when he died in Surrey in 1935. Oddly, for a solicitor, he had failed to make a Will, and died intestate.

Do dogs have ghosts? I'd like to think of Bengairn and Haro Jack scampering among the children of St Mary's Hare Park School. 

THE FORGOTTEN ROMFORD MP AND THE REGENT STREET ROADBLOCK

It's not surprising that we've forgotten Louis Sinclair, MP for Romford from 1897 to 1906.

His parents' surname was Schlesinger. He insisted that they were English but, as he himself had been born in Paris, he took the precaution of formally taking British citizenship a fortnight before the 1897 by-election.

Orphaned at the age of two, he had been reared by a guardian in England. Aged seventeen, he ran away to Australia. Fed by the wealth of the Victorian goldfields, "Marvellous Melbourne" was a boom town, dominated by Scots businessmen. Louis adopted a Scottish surname, and became Sinclair. After working as a schoolteacher, he became a journalist, and then made a fortune in property.

He returned to England, married a wealthy wife and invested in a fancy goods business in London's Bond Street. It specialised in making embroidered kneeling cushions for churches.

In 1897, he fought a by-election to become Conservative MP for the Romford division of Essex, which extended from East Ham to Upminster. Since MPs were expected to subscribe sports clubs and charity events, only a very rich man could afford to represent so large a constituency.

His Liberal opponent was Herbert Raphael, who's remembered for the park that he presented to the people of Romford. Raphael promised his Nonconformist supporters that he would close the pubs on Sunday. This threw the powerful drink trade behind Sinclair, just enough to give him a narrow victory. The result was Sinclair (Con): 8,156; Raphael (Lib): 8,031.

Louis Sinclair was re-elected in the Conservative general election victory of 1900, although there was some criticism of his election expenditure. Personally, he was becoming unpopular, with voracious local do-gooders claiming that he was "parsimonious".

Sinclair had some far-sighted ideas. In 1902, he called for a Ministry of Commerce, arguing that the existing government department, the Board of Trade, was mainly concerned with collecting statistics and supervising railways, shipping and harbours. A new body was needed, which would aggressively develop Britain's export trade.

Sinclair campaigned, without success, to gain more MPs for the growing Essex suburbs.  The Romford constituency, he told the Commons in 1902, contained 31,000 voters. Newry in Ireland had only 1,800. But he did little for the area himself. Having promised to live in the constituency, he briefly rented Nelmes, a rambling old mansion in Emerson Park, but left in 1903. In 1903, he backed legislation to bring trams to Romford.    The bill never passed, and the trams never materialised. Down Under, he was regarded as Australia's voice at Westminster.

In 1904, he made himself a figure of fun. Driving home from a Commons sitting late one evening – only very rich people owned motor cars – he encountered an obstacle in Regent Street. Workman had left a coiled hosepipe in the road. To avoid it, he swerved along the right hand side of the street, where he was nabbed by an officious policeman. Magistrates disliked motorists, and Sinclair was fined for dangerous driving.

Furious, he raised the matter in the House of Commons. Parliament had ordered the police "to take care that all passages through the streets to this House be kept clear and open". It was a constitutional principle, he insisted, that MPs must not be obstructed on their way to or from Westminster. Liberal MPs greeting this pompous rant with "boisterous laughter". One Irish MP "narrowly escaped a fit of apoplexy." The Speaker treated the complaint with mock solemnity. "I do not think the House will expect me to deal with this as a question of privilege," he pronounced, to howls of Opposition derision. "The line must be drawn somewhere." Even his fellow Conservative MPs joined in the laughter.

The 1906 general election was a Liberal landslide. Louis Sinclair was defeated in Romford by nearly 9,000 votes.

FRANCES BARDSLEY – THE FEMINIST BEHIND A LOCAL GIRLS' SCHOOL

Say "Frances Bardsley", and people think of Havering's lively all-girls secondary school.

Miss Bardsley herself is forgotten.

Frances Beatrice Bardsley graduated from London University in 1895, and trained as a teacher. That sounds an obvious career path to us, but it was revolutionary for a woman at the time.

She'd been born in December 1871. Her father was rector of Spitalfields, a handsome church in London's poorest quarter. Young ladies like Frances had generally had governesses, who taught them needlework, music and drawing, nice but vacuous skills that prepared them for the marriage market. But she studied at North London Collegiate, one of the first schools to give girls an academic education. It was the project of pioneer feminist Frances Mary Buss. (She even coined the term "headmistress" for herself.) With Dorothea Beale, of Cheltenham Ladies College, she provided a new role model for women, an alternative to marriage. "Miss Buss and Miss Beale / Cupid's dart do not feel."

Miss Bardsley's four brothers studied at Cambridge and Oxford. Those sniffy universities

allowed women to study, and even take exams, but refused to grant them degrees! But London University's BA was open to all.  Frances Bardsley probably struggled at Royal Holloway College. Her parents died during her first year. For a time she may have studied part-time. She gained a disappointing Third Class Honours in her specialist subject, English. But her enthusiasm for literature survives in the Frances Bardsley school motto, "Gladly lerne, gladly teche". It's Chaucer, and in his spelling!

In 1896, she studied classroom techniques at the Cambridge Training College, now the University graduate college Hughes Hall. Its principal, dynamic Welshwomen Elizabeth Hughes, recommended her for a job at a new school near Swansea. In 1901, Frances Bardsley won a travelling scholarship. She spent "several months" visiting schools in France and America. She was obviously a high-flier. By 1904, she was teaching at Bolton High School for Girls, a respected institution in Lancashire.

In 1906, Essex Education Committee decided to give Romford a high school for girls.

Frances Bardsley beat fifty applicants to become first headmistress of Romford County High School for Girls. There was no building. For four years, Miss Bardsley operated from a house in Romford's Eastern Road. In 1910, the school acquired premises in Heath Park Road. The County High moved again, in 1935, to another site, a former a garden centre in Brentwood Road.

The two schools were merged in 1972-3, and named in her honour. In 2004, the Heath Park building became housing, called Academy Fields. Ironically, Frances Bardsley never taught at today's Frances Bardsley – she'd retired before it was built!

At the official opening of the Heath Park Road building in 1910, she defined her school's objectives. "They tried to develop the bodies, the characters, and the brains of their girls harmoniously." Radical stuff in days when women weren't allowed to vote!

Miss Bardsley was well connected with feminist networks. Guests at Prize Days included her Cambridge mentor, Elizabeth Hughes, and Dr Sophia Bryant, the first women in Britain to earn a science doctorate.

In 1916, Miss Bardsley spoke of "the difficulties caused by the war". She enrolled as a Red Cross nurse, probably to teach first-aid to her girls.

When Frances Bardsley died in 1952, she left one more surprise. Three of her brothers had become Anglican clergymen – a vocation only open to men. Frances Bardsley couldn't see why women were excluded. She bequeathed her house, in Manor Way (near The Drill in Gidea Park), to be used as "a parsonage house for women clergy if and when the Church of England shall open its ministry to women." It took forty years for this visionary idea to come about. England's first Anglican women priests were ordained in 1994. Frances Bardsley was ahead of her times.

BEREAVEMENT AND THE BULLY

People sometimes grumble that history is always about the rich and powerful. Ordinary people were generally invisible. For the 19th century, sometimes we can glimpse them through the census. Sometimes they appeared in court. And then we may find that our unsung heroes were really not very likeable – like William Salmons, prosecuted for threatening behaviour by his own daughter.

William was born about 1855, and grew up in Navestock and Stapleford Abbotts, rural areas north of Romford. Both parishes had schools, but few children attended for long. In poor families, children were sent out to work young. William obviously had little education. His father was a farm labourer. There were ten children, seven of them boys. Clothes would have been handed down from brother to brother. The family must have been poor.

An older sister married Henry Rigby, a railway worker in Romford. By 1881, William was lodging at their North Street home. He too worked as a labourer on the railway.

In 1885, aged 30, he married Maria Harding from West Ham. They set home in London Road, Romford's western approach. Their first child was born in 1886, but died in infancy. There would be seven children in all, five boys and two girls. In 1891, William was a farm worker. Ten years later, he worked as a carpenter's labourer. The family couldn't have been prosperous. In 1908, aged 51, Maria fell seriously ill. There was no NHS. No specialist ever diagnosed or treated her condition. Maria was nursed by one of her daughters. Curiously, we don't know whether Miss Salmons was Alice, aged 22, or 19 year-old Ellen. Local police thought Salmons had behaved "in a brutal and callous manner" throughout his wife's illness, refusing their help to move Maria to "the Infirmary" –  Romford's workhouse hospital, later Oldchurch. Perhaps he feared that he'd have to pay towards her treatment.

By early January 1909, Maria was dying. One day Miss Salmons was so run off her feet that when her father came home, his dinner wasn't ready. He "threatened to break every bone" in his daughter's body. It was the last straw. She complained to the police that she was "in fear that he would injure her." Remarkably, too, the police took action. Women were fighting for the vote. Times were changing. Domestic abuse could not be ignored. Salmons was arrested, and brought before the magistrates on Saturday 9 January. Maria had died that morning. Magistrates gave him a severe warning. If he'd not had a funeral to arrange, he would have gone to prison.

We have one more sad glimpse of William Salmons. The Pig in the Pound was a popular Romford pub, next to the Shopping Hall in the Market. It doubled as a boarding house for single men, sixteen of them in 1911. 56 year-old William Salmons, widower and labourer, had ended in a dead-end doss house.  Almost certainly, he shared a room, and perhaps even a bed. There were no licensing hours in those days – not a good place for a decent night's sleep.

William Salmons had been abandoned by his own children. Perhaps it was right that this violent male chauvinist should disappear from history living in a pub named after a pig.

GIDDY RHYMES FOR A MYSTERY SUBURB

Gidea Park was big news in 1911, with an exhibition of architect-designed houses in the new garden suburb around Reed Pond Walk. The name was invented from Gidea Hall, Romford's premier mansion, which stood alongside Raphael Park. It was demolished in 1930. But one London journalist but refused to go and see the "beautiful homes". Why not? "Because he cannot pronounce the name. Gidea should hire a poet to give the definitive rhyme," thundered the newspaper report.

It's a strange fact but, in the era before sound recording, we can't be sure how many words and names were pronounced. Pronunciations could be quirky. Around 1900, Romford, Brentwood and Chelmsford were usually called Rumford, Burntwood and Chemsford.

With less well-known places, we're often completely in the dark. Popular pronunciation could change a name altogether. A corner of Hornchurch called Windle Tye was garbled into Wingletye Lane.

A young poet called Claude Greening rose to the Gidea challenge. He liked jaunty rhythms that produced cheerful verse. Unfortunately, Greening didn't know how to pronounce Gidea either.

He began by suggesting that, as the sky was clear, he'd "give it this attractive sound, Giddeer." But this did not please everybody. "Some friends of mine – for instance Tom and Jack / And many more, including Rose and Lydia – Object to that, and so I'll take it back,

And, just to satisfy them, call it: Giddier."

But this did not solve the problem either.  "Many folk, I find /  In their desire to lend their aid to me, / To this pronunciation are inclined – What say you, friends? – to them, it is Giddee".

Others thought the problem was with "the letter G: They tell me I am wrong to make it hard."

Greening was losing heart. "It seems to me / the man to solve the problem's not a bard!"

But he launched one final, wild attempt, with "the patience of King Bruce's spider". Why not adopt "the tuneful and melodious form of Jider."?

This pleasant piece of doggerel identifies the puzzle, but doesn't solve it. We know that Gidea Hall was originally called "Giddy Hall", probably a nickname for a large building, perhaps the first Havering house to have an upstairs. Later owners tried to disguise this jokey name, by adopting either a long I or a short E sound: "Guidie hall" in 1668, "Geddy Hall" in 1769. By the nineteenth century, the usual spelling was "Gidea Hall". But how was it pronounced?

In 1880, Romford historian George Terry suggested that the name derived from a dialect word for a pike, "ged" (with a hard G, unlike my name), plus "ea", meaning a stretch of water. He was wrong – Raphael Park lake dates only from the eighteenth century – but his theory suggests that "Gidea" was still pronounced like "Mersea" or "Swansea", just two syllables.

Incomers from London probably looked down on the benighted Havering rustics, rejecting their ideas and even the way they spoke as evidence not of tradition but of backwardness and ignorance. If the Romford yokels talked about "Giddy Park", well, bless them, they'd probably never met anyone called Lydia! By the 1920s, the area had become Gid-ee-UH Park.

SOME HEAT BUT NO LIGHT IN HAROLD WOOD REFERENDUM

Experts claim that referendums are not part of Britain's system of government. We've had only two national votes, on the EEC/EU in 1975 and 2016. Scotland and Wales voted on devolution in 1979 and 1997, and the Scots rejected independence in 2014. Northern Ireland has voted several times to keep the Border.

But local referendums were once part of our constitution. Harold Wood had one in 1912, to decide whether to introduce (and pay for) street lighting. A century ago, Havering was dark at night. As a town, Romford had streetlamps, but mostly the area was poorly lit. In 1911, Rainham had oil lamps, but the village was "very badly and sparsely lighted". Hornchurch had street lighting as far west as Park Lane. Emerson Park rejected street lights. It was not even offered to South Hornchurch.

Harold Wood was just a scattering of houses around the station, a not-very-successful attempt to create a railway suburb. Harold Hill to the north was open country. Fields separated Harold Wood from Ardleigh (some still called it "Hardley") Green. There was no Southend Arterial Road. At night, the only glimmer of light came from oil lamps at the station, nicknamed "Paraffin Junction". Harold Wood wasn't really a railway junction, but trains shunted up and down a noisy siding that's now Station Road car park.

In 1912, John Page, a wealthy clothing manufacturer who lived in Avenue Road, decided that street lights should be introduced "to assist in the development of Harold Wood". If a public meeting failed to approve, he could demand a local referendum. On an April night, 34 Harold Wood ratepayers gathered at the school in Gubbins Lane (now the Neighbourhood Centre). Opinion was divided. One newcomer said he'd moved to Harold Wood "because it was a rural district" and he didn't want it to change.

Strong opposition came from Richard Mallinson, a blunt East End cattle dealer in his sixties from New Redden Court farm.  Mallinson appealed to religion: "if light was necessary for nature the Creator would have made all light nights." Lighting farmland and crops was "going against the Great Creator". Of course, he knew that street lamps would be erected in downtown Harold Wood. Rural Redden Court would be left in the dark, but he would have to pay. His contribution was received with derision. Somebody even shouted "Rats!" Harold Wood's referendum campaign was turning nasty. Page sarcastically asked if was an insult to the Great Creator to use matches in the dark. "The Great Creator taught people to help themselves," was his contemptuous comment. The meeting voted 17-16 for street lighting, but a two-thirds majority was needed.

So Harold Wood held its referendum. The campaign was mercifully short. The vote was held just days later. Once again, the forces of light won the day, by 44 votes to 41. But, yet again, they failed to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority. In the years between the two world wars, Harold Wood grew rapidly, and its farms disappeared. Between 1937 and 1939, Mallinson's cattle farm was replaced by Redden Court School. The old farm track became Cotswold Road.

The 1912 Harold Wood referendum generated some heat but no light.

CHRISTMAS 1916: WAR OVERSHADOWED FESTIVE SEASON 100 YEARS AGO

Christmas 1916 in Havering was a gloomy time.  Nobody knew when the First World War would end. At St Edward's church in Romford's Market Place, the Reverend G.M. Bell warned that any "patched up" truce "would only last as long as the passions of men were under control." Lasting peace required victory over German militarism, he told the Christmas congregation. Sad to say, he was probably right.

War fatigue was everywhere. Two soldiers from a Highland regiment were arrested outside the Golden Lion in Romford, and charged with desertion. They explained that "they had asked for Christmas leave, and as this was refused they came away without it." They were handed over to the Army. I've more sympathy for a Harold Wood man, Private Frank Drain. Charged with desertion, he pleaded that "he wanted to see his wife and children before he went out". He would be severely wounded in Flanders in 1917.

Conscription had been introduced to force men into the Army. Tribunals considered claims for exemption. Arthur Branson, from Eastern Road, Romford, insisted doctors had already certified that he had a weak heart. The tribunal dismissed the 21 year-old without sympathy: "you got better when you thought you would not be wanted for the Army. You ought to have been in the Army last March."

Romford welcomed a hero home on leave, Sergeant-Major Arthur Potter, a former teacher at schools in Mawney Road and Park Lane Hornchurch. He had taken command of an operation after the officers were killed, and bravely pressed home the attack. But for Harold Wood businessman George Matthews, and his wife Catherine, there would be no family reunion. Serving in France as a stretcher-bearer, their 21 year-old son Frank had died of heart failure a month earlier. They held a memorial service for him in Harold Wood's temporary chapel in Church Road. Twenty years later, the Matthews family helped build St Peter's church in Gubbins Lane as Frank's memorial.

There were some bright spots.  Romford County High School girls held a Christmas bazaar. The headmistress, Miss Frances Bardsley, explained they were raising money for the Star and Garter Homes at Richmond, which cared for wounded soldiers. (They still do.) Today, the school bears her name.

Nuns at Romford's Catholic church, another St Edward's, built a much-admired Nativity scene, complete with shepherds. (Protestants didn't "do" cribs in those days.) At Romford Workhouse (later Oldchurch Hospital), 400 inmates – the old, the sick and the homeless – were given a Christmas dinner of roast beef and plum pudding. There were presents too – sweets and oranges for everybody, and tobacco – for men only.

Soldiers at the New Zealand Army's convalescent camp in Hornchurch staged a spectacular pantomime, Achi Baba and the More or Less Forty Thieves. Achi Baba was the heavily defended ridge they'd tried to capture at Gallipoli. The panto was a triumph for its producer, Sapper Theodore Trezise, a professional singer in peacetime. In 1919, Trezise introduced a new craze, the foxtrot, into Wellington. That's fame!

And there was one ray of hope. In December 1916, Romford started planning to build a war memorial. One day, peace would return, and there would be a chance to create a better world.

THE JOKEY HORNCHURCH HISTORIAN WHO CAME AND WENT 

In just eleven years, Charles Thomas Perfect published four books about Hornchurch. Our Village, in 1912, was a series of amusing sketches about village life. A local history, Ye Olde Village of Hornchurch, followed in 1917. A solemn chronicle, Hornchurch During the Great War followed in 1920. Three years later, he rounded off with a short history of St Andrew's church. And then he vanished.

The books tell us much about Perfect. He lived in Station Lane. He loved literature and enjoyed reciting poetry. Quotations from Shakespeare and Tennyson were sprinkled through his books. He was musical, a bandmaster in two local organisations and a member of a Harold Wood entertainment troupe. (With few buses services, he must have ridden a bicycle.)

Perfect commuted to Fenchurch Street every day, and worked in an office nearby.

He also had connections with Grays. His early skits on Hornchurch appeared in the Thurrock Gazette. Aged fifty in 1914 and too old for the Army, he became a special constable, replacing regular policemen who'd joined the Army. He patrolled the streets of Grays.

Charles Thomas Perfect was born in 1864, close to the famous Hogs Back in Surrey. Sand and chalk extraction were local industries, which may explain how he became a clerk for a quarrying company. In his twenties, he was sent to Cornwall, no doubt to learn about the stonemason trade. In 1900, 24 quarrying companies were merged to form a combine, Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers (APCM). Perfect was living at Weybridge when, soon afterwards, APCM promoted him. The 1911 census called him "managing clerk for cement manufacturing". APCM put him in charge of their Grays operations, but he worked from their London headquarters. In effect, he had to be in two places at once. The solution was to live half way.

In 1892, a railway had opened from Upminster to Grays. Comfortable houses were springing up at Hornchurch, which had a good train service to Fenchurch Street. Maybe Perfect stuck a pin in the map. But he quickly fell in love with Hornchurch. "When I first saw our village High Street, it was still unspoiled by modern 'improvements'," he reminisced in 1917. Hornchurch was full of cobbles and "ancient gabled houses". There was a fine church and, behind it, a handsome working windmill. (It burned down in 1920.) Perfect threw himself into local activities, winning prizes at the local flower show, handing our hymnbooks at St Andrew's church. He was the type who filed newspaper cuttings and kept programmes, ideal preparation for a local historian.

Home life blissfully centred on his wife and daughter. "They say a man is known by his pals / Well, pals I have in plenty," he sang. "But the best of them all are a couple of gals / One forty, and one not twenty." Perfect had met Ellen Williams in 1883. She was seventeen, and he was two years older. It took eight years to coax her to the altar. Their only child, Dora, was born in 1892. In lists of wartime charity workers, she appears as "Miss Perfect", a terrible label for a girl to live up to. Dora's indulgent parents called her "Duckie". Ellen was house-proud: Perfect joked that she spring-cleaned every week. And she was a bit beyond forty! The household was completed by Tim the cat. Perfect chatted to the poor animal, addressing him "old man". Relations broke down when Tim dug up his master's seeds.

Mrs Living, their dog-owning neighbour in Stanley Road, called Tim her "enemy". Hostility was mutual.

Hornchurch ceased to be a village in the 1920s, as new residents flooded in. APCM closed its West Thurrock quarry in 1923, perhaps changing its administrative structure too. Charles Thomas Perfect moved back to Surrey. He died near Epsom in November 1939. He gave us vivid glimpses of Hornchurch life, but for too short a time.

FRANK DRAIN: GLIMPSES OF AN ORDINARY BLOKE

Frank Drain was an ordinary person. He probably endured jokes about his surname. Experts think it's a Viking name, or maybe Irish, from the Gaelic word for a wren.

Frank Christopher Drain was born near Chelmsford in 1890. His father Silas was a farm labourer. Frank was the sixth child, and two brothers, aged 13 and 10, were already working in the fields. But Silas moved up in the world. By 1901, he was in charge of the horses at Maylands Farm, now a golf club near the A12-M25 junction. In 1911, aged 21, and working as a cowman, Frank married 20 year-old Jane Perry. They would stay together for seventy years.Frank and Jane shared a cottage at Ardleigh Green with his brother William. Building began in Nelmes Way in 1914, and this may explain why Frank and Jane moved to Harold Wood. In 1924, his address was Queens Park Road, a street of small houses near the station.

War broke out in 1914 but, now with three small children, Frank did not rush to volunteer. He joined the Army in April 1916, probably as a conscript: compulsory military service was introduced in March. In November, Frank's unit was ordered to France. Probably based at Warley Barracks, his desire to see his family for maybe one last time was too strong. He was arrested for being absent without leave.

1917 must have been the worst year of Frank's life. His unit (the 10th Essex) was in the thick of the fighting. In September, they attacked at Poelcapelle in Belgium, driving the Germans back almost a mile. But in thick mud, they could not consolidate their gains, and lost ground.  Sometime in this melée, Frank Drain was wounded. He was brought home in December, but seems to have returned to active service later: he was not demobbed until September 1919.

Our day in June 1922, Frank was having a beer in the Coach and Bells, a High Street Romford pub, demolished in 1966. In those days, you could have a flutter at a race meeting, but off-course gambling was illegal – there were no betting shops. Undercover police had seen bookies taking bets in the pub. They staged a raid – and Frank happened to be there. He found himself in court again – but on what charge?

Defending the landlord – who faced the loss of his livelihood – was top barrister Sir Henry Curtis-Bennett. He lived near Chelmsford and was planning to stand for parliament, so it was both convenient and good publicity for him to take the case. As a defence counsel, Curtis-Bennett specialised in counter-attack. He challenged the prosecution to prove that the landlord knew about the illegal betting. His favourite trick – lawyers called it "doing a Curtis" – was to scoff at the charges against his clients, and demand their instant dismissal.

He did a Curtis for Frank Drain. There was no law against visiting a pub, even during a police raid, he thundered. Frank might as well have been arrested "for being there when there was an earthquake or a thunderstorm." The laughter in court told Frank he was going to be acquitted.

Frank and Jane died in 1982. Havering residents to the end, they linked the modern Borough with its farming past.

DID ROMFORD FACE REVOLUTION IN 1922?

The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution began with an attack on the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. Five years later, over 2,000 demonstrators seized Romford's Workhouse (later Oldchurch Hospital). Was History repeating itself?

Britain's primitive welfare system, the Poor Law, was run by local Boards of Guardians. Society's casualties were dumped in workhouses. Active people temporarily (so it was hoped) out of work were tided over with unemployment pay. Each district set its own rates. 1922 was a bad year for jobs. The Romford Poor Law area stretched from Barking to Upminster. Barking unemployed complained that they faced London living costs, but weren't given the London-area dole.

On 17 October, 1922, 2,000 of them (all male, it seems) marched on Oldchurch, to lobby the Guardians at their weekly meeting. It was a good-humoured demonstration, with banners and bagpipes, headed by two Metropolitan Police officers on horseback. At Rush Green, the Essex Constabulary took over – just three bobbies.

Would the Board hear the men's case? A majority of Guardians took a hard line. The rules said deputations must give seven days' notice. The Barking men had no appointment. A minority sympathised with the marchers. Edwin Lambert, a Labour Party activist from Park Lane, Hornchurch, pleaded to give them a hearing. The demonstrators had walked a long way – at least allow them some bread and cheese. The Board refused, ordered the Workhouse gates to be closed, and adjourned for their own luncheon.

The Guardians resumed their meeting in the afternoon. At some point, the gates were opened so a vehicle could leave. The angry men swarmed into the compound, helping themselves to loaves from the bakery. Some streamed through the hospital wing, stealing towels and blankets. Their spokesmen gate-crashed the meeting but, refusing to be intimidated, the majority of the Guardians ordered them to leave.

Reinforced by 600 Romford unemployed, the demonstrators now barricaded the Guardians and refused to let them leave. Two Guardians tried to drive through the throng. In 1922, only wealthy people owned cars. Both vehicles were badly damaged.

At 8.15 p.m., the Chief Constable of Essex arrived. He advised that it would take three hours to assemble police reinforcements. Better to calm the situation by letting the men state their case. By a narrow majority, the Board agreed. Surprisingly, they found that the unemployed had a strong case. Nine shillings (45p) a week was hardly adequate to live on. The Guardians promised action. Outside, the demonstrators cheered the news. But victory did not inspire them to proclaim the Soviet Republic of Romford. Rather, they marched home to Barking.

Yes, they marched. Most of them had served their country as soldiers in the 1914-18 War. Now they asked their country to support them.

Romford's Guardians kept their word, trying to steer through government regulations and their own lack of cash to increase unemployment pay. They also asked local councils to create jobs. If only they'd agreed that morning to welcome the deputation. The hero of this forgotten episode was Edwin Lambert. When he died in 1931, one tribute spoke of "a heart of love in a man of great common-sense". A Hornchurch school named after him closed in 2009.

Romford's Bastille had fallen, but there was no revolution.

FROM GANTS HILL TO THE GALLOWS

When Freddy Bywaters stabbed Percy Thompson in an Ilford street that October night in 1922, the victim's wife Edith screamed at him to stop. So how was it that, three months later, she was dragged to the gallows at Holloway Prison to die for her husband's murder?

When Edith married City clerk Percy Thompson in 1916, they first lived at Westcliff. Unusually for those days, Edith kept her job, in an Aldersgate fashion house. Fenchurch Street services were slow. When soldiers returned after the 1914-18 War, Hornchurch and Upminster passengers crowded the trains. So the Thompsons moved to a quiet street north of Gants Hill. There was no Central Line then, only Liverpool Street services to Ilford.

Percy was boring, and Edith fell for a glamorous steward on an ocean liner. In reality, teenager Freddy Bywaters was in charge of ship's laundry – and he was nine years younger than Edith. Percy was furious about his wife's toy boy. But when Freddy returned to sea, Thompson tried to woo her back. That October night, Percy had taken her to a West End theatre.

Percy did not know that Edith sent Freddy hysterical letters – and Edith did not know that Freddy kept them. She lived a fantasy life, in which she claimed she'd attempted to poison Percy by feeding him ground glass. He must have had a strong stomach! When Freddy returned to Tilbury, he was fired up to confront his rival. Bywaters was quickly arrested after the stabbing, because Edith identified him. But when police found her letters, they concluded that she had plotted her husband's death.

The law says that if two people plan a murder, both are equally guilty, not just the one who strikes the fatal blow. It's a sensible legal principle, meaning that crime bosses can't hire hitmen and walk free. When Edith stood trial, her lawyers told her – don't give evidence.

Force the Crown to prove your guilt – don't let the prosecution make you explain your rambling, raving letters. But Edith enjoyed the limelight. She went into the witness box – and was cut to pieces.

The prosecution played a cruel trick too. Many of Edith's letters were explicit. One gave a seismic description of open-air love-making in Wanstead Park. Too saucy to produce in court, said the prosecution, but they assured jurors that the unread letters proved Edith had planned the killing.

Edith was found guilty, and there was only one punishment for murder – death by hanging.

But would the government confirm the sentence? The first woman MP had only been elected in 1919. There were no female cabinet ministers or top civil servants. A public campaign for a reprieve rebounded. The all-male government decided to be tough.

On 9 January 1923, twenty year-old Bywaters died bravely, pleading Edith's innocence.

But something went horribly wrong at the Holloway gallows. Nothing was ever officially revealed, but rumours spoke of a blood-soaked execution chamber. For public executioner John Ellis, killing murderers was his job. He hanged over 200 of them, women as well as men. But he never forgot the horror of Edith Thompson's death. Twice he attempted suicide.

The second time, he succeeded.

Outrage over Edith's death eventually helped end hanging in 1964. But it took a long time.

HOW DAGENHAM SHAPED MODERN HAVERING

Soon after the end of the First World War, a man with a notebook strolled the lanes of Dagenham, discreetly enquiring who owned its fields and farms. This was the first sign of the greatest social experiment in British history.

Prime Minister Lloyd George won the 1918 election promising "homes for heroes". The housing crisis was a particular problem for the London County Council (LCC), which ruled the capital south of the Thames and west of the River Lea. Lacking building space within its boundaries, the LCC looked to the still-open country between Ilford and Romford. Work soon began on the massive Becontree estate.

By 1922, 2,000 Londoners were living in Becontree. In 1931, there were 91,000.

Mistakes were made. There was no overall local authority. Becontree spread into Barking and Ilford, each with its own local council. Until it became an Urban District in 1926, Dagenham itself was part of Romford Rural District. Romford built a sewage works at Rainham in 1924, but only because the LCC paid. By 1931, the facility was overloaded.

You might think that Becontree seemed well served by railway stations. But Chadwell Heath, Goodmayes, Dagenham Dock and even Dagenham (later Dagenham East) were not close to the new housing. Bus links were sparse. Transport eventually improved when the District Line was extended from Barking to Upminster in 1932, with more trains and new stations like Heathway. Throughout the 1920s, ten percent of tenants moved out every year. Some were lonely, others could not find work locally, or afford transport to the City.

It's often assumed that the Ford Motor Company opened in Dagenham in 1931 to create local jobs. In fact, most Becontree people lacked the skills needed for the technical process of car-making. Ford began by relocating its workforce from an existing factory at Manchester.

An associated factory, Briggs Bodies, which made the chassis for Ford cars, did employ semi-skilled labour in jobs like paint spraying.

Because they were highly paid, Ford workers did not qualify for LCC tenancies. Most wished to buy their own houses. In 1931, Costain began a private estate at Oval Road, opposite the Ford factory. Two years later, they launched the Elm Park "garden city" in the fields south of Hornchurch. Much of modern suburban Hornchurch owes its existence to the desire of Ford workers to become owner-occupiers.

In 1931, two-thirds of Becontree's 31,000 workforce travelled to central London each day.

Only about 800 were employed in Romford and Hornchurch, men probably as building workers, women as cleaners. In the early years, Becontree people mainly shopped in Barking and Ilford. But, as Londoners, they were used to street markets like Portobello Road. They enjoyed haggling with Romford stallholders.

Essex County Council gradually built primary schools, but Becontree children had to travel for secondary education. Dagenham County High School (now Sydney Russell) only opened in 1935, the year its most famous pupil, Dudley Moore, was born. In the early 1930s, one third of the boys at Romford's Royal Liberty School came from Dagenham. When a technical school (now Marshalls Park) opened in Romford in 1930, Dagenham supplied half its pupils.

The estate was also put pressure on King George V Hospital at Ilford and Romford's Oldchurch. The shortage of hospital beds was disguised because, in the 1920s, Becontree had few residents over the age of 60. But with one third of the population between the ages of 20 and 39, Becontree's booming birth rate put pressure on Oldchurch's maternity facilities. As late as 1934, there was no family planning clinic on the estate. Birth control was a sensitive subject.

Dagenham's East Enders probably encouraged a snobbish belief that Romford and Hornchurch were somehow different, belonging to Essex, not London. But Becontree had filled the gap on the map. In 1965, the planners insisted that the new Borough of Havering become part of Greater London.

CROSSRAIL IS NOT HAVERING'S FIRST RAIL UPGRADE

Crossrail is not the first upgrade and upheaval to affect Havering's mainline services.

The Eastern Counties Railway reached Romford in 1839, extending to Brentwood in 1840. There were no stations in between until Harold Wood opened in 1868.

Nobody expected suburban growth. The railway planned to capture long-distance passenger traffic from the stagecoaches, and carry farm produce to London. Its first terminus, at Shoreditch, was too far from the City to attract commuters. In any case, the Eastern Counties line was notoriously inefficient. In 1856, a Bethnal Green man offered to race his donkey cart against a train – adding that his donkey was 15 years old.

In 1862, the line was merged into the Great Eastern Railway. Services gradually improved. In 1874, the Great Eastern opened Liverpool Street, a mile closer to central London. The railway had literally battered its way into the crowded inner city. In 1894, Liverpool Street was enlarged, with Romford services relocated to the new Platforms 11 to 18.

But the main line remained just two tracks, one up, one down. In 1913, 388 suburban trains entered Liverpool Street every day. Congestion involving local services, expresses and goods trains was severe. As suburban growth engulfed Ilford, the solution was to double the capacity to four tracks, so that stopping trains would no longer delay through traffic. By 1931, double-tracking had passed Romford. The station was redesigned, with a new booking hall and an "island" platform added to its "up" and "down" sides. The low bridge over South Street, dangerous to the double-decker buses, was replaced. The doubling of the tracks explains why the railway embankment dominates many of Romford's older houses.

The Liverpool Street line was now part of the London and North Eastern Railway. In 1931, the LNER announced plans to double-track the six miles from Gidea Park to Shenfield. In a phrase that will terrify commuters, the company promised "the minimum interruption possible" to services. But it accepted that suburban trains would reach Liverpool Street six to ten minutes later. By February 1932, one thousand men were at work on the project – thanks to government funding designed to reduce unemployment.

Harold Wood Station gained two extra platforms. All four were lengthened to take more carriages. Harold Wood Station's first entrance had faced Avenue Road. In the 1880s, the entrance was shifted across the line to Oak Road (where the old ticket office can still be glimpsed behind modern houses). Now Harold Wood Station swivelled around again, its new entrance facing Gubbins Lane.

Bridges were reconstructed, making them high enough to take overhead wires should electric trains replace steam, as railway engineers hoped would happen soon.  One bridge disappeared altogether. An ancient roadway linked Ardleigh Green with Gallows Corner. In 1925, the Southend Arterial Road had cut across it, with the new A127 railway crossing right alongside the old country lane bridge. Two bridges side by side seemed unnecessary, so the old one was demolished. The two orphaned sections became Ardleigh Close and Bryant Avenue. That bridge might have been a useful back-up when the A127 crossing had to be replaced in 2016!

The doubling of the tracks to Shenfield was completed on 1 January 1934.

THE 1937 ROMFORD SCHOOL STRIKE 

Nowadays the area is called Crowlands. It's a network of short streets between Romford and Chadwell Heath, hemmed in between the A118 London Road and the railway. St Edward's Secondary School moved here in 1965. Thirty years earlier, education was provided only by London Road School (now Crowlands Primary).

The school-leaving age was fourteen. Most over-elevens were taught in "senior departments" of elementary schools. But specialist secondary schools were being built. In 1937, the authorities announced that over 200 11-14 year-olds would be transferred from London Road to The Warren, a new school in Whalebone Lane North. Crowlands families rebelled. The Warren was too far away, along a dangerous main road, with narrow footpaths.

On 31 August 1937, enrolment day for the new school year, mutinous parents marched their children to London Road School, demanding they be accepted there again. The education authority refused to provide secondary facilities at London Road, claiming the building was "much too old". (It's still going!) A new secondary school was only possible if it included children from across the railway – part of Dagenham, which refused to co-operate. As a compromise, 67 children living nearest to Romford were offered places at St Edward's, then located by the Market. The rest must trudge to Whalebone Lane. The parents refused.

The parents' leader was the wonderfully named Arnold Fruitnight. His father, Frederick Ernst Fruchtenicht, had settled in West Ham from Germany before the First World War, and married an Englishwoman. The family must have adopted "Fruitnight" in 1914, to shake off their German origins. But the surname was never legally changed.

Young and ambitious, Arnold opened a shop near Waterloo Road.  (You guessed it, he was a greengrocer.) In 1933, he was elected to Romford Council. He lived in Fernden Way, right at the heart of Crowlands.

Fruitnight had big ideas. In 1936, he organised a National Baby Show at the Crystal Palace. Pressure to be among "Britain's Bonny Babies" was so great that only 500 infants could be accepted. The event collapsed in chaos when 4,000 pushy parents showed up unannounced. Fruitnight issued every child with a "highly commended" certificate.

He now persuaded the protesters to open a rebel school. Rebuffed at London Road, the children were marched off to Jutsums Lane recreation ground, where 224 of them were enrolled in an open-air academy. There was just one teacher. He found the strain too great, and was admitted to hospital. Fruitnight claimed he could raise £250 to cover costs, and erect a timber building within three weeks. Meanwhile, they used the local mission hall (now St Agnes' church).

The scheme was crazy. The secretary of the parents' committee resigned "because he failed to see how they were going to carry on." A replacement teacher, Miss Esther White, was hired.

But 224 youngsters needed more staff, plus a headteacher and a caretaker. What about desks, textbooks and toilets? And insurance, rates and pensions?

In October, Fruitnight took about eighty children on a well-publicised educational visit to Ford's Dagenham factory. But the project was losing support. The rebel school closed in late November 1837. Miss White received £21 in wages. The fighting fund had a balance of twelve shillings and sixpence (62.5 pence). Maybe the parents should just have organised school buses to The Warren.

Meanwhile, on 16 September 1937, Romford became a Borough. Its Charter was delivered by the Lord Mayor of London. Sir George Broadhead arrived at the new Town Hall (now Havering's headquarters) in the Lord Mayor's Coach – not direct from London, but via Gallows Corner. Plans for an official welcome in the Market Place were abandoned. The Gidea Park route was probably a last-minute switch to avoid placard-waving parents on London Road.

In 1945, Fruitnight became a builder, acquiring premises in Romford's South Street, and Station Lane, Hornchurch. He moved to leafy Little Warley, and died in 1958 a wealthy man – but much too young, aged just 53.

COLOURFUL HEADMASTER HELPED SHAPE MODERN ROMFORD

I: GUSSY STARTS A SCHOOL

In June 1921, 39 year-old bachelor Stephen Barrett Hartley was appointed first headmaster of Romford's new secondary school for boys – due to open three months later.

Hartley's education, at Manchester Grammar School and Oxford University, had been funded by scholarships generously provided by the Co-op. He believed in educational opportunity. He was an enthusiastic sportsman, a fine cricketer. He also played lacrosse, a curious form of hockey, played with "sticks" like shrimping nets. Hartley captained the Oxford lacrosse team, and joined a British universities' team tour of North America.

Officially, he was studying classics. But Hartley devoted more time to games than to Latin and Greek, and nearly failed his exams. Oxford awarded him a Fourth Class Honours degree. 

A "Fourth" indicated that the examiners had a low opinion of the candidate's abilities – a terrible foundation for a teaching career. Luckily, his old school, Manchester Grammar, gave him a job – teaching classics!

The boys called him "Jampot". (Hartley's Jam was popular in Lancashire.) Jampot threw himself into games. "He never seems happy unless he is doing something for the School," wrote his headmaster in a reference.

Hartley's enthusiasm made him the person to start Romford's new school. He quickly recruited a team of six masters. The school aimed at 400 boys, but enrolments had only started in July. Just eighty arrived on Tuesday 20 September at Hare Hall, the empty Gidea Park mansion allocated to the project. The first week was a fiasco. No desks had been supplied. Hartley ordered the boys to weed the neglected gardens.

In addition to fighting for equipment, the new head also waged a campaign over the school's name. Romford already had a County High School for Girls (now Frances Bardsley). Whitehall bureaucrats called the new institution Romford County High School for Boys.

Until 1892, the Havering had possessed special local institutions, making it a "Liberty". In 1880, a local historian had invented the title, "Royal Liberty". Hartley liked the name. Official circulars arrived addressed to Romford County High School for Boys, but the answers were returned from "Royal Liberty School". When the minister for education formally inaugurated the school, on November 9th, he announced that the name would be changed, although purists complained a royal charter was required.

"We were rather a rough group," recalled the first Head Boy, Ernie Strangleman (who served in the RAF in World War Two). Hartley, who combined a Lancashire accent with Oxford pronunciation, discouraged their "Essex brogue". The headmaster needed a new nickname. "Jampot" did not survive the move south. When Hartley took his pupils camping in Switzerland, he wore a white pointed hat resembling the Alps. They briefly called him "Mont Blanc", before settling on "Gussy" (or "Gus"). Nobody ever knew why.

By 1927, there were 303 boys in the school. Work began on a three-sided brick extension, with specialist teaching facilities for science, behind the mansion. Gussy celebrated its completion in 1929 by getting married. He was 47, 22 years older than the new Mrs Hartley.

By the 1930s, there were over 500 pupils. Gussy believed boys should be treated as individuals. He proudly claimed he could address every pupil by name, although he didn't always get their names right! The 1921 intake included Kenneth Farnes, whom Gussy recalled as "a small dark-haired boy, eager to create a good impression". At fifteen, he was over six feet tall. Gussy encouraged him to join the Gidea Park cricket club. Farnes became an England fast bowler.

But Gussy remembered the advice of his former boss. Boys should "see that your heart is tender, but your principles are tough." After a complaint of misbehaviour on a bus, he rounded up the lads who travelled that route, and caned them all. One victim ruefully recalled Gussy's "strong cricket-developed arm".

II: WAR AND PEACE: GUSSY'S LONG GOODBYE

In 1939, Royal Liberty School's first headmaster, Stephen ("Gus" to his colleagues, "Gussy" to the boys) Hartley, aged 57, faced the new challenges of War. Windows were criss-crossed with tape to stop flying glass from bomb blasts. (Sixty years later, some of it could still be seen, if you knew where to look!) When All Saints' church in Squirrels Heath Lane was bombed in 1941, Sunday services were transferred to the school hall.

Boys still had to be taught. There were 600 pupils in 1943. Younger masters joined the Forces. Some were replaced by female teachers. Women were eased out after 1945, on the sexist assumption that boys need male role models.

Heavy burdens fell upon a group of long-serving staff, mostly too old for active service. But one of them, Ernest Pilling, was recruited to a secret sabotage unit that would go into hiding if the Nazis overran Britain. A short, tough Northerner, who'd helped Hartley launch Royal Liberty in 1921, "Ernie" spent arduous weekends training in survival techniques. One former pupil, Cambridge don Ralph Bennett, worked with the Bletchley Park code-breakers. He re-visited the school in 1943, but could only say that his job was "hush-hush".

In August 1941, sixty boys camped near Thaxted. They did 3,700 hours of harvest work, thus freeing farm workers to join the Forces.

Two pupils, Ronald Jenkins (aged 16) and his brother Leslie (13), were killed when a V2 rocket hit their Brentwood home in 1944. Around 100 former pupils died in the War. With a good grounding in subjects like maths, science and geography from their Royal Liberty curriculum, its products were ideal for specialist work in the Royal Air Force. Many served in the dangerous roles of pilots and navigators. The death rate was high. "I was thrilled by my visit to my Old School," wrote Pilot Officer Robert Scott, shortly before being posted overseas. He looked forward to returning in happier times. Within weeks, he was killed when a routine flight crashed near Gibraltar. 

Gus Hartley announced their deaths in morning assembly, and wrote obituary notes for the school magazine. The loss of England cricketer Kenneth Farnes in 1941 was a particularly heavy blow. Hartley had helped Farnes establish himself as a top-class fast bowler, and enthusiastically followed his test match career. In 1948, a memorial window commemorating the dead was dedicated in the school hall.

Hartley retired in 1947. Admirers gave him two new gadgets, an electric kettle and a television set. His portrait was presented to the school. It's good – except that Gus is sitting still, and he's not talking!

Hartley found it hard to let go. He should have moved away from Gidea Park, giving a clear run to his successor, G.H.R. Newth. "Give of your best to Mr. Newth, because he will give of his best to you," was Hartley's parting message to the school. He sounded like Sir Alex Ferguson welcoming David Moyes as the new manager at Manchester United!

His house in Edward Close overlooked the Royal Liberty playing field. From the kitchen window, Hartley enthusiastically watched cricket matches. One morning, as Gussy was washing up after breakfast, a boy hit a six through the window. He took a delighted catch at the sink. Sometimes, he would visit the Nets to coach young cricketers. In his eighties, he could still bowl a perfect line and length. He continued to take his place among the platform party at the annual prize day. One year, he was informally invited to say "a few words". He stole the show – and wrecked the schedule!

Gus Hartley died in 1978, aged 95. Royal Liberty today is a different school, but it owes its name and something of its spirit to its colourful first headmaster.

HAVERING MP ASKED DETAILED QUESTIONS IN PARLIAMENT

John Parker was a Labour MP for 48 years. Public school and Oxford educated, Parker was not a typical Labour man. But he spoke up for his constituents, raising local issues in House of Commons questions. In polite replies, the government usually told him to get lost.

Parker was elected for Romford in 1935. The constituency included Hornchurch and Dagenham, with 188,000 voters – almost four times the national average. Surely the constituency deserved more MPs, Parker pleaded. You can't deal with Romford by itself, the government retorted.

Would the government receive a deputation from Hornchurch Council, which wanted a labour exchange (Jobcentre)? No point, said the government, we're going to provide one, we just can't find a site.

 Mr Sharp of Ravenscourt Drive Hornchurch had been waiting over two months for a telephone. Sorry, came the reply. He'll get his phone in a fortnight. What would the government do to stop an insurance company forcing Mr Everett of Squirrels Heath Lane, Hornchurch, to pay extra for health cover? Nothing, was the answer. Take up the issue with the company.

Who was responsible for Lee Gardens Avenue, off Wingletye Lane, Hornchurch? Nobody, said the government, it was private property. (Of course, it's a public road nowadays.)  Parker had better luck pressing for the widening of High Street Romford. The government would pay, if Romford Council would contribute.

Parker argued for cheap bus and train fares: people had moved out to places like Upminster on tight budgets. Similarly, phone calls to London should be charged at local rates, not long-distance.

In May 1939, Parker raised a sensitive issue. Although unemployment was still a local problem, he claimed Hornchurch men had been sacked from roadworks in Abbs Cross Lane, and replaced by Irishmen. Nowadays, we'd call that a racist attitude. The government sounded surprised. Nobody had been sacked. If Irishmen were working on Abbs Cross Lane, well, Irish people lived in Hornchurch, didn't they?

The outbreak of war in 1939 added to overcrowding on the already terrible train service to Liverpool Street. Ministers were horrified when Parker suggested scrapping first-class carriages. Supposing they had to visit Gidea Park one day! (First-class carriages were scrapped in 1941.) Aircraftsmen Phipps of Hunters Grove, Collier Row, had been in the RAF for seven whole weeks, but Mrs Phipps had not received her married allowance. It had got lost in the post, explained the government.

Parker complained that the closure of Southend Road in Hornchurch hurt the trade of the Good Intent pub. Would there be compensation? Sorry, no, came the reply. Southend Road had been closed as a security measure to protect RAF Hornchurch.   In October 1940, Parker demanded more cement for Hornchurch air raid shelters. The government mildly pointed out that there was "an exceptionally heavy demand" for cement. Britain faced invasion. Airfields and coastal defences took priority.

Clothing was rationed in wartime, but some Romford Market traders sold goods without coupons. The government promised Parker they'd crack down on the spivs. Another MP commented that "tic-tac men" from racecourses were employed to warn stallholders when inspectors were coming.

The Romford constituency was finally divided in 1945, John Parker opted to represent Dagenham. He remained its MP until 1983.

NAVAL DISASTER ENDED BRITAIN'S WORLD POWER

If you travel Romford's inner by-pass, you'll glimpse Linden Street, a quiet side road squeezed alongside St Edward's Way. It recalls a tragedy, 75 years ago, that marked the end of UK world power.

The British colony of Malaya was vital to the war against Hitler. Producing huge quantities of rubber, Malaya put the tyres on planes and lorries and jeeps. Lose Malaya, and we could lose the war. Malaya was defended by the Singapore naval base, itself protected by RAF bases up the peninsula. But would Japan challenge for control in the Far East? When the Nazis overran France in 1940, Japan seized the French colony of Vietnam.

As a gesture, Churchill sent Force Z to Singapore, headed by the mighty 43,000-ton battleship Prince of Wales and the fast cruiser Repulse. Those three words, "the Royal Navy", radiated invincibility. On December 7th 1941, Japanese bombers smashed the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. Next day, Japanese forces began landings in Malaya, knocking out the RAF bases inland. It was unthinkable that the Navy would not rush to the rescue. Admiral Tom Phillips set sail, vaguely planning to disrupt the enemy.

The only available air cover was a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadron at Singapore. Their Brewster Buffalo fighters were stubby, clumsy aircraft – pilots called them "flying coffins" – but they might have provided look-outs. Admiral Phillips was confident. The nearest Japanese air base was at Saigon, 700 miles away, a very long operational range. No battleship had ever been sunk by a warplane. Prince of Wales had advanced, radar-guided anti-aircraft systems. (They broke down in the hot weather.) Phillips ordered radio silence: the RAAF lost contact.

Disaster struck on December 10th .  Japanese torpedo bombers sank the two big ships. The world changed forever. Great warships were vulnerable from the air. The Japanese used fewer than 50 torpedoes. They lost only four aircraft. Repulse had broken radio silence to appeal for RAAF support. The Buffalo fighters arrived overhead minutes after the two big ships had gone to the bottom. Hundreds of men were lost. Admiral Phillips went down with his ship. It was remarkable that many were also saved. Destroyer crews bravely closed in to pick up survivors. Among them was a stoker from Repulse, Arthur Milbank. News of his rescue reached his home in Linden Street just before Christmas.

It's hard now to describe the shock of the disaster. Britain's Navy was not just about power. It also conveyed mystique. The UK would continue to be a global player through alliances, but the myth of British superpower sank in Malayan waters 75 years ago.

PARACHUTE MINES – THE FORGOTTEN WORLD WAR 2 TERROR WEAPON

Dropped from two miles high, many Nazi bombs sank into Havering's soft soil, muffling their explosions in their own craters. Both sides dropped mines at sea by parachute to sink enemy shipping. From September 1940, the Luftwaffe used them in the Blitz. People called them "land mines".

Onlookers watching the first mines drifting towards Rainham feared they were parachutists spearheading a Nazi invasion. But often victims never heard the silent killers approach. Over fifty land mines hit Havering. The largest were eight feet long, carrying almost a ton of explosives. The parachute slowed their fall to 40 mph. Impact, at ground level or on a roof, activated a fuse. The explosion could cause widespread devastation – over 100 homes were damaged in Upminster Road, Rainham.

Sometimes the fuse failed, but you could never be sure. Nevertheless, a Rainham man recklessly stole a parachute, to sell its artificial silk on the "black market". 1,000 people were evacuated from Rush Green when a mine landed in Birkbeck Road. With bomb disposal teams fully stretched, heroic local volunteers loaded the monster on to a lorry. Knowing they might be blown to pieces, they took it to Bedfords Park, where it was eventually made safe.

Parachutes sometimes failed to open. A mine punched a massive crater between Carlton Road and Stanley Avenue, Gidea Park. It still managed to wreck 100 houses. Remarkably, there were no major casualties. Five people were killed in a similar incident in Cedric Avenue Romford: had the parachute functioned, Marshalls Park would have been flattened.

Parachute mines were loaded in pairs, one under each wing of a bomber. They had to be dropped together to keep the plane stable. One November night in 1940, two were released over Ardleigh Green. One caught in a tree north of the Southend Arterial Road. The other killed five people in Cecil Avenue. In December 1940, 400 houses were damaged in Harold Wood. Its companion landed harmlessly north of the A12 Colchester Road – Harold Hill had not yet been built.

Havering's worst night was 19 April 1941. Collier Row suffered badly. Six people were killed in Hillfoot Avenue, but the real horror was Essex Road, north of Eastern Avenue.

Twelve of the 38 victims were too badly mangled to be identified.

The last two parachute bombs were dropped on Gidea Park in May 1941. After Germany's invasion of Russia in June 1941, air raids slackened. In January 1944, "boffins" (as wartime scientists were called) were interested in new type of parachute bomb which landed in Harlow Road, South Hornchurch, but the Nazis put their effort into V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets.

We can hear the voices of two brave young victims of the parachute mines. At Cecil Avenue, rescuers found thirteen year-old Ronald Eke trapped under fallen masonry. Calmly, he helped searchers by giving information about the people living in nearby houses. Insisting that he was not badly hurt, Ronald urged the teams to find his parents. He did not know they had been killed. Ronald did not survive surgery to amputate his shattered legs. It took forty hours to dig ten year-old Vera Carter out of the rubble in Essex Road. "I'm all right," she reassured rescuers. She died shortly afterwards. 

OUT OF THE HAVERING SKIES IN WORLD WAR TWO

It was not only bombs and rockets that fell on Havering during World War Two. Planes and pilots came down too. Seventeen Allied aircraft and five German planes crashed within the Borough. Details are given in Peter Watt's excellent book, Hitler V. Havering.

In August 1940, during an air raid on Hornchurch aerodrome, a Heinkel He-111 was disabled by anti-aircraft fire. Spitfires forced it to make a crash landing at North Ockendon. Two local farmers bravely approached, one armed with a spanner, the other with an iron bar.  Just before the plane blew up, the five-man crew emerged with their hands up. The scene was like a famous episode of Dad's Army. Although they had surrendered, the Nazis behaved arrogantly. Germany had overrun most of Europe. Puny Britain would soon crumble.

It was a different story at a remote Noak Hill cottage one January night in 1941. Jane Hollick was awoken by tapping at a downstairs window. Who could be visiting at 5.30 a.m.?

When husband Henry investigated, he heard a voice saying, "Ger-man-y!" They found an injured and terrified young man, the sole survivor of a bomber crew shot down over Brentwood. The Hollicks made him a bed on their settee, and introduced him to our great national ritual, a nice cup of tea. He'd used the only English word he knew, and the family spoke no German. Son Herbert had school French, enough to learn that Corporal Erich Hendur was 22, and had injured his leg parachuting into a nearby field.  "He seemed a nice fellow," commented Mrs Hollick after the police took him to hospital.

German airmen often bailed out too low for their parachutes to open. After a Messerschmitt fighter crashed at Bridge Road Rainham during the Battle of Britain, its pilot was found dead in the Ingrebourne. Two Germans were killed when their Heinkel hit flats in Matlock Gardens, Hornchurch, in November 1940. Sadly, three residents were burned to death as well.

Allied airmen who got into difficulties tried to avoid causing casualties on the ground.

Flying a Hurricane fighter in October 1940, Pilot Officer "Billy" Pattullo attempted an emergency landing on Maylands airstrip (now a Harold Hill golf course). He crashed into a house in Woodstock Avenue and died of injuries. Billy's father worked in Chile, but Billy had come home to fight for Britain. He was 21.

When his Spitfire engine cut out after taking off from Hornchurch on a daylight flight in 1943, American pilot Raymond Sanders Draper sacrificed his life avoiding a local school as he crashed. Sanders School honours the name of the hero who saved the lives of hundreds of children.

In February 1944, a German bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire 9,000 feet above Havering-atte-Bower. With difficulty, tail-gunner Helmut Niedack jumped from the crashing plane, landing in a barbed-wire fence in North Road. (His parachute vanished. Despite a wartime clothing shortage, several local women mysteriously acquired smart new dresses.) When the Essex Aircraft Historical Society excavated the crash site in 1986, they traced Helmut to his home in Berlin and invited him over. The guest of honour was presented with his flying helmet and life jacket, both kept locally as souvenirs.

CHILDHOOD IN WARTIME ROMFORD

What was life like in wartime Romford? Mike, who now lives in Australia, recalls his Collier Row childhood as surprisingly normal.

Mike's parents had moved to Highfield Road from Tottenham in 1938. "I was born in Oldchurch Hospital in March 1940 – six months after World War Two had been declared," Mike recalls. His father was a Civil Defence volunteer, rescuing victims of the London Blitz. His experiences must have been horrific, Mike realises, but he never talked about them.

"Growing up in war-torn Romford seemed perfectly natural," says Mike: he'd never experienced anything different.

Collier Row's Rex Cinema showed American films, featuring cowboy heroes like Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy. Then real-life American soldiers arrived, bringing luxuries like chewing gum. "We'd never seen the long foil-covered strips of gum before," Mike remembers. "We'd hassle them with the call 'Got any gum, chum?'."

Romford missed the worst of the air raids, but anti-aircraft guns fired at German bombers passing overhead, showering Collier Row with shrapnel. "We roamed the streets looking for pieces of shrapnel and playing war games," he says.

The war was still on when Mike started school at Clockhouse Primary. "The local air raid siren was mounted on the school and there were brick air-raid shelters around the playing field," Mike remembers. "We often had to continue our lessons in the shelters."

At home, there was an Anderson shelter – curved corrugated steel panels half buried in the garden. Although it's seventy years ago, Mike clearly remembers June 25th 1944. The family had  taken refuge in the shelter after the warbling siren warned of an approaching "Doodlebug" –  a V1 flying bomb, forerunner of today's Cruise missile. Just before ten p.m., the monster's engines cut out over Collier Row, and it crashed into nearby Clockhouse Lane, killing two people and wrecking many houses. The blast wave funnelled down the driveway of the house across the road, blowing in the windows of Mike's family home and ripping out the plumbing. Mike, aged 4, had fallen asleep. "I woke up to hear the water gushing in the house," he remembers.

While their home was being repaired, Mike's mother took him and his sister to safety up North, in Barnsley. The high spot of his Yorkshire exile was riding on the footplate of the train in a coal pit. He also remembers seeing Snow White at the local cinema!

When they returned to Collier Row, his parents swapped houses, moving to a larger property further up the street. They were back in time for Highfield Road's street parties to celebrate VE Day, victory over the Nazis in May 1945, and VJ Day, the surrender of Japan in August.

Italian prisoners of war were used to lay out streets around Hillrise Road for "prefabs" –  emergency housing for homeless families. Small children weren't closely supervised in those days, so Mike and his friends used to go and watch.  "Sometimes we would take them food, which the Italians repaid with carved wooden toys," Mike reminiscences. His mother was not pleased when she found out. "She told me off, saying we were short of food ourselves due to the actions of Germany and Italy!"

MEMORIES OF POST-WAR ROMFORD 1945-1960

Reminiscing from his home in Australia, Mike looks back on the changing post-war world that followed the end of the Second World War in 1945.

Money was in short supply. On December 24th, his father would visit Romford Market looking for a chicken for Christmas dinner – turkey was unknown. He'd spot likely looking bird on a Market stall and wait until nearly closing time when prices dropped to clear out the stock. With luck, the chicken he'd eyed off had not been sold and he walked off with his "bargain". 

People made their own entertainment. Mike's family only got a TV in 1954, when he was 14. Mike and his friends rode their bikes to places like Epping Forest and Havering-atte-Bower. Next to the stocks on Havering's village green was an old oak. For some reason, the kids believed it was a "hanging" tree, once used as a gallows. Mike remembers the now-vanished Mawney Road baths. He learned to swim there, using an ex-RAF flotation device, called a "Mae West" – you'll have to guess why!

Collier Row's Church of the Ascension was a centre of community life. "I joined the church choir," Mike recalls. "We sang at weddings and went carol singing around the streets before Christmas. Once I was selected to sing in St Paul's Cathedral at a St George's Day service."

The annual church fête was always opened by a celebrity. One year Mike won the boys' fancy dress competition with his sister winning the girls' event. He's never forgotten Diana Dors, the blonde bombshell actress, who presented their prizes.

Through the church, Mike joined the cubs in 1948, later moving up to the Scouts. Foreign travel was rare, but the Scouts went camping in Belgium and Germany. He recalls an embarrassing incident with a German gentleman. "He pointed to my uniform and started asking me about the Hitler Youth." Mike could understand what he was saying but didn't knew enough German to reply, so he pointed to the Union Jack on his uniform. The German turned away in disgust. He wasn't angry at meeting an English boy – he thought Mike was Swiss!

The 1950s were exciting times. A friend borrowed Mike's mother's sewing machine to help him "peg" his trousers – from 20 inch bottoms to 14 inch "drainpipes".  Crepe-soled suede shoes were "in". Mike was learning ballroom dancing at a studio in Romford Market, but when he heard the rock 'n' roll music of Bill Haley and Elvis Presley, he quickly switched to jiving and the "creep".

In 1957 he joined the Merchant Navy, sailing to the West Indies, South America and the Mediterranean on a Shell oil tanker. But tragedy ended his seafaring career. In January 1958, ten people were killed in a train crash at Dagenham East. One of them was Mike's mother. He decided to come home. There was full employment in those days. Job centres were called labour exchanges. "They would give you a choice of three jobs and tell you to come back if none of them suited!," he jokes.

But Mike was now married (they've been together for 56 years). He decided he needed a career. In 1961, he joined the Essex Police.

THE ADVENTURES OF AN ESSEX BOBBY –  50 YEARS AGO

Aged 21 in 1961, Mike joined the Essex Police – which covered Havering until 1965, when the new Borough was transferred to the Met. He served in Romford and Grays.

In 1964, he was posted to Rainham and given a police house in Mungo Park Road, Elm Park.

The Grays Division stretched to Tilbury, and Mike's only transport was his bike. "Cycling from Grays to Tilbury, then Aveley to South Ockendon and Purfleet, in all weathers was a drag."  Police equipment was scarce. There was only one "Area Car" for the whole Grays Division. "When we arrested offenders, we had to get them to the police station by whatever means – sometimes a friendly taxi!"

Mike recalls with embarrassment the day he arrested a drunk driver. "I hadn't passed my driving test and I wasn't thinking clearly," he admits. "I got him to drive us both to the station! You can imagine the Duty Sergeant's remarks."

There were no police radios either. Mike recalls an alarm at Romford police station one winter morning when a night-shift policeman failed to return from his beat. A search party was sent after him. "The unfortunate bobby was found in the Market, fast asleep in a bus shelter, with the traders putting up their stalls around him!"

Most people supported the police. "One night I was having trouble arresting a violent drunk when a double-decker bus pulled up," Mike relates. "The driver and several passengers got out and offered to help!"  On solo beat in Tilbury, Mike told three youths to stop smashing bottles. They gave him mouthfuls of abuse, jeering that he would be nothing without his uniform. As he squared up to them, a dock worker jumped out of his car shouting, "Hold on officer, you can't do that – but I can!".  The docker gave all three a clip around the ears, and threatened to inform their parents.

But public assistance was not always useful. "A suspect escaped from Romford police station and was pursued along South Street by a detective, followed by two uniformed bobbies. A well-meaning onlooker assumed the constables were chasing two men, stuck his foot out and sent the detective flying!"

At Tilbury, Mike joined a police rowing team entered for the Gravesend regatta. Shiftwork made it difficult for the crew to train together. On the day, one of the rowers produced some little purple pills, saying they needed extra help. Mike stuck to glucose tablets. The police team lost an oar – but still came third out of six. He thinks it was lucky nobody was tested after the race. Tilbury attracted one glittering VIP. Princess Margaret used to visit for shipboard parties, and Mike was assigned to ensure she arrived and left safely.

One of the best jobs in Romford was providing security at the greyhound stadium. "Between races, I was given a case of beer, a warm room and some hot tips!," he jokes.

After a few months in Rainham, he transferred to the Cheshire Police. "One reason for moving was the terrible stench from the Bretons sewage works," he recalls. "Hornchurch had developed too fast and the treatment plant couldn't keep up." It closed in 1969.

THE ELECTRIFYING STORY OF HAVERING'S LAST RAIL UPGRADE

By 1935, suburban growth around Romford had pushed steam train services into Liverpool Street to the limit.

Steam engines need time to stop at stations and get moving again. Electric motors respond faster. With electric trains, more services can be crammed in at busy times. By 1932, District Line trains were running to Upminster. In June 1935, Chancellor of the Exchequer Neville Chamberlain announced that the government would back electrification to Shenfield.

At stations like Gidea Park and Harold Wood, suburban services used platforms on the north side of the tracks. But the Central Line was being extended out to Stratford, where tunnels would emerge south of the main line. Local trains would have to cross over to connect with the Underground. A huge flyover was begun at Ilford in 1939. It would also resolve a bottleneck at Liverpool Street. In August 1939, work began to erect overhead gantries for electric wires. The first stretch was between Harold Wood and Brentwood. Next month, Hitler invaded Poland. Work stopped for a decade.

The project resumed in 1949, adding disruption to an already terrible train service. "Liverpool Street has not been a happy station for a long time," remarked The Times. There were two target dates. The new trains would be introduced on September 26th. Six weeks later, steam engines would be phased out, and Shenfield services would become all electric. Both were disasters.

After a ceremony at Liverpool Street's Platform 18 on September 26th, Transport Minister Alfred Barnes drove a special train as far as Stratford. Unluckily, a steam train from Southend developed engine trouble. It limped into Liverpool Street forty minutes late, throwing timetables into chaos. The Lord Mayor of London congratulated long-suffering Essex commuters – at least no strap-hangers had been killed in the twice-daily crush!

On November 7th, the all-electric service was set to take over. "What should have been a triumph for the railway engineers turned out to be a very damp squib," one journalist reported. The overhead cables all the way to Shenfield suddenly went dead. True, the power cut lasted only thirteen minutes. But a black-out from 7.26 to 7.39 disrupted the morning rush hour. Then, at 7.51, a train leaving the sidings at Ilford pulled down a section of overhead wiring, blocking the lines. In a humiliating moment for British technology, the despised steam engines were mobilised to provide a skeleton service. It was mid-afternoon before the electric trains were running efficiently.

Despite the glitch, electrification was a success. Trains left Liverpool Street at three-minute intervals during the evening rush hour, fast services reaching Romford in 17 minutes. Travellers liked the modern carriages. Picture-windows gave a much better view than the poky up-and-down sliding windows on the old trains. But a heat wave in June 1950 revealed a hidden snag. A Brentwood commuter complained that the trains were "nearly at oven temperatures", especially when waiting at stations. Only a small part of the window unit could be opened, too high up to generate a cooling breeze. Windows needed re-design to "make a journey enjoyable instead of unbearable." Alas, Essex commuters were stuck with their sauna-like trains.

Electrification was extended to Southend and Chelmsford in 1956.

WHY ESSEX CRICKET NEEDED A CENTURY TO WIN

Essex County Cricket Club was founded in 1876, but Essex only won their first Championship in 1979. The problem during that first century was not Essex cricket, but Essex geography.

In the days before sponsorship and football pools, County clubs relied on two types of income. Hundreds of people paid a few pounds annually in membership fees. Thousands paid a few shillings each to watch matches.

The problem was that, in 1901, half the 1.1 million people of Essex lived in just five districts in the south-west of the county – East and West Ham, Barking, Leyton and Walthamstow.

Cricket was a popular spectator sport. Those Essex Londoners would pay to watch but they were mainly working-class people who didn't have the spare cash to join the club. The people who could afford membership lived in the countryside. They weren't excited by a county team that played in the suburbs.

Where could Essex play cricket and draw crowds? Chelmsford was a small town, barely 15,000 people in 1901. Remote Colchester had 35,000 people, but cricket was weak in north Essex. Southend was packed with trippers in the summer – but not all holiday-makers were Essex supporters. After ten years playing at Brentwood (population just 5,000!), in 1886 Essex settled at Leyton.

In 1894, a short link railway, the Tottenham and Forest Gate extension, opened a new and convenient Leyton station. From the Liverpool Street line, it was an easy stroll from Forest Gate to Wanstead Park, and then two stops to the ground. Next year, Essex joined the County Championship.

Leyton attracted the suburban crowds, but the location was still inconvenient for most people living deep in the country. Operating permanently on the verge of financial disaster, Essex tried taking cricket to a wider public. By the early 1930s, there were Festival weeks at Brentwood, Clacton, Colchester and Southend. In 1933, Essex abandoned Leyton altogether, adding a Festival at Ilford to cater for the suburbs. In effect, Essex had no home ground. This caused problems. It was difficult to organise batting and fielding practice, or to liaise with groundsmen. The club was always on the road. There was even a mobile scoreboard, a converted furniture van. Toilet facilities were awful. (What became of all those buckets?)

In 1950, Romford was added to the list. The Gallows Corner ground had good road access through the A12 and A127, but not much of a car park. Small boys could get in free by squeezing through the fence. (I refuse to reveal how I know this.) The ground was small for first-class cricket. Just one touring team played at Romford – a Commonwealth XI in 1953. The famous West Indian spin bowler, Alf Valentine, could only coax match figures of 2 for 54 out of the Gidea Park clay. Fellow West Indian Clyde Walcott scored a century, but Essex won by 108 runs.

Romford Cricket Week ended in 1968. Essex decided to centralise. Chelmsford was now a large town, with good road and rail links. Limited over cricket offered new opportunities: Essex were always an entertaining team. Finally, in 1979, Essex won the Championship. In 1981 they headed the Sunday League. A new era had begun. Essex cricket had finally overcome Essex geography.

HOW ROMFORD SHAPED THE MERSEY SOUND

Richard Starkey had a lousy start in life. He was born in the poorest part of Liverpool, in 1940.  His parents nicknamed him "Ritchie", but his father wasn't around much. The parents split up when he was four. Ritchie's mother, Elsie, worked as a barmaid to support them. Health problems made a tough childhood life harder still. Aged six, he survived appendicitis, but spent a whole year in hospital. At eight, he couldn't read. The other kids nicknamed him "Lazarus". Later, he was struck by a lung disease, some say pleurisy, others tuberculosis. Either way, it was no surprise in Liverpool's slums. Two more years in a sanatorium threatened Ritchie's slight chances of getting on in life.

Medical staff cheered the youngsters by organising them into a band. Ritchie couldn't get out of bed, but he had a great sense of rhythm and joined in, enthusiastically banging a cotton reel on the bedside medical cabinet.

In 1954, Elsie got married again. The arrival of a new man in a single-parent household sounded a recipe for disaster.Harry Graves was a Scouser himself. He'd worked in Romford,   returning to Merseyside in his fifties after the breakdown of his first marriage. Luckily, the two hit it off. Young Ritchie found the father figure he needed. "I learned gentleness from Harry," he would say. When Ritchie was fifteen, Harry took him to London for a holiday. They stayed in Romford. His stepfather worked as a painter and decorator, so Ritchie nicknamed him his "step-ladder".

Harry was a fan of big band music, and widened the lad's interest in popular culture. After the sanatorium, Ritchie's education was a mess. He faced a lifetime of dead-end jobs. His main hobby was drumming on empty biscuit tins.

It seems to have been a funeral that took Harry Graves back to Romford, shortly before Christmas – some say in 1957, Ritchie himself thought it was 1958. As Harry headed back to Romford station he spotted something in a shop window that would change the course of musical history – the ideal present for his rhythm-crazed stepson. The drum kit was probably second-hand: Harry had to add a dustbin lid as a cymbal. It wasn't cheap – some say £10, others £12, a week's wages in those days – but it must have been good value to make it worth hauling back to Liverpool. Imagine – balancing the box up the steps at Romford station, then train to Liverpool Street, and down those long passages to the Circle Line. And that was only the start of the journey north.

Harry's Christmas gift was a success. In skiffle-crazy, Liverpool experimental groups were springing up everywhere – wide open to a lad with his own drum kit. Ritchie was soon playing in a group called The Hurricanes, who gave him his own solo drumming spot. His surname, Starkey, was shortened, so it could be billed "Starr Time". He wore flash jewellery on his fingers, and Ritchie became Ringo.

In the summer of 1960, the Hurricanes were hired to perform at Butlin's holiday camp (the inspiration for comedy series Hi-de-Hi!). When he got home, his mother told him somebody called George was looking for him. Would be replace the drummer in another group? They called themselves the Beatles. The rest is history.

HAVERING'S EXOTIC TREES

In the mid-18th century, wealthy Havering landowners joined the fashion for planting exotic trees. The must-have garden ornament was the Cedar of Lebanon. Cedars grew enormous trunks and huge branches. In 1881, one specimen at Upminster had a girth of 18 feet. Twenty years earlier, local GP Dr William Tabrum had made his own coffin from one of its branches.

One Upminster cedar was said to be the second largest in England. Most of Upminster's cedars were cut down by builders. In 1939, a preservation order was issued to save one, in Corbets Tey Road – but just too late!

Havering's finest cedar stands in the gardens of Langtons, the register office in Billet Lane, Hornchurch. It was probably planted by local landscape gardener Humphry Repton.

The quadrangle of Gidea Park's Royal Liberty School contains a fine cedar. There's another handsome example at Bretons Outdoor Centre. A quiet Emerson Park street, The Witherings, has a lucky survival from the park of the lost mansion, Nelmes.

Europeans learned about giant redwood trees on America's Pacific coast through the 1849 Californian gold rush. Also known as the giant sequoia, it is the largest and longest-lived tree on the planet. Arriving in England soon after the death of the Duke of Wellington, mighty victor of the battle of Waterloo, it acquired a third name, Wellingtonia –  tribute to a national hero. There are solitary examples in Dagnam Park at Harold Hill and in north Romford's Bedfords Park.

Havering-atte-Bower has a little-known national treasure – believed to be one of just two sequoia avenues in Britain. Located behind Havering's village church, or a tidy stroll from Collier Row's Clockhouse Lane, Wellingtonia Avenue is a magic place. At one moment, you could be deep in the forests of Canada's Vancouver Island. At the next, you're glimpsing the Essex countryside rolling away to the north, as if London did not exist. But you'll need stout footwear – this is horse-riding country and the avenue can be muddy.

Havering Council has had the great idea of planting a redwood at the south end of Wingletye Lane, Hornchurch. Right now, it looks like a Christmas tree pretending to be a tea cosy, but in fifty years it will become a real landmark. There are four more young redwoods along nearby Hacton Lane.

Some 19th century landscapes barely survive. Fir trees were planted for a quarter of a mile along the west side of Ardleigh Green Road. Tiny Hardley Green – as it was called in those days – even had a pub called The Fir Trees, now a snack bar popular with students. Today, only a few of Ardleigh Green's firs remain, mainly opposite Nelmes Way.

Upminster's ancient St Laurence church has two solemn avenues of yew trees, planted in 1848. In Dagnam Park, a yew avenue marks the approach to the former mansion. Yews shield the entrance to Romford's Raphael Park, which also has two rugged examples of English oaks beside the lake.

You approach the visitor centre at Bedfords Park through an impressive avenue of horse chestnuts. A horse chestnut circle has been planted in Harold Court Woods as a religious symbol. At Warley Place, near Great Warley, there are well-established sweet chestnuts. Havering's exotic trees are there to be enjoyed. Let's not keep them secret!

HORNCHURCH HIGH STREET – TANNERS, GHOSTS AND HIGHWAYMEN

In 1883, a journalist called Hornchurch "still one of the quaintest towns one could wish to see, its gabled houses placed anywhere and everywhere the owners pleased". Nowadays, only two ancient buildings survive in downtown Hornchurch – The Bull (now the Fatling) and the King's Head (Prezzo).

The White Hart, at the junction with Suttons (later Station) Lane, occupied an island site large enough to include a pub garden. It was rebuilt in the 1930s, obliterating the garden, and is now divided into restaurants. Many of the older buildings had to be replaced. For "quaint cottages", read "primitive slums". The Cricketers' Inn, for instance, rebuilt in 1938, had dangerously low ceilings. Streets had to be widened for traffic.

At the junction with North Street, the Britannia beerhouse had a handsome stone chimney, leading some to assume it was the site of Hornchurch's lost medieval priory. The pub closed about 1907. Thirty years later the tailors, Burton, demolished the buildings. The last tenants, Mr and Mrs Aldridge, worried about the ghost. An Australian newspaper reported that they'd often seen a phantom monk, carrying a candle in his brown habit. One night, Mr Aldridge asked to the apparition to make some sign of his presence. Instantly, the buttons snapped off his clothes. I hope Burton didn't know the story.

Built in the severe Art Deco style, Burton's 1939 building is the most handsome block in central Hornchurch. It is now Starbucks. Perhaps the ghostly monk drops in for a cappuccino.

The Britannia was said to have been linked by secret passages to Emerson Park, two miles north, and eastward to St Andrew's church. Nobody explained why the tunnels were needed.

Workmen demolishing the building broke into a bricked-up cellar passage, but were driven back by the stench. It was probably an old privy.

Opposite, close to Thomas Cook's, a timber archway with an overhanging upper storey allowed carts to enter a yard behind. Around 1800, local tearaway Jimmy Wood was shot trying to rob a mail coach near Gallows Corner. Jimmy managed to crawl back to Hornchurch, where his mother hid him a barn behind the arch. Jimmy recovered, but later "came to an untimely end".

Facing Billet Lane, Appleton's Almhouses were founded in 1586. Opposite, on the site of Sainsbury's, were Pennant's Almshouses, dating from 1597. In the twentieth century, their sites were sold for commercial development, and the charities merged into the sheltered housing of Skeales Court, in Elm Park's Sunrise Avenue. On the west side of Billet Lane, at the High Street end, a pond provided drinking water until the mid-19th century. Maybe that's why the shops here are set back from the road. A Whit Monday fair was held in the High Street until 1878, when it was abolished as a nuisance. The merry-go-round was always located at Billet Lane.

From the Middle Ages, Hornchurch High Street was also called Pell Street, its name a variant of "pelt". By 1911, very few local people recalled the name. Hornchurch had an important tanning industry. There were smelly tanyards behind many High Street properties. The last Hornchurch tannery ceased operations around 1840. It was located near North Street's Fentiman Way car park. Its sheds were demolished before 1900.

Hornchurch had other industries. The Wedlake family operated rival foundries making farm equipment. One stretched from the High Street beside The Bull to the site of the Queen's Theatre in Billet Lane. It moved to Barking in 1902. The other, in what is now Wedlake Close off North Street, continued until the 1940s.

Now forgotten, the Old Hornchurch Brewery was a local rival to Romford's more famous enterprise. It functioned from 1789 to 1925, when it was bought by a chain, which closed it down. The buildings were removed in 1930-1. It stood opposite the King's Head.

NORTH STREET ROMFORD

North Street Romford is not Britain's finest streetscape, but it has some interesting history.

The building of the ring road in 1970 cut the old North Street in two. The southern end is now part of the pedestrian area. In 1880, a local historian claimed it had once been called Woolford Street, but this can't be confirmed.

Until the 19th century North Street was Collier Row Lane, still the name for its extension across Eastern Avenue, which was built in the 1920s. Compared with High Street and the Market, it was a quiet backwater. Just behind the Golden Lion, the Vicarage stood in shady gardens. The vicar moved out in 1909.

On the west side, now under the ring-road roundabout, stood Roger Reede's almshouses. Founded in 1482 for five poor men, they were built in a field called Joyes Mead, alias Hoo Croft. In 1959, they were relocated to nearby Church Lane, where there are now 38 units.

At the opposite edge of the roundabout was the Congregational church. Critics of the Anglican Church founded a chapel here in 1717 – on the edge of town. In 1823, the Congregationalists erected a handsome building, with a classical facade. They moved to a larger church in South Street in 1877. In 1909, the old building became the first home of the Romford Recorder. It was demolished around 1934.

Tall trees along the east side of North Street screened Marshalls, one of Romford's country mansions. Ornate gates opened on a driveway, now The Avenue. The house was replaced by a school in 1959, but the surrounding area had been developed from 1924, with comfortable streets like Havering Drive.

There was still enough spare ground to build Romford's 12,000-square metre bus station in 1953. One of the district's earliest – and best – example of modern architecture, it demonstrates North Street's role as a local transport hub.

There are stories to three turnings off the west side of North Street. Como Street began in Victorian times as a short cul-de-sac. Sometime around 1900, it was extended to Mawney Road, with impressive terraces along an elegantly wide road. A glimpse of old Romford, Brooklands Lane led to Stickleback Bridge, a plank footbridge over the Rom.

Opposite the bus garage, Brooklands Approach once gave access to a football and speedway stadium, home of Romford football club ("the Boro"). One of England's leading non-League sides, the ambitious Boro invested in a stadium with room for 25,000 spectators as part of a drive to join the Football League. Automatic promotion into Division 4 (now League 2) only started in 1986. Sadly, the Boro had run into financial trouble a decade earlier, and Brooklands was sold.  You can still see the football ground's concrete boundary walls among the light industry. At a 1953 Cup tie, 18,000 fans had streamed along Brooklands Approach – Romford's Wembley Way!

Boutiques and restaurants mostly avoided North Street, because the Rom was liable to flood.

In 1975, buses ploughed through water a foot deep. Remedial work has eased the flow, but as the Rom runs through culverts in the town centre, there's still a danger of flooding upstream during heavy rain.

Once a country lane leading to Collier Row, nowadays North Street is the link between downtown Romford and the A12.

SOUTH WEALD – THE FIRST VILLAGE BEYOND HAVERING

Just across Havering's border, South Weald is a gem of an Essex village – with the lakes and woodland of a 500-acre Country Park to explore too. The 498 bus from Romford to Brentwood provides frequent services to the Bull at Brook Street.

Walk back to Wigley Bush Lane, which has a safe pavement up to the village. You pass the red-brick almshouses, sloping comfortably down the hillside. Founded in 1567 by local squire Sir Anthony Browne (his tomb is in the church), they were rebuilt in 1854 by his successors, the Tower family.

A Biblical motto in antique letters runs around the brick pump-house. "The beginning of strife is as one letteth out water," it mysteriously warns, "therefore leave off contention before it be meddled with." The Towers were forced to rebuild the almshouses after a long court case, in which they were accused of diverting charitable income to their private profit. The inscription is like the playground bully telling teacher that the fight started when the other boy hit him back!

South Weald's handsome pub, The Tower Arms, recently closed. [In 2017, there are hopes that it will reopen.] Built in 1704, it was originally The Spread Eagle, and imposing stone eagles decorate the gate pillars.

The tower of St Peter's church dominates the village. Built of Kentish stone around 1500, it is unusually far from the Thames for such a structure. Hauling the building materials such a distance must have been a major effort. There is a fine Norman doorway, its rounded head marked with zigzag carvings.

St Peter's was rebuilt in 1868, but its Victorian interior preserves many older monuments. The wealthy Neave family lived at Dagnams, near Harold Hill. Strictly speaking, they should have attended church at Romford, with its rough townsfolk, but they preferred to worship alongside fellow gentry at South Weald. Their monuments are in the church.

One melodramatic plaque records the death of a former Vicar, the Reverend Francis Wollaston. "He went to bed in perfect health on October 11th 1823 and was found a corpse on Sunday morning, reader reflect!!!" For twenty years, Wollaston double-jobbed as Professor of Chemistry at Cambridge, where he was supposed to do research on the causes of gout. But he preferred to live at South Weald. Science was not strong at Cambridge in those days. Of course, he'd died of a heart attack. Sad, but hardly a cause for drama.

Weald Hall, demolished in 1950, stood behind the church. (The name is now used by another house in the village.) A 16th-century lodge still stands. Although it's called Queen Mary's Chapel, it's unlikely that it was ever a church, and there's no evidence that Queen Mary Tudor ever visited South Weald. A 1738 map shows plans to landscape Weald Park. A valley was dammed to create two lakes, still popular with anglers. During the 19th century, the Tower family planted a small forest, reversing the local trend to clear woodland. It's interesting to compare the "feel" of the Weald Park species such as chestnuts with the native Essex ecology of Warley Woods.

Tucked in beside the car park, on private land, is Brookweald cricket club. The tiny ground will never be a test match venue, but weekend club games create the flavour of a perfect rural England.

HOW BRENTWOOD BECAME AN INSTITUTIONAL TOWN

In the early 19th century, Brentwood was a stagecoach town, the meeting point for coaches from Southend and East Anglia. The courtyard of the White Hart (now the Sugar Hut) was a transport hub.  But that trade was destroyed by the railway, which reached the town in 1840 and continued to Colchester in 1843.

With Romford as the local market centre, Brentwood faced decline. It was saved by becoming an institutional town – home to barracks, orphanages and hospitals. Brentwood's attraction was its height above sea level – for Essex, a mountainous 365 feet! That meant cool, healthful breezes. In the 19th century, towns usually dumped their sewage into rivers. If you lived high up, your muck flowed downhill. Havering's Ingrebourne was not a pleasant stream.

In 1805, the Army had erected a barracks at on 116 acres of common land at Warley, to train horse artillery. They still perform at the Edinburgh Tattoo – and they need space to manoeuvre. In 1843, the barracks reopened as the home base for the British army in India. Later it became the Essex Regiment's headquarters. There were usually about 500 soldiers.

In 1853, the Essex County Lunatic Asylum opened at Warley. Later it was renamed Warley Hospital. Built for 500 patients, it was extended to take 800 in 1886, 1650 in 1908 and 2000 by 1937 – plus staff.

In 1854, an inner London authority, Shoreditch, built "industrial schools" (half workhouse, half orphanage) at the top of Brentwood Hill. In 1885, the premises became the Hackney Training Schools, home to 500 children. Boys were taught carpentry, and also music "with a view to their joining regimental bands". Girls were trained in "domestic duties". There was a major cruelty scandal in 1894. In 1930, the buildings became St Faith's Hospital for children.

In 1886, St Charles workhouse school for Catholic boys was established in Weald Road. In 1956, it was replaced by a Home Office youth detention unit.

Highwood Hospital, Ongar Road, was built in 1904, for London children with eyesight problems. It housed 300 patients.

Two older Brentwood institutions were less important. Founded in 1557, the town's grammar school was in the doldrums during the 19th century. Headmasters aimed to attract boys from wealthy families by teaching Latin and Greek. Brentwood shopkeepers wanted their sons taught business subjects. Matters improved with the appointment of an energetic headmaster in 1891, but in 1908 there were still only 141 pupils, just a handful of them boarders.

The Petre family, at Thorndon Hall, were wealthy Catholics, who supported their own priest. Other Catholic families settled around Brentwood, so they could attend Mass. In 1917, Brentwood became headquarters of a Catholic diocese, although its handsome cathedral was only built in 1991.

Although soldiers did their own cooking and maintenance work, and patients at Warley worked on the hospital farm as part of their treatment, Brentwood's institutions still created jobs, plus business for shops and pubs.

The barracks closed in 1959. Ford's European headquarters occupies the site. The buildings of St Faith's (closed in 1985) were replaced in 1998 by BT's offices. Warley and Highwood Hospitals have been converted for housing.  Stagecoach base, institutional town, business and residential community – Brentwood has adapted to changing times.  

BRENTWOOD'S CONTRIBUTION TO INDIAN TELECOMS

A huge sub-continent, India has 22 major languages, many complex alphabets, and 1.3 billion people. Two elements underpin political unity – modern technology, and the use of English as a common language. Brentwood made a forgotten contribution to both.

In 1837, the first telegraph systems were developed, by Cooke and Wheatstone in Britain, and Edison in America. Samuel Morse's dot-dash code made it easy to send messages.

Until 1858, British India was run by the semi-state East India Company. William O'Shaughnessy, a young Irish doctor working in Calcutta (Kolkata), began experiments to adapt the telegraph to Indian conditions. In 1852, he returned to England and persuaded the Company's directors to establish a 3,000-mile network around the sub-continent.

The East India Company had purchased an abandoned barracks at Warley, near Brentwood, in 1843, to train and support their army of soldiers from Britain which underpinned their dominance of the sub-continent. The barracks included around 100 acres of Warley Common. Here O'Shaughnessy established his training camp. Two miles of posts and cables were erected to teach teams of soldiers how to install telegraph wires under Indian conditions.

In Britain, starlings twittered on thin wires slung low alongside railway lines. In India, huge storks and vultures had perched on O'Shaughnessy's experimental telegraph. Destructive monkeys swarmed over them. It was impossible to use European-style thin wires.

O'Shaughnessy designed thick galvanised cables.

In India, goods were loaded on the backs of tall elephants. Telegraph wires had to be raised at least fourteen feet above the ground. Strong poles were needed, bolted into the ground to resist monsoon winds. O'Shaughnessy also developed special lightning conductors, to prevent India's savage electrical storms from knocking out the system. He even designed a method for running the telegraph underground. Cables were cased in wooden sleepers, which were saturated in arsenic to deter white ants from eating them.

One winter day, the East India Company's directors took a special train to Brentwood to inspect O'Shaughnessy's project. They were led by their chairman, Sir James Hogg, ancestor of colourful Tory politician Lord Hailsham. The directors enjoyed watching a soldier demonstrate the strength of the cable by climbing along it. They watched admiringly as cannon were fired by remote control along six miles of coiled wire. The gunpowder flash was observed the instant the button was pressed. Pleased with their visit, the directors adjourned to Brentwood's White Hart (now the Sugar Hut) for a "cold collation". There they drank toasts to the project, and congratulated themselves on their far-sightedness.

SOUTH KNOCKTHEMDOWN – WORTH SEEING, ONCE

Just over the border in Thurrock, South Ockendon is worth a visit – but you needn't pencil in a full day!

South Ockendon has two unusual features – a church with a round tower, and a village green.

It's surprising that Essex has only six round towers, since the county lacked the hard building stone needed for sharp corners. South Ockendon's tower was built in the 13th century, mainly using flint. It was originally topped by a wooden spire, but this was destroyed by lightning around 1652, and never replaced. The tower was rebuilt after partially collapsing in 1744. The Victorians inserted fake Norman windows in 1866.

A more genuine feature is the Norman doorway, characteristically round-headed and carved with chevrons. It was originally built around 1180, and was moved to its present location during a rebuilding in the 15th century. Inside, there's a fine monument, and charming inscription, to Sir Richard Saltonstall, Lord Mayor of London in 1597. His wife was from North Ockendon. They had sixteen children. Sir Richard added a seventeenth by a girlfriend.

Around 1630, his nephew emigrated to Massachusetts, and founded of one of the smartest families in Boston, about as close at the USA gets to an aristocracy.

In 1606, the village court was held under an elm tree on the green. In Charles II's time, South Ockendon was terrorised by a couple of hoodlums called John Foakes and Thomas Levitt.

In 1664, South Ockendon demanded action against them as "Deare Stealers, Sheepe-stealers, Geese-stealers, cheates, idle and Lazei fellows, seldom or never doing any work and given to all Cunning and Craft[y] Villainie whatsoever." Their criminal skills included forging the signatures of the parish constables to official documents, so they could dodge prosecution.

A local satirist in 1790 hinted that "South Knockthemdown" was still a lively place.

The Royal Oak pub, a quaint feature of the village green, dates back before 1500. Next to it stands a single-storey "Gothick" cottage, so-called from its pointy church-like windows. In 1795, the king of Spain gave George III a valuable flock of merino sheep. The animals fell sick at Windsor, but some were bought by a South Ockendon farmer, Thomas Sturgeon. He nursed them, bred them and exported them to New South Wales, where they became the basis of Australia's wool industry.

In the 19th century, villagers quarrelled with the rector, the Reverend Henry Eve. Out of a population of 1200, only fifteen attended Anglican services. The Methodist chapel, near the station, bears the date 1847. The railway arrived in 1892, but did not immediately shake up the village. The red-brick station building still has a rural "feel". 

During the First World War, captured German soldiers were held at a prison camp in South Ockendon. In 1932, the site was re-developed as "The Colony" to house children with learning difficulties in a farm setting. As health services improved, children with disabilities lived longer. The Colony became South Ockendon Hospital, providing long-term care for vulnerable adults. As so often, patient numbers increased faster than resources. Local families were proud to have been employed at the hospital, but in 1974 a critical report into conditions forced a national rethink of the way Britain dealt with mental health. South Ockendon Hospital closed in 1994. The site is now housing.

Unlike its nearby twin village of North Ockendon, part of Havering but still very rural, South Ockendon is now a detached part of London. It's about forty minutes by train from Romford, with a change at Upminster. By bus, it's around half an hour from Hornchurch on route 370, and about the same from Harold Wood on the less frequent route 347.If you don't want to spend the whole day in South Ockendon, both buses go on to the Lakeside Shopping Centre.

THE WILD ISLANDS OF ESSEX

There are about thirty islands around the Essex coast. It's hard to be precise. Some are low-tide mudbanks. Some, like Bridgemarsh in the Crouch, have effectively been abandoned.

Canvey and Wallasey have bridges to the mainland. So has Two Tree Island, a nature reserve within walking distance of Leigh-on-Sea station. Causeways to Mersea and Northey in the Blackwater are covered at high tide for several hours. Visitors should check times in advance.

Osea in the Blackwater is privately owned. Public access to the defence installations at Foulness is severely restricted.

Wallasea Island is just thirty miles from Gallows Corner – and most of that is speeding down the A127. Head north from Rochford towards Ashingdon, then follow signs to Burnham Ferry. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is converting much of Wallasea into a wetland bird sanctuary. Millions of tonnes of spoil from Crossrail excavations have been dumped to create a new landscape. The RSPB says it's "early days" in this major project, coded message for "there are no loos". But you can still walk the riverside walls, enjoying the marshland vistas and the view across to the quayside at Burnham-on-Crouch, with its fleets of yachts.

The National Trust aims to make Northey Island, in the Blackwater, publicly accessible – whenever tides permit. You'll need to do your website homework here, not least because visitors are asked to telephone the island's resident warden to say when they're coming.

Pay parking is available in Maldon, a mile away.

The stroll to the causeway crosses one of England's oldest battlefields. In 1991 AD,  marauding Vikings occupied Northey. Local Saxon boss Bryrhtnoth mobilised the men of Essex, and fighting broke out to control the causeway. Eventually the Vikings pointed out that if they were allowed to cross, there could be a proper battle on the mainland. Byrthnoth agreed. The result was the slaughter of his army. Byrhtnoth's head was never found. That's the trouble with us British. We're too darned polite. A long fragment of a poem about the battle is one of the earliest examples of the English language. Unfortunately, it doesn't make much sense nowadays, but there is a lively translation by a local schoolteacher, Wilfrid Berridge. Northey is a major bird sanctuary. The National Trust describes it as the closest Essex comes to true wilderness. It's stout shoes country (but there are loos).

Popular with Havering people, West Mersea has long been a seaside resort. It's thought the Romans from Colchester holidayed here. A mosaic pavement from a Roman villa was discovered under the churchyard in 1730. Head for the lonely parish church of East Mersea. A 19th-century rector, the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, penned the words of a famous hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers". In 1871, the year Baring-Gould came to Mersea, the composer Arthur Sullivan gave it a stirring melody. Alas, its theme, of the Church "marching as to war", is the sort of message about religion that we don't want in the modern world.

Cudmore Grove Country Park stretches around the eastern end of Mersea Island. You can look out across the Colne estuary to Brightlingsea, and upriver towards the small port of Wivenhoe. Unlike other Essex islands, which are basically walled marshland, Mersea rises to a dizzy 70 feet above sea level. Its south-facing slopes even support a vineyard! At Cudmore Grove, crumbling cliffs (not very big ones, mind you) contain fossils. Mersea is linked to the Essex mainland by The Strood, the causeway covered at high tide. Built (or perhaps rebuilt) around 700 AD, it must have been the work of the East Saxon kings, rulers of Essex whose names we barely know today.

Access to Wallasea and Northey is free. There's a charge for parking at Cudmore Grove. Dog-owners should check local regulations, and do please respect the birds.

CHIPPING ONGAR AND GREENSTED: A SUMMER DAY OUT

Twelve miles north of Romford, Chipping Ongar is a real Essex town.  It's worth strolling along its High Street to view the interesting old houses. "Chipping" (it means "market", as in our word "cheap") distinguishes it from nearby High Ongar, where the church has a superb Norman doorway. "Ongar" means "grazing land". The Saxons founded this little town, but the Normans shaped it.

Start your tour up a short side street, visiting St Martin's church. St Martin was a military saint, who took over from Mars, the Roman god of war. Chipping Ongar was a garrison town. Next to the church, the Normans built a 50-foot high "motte" (mound), which was topped by a castle. The castle has long since gone, but a "permissive path" beyond the church circles private land to provide glimpses of the mound. The path can be muddy. You can also approach through the car park in the High Street, where there's a display board telling the story of the castle.

South along the High Street, hidden behind houses, is the United Reform Church. Back in 1838, the congregation welcomed an awkward young Scotsman called David Livingstone who was training for the ministry. Livingstone disliked Essex, and went to Africa as a missionary instead. For many years, he vanished in Africa's unknown interior. Eventually, the explorer H.M. Stanley tracked down Livingstone's camp. But the two Victorian gentlemen had never been formally introduced, so how could they start a conversation? Stanley broke the ice with the famously daft greeting, "Dr Livingstone, I presume?" The church is also associated with a pious lady called Jane Taylor, who wrote "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star".

Opposite, also tucked away, is St Helen's, the tiny Catholic church. A memorial window commemorates a former parish priest, Father Thomas Byles, who was drowned when the Titanic sank in 1912.

Father Byles was sailing to New York to officiate at his brother's wedding. Although he knew there weren't enough lifeboats for all the passengers, he calmly helped women and children to escape. There's now a campaign to recognise him as a saint.

Dominating the High Street is the extravagant Budworth Hall, built in 1886 as a club house for young men. No alcohol was allowed, only coffee. The clock commemorates Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887.

The side street here leads to the Essex Way, a footpath to Greensted, a mile to the west.

Greensted's famous church is built of logs, split in half and originally just rammed into the ground. Most churches probably began like this, but were later rebuilt in stone or brick.

Legend says Greensted church was hastily constructed in 1013, to shelter the body of St Edmund, king of East Anglia, martyred by the Danes. However, tree-ring dating proves that the logs were felled soon after 1063. This means the Normans built the timber church, but never upgraded it. There's also a 16th-century brick chancel and a charming 18th-century spire. It's hard to exaggerate the importance of Greensted church. Some experts think it's the oldest surviving timber building in Europe.  And it's a pleasant stroll across glorious fields to this unique historical monument.

The railway reached Chipping Ongar in 1865, a branch line from Stratford through Epping. Plans to extend it to Chelmsford never came about. In 1949, the line was incorporated into the Underground. It was odd to see Central Line trains gliding through the fields – with few passengers. The Chipping Ongar section closed in 1994. There are some heritage steam services in summer.

Chipping Ongar is hard to reach from Havering by public transport. There's a useful Millennium Walk guide on the Internet, linked to marker slabs throughout the town. Be warned when surfing: Dublin has a suburb called "Ongar". The two places are sometimes confused!

BILLERICAY AND STOCK – PILGRIM FATHERS AND A STARTLED GOBLIN

Billericay is half an hour by train from Romford, usually with a change at Shenfield. The railway only arrived in 1889. Lacking modern transport links, Billericay had stagnated during the 19th century. In 1874, it was called "a small decayed market town". That's why the station is so close to the town centre.

A stroll along the High Street reveals many pleasant buildings from earlier centuries, but little from Victorian times. Since 1935, a local group, the Billericay Society, has campaigned against unsuitable development. The 15th century red-brick church tower marks the town centre. Until 1844, Billericay formed part of the parish of nearby Great Burstead. Hence the side road here is called Chapel Street. It's a pleasant old-world corner.

Billericay has links with the New World too. Opposite the church, the 16th-century timbered Chantry House, now a shop, is associated with the town's most famous resident. Christopher Martin ("from Billirike in Essex") was a Puritan, who was prosecuted in 1612 for refusing to kneel during church services. In 1620, he emigrated to New England with the Pilgrim Fathers. Although he was a bully, Christopher was put in charge of the Mayflower, probably because the passengers needed firm leadership. He also controlled the finances, and lost his temper if anybody questioned his spending. Sickness ravaged their new colony in America. Christopher Martin and his family died in 1621.

Some say the Pilgrim Fathers met at the Chantry House before they sailed. The town has a Mayflower High School. There's a Billerica in Massachusetts, said to have been named by later emigrants from Essex in 1655. It preserves one of Billericay's variant spellings.

Billericay's most handsome house is Burghstead Lodge, now the local library, at the south end of the High Street. Dating from 1769, it was built in warm Georgian red-brick, with an ornate front entrance. You could imagine one of Jane Austen's bossy heroines sweeping out of the house in her crinoline.

One mystery about Billericay is its name. Most Essex place names are of Anglo-Saxon origin, but "Billericay" makes no sense in old English. Archaeology suggests that a sizeable population lived here in Roman times. People in Roman Britain spoke a Celtic language, related to modern Welsh. My own theory (or guess!) is that the final syllable in "Billericay" is "Caer", meaning a fortress (as in Caerleon and Caernarfon). Alas, I can't prove it.

A short bus ride from Billericay station brings you to Stock, a couple of miles north.

One of the most charming villages in Essex, Stock is full of friendly old houses, scattered at random, some alongside a long green, where there's an ornate village sign. The best feature of the ancient parish church is the 15th-century timber tower. Topped by a pointed spire, it looks like a startled goblin. In 1940, a Nazi landmine extensively damaged the church. Every stained glass window was wrecked, but the porch, rebuilt just three years earlier, survived the full force of the blast. The bomb crater in the churchyard is now a Garden of Remembrance.

Half a mile to the east, Stock windmill is sometimes open to visitors. (Check the Internet.) Built around 1804, it has an unusual boat-shaped cap. The upside-down rowing boat swivelled around so the sails could catch the breeze. If you're walking, take care along Mill Road as there isn't much pavement. A public footpath brings you back to the village, via Common Road and the charming village cricket ground. The cricket club's website says you don't have to live in Stock to become a member.

Sadly, it's impossible to walk the fields to Ingatestone station without risking a stretch of dangerous road. Take the bus back to Billericay, and catch the train home there!

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