Havering History Cameos

In 2012, I was invited to contribute to a local history column in the Romford Recorder, the weekly suburban newspaper serving the Borough of Havering, in the Essex suburbs of Greater London. Havering History Cameos collects together around 130 columns published to November 2015 in one book-length file.

Some deal with incidents or episodes, others focus on localities within Havering, while a few attempt more analytical surveys – on topics such as farming, moats or windmills. Much of the material has not been made widely available before, but of course I have also relied considerably and with much gratitude upon the research of others in previous publications. These include classic local texts by long-dead chroniclers like Philip Morant, C.T. Perfect, Harold Smith, George Terry and T.L. Wilson, as well as work by more recent historians. I trust those latter will accept that the format rules out conventional academic referencing, although it precludes neither my admiration nor my gratitude. Writing about Havering half a century ago, I have also been the beneficiary of reminiscences by many contemporaries, for which I also express my appreciation.

The columns are presented here in generally random order, in the hope that each one stands alone in the story it tells and the points it seek to make. I have loosely grouped some of them together, either by locality or by subject (for instance, the first world war). However, many of the pieces fall into both categories. Thus, stories about South Hornchurch and Harold Wood in 1914-18 are associated with other pieces about those districts.

Local historians rarely work from complete records and total recall. I have often tried to fill out stories by suggesting hypotheses (a pretentious term for ‘guesswork’), but I hope I have confessed to occasional flights of imagination.  

The material included here differs in some case from the published columns, although Recorder editing has been light and generally helpful. The newspaper, of course, chooses its own headlines.     

Perhaps the most unlikely aspect of the series is the fact that I have not lived in Havering since 1967. Indeed, I have been an infrequent visitor over the decades. However, retirement has enabled me to revive an early interest in Essex local history, and I hope that the column is a means of sharing that enthusiasm with others. I have not the slightest doubt that there remains a great deal still to be discovered about Havering’s past, and that local history is not and most certainly should not be the special preserve of ‘experts’.

My last but not least thanks must go the Romford Recorder, for giving weekly space to its volunteer contributor from Ireland.

Ged Martin

Shanacoole, County Waterford                                  November 2015


Martha Thompson was born in Hornchurch in 1842. Hardly the start of an earth-shaking story, you might say ─ but you’d be wrong. Martha’s father, Charles Edwin Thompson, appears in the 1851 census as “Agricultural Machine Maker”. Hornchurch had two foundries, manufacturing ploughs and farm equipment. One of them was Wedlake and Thompson’s Union Foundry. Its site is now Sainsbury’s. In 1851, the family lived somewhere on the south side of Hornchurch High Street. Martha would have known the clang of the hammers and the heat of the furnaces.

The key to Martha’s life was education. Maybe she was taught at home by her mother, Caroline, who came from Barking. In 1844, an Anglican primary school opened opposite St Andrew’s church, and Martha probably acquired her enthusiasm for education there. It’s moved twice since those days, but its successor is Langton’s in Westland Avenue.

Disaster struck in 1853, when Charles Edwin died, aged just 34. I’ve traced no report of a foundry accident. Far too often in those days, people died far too young. Caroline took her brood of children to the rising colony of New Zealand. Martha became a schoolteacher. I doubt if she had any formal teacher training. Her Hornchurch education was her qualification for the classroom.

In 1866, in Nelson, she married James Rutherford. He was a wheelwright, and perhaps reminded her of the foundry. They had ten children, one of whom ─ Ernest ─ became famous. James was great at solving practical problems, a skill his son inherited. But his education was poor. He even registered the boy’s name as “Earnest”, which caused problems in later life.

It was Martha who encouraged her son to study. At the small university in Christchurch, Ernest gained first class honours in maths and science. In 1895, he won a scholarship to Cambridge, where the famous Cavendish Laboratory led the world in scientific research.

Cambridge physicists had discovered that the atom ─ the basic building block of the universe ─ was itself composed of particles. In 1911, Ernest Rutherford suggested that those particles mostly formed a core, which he called the “nucleus”.  They were like the red snooker balls at the start of the frame. With the right cue ball, you could release untold energy from the shattered nucleus. The New Zealander became the first scientist to split the atom. He won the Nobel Prize, received the Order of Merit and became Lord Rutherford of Nelson. When he died in 1937, his ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey.

Ernest Rutherford wrote long letters to his mother about his work, and revisited New Zealand four times to see his parents. It seems that Martha never returned to Britain. In the 1890s, a cousin, Darius Thompson, a successful dentist, lived at the Manor House in Squirrels Heath (Manor Avenue at The Drill preserves the name). Perhaps he welcomed the young colonial to England.

No doubt there were people in the Hornchurch of 1850 who scoffed at the idea of educating girls. Women should learn to clean and cook, not stick their heads in books! But you can never foretell the indirect benefits of education. Martha Thompson’s Hornchurch childhood forms part of a world-shaking story.


Witchcraft became a crime in 1563. For the next century, Essex was a hotbed of superstition. There was “scarce any towne or village” in Essex without witches: Dagenham allegedly had three between 1588 and 1591.

Today’s Halloween stories mostly come from a nasty man called Matthew Hopkins. The “Witchfinder General” hounded victims to the gallows between 1645 and 1647, using starvation and sleep deprivation to force lurid confessions of covens and demons. The classic “witch hunt”, his campaign rebounded and Hopkins was hanged himself.

Witches were hanged, not burned. They did not wear pointy hats nor ride broomsticks. In a world without medicine or science, people assumed misfortunes were caused by enemies.

In 1583, two pigs belonging to North Ockendon farmer Humphrey Frith died suddenly. Then a heifer fell sick, and Humphrey himself was struck with mysterious aches. Locals suspected Agnes Byllinge. Tongues wagged because she shared a bed with her teenage son. Probably she was too poor to buy furniture. When three of Peter Hodgeson’s sheep died, and Judith Foster was riddled with pain, Agnes was prosecuted for witchcraft. The court treated it as a neighbourhood dispute, and let her go.

Similarly, Christopher Wynter, a Rainham mariner, failed to prove that Margaret Saunder had killed his son by witchcraft in 1575. Susan Barker of Upminster was less lucky in 1616. She was accused of taking a skull from St Andrew’s churchyard in Hornchurch, and using it as a charm to kill Hornchurch blacksmith Edward Ashen and his son. Protesting her innocence, Susan Barker was found guilty and hanged. But when in 1627 neighbours accused another Upminster woman, Barbara Augar, of using witchcraft to kill three people, including a four-year old boy, she was acquitted.

Not all witches were women. A Shenfield labourer, John Symonde, was accused of using spells to kill three neighbours in 1579-80. Active in the 1580s, Father Parfooth of Havering-atte-Bower was regarded as a “good witch”. Censured for using Parfooth’s services, John Shonk replied that he had sought medicine for his wife, and would do the same again. In 1576, John Hopkin of Hornchurch admitted consulting Mother Persore, a wise woman of Navestock. He explained that his master’s cattle had been bewitched, and he wanted to know who was responsible.

Some suspected witches were simply unhappy people, maybe even mentally ill. Widow Painter of Romford admitted that “she will always find herself aggrieved with one thing or another”, pleading that “there is a thing speaketh within her and telleth her what she should do.” The court set her free. But some chose sorcery as an unusual career option. Mary Cutford of Rainham decided to become a witch in 1632 so she could take revenge on her enemies.

Old people were especially liable to persecution. In 1611, a North Ockendon labourer, Richard John, and his wife Anne, were accused of using witchcraft to “distroy” a neighbour’s horse. Anne was too infirm to plead and died before the case was heard. Richard was hanged for another, unidentified, crime. Witchcraft allegations were sometimes thrown in to discredit people accused of other offences.

The crime of witchcraft was abolished in 1736. Alas, it was 120 years too late for Upminster’s Susan Barker, hanged for a crime that never existed.


Wingletye Lane is a mile long, and it’s unique. You won’t find another Wingletye anywhere in the world. Google it and see! But where was Wingletye and what did the name mean? The “tye” is the easy part. It was widely used in Essex to indicate a small piece of common land, a broad roadside green.

Where was Wingle Tye? Nowadays Wingletye Lane runs north from Hornchurch through Emerson Park to the Southend Arterial Road. But until the 1920s, it bent round to the west, heading for Squirrels Heath Road, and was half a mile longer. The Tye was located between Prospect Road and the Campion School. It’s not there any more because the Arterial Road was driven straight through it in the 1920s. The orphaned western section of the old Wingletye Lane became Redden Court Road. A 19th century map marks “Wingletye Hill” just to the north, confirming the location.

But what does the strange name mean? Names of towns and villages, like Romford and Hornchurch, were frequently recorded, and were copied from official documents.  But more local names were written down only rarely, and clerks usually had to rely on yokels for the pronunciation.

In 1641, just as Charles I and Parliament were shaping up for England’s Civil War, a “yeoman” called James Hammond who lived at Doddinghurst, near Brentwood, struck a deal with a group of Hornchurch men over a small farm at Hadley Green. Hadley Green is now Ardleigh Green. Hammond had inherited the property from his brother-in-law, William Payne, an Romford innholder, who had probably bought it as an investment.

The sale document gives us a glimpse of rural Ardleigh Green – an orchard, and fields called Littlecroft, Uppershephards and Lowershephards. The next property was called “Rydden Court”. The boundaries refer to a highway from Hadley Green to “Wyndlety”. This was probably the track winding through the fields, later straightened out to become Cecil Avenue.

A strange fragment of it survives. Opposite the north end of Cecil Avenue, a short alley links the Arterial Road to Coombe Road. So Wingletye was once Windle Tye. This was probably the local place mentioned in 1524 as “Windall”.

Guessing the meaning of a place name on just two examples is risky, but it’s likely that the second syllable preserves a lost Anglo-Saxon word, ‘healh. A healh was a nook or out of the way place. Because its meaning was forgotten centuries ago, people tried to make sense of it by changing it to “-hall” (as in Coggeshall and Rivenhall, near Witham) or “-ale”. Willingale, near Ongar, the quaint village with two ancient churches in one churchyard, is still locally called “Winnigle”.

Havering’s Windle Tye was probably “the windy nook”. The Arterial Road hereabouts today can still seem like a wind tunnel. The old Wingletye Lane turned east-west over the crest of the Ingrebourne Valley, and the winter wind whistled in from Siberia! Havering’s other “Tye”, which became Corbets Tey, developed into a small village, but it seems no peasants lived at Havering’s Windy Nook. “Wingle” sounds like kiddie-speak. Perhaps some little boy made a fairyland word out of “Windle”. Decades later, as the oldest inhabitant, he became the expert on naming the place. Havering can be proud of its unique and ancient road name.


Elm Park began in 1933. It was developed by Costains, the builders, with finance from the Halifax Building Society. The name came from a farm (remembered in Farm Way) but Costains probably wanted to borrow the cachet of a smart street in Chelsea, Elm Park Gardens. The target was a population of 35,000 people, living in owner-occupied houses. Elm Park would have eight schools, five shopping centres, two churches and an inn.

Costains donated Harrow Lodge Park. The proprietor of a major Oxford Street cinema bought a site to erect a 3,000-seater picture house, part of a chain that already operated cinemas at Upminster, Hornchurch and Chadwell Heath.

But when Elm Park was formally launched in May 1935, only 500 houses had been built. Elm Park was a downmarket project. Sir Enoch Hill, President of the Halifax, spoke of encouraging “the migration of the working class population from rented houses in overcrowded areas to healthy, up-to-date houses in the outer suburbs.” To our ears, Sir Enoch sounds patronising, but he had turned the small-town Halifax Building Society from a local benefit club into one of the world’s largest financial organisations, offering cheap mortgages which made house purchase possible for ordinary people.

Costains’ market research found that housewives wanted a large family kitchen, where they keep an eye on the kids while they cooked. This was a feature of early Elm Park houses.

Two factors helped launch Elm Park. One was the arrival of Ford’s in Dagenham. Ford workers were well paid and wanted to live near the factory. The other was the District Line, which was extended from Barking to Upminster in 1932, alongside the existing Fenchurch Street railway. Electric trains ran every twenty minutes, right into central London.

On May 18, 1935, the Minister of Health, Sir Hilton Young, formally opened Elm Park Station, unlocking the gates with a silver key. Then he entered Elm Park through a ceremonial arch and cut a ribbon to declare the estate open. The Times hailed Elm Park as “London’s Newest Suburb”.

Sir Hilton Young was a brilliant man, a former President of the Union at Cambridge, and a war hero, who’d lost his right arm in the 1918 Zeebrugge raid, a daring attempt to block a German U-boat base on the Belgian coast by sinking elderly British warships right inside the harbour. He married the widow of Captain Scott, the Antarctic explorer who died heroically trying to become the first man to reach the South Pole. This made him stepfather to Peter Scott, the wildlife painter. She accompanied him to Elm Park. 

By 1939, 2,600 houses had been built, and Costains were now calling the suburb “Elm Park Garden City”. In April that year, there was a week-long community festival, which featured “a display of ju-jitsu by women.” Elm Park ladies enjoyed unarmed combat.

World War Two ended the Garden City. Post-war housing needs led to large-scale building of council housing. Maybe Elm Park could become a Garden City again?


The murder of a nine year-old Hornchurch girl almost led to the hanging of an innocent man.

1939 sounds a long time ago, but it could be within family memory, so I omit surnames from this terrible story.

Pamela’s naked body was found in a ditch by Hornchurch Aerodrome in January 1939. There were only two clues. She had been trussed up with an electrical cord, with pieces of string tied across it. This was how local gardeners made climbing frames for runner beans. There was a cigarette end, a home-made fag made from different tobaccos. The killer collected cigarette butts, mixed the contents and rolled his own.

4,000 people were questioned in a massive police hunt. Suspicion fell on Leonard, a 28 year-old factory worker who lived in Elm Park’s Coronation Drive. His wife, Iris, had been in hospital having a baby when Pamela was killed. He had given a neighbour a length of cable to mend a radio. There were blood spots on his raincoat. He collected cigarette ends and rolled his own fags. The case against him sounds thin. Pamela’s clothes were found near Elm Park Station. Leonard walked that way every day, but so did hundreds of other people. And why dump evidence in such a busy street?

Being arrested must have been traumatic. If convicted, there would be no mercy for a sex maniac child killer. He would be hanged, leaving Iris and the baby destitute.

Leonard was tried at the Old Bailey in March. But the 4-day prosecution case left unanswered questions. Leonard’s movements could be accounted for on the day Pamela died ─ all but 25 minutes, hardly long enough to rush to the airfield and kill a shy girl who distrusted strangers. Then, on Day 4, the Crown case fell apart. The judge was critical when an expert witness admitted that he had not checked Leonard’s bloodstains against Pamela’s blood group.

Next day, Iris gave evidence, calling Leonard a “jolly good husband”. The accused himself went into the box and indignantly denied the charge. Then followed a moment worthy of TV drama. Leonard’s counsel passed him a cigarette paper and a tobacco pouch, and asked him to roll a fag. There were different ways of rolling your own: some people pinched the gummed ends of the cigarette paper together, others folded them over. The silent court watched as Leonard made his gasper.  It was nothing like the butt found by Pamela’s body.

Soon after, the jury said they had heard enough. The accused was not guilty. This was not some technical acquittal. Leonard was an innocent man. The foreman of the jury publicly shook Leonard’s hand and congratulated him. Leonard would not be marched along a grim prison corridor to a terrifying, shameful death. He would go home to Coronation Drive, to Iris and the baby.

I hope Leonard survived the War, kicked the fags and lived to a fine old age. He’d be over 100 now, with children in their 70s. They can be proud of the father one witness called “a jolly good sort”. Pamela’s death was horrible, but hanging an innocent man would have been a double tragedy. Her killer was never caught.


Geoff’s maternal grandparents moved from East Ham to escape wartime bombing. The Council gave them a three-bedroom house in Ullswater Way, Elm Park.  Geoff’s mother soon left to get married with Geoff appearing exactly nine months later. Years later the Council made his grandparents downsize to a maisonette in Gillam Way after their son left the home.

“I was born at 48 Station Lane Hornchurch – now a restaurant,” Geoff recalls. “The weekly visit to the grandparents was by District Line train from Hornchurch to Elm Park with a walk either end.”  When he was eight, in 1955, they moved to The Avenue, at the Abbs Cross Lane end.  “Visits to the grandparents were now by 165 bus, but on nice days my parents decided to walk it through Harrow Lodge Park.  I wasn’t too impressed with the idea of that exercise!”, he confesses.

Elm Park had an impressive shopping centre. Opposite Woolworths there was a DIY shop and a toyshop. Station Parade had one of the first Tesco supermarkets.  There were launderettes, newsagents and sweetshops. The best sweetshop was opposite the Elm Park Hotel.  They often called into Gardiner’s, a sports equipment store near the station, so Geoff’s father could chat to the owner.  “They’d been prisoners of war together in the same camp in Germany,” he explains.

Geoff spent his spare time roaming Harrow Lodge Park. He watched the two original boating lakes being excavated at the Elm Park end. “My pals and I would hire canoes when we had the money,” Geoff relates. “We’d hire a canoe each, sit at the back to lift the prows out of the water, then have races or try to ram or drench one another in mock battles.  Capsizes were a risk and not appreciated by the authorities!”

The Elm Park Hotel (now a supermarket) was well known for its male entertainment evenings (“Smoking Concerts”), sometimes hosted by comedian Mike Reid. The acts included an exotic dancer called Lady Jane Grey who had an unconventional way of picking up beer bottles, and a wheelchair-bound comedian who bravely laughed at his disability. He appeared on the TV show “The Comedians”. One of his jokes was about going to Lourdes hoping for a cure. He was unlucky, but his wheelchair miraculously acquired new tyres!

Hornchurch aerodrome was in its final days. Geoff was a Royal Liberty School CCF air cadet.  “I made my first ever flight there in July 1961, in a Slingsby T21 Sedbergh glider,” he remembers. When the airfield closed in 1962, air cadet gliding transferred to North Weald.

Elm Park didn’t produce many famous people, but one pal achieved notoriety. Colin “Buster” Levy came from Mungo Park Road. His wife, Norma ─ Geoff never met her but thinks she was wife number three ─ was a prostitute whose clients included a politician, Lord Lambton.

In 1973, Buster secretly photographed them in bed at their London flat, and sold the pictures to the tabloids. The sex scandal didn’t make Buster and Norma friends in high places. “I’d even visited Buster at his London flat,” Geoff recalls. “When Buster disappeared with the police in pursuit, I was concerned they’d be round knocking on my door.”

Where did Geoff meet Buster? Smiling, he replies:  “At Hornchurch Methodist Youth Club in 1964!”


800 years ago, on 15 June 1215, King John granted Magna Carta, the foundation of English liberties. The King did not ‘sign’ Magna Carta. We don’t know if he could even write. He placed the royal seal on the parchment.

King John (1199-1216) is regarded as England’s worst monarch. He is contrasted with his brother, brave and chivalrous Richard the Lionheart. But Richard fought aggressive religious wars in the Middle East. Not somebody to regard as a hero today! As Prince John, he is the bad guy in the Robin Hood legend. But Robin Hood probably never existed.

John was a member of a Norman royal family, the Plantagenets. The Normans were a multi-national Mafia, who conquered England, Ireland, Scotland and even Sicily. John was Duke of Normandy, their homeland. But in 1204 he was driven out of the duchy by the King of France. Only the Channel Islands remained under English rule. They are still Crown dependencies. The loss of Normandy forced his barons to choose: were they English or French?

Although John ground taxes out of the English people, he failed to reconquer his French inheritance. By 1215, his barons had had enough. In a confrontation at Runnymede, they forced him to guarantee liberties and promise reforms. Their leader, Robert Fitzwalter, was an Essex landowner. Fitzwalter hated the king because John had tried to rape his daughter. She became a nun, and founded Dunmow Priory.

Medieval kings moved around, and John occasionally visited the royal palace at Havering-atte-Bower. We know Fitzwalter sometimes attended the king there, as he witnessed official documents. John made twelve visits, the longest of three days in 1209. Let’s hope he behaved himself. He certainly partied. In November 1214, nine casks of French wine were sent from London ─ for a two-day stay!

John’s barons resented the king’s tendency to rely on foreigners. In Magna Carta, he had to promise to expel “all foreign-born knights, crossbowman, serjeants, and mercenary soldiers”. A serjeant was not a soldier, but an official who held property on a special deal. The security officer of the House of Commons is still called the Serjeant-at-Arms.

An official called William the Fleming illustrates why King John’s foreign hangers-on were unpopular. In 1212, he was permitted to enclose common land near Ardleigh Green. William grabbed a 100-acre block south of Squirrels Heath Road, as far as the Ingrebourne in Harold Wood recreation ground. Macdonald Avenue and Coombe Road mark the boundaries. The rent was a joke. Whenever the king visited Havering palace, William would provide rushes for the floor of his private chamber ─ there were no carpets in those days. This deal was called a “serjeancy”. The farm was called Redden Court. “Redden” probably meant “reedy valley”.

I don’t think local people liked the Normans. They remained faithful to the memory of the last Saxon king. There was a royal hunting forest between Collier Row and Harold Hill. Locals didn’t call it William the Conqueror’s Wood or King John’s Wood. Centuries after 1066, it remained “Harold’s Wood”. In 1868, the name was transferred to a new railway station a mile to the east.

There’s a Havering story behind Magna Carta, the great charter of England’s freedoms.


Until the Reform Act of 1832, Essex (including Havering) had just two MPs, elected at Chelmsford. There was no secret ballot and no Labour Party. Few men (and no women) could vote. By tradition, those who were excluded held a mock election on riverside ground grandly called “Mesopotamia”. Candidates were nominated, speeches delivered and absurd promises made. The losers were ducked in the Chelmer.

Maldon also elected two MPs. The town was riotously corrupt, its residents selling their votes to the richest candidate. There was consternation at a by-election in 1773 when only a government candidate came forward. At the last moment, a group of Maldonites persuaded J.A. Wallinger of Hare Hall, Romford (now Royal Liberty School) that he could easily win, and at little cost. In fact, Wallinger lost heavily. Disgusted, he ignored a £500 bill from his campaign manager, commenting “Maldon salt is very fine ─ and sells at a good price.” Neither candidate paid for that election ─ the government quietly paid the winner’s expenses from its secret service fund.

The disgraceful Maldon election of 1826 helped force electoral reform. The right to vote belonged to freemen of the Borough. The Corporation ─ Maldon’s local council ─ could make any man a freeman. In 1826 they created almost two thousand! Only 243 of the 3,119 voters actually lived in Maldon. The three candidates spent £50,000 buying support ─ millions in today’s money. The winner was a Brentwood man, George Allanson Winn of Warley Lodge. Not only did he spend £15,000 in Maldon, but he kept Brentwood in free beer during the campaign. Brentwood was drunk for sixteen straight days. Winn’s victory ruined him. He died the next year, aged 42, poor and broken-hearted.

Essex was divided into two constituencies in 1832, and Romford became a polling place for South Essex at the December 1832 general election. “Party flags floated from every window” ─ blue for the Tories, orange for the Whigs. Their successors, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, use the same colours today. A revolution in France in 1830 inspired some local hotheads (Romford town was “a hotbed of radicalism”) to fly the tricolour. One disgusted reporter called it “the execrable French emblem of destruction and blood, insulting the free air of England.” You don’t see the French tricolour in Havering elections today!

Although South Essex elected two MPs, the Tories were underdogs and ran only one candidate, R.W. Hall-Dare, a landowner whose estates included Bretons in South Hornchurch and Redden Court in Harold Wood. The strategy worked. Hall-Dare took an early lead and, to Tory delight, the alliance between their opponents turned into a scramble for the second seat.

There was a riot in Brentwood during the 1874 election. The Liberals hired a German band to head their High Street parade, which was attacked by Conservative supporters. The German bandsmen fled to Romford clutching their smashed instruments. The Liberals counter-attacked the Conservative headquarters, the White Hart Inn (later the Sugar Hut), smashing every window. The police closed all the pubs and proclaimed the Riot Act, a temporary suspension of civil liberties.

People find elections less exciting nowadays.


From 1601 until 1835, England’s welfare system was run at local level.  Everybody belonged to a parish. Wherever you might live, if you became sick or poor or old, you applied for help to the overseer of your home community. In the last resort, you would enter the parish workhouse. Upminster’s workhouse still survives, as Ingrebourne Cottages in St Mary’s Lane.

When war was declared on France in 1793, wheat prices soared. Poor people could not afford to buy bread ─ their staple food. So the Poor Law developed a full-scale system of income support.Through paying poor rates, farmers shared their bonanza income with less fortunate neighbours. Of course, the farmers didn’t see it like that.

In villages like Havering-atte-Bower, there was pressure to hold down costs. Half a dozen prosperous landowners and farmers dominated a village of just 188 people. One solution was to send large families off to find work in the booming cities. Two angry letters from Rachel Robson in 1803-4 give us a glimpse of what could go wrong. They were addressed to Havering’s overseer, Thomas Walton, who farmed at Pyrgo, a mile north-west of modern Harold Hill. “Mr Waltom”, as Rachel called him, paid heavy rates. Rachel and her husband had been sent to Gateshead, on Tyneside.

Before railways were built, you made the long journey by ship. Colliers delivered Newcastle coal, visiting small ports like Maldon and Grays. Rather than sail back empty, they carried passengers. Rachel hated the voyage. “I will never venture on the sea again I suffered so much the last time,” she wrote. Tragedy struck when her husband died, perhaps in an industrial accident. She wished she’d never left Havering, “& then I should have my Dear Husband alive”.

Aged forty, Rachel was left with four children “all under nine years of age”, the youngest just a baby, “& no one to take care of it.” When Havering opted for austerity, she hit back. The news that “the Gentlemen are a going to take away some of my money” drove her to angry sarcasm. How did they “think I could do with less with five of us to live out of it”? Rent had to be paid and clothes bought, “for we cannot go quite naked”.

Rachel had probably mastered writing (but not spelling) at the village school founded by Dame Anne Tipping in 1724. Her plea that “God will bless You for being good to the Fatherless & Widow” suggests that she knew her Bible too. Her implied threat was that she’d bring her brood home: had they stayed at Havering, “it would have been more expence to you all”.

Thomas Walton kept Havering’s welfare expenditure down to £200 a year. But in 1811, as the French Wars dragged on, he made a bet with Andrew Kerr, estate manager at the Bower House (now a religious training centre). The poor rates, he gloomily predicted, would exceed £700 over the next three years. The wager was a dozen bottles of wine.

I doubt if they gave a bottle to Rachel Robson. And I’m sure she never raised a glass to “Mr Waltom”.


In the days before television, people made their own fun. A century ago, Bill Judd was a popular figure at entertainments in the Southend area.

His family were the aristocracy of the village of Rayleigh ─ one was the sanitary inspector, another the local newsagent. Bill sang comic songs. With ready wit, he made up verses about people and places. It was probably in 1906 that he hiked with friends from Romford to Buckhurst Hill, along roads where cars had yet to appear.

“We walk out for exercise and tramp for many an hour / That’s how we came to Havering, to Havering-atte-Bower.”

They headed up still-rural North Street, skirting the grounds of Marshalls, the local stately mansion. “A steady tramp from Romford, by many a noble park / The sun is shining is gaily, we hear a distant lark / When without a moment’s notice, the clouds begin to lower; But we are near to Havering, to Havering-atte-Bower.”

But not as near as you thought, Bill! At Chase Cross, they checked the map, which gave Collier Row its old-fashioned name, to “... make sure which way we go / This way goes round by Bedfords, that leads to Colliers Row / We hurry up and find a place to shelter from the shower / In pretty little Havering, Havering-atte-Bower.”

There they inspected the famous stocks on the village green, where local drunks were once clamped by their feet until they sobered up. “We met an ancient ringer, who yarns about the tower / The church and bells of Havering, Havering-atte-Bower.” The weather drove them into the local pub, probably the Orange Tree: ‘down comes the rain, but what care we before a cosy fire? / The ale we quaff and listen to ye ancient village liar / Who lays aside his gun and smokes, and hints with visage sour / Of rotten eggs and politics in Havering-atte-Bower.” “Rotten eggs” is old-fashioned slang for nasty characters.

When the rain stopped, Bill and his friends strolled on along the traffic-free roads: “And there we meet the storm, and fight the wind with all our power / As we struggle into Chigwell, from Havering-atte-Bower.” They had dinner at the famous King’s Head pub. In front of a roaring pub fire, “we linger for an hour / And vote it knocks out Havering, yes, Havering-atte-Bower.” At Buckhurst Hill, they caught their train and “turn our faces home / And think in pleasant sylvan glades how sweet it is to roam.”

Nowadays we’d turn on the TV, but in 1906 the day ended with a do-it-yourself party,

“ .... where we sing with all our power. / And so farewell to Havering, to Havering-atte-Bower.” Judd’s doggerel was published over fifty years ago, in the Essex Countryside magazine in 1958. His poem gives a charming glimpse of Romford before the suburbs arrived. But maybe we should file it away for another half century!


In 1866, Brentwood solicitor W.R. Preston decided to buy a local farm, Great Gubbins, as a green-field site for a new town.

There were no railway stations between Romford and Brentwood (Gidea Park only opened in 1910). Unlike electric trains, steam locos needed time to start and stop, but Gubbins Lane, the halfway point, seemed a good place for a new station. The Eastern Counties line had a poor reputation, but it had been absorbed by the go-ahead Great Eastern Railway in 1862, and the board welcomed new ideas. Preston needed a new name: who’d buy a house at Gubbins? Boldly he lifted “Harold’s Wood”. Centuries old, the name referred to former common land west of Straight Road, now Romford’s Heaton Grange area. The ‘s’ was soon dropped.

In November 1867, a report mentioned “the new station now erecting at Harold’s Wood”. A long section of track had been relaid, leaving one rail loose. It derailed a goods train carrying livestock imported from Antwerp. Wagons plunged down the embankment and six Belgian pigs were the first casualties of the Harold Wood project. They were not the last.

The first of three Harold Wood stations, its booking hall was located opposite today’s Public Library. Hence, Station Road, linking it to Gubbins Lane. Preston’s Harold Wood Estates Company soon went bust. His project was wildly optimistic. An 1868 report called Harold Wood station “very convenient” for Upminster and Hornchurch people, who still had no railway of their own. Sensibly, they travelled through Romford. To encourage custom from the Brentwood side, the developers drove a link to the Colchester road (A12) and lined it with poplars. It became Avenue Road, one of the glories of Harold Wood.

Bizarrely, Harold Wood was a request stop. Coming from London, you had to jump off at Romford, and ask the guard to halt the train at the next stop. If you flagged down the 7.30 from Brentwood, it would get you to London at 8.25. But the terminus was at Shoreditch, a mile short of Liverpool Street. City clerks, working long hours, preferred to live closer to Town. An 1876 claim of “a constant service of trains to the City and the West End” was just not true – that service would have to wait for Crossrail!

Was Harold Wood for tourists? Opposite the first station, Preston built the King Harold Hotel. It still bears the ornate date “1868”. But landlord Job Sheath was a desperate character. In 1876, he shocked Victorian propriety by opening the pub on Christmas Day.

Harold Wood was aimed at the high-end market. You had to promise to build a property worth £1,000 – in those days, a luxury detached house. This was too optimistic. Preston himself was a loads-a-money character. He bought Goodhouse, a farm at the back of Shepherd’s Hill, replacing it with a huge mansion named Harold Court. It’s now converted into flats. To pay for it, he built Brentwood a much-needed sewage farm, in Nags Head Lane. But he soon quarrelled with the town, and diverted the sewage into the Ingrebourne. Not surprisingly, downstream home sites in Athelstan and Ethelburga Roads remained vacant for decades.


When Harold Wood’s stationmaster died in 1910, an obituary called him “the Grand Old Man of the village.” Frederick Flegg belonged to a paternalist era. He was loyal to the Great Eastern Railway, and acted as a father to his station staff. “We look to you not only as our respected station-master,” they said in 1897, “but as our personal friend, desirous of the well-being of each of us.”

Flegg was born in 1846 in Suffolk. Briefly employed as a gamekeeper, he moved to Harwich to work as a signalman. Frederick married a young widow, Maria Whent. His step-daughter Bessie adopted his surname. In 1872, he became stationmaster at Harold Wood. The station had opened in 1868 as part of a property development. He remained for 38 years, refusing promotion and using his gardening skills to make Harold Wood station “one of the prettiest on the line”. Flegg’s family lived in the stationmaster’s house, on the down platform close to Queens Park Road. It was demolished in 1934 when the Liverpool Street line was doubled to four tracks and the station reoriented to Gubbins Lane.

Flegg’s most remarkable project as the annual railwaymen’s dinner. It was started, in 1888, by a season-ticket holder to show appreciation “for the unfailing courtesy of the Harold Wood staff”. Flegg and his senior colleagues quickly took over. The dinner tackled a problem. Porters, in daily contact with travellers, expected tips at Christmas. This was a nuisance, and was also unfair to signalmen and platelayers (the workers who serviced the track), who missed out. Season-ticket holders preferred to subscribe to give them all a dinner.

About thirty diners attended the annual event at the village inn, the King Harold, leaving a skeleton staff at the station. The landlord was acclaimed as “a capital plate-layer”. Local worthies radiated praise. “They all knew,” one commuter said, “how much Mr Flegg did for the comfort of those who used the line.”

In 1908, Flegg noted that there had been twenty dinners “and all had been happy events.”

But this was no Thomas The Tank Engine world. The stationmaster had to handle tragedies.

In the era before old age pensions, William Garrard was still working long hours as a farm labourer at 71. In 1892, he ran to catch the 8.30 p.m. train home to Brentwood, rashly crossing the track instead of using the footbridge. His body was torn to pieces by the Yarmouth express.

Poor health forced Flegg to miss the 1909 dinner, but speaking briefly at the March 1910 event he simply promised that his staff “would always strive to do their duty and give satisfaction.” In April Frederick Flegg underwent surgery at Romford’s Victoria Hospital. He returned to work in June, but died on July 24 1910. Samuel Ellingford, platelayer at Harold Wood for 42 years, died the same day.

The paternalist era was ending. Militant trade unionism replaced deference. In 1911, there were angry rail strikes. Symbolically, in 1913 the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants became the National Union of Railwaymen. There were no more folksy railwaymen’s dinners at the King Harold.


There was general regret when Harold Wood Hospital closed in 2006. For almost a century, it had been synonymous with the locality. But it’s often the way ─ a project that arouses the affection of one generation had been fiercely opposed in times past.

If you had been an important person who read The Times over breakfast, one June morning in 1908 you would have been alarmed to learn that semi-rural Harold Wood faced its biggest health threat since the Black Death. A correspondent, imaginatively signing himself “Harold Wood”, pleaded for help on behalf of “the 700 inhabitants of this country village” who were trying to prevent “a grievous wrong”. Wicked West Ham Council (forerunner of Newham) had purchased seventy acres of land “right in the centre of the village” intending to establish a fever hospital.

West Ham had bought a small Victorian mansion called The Grange, with the “perfectly heartless” intention of dumping infectious cases from its sickly 300,000 population. Although thousands of acres of alternative building land were available, West Ham had targeted the very heart of Harold Wood, “bringing risk of infection to the health of the people here, and ruining every bit of property in the neighbourhood.”

It was a London-wide issue. Local farms supplied the big city with milk: “thousands of gallons of milk go up to London every day from Harold Wood Station.” It was not clear whether the brand name of Harold Wood produce would suffer, or sick people would sneeze germs over the milk churns. The buildings of one milk-producing farm were right next to the grounds of the proposed fever hospital. This was probably the now-vanished Little Gubbins, which stood just south of The Drive.

Angry “Harold Wood” called the project “a satire” on local democracy. Romford Rural District Council, Havering’s distant forerunner, was responsible for enforcing health regulations, but powerless “when an unscrupulous corporation puts up buildings which will distribute disease wholesale.” Only public opinion could block “this wicked scheme”.

The chairman of Poplar Hospital sympathised Harold Wood, “this pleasant district”, calling the project “an outrage on all ideas of municipal neighbourliness and sanitary precaution.” But Poplar had rejected the opportunity to buy The Grange as a convalescent home. It would be costly to convert the house. But it was also “about as noisy a site as could be selected”, “only a few yards from the Great Eastern main line and the railway station sidings.” The clanking sidings supplied Harold Wood people with coal for their fireplaces. If The Grange was too noisy for people convalescing, it was even less suitable for “acutely ill patients in a fever hospital.” West Ham’s mistake was failure of communication. When Harold Wood Hospital opened in 1909, it was indeed linked to the Plaistow fever hospital, but acted as a convalescent home for children who were recovering from illness.

When the Hospital closed in 2006, the site once again became the focus of controversy, with local people criticising plans for new housing. The trains still thunder past, but the railway sidings are now the Station Road car park.


In 1914, about 1100 people lived in and around Harold Wood. A railway development launched in 1868, it was a detached suburb posing as a village. Across the tracks from the Church Road brickworks, a few residential streets with fake Saxon names, like Ethelburga Road, invoked an imaginary link with King Harold.

Local bigwig Edward Bryant lived in Harold Wood Hall, a Victorian mansion ─ still standing in Widecombe Close, Harold Hill. He had built an Entertainment Hall in Gubbins Lane “to combat the dullness of village life.” Bryant’s gesture was probably a move to rescue his family image after the 1888 strike against pay and conditions by “match girls” at the Bryant and May factory in east London. After the War, it became the War Memorial Hall. Bryant Avenue, Gallows Corner, remembers him.

Outwardly, Harold Wood was barely touched by the War. Its hospital, opened in 1909 by West Ham Council, was for children, not soldiers. In 1917, a Harvest Festival service was abandoned after an air raid warning. A searchlight unit in Hall Lane, near Tylers Common, swept the night skies looking for Zeppelins. But over 200 men joined the Forces.

Headmaster Thomas Rose, a Shakespeare enthusiast, was too old for Army service. He coped with large classes at the Gubbins Lane primary school (now the Neighbourhood Centre), helped by two women teachers for 145 children. At night he served as a special constable, but also found time to write regular letters to forty ex-pupils serving in the Forces. Children dug up their playground to grow potatoes. Harold Wood was still surrounded by hedgerows, not housing, and pupils collected a massive 1200 pounds of blackberries to make jam.

New opportunities opened for local women. Some did farm work, others delivered letters. Many took clerical jobs at Warley Barracks. Harold Wood ladies formed a War Work Guild, raising money for charities and knitting for victory ─ 333 pairs of socks helped stop the Kaiser!

Prior to 1914, there was a great gulf between the Church of England and the Nonconformist groups. Harold Wood broke the barriers, with joint Anglican-Methodist services praying for victory from January 1916. Some believed that the “marvellous” defeat of “the great German offensive” of March 1918 was the result of such prayers. Perhaps local churches can draw inspiration from Harold Wood’s leadership in ecumenical worship a century ago.

One Gubbins Lane resident was vital to the War effort. Joseph Broodbank, chairman of the Port of London Authority, was put in charge of all Britain’s ports. The U-Boat campaign threatened to starve us into surrender. With many dockers away fighting, it was vital to keep food and munitions flowing into Britain. Had Broodbank failed, the War might have been lost. In 1917, he was knighted for his great work.

Twenty six Harold Wood men lost their lives. One, 33 year-old Private Frank Matthews, left a permanent mark. His 1916 death, from heart failure as a stretcher-bearer in France, was mourned by his family, the brothers James and George H. Matthews, who operated a flour mill near the Station (now Holdbrook Way). Devout Anglicans, they helped pay for a new church, St Peter’s in Gubbins Lane, as Frank’s memorial. Consecrated in 1939, it replaced an 1871 temporary building in Church Road.


1937 was still the era of the Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines. Equipped with just goggles and padded jackets, pilots bumped along grass airstrips and soared into the sky. With no radar or ground-to-air communications, they navigated by landmarks to distant airfields, engines thrashing like egg-whisks and the wind rushing through open cockpits.

Claude Oscroft was a well-known pilot. An Essex man, he operated from Rochford aerodrome, now Southend Airport. Oscroft flew a De Havilland Gipsy Moth, one of thousands in the skies. With dual controls, the two-seater biplane could be flown by either occupant. On-board communications were basic: you shouted to your co-pilot and hoped you could be heard. Gipsy Moths were popular with enthusiasts, like the grandly named First National Aviation Club. The club was based at Romford’s Maylands airfield, located in the angle between the A12 and the M25, just north of Harold Park.

Douglas Gee, a 25 year-old chemist from Dalston, had joined only two days earlier, but Oscroft agreed to take him for a spin to Rochford. The experienced pilot apparently did not question his new friend: when did he qualify as a pilot, how many hours had he flown? Indeed, he seemed naively trusting. On a May Sunday, Oscroft flew up from Lympne in Kent and collected Gee.

Although they were heading east, it seems they took off to the west, into the prevailing breeze and avoiding Brentwood Hill. With Gee in the rear seat at the controls, they skimmed the roofs of Woodstock Avenue, climbing in a wide arc over the open fields where Harold Hill was not yet built. Over Gallows Corner, they swung round to pick up the Liverpool Street railway line which would guide them to Rochford.

Levelling off at 3,000 feet over Harold Wood Station, the cheerful Gee shouted, “OK, if I spin?” Tightening his safety straps, Oscroft yelled back, “Sure!” The inexperienced Gee jerked the joystick forward too hard, throwing the plane into an outside loop, a dangerous manoeuvre that would quickly have both pilots dangling upside down. The violent jolt threw Oscroft’s head back against a petrol tank and momentarily stunned him.

As he came round, Oscroft found himself hanging half out of his cockpit. There was no reply when he yelled to Gee. “Goodness knows how I did it,” he recalled, “but somehow I put one foot hard up against the stick and got the machine over.” Concluding that Gee had fainted, he steered the plane back to Maylands, remembering nothing of how he got her down. 

It was only when Gipsy Moth landed that the grim truth became clear: Gee had fallen to his death. Perhaps he’d failed to buckle his straps. On the platform at Harold Wood, a party of hikers returning from a country ramble watched horrified as Gee plunged to the ground alongside the railway near Woodlands Road. Gee’s parents were at a Sunday evening church service when they heard the news.

“Thank goodness there were dual controls, or I should be a dead man now,” Oscroft told a reporter. “It is as near death as I have ever been or ever want to be.” Let’s hope he learned to ask more questions about his co-pilots. Maylands airfield was too near RAF Hornchurch, and closed in 1939.


“Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing / Onward! the sailors cry / Carry the lad that’s born to be King Over the sea to Skye.” The Skye Boat Song recalls the romantic uprising of 1745 that tore Scotland apart in an attempt to restore the exiled Stuart royal family. King James II had been driven out in 1688 because he planned to turn free Protestant Britain into a Catholic tyranny. “Jacobus” is the Latin for James, and his supporters were called Jacobites. James II’s grandson, Bonnie Prince Charlie, led the 1745 rebellion.

The Jacobites had tried once before, in 1715, but their desperate gamble fizzled to a grisly end on Harold Hill. In 1714, the Crown had passed to George I, a German prince who spoke little English.  Control over government passed to Britain’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole. The Jacobites hoped that a small flag of rebellion might trigger a brushfire of national resentment. They failed. Poster boy for the ‘15 was the 26 year-old James, Earl of Derwentwater, a Catholic with a beautiful wife and two small children. He led a tiny band of 70 followers from his Northumberland estate, but was soon captured, tried for treason and sentenced to death by beheading.

His wife, Anna Maria, pleaded desperately for mercy. Needing a base near London, she leased Dagnams, a mansion that stood at the north end of Harold Hill’s Dagnam Park. The diarist, Samuel Pepys, had visited there fifty years earlier and called it “a most noble and pretty house that ever, for the bigness, I saw.” Like her husband, the Countess was a devout Catholic. So was Lord Petre, at Thorndon Hall near Brentwood, who employed a family priest. An oak-panelled room at Dagnams was consecrated as a chapel.

Lady Derwentwater even managed to smuggle herself into George I’s bedchamber, where she pleaded (in French) for her husband’s life. Wisely, she was accompanied by her sister and her aunt. However, King George did not like attractive women. Londoners called his two German mistresses the Elephant and Castle. Her pleas failed. In February 1716 Lord Derwentwater’s head was hacked off on Tower Hill. Defying the government, Anna Maria seized the coffin and brought his body to Dagnams.

Around 1800, an elderly Catholic lady living at Ingatestone told a terrible story. Her mother had been a skilled seamstress. As a young girl, she was whisked to Dagnams on a secret mission. Her job was to sew Lord Derwentwater’s head back on to his body. In her terrible grief, Anna Maria wanted her martyred husband buried with dignity.

The coffin was taken north for burial, but in 1874 it was moved again, to Thorndon. In 1733, the 8th Baron Petre married Lord Derwentwater’s daughter. In 1778, during the American War of Independence, Britain faced a French invasion. An army was gathered at Warley. King George III, great-grandson of George I, came to inspect the troops. In a symbolic gesture of reconciliation, he stayed at Thorndon Hall as the guest of the 9th Lord Petre, Derwentwater’s grandson.

Dagnams was rebuilt about 1740, and demolished in 1950. Britain might have been plunged into dynastic civil war. Instead, the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 whimpered to a ghastly end in Havering.


Time is a curious concept. It’s been called Nature’s way of ensuring that everything doesn’t happen at once. It’s strange that other people once lived in our streets and suburbs, leaving no echo of their voices. But sometimes we can get a glimpse of events long ago. Two cameos of the A12 Colchester Road and Harold Hill linger vividly across the centuries.

Stagecoaches rattled along the lonely Brentwood-Romford road. There was no Harold Hill, Harold Wood or Gidea Park in 1823. A Suffolk man was due to be hanged at Ipswich one August day for the crime of arson. The authorities sent an expert to carry out the execution. John Foxton was the hangman at London’s Newgate Prison. In eleven years, he swung 206 men and six women to their deaths. Foxton supplied his own rope, pulley, manacles and blindfold. Ipswich provided the gibbet.

But when he arrived, Foxton found the prisoner had been reprieved. There would be no fee for the official strangler. Waiting to travel back to London, he got drunk and loudly cursed his bad luck. People boarding the luxury Telegraph stagecoach objected. Foxton as a fellow passenger was bad enough, but the grisly “implements of death” in his luggage were revolting. So Foxton took second best ─ an outside seat on the mail coach, which departed later.

However, the mail coach was faster. It overtook the Telegraph between Brentwood and Romford. Passengers perched on the roof of the Telegraph spotted the befuddled hangman as the mail coach caught up. They jeered and, insultingly, lashed walking sticks together, jamming them in the luggage to make a mock gallows. The Telegraph’s passengers also abused the driver and guard of the mail coach, who could only escape the curses “by extraordinary speed”. I cherish image of two coaches, racing past Harold Hill and through Gidea Park, with gesticulating passengers and their ersatz gallows.

My second glimpse is a nicer tale. On a February day in 1834, two Romford gentlemen staged a horse race through Harold Hill. William Henry Tolbutt owned a South Street mansion. Young Mr Tyler challenged him to a steeplechase ─ a gallop through fields and over hedges, with no marked-out racecourse. Spectators had “an excellent view” of the route from the high ground around the starting point, Foxborough Wood, a mile north-west of modern Harold Hill, near the bend in Broxhill Road. The winning post was “the 14th mile stone”, a well-known distance marker from London, on Colchester Road behind today’s Sackville Crescent, Harold Wood. By strange coincidence, the two men must have raced along the line of Harold Hill’s Edenhall Road and Chatteris Avenue. No doubt there were more onlookers clapping the winner, Tolbutt, at the A12. Everybody adjourned to a slap-up meal in Romford, where the “utmost hilarity” prevailed until late at night.

The jeering passengers on the Colchester Road stagecoach and the cheering spectators of the Harold Hill horse race have vanished into the mists of Time. But are they still there ─ somewhere? Will we one day be able to press a rewind button and hear their catcalls and their laughter? Probably not! But it’s an intriguing thought.


Norman was four when his family moved to Harold Hill in 1949, just months after the first tenants had arrived in Gooshays Drive. The family came from Dagenham, where the three of them had shared one room in his aunt’s house. They were among the first residents of Amersham Road, where few houses were yet completed.

Gooshays Drive, round the corner, only ran to Petersfield Avenue. In those early days, there were no pavements or streetlights. Construction was scattered around the future estate, with fields in between. A young couple drove a van with a tea urn around the building sites, delivering sandwiches to the workers. Sometimes they gave Norman a ride. W.& C. French, the contractors for the estate, had a builders’ yard in Petersfield Avenue. Norman used to collect sawdust there for the chickens his father kept in the back garden.

To speed construction, Harold Hill homes were fitted with factory-produced Crittall windows. Double glazing was unknown, and the steel-framed units iced over in winter. The house was cold. Norman recalls sleeping snugly in a bed piled high with blankets and a quilt. Heating mainly came from a single downstairs fireplace, with a back boiler that supplied hot water. A huge coal bunker in the garden stored the fuel. To make the fire draw, you stretched a newspaper across the hearth, forcing a draught under the kindling. This was risky, as the fire might flare up and catch the newspaper.One day, Norman decided to help his parents by lighting the fire. Luckily the blaze in the chimney wasn’t serious.

Providing school places was a challenge in the early days. Norman started infants at Crowlands Primary in London Road, Romford. He still remembers its Victorian brick buildings.Children were bussed to Romford from a collecting point in Paines Brook Way. He vividly recalls “trudging knee-deep in snow one winter to get the bus.” He transferred to Mead Infant School when it opened in 1951, right on his doorstep. Mead Junior School followed a year later.

Parks and leisure facilities were also in short supply. Children used Paines Brook as their adventure playground, acting out war games or whooping it up as Cowboys and Indians. They even took Dinky Toys along, making pretend-racetracks on the riverbank. “It was not met with parental approval,” Norman ruefully confesses.

One childhood highlight was the Coronation on June 2nd 1953. “My father got a brand new TV,” Norman explains. “How we could afford it I never knew, as money was always tight.” The “Marconiphone” set was a huge cabinet with a tiny, ten-inch screen. It was the first TV in Amersham Road. Neighbours crowded in to watch the crowning of the Queen. Rain bucketed down when the procession left Westminster Abbey, and distinguished guests closed their carriage roofs to keep dry. But Tonga’s Queen Salote [rhymes with “dotty”], a huge and cheerful lady, refused to raise her hood. Dripping and waving, she was adored by the soaking wet spectators. In Amersham Road the brave lady from the distant Pacific was cheered too.

Nowadays, Norman lives near Southend, but he’s proud to be a Harold Hill pioneer.


My old friend Norman grew up with Harold Hill. He’s proud of his memories. He was four years old in 1949, when his parents got a house in Amersham Road, one of the first streets in the new estate. In the massive postwar housing shortage, the priority was put roofs over people’s heads. Facilities came later. The first schools opened in 1951.

Before Petersfield Avenue shops were built in 1953, residents generally travelled to Romford or Harold Wood. The 247A bus from Gooshays Drive took a roundabout route to Romford, via Gidea Park and Brentwood Road. For housewives loaded with purchases, shopping in Romford was an exhausting expedition.

Norman recalls that Harold Wood station was very important for Harold Hill people. If you were going “Up West” or taking a trip to Southend, your day usually began and ended with a mile walk to the train. Harold Wood also had doctors and dentists. It was the mid-1950s before a health centre opened in Gooshays Drive. Some estate residents felt that Havering’s older communities looked down on the newcomers from London. “I didn’t encounter any snobbishness,” Norman recalls, adding that he went to Cubs and Scouts in Harold Wood.

Social life on Harold Hill itself took a while to develop. Norman’s parents did not go to church, but he cherishes Christmas memories, when carol singers stood under a street light “and sang their hearts out.” To add a Christmas-card touch, they carried a candle lamp on the end of a pole. And there wasn’t much spare cash to go to the pub. When they did go out “on the Hill”, it was usually to parties in friends’ houses. That could mean a long walk, but nobody seemed to mind. “Very few people had access to cars in those days,” he points out.

Norman remembers his Harold Hill secondary school ─ long since closed ─ as “a blackboard jungle”, with scary teachers. The headmaster was short and formidable. He resembled Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army. “You didn’t mess with him,” Norman ruefully recalls. “I suppose most of us had a healthy respect for our elders,” he adds, with an ironic stress on “healthy”. In fairness, Norman admits, teachers had to be tough. Kids were quick to exploit weakness. Teachers who lost control found it hard to survive, even in an era of corporal punishment.One harried master brought a cane into class, and threateningly swished it above the boys’ heads. But one bold fifteen year-old picked up a ruler and pretended to stage a sword fight.

Yet youngsters wanted to learn, even if the school didn’t always approve of their interests. Fifteen year-olds were taking end-of-term exams in the School Hall in 1960 when one lad was unceremoniously evicted, and his papers torn up. He had finished the questions early, and was surreptitiously reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the D.H. Lawrence novel famous for using four-letter words in its sex scenes. The book was still banned by Britain’s archaic censorship laws. It was much too saucy for a Harold Hill teenager!

Harold Hill was more than just bricks and mortar. It was people who made the estate into a community.


Compared with modern urban warfare, the Battle of Harold Hill’s Central Park on October 8th 1958 was a tame affair. A few dozen teenagers hurled sticks and stones. No bullets were fired, only acorns.

The root cause of the clash between pupils from two schools lay in the planning of the postwar public housing scheme. Harold Hill aimed to house 27,000 residents ─ too small for a stand-alone New Town, like Harlow or Basildon, but too large to function as a single community. By 1955, a split was emerging. Harold Hill needed a major shopping centre, but separate parades were built, Petersfield Avenue serving the east, Hilldene Shops in Farnham Road for the west. Which bus did you catch to Romford ─ on the west side, the 174 through Gidea Park or, down Gooshays Drive, the 247A via Harold Wood?

The Hill’s secondary schools widened the gulf. Harrowfield, in Settle Road, opened in 1953. Quarles, in Tring Gardens, followed in 1955. Technically, there were four schools, one for boys and girls on each site. About a mile apart, they were distant enough to feel different but close enough for friction. Some said the 1958 trouble was caused by Quarles boys challenging Harrowfield lads to fight. Others claimed the conflict began because a Quarles boy was dating the former girlfriend of a Harrowfield pupil, who resented losing her. After school on Tuesday October 7th, a mob of Harrowfield boys gathered outside Quarles school gates, armed with bottles and studded belts. Teachers scattered them before trouble could erupt.

Discipline was strict in the 1950s. At Quarles, even girls could be caned. For serious offences, the whole school was summoned to witness corporal punishment. On Wednesday morning, Harrowfield headmaster Mr Gregson caned eight ringleaders of the siege of Quarles. Both schools were now seething. Even in an era before mobile phones, rumours flew. After school, Quarles pupils hung around in excited expectation. Miss Knapton, the headmistress, urged her girls to go home. Two police officers, shadowed by a squad car, shepherded the youngsters towards Dagnam Park Drive.But Harrowfield girls, resenting the humiliation of their eight heroes, were marching on the rival academy. Children from the rival schools lined opposite sides of the road, hurling insults and missiles.

Tough motherhood intervened. Abusing the rioters as hooligans, Harold Hill housewives drove them into Central Park, where battle raged for an hour. All started by a romance across tribal lines. One former Harold Hill resident still jokes that it was like West Side Story, but without the knives and the music. It caused bad publicity for Harold Hill. Alderman Olive Roberts, head of Romford’s Education Committee and chair of the Quarles governors, unwisely tried to blame the trouble on “a natural and healthy rivalry” between the two schools.

As Harold Hill’s baby boom faded, there was no need for both schools. In 1973, they merged to become Neave Comprehensive, later King’s Wood School. In 1976, Quarles was transferred to Havering College. In 2012, the old Harrowfield buildings were replaced by Drapers’ Academy. Some people think of the 1950s as a golden age, when strict discipline made children well-behaved. It didn’t always work.


Every year, hundreds of Havering youngsters face the daunting experience of starting secondary school. Will I find my way around? Will I make friends? Looking back 64 years, Mike wonders why he wasn’t apprehensive about his new school, the boys-only Royal Liberty in Gidea Park. His family had just moved to Rise Park, so his primary school pals were back in Ilford. 

There were no school runs in those days. His family had worked out his route – bus to Romford Station, train to Gidea Park. Later he realised he was travelling two sides of a triangle. Crossing Eastern Avenue, he could walk to school in 25 minutes!

There was no Open Day for intending students. Mike had visited Royal Liberty once, to attend its Summer Fair. It was the first Tuesday in September 1951. The new boys were organised into our forms, and given a tour of the school.  Mike’s first impression was of the sheer size of Royal Liberty after primary school.

Next came something new: a timetable. “At primary school, I’d been used to having one teacher for the whole year,” Mike recalls. Teachers at Royal Liberty were called masters, and Mike realised he’d be taught by about ten of them. Each operated from his own classroom.

“I had to get used to the idea that we went to the masters,” he remembers. “They didn’t come to us.” Another shock was that the masters were all experts in their subjects.  “I’d cruised through primary school,” he remembers ruefully, “but this would be hard work.”

Masters addressed boys by their surnames, and boys used surnames too. “Two boys bucked the system,” Mike recalls. “They were identical twins, called Peter and Paul.” Another novelty was the presence of senior boys – almost young adults.  Some were prefects, who could give orders. The Head Boy seemed almost godlike – eighteen years old, and over six feet tall.

Two events from that first year stand out in Mike’s memory. One February morning, the school was summoned to the school hall for an announcement. Wearing his black academic gown, the headmaster told them King George VI had died. We now had a Queen. The king had died at Sandringham. His body was transported back to London – through Gidea Park station.

The other event was more enjoyable. The school went on a summer outing by rail to Windsor Castle. The boys left Gidea Park on a special train drawn by a steam locomotive. The route towards Liverpool Street was familiar, but the train branched off along tracks they never knew existed. The engine slowly chugged around north London to join the Thames Valley main line near Windsor. 

School rules were strict. Royal Liberty boys had to wear their regulation blue caps at all times. During the tour of Windsor Castle grounds, another first former grabbed Mike’s cap and pitched it into Her Majesty’s private garden. “The Queen never returned the cap,” Mike notes sadly, “despite its being clearly marked with my name.”

But he looks back on that first year at secondary school with affection. “I formed friendships that have lasted for 64 years,” he says. He hopes youngsters starting new schools in 2015 will have the same experience.


Hare Street, a forgotten Havering hamlet, stood at the junction of Gidea Park’s Balgores Lane and the A118 Main Road. In 1524, tax records show Hare Street among the richest communities in England, home to four large tanneries. Later, its prosperity was based on inns serving passing travellers. One, the Ship, survives in its ancient structure. From 1787 to 1818, famous landscape gardener Humphry Repton lived in a cottage there, its site marked by a plaque on a bank.

Hare Street had nothing to do with hares. In 1344, it was called “Herstrate”, which means “Army Street” ─ nowadays, we’d say “Military Road”. West of Raphael Park and east of Gallows Corner, the main highway follows the line of the Roman road. But, through Hare Street, it wobbles to the south. In Saxon times, traffic was mainly cattle drovers and horse riders, so nobody minded when the encroaching forest pushed the track out of line. Between 912 and 917 AD, the Saxon king Edward the Elder established fortified towns at Maldon and Witham to push the invading Danes out of Essex. He captured Colchester in 917. Perhaps Havering’s peasants were mobilised then to build a proper road for his armies to advance?

East of Hare Street was Goodwins, a farm probably named after Godwin of Doe, a local official in 1218. “Doe” (or “d’Eu”) refers to a town in Normandy. In the 1750s, Goodwins belonged to wealthy merchant, John Wallinger. A prosperous stone-merchant, Wallinger dreamed of building a big house. Goodwins was renamed Hare Hall, but it was his nephew, John Arnold Wallinger, who built the Portland stone mansion in 1768.

The name “Hare” soon made another leap. Standing near the junction of Ashlyn Grove and Stafford Avenue in Ardleigh Green, Watts was a 40-acre farm north of Squirrels Heath Lane. The railway was only built in 1840, so Watts was very close to Hare Hall. By 1790, Watts had been renamed Hare Lodge. It seems to have been a small country house. A fragment of its parkland survives as an Ardleigh Green School play area.

But the ‘Hare’ name was destined to vanish. In 1910-11, the Gidea Park Garden Suburb was built, off Links Avenue, west of Hare Street. To serve the development, Gidea Park station opened in Balgores Lane, to the south. Ancient Hare Street was now surrounded by upstart Gidea Park. A local inn, the Unicorn, was rebuilt as a prominent landmark to serve the growing population. Buses now stopped at the Unicorn, timetables listed Main Road. Hare Street was forgotten. 

Ardleigh Green’s Hare Lodge made way for housing, although a second Hare Lodge, in Gidea Park’s South Drive, was built in 1904. In 1921, Hare Hall became the Royal Liberty School. The school dropped Hare Hall from its address in 1963. Hare Hall Lane became Upper Brentwood Road. The name moved to a quiet street near the station. In the 1920s, the new roads around the old mansion were called Hare Park. But that name survives today only in St Mary’s Hare Park School.

If Hare Street was built to help Edward the Elder’s army drive the Danes from Essex, the name lasted one thousand years before suburban development erased it from the map.


Tylers Common is Havering’s oldest open space. It does not owe its name to Wat Tyler, leader of the 1381 Peasants Revolt. The name can be traced back centuries earlier, to “Tigelhurst” in a charter of 1062. Some think the name meant “woodland where tiles were made”. Others point out that tiles were not manufactured in England in Saxon times, and suggest that Tigel was a person. The M25 slices through a remnant of that woodland.

The common formed part of the manor of Upminster Hall, granted in 1062 to Waltham Abbey by Earl Harold, later the king defeated at the battle of Hastings. Tylers Common was then called “Mannes Land” and we know it stretched right to Brook Street, because a South Weald charter has the same name. “Mannes Land” meant land that belonged to everybody. Later, in other parts of England, it became “No Man’s Land” ─ a place belonging to nobody. This term was applied to the ground between the trenches in the 1914-18 War.

In 1191, Waltham Abbey was fined by King Richard the Lionheart for enclosing 104 acres of waste land. Thus Mannes Land shrunk to the 78 acres of Tylers Common. Eight centuries later, new parkland has been added alongside the M25 ─ maybe reversing that monkish encroachment.

In 1543, three years after Henry VIII closed Waltham Abbey, it was called “Abbots Wood Common” and described as “waste and wood”.Writing in 1881, Upminster historian T.L. Wilson said Tylers Common was woodland until about 1800. Local legend said the trees were cut down for Nelson’s Navy. Another nearby open space, 60 acres on Shepherds Hill, was “furze and heath” in 1543.Part of Gaynes Manor, and called Upminster Common, it was enclosed in 1846.  Tylers Common is often called after its vanished neighbour.

Earlier, in 1814, over 1,000 acres of Romford land had been grabbed to grow food in the struggle against Napoleon ─ vast commons at Collier Row, Noak Hill and Straight Road disappeared, along with tiny Squirrels Heath. Tylers Common survived because the owners of Upminster Hall, and lords of the manor, the Branfills, were active Liberals, the party of the people.They agreed with a popular rhyme:

The fault is great in man or woman / Who steals a goose from off a common; / But what can plead that man’s excuse / Who steals a common from a goose?

But the Branfills could be tough. In 1875, they issued a notice warning “strangers” not to graze cattle and sheep on Tylers Common, and threatening to prosecute anybody camping or lighting fires.

In 1943, Tylers Common was ploughed to grow food in the fight against Hitler. After the war, Essex County Council ─ Havering’s forerunner ─ aimed to keep Tylers Common and fenced if off. In 1951, local campaigners won a famous court case. Sensationally, Council Councillors were “surcharged” ─ forced individually to pay for their illegal act. A memorial stone opposite the Common honours their victory.


The origins of the Territorial Army (now the Army Reserve) can be traced back to a war scare in 1859. Press and public were swept by fears that France might suddenly land troops on our shores, seizing London before the Royal Navy could stop them. Volunteer units of riflemen sprang up, many attracted by glamorous uniforms and the pretend-drama of warfare. When Prussia smashed France in 1870-71, the British government realised the importance of training its citizen soldiers. Germany could mobilise its entire adult male population. Most men had military training.

Journalists can be a cynical crowd, and local reporters nicknamed a local annual ritual “The Battle of Upminster Common”. Officially the open space was called Tylers Common, to distinguish it from another Upminster Common on Shepherds Hill, enclosed in 1846.  The 78-acre open space provided an obvious military training ground. In May 1872, local shops closed and 2,000 spectators turned out to watch the Essex rifle Volunteers in a “sham fight” on the Common. Unluckily, it was Whitsun, a public holiday weekend, and many part-time soldiers preferred to stay home with their families.

An April date in 1874 brought a better turn-out, and exciting war games. Captain Fry, who lived at Fairkytes, now a Havering arts centre in Billet Lane, Hornchurch, commanded 150 men from two local companies defending the Common. They were attacked in a pincer move.

150 men from the Romford Brewery, Rochford and Ilford companies advanced from Harold Wood, while 70 Brentwood and Ongar part-timers advanced from Brook Street. Tylers Common was plagued by illegal gravel-diggers. A later writer said it was “covered with coarse reedy grass hiding innumerable holes and small mounds” with “a few bushes”. This made good terrain for defensive action, and Captain Fry’s men held out “very gallantly” for two hours. When mock hostilities ceased, both armies rushed for refreshments generously provided by their officers. The martial atmosphere was dented when a rainstorm sent the “gallant braves” scurrying for shelter in the barns of a nearby farm.

Good intelligence and rapid deployment was the key to the successful defence of Tylers Common in 1882. The Hornchurch men expected the Brentwood company to advance down Warley Hill, but scouts spotted the attackers marching along Nags Head Lane. Quickly half the defenders regrouped to form an ambush at the north-west corner of the Common, while the other half concealed themselves near Harold Court Road. The Brentwood force made the mistake of opening fire at one thousand yards. But Hornchurch held fire until the attackers were trapped in their planned killing ground. After bravely charging the Hornchurch position, the Brentwood men attempted a flanking move, only to be overwhelmed by the reinforcements hidden in the fields. Good job they weren’t firing real bullets!

Poking fun at part-time military, “Saturday night soldiers”, is one of our oldest national sports. But when Britain needs them, in world wars or peace-keeping campaigns, reservists are ready to fight. Many lost their lives in Afghanistan. There’s an honourable tradition stretching back the century and a half from Helmand province to those annual Battles of Tylers Common.


Italy has architecture. Havering has buildings. So you might think, but Havering’s public buildings do a job and tell a story. As you have to live them, you deserve to have your own opinion. I’m no expert either. Turn to The Buildings of England series, nicknamed “Pevsner” because its founder was a quirky German refugee who became an ultra-English eccentric. Havering is in the “London East” volume by Bridget Cherry and Charles O’Brien. Borough libraries have copies for loan and reference.

Although I’m not religious, I enjoy a good church. When St Edward the Confessor in Romford Market was rebuilt in 1850, architect John Johnson wanted to show that Romford was an important place. A critic grumbled that his church bristled with “gargoyles, cornices and ridge-crests”. Sadly, because St Edward’s is surrounded by other buildings, we don’t really ‘see’ it nowadays, but it’s worth a second glance. Johnson had calmed down by 1861 when he designed St Andrew’s off London Road. This was a humble church for the workers, and it was lucky to get even a puppy-dog’s tail of a spire.

Few people have heard of church architect J.J. Crowe, but we can compare his local efforts. Grey brick gives a severe appearance to St Peter’s in Harold Wood’s Gubbins Lane (1939). Gidea Park’s St Michael and All Angels (1938) looks like an Oxford college hiding in the bushes beside Main Road. But St Nicholas, in Elm Park’s Woodcote Avenue, is impressive. Built in 1956, its red brick is friendly and its rustic mini-spire downright funny. It’s clever too, squeezing in a chapel under the tower, so making the most of a small site.

Havering’s Catholic churches were mostly built before the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) sought to involve congregations more closely in worship. But Our Lady of La Salette at Rainham, built in 1966-67, is like a cheerful meeting hall.

Many modern buildings are basically boxes. Hornchurch’s Queen’s Theatre disguises this by wrapping a foyer around three sides of the auditorium. It’s a box wearing a ballet skirt. Harold Wood Library is a quiet triumph.  Its awkward corner site in Arundel Road makes possible windows everywhere, flooding it with welcoming light. South Hornchurch Library, in Rainham Road, has a charming greenhouse roof. It looks as if it wanted to be a swimming pool. But what do you think?

One test is Havering’s Central Library, at the top of Romford Market. Take a long look at it (─ mind the traffic!). It’s a building people poke fun at. Yes, it’s a concrete shoe box, sitting on an airport terminal. See that glass staircase tower? It’s like the plastic container in my fridge, the one I use for storing lettuce. OK, we can all laugh.  But do you like it? Walk round inside. Is it too hot, too bare, too pompous? Or does it quietly do its job?

We should all have opinions about architecture, because architecture is all around us. Even in Havering.


You don’t have to live in a cathedral city to become interested in the history of architecture.

You can start right here.

The hallmark of Norman architecture was the round-headed arch, often decorated with zigzags. Rainham parish church is a fine late Norman building, with a massive chancel arch.

Did its squat Norman tower double as a fortress? Ignore the Tudor brickwork topping and look at those menacing slit windows.

Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio had dogmatic ideas. Buildings, he insisted in 1570, should imitate Roman temples. They must be perfectly balanced. If there were two windows and a column on the left side, there must be the same on the right. You don’t have to go to Italy to view Palladian architecture. Gidea Park’s Hare Hall, built in 1768, is a good example ─ formal, classical and a mirror image from side to side.

The Internet has a lot of information about its architect, James Paine. It’s sometimes argued that Paine was best at designing small mansions. Were his bigger houses stern and overbearing? So it’s worth comparing Hare Hall (now the Royal Liberty School) with one of Paine’s monster projects, Thorndon Hall near Brentwood. Paine probably did not take much trouble in Havering. Hare Hall looks like a dusted-down version of his earlier project, Belford Hall in Northumberland.

Everybody has heard of Sir Christopher Wren, who built St Paul’s Cathedral. But his contemporary, Nicholas Hawksmoor, had intriguing ideas. His chunky churches look as if they were planned with a child’s building blocks. Two of them can be glimpsed from the Docklands Light Railway. Whoever designed Brentwood’s Ingrave parish church in 1734-6 was influenced by Hawksmoor. But the end product was curious, a church that looks like a water tower.

In 1874, young architect Basil Champneys rebuilt St John’s church at Havering-atte-Bower as a perfect medieval building ─ maybe too perfect, for the Middle Ages were not always precise! Champneys later pioneered the ‘Queen Anne’ style, using it at Newnham College Cambridge because its folksy, domestic texture seemed appropriate for a women’s college. The Internet tracks how his ideas developed from his Havering beginnings.

The early twentieth century saw the Garden City movement, which aimed to blur the distinction between town and country with suburbs of pretty, cottage-like houses. Gidea Park’s Garden Suburb, off Heath Drive, began in 1910. There’s an excellent Havering Council walking tour guide, which you’ll find through an Internet search. But please remember that these are private homes, and respect people’s privacy. Famous architects contributed to Gidea Park, including Clough Williams-Ellis, who later built an artsy-Disneyland village called Portmeirion in Wales.

By the 1930s, Art Deco was “the thing’. Marked by severe straight lines and explosive decoration, it was commonly used for cinemas, such as Mecca Bingo in Hornchurch. Art Deco disliked traditional sloping roofs. A row of flat-roofed houses was built on Eastern Avenue opposite Rise Park in 1934, but the idea never caught on locally.

You don’t need to do the Grand Tour of Europe to study the history of architecture. You can start right here in Havering.


It’s a scruffy pocket book with a faded blue cover ─ and it’s almost my oldest possession. I bought Short Spins Around London at a jumble sale over fifty years ago. It cost me twopence in old money ─ less than 1p. A 1906 guide for cyclists, it gave me my first glimpse of Havering before the suburbs arrived. Cycling was massively popular at that time. The bicycle offered freedom and cheap exercise. There were few cars on the roads, and it was easy to dodge horses and wagons.

For “wheelmen” (there were wheel-women too), the Romford road (today’s A118) was “unattractive and tiring”. Suburban growth made it “exceedingly towny” and, worse still, there were tramlines through Stratford and Ilford. Only main highways had tarmac. Minor road were often hazardous because loose shingle was roughly dumped to create a surface, cutting into bicycle tyres and sometimes causing punctures. Nags Head Lane, from Brook Street to Tylers Common, and St Mary’s Lane in Cranham were particularly bad.

If you cycled the Romford road, the last mile beyond Whalebone Lane was “featureless” but your reward was “a wide-spreading market town, showing its best side to the main road.” Maybe this was a double-edged compliment, for the alleys off Romford Market were slums.

Beyond was a park, recently gifted to the public by politician Herbert Raphael. Shaded by a “wealth of trees”, its lake “flashes brightly in the sun”. “Broken country, lightly timbered, extends on either side of the road,” Short Spins says of the A12 Colchester Road ─ now solidly built up as Harold Hill and Harold Wood.

You could detour via “Colliers Row”. East of Chase Cross, “the lane plunges into deeply wooded country, with a series of rises and falls” to Noak Hill, “only a few cottages and a smithy” but “embosomed” in tall trees. Beyond, there were “glimpses of bright meadowland”. Nowadays, there’s a glimpse of the M25. Havering-atte-Bower was “pleasantly clustered” around its village green.

Another alternative was to turn right at Ilford. Rush Green was “an uninteresting hamlet” but Hornchurch had “a long rambling and still picturesque street” ─ alas, nowadays, characterless modern shops. Upminster was “genteel”, Corbets Tye (not “Tey”) was “a small, old-fashioned hamlet.” Hacton Lane in Hornchurch was “a pretty run downhill to the Ingrebourne River in a green valley.” Ardleigh Green Road was “a charming, well-shaded byway” leading to “Hardley Green” (some people still pronounced the H), “a few cottages and an inn.” Beyond, Squirrels Heath Road was “pretty, rising steeply, an open unsheltered road.” Straight Road alongside today’s Harold Hill was attractive but further north the road became very steep.

The “pastoral” landscape of South Hornchurch had a “more favourable aspect” than dreary Dagenham ─ which would not have been difficult. Cherry Tree Lane was “a pretty spot”.  Rainham was “an untidy village” but with a “picturesque, weather-worn” church. Wennington’s marshes looked like Holland. In those distant days, the Beam River in South Hornchurch, the lower reaches of the Rom, was “a little willowed brook”.

Half a century after I bought it, Short Spins seems twopence well spent!


Aiming to teach youngsters music, politeness and discipline, Brian Keeler founded  the Hornchurch Drum & Trumpet Corps, for boys aged 9 to 21. (Soon there were girls too.) The Corps first appeared at Elm Park’s Remembrance Day service in November 1959. Benny Hill and Sean Connery played in a charity football match which raised money for smart uniforms. Hornchurch Council allowed them to use the local symbol, the bull’s head, as their shoulder flash.

But, in 1963, a bizarre incident threatened their reputation. The Corps were rehearsing a Sousa march in a field at Grange Hill, Chigwell, when a local farmer denounced them. They had scared his cattle, he claimed. Five valuable cows had been killed in a stampede. Newspapers around the world picked up the story and treated it as a joke.

At Los Alamos, the top US defence research centre, scientist Dr Robert R. Brownlee was fascinated. He had run America’s 1957 atomic bomb tests. In one experiment, an underground warhead had blown a steel cover into the air. No equipment could track its 41 miles a second speed, so Brownlee simply reported it had gone “like a bat out of hell.” Now he was testing the hush-hush Pershing rocket, a 34-foot high, medium-range nuclear missile.

Brownlee didn’t believe the Hornchurch band had killed those cattle. A Pershing had crashed into a field of American cows, he told colleague Dr Paul Mutschlecner, and the beasts had just strolled away. Well, replied Mutschlecner, that Hornchurch band is obviously more lethal than our rocket.

As they were visiting to Britain in 1964, the two men decided to check for themselves. If the band practised in a field, Hornchurch, they reckoned, must be a small town, easy to locate. So Brownlee fired off vaguely addressed letters to the band and also to the farmer ─ who never replied. Being pushy Yanks, they also wrote to Prince Philip asking him to supervise a test. Buckingham Palace, used to eccentrics, charmingly replied that the Duke was busy. For Brian Keeler, the surprise letter from Los Alamos offered a welcome relief. Humorists kept asking if the bull’s head shoulder flash was a victory symbol. At competitions, supporters of rival bands mooed during their performances.

He arranged to meet the Americans outside Westminster Abbey and bring them to Hornchurch. The chairman of Hornchurch Council drove them in his official limousine to Upminster Bridge stadium, where a crowd was waiting. Surprised by the welcome, Brownlee waved like the Queen, while Mutschlecner imitated Churchill’s V-for-victory sign. Of course the band performed superbly. Dr Brownlee solemnly pronounced that the Hornchurch Drum & Trumpet Corps were not guilty of playing music capable of killing cattle.

That story went round the world too. A BBC interviewer got hold of the joke that the Hornchurch lads were more dangerous than the American rocket. That gave Brownlee a bad moment, for the missile was still shrouded in secrecy.

The Pershing was decommissioned in 1991. The Hornchurch Drum & Trumpet Corps still practises every Sunday at the Robert Beard Youth Centre, and they welcome new recruits.


A fund-raising event was needed for the circulating library, a collection of books that had no home but were lent out for Hornchurch people to read. Joseph Fry decided to hold a Spelling Bee, a contest to find the local walking dictionary. Son of Elizabeth Fry, famous Quaker campaigner for prison reform, he actively supported Hornchurch causes. Fry lived at Fairkytes in Billet Lane, now a Havering arts centre. Father of eleven, Fry had a ready-made organising team.

So “all the best families in the parish” turned out in the old Drill Hall in Billet Lane one March evening in 1876. Round by round, lists of increasingly tricky words were dictated to the contestants. Each round was followed by a musical interlude, while the judges checked their answers, identifying the weakest links. The vicar had reported sick, but his wife played the piano while ladies sang jolly ditties like “Cherry ripe” and “Two merry hearts are we”. Two of Fry’s daughters played a Johann Strauss waltz. Thomas Wedlake manufactured farm implements in a local Foundry. Wedlake was Hornchurch’s biggest employer, so it’s not surprising that he was applauded when he sang “Tubal Cain”, an American folksong about an Old Testament blacksmith.

Spelling Bees were one of the few Victorian events where women could compete against men. The 25 contestants included “eight representatives of the gentler sex.” But all eyes were on two visiting challengers, the Ilford and Romford spelling champions.The first two rounds, “words in every-day use,” were enough to knock out half the field. Now, with only the experts left, it became a battle of attrition.

Round five saw a sensational upset. Amazingly, the Ilford favourite went out after spelling “nucleus” with an extra E. It’s a good job nobody was betting on the contest. Mr Fry wouldn’t have liked that. The last female entrant was eliminated in round seven, when she spelt “hawser” with a U. Now there were just three left, facing the toughest list of all. All three managed “whortleberry”, “daffodil” (surely not difficult?), “breechloader” and “camelopard” (an old word for the giraffe).

But Mr Cooper, an office clerk, slumped to third place, with a mere ten shilling (50 p) prize, after stumbling over “acacia”, “heterogeneous”, “liquefy”, “caterwauling” and “mangel-wurzel” (nowadays often spelt as one word). Coming in second, and netting £1 in prize money, was Mr Hampshire, a local schoolteacher. He also had a problem with “mangel-wurzel”, as well as “hippopotamus” and “graminivorous”. (That’s a new one on me, I confess. It means “grass-eating”.) But in first place, with no passes, was the Inland Revenue official from Romford, Mr Foster.

In addition to adding the Hornchurch crown to his Romford title, Foster won the top prize of £2. Let’s hope he paid tax on it.

Maybe the Hornchurch Spelling Bee could be revived as an annual event. It could do wonders for Havering’s image. But I’d suggest increasing the prize money ─ and forgetting about the songs.


South Hornchurch covers a large area ─ over a mile across, bounded by the Ingrebourne and the Beam rivers, and stretching three miles north from the Thames. But why not call it West Rainham or East Dagenham?

Until 1810, when Rainham New Road linked London with Tilbury Fort, connections to nearby places were weak. The tree-trunk bridge in Rainham Road South was probably barely a footbridge. Hence it was called Beam Bridge ─ which became the name of this stretch of the River Rom. South Hornchurch was originally the South End of the vast manor of Havering. A guide book in 1818 called the scattering of cottages south from Wood Lane “the little village of Southend”.

Local agriculture was long dominated by cattle raising. Animals were grazed on the lush lowland meadows in summer but moved to drier, higher ground in winter. For centuries, Dovers (near Dovers Corner) was owned along with Gooshays (Harold Hill) and Bretons with Redden Court (Harold Wood).

Another Essex parish with a South End was Prittlewell, on the Thames estuary. When Southend-on-Sea mushroomed into a holiday town in the 1890s, the Post Office decided it couldn’t handle two Southends, and by 1902 ours became South Hornchurch. But Southend Road recalls the older name.

By the 19th century, South Hornchurch was a thriving community but a bit of a Cinderella. A mission church opened in Southend Road 1864, but it had no resident clergyman. Services were taken by a lay reader, except when the Vicar of Hornchurch visited to give Holy Communion. The tin church was only replaced in 1957. Whybridge primary school dates back to the same period. By 1899, it was teaching 150 children.

North-south links were weak. “South Hornchurch is to many modern Hornchurch folk an unexplored land,” wrote local historian Charles Perfect in 1920, adding with embarrassment, “there are probably few parishioners who know very much about its people.” Hornchurch “proper” had become a smart commuter suburb. Meanwhile, market gardening had taken over in South Hornchurch and Rainham. The area specialised in spring cabbages and autumn fruit. The “Cherry Tree Publick House” was mentioned in 1773. The orchards sound idyllic, and a 1906 guide book called Cherry Tree Lane “a pretty spot”. But there was a hitch.

London before motor vehicles depended on horses ─ a quarter of a million of them by 1900 ─ and horses cannot be toilet trained. Thousands of tons of manure were shipped downriver each year. And it was not just horses. Few of London’s four and a half million people had access to proper sewerage. The stink at Rainham Creek, where the barges were shovelled out, was notorious. The cabbages and the cherries flourished, but the respectable suburbanites further north held their noses and turned their backs.

It’s no surprise that when building began in South Hornchurch in the 1920s, sites were cheap and houses were down-market. Streets like Sunningdale Road and Elmer Gardens lacked tarmac and sewerage even in the mid-1950s. (I remember them!) Patchy development helps explain the survival of two South Hornchurch farmhouses, Albyns and Bretons. South Hornchurch would never be “posh” but it is the proud product of its own heritage and history, not just an add-on to somewhere else!


In 1914, Dr Edward Canny Ryall began to ask: how could his 33 year-old hospital clerk afford to rent a country house in Hornchurch? The distinguished surgeon had founded All Saints Hospital in 1911 to deal with kidney infections. A small unit, in London’s Vauxhall Bridge Road, All Saints was not a money-making project. It depended on donations. Ryall often paid the bills himself.

Frederick Panter was appointed as hospital secretary in July 1913. He had experience of raising money to train midwives in West Ham. His salary was £150 a year, plus a percentage of the cash he raised. Somehow, by January 1914, Panter was quietly pocketing 100 percent.

He and his wife had rented Ford Lodge, an eighteenth-century farmhouse which stood in Ford Lane, opposite Brittons Academy. Ford Close marks the boundaries of its nine-acre mini-park.

In August 1914, the hospital’s account book disappeared. On October 16, Ryall demanded Panter’s resignation. Over £40 in charitable donations was missing. £409 paid by patients in fees had vanished. Panter claimed that a cash donation of £25 for X-ray equipment was locked in the safe. Ordered to pay it into the bank, he later produced a forged paying-in slip.

Meanwhile, Panter converted Ford Lodge into a convalescent hospital for Belgian soldiers. Thousands of Belgians were refugees from the fighting. Hiring a nurse, the Panters took nine of them into Ford Lodge. On 25 October, the Belgians attended Hornchurch’s Anglican church, where the vicar welcomed them in French. Their appearance at St Andrew’s was a major gesture. Belgium was an intensely Catholic country. As Catholics, Belgians were forbidden to attend Protestant services. One of them, an accomplished musician, played a cello solo at a Sunday service. Panter was using the poor Belgians as props.

He claimed to be “astounded” when he was arrested in December for fraud and forgery. Rule Number One if you’re caught with your hand in the till is ─ get a brash lawyer. At Westminster magistrates court, his barrister, Mr Goodman, ridiculed the charges. The Belgian hospital project showed that Panter was a high-minded do-gooder. The only problems came from “the muddle and rush” of running two projects at once. Loftily, Goodman assured the court: “there is a perfect answer to everything.” The case was adjourned for the lawyer to prepare his case.

At Panter’s next court appearance in January 1915, the magistrate would either dismiss the charges or send him for trial at the Old Bailey. But a close look at the books was enough to make lawyer Goodman change his mind. He struck a deal. Panter pleaded guilty to embezzlement. The more serious charges of forgery were dropped. The magistrate was unhappy about this, but accepted that All Saints wished to avoid the expense and bad publicity of a criminal trial. So he sentenced Panter to “the greatest punishment in his power” ─ six months, with hard labour. He escaped lightly. Was Panter a common thief, or perhaps a fantasist who convinced himself his grandiose plans entitled him to pocket other people’s cash?

The Belgians deserve our sympathy. Driven into exile, they were used as dupes to cover a scam.                            


The study of place names is great fun, because it combines abstruse scholarship with wild guess work. The Saxon arrived around 400 AD -- but they created few written records, and most place names were first recorded in Domesday Book, the tax ledger compiled in 1086, 600 years after the early settlers had named the landscape around them. In that time, speech had changed -- the English language had diverged from German. And the bureaucrats who compiled Domesday Book were French-speaking Normans who couldn't always understand the peasants.

It's a fair guess that Thameside Rainham was one of the first places the newcomers occupied.

So -- does the name mean that those early Saxons grumbled about the weather? Was Rainham the "ham" (farm or hamlet) where the sun never shone?

Most Essex place-name theories come from two brilliant men, both active decades ago. Eilert Ekwall was Professor of English at Lund University in Sweden from 1909 to 1942. Dr Percy H. Reaney was a Walthamstow schoolteacher. (Appropriately, his name was pronounced to rhyme with "brainy".) In 1935 he published the massive Place Names of Essex.

Ekwall and Reaney considered the earliest evidence -- two versions of the name in Domesday Book, one "Renaham", the other "Raineham". Although Rainham, Essex was not recorded before 1086, there was an earlier form for the identical Rainham, Kent. It led the two formidable scholars to make a bold guess. The Kentish version suggested an Old English verb, "rogian", meaning "to prevail". Perhaps Rainham was the place of some powerful family -- maybe royalty? The Normans would have heard it as a similar French word, which gives us "reign".

We know little more than the names of the rulers of the old East Saxon kingdom, which included not just Essex but also Middlesex and part of Herts. Presumably East Saxon monarchs like Sexred and Saeward and Sigeberht the Little shuttled between the kingdom's two main towns, London and Colchester. If they travelled by boat, Rainham would have made a sensible stopping-off place.

Unfortunately, as academic guesswork goes, that was about that. But in 1937, two years after Dr Reaney's book, there was a sensational archaeological find in a gravel pit near Gerpins Lane, between Rainham and Upminster. It was a Saxon burial ground that obviously belonged to important people. There were swords, bits of shields, and -- unique to England -- the remains of two elegant glass drinking horns. These luxury items suggest the powerful rulers guessed at by Prof. Ekwall and Dr Reaney. Two coins dated the graves to around 600 A.D. Was this the resting place of Essex’s reigning family?

There may be another clue. Rainham’s ancient parish church is dedicated to St Helen. Helen (or Helena) was a Roman lady, mother of the Emperor Constantine who imposed Christianity on Europe. Legend associates Helena with Colchester, the only other place in Essex to have a church dedicated to her. A Rainham-Colchester link again suggests the East Saxon royal family.

So don't think of Rainham as the damp and drizzly place. Instead, let's celebrate it as the majestic home of the long-lost kings of Essex. Well, perhaps!


There wasn’t much for the day trippers to see on the Essex bank of the Thames on that September evening in 1878, fifty years before the Ford factory was built on the empty marshes. The ebbing tide poured from Rainham Creek, leaving a few barges stranded on the Ingrebourne mud. In the twilight, it was difficult to spot the spire of St Andrew’s church, a celebrated navigation mark, four miles north at Hornchurch. Many passengers headed below decks to join the singsong in the saloon where a band was playing.

Just 252 tons, the Princess Alice had been built of timber on the Clyde in 1865 and called the Bute. Coming south two years later, she was renamed in honour of Queen Victoria’s daughter. Sailors believed it was unlucky to rename a ship. Amazingly, this tiny craft was licensed to transport 500 passengers. Nobody knew how many she carried that fateful day. Small children did not require tickets. Victorians produced hordes of toddlers.

She was on a regular holiday run, from London Bridge to Sheerness, stopping at Gravesend, where the Rosherville Gardens were a proto-Disneyland, popular with Cockneys. Leaving Gravesend on her return trip at 6 o’clock, the Princess Alice probably carried 900 people.

In holiday good humour, day trippers still on deck actually cheered when they spotted a sturdy collier sailing downstream towards them. The Bywell Castle was four times the size of the Princess Alice, and she had an iron hull. The two vessels converged at Tripcock Ness, between today’s Thamesmead estate and London City Airport. The Princess Alice was close to the north bank. Guided by an experienced Thames pilot, the captain of the Bywell Castle decided to pass on his port side. But the powerful ebbing tide swirled around the bend on the Essex side, too fast for the tiny paddle steamer.

Suddenly, the Princess Alice turned towards the slack water directly ahead of the Bywell Castle. The collier sliced into her like matchwood, skewering her timber hull. Too late, the Bywell Castle rammed her engines full astern. The Princess Alice broke into two. Both halves sank within four minutes. There was no time to launch lifeboats ─ there were only two of them anyway. Hundreds of people were drowned below decks. Some passengers jumped on to the Bywell Castle’s anchor chain ─ but the collier dropped anchor and they drowned too. Ropes were lowered to save floundering passengers, but as soon as people grabbed hold, they were dragged down by others desperate to save themselves.

The exact death toll is unknown. Probably 650 perished. Nine bodies were recovered at Rainham. Gruesomely, a tenth corpse became wedged underneath the keel of a barge, needing a spring tide to float it free. A government enquiry blamed the Princess Alice, but a coroner’s jury ─ men who knew the river ─ also criticised the collier. Its pilot should have known that small vessels tried to avoid the tide race. Some of the safety recommendations were repeated after the Marchioness disaster, when 51 people were drowned in a similar accident in 1989.


You could argue that local democracy in England began in 1894, with the introduction of parish councils. All ratepayers ─ even women, if they owned property ─ could vote to choose councillors to run their affairs. No longer would squires and clergymen rule the villages. New people came forward to tackle local issues. Parish councils were supervised by a government department, the Local Government Board, distant ancestor of DEFRA.

Relations between the Board and Rainham’s parish council were poor. In 1899, the Board rejected a proposal to lay a water main to local cottages. The council wanted a one-inch pipe buried 15 inches deep. No, said the Board, it must be a two-inch pipe, three feet deep. Cllr James Fowles, gentleman farmer of South Hall, objected that this would add £100 to the cost. Why not ask the Board “to come and do it themselves?”, he asked, amidst laughter.

Rainham’s churchyard was full, and the parish council urgently wanted to open a new cemetery. The Board asked whether the all of the proposed cemetery was to be used for burials ─ just the sort of stupid question you would expect from bureaucrats.

“We don’t look like getting the Cemetery yet,” commented Cllr Edward Randall, a large-scale market gardener. Randall formed a double act with Cllr George Saxby, a lighterman whose bluff, blunt wit reflected a lifetime working on Thames barges. “I had an idea I was going to live to see it finished,” Saxby wisecracked. “You’ve got a good idea of yourself if you think that,” Randall shot back.

By now, councillors were splitting their sides with mirth. Fowles tried to inject a serious note. “We shall have to start burying in our gardens shortly,” he warned. “Well,” interjected Saxby, “I think I shall bury my old woman in mine.” Randall was ready with his punch line. “Yes,” he agreed, “then you can dig her up now and again, and have a look at the bones.” Good taste was not the hallmark of Rainham debates in those days.

There was further hilarity as councillors discussed possible contractors for the cemetery job. How about Mr White, at Barking?, suggested Randall. No, said Saxby, his name is Brown. Again, Fowles tried to be helpful. “Mr White is the man who used to work for Pink.” This was too much for Randall, who quipped: “It’s rather a coloury affair, then.” As a local newspaper ─ not the Recorder! ─ reported, Rainham councillors had treated the issue as a “grave” matter.

But local democracy delivered the goods. Rainham’s new cemetery, in Upminster Road North, opened in 1902. It’s still there, but nowadays there is no space for new graves. Rainham’s parish council was absorbed into the new Hornchurch Urban District in 1934. It became part of Havering in 1965.


Illegal caravan sites trigger angry debates, as we saw at Basildon’s Dale Farm. The six-year stand-off over Lake Avenue, Rainham, pitted local people against squatters, one side arguing that the caravan site was in the wrong place, the other pleading they had nowhere else to go.And this is a story from the past where we can actually see and hear the people involved. When the Lake Avenue confrontation reached its crisis in 1957, cameras were sent to report on the clash. Pathe News provided a weekly cinema newsreel. You can find the 3-minute clip through an Internet search: “British Pathe Rainham caravans”. This is multi-media Havering history!

World War Two left Britain with a housing shortage. In 1951, Ted Bastow applied for planning permission to start a caravan site on a plot of land he owned in Rainham’s Lake Avenue. Hornchurch Urban District Council, Havering’s forerunner, said “No”, but Bastow went ahead anyway. Soon there were forty caravans in the small field. In 1953, Ted Bastow was fined £20 for breaching planning laws. Next year, the fine rose to £30. But with residents paying £1 a week for each site, and some renting caravans from him too, the fines were nothing.

However, Ted Bastow believed in what he was doing. Hauled into court again in 1954, he refused to pay a £75 fine and went to prison for a month. In 1955, he defied a £100 fine ─ and he served a second term, this time three months. In January 1957, Hornchurch Council went to the High Court, and secured an injunction that would lead to eviction.

Pathe News was sympathetic to the squatters. It featured some yummy mummies and a suspiciously well-scrubbed schoolboy. Like most Rainham roads then, Lake Avenue had no tarmac surface. It was a winter mud bath. It was clear that the 40 caravans were crammed too close together, with some spilling out on to the roadway. With 180 people living there, some vans must have been overcrowded. Pathe News said nothing about facilities on the site. Was there a washhouse? Were there pavements? Who emptied the dustbins?

Many Rainham people had come from the East End, seeking a little patch of Essex. In Cockney accents, neighbours put their dignified case to the camera. They had no quarrel with the caravan people but the site was in the wrong place. One elderly lady sounded straight out of Albert Square, as she grumbled about the “carry-vans”.

The story fades away. Although some caravanners threatened to resist eviction, I am sure Hornchurch Council won. Councils usually win in the end. I hope the caravan people were given proper housing.


The re-opening of Rainham Hall, the only National Trust property in Havering, on October 7th 2015, is a moment to look back over three centuries of atmospheric history.

The Hall was built in 1729 by mariner and entrepreneur John Harle, who had successfully dredged Rainham Creek so that cargo vessels could unload at his new wharf in the village. Built in the Queen Anne style, the red-brick mansion was probably inspired by the grand merchant houses lining the canals of Amsterdam. Dutch influence can be seen in the fine Delft tiles, many showing maritime scenes, that still decorate the mansion.

Harle was succeeded by his son, another John, who joined the new Methodist movement to pep up religious life in Rainham. When sermons were preached in the Anglican parish church, the congregation often fell asleep. In 1767, Harle invited local preacher John Valton to hold a service in Rainham Hall. Harle’s father-in-law, London merchant and Rainham resident William Dearsly, disapproved. A huge bully armed with a horsewhip, Dearsly invaded the service, accompanied by a local clergyman screaming “Villain!” at the head of a mob. Most of the worshippers fled up the elegant staircase, but Valton retreated to the kitchen, where he prayed for Dearsly’s heart to soften. But forcing his way in and finding the AGA-style kitchen stove alight, Dearsly pushed Valton across it and tried to roast him alive. 

Somehow the preacher escaped, evading the mob who planned to cool him off in a pond.

A century later, Rainham Hall became the home of a milder cleric, the Reverend Nicholas Brady. Brady was the son of Sir Antonio Brady, a wealthy civil servant and amateur scientist, who lived at Maryland near Stratford, then a residential district. Backed by family money and wanting to be near his father, Nicholas Brady became Rector of Wennington, a job so poorly paid that few clergymen had ever bothered to live locally. Brady revived Wennington’s community life. A local school honours his name. A scientific enthusiast himself, the Rector built a physics laboratory in the attic of Rainham Hall and experimented with electricity.

When the Reverend Brady reviewed his career, one event that stood out was the January 1881 snowstorm, which buried a train in a Rainham snowdrift, stranding the passengers all night without food or heating. It sounds like Murder on the Orient Express, but nobody died on the slow train to Fenchurch Street.

After Brady’s widow died in 1914, the Hall passed to Colonel Mulliner, an industrialist who collected fine china. He used the Hall to showcase his collection, but both were sold off after Mulliner’s death in 1924. As Rainham became built up, the Hall ceased to be suitable as a country house. In 1949, it passed to the National Trust. The Trust let Rainham Hall to a series of tenants, including some exotic personalities. In 1963, one of them publicly argued that no criminal should be punished, he argued. Rather, all lawbreakers should be treated as persons needing to be cured from illness. I doubt whether many Rainham people agreed.

Happily, today’s splendidly revamped Rainham Hall is a partnership between the National Trust and the local community.


If Havering people have heard of Wennington, it’s usually in the phrase “Rainham and ...”

But, in the far south of the Borough, tiny Wennington clings to its identity. The 1300-acre parish owes its separate existence to one of London’s most famous buildings, Westminster Abbey. Wennington was granted to the Abbey in Saxon times by Aetsere the Swarthy and his wife Aelfgyth. She may have given her name to Aveley. He obviously had a five o’clock shadow.

Westminster Abbey was dedicated to St Peter, as is Wennington’s Anglican church. At the Reformation in the 16th century, some of the Abbey’s assets, including the right to appoint the rector of Wennington, were transferred to St Paul’s Cathedral. The transfer gave new life to an old phrase, “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.

It wasn’t population pressure that made the Abbey build Wennington’s church. Only three families lived here in 1086, and in 1801 the population was just 91. When Rector Henry Bust died in 1625, it would be 250 years before another clergyman bothered to live locally. Part of the church was demolished around 1600. It had probably fallen down, and it wasn’t rebuilt until 1886.

In fact, in this scattered community, there was really no village centre until houses were built at The Green in the 1920s. Wennington was mostly marshland. Lonely Coldharbour, beside the Thames, was an island until around 1690. A narrow creek led to a wharf 400 yards west of the church, where produce was shipped up the Thames to the monks of Westminster Abbey. The creek was blocked off around 1664.

The 1381 Peasants’ Revolt saw some excitement locally. Sir John Gildesborough, a hated royal official, owned land at Wennington. Rebels ransacked his property.

Despite its small population, Wennington ran its own affairs. It continued to elect its parish constable, with an ornate staff of office, until 1874, over thirty years after the establishment of the Essex Police. Wennington even had its own title for the job: the constable was sometimes called the “headborough”. In 1818, a desperate character called Peter Godfrey stole a prayer book from the church. Wennington paid £6 in expenses to prosecute him for sacrilege. Godfrey was transported to Australia for life.

In the 19th century, Wennington became a market gardening area, specialising in peas and – later – rhubarb and asparagus. Tiny Wennington was always on the route to somewhere else. By 1810, there was a main road from London to military installations at Purfleet and Tilbury.

In 1924, Wennington was by-passed to the north by New Road (A1306). By the 1990s, a motorway-style A13 ran to the south. Wennington Crossovers is one of the landmarks of the Channel Tunnel rail link, HS1.

Back in 1906, a guidebook praised Wennington marshes, for “scenery of a true Dutch type, where picturesque brown sails of slow moving craft mark the river’s winding course.” There were 2,000 Thames sailing barges in 1900. The last one retired in 1970, although some still operate for tourists on the Blackwater.

Wennington today may not be very scenic, but there’s a fighting spirit. In the year 2000, the community celebrated the Millennium with a commemorative map. Its feisty website, www.wenningtonvillage.org, insists that Wennington refuses to be Havering’s “poor relation”.


Romford does not mean “ford over the Rom”. The old name of the river, still used in Collier Row, was Bourne Brook. Downstream, a tree trunk footbridge at Rainham Road South probably gave the name “Beam” to its lower reaches. The name “Rom” is what’s called a “back formation”.  The Chelmer at Chelmsford and the Wid at Widford are similar made-up names. Anyway, Romford was “Rumford” to local people for centuries.

In his 1935 book, Place Names of Essex, Dr P.H. Reaney suggested “the wide ford”. (His surname rhymed with “brainy” and he was one of Britain’s first PhDs.) Reaney traced the name to the Anglo-Saxon word “rum” (with an -oo- sound), meaning “spacious” (or, nowadays, “roomy”). Romney Marsh in Kent, with its wide open spaces, is an example.

But does the theory fit the locality? You could hardly call the Rom a wide river! Was the ford wide from side to side? A century ago, the A124 crossed the Rom near Roneo Corner through a water splash, with a footbridge to one side. Until 1895, there was a similar wide ford-and-bridge crossing over the Ingrebourne at Upminster Bridge. But where was the roomy side-to-side river crossing in Romford’s narrow High Street? “Wide ford” simply doesn’t fit the location.

A Swedish expert, Professor Eilert Ekwall, doubted the spacious-ford theory. The early spellings didn’t seem right. He suggested a rare word “hruna”, meaning a fallen tree trunk. In 1200, there was a reference to the “wood of Romford” in the Mawneys area, so fallen-tree-ford sounds possible. But Ekwall also wondered whether the root word was “run” (also with an -oo- sound), meaning “council” or “discussion”. Runnymede, the island in the Thames, is an example of the term. King John famously conceded Magna Carta there 800 years ago because Runnymede was a traditional meeting place between monarch and barons. And there’s an example near us. Runwell, near Wickford, was probably a well where gatherings took place. Ekwall speculated that the “-nf-” sound had become the more easily pronounced “-mf-” of Romford.

Prof. Ekwall studied all of England. Even his mighty brain couldn’t handle local detail. So he probably didn’t know that Romford seems always to have been Havering’s capital. Romford was the midpoint for the royal manor of Havering which stretched from Noak Hill to the Thames. It was also a convenient spot for royal officials riding down from London to squeeze money out of the King’s tenants. So, maybe Romford means “meeting-place ford”? Havering Town Hall stands at the opposite end of the ancient town ─ but perhaps it can claim a thousand-year tradition as the place where people meet to discuss local affairs?

There’s one even more intriguing possibility. Romford may have been ─ we don’t really know ─ the Roman settlement called Durolitum. ‘Duro-‘ (stronghold) is a common element in Roman place names. Rochester in Kent was Durobrivae. There, the first syllable was dropped, and the second (‘Ro-‘) evolved into Rochester. Was Durolitum shortened to ‘Rom’? Did the arriving Saxons associate it with their word for ‘roomy’? I admit it’s unlikely, but who knows? Alas, we’ll never have the answer ─ but the guessing game is fun.


Single-handed, Doctor Samuel Johnson compiled Johnson’s Dictionary, published in 1755 and one of the greatest guides to our language. A gruff bear of a man, brilliantly played by Robbie Coltrane in Blackadder, Johnson was noted for acid sayings.

“He who does not mind his belly, he said in defending his vast appetite, “will hardly mind anything else.” It was Johnson (Samuel, not Boris) who said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” We still echo one of his sharpest put-downs of politicians: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” We laugh at his description of second marriages: “the triumph of hope over experience.”

There were few magazines in 18th-century England. One marketing technique was to publish them anonymously. Readers speculated about the writers, generating useful publicity. So when Doctor Johnson started the Rambler in 1750, his name did not appear ─ although his identity was well-known in fashionable London. One feature was a series of pen portraits of familiar stereotypes. Johnson gave them exaggerated classical names. There was Testrica, the sad old maid, Serviculus, who was hunting for a wealthy bride, and greedy Cupidus. It was all great fun up in Town, but not so in Romford.

Romford in 1750 had a population of maybe one thousand. Shops and houses crowded the High Street and the Market. There was some building in North Street, but the town had hardly spread into Hornchurch Lane, the future South Street. People made their own entertainment. On Saturday nights, Romford’s elite gathered in the Bowling Green Club. They joked about the character sketches in the Rambler. Romford had its own sad spinsters and wide boys on the make. Why, you could almost imagine that the articles had been written about us! Alas, soon, the Bowling Green clubbers persuaded themselves that the Rambler’s satires were indeed aimed at the citizens of Romford. Somebody was carousing in their club and then lampooning them behind their backs! But who was “the traitor of Romford”?

The Rambler’s London printer was contacted. Who was behind the publication? It’s no great secret, came the reply. It’s by Samuel Johnson. This caused consternation. Samuel Johnson was the name of the curate at St Edward’s church in Romford Market. This holy snake was preaching charity on Sundays while secretly mocking his parishioners! The Reverend Johnson had a tough time. Records show that there was indeed a young man called Samuel Johnson who was a trainee cleric at that time. He’d graduated from Oxford in 1748 and got a job in Gloucestershire in 1753. There’s no record of him locally, but curates were two a penny. He might well have done work experience in Romford.

This other Johnson was just 23 in 1750. Being ostracised must have been frightening for a young man. Eventually he too rode up to Town and persuaded the printer to explain that there were two Samuel Johnsons. The story got out, and Romford became a national joke. A decade later, in 1763, the great Doctor Johnson passed through Romford by stagecoach to Harwich. He didn’t stop.


The first Romford Football Club was founded in 1876. In 1881, the team reached the Fifth Round of the FA Cup. They had managed a draw in Round One – and their opponents failed to show up for the replay. Unluckily, in the Fifth Round, Darwen, a fiery Lancashire team, beat them 15-nil!

Early Romford teams were short-lived. By the 1920s, only Romford Town Thursday carried the name. The Recorder played a big part in launching a new Romford club in 1929. Editor Glyn Richards published a letter complaining that the growing suburb lacked a team. A handbill, announcing a fantasy fixture, “Romford vs. Aston Villa”, triggered massive support. Aston Villa were the superteam in those days. Twenty year earlier, Harold Wood Athletic had based their shirts on the Villa strip.

At Romford’s North Street ground, Brooklands, the tiny grandstand carried just one advertising slogan: “The Recorder”. Romford were amateurs, playing in the top-flight Athenian and Isthmian Leagues. Amateur football was almost as big as the professional game until the 1950s.In 1949, Romford played Bromley in the Amateur Cup Final, the first ever staged at Wembley, before an astonishing 94,000 people. A 14-minute youtube video shows the carnival atmosphere as supporters headed for Wembley in fleets of coaches. A major rendezvous was Roneo Corner, in days before the South Street exit to the A118 was replaced by Rom Valley Way. There’s also a glimpse of Eastern Avenue with blissfully little traffic.

Romford played attacking football, but Bromley scored the only goal and won the Cup. A four-minute youtube video shows smudgy snatches of the game. Be warned: Match of the Day it ain’t!

The club’s ambitious directors talked of building a 50,000 seat stadium, and gaining Football League status. In 1959, the Boro turned professional. There was no Conference in those days, so they joined the Southern League, becoming champions in 1967. There was no automatic promotion into the Football League either. Each year the bottom clubs in Division Four (now League Two) had to reapply for membership, but an “Old Pals’ Act” usually kept them. Year after year, mighty Midland League Peterborough were Cup giant killers, but they hammered at the door in vain until 1960.

Brooklands was by now superior to many League grounds, but Romford never managed to make their game match their facilities. In November 1960, the Boro reached the Second Round of the FA Cup, drawn at home against Third Division (League One) Northampton Town. From the terraces, I watched sorrowfully as the Cobblers sliced their way to a 5-1 victory. Northampton striker Laurie Brown strolled through the home defence.  Soon after, he was sold to Arsenal for £35,000 ─ a huge fee in that era.

By 1975, financial troubles forced the sale of Brooklands. The homeless club folded three years later. In 2007, it was the promotion-winning Daggers who brought League football to the Essex suburbs.

A new Romford team arose in 1992, inheriting the blue and gold colours and the Boro nickname. Finding a stadium remains their biggest challenge, with successive ground-sharing arrangements in Hornchurch, Rush Green, Collier Row, Thurrock and Aveley. They hope to build a permanent ground at Westlands, the London Road playing fields. Maybe, after forty years, the Boro will play in Romford again.


Romford’s first elected local body took office in 1851.Called the Local Board of Health, its remit was to clean up the growing town. Driving forces behind its work were the Vicar of St Edward’s, Archdeacon Grant, and High Street solicitor, Mr North Surridge.

Surridge was Romford-born and a local patriot who wanted to tackle the town’s problems. The arrival of the railway in 1839 had underlined Romford’s position as the local growth centre. Off South Street, Eastern and Western Road were laid out by 1854. Houses were being built in Junction Road. Development of Victoria Road started around 1856. More people meant more sewage. Unfortunately, Romford was short of sewers, and had nowhere for them to discharge ─ except the Rom.

The town already had problems. At the top of the Market, the Loam Pond ─ now the site of Ludwigshafen Place ─ badly needed a clean-up. In 1853, the Board of Health tried to divert drainage away from the Pond so that it could provide clean drinking water. Eventually, the Loam Pond was filled in, around 1874. Off the Market Place, narrow alleys were packed with people, living among overflowing drains, rotten vegetables and stinking garbage.

Did the Town cheer on Board members as they spearheaded the clean-up? Well, no. In 1853, four of the twelve Board members were up for re-election. Critics targeted two outgoing members, Surridge, and his ally, Noah Dunnett, landlord of the Golden Lion. Opponents, headed by North Street miller Edward Collier, issued a manifesto promising “to save public money, and not squander it away in new-fangled and extravagant notions.” By “new-fangled and extravagant notions”, they meant clean water and drains. One of Collier’s team was Mr P. Taylor, a London Road gardener. He probably had his own ideas about the disposal of sewage.

Surridge formed a rival ticket, whose manifesto was curt in dismissing the malcontents. Promising they would “fearlessly support the true interest of the inhabitants”, Surridge’s team pledged to “carry out, with the strictest economy, those measures which were absolutely necessary for the health of the town.” A lively election followed which, “to the regret of the more intelligent inhabitants”, resulted in a narrow victory for Collier’s candidates. As one angry observer wrote, Romford people enjoyed the “privilege” of living “with overflowing cesspools at their doors” and “the far off scented river Rom flowing through their town in the shape of an open sewer.”

With Collier as chairman, Romford’s Board of Health continued to serve the people, but not very well. The next year, in 1854, the rate collector was dismissed for embezzlement, and three more officials were sacked for misconduct during the 1870s. A sewage works opened at Oldchurch in 1861 but failed to work efficiently. In 1868, a resident of Havering Well ─ today’s Roneo Corner ─ sued the Board over the stench from the Rom. This forced action. In 1869 the Board of Health bought Bretons, in South Hornchurch, for use as a sewage farm.

Bretons sewage works lasted exactly 100 years. Overloaded by suburban growth, it was closed in 1969. The site, now Bretons Outdoor Centre, still belongs to Havering Council, the Board of Health’s eventual successor.


Mawney Road Swimming Baths opened in 1900 and were demolished in 1975. Thanks to the recollections of Romford friends, I invite you to float back 60 years and visit Havering’s oldest leisure centre, as it was in the 1950s.

As you approached the ornate building, you’d see why Romford scoffers mocked “Craig’s White Elephant”, called after the councillor who campaigned to build the Baths. The extravagant red-brick facade led into a foyer, like a cinema, where you bought your ticket. You were hit by the smell of chlorine, far stronger than in modern pools.Disinfectant was needed because the Baths drew water from a private well. The water was warm. A thin chemical mist often floated over the pool.

Mawney Baths also provided washtubs, for people who lived in lodgings or families without access to hot water. You could hire a towel and soap for your weekly scrub.

For men and boys, there was a steamy communal changing room, with a wooden slatted floor, washed down to prevent the spread of verrucas. Pedal-operated foot showers were another precaution ─ in times past, people did not change their socks every day. Women used cubicles alongside the pool, their privacy thinly guarded by curtains.

The pool was around 25 yards long, and barely six feet at the deep end. Since elegant dives were impossible, boys engaged in “bombing”, jumping from the fixed board with knees tucked under to create a splash.At busy times, youngsters were issued with a number, and were called out of the pool to make way for others. Primary school parties came from all over the area to learn to swim. Older boys liked Mawney Baths because girls from local secondary schools were also bussed in.

Lifeguards, it seems, were not always on duty, although boys with lifesaver qualifications were given free admission. One lad became a hero when a girl was dragged unconscious from the bottom of the pool.Trained in artificial respiration, he quickly cleared her lungs and saved her life.

The pool’s cafe was famous for its mugs of hot Bovril, especially appreciated by male patrons whose day clothes had got damp in the steamy changing room.  It was hardly après-ski, but for many youngsters, it provided useful budget training. Could you make a shilling (5p) pocket money cover your ticket, your Bovril and a huge arrowroot biscuit? A classy touch was the Brylcreem dispenser, which gave you a squirt of hair cream for a penny.

Like Brylcreem, Mawney Baths went out of fashion, especially after Hornchurch Swimming Baths opened at Harrow Lodge in 1956. They were fifty percent longer and definitely more modern than Mawney Road ─ but they cost £160,000, compared with the £6,000 for Craig’s White Elephant.Mawney Road’s successor, Romford’s Dolphin Centre, cost £7.5 million when it opened in 1982. It was an all-facilities leisure centre, but structural problems and costs forced its closure in 1995. In 2004, the Dolphin was demolished.

Mawney Baths ran their course as leisure standards rose. But it seems a pity the fancy facade was not preserved.


Romford Market started in 1247 – but why did it happen then? Whose idea was it?

The Royal Manor of Havering covered the modern Borough west of the Ingrebourne.  Rainham and Upminster were not included. Medieval monarchs treated Havering chiefly as a source of income.The peasants paid rent, and there were fees and fines as well. The king wanted as much cash as he could raise, at the lowest possible cost.A royal official would enforce the king’s rights – but his salary cost money. The alternative was to appoint local men as bailiffs. They collected the income, deducted their expenses and remitted the balance to the Treasury in London. Unfortunately, local bailiffs also turned a blind eye to their neighbours’ scams, and the king lost out.

Henry III decided to crack down. In 1246, two recent bailiffs were imprisoned for fraud. William of Uphavering, from Collier Row, was ordered to pay £48. Richard of the Elms (Nelmes in Emerson Park) owed nearly £27. These were huge sums in those days.

John le Waleys, a royal official, was put in charge of Havering. His name suggests he was Welsh. Henry III’s son, Edward I, only conquered North Wales in 1282, but South Wales was already under English rule. Surnames were just emerging: “le Waleys” became Walsh. I think of Havering’s new boss as “Johnny Walsh”.

Havering’s manor court met every three weeks. It probably gathered in Romford. In 1246, the town was just the crowded High Street. It’s likely that the court was accompanied by an informal farmers’ market. If you were coming to Romford on business, it made sense to bring some chickens and barter them for a side of beef. As Johnny Walsh watched the peasants trading in the narrow street, he had an idea. Why not create a proper market, in its own wide open ground, generating revenue for the king?

It needed somebody with real power to lay out Romford Market, with its long broad space east of the original town. The king could also ignore objections from existing markets at Brentwood and Barking. In 1247, the Sheriff of Essex was ordered to announce that Romford was open for business every Wednesday.

Johnny Walsh invested in local land. In 1249, he bought fields off Rainham Road, around Castle Avenue in South Hornchurch.

His crack-down on Havering’s tenants had mixed results. He tried to enforce payments made by peasants (called “villeins”) on other manors. Havering people fought back, insisting they were free men and women. Basically, the locals lost their legal challenge. Surprise, surprise, the king’s judges ruled in favour of the king.

But, in 1251, Johnny Walsh was sacked, and Havering drifted back to its old ways. Local people refused to pay fees to use Romford Market, so Johnny’s scheme netted the king less money than he’d hoped. James I put a stop to that privilege in 1619.

Johnny Walsh wouldn’t think much of the recent suggestion that the Market should be moved to South Street. “I shifted traders out of a narrow street and created the market place,” he’d tell Havering Council. “Why move it back?”


Romford Market began in 1247. Cattle trading ended in 1958, but Wednesday is still market day ─ and Friday and Saturday too. Romford Market became the meeting point between sellers from Essex and buyers from London. Clues to the market’s economic zone come from deals that went wrong.

In 1394, John Mokke from Orsett in Thurrock sold twelve lambs in Romford market to a Londoner who failed to pay. In 1686, Sarah Abit from Bulphan rode to Romford Market with John Adams of Childerditch, near Brentwood. Adams, who hated his neighbour, poultry breeder Thomas Stanes, threatened to make “Stanes his geese fliue short home” (“Stanes’s geese fly short home”, perhaps with their wings cut off.). When the geese were slaughtered the next day, she reported the conversation.

Farmers brought cartloads of grain for sale. Richard Thurgood from Roxwell, near Chelmsford, hoped to sell his wheat at seven shillings a bushel in 1596. But the consignment was seized by John Harmon, a Romford baker, claiming he had compulsory purchase powers to feed the poor. Fobbed off with five shillings a bushel compensation, Thurgood alleged Harmon then sold his wheat for private profit. The Market was a trading centre. War with France in 1793 interrupted food imports and prices soared. A farmer from Herongate, near Brentwood, established a record price next year selling grain to a windmill on Shepherds Hill, Harold Wood.

Outlying communities needed road access to Romford. Parishes mended their own highways. North Ockendon, a large parish but with few people, was a weak link for the Basildon area. In 1590, there were complaints about a “noyful slough” (annoying pothole) on “the direct way to Romford market from Laindon”.Hacton Lane crossed Ingrebourne on a footbridge, but in the 1660s Upminster pressure upgraded it to a cart bridge ─ because it was a route to Romford Market.

Romford butchers resented competition from London. In 1392, John Aldewyn used the confidential proceedings of Havering’s manor court to accuse London butchers of malpractice. Somebody leaked the story, and Aldewyn went “in despair of his life”. Others welcomed their custom. Because the Market started early, the Londoners arrived on Tuesday night. In 1579, Romford innkeeper John Bright left money so his Tuesday guests, the London butchers, could have a memorial dinner.

Romford Market went through a bad patch after 1885, when the railway (now the District Line) reached Hornchurch and Upminster, whose poorer residents started shopping at Barking. (Rail fares were obviously cheaper in those days!) But the Romford-Grays line, opened in 1893, restored its central position, and from the 1920s Romford became the hub of bus services. Hence local historian Ted Ballard recalled that “all the people from the surrounding villages” thought of Romford as “our old market town”.

On Tuesday 6th December 1698, a Purfleet man journeyed to Romford.  Evidently, he planned to stay overnight for market day. Some joker wrote in the West Thurrock parish register:  “Old Dance has gone to Rumford / And a good dinner be his Comford.” This precious voice from the past gives a pronunciation hint ─ Rumford/Romford rhymed with “comfort” ─ and a reminder that for almost 770 years, the market has made Havering’s capital the focal point for a wide area of south Essex.


It’s hard to think of Romford as a garrison town, but for thirty years there was a barracks not far west of South Street, in the Waterloo Road - Queen Street area. In 1793, Britain declared war on France, whose dictator, the Emperor Napoleon, aimed to conquer Europe. Napoleon was finally defeated at the battle of Waterloo in 1815. In 1795, Romford cavalry barracks was erected to protect London against invasion.  The barracks had a rocky start. In September 1795 a fire lit by careless workmen burned it down.

Regiments came and went. The 10th Dragoons arrived in September 1809 from one of Britain’s worst military disasters. Part of a British army that planned to attack France through Spain, they had been driven back by Napoleon and forced into a Dunkirk-style evacuation at Corunna. In the cavalry, horse and rider functioned as a unit, whose split-second reactions in battle meant the difference between life and death. But the Army had only enough shipping to evacuate the soldiers. The terrible order was given: kill the beloved horses. The beach was a scene of ghastly carnage, of horrified soldiers and terrified animals. The 10th Dragoons had nothing to boast about in Romford’s pubs.

In July 1808, George III’s son, Frederick, Duke of York, came to review the 18th Dragoons. The officers gave him “a sumptuous dinner”. Crawling admirers regarded Frederick as a military genius, but a nursery rhyme mocks his skills as a commander: “The grand old Duke of York / He had ten thousand men / He marched them up to the top of the hill / And he marched them down again.” The review took place on Romford Common (also called Harolds Wood Common), a large open space to the west of modern Straight Road. Enclosed for farmland in 1814, it is now the Heaton Grange area.

We have no account of the review, but it’s safe to guess it included a cavalry charge. So let’s imagine the 18th Dragoons assembling on Lower Bedfords Road, trotting towards Grange Road, cantering across Chaucer Road, and thundering to a gallop at Heaton Avenue before wheeling to left and right along Harrow Crescent. I hope the Duke of York was impressed!

It’s sometimes claimed that the battle of Waterloo was won by England’s natural rulers, “on the playing fields of Eton”.In fact, the cavalry charge that broke the French at Waterloo was rehearsed alongside Romford’s Straight Road.

A faded print of the barracks shows a large parade ground, where soldiers were drilled and sometimes flogged for breaking the rules. The road through the barracks was later renamed in honour of the victory over Napoleon. Waterloo Road sounded more dignified than its original title, Dog Lane. A path still called “The Battis” leads to South Street, emerging opposite Eastern Road. Romford historian Brian Evans brilliantly decodes the name as “the Batteries”, the military firing range.

The barracks closed in 1825, and Romford heard the bugle calls and the hoofbeats no more.


The battle of Waterloo, fought in Belgium 200 years ago, remains controversial. The French government objected when the Belgians planned to issue a two-euro coin marking the anniversary of the defeat of France’s Emperor Napoleon. France said the coin might damage the solidarity of the Eurozone. We wouldn’t want that, would we?

In fact, crushing Napoleon not only brought peace to Europe but also did the French a favour by toppling a tyrant. As the 1789 French revolution descended into chaos, General Napoleon Bonaparte imposed order, took supreme power and, in 1804, crowned himself Emperor. From Portugal to Moscow, he ravaged Europe, killing perhaps six million people.

In 1814, Russia, Austria and Prussia (the largest country in disunited Germany) rolled the French back from the east. British forces, led by Wellington, pushed them out of Portugal and Spain. Napoleon surrendered, and was exiled on the Italian island of Elba. “Able was I ere I saw Elba,” ran the palindrome. It reads the same from front and back.But Napoleon soon escaped. In March 1815 Paris welcomed him back.

So began the Hundred Days, which ended with Napoleon’s defeat just outside Brussels. In 1812, the USA had declared war on Britain. Peace had been signed, but many of Wellington’s best troops were still defending Canada. Short of experienced soldiers, Wellington he had to hold his “thin red line” at Waterloo until a pincer movement by his allies, the Prussian army of Marshal Blucher, effectively won the battle. The Prussian general was a popular hero in Britain. A pub in Romford Market was called the Blucher’s Head. When the First World War broke out, its German name became an embarrassment. In 1915, it was renamed the Duke of Wellington. It closed in 1967.

One high profile casualty of Waterloo was a dashing young aristocrat, Major Frederick Howard, who lived at High House in Corbets Tey Road, Upminster. Howard was a friend of the poet Byron, who wrote lines in his memory. An Internet search for “young, gallant Howard” will find them. High House was demolished in the 1930s and replaced by shops called Byron Parade.

Wellington liked his soldiers to be tall. A Waterloo veteran called Mason made his living in 19th-century Hornchurch selling water by the bucketful door to door. Mason, who was 6 feet 4 inches tall, lived in a tiny cottage near St Andrew’s church. His bedroom was so small that he slept with his feet dangling out of the window.

From 1795 to 1825, there was an army base at Romford, off a road known first as Dog Lane and later as Barrack Lane. In 1839 Barrack Lane became the site of Romford’s first railway station. Soon after, it was renamed Waterloo Road. It was the first street in Havering to be given an official designation. Previously names had evolved informally, like Colchester Road or Rainham Road, according to where they went.

I don’t wish to upset our French friends, but I’m glad the anniversary of Waterloo has been commemorated in Britain. After all, it’s not often that we win a battle anywhere around Brussels.


There is nothing new in financial scandals.  In 1828, a Romford banker fled the country, leaving a trail of misery behind him. Rowland Stephenson entered the family bank, Remingtons, when he left school – Eton of course – and lived a lavish lifestyle. Around 1816, he bought Marshalls, a small country house off North Street Romford. He spent huge sums furnishing the house ─ £20,000 on art work alone. Although there was no railway to London, Stephenson managed to commute – and was often seen on horseback riding through Romford at 8 a.m.

Marshalls became famous for its glittering weekend parties, which were long remembered in Romford. But Stephenson always rounded up his guests and made them attend St Edwards’s church in the Market place on Sundays. It was important to keep up appearances! He was also disliked for blocking a public footpath across his 130-acre estate, making clear he would use his bottomless purse to fight any legal challenge.

The local gentry treated this brash incomer with some reserve, but one regular guest at his parties was the Reverend Charles Belli, the super-rich Vicar of South Weald. Reverend Belli’s brother-in-law, the Bishop of London, gave him several fat Church appointments, for which Belli was paid well but did no work. One Sunday, Stephenson invited Theodore Hook, the leading satirist of the day. Hook had a knack for comic verse, but on meeting Belli he rhymed a warning – “we may chance to be undone” because the Vicar “may report to the Bishop of London”. Belli thought this awful rhyme was so funny that he told the story to everybody he met – for the next sixty years.

To impress the locals, Stephenson bought many houses around Romford. He owned property in Dagenham and South Weald, plus a small country house called Hare Lodge at Ardleigh Green. Now completely vanished, it stood in Ashlyn Grove. This impressive property portfolio persuaded some locals to entrust their cash to Stephenson. One Upminster landowner invested £8,000. A retired local miller deposited £4,000 with Remingtons. Hearing rumours of trouble, he withdrew £1,100 just before the crash.

The problem – there’s nothing new in the world – was a rogue trader, a Remingtons employee who lent too much cash without security. Remingtons Bank closed its doors in December 1828 and Stephenson fled the country. He hid on a fishing boat out of Bristol which transferred him to ship sailing to America. There, of course, he lived in comfortable exile (as “Mr Smith”) until his death in 1856. Family members made sure he had plenty of cash – and it was rumoured that he had taken £200,000 with him.

Romford shopkeepers had been happy to extend credit to such a wealthy customer, even though Stephenson was slow in settling his bills.The “fugitive banker”, as he was nicknamed, left many local businesses with big debts. Stephenson was declared bankrupt, expelled from parliament (where he had never made a speech) and his properties sold. A century later, the site of Marshalls became Romford Technical School, later Marshalls Park Upper School. This was replaced by housing in 2000.

Havering survived Rowland Stephenson, and it will survive the incompetent bankers of today!


Victorian Romford briefly had its own racecourse. In 1839, the Eastern Counties Railway Company purchased Hare Hall, now Gidea Park’s Royal Liberty School. The railway reached Romford from London in June 1839, and pressed on to Brentwood in July 1840. Although the company required only a narrow strip of Hare Hall’s estate for the line, its chief engineer (and boss) John Braithwaite needed somewhere to live, a base for supervising construction.

The mansion had parkland that stretched from Upper Brentwood Road to the A118 Main Road. How could it be used? Braithwaite and Romford innkeeper Henry Orbell organised a race meeting in September 1840. Marked out with white poles, the mile-and-a-half long racecourse featured “a strange variety of sharp turns”. Probably it followed roughly the line of today’s Castellan Avenue, bending back at Beaumont Close.

There was an unofficial holiday in Romford. Extra services brought trainloads from London, generating revenue and publicity for the new route. There was no Gidea Park Station then, so crowds surged along the road from Romford Market, past “the elegant lake overhanging with trees” ─ modern Raphael Park. At the “romantic village of Hare-Street” (now swamped by suburbs: only its inns, The Ship and The Unicorn, survive), the elite were ushered through the main gate near Crossways, while the masses were channelled along Balgores Lane to a side entrance.

They encountered a strange grandstand, “rustic” in style and “combining lightness with simplicity”. Braithwaite had probably used railway company carpenters, experts at erecting instant station sheds. The technique for building platforms was adapted to build a basic grandstand. It was claimed that 10,000 people attended Romford’s first race meeting. We catch the Victorian pronunciation of ‘girl’ in the report of a “gal-axy of beauty”.

Although Braithwaite presented a silver cup, and local businesses contributed prize money, not many horses raced in 1840. Con-men tricked locals with the illegal gambling game of thimble-rigging. Spivs used rapid sleight of hand as they moved three upside-down cups, inviting onlookers to bet which one covered a dried pea. Dozens were fleeced. Next year, the newly formed Essex Police arrested the undesirables.

Good weather and “the giant power of steam” brought huge crowds to the 1841 meeting. Caterers supplied food and champagne. Fairground booths lined the park, and partying continued late under oil lamps. In 1842, it was a two-day meeting with fields of up to thirteen runners. Extra temporary stands were built for spectators.

Romford Races were a success, bringing huge business to the town. But the project died. In March 1843, the Eastern Counties Railway opened its line to Colchester. Deep cuttings around Brentwood were a major engineering headache, but once that problem was solved, Braithwaite no longer needed to live nearby. A second railway, to Cambridge, was under construction. Stratford was the obvious headquarters for both.

By 1848, Hare Hall was unoccupied. In 1850 the railway tried to sell it, but it took two years to find a buyer. Nowadays, the quiet houses of Pemberton Avenue and Hall Road stand where once the pounding hooves of racehorses mixed with the cheers of festive punters.


Collier Row’s history was dominated by a huge Common, three times the area of Havering’s largest modern-day open space, Tylers Common. Turned into farmland in 1814, Collier Row Common was called “Low Wood” in the 16th century. This may be the clue to one of Havering’s oddest street names: Lowshoe Lane. It’s unique in England – although in 1881 it was called Overshot Lane.

Collier Row was the home of Havering’s charcoal burners. Producing charcoal was a skilled craft. Wood was cut into three-foot lengths and dried for 12 months. Then it was stacked into a six-foot high bonfire, which was covered with bracken and ash to limit the flow of air. The pile burned for up to 48 hours. No sleep for the collier – if the outer covering fell in, the fire blazed and his charcoal went up in smoke. So charcoal burners lived in rough shelters next to their fireplaces – hence “Collier Row”. The original Collier Row was to the west of today’s suburb, towards Whalebone Lane. The Common provided the firewood and the bracken.

The trade died out about 1460, when London began to buy “sea coal” from Newcastle.

But Collier Row was also running out of wood. In 1440, Nicholas Cullyng, a Romford baker, sued collier John Caps for failing to deliver a load of charcoal he’d paid for in 1435! Charcoal was great for baking bread because it gave a steady heat – but five years was long enough to wait. After all, Cullyng had paid ten shillings and fourpence – 52 pence!

The Essex Record Office stores Wills of Collier Row people from Tudor times. It was quite a community. We hear of a baker, brickmaker, bricklayer, thatcher, “cordwainer” (shoemaker), tailor and even an “oatmealman”. Anthony Hearde was a “yeoman”. He died in 1603, owning property at “Cheese Cross” – the usual spelling for Chase Cross until the 19th century. Thomas Catterall was a tanner, tanning skins of cattle grazed on the Common. In 1656 a sale went wrong and he assaulted William Parsons at Barking. “Thou art a cheating rogue,” Catterall told Parsons. “Thou dost ride up and down the country on purpose to cheat men of their goods.” Strong words!

The 1665 Great Plague of London spread to Romford, where 90 people died that year. Victims had to be isolated, and Romford established a Pest House to lock them in. The Pest House was in Collier Row Lane, about half way between the two places. It was still used in 1694, when a little boy was born “at pest-house in Collirow.”

From 1818 to 1824, there was a scheme for a canal from the Thames to Romford brewery. To maintain water levels, there was to be a reservoir at the top of Collier Row’s White Hart Lane.

Collier Row produced some feisty females. Margery Humberstone was a widow in her 50s when she met widower John Nevell of Havering-atte-Bower in 1611. Couples wishing to marry gave three weeks’ notice at the nearest church, but these middle-aged lovers would not wait. They paid a large fee for permission to get married at once. But Collier Row woman Elizabeth How did not take marriage so seriously. Her death in 1716 drew a disapproving note in Romford’s burial register: “nec virgo, nec ffemina, nec vidua.”  The Latin means “neither a virgin, nor a wife, nor a widow.”  Collier Row people are much more respectable nowadays.


Wednesday morning in Romford Market. It’s a familiar scene to Havering people – packed with stalls and crowded with people. But this is 400 years ago. James I is king, and you can tell people’s social status from the way they dress. As Edmund Bert loiters in the market, it’s clear he is a gentleman. Mr Bert does not need a job, but he does enjoy training birds of prey and selling them for the sport of hawking. He has a falcon strapped to his wrist. She’s nervous, but he encourages people to talk to her, even stroke her head – but mind that sharp beak!

In 1619, Edmund Bert published the tricks of the hawk-training trade. He called it An Approved Treatise of Hawkes and Hawking, and it was written “from my house at Collier-Row, neere Rumforde.” (Spelling was fluid in those days.) What can you do with “a Hawke that will neither abide Horse-men, Strangers, Carts, Foote-men or Women, or such like”? Bert explained that he lived near a market town – it must have been Romford – and “vpon a Market-day I would find some conuenient place, where Women with their Baskets, Horses with loads upon them, Carts … and passingers-by should come by her, there I should be sure to spend the whole day in playing with her”. The training took a long time, but it worked. “I would not doubt but to make such a Hawke with my diligence and paine … to sit upon a pelt in the Market-place, not fearing nor caring for any thing”. A pelt was an animal skin. Romford and Hornchurch were famous for their tanners.

Training falcons at Collier Row sounds odd to us, but 400 years ago it made perfect sense. The area was dominated by an open space, called Collier Row Common when it was enclosed in 1814. An irregularly shaped block of land, it stretched roughly from Faircross Avenue and Highfield Avenue westward beyond Lodge Lane, where it merged into Hainault Forest. It was about three times the area of Havering’s last surviving medieval open space, today’s Tylers (or Upminster) Common. Called West Wood in the Middle Ages, it was the home of charcoal burners: hence the name “Collier Row”. The charcoal burners disappeared about 1500. Probably they had cut down the trees, because in the 16th century the common was known as “Low Wood” ─ suggesting scrub and bushes. But it was still wild country: local men were prosecuted for illegal deer hunting in Low Wood in 1593 and 1608. Falcons were trained to catch game birds on the wing. The wilderness of Low Wood would have teemed with partridge and pheasants, the ideal place to teach a young bird the art of hawking.

Little is known of Edmund Bert. He was not a young man, for he had trained birds for at least twenty years. His book was published in London’s St Dunstan’s churchyard – an early example of the link between Fleet Street and printing. He knew London well. Did Mr Bert perhaps use a visit to his printer as an excuse to watch the beheading of Sir Walter Raleigh on Tower Hill in 1618? England’s greatest playwright had died in 1616. Maybe Edmund Bert saw Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe Theatre?  We’ll never know.

Edmund Bert gave us a wonderful glimpse of a man soothing a nervous falcon in Romford market. We can imagine wide-eyed children watching with fascination. Would you like to touch her, little boy? Stroke her gently – but mind that sharp beak!


In the late 19th century, Collier Row had a "scattered population of 750". The straggling village was unimpressive. "There is nothing picturesque about the houses in Collier Row," remarked a 1911 guidebook. In the 1890s, it was quiet and rural. Hay waggons lumbered along Collier Row Lane.

The local bobby, Constable Durrant, kept order. "Smart capture by P.C. Durrant," a newspaper reported his biggest case. In 1898, somebody stole one shilling (5p) from charity box at the Church of the Ascension, "a decided ornament to the district", which had opened in 1886. Roused at 5.30 on a Monday morning, Durrant pursued the main suspect, William Jones, a 31 year-old homeless labourer. Apprehended in Romford, Jones incriminated himself by protesting he had not robbed the church -- a crime Durrant had carefully not mentioned.

But the "disgraceful proceedings" at James Knight's beerhouse in December 1892 required undercover police work. Collier Row had three respectable pubs -- plus the Rose and Crown.

It belonged to a small brewery at Abridge, and landlord-tenant relations were bad. Knight complained there had been no water supply for three years -- how did he wash the glasses? -- so he'd stopped paying rent and ignored eviction notices.

The arrival of Annie Foster, a pale-faced London teenager, gave the law its opportunity to pounce. Knight insisted that Annie was eighteen (she looked younger). She was not living at his pub, he insisted, and he had no idea how she made her living. Two plain-clothes policemen from Chelmsford had no doubt about her profession. Annie was wearing tweed trousers and a soldier's tunic.  In those days, only bad girls wore men's clothes. "It was Christmas time," said Knight, as if that explained cross-dressing.

The police watched as she danced with male customers. Twice in half an hour, she escorted men to the haystack behind the pub. Mrs Knight objected to Annie's presence. In fact, she protested by smashing the windows of her husband's pub. The policemen identified themselves and accused him of "harbouring a prostitute". James Knight was angry at the insult to Collier Row. "Go to Romford," he advised the cops, "and you'll find the same thing in plenty of the [public] houses there." Asked in court what he meant, he explained, "Romford stinks of that sort of girls, but no notice is took of them."

The defence lawyer argued that no offence had been committed. Knight was obviously not living off immoral earnings, although perhaps Annie ensured that he had thirsty customers.  Was she really a prostitute? The Essex policemen admitted the Met had never heard of her. She was observed cooking bacon in the pub. Was she a domestic goddess who just got on well with men?  Nobody saw her take money for sex.

All the same, James Knight was found guilty of permitting his pub to be used as "the habitual resort of a reputed prostitute", and was heavily fined. Right on cue, a representative of the brewery jumped up to say that he would be evicted "immediately". And so Collier Row's Rose and Crown closed. Annie lost her job – and, I suppose, her haystack.


This column is about a photograph appeared in T.L. Wilson's History and Topography of Upminster, published in 1881. Individual prints were pasted into each copy of the book. It was reprinted by the Romford Recorder on page 32 of:


The camera faces east, peering down St Mary's Lane towards Cranham. Corbets Tey Road heads off to the right. The three-storey building is Upminster's leading pub, the Bell. Its story goes back another century. In 1757, a wealthy London merchant, Sir James Esdaile, inherited property locally through his wife. In 1771, he built a country house, Gaynes. The mansion is long vanished, but part of its grounds survived as a park at Corbets Tey. Esdaile aimed to transform Upminster. Around 1765, he enclosed the village green and erected the Bell.

Esdaile's determination to create an elegant Upminster can be seen in the small building nestling just inside St Mary's Lane, with its three handsome round-arched windows. In fact, this was a humble blacksmith's workshop. Two locals stand outside watching the cameraman. A third can be glimpsed in the gloomy interior. Opposite, to the left, a house called The Cosy Corner stands behind the picket fence. Built in 1831, also on open ground, it doubled as a shop.

In 1881, the landlord of the Bell was Harry Day. He'd settled in Upminster twenty years earlier, after working – so it was said – as a goldminer in Australia. Harry and his wife Priscilla had six daughters, five of them living in the spacious pub at the time of the 1881 census. Against all regulations, the male chauvinist census enumerator noted that four of them were "pretty girls" – but he didn't think much of the youngest, fourteen year-old Eva. Twenty years later, with Priscilla now running the Bell as a widow, two of her daughters were still at home, perhaps preferring bar work to the drudgery of marriage.

The Bell was one of Havering's leading hostelries. The Essex Hunt often met there. There's an interesting detail in the photograph. Rainwater off the roof obviously flooded the cellar, explaining the glass canopy protecting the basement window.

Upminster in those days was split on religious lines. Half the population belonged to the Congregational church (now Trinity United Reform). Relations with their Anglican neighbours were not always friendly. In 1851, the two churches had built rival schools – actually facing one another across Hall Lane. This wasteful duplication ended in 1885, when the two merged under a neutral school board, one building catering for infants and the other for juniors. In 1927-8, Upminster primary school relocated to St Mary's Lane. Usually, Anglicans doggedly resisted any takeover of their schools. However, the Rector, the Reverend Holden, had allegedly married his mistress in 1873, and Upminster didn't take him very seriously. A gate controlled entry to the road on the left of the picture, then called the Hall Lane. After the railway arrived in 1885, the southern end became Station Road (minus the gate), and the rest just Hall Lane.

The smithy disappeared around 1908. The Cosy Corner was swept away by road-widening in 1957. Lloyds TSB stands near the site. The demolition of the Bell in 1962 was a sad loss to Upminster. It was replaced by a row of single-storey shops. A local jeweller preserves the name, Bell Corner.


For almost 200 years after 1700, the people of Upminster were split into two camps. There were those who talked about “Corbets Tey” and those who preferred “Corbets Tye”. “Tye” place names were common across Essex. They generally referred to an outlying hamlet, away from the main village, and clustered around a small green. But the word could turn up as “Tey”, as in Marks Tey, near Colchester.

Corbets Tey was Upminster’s satellite hamlet. 177 people lived there in 1841. There were two inns (one, the Huntsman and Hounds, was rebuilt in 1896 and operates today), plus a beerhouse – 177 thirsty people! The hamlet also boasted a butcher, a shoemaker, several farmers and a man called Harry Farquharson who was described as a “butler”. It sounds idyllic – but when terrible disease, cholera, struck in 1854, the community’s small size made it a death trap.

But what was the place called? In the end, of course, we know that Corbets Tey won out over Corbets Tye. The Teyites had a powerful myth on their side. In 1588, as the Spanish Armada threatened to invade, an English army was assembled at Tilbury. Queen Elizabeth I visited her troops and inspired them with a fighting speech. On her way to Tilbury, it was said, she rode through the little settlement near Upminster that had no name. At that moment, a raven landed on the Queen’s hand. The dialect name for a raven was a “corbet”. As the bird was about to take off again, Elizabeth imperiously commanded, “Corbet, stay!” An alternative version makes Corbet the name of one of her servants, who started to wander off at this point. “Corbet, stay!” Her Majesty shouted. On learning that the hamlet had no name, the Queen decreed that it should be called after the incident: Corbets Tey.

Charming, but nonsense. Elizabeth I probably travelled to Tilbury on the Thames. It’s very unlikely that a place where so many people lived had no name. In any case, the first “Tey” name only appears in 1729. That very year, 1588, it was recorded as “Corbettes Tye”. In fact, it is first mentioned as “Corbinstye” in 1461. The name probably comes from a local medieval family called Corvin, or Corbyn. In the 16th century, another family, called Corbet, were prominent in Upminster, so the older name was tweaked under their influence.

The “Tey” names are 18th century. John Mallard, described as a “gardener”, seems to have been the first person to mention “Corbets Tey” when he drew up his Will in 1729. 100 years ago, an Upminster poet tried to set the record straight. “A stranger tramping out this way / May find a place called Corbets Tey / But ‘tis a fact none can deny / Its proper name is Corbet’s Tye.” History, poetry and common sense all backed Corbets Tye. But Corbets Tey won in the end!


The Eastern Counties Railway was opened to Romford on 20 June 1839. It reached Brentwood a year later. Romford’s original station was in Waterloo Road, then called Barrack Lane. The extension to Brentwood was a massive construction project right across the modern Borough. Yet we know little about it.

The railway wanted to grab what it called the “immense” road traffic between Brentwood and London. Brentwood was a major junction for stagecoach services, from Colchester (now the A12) and Southend (now A129). The railway company aimed to “sweep off all the coaches”.

As a construction base, they bought Gidea Park’s Hare Hall (now Royal Liberty School). Cuttings were dug and embankments built mainly by human muscle. Soil was moved by horse and cart. Gravel was dug from Warley Common.

Some “navvies” were skilled workers, moving between projects. Other labourers were recruited locally. Havering’s first strike broke out in September 1839. Trades unions were technically legal, but most attempts to organise workers were treated as intimidation. The company paid twelve shillings (60p) a week. Two navvies, John Bigsby and Thomas Hammond, insisted the men should demand fifteen shillings (75p). “If anybody works for under 15 shillings a week,” Hammond threatened, “I will knock his bloody head off.” When a South Weald lad, William Peters, one of thirty unskilled teenagers, refused to stop work, Bigsby punched him in the eye. Bigsby and Hammond were convicted of conspiracy and assault. Both received short prison sentences.

One major construction challenge was the mile-long embankment east of Harold Wood. Running alongside the Ingrebourne, it was vulnerable to collapse. A labourer, Henry Lock, died in a landslide near Harold Court Road. The accident happened just inside the parish of Upminster, so he was buried in the churchyard there.

Ten expensive bridges were needed, six of them in Havering. At Harold Court Road, just a farm track, the company would only provide a narrow underpass ─ still a bottleneck today. An aggressive Brentwood resident, W.H. Kavanagh, demanded access from his house at Warley to the main road. The company built a low bridge. To create headroom, they hollowed out the lane ─ causing floods. Kavanagh sued for something better, but lost. The dip in Kavanaghs Road is still there. The bridge over Romford’s South Street was very low. It became a hazard when double-decker buses were invented.

Nine of the bridges were rebuilt when the railway was widened in 1934. One, on a lane linking Ardleigh Green and Gallows Corner, was demolished. The new Southend Arterial Road ran alongside, and two crossings were not needed. The cut-off roads became Bryant Avenue and Ardleigh Close.

By November 1839, the railway company talked of opening the incomplete line to a temporary terminus at Brook Street. The whole extension was opened on 1 July 1840. Safety was a low priority. Towards Brentwood, there was only a single track, poorly constructed. In September 1840, an engine was driven too fast down the Brentwood Bank and derailed near Nags Head Lane. Two stagecoaches had been coupled on to the carriages. The company had won, but four people died.

Crossrail is a new chapter in an old story. Why not mark the new project by naming the bridge at Harold Court in memory of Henry Lock?


We remember Winston Churchill as the grand old War leader of 1940. But he began in his long career as a bold young politician, asking questions others did not want to answer.

In 1913, Churchill was Britain’s Navy minister. As he had also served as an Army officer, he fancied himself as a strategist. If war broke out, Britain had pledged to send our small Army to France. The French were outnumbered by the Germans, and they needed British troops to hold their left flank. But, asked Churchill, suppose the Germans struck without warning?

His paper, “Time Table of a Nightmare”, sketched a scary scenario. On April 1st 1913 (and this was no April Fool joke), Germany suddenly attacked France. Plans to despatch the British Army cross-Channel swung into action. But that afternoon, German cruisers captured Harwich. Most of the Royal Navy was training off southern Ireland, leaving the Essex coast open to a small German force. Zeppelin raids on Chatham stopped the nearest British warships from sailing to Harwich. With millions in their armies, the Germans could easily spare the 50,000 men they landed at Harwich.

In Churchill’s scenario, our Navy chased the German ships from Harwich late on April 3rd, but with heavy losses. On the 4th, the German soldiers began to move inland. Next day, they seized Colchester. Most of our trained soldiers were on their way to France. Only 6,000 regulars backed by 65,000 Territorials were available to failed to defend Chelmsford on April 6th. The Germans routed them. There were riots in London on the 7th, as people attacked trains to stop troops leaving for France. On April 8th, the German front line ran from Ongar to Billericay.

Next day the government resigned, and the new prime minister promised to “save London”.

But the French refused to send back the troops already in France. All remaining British forces were concentrated on defending the capital. On the 9th, the German advance guard entered Romford, springboard for a thrust to capture Woolwich Arsenal. (Churchill seems to have forgotten the Thames!) But late on April 10th, the German advance was halted on a front line from Dagenham to Tottenham. Outflanking the invaders, British troops counterattacked in the rear from Romford. Street fighting was vicious. Meanwhile German warships rampaged in the North Sea, while the British Army in France was too weak to stop the Germans breaking through and attacking Paris. On April 19th, the German commander at Romford offered to surrender if promised free passage out of England. He threatened to shoot 10,000 prisoners if his terms were refused. They were accepted.

Britain’s most senior admiral sniffily dismissed Churchill’s fantasy as “sensational” and “alarmist”. But if the Kaiser had decided to gamble 50,000 men from his vast armies, the First World War might have begun with the Battle of Romford.  And modern-day Havering would certainly look very different.


[written for the centenary of the outbreak of War on 4 August 1914]

One hundred years ago this weekend, Britain moved towards war with Germany. Two months earlier, Hornchurch historian C.T. Perfect had listened to local brewery boss Edward Ind telling volunteer troops that one day they might have to defend “their homes, and all that they held most dear.” Very patriotic, Perfect agreed, but such a crisis would probably never happen.

But on August 4, 1914, Britain declared war. Hornchurch’s Territorials, civilian reserve soldiers, were already at their annual training camp. Immediately, they were mobilised to patrol Britain’s east coast.

Women led the way. On the first Saturday of the War, 33 “ladies” met at Dury Falls, now a care home near Havering Sixth Form College in Wingletye Lane. It was the home of Emma and Thomas Gardner. He headed a coal distribution business, she was a natural community leader. Working parties met there three afternoons a week, to knit socks and make first aid kits for soldiers. By 1918, 133 women were involved, and they had used 6,413 yards of bandage cloth.

Younger men enlisted. Older men served as special constables or in the Volunteers, forerunners of the Second World War Home Guard, the famous “Dad’s Army”. Patriotism did not seize everybody. As wheat prices soared, profiteering farmers held back supplies in Romford Market.

On Sunday afternoon, August 9, Hornchurch had its first sight of a military convoy, as heavy horse-drawn waggons rolled through the village. Soon after, an artillery unit was billeted in a school in North Street, Hornchurch. Its aristocratic commander, Lord Stradbroke, took over the White Hart pub as his headquarters.

In November, wounded Belgian soldiers arrived at a convalescent hospital in Ford Lane, South Hornchurch. The hospital was run by a fraudster and soon collapsed.

That same month, a now-vanished Hornchurch mansion, Grey Towers, became an army base. Grey Towers Avenue marks the site. In March 1915, the Army occupied Hare Hall at Gidea Park. It never reverted to private ownership, becoming the Royal Liberty School in 1921. Other now-vanished Romford mansions, Gidea Hall near Raphael Park and Marshalls off North Street, were also used. There was a fighter aerodrome at Suttons Farm, south of Hornchurch station, backed by a searchlight unit at Upminster Common.

The outbreak of War was remembered each August 4th. In 1916, a patriotic open-air meeting in a field off Billet Lane, Hornchurch, pledged “inflexible determination to continue to a victorious end”. Strangely, there was an echo in the tree-lined meadow. The rousing speeches reverberated in the cool evening air. Churches held anniversary services, Baptist and Congregational Church ministers joining the Anglicans at St Andrew’s Hornchurch. At the August 1918 service, the grim reading of the names of local war dead contrasted with the blue soldiers’ uniforms and red capes of nurses from Grey Towers, now a hospital for New Zealand troops.

Local war memorials list around 680 men killed in the First World War. There were 359 from Romford (which included Collier Row and Gidea Park), 20 from Havering village and Noak Hill, 170 from Hornchurch (including 26 from Harold Wood and 24 from South Hornchurch), 66 from Upminster, 7 from rural Cranham and 57 from Rainham. Rainham numbers may have been under-counted. Those casualties equalled one in twelve of Havering’s adult male population, a horrifying thought.


In 1914, August Bank Holiday was the first Monday of the month, not the last. Even though it was a public holiday, on Monday 3 August 1914, the House of Commons met in emergency session. Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey warned MPs that if Germany invaded Belgium, Britain would go to war. Next day, August 4, the conflict began.

Gidea Park marked Bank Holiday Monday with a fete and horse show in the grounds of Hare all, now the Royal Liberty School. The event raised over £350 for the Victoria Cottage Hospital in Pettits Lane. It was organised by local worthy Percy Haydon-Bacon. A successful artist who worked in stained glass, he lived at Priests, a fine old house that stood between Collier Row and Rise Park. The horse show featured prizes for the best draught horses, with Ind Coope’s brewery winning several categories. There was a flower and vegetable show: many of the exhibits were donated to the hospital.  An athletics programme included sprint and cycle races, even a donkey derby. Imagine them under the tall trees ─ ladies in long dresses and summer hats, men in blazers. As the afternoon sun cast shadows across Hare Hall’s parkland, Edwardian England quietly expired.

War came to Gidea Park within days. The Territorial Army, Britain’s force of part-time soldiers, was mobilised immediately. By Saturday 8 August, a Cambridgeshire unit was billeted in Salisbury Road (now Squirrels Heath) primary school. Their commanding officer lectured them severely. They must take special care using live ammunition. Men going off duty must unload their rifles.

The platoon was tired. Late on Saturday night, one detachment was ordered to stretch out in a school corridor and grab some sleep. Corporal Arthur Rawson, a “steady fellow” aged 26, helped his friend, Private Alfred Davis , unload his rifle, removing four bullets from the magazine. But Rawson missed a fifth bullet, in the rifle’s breach. Davis dozed off with his rifle at his side. When he turned in his sleep on the hard floor, the stiff lapel of his greatcoat pressed the trigger. The forgotten bullet smashed Corporal Rawson’s thigh. Blood spurted from a severed artery. Rawson was rushed to Victoria Hospital, where doctors decided that he would bleed to death unless they amputated his leg ─ a desperate operation for a Cottage Hospital. The wound haemorrhaged and Arthur Rawson died of shock. An inquest exonerated Private Davis of blame. Rawson’s father, an old soldier himself, was proud to think that his son had died serving King and Country.

The Territorials handled the tragedy with grim dignity. They knew they would soon face worse horrors in France. On Tuesday 11 August, a firing party, their rifles reversed in tribute, accompanied Corporal Rawson’s coffin through Romford to the back entrance to Romford station in Waterloo Road. There it was placed on a train to be taken home for burial. After firing a ceremonial blank round into the air, they marched back along Victoria Road to their billet.

In one short week, Gidea Park had gone from straw boaters to steel helmets, from donkey racing to death. Edwardian England had vanished like a dream.


The official lists are silent about the grief caused by thousands of deaths in World War One. Take Alfred Harper, husband of Emma, Marks Road Romford. Or Arthur Lazell, husband of Annie, Park Lane Romford. His parents lived around the corner in Douglas Road. Both were killed in France. Their bodies were never recovered. How did Emma and Annie cope?

Men were often reported missing, stretching out the agony for families. Some were later reported as prisoners, and there were false alarms. One evening in 1944, during World War Two, customers at Romford’s Mawney Arms were holding a whip-round for the family of a regular who’d been reported missing. The barmaid fainted when the phantom walked in!

Edward Miles of Corbets Tey was reported missing in July 1916. His wife advertised in newspapers and wrote letters trying to trace him. He was declared dead in October. They had been married for just six months.

Families cherished letters of condolence. Tom Mayne, landlord of Hornchurch’s King’s  Head (now a restaurant), was killed in 1916. “I could better have spared half my section than Tom Mayne,” his commanding officer wrote. “He was always bright, willing and good tempered. He died the death of a true soldier.” At 45, Tom Mayne was one of Havering’s oldest casualties. His widow carried on, running the pub for another 24 years. Day after day, I’m sure she recalled Tom pulling pints and joking with customers.

But for Upminster shopkeeper William Gooderham, his son’s death in 1916 destroyed all ambitions. After 26 years in business, he sold his grocery and draper’s shop. In Hornchurch, Charles Henry Baker had already taken over his father’s smart grocery and wine business, on the site of Clinton Cards.Charles became a Quartermaster Sergeant, a grocer in charge of supplies. On the bare Gallipoli peninsula, only heaps of rocks protected the shallow trenches.

CQMS Baker was distributing rations in the front line when a sniper shot him. He was buried at sea.

Most tradesmen lived over their shops, but George William Franklyn, a butcher in Hornchurch High Street, lived with his wife Roseanna in leafy Billet Lane. Their son, also George William, trained as a butcher to carry on the business. He survived Gallipoli, but was killed in France in 1917. “Your son was killed whilst leading his men in the recent battle,” wrote the ferocious bully, Major-General Gorringe. “Bloody Orange” offered his “sincere sympathy”, praising the 32 year-old Lieutenant Franklyn as a popular officer.

The wealthy Gooderhams placed a memorial window in Upminster’s parish church. George and Roseanna Franklyn erected a plaque to their “only and dearly loved son” in St Andrew’s church, Hornchurch. It was restored in 2003. They added a tribute to the War dead: “For their work continueth, great beyond their knowing.” It’s not from the Bible, but a line from a novel by patriotic author Rudyard Kipling. The wife and parents of the “upright, loving and heroic” Charles Baker also placed a plaque in St Andrew’s church. They too chose Kipling, lines from his 1914 poem about the War: “There is but one task for all / One life for each to give. / What stands if Freedom fall? Who dies if England live?”


We don’t know why Victor Emmanuel Axup’s shoemaker father named the boy after the King of Italy. Victor was born near the Yorkshire port of Hull in 1885. At sixteen, he was cleaning boots in a hotel. Joining the Royal Navy was a liberation. When War began in 1914, he was “just in my glory” to be a leading signalman on HMS Pathfinder. “If I had been out of the Navy I should have volunteered,” he wrote home.

In December 1910, he’d married a Romford woman, Elizabeth Oakley. How they met is a mystery, but with Victor often away at sea, Elizabeth obviously wanted to be near her family ─ especially after their daughter Muriel was born in 1911. In 1914, they lived in South Hornchurch. The address is unknown, but St John’s church in Southend Road listed Victor in its Roll of Honour.

On August 12, Victor wrote to his mother: “we are at war with Germany, so do not get over much time for writing now.”  “We are not allowed to write as to what we are doing or where we are, mother dear, so you’ll have to watch the papers, and do not believe too much of what they tell you either.” He looked forward to getting home on leave, but if not, he joked, “I hope I shall meet you again up aloft, as all sailors go there.”

The 2,940-ton HMS Pathfinder was a prototype destroyer. Destroyers are fast, but Pathfinder was poorly designed.  With small coal bunkers, she had to conserve fuel. On patrol forty miles east of Edinburgh on September 5th, 1914, she was sailing at just five knots, barely twice walking pace. A German submarine, U21, had reached the Forth Bridge, hoping to attack the Royal Navy base at Rosyth. There U21’s periscope was spotted, and gunfire from coastal batteries drove it out to sea. There it encountered the slow-moving Pathfinder, an easy target.

Submarines and self-propelled torpedoes were new weapons. This was the first time a submarine launched a torpedo attack in wartime. Pathfinder’s lookouts spotted the torpedo’s wake. The watch officer attempted the marine equivalent of a handbrake turn. Port engines full ahead, starboard engine astern ─ he tried to swing Pathfinder end-on to the torpedo, so presenting the smallest possible target. But Pathfinder was too sluggish to turn quickly, and the torpedo struck her magazine. There was a massive explosion as the ammunition caught fire, destroying the whole forward part of the ship. Signalman Axup was probably stationed near the bows, where he could flash messages to oncoming vessels. If so, he would have died instantly.

The government tried to hush up the disaster. No official death toll was announced, but only a handful of the 270 on board were saved. The Admiralty message would have been scribbled on to a telegram form at Hornchurch Post office ─ L/S Axup ─ regret to inform you ─ missing in action. We can imagine the telegraph boy cycling furiously down Abbs Cross Lane to deliver the envelope. Like every war widow, Elizabeth would have experienced the mixture of half-mad grief and desperate hope that one day Victor might miraculously reappear. His body was never recovered.


The First World War was fought at sea as well on the Western Front. Britannia ruled the waves but German attacks quickly shook our Navy.

Harry Knight had grown up in Hornchurch and married a Romford woman. St John’s church in South Hornchurch honoured his memory. Aged 42 when war broke out, Knight must have been fit. Working as a stoker, he shovelled coal in the engine room of HMS Hogue. On 22 September 1914, Hogue was patrolling the North Sea with two other cruisers, Cressey and Aboukir. The Navy had no idea how to resist German U-boats. When U-9 sank Aboukir, her sister ships closed in to rescue the crew. Sitting targets, Hogue and Cressey were both torpedoed. HMS Hogue sank slowly. 652 of her 700 men scrambled off the plunging deck.

Sadly, Harry Knight did not escape. Deep in the engine room, he was either trapped or killed by the explosion.

Soon, British warships learned to dodge torpedoes by zigzagging.  But on October 14,  HMS Hawke had stopped to collect mail from another ship, and fell behind her cruiser squadron out on the North Sea. Hawke raced straight ahead to catch up, giving U-9 another victim. Royal Marine Reginald Bradley was among 534 men lost. His widowed mother lived in Rainham Road, South Hornchurch.

Able-Seaman Arthur Payne, from Havering-atte-Bower, served on HMS Good Hope, flagship of Admiral Cradock. In October 1914, Cradock searched the Pacific Ocean for Admiral Von Spee, whose squadron was disrupting Allied shipping. On 1 November, Cradock closed in on the raiders off the Chilean coast. Although Von Spee’s five cruisers outgunned the four British ships, Germany had no naval base in the Pacific where it might repair warships.  Hoping to inflict enough damage to cripple Von Spee, Cradock attacked from the west in late afternoon. Silhouetted against the sunset, his ships made an ideal target. You don’t hear much about the battle of Coronel because it was a British defeat. Good Hope was blown to pieces. All 926 men aboard were lost.

With so many disasters, the Navy needed a poster-boy ship. Plucky little HMS Arethusa, just 3,500 tons, filled the bill. Arethusa was damaged at the Battle of Heligoland Bight in August 1914, but helped force  Germany’s High Seas fleet back into port. Arethusa also took part in a daring Christmas Day air-sea raid on a Zeppelin base at Cuxhaven. At the 1915 Battle of Dogger Bank in 1915, the Navy intercepted a German taskforce on its way to raid England’s east coast. Arethusa was there. The public loved HMS Arethusa.

Son of a labourer, Ernest Nicholls grew up in Moss Lane, the half-secret Romford back street that threads its way from Boundary Road to Wheatsheaf Road. He was a member of the Hornchurch branch of the Church Lads’ Brigade, the Anglican Church’s rival to the Boy Scouts. Nicholls joined the Navy shortly before the War and became a stoker on Arethusa. Off Felixstowe in February 1916, Arethusa struck a German mine. Sinking so close to land, all but six of her 318 crew were rescued. Alas, once again, the engine room proved a death trap. Ernest Nicholls was killed. He was just twenty.


On December 25th 1914, British and German soldiers on the Western Front defied orders and played football in No Man’s Land. The famous Christmas truce was echoed by strangely normal celebrations across Havering. 600 old and sick people dumped in Romford’s workhouse, later Oldchurch Hospital, were given roast beef and plum puddings donated by local benefactors. But another Romford tradition, a Boxing Day feed for needy children, attracted only 160 youngsters, fewer than previous years. War meant good wages ─ but food prices were high.

Some farm workers were tempted to steal from their employers. A Dagenham man cried when he was caught thieving two bags of onions from a South Hornchurch farm. The magistrate bleakly commented that offenders were always sorry to be caught. Brussels sprouts were scarce. A Collier Row greengrocer solved his supply problems by stealing them from a field near Chase Cross. He too was caught.

Some people celebrated too well. Three nights before Christmas, Mary Anne Hayes was so drunk in High Street Romford that she begged a policeman to help her home. When he refused, she “used very bad language” and bit him. Mary Anne spent Christmas in prison.

It was a sad time for the family of George Webb, a printer whose large family ─ at least eleven children ─ lived in Marlborough Road, Romford. In Christmas week, 23-month old Annie died of burns. In the days before laundromats, water was boiled in a pot called a “copper” for clothes to be hand-washed. Little Annie got too close and her dress caught fire. The coroner’s jury offered sympathy, saying it was “practically impossible” to keep toddlers away from fires.

The park of Grey Towers, a Hornchurch mansion, had become an Army camp for an exotic regiment, the “Sportman’s Battalion”. County cricketers, professional footballers, big-game hunters, they were an unusual crowd, who entertained Hornchurch residents with Christmas banquets in their huts and a football match ─ but not against the Germans! Highlight of their Christmas Night ball was a Highland reel and sword dance, performed in kilted regalia by the Battalion’s aristocratic commander, Colonel Viscount Maitland. Over 700 of the Sportsmen would be killed in the War.

Not all local soldiers were heroes. When Frederick Castalgnola of Brooklands Avenue, Romford enlisted, he sold his piano ─ without mentioning that it was rented from a music shop. Private Castalgnola served two months in prison before going off to War.

On the night of December 28, Havering was swept by a massive storm. Frederick Gentry, landlord of The Compasses in London Road, Romford, was driving to the station at Squirrels Heath when he hit a fallen tree. Balgores Lane was a country track, not yet widened for commuter traffic. The station had only opened in 1910. Few people used its new-fangled name, “Gidea Park”. Interestingly, Gentry was illiterate, signing documents with an X. However, The Compasses was one of Havering’s top pubs. Cars were rare ─ but Fred Gentry could afford one!

As Havering people celebrated Christmas 100 years ago, they remembered the War. In Upminster, women knitted mittens as gifts for every local man in the Forces. Back in August, everybody had believed the fighting would be “over by Christmas”. But it would be a long war.


It was Wednesday 28 April 1915. At Ypres, on the Western Front, the Germans had just unleashed poison gas. Workman Alfred Wren was walking into Romford Council’s depot when the foreman told him to fasten the gate wide open. Misunderstanding, Wren closed the gate instead, and was suspended for disobedience.

Relations were already tense between Romford Urban District Council, distant forerunner of today’s Havering, and its workforce. Before War had begun in August 1914, the men had demanded pay rises, and complained of being short-staffed. Rebuffed, they had joined the Workers’ Union (later the T&GWU and now Unite the Union). This made Romford’s councillors even more hostile, although a pay rise was granted early in 1915 to counter wartime inflation.

In March, a dustman who had worked for the Council for seventeen years was suspended for a “trifling” offence. Taking his long service into account, councillors awarded him a week’s wages in lieu of notice. The men asked their Union to intervene for Wren. Next day, the Council’s Surveyor, Mr H.J. Ridge, warned them that they risked prosecution if they went on strike. News of the threat reached workmen who were cleaning up the Market after Wednesday’s cattle sales. They downed tools in protest. The men alleged “petty tyranny”. They also complained that they had “no proper protection in inclement weather.” 

Meeting on Friday evening, Romford Council took a hard line. Councillors would not meet a workers’ deputation if the Union was present. The men would not talk without their Union representative. “There must be masters and there must be servants,” declared Council chairman Edward Winmill. A stern resolution backed Mr Ridge, the Surveyor.

Voices were raised for compromise. The Vicar of Romford, the Reverend G.M. Bell, recommended arbitration. Calling himself a “peacemaker”, Romford’s Liberal MP Sir John Bethell criticised councillors for refusing to recognise the Union. “Thousands of young men were sacrificing their lives for the country,” said Workers’ Union secretary, Labour MP Charles Duncan. Neither side were angels, he admitted, but a “little goodwill” could settle the Romford dispute.

Two councillors now demanded that Romford UDC rescind its April 30th resolution and seek a negotiated agreement. As Edward Winmill was ill, the May 14th Council meeting was chaired by Councillor C.J. Fitch. Fitch could not prevent a vote on the motion for compromise, but he did ban debate. He declared that “the Council had no dispute at all with their workmen”, so there was nothing to discuss. The resolution was defeated.

I don’t know how the quarrel ended. Press censorship was coming into force. Perhaps the government ordered newspapers to stop reporting a story that must have amused the Kaiser.

The situation should never have arisen, especially in wartime. Some probably felt that men fit enough to shovel manure in Romford Market should be digging trenches in France, where they would have had more than inclement weather to worry about. But Romford’s councillors were rigid and insensitive.

During the Second Battle of Ypres, 60,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded. In September, Sir John Bethell’s son died in action. He was nineteen. The Romford Council strike happened one hundred years ago. Maybe some centenaries are best forgotten.


Thanks to its Suttons Farm air station (later RAF Hornchurch), Havering is linked to the pioneer pilots of World War I through the famous flying aces, Leefe Robinson, Sowrey and Tempest, who defended London against Zeppelin attacks. But Hornchurch also produced 1914-18 airmen who fought in France and Italy.

Flying was dangerous even without people shooting at you. Pilots generally had a short life span. Young men from smart backgrounds were preferred. They were likely to be able to drive a car, still a luxury item, and so find it easier to manage a plane. If they had attended elite schools, it was snobbishly assumed that they had ‘character’ and would defy danger. All credit to them, they volunteered to fly when most could have had a safer war.

Leslie Powell, from Devonshire Road, was below the official enrolment age when he went to France to serve on the Western Front in 1914. Then he opted to become a pilot. On March 4th 1917, he got into a dogfight with a group of German fighters. The British planes were outnumbered, “but he played the game with his comrades and stood by them in their hour of trouble.” They beat off the enemy, but Powell was shot in his cockpit. “He flew on for another 15 minutes, till he got back to our side of the line.” We can smile at the flowery language (“played the game”!) but two days later the 21 year-old died of his wounds.

Harold Pailthorpe, from Carter (now Maybush) Road Emerson Park, started the War in the Navy but arrived in France as a pilot on March 17th 1917. On patrol on May 23rd, he was attacked by seven German planes and killed. Aged 27, he had once been a chorister at St Andrew’s Anglican church.

Walter Fox, from Harrow Drive, served in the trenches as a signaller, before training as an Observer with the Royal Flying Corps (later the RAF) in November 1917. While the pilot flew the two-seater aircraft low and straight over enemy trenches, the Observer leaned out and took photographs. They were easy targets. Fox arrived in France in May 1918, survived a crash soon after and was then hit in the face by shrapnel. He refused to go to hospital, but died of machine gun wounds in an early morning low-level swoop on August 22nd. Praised for his “cheerful willingness,” he was 22.

Frederick Kendall had been born in India and, with his parents overseas, lived with an uncle in Ernest Road, Emerson Park. In August 1918, he was sent to Taranto in southern Italy ─ away from the fighting and safe enough, it seemed. In terrible weather, he took part in an air raid on the Austro-Hungarian naval base across the Adriatic at Cattaro (now Kotor in Montenegro) on August 30th. He managed to guide his plane home over the mountains of the Heel of Italy but, exhausted, he crash landed and died. He was 19.

Whatever we think of the First World War, there were brave men ─ little more than boys ─ and we should not forget them.


Gallipoli was a grand strategic vision that became a military disaster. Britain aimed to seize the Dardanelles, the narrow straits linking the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, from Germany’s ally, Turkey. This would create a back-door supply route to Russia, whose massive armies were short of weapons. Britain and France from the west and Russia from the east would then strangle Germany.

However, it seemed impossible to land troops on the Gallipoli peninsula overlooking the Dardanelles until battleships had silenced Turkish coastal gun batteries. The battleships could not fight in the narrow waters until minefields had been cleared. Tiny minesweepers could not operate unless the shore batteries were knocked out.

The Navy’s failure to break through in March 1915 revealed Allied intentions.  When troops landed, on April 25th, the Turks were ready. Machine gunner Charles Hollinghurst, from Parkstone Avenue, Emerson Park, was one of the first ashore.

Gallipoli is remembered for the bravery of the ANZACs, Australian and New Zealand troops fighting their first overseas war. In fact, there were more British soldiers involved, including the Essex Regiment, which included many local men. Forty Hornchurch men fought on the bleak peninsula, where only piles of stones gave cover.

Charles Baker, a High Street grocer, was killed eleven days after landing, as he distributed rations in the front line. The ground was so rocky it was hard to dig graves. Baker was buried at sea. R.E. Newton, from Upminster, recalled using mules to move supplies. The animals panicked when a Turkish shell set fire to a patch of gorse. Private Robert Page, a labourer from Beamlands Farm (now Fontayne Avenue, South Hornchurch) went missing. His body was never found. Walter Tickner, a gardener from Station Lane, Hornchurch, was invalided home in October 1915 with dysentery and shell shock. He recovered, but was killed in France. William York was a housepainter, from Clifton Road, Romford. He came through Gallipoli but was also later killed. Just 18, William Purkis came from Hay Green, in Wingletye Lane, Hornchurch. It’s still there, a triangle of land at the turn to Lilliputs Children’s Centre, but the name is forgotten. Wounded twice at Gallipoli, Purkis died as a prisoner of war. Father of a large family, Ernest Tucker was a railway labourer from North Street, Hornchurch. He survived a wound in his left arm, but did he work again? Percy Livermore, aged 21, lived beside the railway in Queens Park Road, Harold Wood. The 1911 census described him as a “labourour” and “gardiner”. He too came through Gallipoli but was killed in 1918.

Eventually, on the night of 8-9 January 1916, Gallipoli was silently abandoned. Alfred Ruston, a career soldier from Herbert Road, Emerson Park, was among the last to leave. The nerve-racking operation required complete silence to fool the Turks. Just as Ruston’s detachment reached the beach, “Asiatic Annie”, a huge gun across the Dardanelles, dropped shells around the packed formation of soldiers. Luckily, it was just a random Turkish barrage, and Ruston escaped unscathed.

Injured New Zealand troops arrived at Grey Towers camp at Hornchurch from January 1916. Grey Towers Avenue marks the location of their military hospital.


When British troops invaded Gaza in 1917, its notorious refugee problem lay far in the future. Britain was at war with Germany’s ally, Turkey. Turkey’s shambolic Ottoman Empire ruled the Middle East. Many thought it would collapse but, with German help, the Turks fought hard. Britain had occupied Egypt in 1882 to safeguard the Suez Canal, lynchpin of the Empire’s communications with India. The Turks were a threat to the Canal, so the British Army targeted Gaza, gateway to Palestine.

The first battle of Gaza, on 26-27 March 1917, was a disaster. The Essex Regiment suffered heavy casualties in a Turkish counterattack. Among those killed was Corporal W.J. Guy from Harold Wood. He was 21. William York, from Clifton Road, Romford, had followed his father’s trade to become a house painter. In the retreat, Private York was reported missing. Later he was assumed dead, but there was never definite news to close his parents’ agony. He was 22.

After a further inconclusive attack in April, a third battle began on 2 November 1917. Sergeant Timothy Frost was also a house painter. He shared a house in Hornchurch High Street with his two brothers. Timothy Frost died of wounds after courageously leading an attack on Gaza’s outer defence, the Rafah redoubt. The War Office notified his widow that Frost’s bravery was “mentioned in despatches”, adding that the King hoped this recognition might be “some consolation in your bereavement.” I doubt if George V knew anything about it, but I hope Mrs Frost was comforted. All three brothers were killed in the War. Another casualty that day was 24 year-old John Brockhurst, a grocer’s assistant from Abbs Cross Lane, Hornchurch. A bellringer at St Andrew’s church, John had been invalided home from Gallipoli with dysentery, but recovered to return to his death in Gaza.

Frederick Collin had worked for a fascinating lady, Miss Mary Ann Manning, a baker (usually a man’s job), who owned a coffee shop in Hornchurch High Street. She ran her own farm, at East Horndon, where Collin was employed to look after the plough horses. Private Collin was killed as the Army advanced into Palestine. Wounded near Jaffa (modern Tel Aviv) in November 1917, a 30 year-old Brentwood man, Alfred Digby, was captured and died in hospital in Damascus.Percy Livermore, from Harold Wood, struggled with shell shock. Aged 26, he was killed in Palestine in September 1918.

Brockhurst, Frost and  Guy are buried in the Gaza war cemetery, which was damaged in fighting in 2006. Collin and Livermore lie in the Ramleh cemetery. York’s body was never recovered. Today, Rafah is the main crossing between Egypt and Gaza. Ten children were killed there in August 2014 when a school was bombed.

In 1933, Holy Cross Anglican church was built in Park Lane, Hornchurch, near William York’s home. Placed under the altar was an olive-wood box containing soil from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, legendary site of Christ’s crucifixion. I have no religion and don’t understand the theological significance of this gift. But it’s a reminder that our history is entwined with the horrors of Gaza. Local men are buried there, and the soil of Palestine was built into a Havering church.


It was the very last week of World War I, which ended on November 11, 1918. Those seven days changed the life of one Emerson Park man. Harold Luther lived in Carter (now Maybush) Road. He joined the Army in October 1914, serving as a despatch rider attached to a cavalry division from India. Wounded at the battle of the Somme in 1916, he retrained as a pilot. By 1918, he was a lieutenant in the RAF, stationed in Flanders.

On November 4, he flew with a swarm of 30 British aircraft to bomb German positions. The raid was a daily morning ritual, and this time the enemy were waiting. Forty German aircraft counter-attacked, and dogfights broke out all over the sky. Luther managed to aim “several good bursts of fire” into one attacker, who lost control and went into a spin. “I followed him down and saw him crash.” Then followed a “nose on” duel with another German, the two pilots missing a head-on collision by just ten yards. Firing point-blank at the enemy pilot, Luther watched as “the Hun seemed to crumple up and go down.” At that moment, he heard a burst of gunfire from behind. Usually, an attack from the rear was fatal, but Luther had a stroke of luck. His assailant was a two-seater Fokker, much harder to manoeuvre than his own small biplane. By weaving and looping, he turned the tables and pounced on his pursuer. “The Fokker dived vertically”, wing struts and fabric fuselage flying off as it broke apart.

Three ‘kills’ in one engagement was an unusual tally. Luther now climbed to 8,000 feet to recover his breath and spot fresh targets. But his engine began to cut out. Either it had overheated or fuel was running low. Still over enemy territory, he headed back to base, running the gauntlet of German anti-aircraft guns. Suddenly an explosion smashed his right forearm and knocked out the plane’s engine. Somehow he managed to crash-land, losing consciousness from loss of blood as his machine upended.

Luther awoke to find himself a prisoner of war in a German field hospital. The Germans obeyed the rules of war. Wounded prisoners were treated just like their own casualties. On November 7, he was transferred to a military hospital near Brussels, where his shattered right hand was amputated. Britain and Germany often exchanged prisoners through neutral Dutch territory. Harold Luther’s fighting days were obviously over.  By 1918, the Germans were facing starvation. Sending him home meant one fewer mouth to feed. That probably explains why, on November 8, Luther was sent on a hospital train to Antwerp.

But the War was coming to its end. Germany’s allies Bulgaria and Turkey had already surrendered. Austria-Hungary was falling apart. However, cut off from news, Harold Luther was surprised to be told on November 11 that the fighting was over, and he was no longer a prisoner. The next day, the Red Cross took over from the Germans. Luther was moved to a private hospital. By December, he was home in Emerson Park. Characteristically, he tried to rejoin his RAF unit.


Local people began collecting names for Rolls of Honour soon after the 1914 war began. They planned to list everybody who fought. Rural Cranham placed a plaque in All Saints’ church listing all eighty men who served. But in most places, the heavy death toll pointed to memorials just to the fallen.

Some wanted to honour the dead with community facilities. Hornchurch had no proper meeting place. In 1917, local historian Charles Perfect suggested a village hall to mark the “happy event” of Peace ─ whenever it came. Many Upminster residents wanted a community hall, but it was too expensive. Upminster’s war memorial was controversial because it featured a Celtic cross ─ an Irish symbol with no local connections. Only Harold Wood achieved a memorial hall. The village already had an Entertainment Hall, built by Edward Bryant, whose mansion still stands in Widecombe Close, Harold Hill. Bryant donated the building. Over £1200 was raised for its conversion, “in lasting memory of those who made the great sacrifice.”  The Hall still stands in Gubbins Lane.

At South Weald near Brentwood, locals wanted a village hall, but the vicar arrogantly sited the memorial in the churchyard. Other clergy were more tactful. In Upminster, the Rector donated part of his churchyard, but with separate access from Corbets Tey Road. In Hornchurch, a pillar box outside the church made way for a cross designed by leading architect Sir Charles Nicholson.

Romford chose a civic location, Laurie Square, now Ludwigshafen Place. The memorial was moved to Coronation Gardens about 1969. My cousin, a stonemason, helped dismantle it. He was abused by some locals who thought its removal disrespectful.

Rainham had the most imaginative project, a memorial clocktower. Symbolically, the bricks came from Belgium, the country Britain had defended against German aggression.  Rainham’s war memorial was carefully restored in 2014. Havering-atte-Bower placed a plaque in St John’s church.

Money came in slowly. The Hornchurch, Romford and Upminster memorials were only dedicated in 1921. Discovering who had died and deciding which names to include were problems. Upminster knew of 43 casualties in August 1919. By June 1920 the number was 58. Hornchurch’s Baptist church unveiled a plaque to five members in November 1919 ─ but soon learned of two further casualties.

Poor people moved often ─ some ‘doing a flit’ to escape rent arrears. But it seemed ungrateful, even snobbish, to exclude local men because they’d moved to Grays or Barking. Private Frank Bill’s family lived near Roneo Corner. Aged just 19, he died of pneumonia in 1918. His brother, Charles, had emigrated to Saskatchewan, where he joined a Canadian regiment. A ‘runner’ carrying messages to the front line, he was killed in 1916. Was Frank a war casualty? Did Charles still belong to Hornchurch? In the event, both were recognised as local heroes.

One million British people emigrated to Canada between 1905 and 1914. Many fought for the Empire. Charles Cumberland’s family were chimney sweeps in London Road, Romford. He had emigrated to Owen Sound, Ontario and married there. Yet his death in August 1918, serving with the Canadian forces, won him a place on Romford’s war memorial.

Rainham’s memorial says their names should be “honoured for evermore”. Cranham’s memorial window makes the dead speak to us: “England, we died for you.”


There’s nothing dramatic about Ardleigh Green ─ two rows of 1930s shops, a school and a pub. But its name is unusual. There have been four versions over eight centuries.

The earliest form was “le haddeleye” in a local record of 1362. Ignore the archaic French: it was called “Hadley”. Although it’s risky guessing the meaning of a place-name from one example, we’re on safe ground in comparing it with Hadleigh, near Southend, and its namesake in Suffolk, which both mean “place on the heath”. Until around 1200, much of the higher ground in Havering was common or heathland: Tylers Common remains today. Our heath place was hemmed in around 1212, when royal official William the Fleming was granted 100 acres if he supplied the King’s palace at Havering-atte-Bower with reeds for floor covering. He enclosed land from Cecil Avenue to Harold Wood recreation ground. It was called Redden Court.

The peasants were left a strip of grazing ground, from Nelmes Way to Ardleigh Close. The tiny hamlet, clustered around Michael Gardens and the Havering College campus, was renamed. A 1641 document called it “the common called Hadley Green”. The change can be traced back at least as far as 1522.

Then, in the eighteenth century, something odd happened to the way southern English people spoke. The short A sound became a long AR. Northerners make ‘baths’ rhyme with ‘maths’; Southerners with ‘hearths’. It was probably an attempt to ‘talk posh’. Plaistow at West Ham was an artsy village, the Islington of its day. It had always been play-stow, but it became PLAR-stow. Humble little Hadley Green was given a linguistic makeover, when in 1736 Mary Kifford penned her Will from “Hardley Green” ─ Version Three of the “heath place”.

The tiny hamlet caused problems for mapmakers. Havering’s first map, in 1618, called it “Badley Greene”. Pity the poor surveyor, trying to decipher notes he’d scribbled with quill pen on the back of a cart. An Essex map of 1777 nearly got it right, with “Hardey Green”. Nineteenth-century Ordnance Survey maps offered the jaw-beaker, “Eardley Green”.

Having lost its heath around 1212, in 1814 the hamlet said goodbye to its green, enclosed along with Havering’s commons. Settlement now spread up along the former open ground. The original Spencer Arms (in 2015, the Ardleigh) dates from 1816. A second pub, the Fir Trees, now a snack bar popular with students, dates from about this time. Another solid building, still a bakery, was probably erected about 1850.

Finally, Hardley Green lost its H. The earliest example of “Ardleigh Green” I know comes from 1875, when a local man was arrested for murder. (He was acquitted.) The two versions existed side by side. There is still a “Hardley Crescent”. Maybe the lost H was a sign of growing Cockney influence. But perhaps it suited the developers building houses locally in the 1930s. Hardley Green sounded like ‘hard times’.  There was a village called Ardleigh near Colchester. “Ardleigh Green” sounded nicely rural.

Heath place ─ heath place green ─ Hardley Green ─ Ardleigh Green. Four names for the same small spot!


Havering College’s busy Ardleigh Green campus seems a long way from the effete Oxford Common Rooms of Inspector Morse. But there is a connection.

Dr Thomas Harding Newman, heir to the 500-acre Nelmes estate (now Emerson Park) was a Fellow of Oxford’s Magdalen [pronounced ‘maudlin] College. In 1857, he moved back home to be near his ageing father, and built himself a small mansion called Hardley Lodge, after the nearby hamlet of Hardley Green. When the locality was renamed Ardleigh Green, Dr Newman’s chocolate-box home became Ardleigh House. The building has been replaced by Havering College but it’s still the name of the local Community Association.

Dr Newman kept in contact with Oxford. Eother academics thought him “very eccentric” ─ he must have been very odd indeed. Once, he had disguised himself as a tourist and hired a guide to show him around the colleges. When they came to Magdalen, he ignored the guide’s protests and marched into the private Common Room. Magdalen dons, he insisted, were famously generous, as he poured himself some port. The terrified guide fled.

Dr Newman was a great collector. What was claimed to be the only known portrait of novelist Jane Austen hung in his Oxford rooms. When Balliol College dumped its ancient timber gates, Dr Newman brought them to Nelmes. In 1926, Balliol had second thoughts, and the historic gates returned to Oxford, where a plaque now recalls their Hornchurch exile. A music lover, he also rescued a 17th-century organ.

Dr Newman was a bachelor and, as a don, he took a friendly interest in young men. Rumours flashed around Hornchurch that he was gay. Victorian Britain was viciously homophobic, and the vicar, the Reverend Thomas Griffith, was deeply troubled. How should he reply when Hornchurch’s musical schoolmaster innocently asked if it was safe for him “to tune Dr Newman’s organ”?

Himself an Oxford man, Griffith’s response to the rumours was ambiguous ─ indeed, two-faced. On the one hand, he pressured Magdalen College to investigate Dr Newman’s conduct ─ but nobody alleged that he abused his position in the University. At the same time, he urged Newman “as a friend” to clear his name ─ although it’s hard to prove that you don’t have a sex life. In 1873, Dr Newman dramatically took the vicar’s advice: he sued Griffith for defamation. It was a risky strategy. Homosexual playwright Oscar Wilde lost a similar case twenty years ─ and served three years in jail for gay sex. The case was sensational, even hilarious ─ but Dr Newman won, netting a hefty £300 in damages.

As I don’t believe in ghosts, I doubt that Newman’s spirit wanders the Havering College campus. But Thomas Harding Newman remains the unlikely link between the port decanters of bygone Oxford and the modern student world of Ardleigh Green.


If you had been strolling the streets of Romford one July morning in 1786, you would have noticed a smart private carriage stopping at one of the town’s inns. As July 24th was a Monday – not market day – Romford (or “Rumford” as it was often called) would have been quiet. The owner of the carriage, Thomas Brand Hollis, would have been a familiar figure.

Fabulously wealthy, he owned a mansion called The Hyde at Ingatestone, as well as a house in London. Romford would be his half-way stop-off point, to change horses and grab a meal. Hollis was an unusual character. He collected classical statues, and – rich though he was – he was a radical in politics.

Descending from the carriage with Hollis was a portly, slightly pompous man of 50, chatting to his wife in an American accent. Hollis was taking America’s first ambassador to visit his country house. John Adams did not like England. His family had lived in Massachusetts for 150 years, and being over here just made him feel more American. So he enjoyed the company of people like Hollis, who had supported the American colonies in their war against King George III. The war had finished three years earlier with Britain recognising the independence of the United States. Few English people welcomed its ambassador.

“Breakfast in Rumford”, Adams noted in his diary. He probably knew Rumford in Maine, and glanced around to see if there were any similarities. A native of Braintree (later Quincy), Massachusetts, Adams used his visit to check out the Essex Braintree – but it struck no chords.

Adams did not tell us anything about Romford, but he was interested in the detour Hollis made next. They turned off to see Thorndon Hall, near Brentwood. Hollis was obsessive about architecture. He was an enthusiast for the theories of Venetian writer Andrea Palladio. If a house was ‘Palladian’, it was good. Thorndon was very Palladian. Adams was impressed too. There were “six noble Corinthian pillars” and wonderful paintings of figures like Sir Thomas More – a martyr cherished by the Catholic family of Lord Petre. And he praised the “glades and forests, groves and clumps, with which this house is surrounded”. Everybody likes Warley Woods.

John Adams returned home in 1788, the year George Washington was elected the USA’s first President. As a Virginian, Washington was a Southerner, so Northerner Adams was picked to balance the ticket as Vice-President. Presiding over the Senate, Adams tried to introduce dignified ceremonial to America’s democratic government. Critics mocked him as “His Rotundity”. When Washington retired in 1796, Adams succeeded as second President. But when he sought re-election in 1800, he was defeated by Thomas Jefferson.

Adams lived on until 1826, dying on July 4th, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence – almost forty years since he’d passed through Romford. By odd coincidence, his rival Jefferson died that same day.John Adams holds four historical records. He was America’s first ever Vice-President. He was the first Vice-President to become President. He was the first President to be beaten when he ran for re-election. And he is the only President of the USA who has ever eaten breakfast in Romford.


Even the Southend Arterial Road has a history! And that history explains some of the problems of the A127, Havering’s almost-a-motorway. In 1920, Prime Minister Lloyd George announced a programme of new roads around London to create jobs for ex-soldiers from the 1914-18 War. One of these was Eastern Avenue, from Wanstead to Romford’s Gallows Corner. In 1921, new plans announced for a 21-mile extension to Southend. Work began on the first seven miles of the Southend Arterial Road on 8 December 1921.

By February 1922, 1260 men were employed. Many took the train to Harold Wood and then tramped to the site. In July 1922, a Warley farmer was arrested for stealing a ton of cement from the road stores. The Arterial cut across the old Havering roadscape. Wingletye Lane had extended into Redden Court Road. Ardleigh Close had crossed the railway to link with Bryant Avenue.

By early 1924 the road was ready for “final surfacing”, but it was becoming controversial. There were protests against erecting ugly poles and wires for a direct London-Southend phone line. Millionaire art collector Sir Alfred Beit criticised Essex County Council for failing to plant trees. It was suggested that a government campaign to improve the national diet would be helped by planting fruit trees! A West Ham MP criticised the priority that built a holiday highway to “Southend-on-the-Mud” instead of improving road access to Silvertown’s docks. A £100,000 grant from Southend Council had jumped the queue – a good investment since the road cost £1.25 million.

Officially opened on 25 March 1925 by Prince Henry, later Duke of Gloucester, it was England’s longest new road since Roman times. There were four ribbon-cutting ceremonies, one of them at the railway bridge by Bryant Avenue. The Prince was cheered when he praised the labourers for surviving the Essex mud – the experience they had endured on the Western Front. 

In fact, only the 24-foot wide southern carriageway had been built. Far from being a British Autobahn, the Southend Arterial Road was a two-way straight, fast, lethal country lane. It soon became notorious for accidents. Driving tests only began in 1934, and anyone could get behind the wheel.

As early as 1927, £200,000 had to be spent on repairs, as road sections sank into the Essex mud. There were below-ground schemes for the new road too. In 1936, a local MP called for a cut-and-cover Underground railway to extend the Central Line along Eastern Avenue from Gants Hill to Gallows Corner. In the freezing winter of 1943-44, gangs laid a pipeline under the central reservation. It was a top-secret wartime project, but the pipeline probably supplied fuel to D-Day convoys assembling off Southend Pier. Maybe it’s still there.

Nobody foresaw the growth of car ownership in 1930s: Ford’s started at Dagenham in 1930.

By summer 1935, the single-lane Southend Arterial Road was so congested that motorists avoided it. In 1936, funds were granted for “duplication”. The work on a second, northern, carriageway began with 6300 yard stretch eastward from Squirrels Heath Road, at a cost of £68,500. Traffic lights were a new safety feature for the Squirrels Heath Road junction – the only lights between Ilford and Southend. Those lights are still there. £16,000 was also spent widening Ardleigh Green Road as a feeder.

A feature of the scheme was the provision of 9-foot wide cycle tracks on either side of the Arterial Road. Cyclists disliked them. The track was laid in concrete sections, linked by jolting joints. Crossing side roads and garage forecourts, they were inconvenient, even dangerous. Of course, motorists grumbled when cyclists invaded the carriageways. Arterial Road residents didn’t like the cyclists much. Padfield’s Dairy operated a dawn delivery service, but it was said that at weekends you had to get up early to bring in your pinta from the doorstep, or it would be on its way to Southend – on two wheels! The cycle tracks disappeared in road-widening schemes.

Four miles east of Gallows Corner were dualled by 1938, but the work was done in stages, and the entire dual carriageway was only completed in 1940. It had taken 19 years to build the Southend Arterial Road. The Romans would have been much faster!                      


Fifty years ago, there was a police station on the Southend Arterial Road, about 300 yards east of Squirrels Heath Road traffic lights, backing on to Harwood Avenue. I think its official name was Emerson Park police station. Why, I don’t know. It’s nowhere near Emerson Park. In fact, there were three semi-detached residences, known locally as the Police Houses. All six homes were rented to police families. Essex Constabulary, who maintained law and order in Havering until 1965, didn’t spend money on paint. The Police Houses always looked grim. Nowadays, they are cheerfully painted private properties.

I lived opposite during my early years, but I don’t recall any children from the Police Houses. Probably they were starter homes, let to young married coppers until they could buy their own places. Everybody called it the police station ─ never the cop shop or any other rude nickname. The actual police station was a ground-floor office at the right hand side of the centre building. If there were cells, I never saw them!

The Arterial Road carriageways were narrower back then. On either side, there were cycle tracks, long since swallowed by road widening. Patrolling on bikes, the bobbies got to know local people. When my father was gardening out front, constables sometimes stopped to gossip.

In front of the police station stood an air-raid siren, a relic of World War Two. It was used to summon volunteer firemen for emergencies. The long steady note of the All Clear was a familiar noise. One day, around 1960, something went wrong, and the siren let off the warbling, howling Air Raid warning. It’s the only time I’ve ever heard that stomach-churning sound of the Blitz. This was the era of the Cold War against Russia. If nuclear conflict broke out, we would get four minutes’ warning ─ if that. There was mild panic locally. One lady ran around shouting, “Are we going to be bombed? Are we going to be bombed?”

In 1963, I was one of a team of youngsters who put on a satirical review. Satire was popular, but theatre censorship was still in force. Scripts had to be submitted to an official called the Lord Chamberlain before being allowed on stage. Two of my sketches were banned. I’m still proud of that achievement. One of our skits involved a police officer. We had no budget for costumes, so I called into the police station and explained our problem. Without hesitation, a young constable lent me his helmet, which I returned after the show. I wonder if that would happen today?

Although it was main road location, I don’t remember police cars. In fact, they were a new form of policing. The iconic TV series, Z-Cars, only began in 1962. Indeed, the police station wasn’t ideally located for police cars. It was too close to the congested traffic lights for a quick getaway. The Arterial Road police station closed in April 1965. I suppose this was part of a reorganisation when Havering became part of Greater London, and transferred to the Metropolitan Police. Officialdom didn’t explain much in those days, so I don’t know. [For a photograph of Emerson Park police station in 1965, see page 32 of:



Born around 1796, John Bankin always called himself an Upminster man, even when he was driven by a bullying lawyer into exile 12,000 miles away. A tenant farmer, he rented land, sometimes moving on for a better deal.

Parishes were responsible for mending their own roads. Most paid somebody to organise the work. To earn extra cash, Bankin took charge of highway maintenance in Upminster and Great Warley. His wife, Sarah Mathewman, came from Great Warley. They married in 1829.

In November 1846, John Bankin applied to lease Old Redden Court. The site is now Court Way, Harold Wood. Its fields stretched towards the A12 and round to Gubbins Lane. Old Redden Court was a difficult property, since in 1840 the railway had cut the farm in two.

In March 1847, Bankin signed a tenancy agreement with the owner, Alfred Douglas Hamilton, remembered in Harold Wood’s Douglas Avenue and Hamilton Drive. The contract compelled the landlord to compensate Bankin for work done if they fell out. Arbitration would settle any disagreement about the amount. Farmer and landlord soon quarrelled. The lease was abandoned. An umpire, a Mr Beadel, awarded John Bankin £289 for his efforts.

Hamilton was a gentleman barrister, distant cousin of a Scottish duke. He lived at Romford’s premier mansion, Gidea Hall, next to today’s Raphael Park. He believed the award was £50 too much. Hamilton was angry that he had not been represented at the arbitration. (His absence was his own fault, a judge later concluded). He objected that Bankin had improperly shown Mr Beadel his account books, making claims for expenditure which were not cross-examined. For the next four years, Hamilton harassed Bankin with legal actions. His campaign verged upon abuse of legal process. The £289 payment was frozen by the court. The law was slow. Hamilton demanded that Bankin should lose his compensation and that Beadel pay all legal costs.

Deprived of access to his own capital, John Bankin rented a smaller farm, Harrolds Wood. Despite its name, Haroldswood Farm (its usual name) was at the Gallows Corner end of modern Harold Hill. The farmhouse stood near to the junction of Faringdon Avenue and Ashton Road. With his capital tied up in court, Bankin struggled to buy seed and pay labourers. In 1849, he surrendered Haroldswood, and emigrated to Australia.

The case dragged on. When it came to court in March 1850, six lawyers represented the participants. The judge ruled for the defence, calling Hamilton’s campaign “litigious and vexatious”. He exonerated Beadel and ordered that Bankin should receive his money. But Hamilton appealed, so the cash remained frozen. Not until November 1851 was the appeal finally thrown out. By then, the disagreement over £50 had run up £1200 in legal costs.

Bankin probably received his money eventually. He became a successful farmer in Australia, one of the first to import expensive machinery. An Upminster farmer was driven out of England by a bullying lawyer from Gidea Park ─ and all over a £50 disagreement about a farm at Harold Wood. Bankin arrived Down Under just as one of the world’s biggest gold rushes engulfed the Australian colony of Victoria. But that is another story.


Persecution by a cruel lawyer forced John Bankin to emigrate to Australia in 1849. But Bankin remained a proud Upminster man, even in exile. The family went first to South Australia, a high-principled colony which refused to accept convicts. Idealism came at a price. Without cheap convict labour, South Australia’s economy was sluggish. The Bankins soon moved from Adelaide to Geelong in Victoria. He became a farmer in the Barrabool Hills. Maybe the green rolling landscape reminded him of Upminster Common.

Bankin’s energetic teenage son, John junior, became the family’s driving force. In 1851, a massive gold rush engulfed Victoria. John junior worked as a miner and a carter in the bonanza city of Ballarat. Soon, he had enough money to start farming. “Bankin Brothers” announced that the next generation was taking over.

Settling at Glendaruel, near Learmonth, twenty miles from Ballarat, John junior planned to farm on a commercial scale, growing food for the hungry miners. In 1856, he imported a steam threshing machine from Britain ─ the first in the colony. Upminster had an active Congregational church (now United Reform). Clues suggest the Bankins were members. The Presbyterian church, from Scotland, offered similar services. In 1860, John junior was married to Mary Macdonald by the Reverend George Mackie.

For farmers carting food to market, communications were a problem. When John junior rode to Ballarat, he simply headed across country. The roads were not just bad. Mostly, they did not even exist. Now in his sixties, John senior moved up country to join his sons. He grumbled about the roads so much that, in 1861, neighbours “unexpectedly invited” him to stand for the local council, Learmonth Road Board. In a pompous manifesto, he declared he had “no wish or desire to be elected” but “if duty calls I readily obey.”

The key to good roads, he explained, was proper drainage. John senior insisted he knew what he was talking about. “I have had the management of the roads in the parishes of Great Warley and Upminster, in the county of Essex, England, for not less than ten or twelve years.” The man who fixed the roads in Upminster! Here in Australia! Surely, Learmonth would welcome this international expertise? Unfortunately, Australians were unimpressed by the Upminster Pom’s credentials. A ferocious row developed. Ballarat’s newspaper refused to publish Bankin’s diatribes for fear of libel.

The family had enemies. During a wave of bushfires in 1865, somebody “maliciously set fire” to their property, but the arson attack failed. John senior died in 1869. Three years later, John junior moved to Victoria’s new wheat-growing frontier, the dry, dusty Wimmera, the edge of the Outback. He had emigrated as a teenager. As he surveyed his baking wheat paddocks, did he recall Havering’s misty meadows? John Bankin junior made money. When ill health forced him to retire from farming, he moved to an elegant Melbourne suburb.  He died there in 1915, mourned by four sons and four daughters. An obituary said he’d been born at “Rumford, Essex, England”. Driven from England by a ruthless lawyer, the Bankins became a piece in the jigsaw puzzle of Australian history.


He might only be a labourer, but John Petchy was ambitious. Unluckily, the young Romford man was caught in 1810 handling stolen goods, and sentenced to fourteen years transportation. It would be two years before he left England, in June 1812, one of 200 convicts crammed into the 549-ton convict ship, Indefatigable. (The Costa Concordia [a cruise ship which sank in 2012] was 208 times larger!) The ship was clean and safe: only one man died on the 137-day voyage to the penal colonies of Australia.

In October 1812, Petchy reached Van Diemen’s Land. The prison island was a hellhole, where Aborigines were massacred and convicts flogged. To avoid the evil reputation of “VD land”, apologists called it ‘Tasmania’ after the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, and this became its official name in 1855. John Petchy spotted that ‘trusty’ prisoners were needed to operate the system. By 1816, thisambitious Romford man was a warder in Hobart’s prison!

The government soon gave him a land grant and allolcated convicts to clear the gum trees. Petchy sold the firewood to the prison.A female prisoner became his housekeeper ─ and, soon, his wife. Tanning was still an important industry in Romford and Hornchurch: skilled workers made saddles and leather breeches. Petchy realised that wattle bark produced an extract that could be used in tanning. In 1824, his sentence served, he sailed to England with a cargo of wattle extract, hoping to develop a new trade. Did he revisit Romford? The Society of Arts gave him a medal but he lost money on the venture.

Petchy returned to Australia, this time sailing in comfort on the Albion. Back in Hobart, he decided that the answer was to reduce unit costs by sending a larger cargo in a bigger vessel.

That meant crossing to mainland Australia in 1826 to charter a ship in Sydney’s magnificent harbour. The Sydney Gazette hailed Petchy as “a very respectable, old and opulent inhabitant of Tasmania.” In early Australia, you were labelled by the ship you arrived on ─ it signalled whether you were a convict or a free settler. Petchy, said the paper, “came as a passenger on the Albion.”  The ex-con had reinvented himself.

Petchy became a leading Hobart entrepreneur, investing in a brewery, a tavern, shops and whaling ships. In 1839, he built Australia’s largest ship. It was only 389 tons, but it took him to Britain on business again. The highpoint of a long and stormy return voyage in 1840 was a short visit to Rio-de-Janeiro. The Romford man was seeing the world.

Petchy’s shipping business survived the threat of bankruptcy in 1843. Owning several harbour ferries, he moved to Kangaroo Point, across the Derwent estuary, and became a successful wheat farmer. Today, Hobart’s test match ground is nearby.

In December 1850, John Petchy competed in Hobart’s summer regatta. His racing yacht capsized. Fifty years later, Taswegians still remembered the lifeless body of the “poor old gentleman” being dragged from the water. The Australian Dictionary of Biography calls Petchy “resourceful if not always scrupulous”. A Romford education had given him a good business brain, and Havering’s traditional tanning industry inspired one of his biggest business gambles.


Nowadays, most couples planning to get married by a licence from a Registrar. In earlier centuries, couples followed another route, the Calling of the Banns. In the home parish church of both bride and groom, the minister would announce their intention to get hitched on three successive Sundays. The notice ended with a call to the congregation: “If any of you know cause or just impediment why these persons are not to be joined together in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it.”

At North Ockendon in 1636, it was the parson, William Jackson, who disapproved when “a poor cupple” presented themselves. Abandoning the official rubric, Reverend Jackson warned parishioners that the lovers “would marry and goe a begging together”. He appealed for somebody to stop them: “yf anie knewe lawfull cause why they might not doe so”. The offended couple complained to the Church authorities.

A sad case of an elderly love triangle in Upminster in 1858 was even reported in an Australian newspaper. A seventy year-old bricklayer suffering from lumbago thought he had persuaded a sixty year-old domestic servant to become his third wife. The lady had saved up some cash, which added to her charms. Unluckily, while he was laid up with rheumatism, the lady was courted and won by a butler. Think of the impressive Mr Carson in Downton Abbey: it’s easy to understand how she preferred the butler to the bricklayer.

Silence followed the calling of the banns on the first two Sundays in Upminster’s St Laurence parish church. But on the third Sunday, the bricklayer was observed, miserable with pain and disappointment, at the back of the church. When the curate, the Reverend Schofield, called the banns again, he spoke up in “hoarse indignation which made every head turn, and every inch of crinoline in the church rustle.” “I forbid them!” he shouted. Summoned to the vestry, the lovelorn brickie argued that the bride had given him a prior commitment. It was explained that women had the right to change their minds, and his objection was dismissed.

This sad story reflects a traditional view that a marriage is not a formal ceremony but an agreement by two people to live together ─ and what’s wrong with that? There was an example in Romford town in 1607. In the presence of blacksmith William Jefferson, Richard Harrison took his girl friend Anne Baylye by the hand and said, “Anne, I, before this man, do take thee to be my wedded wife, forsaking all other, keeping myself only to thee as long as we both shall live.” Anne gave a similar pledge, and Richard sealed their contract with the gift of a gold coin. Jefferson believed they were now “man and wife before God.” The Church authorities were not happy about this do-it-yourself wedding. More seriously, Anne’s father was furious, since she was only seventeen. Mrs Harrison or not, she was locked up at home. We don’t know how the story ended. The Havering couples who take their vows at Langtons Register Office follow in a long tradition.


In 2009, Havering Council proposed a new railway station at Beam Reach, Rainham (later called Beam Park).

Our first railway station opened in 1839, when the Eastern Counties line reached Romford.

Rainham followed in 1854, when the Thames-side railway to Southend arrived. Early steam engines were slow to start and stop, so stations were far apart. Harold Wood opened in 1868, serving a new suburb. In the 1880s, a cut-off line was built from Barking to Pitsea to bypass the long Tilbury bend. Hornchurch and Upminster stations opened on May Day, 1885.

Havering’s next line, in 1892, cut across from Romford to Upminster and Grays. It had its own station, on the east side of South Street. This was absorbed into Romford Station in 1934. Supporting a smart new housing project, Emerson Park and Great Nelmes Halt opened in 1909. Havering’s smallest station had its longest name. In 1910, a station was opened at Squirrels Heath to serve the new Gidea Park Garden Suburb off Links Avenue. Soon the ancient heath was forgotten and the station became Gidea Park. Harold Wood and Gidea Park share the same birthday ─ December the first. Two more stations followed when the District Line introduced rapid electric services ─ Upminster Bridge in 1934, Elm Park in 1935.

Ten stations, reduced to nine. But that’s not all. Around 1900, Crowlands Station was planned, west of Jutsums Lane, between Romford and Chadwell Heath. Platforms were built. The Crowlands project was revived in 1935, but eventually abandoned. With growing postwar population in Cranham, a station site was earmarked off St Mary’s Lane. But a station on the Grays branch line meant commuters would have to change at Upminster. In 1959, the site became apartments in Westbury Terrace.

When the extension of the Central Line to Gants Hill was announced in 1931, Romford campaigned for it to run to Gallows Corner. The six-mile track was a simple engineering job ─ cut and cover under Eastern Avenue. As Romford MP John Parker argued in 1936, the Underground ran to rural Cockfosters, so why not to fast-growing Romford? Romford pressed again for a Gallows Corner tube when the Harold Hill estate started after the War. But watch the indicator board flashing up Hainault and Epping services on any Central Line platform beyond Stratford ─ how could you fit trains on a third branch to Gallows Corner?

East of Upminster Station, the Underground has huge shunting yards. Some enthusiasts dream of putting in a platform to create Front Lane Station. But a new District Line eastern terminus would require massive car parks. Cranham couldn’t handle the traffic.

In addition to Havering’s fourteen stations, real and imaginary, there was a tramway depot in rural north Upminster. For 150 years, the major feature of a brickworks just south of the A127 was a 70-foot high kiln. It was demolished in the 1930s. From about 1895, the Pot Kilns were linked to Upminster Station by a narrow-gauge, horse-drawn tramway. Thirty years ago, the abandoned rails could still be seen crossing Bird Lane.

Will Beam Park become the first Havering station since Elm Park ─ or another ghost project like Crowlands and Gallows Corner Underground? In January 2015, it was announced that the project would go ahead.


Upminster windmill is one of Havering’s heritage gems. But although it’s two centuries old, it’s one of the youngest of Havering’s windmills. What happened to the rest?

Windmills arrived in Britain around 1200 from the Mediterranean. Earlier, corn was ground at watermills. There were two watermills in Rainham, another at Dovers Corner in South Hornchurch, while Raphael Park lake probably originated as the millpond of one at Romford.

Some of Havering’s medieval windmills, such as one at Dagnams, east of Harold Hill and another at Mardyke in south Hornchurch, later vanished, and we don’t know much about them.

By the early 19th century, Romford had three windmills. Two were on London Road. One (now Errol Road) was east of the town. The other, near Cotleigh Road, was to the west. The third, off South Street, was behind the Rising Sun pub, now the Goose.A Romford man was “kill’d by ye new Windmill” in 1713, but we don’t know which one. He probably stood too close to the swirling sails.

A windmill stood on Shepherds Hill, Harold Wood, from the 17th century until its demolition in 1882. Hornchurch had a fine windmill, just south of St Andrew’s church. It was one of the last working windmills in the London area. It ceased to operate in 1912, when its structure became unsafe. Occupied by drunks and drop-outs, it burnt down in 1921.

Another handsome structure, in Whalebone Lane North, just west of Collier Row, was demolished in 1917. There’s a fine picture of it on:


Two Havering windmills owe their origins to war with France between 1793 and 1815. Food imports were disrupted, encouraging farmers to grow more wheat. Corbets Tey go-getter, James Nokes, built Upminster’s windmill in 1802-3. A mill erected at Collier Row around 1815 lasted about fifty years. Its site was in Lawns Park. The mill yard became Irons Way.

Technological change helps explain the decline of Havering’s windmills. James Nokes added a steam mill at Upminster in 1812. Steam was more reliable than wind. South Street’s windmill lost its wind when the embankment at Romford station was constructed in 1840. A steam mill was added in 1850. Today, Old Mill Parade in Victoria Road preserves the memory.

Steam milling encouraged new business activities. Upminster Mill added a brickworks, and a retail coal delivery business. Windmills were liable to weather damage. Two sails were blown off Upminster’s windmill in 1854, and a lightning strike tore off another in 1889. In 1899, a ferocious storm snapped the internal cast iron shaft that carried the sails, damaging the mill so badly that it needed local fund-raising to survive.

The farming economy changed too. From the 1870s, cheap grain imports from the USA and Canada made growing wheat unprofitable in Britain. The growth of London provided new markets. By 1800, Rainham and South Hornchurch were growing vegetables for London consumers. That’s why windmills disappeared across the southern part of Havering so early.

When Essex County Council bought Upminster Windmill in 1937, they wanted to demolish it. The Recorder backed a local campaign to save the historic landmark. And so the sails of one Havering windmill still stand proud against the sky.


Some people just don’t fit their names. Nicholas Wiseman was an endearing character, but he was often short on judgement. From the age of eight, he lived in Catholic colleges, and didn’t see much of the world outside. A priest and a scholar, he studied Arabic but also welcomed the advance of science.

In those days, relations between Protestants and Catholics were unfriendly. In 1850, the Pope made Wiseman a Cardinal and the first Catholic Archbishop of Westminster ─ a new title, diplomatically invented to avoid upsetting Anglicans. But Wiseman announced his appointment provocatively. “We govern the counties of Middlesex, Hertford, and Essex,” he proclaimed, triggering an outcry against “Papal Aggression”. One colleague thought Wiseman “remained a child all his life.” He rejected advice to keep a low profile, delighting in wearing his robes and cardinal’s red hat. A balding, podgy man, he resembled ─ one clerical enemy acidly remarked ─ “some Japanese God”.

Romford’s first post-medieval Catholic church, St Edward the Confessor, opened in 1856. Its benefactor, Lord Petre of Thorndon Hall, gave £2,000 for the project. The site was tucked away in Park End Road, beyond Romford Market, tacit recognition that Catholics were an invisible minority. Ironically, Romford’s ring road, built in 1970, opened the half-hidden church to the daily view of thousands of people. Wiseman preached at the inaugural Mass, surrounded by a phalanx of priests and a forest of crosses and candles, all new to Romford. His sermon was an uncompromising statement of Catholic claims. Tactlessly, he added that this new church was “small, and apparently insignificant”, but it formed part of a mighty organisation.

The service over, priests and distinguished guests thronged the church porch while carriages relayed them through the Market to the White Hart Inn in Romford’s High Street, where 120 people sat down to lunch. Promising there would be no “sea of toasts”, Cardinal Wiseman proposed the health of Lord Petre, who was “exclusively” responsible for financing the new church. Lord Petre replied, proposing a toast to Wiseman. The cardinal popped up again, and his enthusiastic remarks became a little indiscreet. Romford, he made clear, was a small piece in a larger jigsaw, of religion by railway. There was now “hardly a station on the line” from London to Colchester without a Catholic church. But, if they wanted an “artistic treat”, his audience should visit the “splendid church” at Spitalfields, built for the East End poor. Two more East End churches would soon open, superb in “elegance and beauty”.

The contrast with Romford’s humble chapel was implied, but glaringly tactless. Wiseman remembered to praise Daniel Cubitt Nicholls, the young architect who had built Romford’s friendly chapel. But even then he added the hope that Nicholls would soon develop his evident skills by “building a larger church”. Nicholls cheekily jumped up and said he’d done his best but hoped to have the chance to do better.

One sad note was that pickpockets invaded the crowd outside the chapel, and purses were stolen from two ladies. What did the people of Romford think of the man in the red hat and the robes? Cardinal Wiseman cared enough to come, but Romford did not play a large role in his scheme of things.


The people at Ataura begged him to stay overnight in their New Zealand bush settlement. The mid-winter rains poured down from the South Island mountains. Tributaries of the turbulent Grey River were rising dangerously. But Catholic priest Father Jean-Baptiste Colomb insisted he could ride on the twenty miles to his base in Greymouth before nightfall. He would have to cross Nelson Creek, but – by the primitive standards of New Zealand in 1871 – the ford there was usually safe. In England, a creek was a muddy estuary. In New Zealand, it could be a rushing hillside torrent.

Fr Colomb was a Frenchman. Born in 1821, he had become a priest in 1847 and joined a missionary order, the Society of Mary. Marist priests worked in London’s East End, serving Irish refugees from the 1845-9 potato famine. It seems Fr Colomb wore himself out there. In 1856, he was sent to quieter Romford to run the new St Edward the Confessor Catholic church in Park End Road. Fr Colomb helped celebrate Mass when Cardinal Wiseman consecrated the church that year. In the late 1860s, his health gave way again. He was sent home to France, but soon begged for a new posting.

In 1864, a gold rush had drawn settlers to the rugged west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Many were Catholic Irish from Australia, and their Church followed them. Fr Colomb arrived in Greymouth in May 1870. He promptly rebuilt the town’s Catholic church, doubling it in size. Unluckily it was too close to the Grey River, which often flooded the building. He talked about his years in Romford, name-dropping reminiscences of Catholic aristocrats like Lord Petre of Thorndon Hall near Brentwood, the benefactor of St Edward’s church.

Place names in his vast parish echoed the gold rush. One of the outlying settlements was Half Ounce Creek. In July 1871, Fr Colomb rode the thirty miles there to marry Highland Scot Alexander McDonald to Irishwoman Helene Freeman from Cork. That wedding would be his funeral.

Joshua Slack, the Nelson Creek ferryman, shouted warnings as he saw the priest plunge his horse into the roaring stream, but Fr Colomb could not hear.Floods had cut a new, treacherous channel beyond the regular ford.To keep his feet dry, Colomb adopted a jockey position, his knees pressed high upon the saddle. When the horse stumbled in the unsuspected deep channel, the priest tried to cling to its mane. Both sank under water. The horrified Slack watched the riderless horse break the surface and scramble ashore. The only sign of the priest was a clerical hat tossing in the torrent.

Fr Colomb’s body was carried out to sea, and later washed up on the beach near Greymouth.

A massive crowd of people of all faiths attended his funeral, which became a dignified political protest “against the criminal neglect of the authorities.” A year later, those authorities belatedly erected a suspension bridge across Nelson Creek. Today it’s one of New Zealand’s historic monuments, a memory of the Romford priest who lost his life crossing a dangerous river.


200 years ago, on June 14, 1814, Havering’s landscape was transformed by the stroke of a pen. Almost two square miles of common land ceased to belong to the people and became private property. For centuries, locals had enjoyed rights to pasture animals on four large blocks of wild land. The 298 acres of Harolds Wood Common, alias Romford Common, stretched north from Gallows Corner. The 266-acre Collier Row Common sprawled from Chase Cross westward into Hainault Forest. North of Harold Hill, Noak Hill Common shaded into Havering Plain, 518 acres in all.There were smaller greens elsewhere.

In 1811, a private act of parliament gave two commissioners powers to allocate the commons to local landowners. During the wars against France from 1793 to 1815, official policy aimed to make Britain self-sufficient in growing food. Waste land was wasted land. The driving force behind the enclosures was probably 71 year-old John Heaton of Bedfords, the unofficial boss of Havering-atte-Bower. Back in 1775, he had risked prosecution for building a brick-kiln on Harolds Wood Common. “Liberal and energetic, he lived not for himself,” says his monument in Havering’s St John’s church. Energetic ─ yes. The rest is debateable.

Local landowners ─ 125 of them ─ demanded windfall slices. The commissioners ruled that cottagers could only claim if they could prove ancient rights. Since the carve-up was based on a survey made in 1355 (in Latin), humble cottagers were unlikely to prove entitlement.

In May 1812, 35 acres of Harolds Wood and 25 acres of Collier Row were sold to cover expenses. In April 1813 further blocks of “very improvable” Collier Row land were auctioned. The sites ─ possibly north of Lowshoe Lane ─ were “in a most excellent neighbourhood, and surrounded by good roads.” The Commissioners used powers to widen existing roads, such as Pettits Lane, and build new ones, including Church Road, Noak Hill and Straight Road, Romford. One small piece of land was preserved ─ the village green would be “an ornament for the village of Havering for ever.”

Heaton established a farm, Heaton Grange, which soon grew bumper crops of corn and winter animal feed. Grange Road recalls the name. By 1819, Harold Hill Farm had been built, close to today’s North Hill Drive. It gave its name to the estate.

Pubs benefited too. The Spencer Arms (now the Ardleigh) was erected on the former Hardley Green in 1816, and the Squirrels Head (later the Squirrels, and now replaced by housing) on Squirrels Heath, a triangle of land from the Drill to Gidea Park station. In Hornchurch, the Chequers occupied a sliver of ground called Butts Green. Harold Hill’s oldest pub, the Bear, had existed since at least 1715, but it moved to its present site in Noak Hill Road in 1817.

Think of the way suburbs like Hampstead, Wandsworth and Wanstead have been built around heath and common land. Havering would have developed very differently had those commons survived. Praising the “improvements” in 1816, a writer insisted they had “caused the Liberty of Havering to assume an entirely new character.”


Until 1868, Hornchurch people celebrated Christmas with a ceremony that must have dated

back to pagan times. On Christmas morning, the owner of Hornchurch Hall, opposite St Andrew’s parish church, roasted a boar’s head. Decked with ribbons and holly, it was carried on a pitchfork across the road to the Millfield behind the church, to become the prize in a wrestling competition that afternoon. The winner led a procession along the High Street to one of Hornchurch’s inns, where his friends joined him in partying.

In 1837, there was a special seasonal touch. The scene was described as “highly picturesque, the country being whitened with snow.” But for the ten pairs of competing wrestlers, a White Christmas was not good news. The ground was “as hard as frost could make it”, not comfortable for the fallers. As usual, when the winner was declared, “the prize was paraded around the village, amidst the acclamations of his friends, and afterwards feasted upon by the party at one of the inns.”

Hornchurch’s Christmas Day wrestling ritual was unique in Essex. It can only have been a survival of an ancient belief in some animal god, dating back before Christianity became the official faith. Pagan Anglo-Saxons engaged in animal sacrifices. Sacrificing a boar at a midwinter festival (‘Yule’ in the old religion) was probably a symbolic way of killing off the old year to ensure that a new one would follow. The cult was evidently very strong in Havering.

The first successful missionary in Essex, St Cedd, arrived around 653 A.D. He aimed to persuade local people that the gods they worshipped were really Christian saints in disguise.

That may explain the dedication of St Andrew’s church.  St Andrew was an early martyr. The Romans crucified him on an X-shaped cross. Maybe locals were told that the horns of their animal god were really St Andrew’s cross. But the animal god cult was so strong that the priests had to place horns on their church. This was unique in the whole of England, and gave the building its nickname: the horned church. The name first appears in a Latin document in 1222, and in English (sometimes as Hornedechirche) as early as 1233. In time, the name was streamlined and applied to the locality as well: Hornchurch.

Sad to say, the very special local custom of wrestling for the boar’s head fell victim to local rivalries. By Victorian times, the wrestling matches had become organised contests between Hornchurch and Romford. Romford was a growing market centre and railway town, and Hornchurch people regarded their neighbours as a rough lot. The annual festivity became “rather a rowdy affair” and there was pressure to abolish it. Hence on Christmas afternoon 1868, the cheerful procession passed along Hornchurch High Street for the very last time.


It’s 350 years since a fabulously rich couple, John and Margaret Burch, arrived in Romford.

They’d made their money in Barbados, exploiting slave labour to produce the bonanza crop, sugar. In 1664, the Burches retired to England, buying Romford’s biggest estate, Gidea Hall, then usually called Giddy Hall. The mansion, demolished in 1930, stood just east of Raphael Park.

Madam Burch, as she was fawningly called, brought her personal maidservant from Barbados – the ultimate status symbol. Cumba was Havering’s first Black resident. A slave, a piece of property, Cumba survived the English climate just four years. But when she died, in April 1668, somebody had the humanity to record her name in the register of Romford’s St Edward’s church. “Cumber, a ffemale Blackamore servant from Guyddy Hall, buried.” Today, “blackamore” is an offensive term. But in 1668, when “black” was used to describe complexion, it was an attempt to identify Cumba with some dignity. The double “ff” indicated a capital letter. In death, Cumba was briefly accorded the respect denied to her alive.

Her name offers a valuable clue. It tells us that she came from the Mandinka people, from Guinea and Gambia in west Africa. Barbados became a large-scale slave economy after 1640, when settlers found they could make big bucks from sugar. Don’t kid yourself that a Barbados sugar plantation was Downton Abbey with sunshine. Slave life was cruel and violent. Burch’s plantation, Hogsty, hardly sounds romantic. Planters exploited tribal divisions among the slaves. The largest group of Black people came from modern Ghana. Calling themselves “Gold Coast Negroes”, in 1675 they tried to seize control of the island. Many planters lived in the capital, Bridgetown, where they employed favoured slaves as household servants. Margaret Burch probably chose Cumba because the Mandinka homeland was a thousand miles from Ghana. Lacking close links to the feared Gold Coast Blacks, Cumba was a safe person to have around you.

We don’t know whether Cumba had been captured in Africa and had endured the horrors of a slave ship across the Atlantic. If she was around twenty when she came to Romford, she might have been born in Barbados. In Mandinka custom, children are named when they are eight days old, usually in honour of a relative. Even if she was Barbadian by birth, Cumba would have known something of her African heritage through stories about the grandmother or aunt whose name she bore. Like thousands of other slaves, Cumba probably spoke English.

John Burch died in 1668, soon after Cumba. In his arrogant and racist Will, he left his wife “all my Servants, Negroes, Slaves, Cattle, &c” in Barbados, along with his Havering properties which included “the Inne called the Unicorne” ─ still a feature of Gidea Park, although in a later building.

History has its own priorities. In the twenty-first century, we don’t care about the loads-a-money Burches. But let’s honour the memory of Cumba, the enslaved Mandinka woman who 350 years ago became Havering’s first Black resident.


Everybody called him “Colonel Lockwood”.  An aristocratic Tory, perhaps it was surprising that he was Romford’s MP, but sixty years ago, Havering people were more deferential. John Cutts Lockwood served as an officer in the Coldstream Guards during the First World War. In the 1920s he became a barrister, but in 1928 the death of his cousin, Lord Lambourne, made him squire of Bishops Hall at Lambourne End, four miles from Romford. In the disastrous 1931 election, Labour lost many of its natural seats. Colonel Lockwood won Hackney Central for the Conservatives, but lost it four years later.

Too old for active service in World War Two, he served with the Essex Territorials and worked in the Army’s legal department. In 1945, when the Nazis were kicked out of Denmark, he joined a British delegation to help the Danes back on their feet. They gave him their highest honour, the Order of Dannebrog. In 1945, he failed to get back into parliament for Bexley in Kent. Bexley Tories turned to a new candidate, Edward Heath, who later became Prime Minister.

In 1950, Colonel Lockwood gained Romford from Labour ─ by just 1,269 votes. In those days, Romford’s parliamentary boundaries included Brentwood. When Brentwood was hived off in 1955, he retired from parliament. As Romford’s MP, Colonel Lockwood spoke rarely, and mainly on an issue he cared deeply about, animal welfare.

Naturally, he raised local issues. He pressed for amenities on the new Harold Hill estate. A post office was needed in the Gooshays area to spare elderly people a long trek to collect their pensions. He criticised Housing Minister (and later Premier) Harold Macmillan for failing to give Harold Hill a park. In 1953, he demanded a new railway bridge in Upper Brentwood Road, near Gidea Park station. The footpath was dangerously narrow, and it was a bus route. The bridge was later rebuilt. He also campaigned for Brentwood’s much-needed by-pass, and urged action to cut Romford’s telephone waiting list.

For someone of his background, public service was a duty. In 1959, he became chairman of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But times were changing, and campaigners against blood sports had no respect for the colonel from the country mansion. RSPCA annual meetings became lively affairs. In 1968, he tried to reach a compromise between the extreme positions. The RSPCA would support laws against hare coursing and the hunting of deer and otters. But, he argued, hunting was the only humane and practical way of controlling foxes. Soon after, Colonel Lockwood resigned. Some said he was forced out. Clearly, a country squire who believed in foxhunting could no longer head the RSPCA.

He was not a tall man, but Colonel Lockwood combined a military bearing with a genial smile. Ever courteous, he could not disguise his dislike for some politicians. Told that Labour’s publicity-grabbing leader Harold Wilson planned a cameo role in Coronation Street, he replied: “I hope not. I watch that.” Many natural gentlemen (and two ladies) have represented Havering constituencies since 1955, but Colonel John Lockwood was the last Tory squire in local politics. He died in 1983, aged 92.


Time magazine, one of the world’s most influential news publications, covered the big global stories. So why, in June 1955, did it feature the MP for Romford?

Ron Ledger was making his maiden speech after his election to the House of Commons. Speaking about pressures on working parents, he told a story of a family deserted by their father in 1923. The mother was pregnant with her fourth child. In desperation, she handed the other three to the charity Barnardo’s, which raised them in orphanages. The three youngsters, he related, were split up, adding that one of them was now an MP. Then came the electrifying words: “but I have not the slightest idea where my brother, my sister, my mother, my father, or any other relative, might be.”

Ron Ledger had been born in 1920.  After the orphanage, he served in the RAF and studied at Nottingham University, where he founded the student Labour Club. Later he worked for the Co-op. As Labour candidate for Romford, he had a stroke of luck. The Conservatives won the 1955 election, but Labour gained Romford against the national tide. A boundary change had removed Tory Brentwood, while the Harold Hill estate was filling with Labour voters.

Ron Ledger was the first Barnardo’s boy to become an MP. His majority was small, and he worked hard for the constituency. Did the government know that The Drill roundabout in Heath Park was dangerous? Why must the new outpatient department at Oldchurch Hospital be built on the staff tennis court? How many people qualified for a driving licence at the Gidea Park driving test centre?

In the 1959 Tory landslide, he just held on to his seat. Ron Ledger was a rising figure. It all turned sour in a debate that December. We grumble that MPs just tow the party line and never think for themselves. But, in British politics, an original idea can be dangerous ─ especially if the details are not thought through. Parliament was discussion congestion on the roads. Accidents and traffic jams cost the country £600 million a year. Ron Ledger had a suggestion. Why not make rail travel free?  “This is not as funny as it sounds,” he told laughing MPs.

When Harold Wilson formed the next Labour government in 1964, there was no job for Romford’s MP. Ron Ledger was now involved with a ginger group within the Co-operative movement, trying to smarten up the fuddy-duddy Co-op for the new affluent Britain. He now saw his future in business. In 1969, he bought a hotel on the Isle of Wight. A row followed in Romford’s Labour Party, with accusations that their MP was not doing his job. He replied that he had told his supporters “that I would gradually move out of the limelight.” He did not contest the 1970 election, and later ran a casino and restaurant in Shanklin.

Ron Ledger died in 2004. If he did not scale the heights of public life, he should be admired for overcoming obstacles and entering Parliament. And politics brought him one unexpected reward. Publicity about the election of the Barnardo’s boy as Romford’s MP led to an emotional reunion with a long-lost sister.


It’s one of the great puzzles of History, but there have been very few Communists in Cranham.  Maybe flamboyant Hubert Huggins Lovell was enough. Lovell was born in Marylebone in 1891. When Lenin’s Russian Revolution broke out in 1917, he was inspired by the Communist message. Indeed, he did well out of it. Britain’s Communist Party had few members, but it was strangely wealthy. Critics alleged that it was funded from Moscow.

One Communist strategy was to form “front organisations”, to broaden the party’s impact by attracting “fellow travellers” (or “useful idiots” as they were called in private). Lovell was secretary of one of them, the International Prisoners’ Aid Society, which paid him £5 a week – a good salary in the 1920s. He was very active politically, for instance taking an active part in strikes on Scotland’s Red Clydeside. An assault on a police officer made him a marked man with the forces of law and order.

The biggest industrial dispute of the era was the 1926 General Strike, when the Trades Union Congress tried to close Britain down in support of the miners. The General Strike failed, but it split families. One victim was a young Communist called Sarah Burl, who was thrown out by her parents. Lovell and his wife, who lived in Willesden, took Miss Burl into their home. But the suspicious soon Mrs Lovell threw Sarah out ─ and her husband left too.

Lovell bought a bungalow in Greenbanks, a quiet street off Cranham’s Front Lane. Cranham was not a promising place to start the revolution, but it was a long way from the angry Mrs Lovell. Lovell promised to pay his wife ten shillings (50p) a week. But when he went on a 5-week visit to the Soviet Union in 1927, he left her only £2. Sarah Burl was now officially his secretary, and he paid her £3 a week. In 1929, Mrs Lovell took him to court, where the lawyers had some fun. Did the Communist Party have a policy on the minimum wage? Yes, replied Lovell, everybody should get thirty shillings (£1.50) a week. No, he couldn’t afford to pay his wife that much. “He got nothing from Russia.”

Soon after, Lovell was back in court. On a demonstration at Victoria Station, he spotted a limousine containing a member of the royal family. “Down with Royalty!” he shouted. “Up with the Reds!” Scotland Yard Inspector Foster arrested him, because Lovell was “a very troublesome agitator.” The court made him pay a surety of £30 to guarantee he would keep the peace, but he was soon in trouble again, and in 1930 the magistrate ordered him to forfeit his money. “The reason I am here today is because I am a Communist and dare to lift the flag of revolt,” Lovell proclaimed, shouting “I will not subsidise my persecutors.”

Cranham’s resident Communist then vanishes from the record. He was an exotic figure for a quiet suburb. But maybe it was appropriate that a front man for Soviet dictator Josef Stalin should have lived on Front Lane.


Thornwell Jacobs was a shaker and mover, an American Presbyterian clergyman who had worked in advertising. But in 1923 he met his match in Cranham.

Dr Jacobs was proud of his home state, Georgia. Soldier and philanthropist James Oglethorpe had founded Georgia in 1732, spending a turbulent decade there as its first governor. Later Oglethorpe retired to Cranham Hall in Essex, where he died in 1785. Oglethorpe University, founded in 1835, honoured his name. But the college did not survive the American Civil War of 1861-65. In 1916, Jacobs launched a new Oglethorpe University. The college flourished. Soon he planned to build a shrine on the campus, and bring Oglethorpe’s body from England.

In 1923, Jacobs arrived in Cranham, seeking the grave of Georgia’s founder. Britain had been weakened by the First World War. Thinking people knew we needed American support, but the United States was turning its back on the world. So when the energetic Dr Jacobs arrived in 1923, full of ad-man talk about Anglo-American brotherhood, Cranham’s Rector Reverend Leslie Wright was quickly persuaded.

Oglethorpe had been buried under the chancel, but the church had been rebuilt in 1873. Hence the first step was to open the vault and check that the coffin was still there. The Diocese of Chelmsford gave permission, and approved the idea that Oglethorpe’s remains “might cross the seas into the bosom of Georgia” to become an honoured link “between their great country and our own.”

But Cranham people were angry. There was no Havering in those days, but Cranham’s tiny parish council fired off protests. Some feared a random dig among the bodies of dead relatives. Others objected that the high-handed Rector should have called a public meeting to discuss the matter. Most simply felt that Oglethorpe should rest close to the house where he’d lived for forty years. There was even talk of violent resistance to any exhumation.

The Cranham campaign bought time for other objectors to come forward. Britain’s first woman MP, Virginia-born Nancy Astor, criticised the plan. Oglethorpe had left no family – there were millions of his real children in Georgia, smarmed Dr Jacobs – but distant relatives objected to digging him up. Across the Atlantic, Episcopalians – the Church of England’s American cousins – disliked the pushy Presbyterian. The Bishop of Georgia sent a protest telegram to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Rector Wright’s amateur diplomacy was coming apart.

Jacobs backed off. A classic spin-doctor, he masked defeat by declaring victory. His mission was a success: he’d located the grave of Georgia’s founder. (It had never been lost). Jacobs sent a huge wreath in Oglethorpe’s memory. Too big to pass through the church door, it was propped up in the churchyard.

Twenty years later, Oglethorpe University forced its dynamic President to retire. He wrote a bitter memoir, Step Down Dr Jacobs. It was subtitled, Autobiography of an Autocrat. Thornwell Jacobs generally got his own way. But the people of Cranham blocked his body-snatching scheme.


It was never likely that the editor of the Romford Recorder would be locked up in the Tower of London, but Havering’s local newspaper can claim a proud place in the history of free speech in this country.

In November 1956, Britain and France tried to seize the Suez Canal from Egypt. Arab countries backed Egypt. Since most oil supplies came from the Middle East, Britain soon faced a fuel crisis. Petrol rationing began in mid-December. Private motorists were allowed to drive only 200 miles a week. Suez was a humiliating episode for Britain, and tempers ran high.

When MPs allowed themselves an extra 750 miles of fuel so they could tour their constituencies, the fiery editor of the Sunday Express, John Junor, denounced their selfishness. Pompously, the House of Commons Privileges Committee accused him bringing Parliament into disrepute. Summoned to the bar of the House, Junor was forced to make a humiliating apology. Most MPs now backed off, realising they looked like bullies.

But Donald Paterson, Liberal candidate for Hornchurch, remained angry. Interviewed by the Romford Recorder, he called the 750-mile extra allowance “outrageous”, slamming MPs for their “sad record” in solving world problems. The Recorder ran its scoop on January 4, 1957 under the headline “MPs Too Kind To Themselves”. Godfrey Lagden, Hornchurch’s Conservative MP, reported the Recorder to the Privileges Committee of the House of Commons. Two weeks later, Romford’s Labour MP Ron Ledger, also complained about a follow-up story, in which Paterson told the Recorder that MPs had “effectively muzzled” criticism by intimidating the press.

By now, the Privileges Committee wanted to duck the issue. It decided that Paterson had attacked the rationing policy, not Parliament itself. As a face-saver, it tut-tutted about the Recorder’s naughty headline, but advised against taking action. It was also best to ignore Paterson’s allegation of muzzling. A narrow escape?

But the Recorder hit back, complaining that the Privileges Committee had not heard the editor’s defence. The Recorder had managed to submit a written statement, but the House of Commons ruled that it formed part of the committee proceedings, that these were confidential ─ and so the Recorder’s document could not be published.

Romford’s local newspaper took its case to the Press Council, the forerunner of the Press Complaints Commission. This was unusual. The Press Council had been created to hear complaints against newspapers ─ and here was one by an editor claiming unfair treatment. In May 1957, as petrol rationing was coming to an end, the Press Council rejected the Recorder’s complaint. Its headline had been condemned as an insult to Parliament but ─ so what? No Romford Recorder journalists had been thrown into dungeons, so there was no unfair treatment.

If the result was a draw, it was an honourable one. A suburban newspaper had stood up to the people who ran the country. Parliament’s job is to protect our liberties. But somebody has to defend us against our own protectors.


Havering people in bygone days lived in a world of dark nights. In 1763, a Thurrock drinking club, the Aveley Lunaticks, was so-called because they met at full moon, when it was safe to venyture out at night. .

Street lighting came slowly, and the expense was resented. By 1878, Romford had 110 streetlamps. Oil-lit, they gave only dim light. Gas was brighter, but at £200 a year extra, it was too expensive. A 1911, Rainham village was “very badly and sparsely lighted by oil lamps”. Rural Dagenham had few street lights. Cynics claimed they were located outside local councillors’ homes.  By 1914, Hornchurch parish council operated 152 streetlights in the village and the Park Lane area. To save money, they were not lit in June and July. South Hornchurch remained dark.

In 1906, forty lamp standards were erected in Emerson Park and Wingletye Lane ─ hardly floodlighting. But the law required the approval of two-thirds of the local ratepayers before the lamps could be used. Emerson Park people were not poor but many objected to the cost. The community split. Major John Ewing, a Scotsman and Conservative, wanted Wingletye Lane illuminated. His neighbour, Liberal nurseryman T.W. Catherwood, was opposed. In 1912, a public meeting voted to light the lamps. James Penney from Parkeston Avenue demanded a poll, a referendum of local ratepayers. Mocking opponents jangled pennies on the floor. The “Light Brigade” won the referendum by 89 votes to 72 ─ well short of the necessary two-thirds majority. Double-crossing was alleged. Some had promised to support Ewing, but used the secret ballot to sin against the light. Hornchurch historian C.T. Perfect was amused, predicting that the world of 2014 would be lit by “bottled sunlight” transmitted by “wireless”.

Harold Wood also said No. Cattle dealer Richard Mallinson argued that if darkness was bad, “the Great Creator” would never have given us night. Streetlights defied divine providence and would disturb his cows.A scornful critic retorted that the Great Creator had permitted the invention of matches.

Lights were turned off during the First World War in case they guided German airships. C.T. Perfect noted that “our own little market town of Romford lost all its attractiveness in the all-pervading gloom” of winter evenings. When a British plane shot down a Zeppelin near Billericay in 1916, the explosion created a “crimson glow, lighting up the country all around.” There were some gains in the darkness. The Aurora Borealis, the natural light show in the Arctic sky, was visible locally in March 1918.

Although there were small-scale electricity supply projects before 1914 in Romford (provided by the brewery) and Harold Wood, houses were still built locally in the 1920s with gas lighting. Gidea Park’s Royal Liberty School, opened in 1921, held school concerts on moonlit nights so parents and pupils could get home safely. It was not bottled sunshine that lit up Havering, but Barking Power Station, built in 1925. Electricity reached Upminster in 1926.

I can just remember the excitement the night the first lampposts operated along the Southend Arterial Road, around 1950. One after another, the concrete daffodils burst into blue (later sodium) light. The lights stretched east to Wingletye Lane.  Major Ewing would have approved.


Potholes make people grumble about local government. Why doesn’t the Council fix the hole in my road? But, sixty years ago, many Havering streets were hardly roads at all.

In 1951, Labour MP Geoffrey Bing told Parliament about the Hornchurch highways scandal. With 72,000 voters, Hornchurch was one of the biggest constituencies in Britain. Population had mushroomed, as suburbs had spread without proper amenities.Hornchurch was a marginal seat. Bing was an energetic local campaigner. He was also a left-winger, who criticised private enterprise. Too often, he claimed, builders broke flowery promises to tarmac new roads and pavements.

Sussex Avenue in Harold Wood was so dangerous that a disabled war veteran had fallen and broken his arm. Hornchurch Council advised angry residents to chase the developer who’d let them down – but they found he had died. However, he had a business partner – in South Africa. When contacted about his obligations to fix Sussex Avenue, the partner referred them to his solicitor – in Wales!

Even in Upminster, “the smartest part of Hornchurch”, some streets lacked surfacing: residents had paid road charges to the developer, but the firm had gone bankrupt. In the heart of Hornchurch’s bungalow-land, Randall Drive and Kent Drive had neither street lighting nor sewerage.

Nearer the Thames, whole areas were in an appalling condition. One planner looked at the northern part of Rainham and recommended “that every house should be pulled down” and the area turned back into ploughed fields. There was “hardly a made-up street” in South Hornchurch. People travelling along the main road (now the A1306) “cannot even tell where the roads lead off except that there is a morass where cars and vehicles have tried to proceed.” Most South Hornchurch streets were “unlighted at night and filled with great pools of water.” Geoffrey Bing called it “an absolutely disgraceful and disgusting state of affairs.”

Problems stretched back decades. When the local authority made up Queens Park Road, by Harold Wood Station, in 1912, some of the property owners legally obliged to help pay the costs simply could not be found. Hornchurch had also inherited problems from rural times: Prospect Road in Harold Wood and Hubbards Chase in Emerson Park were farm tracks that required upgrading for housing. The 1939-45 War added new problems. South End Road in Elm Park was closed for the security of RAF Hornchurch. By 1948, the authorities were willing to reopen it, but major repairs were required.

The solution came from the people who are cursed for the potholes. Hornchurch Council, Havering’s forerunner, pursued an active policy of modernising roads. In 1951, they were upgrading two streets a month.However, ten years later, 21 Rainham streets were still waiting, and a large area around Upminster Road lacked sewerage. The sense of being forgotten powered the growth of Rainham’s Residents’ Association, still a force in Havering politics. The last Rainham street was surfaced in 1972.

Of course people grumble about potholes. But sixty years ago, too many Hornchurch streets were all potholes and no road.


On St George’s Day, 23 April 1914, the first bishop of Chelmsford was enthroned in the town’s freshly-minted cathedral. For centuries, Essex was part of the diocese of London, heir to the old East Saxon kingdom. In 1845, Essex and Hertfordshire were transferred to the small Kentish diocese of Rochester. But the Thames proved a barrier, and in 1877 the two counties became the new diocese of St Albans. Pressure continued for Essex to have its own bishop.

Suburbs spread into West Ham and Leyton, and Anglicans struggled to provide new churches for “London Over The Border”. In 1905, the Church of England decided to raise money and ask Parliament to create an Essex diocese. Fund-raising was a chellenge. Essex agriculture was depressed. The urban areas were mainly working class. In 1907, Upminster was the second most generous parish supporting the project. Chelmsford became the cathedral city, beating off Colchester and a huge church at Stratford Broadway. But squabbles between Nonconformist and Anglican politicians held up legislation until 1913. The delay, raged the Bishop of St Albans at Romford in 1910, was “intolerable”.

Most bishops were upper class and Oxbridge educated. Liberal prime minister Asquith broke new ground, choosing Bethnal Green vicar J.E. Watts-Ditchfield. The son of a schoolteacher, Watts-Ditchfield had trained for the Methodist ministry. His switch to the Church of England (and his hyphenated surname) looked like a career move.Watts-Ditchfield was unlucky. The First World War broke out in August 1914, delaying most plans. Seriously overworked, in 1923 the bishop died after postponing surgery for appendicitis. Bishops were sometimes “translated” (moved sideways) and Chelmsford might have done better with a more traditional and experienced leader. Watts-Ditchfield was intolerant. “I cannot permit” was a stock phrase in his pastoral letters. He refused to attend churches where incense was burned. He believed adultery should be made a crime.

Personally, he was a kindly man. One evening during the 1914-18 War, chauffeur-driven along the main road near Romford, he encountered two soldiers whose motorbike had broken down.The bishop delivered the men to their camp. They were hours late and faced disciplinary charges. Watts-Ditchfield identified himself to the commanding officer as the Bishop of Chelmsford, and apologised for detaining his young friends. Salutes, smiles and surprise all round!

Throughout the diocese’s first century, population flooded into Essex. New churches were needed to serve new suburbs. Sometimes generous benefactors met the cost, like the Matthews brothers, Harold Wood millers, who paid for St Peter’s in Gubbins Lane in 1939. Money is rarely morally neutral. Violet Wills, who funded the Good Shepherd church in 1934, came from a wealthy tobacco family. In effect, Collier Row’s new church was paid for by Woodbine cigarettes.

Nazi bombs added to the problems. All Saints, Squirrels Heath, near Gidea Park station, was destroyed in 1941. Churchgoers wanted to rebuild on the old site, on the corner of Upper Brentwood Road. But the diocesan authorities needed to fill a gap in Emerson Park. The congregation felt strong-armed into moving to Ardleigh Green.

Now the diocese of Chelmsford must manage decline. In 2009, St John’s, Mawney Road became the first Anglican church in Havering to close.


In December 2014, Havering Council objected to London City Airport’s plans to route 45 planes over the Borough every hour. Back in 1932, Hornchurch people had complained about noisy night flights from the RAF station in Elm Park. The government replied that night flying was allowed for just six weeks each year, and was vital to train pilots defending London.

But Havering nearly had a major London airport on its doorstep. In 1935, the City of London backed plans for an airport at Fairlop. London already had two airports, at Heston to the west and Croydon to the south. An Essex airport would shorten flying time to most European destinations. The existing Fairlop Loop railway line would be incorporated into a massive extension of the Tube system, bringing the new airport within half an hour of Bank Station. The nearby A12 Eastern Avenue gave good road links too. Neville Chamberlain’s government welcomed the project as part of a four-airport strategy for London ─ Heston, Fairlop, Croydon, plus somewhere in Kent. When he flew off to appease Hitler at Munich in 1938, Chamberlain travelled from Heston. Fairlop would have been a more convenient jumping-off point for Germany.

In June 1939, plans for the £1.1 million Fairlop Airport included two 2,000-yard runways, half the length of Heathrow, but longer than City Airport today. Fairlop’s north-south runway would cater for flights from Scotland and the North. Customs and passport facilities would make Fairlop the UK’s hub airport, linking domestic and overseas services. A second runway would be aligned east from Fairlop Station towards Whalebone Lane. Take off and approach routes would have been right over Havering. Berlin flights would have thundered over Harold Hill. The early morning plane to Frankfurt would have woken Upminster, while Paris passengers looked down on Rainham’s roofs.

But World War Two changed everything. The heavy bombers developed to pound Germany gave birth to longer-range airliners. Pilots now nicknamed the Atlantic Ocean ‘the Pond’. The magnet for postwar air travel would be North America. So London looked west. In 1944, work began on a huge new airport at ‘Heath Row’. Heston, in its shadow, would close. South of London, Gatwick emerged as an alternative to Croydon.

In 1952 ─ soon after the Central Line trains had started to run through Newbury Park ─ Fairlop was abandoned. Planners now looked to Stansted, where the Americans had built a long runway for bombers. But poor transport links to London made it a Cinderella airport until the Stansted Express began in the late 1980s.

If war had not come in 1939, Fairlop Airport would have opened in the early 1940s. When jets arrived, in the 1950s, runway extension would have been needed to match Stansted’s 3,400 yards. By putting Whalebone Lane into a tunnel, the concrete could have been extended eastward. Sadly, life in Collier Row, right under the rooftops flightpath, would have become Hell.

But instead of that tiresome trek to Heathrow, Havering holidays would have begun with a short trip to check-in at Barkingside. And, today, Central Line trains still run to Hainault, via Newbury Park, serving a phantom airport that never happened.


Mention Gallows Corner, and Havering residents shudder at its nightmare traffic. Go back 400 years, and locals trembled for a different reason. There really was a gallows here, and it was used to kill men and women who broke the law.

The Liberty of Havering ─ the modern borough west of the Ingrebourne ─ had its own courts and punished its own criminals. We know curiously little about the terrible episodes that happened here. The gallows stood close to the junction of Straight Road and the A12.A sketch on a map of 1618 shows two uprights and a cross beam - just like a playground swing.

It was robust enough to hang criminals three at a time.

No court records survive. Some executions were noted in the burial records of St Edward’s church in Romford Market. In May 1570, William Cooke, Henry Hawkins and Thomas Ap-Parry were hanged ─ why, we don’t know. In September 1574, Thomas Reed, Simon Jones and “Rise” Laugher were hanged for stealing money from soldiers ─ again, no details. “Rise” sounds like the Welsh name “Rhys”. Jones and Ap-Parry are also Welsh names.These criminals sound like long-distance cattle drovers, a trade dominated by Welshmen.

Hangings perhaps became less frequent. In 1610, St Edward’s recorded the burial of “Ollyver, a prisoner executed and buried”. Prof. Marjorie K. Mackintosh of the University of Boulder, Colorado says James I was challenging Havering’s privileged status at that time. Maybe local bigwigs decided to hang someone to assert their authority. In 1656, the burial register mentions “Two women that were Executed.” Not even their names were given. At other gallows around London, bodies were often coated with tar and left dangling as a warning. Probably this happened at Gallows Corner too. When bodies eventually disintegrated, the bits may have been dumped nearby.

Executions were public events. Did people stroll over from Hardley (now Ardleigh) Green or trudge down from Noak Hill to watch? The hangmen were probably local men, paid a few shillings for the job. We can be sure that the hangings were slow, painful and disgusting. Havering’s prison stood near the South Street end of the market. The site was cleared in the 1930s. Condemned prisoners made their last journey along the A118 Main Road, probably tied to a cart. The cart would have doubled as the platform from which they were swung to their gruesome deaths.

The gallows was a reminder of the perils of breaking the law. Although no longer in use, it was repaired in 1785. But it had not deterred a highwayman early one January morning in 1769. He stopped the Norwich stagecoach “near Romford Gallows” and robbed its passengers. “His hand trembled while he held the pistol, but he behaved with the greatest politeness.” Around 1791, the gallows was moved to a location near today’s Masefield Crescent. In 1815, it was called “the Old Gallows”. Nobody knows when it disappeared. There was a Gallows Field in 1880. The name “Gallows Corner” can be traced at least back to 1906. When Eastern Avenue (the A12) was built in the 1920s, it became the name of the roundabout. There’s no truth in local tradition that the timbers from the gallows were incorporated in Old Redden Court, now Court Way, Harold Wood. 

Gallows Corner has long been a dangerous place.


In 1961, Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government responded to a Royal Commission report by announcing a major shake-up in London government. The capital’s built-up area had spread far beyond the boundaries of the old London County Council, created in 1888. A new Greater London Council would take its place from 1965. The Borough of Romford and the Urban District of Hornchurch would both come under the new GLC.

The reaction of both was simple: no thanks. “We feel we are the first town in Essex rather than the last town in London,” said a Romford official. Romford was a “self-contained community”, separated from London by its own Green Belt. (You can see it on the train to Chadwell Heath, but don’t blink – you’ll miss it!) Many people had moved to Hornchurch and Romford from inner London. They had ‘made it’ out to Essex and did not want to feel dragged back again. But in May 1962, the government refused a reprieve ─ although, gallingly, leafy Chigwell managed to escape the scheme.

The Royal Commission wanted a GLC of 52 boroughs, each with around 100,000 people. That suited Hornchurch Urban District Council, which coveted borough status for its 128,000 population. But, late in 1961, the government announced a target of only 32 boroughs, with minimum populations of 200,000. That almost certainly meant joining Hornchurch with Romford. But relations between the neighbours were not always harmonious.

Hornchurch considered a merger with Dagenham. Dagenchurch had its attractions, although it left jilted Romford with no obvious partner. Dynamic Dagenham had a progressive council. Its sewage works sold Dagfert, a superb compost that grew gigantic brussels sprouts. (Dagfert was later banned on health grounds.) And Dagenham had industry. Factories paid heavy rates. As one Hornchurch official put it, “If you’ve got to choose between two ugly sisters, pick the one with the bigger dowry.”

A government map, in December 1961, contained another shock. Romford would merge with Hornchurch, but the Urban District would cede Rainham and South Hornchurch to Dagenham and Barking. That meant losing many Hornchurch factories, and the rates they paid. Godfrey Lagden, Tory MP for Hornchurch, told parliament in 1963 that “the Romfordians and the Hornchurchians have a great community of interest. Their streets run into one another, they take their amusements in the same buildings.” But if Rainham and South Hornchurch were transferred, “there would be great distress among the inhabitants,” who wanted nothing to do with Dagenham.

Dagenham MP John Parker made a last-ditch attempt to annex Rainham and South Hornchurch, thus bringing the whole Thames-side industrial belt under one authority. Running the boundary along the Beam river, he objected, would split Ford’s between two councils. But that of course was exactly what Hornchurch and Romford wanted ─ Ford’s paid mighty rates.

Noting that most of the proposed Borough had once formed the Liberty of Havering, Godfrey Lagden suggested that “to avoid quarrels over names such as Hornford or Romchurch”, the new authority should adopt “the delightful name of Havering-atte-Bower.” This was too much for one local councillor, who objected that Hornchurch had much to do with Havering-atte-Bower as with Ashby-de-la-Zouche. The birth of Havering was not quite the “happy wedding” predicted by MP Lagden.


For fifty years before the 1914 War, farmers across southern Havering supplied London with fresh vegetables. By the 18th century, London was surrounded by market gardens: in 1760, Ilford was a major centre for potatoes. But as housing spread over West Ham, so vegetable growing took over further out. By 1830 South Hornchurch was a power in the spud world. The 1841 census reported 160 itinerant Irish pea pickers at Wennington, more than doubling the local population. Later, harvest workers came from the East End for a working holiday.

Greater London had 2.4 million people in 1851. By 1891, its population had doubled to 5.3 million – lots of hungry customers! From the 1870s, vegetables became big business locally. In 1881, the Royal Agricultural Society awarded a prize to Isaac Gay of Great Sunnings, near today’s Corbets Tey cemetery, for inventing a “new model” system of market gardening. A farmer in nearby Aveley was nicknamed the “Marrow King”. In Wennington and Hornchurch, farmers rotated vegetables with the traditional wheat crop. Potatoes cleaned out the soil; peas added natural nitrogen fertiliser.

Rainham went over totally to market gardening. “The chief crops are vegetables,” Kelly’s Directory said of Rainham, “great quantities of which are grown for the London markets.” ‘Early Rainham’ was a recognised variety of cabbage from 1876. By 1880, there was a pub called The Cauliflower in Upminster Road North.

Rainham grew onions for pickling. In 1881, Corbets Tey produced potatoes, onions, peas and cucumbers. Wennington developed asparagus and rhubarb. The market gardening belt stretched east across Thurrock: Aveley was noted for early peas, Stifford for strawberries.  Turnips were grown around Grays. Fields of vegetables made pleasant countryside. A 1906 guide book said Dagenham was dreary but things improved after crossing the Beam River into South Hornchurch. “The mainly pastoral county of Essex now assumes a more favourable aspect.”

But this intensive culture came at a price. Rainham’s light soils required heavy applications of manure. Playing on words, a writer in 1871 complained that “Rainham is in bad odour with railway travellers for the evil odour of its barges on the Ingreburn, discharging their cargoes of London dung by the railway station.” This smelly gift was “returned to the grateful town” in the form of cabbages and asparagus. Protests were ignored. Rainham opened a new wharf for shovelling out manure in 1872.

From late spring to autumn, vegetables were loaded on huge waggons, each drawn by four draught horses, and hauled through the night to Covent Garden. Labourers worked around the clock, often for days at a time, delivering the expertly stacked produce. A sudden glut could destroy prices, causing waggon loads to be dumped, but market gardening generally made money. Workers were well paid. Weeding vegetables meant employment right through the winter, when other labourers were often laid off.

Much of Rainham was built over from the 1920s.  Rising labour costs made market gardening uneconomic. But Havering gardeners still grow vegetables – and enjoy eating the produce coaxed from their own backyards.


The lost lake of medieval Hornchurch provokes many questions. From 1159 until 1391, a small French religious community lived at Hornchurch Priory, near St Andrew’s church. Their property passed to New College, Oxford, which in 1923 published summaries of the Priory’s medieval documents. Unluckily, these mostly refer to people and places that are now hard to trace. Occasionally there’s a familiar name, like Edmund Aps, who lived beside the highway from Hornchurch to London in 1285 ─ Abbs Cross ─ or Geoffrey Escurell, active around 1260, and remembered in Squirrels Heath.

Mentioned several times between 1258 and 1450, Hornchurch’s lost lake was on the west side of “Lakestrate”. This is now Station Lane, continued beyond the railway as Suttons Lane. The lake’s northern boundary was “Cobbeslane”, referred to between 1269 and 1428.

By the 19th-century, Cobbeslane was “Blind Lane” ─ probably overhung with trees. 20th-century developers smoothed out its kinks, to create Suttons Avenue and Suttons Gardens. So the northern shore of the lake was near Kenilworth Gardens.

In 1954, the Victoria County History of Essex noted marshy and low-lying land south of Hornchurch Station. It’s now a car park. The lake perhaps stretched towards Randall Drive. Maybe archaeologists might find lake sediment under the gardens of Latimer Drive?

Until about 1840, there was a gate across Station Lane, giving its name to Suttons Gate, a mansion on the corner of Cumberland Avenue. A small community lived nearby. We hear of Alfwin of the Lake in the thirteenth century. Around 1450, John atte Lake was a carpenter, but his son, who manufactured ploughs, was just Richard Lake. That’s how surnames developed. There is no lake on the first detailed map of Havering, made in 1618. Had it silted up, or was it filled in as to create more farmland for the growing population?

It’s interesting that medieval people firmly called it “the Lake”. Our area was dotted with man-made ponds. They even used the p-word for Rainham’s Berwick Ponds, twelve acres of water, because these were artificial.

Its name suggests that Hornchurch’s lost lake was a natural feature. I’ll let you into a secret. Professors sometimes say crazy things, so this comes with a health warning. 450,000 years ago, most of Britain was in the grip of an Ice Age. The southernmost point of the glaciers was Hornchurch. The geology proving this was discovered in cuttings dug for the Romford-Upminster railway in 1892. It was checked by Tony Robinson (of Time Team fame) for a Channel Four documentary in 2011 ─ so it must be true!

Let’s take a deep breath ─ was the lost lake of Hornchurch caused by meltwater from the glaciers, or perhaps hollowed out by a plug of ice? Yes, it’s a giant leap, but the coincidence of the glacial frontier and the rare instance ─ for Essex ─ of an apparently natural lake tempts me to link the two together, even over half a million years.

Next time you’re shivering on wet, wintry Hornchurch Station, count your blessings. Centuries ago, you would have been standing waist-deep in an icy lake!

[The above column attracted some interest, not all of it admiring, from several academic geographers, for whose comments I am grateful. It has been pointed out that the contours of central Hornchurch make it unlikely the lake extended as far south as Hornchurch station. The car park depression just south of the station is probably the result of a former gravel pit – but the presence of gravel might also be linked to a lake. It is also worth remembering that the religious brothers at Hornchurch Priory (strictly speaking, they were not monks) came from France, and might have applied the French word ‘lac’ to a local pond. But I stand by my basic story: there was a lake (or pond) on the west side of Station Lane in the Middle Ages!]


Our climate may indeed be warming, but Havering has endured heat waves before. In the summer of 1707, the heat was not only “excessive” but a total absence of wind created a “suffocating” atmosphere. July 8th, 1707 was long remembered locally as “hot Tuesday”. At Upminster, horses dropped dead on the roads. But there was no respite for farm workers as the harvest had to be gathered. Labourers were “in great danger of death in their harvest work” and several lives were lost. The Rector, Dr William Derham, noted that a former servant, “a healthy, lusty young man, was killed by the heat”.

Britain was using a calendar that had got out of kilter with the solar year. In 1752, we jumped eleven days and introduced leap years to get back on track. So July 8th in 1707 would be July 19th now. In those days, annual business contracts often ran, not from January 1st, but from Lady Day, March 25th. When the calendar was adjusted, the eleven lost days were covered by making annual deals for 1752 run until April 5th. That’s why the UK’s tax year still hinges on that inconvenient date.

1714 was another tough summer, with drought the main challenge. Pleurisy and measles were common at Upminster and “malignant fevers were very prevalent in the summer”.  “There was also great contagion among the black cattle.”

Another famous heat wave hit Britain in 1911, with temperatures steadily above 30 degrees Celsius from mid-July until late September. On Friday July 14, 1911, an odd episode was observed on the road between Romford and Brentwood. In those days, men dressed formally. Only labourers would venture out without a jacket and tie. So it seemed unusual when a man was observed walking along the Colchester Road not only without a hat but also shoeless. The A12 was still a rural highway and, as he passed the small railway suburb of Harold Wood, the man threw his coat and waistcoat over a hedge ─ even though the discarded garments contained money and valuables. Trudging on towards Brentwood, he disrobed completely “and went on his way naked”. Of course, he was arrested and taken to Brentwood police station, where a medical doctor certified him as mentally ill. He had been living in a hostel, Rowton House in Hammersmith, a philanthropic project with cubicle bedrooms for 800 homeless men. His “extraordinary conduct” was charitably attributed to the heat wave.


Havering’s main river is a little-known secret. The Ingrebourne rises in small headwaters in Navestock and South Weald before making a ten-mile journey to the Thames at Rainham – winding over a much longer distance to get there.

The earliest mention comes in a charter of the boundaries of Upminster Hall manor from 1062, four years before William the Conqueror. There it’s called “Ingceburne” – perhaps the river of somebody called “Inga”. But for the next 600 years, we can’t find that name. Official documents rarely mentioned the river at all. In 1269, it was “the water which divides Havering and Upminster”. Unlike today’s London Borough of Havering, the royal manor was just the land on the west bank of the river. A document from 1247 had a similar idea, calling the stream “Haveringesheth” – ‘sheath’ in the sense of a divider.

Around 1285, field names near Hacton suggest that it was just called “Bourne”. Another clue comes from the bridge at Shepherd’s Hill, Harold Wood.  This was called Cocklebourne Bridge in 1720, and the name can be traced back (as “Cocklebone”) to a murder in 1659, when a woman was found strangled there. Cockle was a local surname.The Ingrebourne estuary, Rainham Creek, was called “Wadeflet” in 1206.

So how did the 1062 name come back into use? In 1661, a historian called William Dugdale published old charters in a heavy tome called the Monasticon. One of them was the 1062 Upminster document. The Monasticon would not have been bedtime reading in Havering cottages. It must have been Somebody Important – a landowner or a clergyman – who spotted the old river name and thought it sounded good. Dugdale used an antique typeface for his old charters – which proved enough to confuse one local reader! William Derham, learned Rector of Upminster from 1689 to 1735, was the first person to note that Ingceburn was “now written Ingreburne”. Essex historian Philip Morant in 1768 called it “the rivulet Ingreburn”. White’s Directory of Essex in 1848 has the modern pronunciation if not quite our spelling – “Ingerbourne”. The name never caught on north of the A12, where the river is called “Weald Brook”. So Havering’s river has an invented name – and it’s a spelling mistake!


Havering’s River Ingrebourne is more interesting than it might seem. The Domesday Book of 1086 records that Havering had a water mill. This was powered by the Ingrebourne but wasn’t actually on the river. Our Saxon ancestors dug a channel about a mile long parallel to the Ingrebourne to build up a head of water for a mill pond at Dovers, just north of Rainham.

The channel has been mostly scooped out by gravel digging, but the remains of the mill pond can be seen on Google Earth just east of La Salette Catholic church and north of A1306 New Road.

The Ingrebourne was the boundary between the royal manor of Havering, on the west bank, and the parishes of South Weald, Upminster and Rainham to the east. Usually, bridges would be the joint responsibility of the communities on either side. But peasants on the royal manor of Havering were exempt from any contribution. This was because medieval kings had the right to levy special taxes on their own tenants – so kings needed Havering people to have cash in their pockets. As late as 1825, Upminster people threatened to go to law to make Hornchurch pay its share – but they got legal advice telling them they had no chance. That’s why the District Line has a station called Upminster Bridge and not ‘Hornchurch Bridge’ ─ the bridge linking the two places was literally Upminster’s problem!

Downstream, Hacton Bridge had to be maintained by the owner of Gaynes, a property near Corbets Tey. Hacton Bridge, which existed by 1299, was just a footbridge, big enough to lead a horse over the Ingrebourne. Around 1660, locals persuaded a carpenter who was repairing it to widen it to take carts, so they could get to Romford market. The owner of Gaynes was furious when he got the bill, and in 1674 the Essex county authorities agreed to help with the cost.

Although it seems a very harmless river, the Ingrebourne was a major engineering challenge to the Eastern Counties Railway (the Liverpool Street line), which was extended from Romford to Brentwood in 1839-40. Its zig-zag course south of Church Road Harold Wood exactly coincided with the line of the railway, making necessary a huge embankment for over half a mile. A landslide during construction killed a labourer. In the 1890s, the Ingrebourne caused several more landslides, and the railway company eventually realigned the river in an artificial channel away from the embankment.

The Ingrebourne had become a problem because it was carrying a lot more liquid, and the story isn’t pleasant. In 1868, a Brentwood solicitor called William Preston turned property developer and built the first houses at Harold Wood. With grandiose delusions, he bought a farm at Shepherd’s Hill which for 460 years had been called Goodhouse. This he replaced with a huge mansion which he named Harold Court – it’s now flats. Preston got into financial trouble, and in 1871 he sold part of his land to give Brentwood a much-needed sewage works, discharging into the humble Ingrebourne. (He later went bankrupt and fled the country.) The sewage farm is still there in Nag’s Head Lane – but in its early decades it wasn’t very efficient. The Ingrebourne became severely polluted. In a long case in the 1890s, a Hornchurch farmer sued Brentwood because his cattle refused to drink from the Ingrebourne.

Around 1830, an otter was captured on the Ingrebourne. Sadly, it soon died in captivity, and no more were seen. By 1900, Rainham people were expert at catching eels – scavengers that like polluted streams.

Oddly enough, two literary attempts were made to serenade the Ingrebourne at about this time. In 1881, Upminster local historian Thomas Wilson wrote of the Ingrebourne “hurrying along and sweetly gurgling” although admitted that most people “think very little of a walk beside our river”. In 1884, a Brentwood doctor called Cornelius Butler published a poem called “Ingrebourne”. Somehow, it never caught on.

The Ingrebourne was notorious for flooding. There was famous flood caused by a cloudburst in 1888. Houses in Romford were flooded to first-floor level. Thousands of barrels of beer were washed down the Rom from Romford Brewery, and Dagenham people were drunk for days. The Ingrebourne actually cut two new channels, five feet deep, on the west side of Upminster Bridge, which had to be rebuilt – this time by the new Essex County Council, which also widened the bottleneck. The river’s occasional waywardness has been a blessing for modern Havering. Most housing developments have kept away from the Ingrebourne, creating a kind of internal ‘Green Belt’ through the Borough.


Charles Kortright was born into a wealthy family at Fryerning, north of Brentwood, in 1871. As a small boy, he was a boarder at Brentwood School. The school day began at 7 o’clock, but Kortright and his friends would climb out of their dormitory window at 4 a.m. to practise their cricket. He played for Essex in the 1890s. In those days, cricketers were split between amateurs and professionals – ‘gentlemen’ and ‘players’. Tall and imposing, Kortright was a gentleman amateur. Some experts believe he was the fastest bowler in the history of cricket.

Figures such as six wickets for four runs, against Surrey in 1895, support the theory. Curiously, Kortright never played for England. Only three countries played test cricket in the 1890s – England, Australia and South Africa – so there were fewer international series, and so not many opportunities to be selected. Kortright played against legendary characters such as Dr W.G. Grace. The ferociously bearded Dr Grace was not a nice man. Knowing that crowds had come to watch him bat, he would defy umpires, refusing to budge when given out LBW or caught. Once Kortright smashed down two of his stumps, and even the resentful Grace had to head back towards the pavilion. “Surely you’re not going, Doc,” Kortright called after him. “There’s still one stump standing.” A furious ‘W.G.’ said he had never been so insulted in his life.

Kortright bowled ‘yorkers’ – straight, full length deliveries that pitched near the batman’s feet, shooting low towards the stumps. But once he bowled a ball which was so vicious that it bounced right over the boundary. Kortright gleefully claimed he was the first bowler ever to concede six byes – off a single ball. And he insisted that the ball was full-pitched ─ not even a bouncer!

In later life, he settled at Brook Street, between Harold Wood and Brentwood. A stalwart of Brentwood’s Thorndon Park golf course, he continued to support Essex cricket. But he criticised fancy modern bowling techniques, such as in-swingers and out-swingers. The bowler’s job, he insisted, was to get the batsmen out, and the best way to do that was to bowl straight at their stumps.

Charles Kortright died at Brook Street on December 12th 1952. But his proudest claim had nothing to do with cricket. For a couple of seasons in the 1890s, he made few appearances for Essex because he was learning the brewery trade in Kent. Luckily for Kortright, he then inherited money and found he did not need a career. He boasted that he was so rich that he never did a day’s work in his life.


The Havering landscape was once covered with ancient farmhouses. Sadly, when the suburbs advanced, builders ruthlessly destroyed them.  Occasionally, a road that was once a track cuts awkwardly across modern streets ─ like Elm Park’s Farm Way, which once led to the farm that gave the suburb its name.

The strangely named Horsing Block Farm can still be traced in Harold Park. A horsing block was a short flight of wooden stairs ─ like aircraft steps without the wheels. Designed to help you mount your horse, it was a popular device in the 18th century. There must have been one at the A12 entrance to the farm east of Harold Court Road ─ giving a nickname that replaced its older identity: it was called Dial House in 1777. In 1924, developers replaced it with ‘Sunny Town’. Luckily, the name did not stick, but three new roads, Greenway, Homeway and Ingreway, built parallel to Colchester Road, obliterated the old Horsing Block Farm. Almost. The ghost of the old farm track cuts across the streetscape, in Willow Way and Amelle Gardens.

The World’s End was the romantic name for a farm down the lonely track that became Harold Wood’s Coombe Road. It can be traced back to 1783 but, curiously, it had only 14 acres of land. Perhaps The World’s End was just a hobby farm, Havering’s dude ranch. The local primary school now occupies its site.

Rise Park lost a farm quaintly named Hawkins-at-the-Well. Pettits Lane North may have been the Hawkins Lane recorded in 1602. In the 19th century, by analogy with nearby Havering village, it became Hawkins-atte-Well. A 1921 official survey described it as “built on a half H-shaped plan”, with a central range and two wings to the rear. Two ornate chimney stacks, and evidence that there was once a projecting upper storey, suggest a date perhaps as far back as 1600. Around 1935, Hawkins-atte-Well was swept away and replaced by the bungalows of Heather Close. Alas, no picture seems to survive.

According to a local writer of 1911, an odd fate overtook Gidea Park’s Squirrels Heath Farm ─ “it was stolen!” It had stood for centuries on the west side of Balgores Lane, near the corner with Heath Park Road. As housing approached from Romford, the last tenants left Squirrels Heath Farm around 1900. First the doors and windows were taken for firewood or recycled. As the walls began to fall in, the bricks were carted away too. After a couple of years, “little remained but the foundations and a few broken walls, which had to be razed to the ground and cleared away.” The 1915 Ordnance Survey map shows a totally blank site.

One handsome 18th-century farmhouse, Harold Hill’s New Hall, enjoyed a luckier fate. It became the Morris Dancer public house in Melksham Close.


You don’t dream of Windermere or Loch Ness when you think of Havering and Brentwood, but there’s a lot of ornamental water in the area. How did we acquire our lakes and ponds? The oldest stretch of water in the district must be Berwick Pond, near Rainham. There used to be two ponds, but one became pasture. Berwick Ponds are shown on a 1575 map. They probably supplied power for a watermill mentioned in 1315. In that era, the manor of Berwick belonged to a paramilitary religious order, the Knights Hospitallers. Their Prior often visited, and the ponds would have provided Friday fish for the clerics. Berwick Pond is still popular with anglers.

Childerditch Pond existed by 1720, and was maybe dug to provide drinking water for cattle grazing in the woods. The 18th century created ornamental water features in gentlemen’s parks. The two lakes in South Weald Country Park date from the early 1740s. Half a century later, Sir John Jervis (later Earl St Vincent) added a third at Rochetts. One of Britain’s top admirals, he once took three other senior Navy officers out in a rowing boat. Decades later, yokels still delightedly recalled how the four admirals had to be rescued from their own chaos. Lady’s Pond at Navestock dates from the same era. It’s on private land, but can be glimpsed from a public footpath behind the ancient church. It’s bigger than its name suggests.

Romford’s best known lake is in Raphael Park. In its modern form, it dates from around 1776, when the Gidea Hall estate was given a landscape artist’s makeover. In the 19th century it was called Black’s Canal, after the family who owned the now-vanished Hall. However, that isn’t the whole story. A map of 1618 shows a round “Mill Pond” by the main road. So Raphael Park Lake owes its origin to a lost watermill. The 1776 work simply extended it to the north with a romantic wiggle.

The lake in the grounds of Langtons, in Hornchurch’s Billet Lane, probably dates from about the same time. Upminster’s Gaynes Park was another landscaping project wirh a water feature, probably from around 1789.

Connaught Water in Epping Forest was dug out in 1883 as a relief project for the unemployed, but no such job creation projects were adopted locally. However, in 1885, Brentwood volunteers decided to link up two small ponds to form a lake on Shenfield Common. On summer evenings, “the young men, the old men, the big boys, working men, City clerks, shop assistants set to work, some picked, some shovelled, some wheeled away, whilst some went to the Artichoke [the local pub] for beer and poured it out.”

Many local ponds have vanished. High Trees Pond, a water feature at Gidea Park’s Hare Hall, now the Royal Liberty School, was dry by the 1950s. Gidea Hall’s ladle-shaped Spoon Pond is now tennis courts opposite Parkway. The Loam Pond, at the east end of Romford Market, was for thirsty cattle as they were driven for sale. A health hazard, it was filled in in 1874, and is now Ludwigshafen Place.

Our local water-stretches hardly rival Canada or Switzerland, but they are valued public amenities inherited from the past.


Talk of moats, and we think of castles, drawbridges and portcullises, besieged by knights in armour with battering rams.  So the news that there were a dozen moated sites in Havering seems surprising. In fact, only once did a local moat feature in conflict. In 1648, during the Civil War between Charles I and Parliament, a troop of Cavaliers ─ the Royalists ─ galloped to Marks, an ancient mansion in Whalebone Lane North, to arrest the local Roundhead leader, Carew Harvey Mildmay. Mildmay escaped by swimming the moat.

Although monarchs took security seriously, the royal palace at Havering-atte-Bower had no moat. Local moats were intended not for defence but to prevent cattle theft. Experts say most moats were dug between 1200 and 1350. Population was rising in those years, and crime was a problem. The population rise was halted by a terrible plague, the Black Death of 1348-9.

Most Havering moated sites were near the two main highways along which cattle were driven to London. These are now the A12 / A 118 from Brentwood through Romford and the A124 linking Upminster and Hornchurch to Ilford. Leave your cattle unguarded overnight in nearby fields, and your beasts could be miles away by dawn. So Havering’s medieval farmers dug moats and corralled their herds at sunset.

Harold Hill had two moated sites, both in Dagnam Park. Gidea Park had one at Goodwins, site of the Royal Liberty School. Close to the junction of Mawney Road and St Edwards Way, Mawneys had a moat. Other examples were at Bretons at Elm Park, Dovers off Rainham Road by the A13 and Nelmes in Emerson Park, the last of which partly survives on private property. There were two moats at North Ockendon and two more at Upminster. A possible moat behind Upminster Hall (the golf club) is now thought to have been a fishpond.

At Bretons and Dagnams, moats were filled in when new country houses were built in the 18th century. The moat at Goodwins disappeared when the farm was replaced by a handsome mansion, Hare Hall, in 1768. Here the moat perhaps acted as an outdoor damp course. Hare Hall had no cellars because the water table was too high. Upminster Rectory, just west of the parish church, lost its moat in 1810. The Rector was a ‘squarson’ ─ a parson living the lifestyle of a squire ─ and he wanted a posh carriage entrance. Mawneys moat was filled in around 1880, as Romford housing spread. 

Two Havering moats survive in public parks. At Cockerells, west of Harold Hill’s Dycorts School, a 1633 map shows the artificial island had become an orchard. No doub t the moat stopped people scrumping the apples. Nowadays, Cockerells moat is home to the great crested newt, a protected species.  The moat at Upminster’s New Place became part of an eighteenth-century landscaping project.  It survives in Clockhouse Gardens.

Moats are great places to invent adventure stories. But youngsters need warning that the friendliest stretch of water can become a death trap. Enjoy Havering’s moats, but don’t go playing Cavaliers and Roundheads too close to the water.


Born in 1592 and baptised at St Edward’s church in Romford Market, Francis Quarles was Havering’s most famous poet. The family lived at Stewards, a South Street mansion close to Western Road. It was demolished about 1717. The huge estate, which stretched along Brentwood Road to Balgores Lane, was inherited by his elder brother.

After studying at Cambridge, Francis lived in London. However, when he married there, in 1618, he was described as “Gentleman of Romford”. Later, Quarles lived near Chelmsford. He kept in touch with London life and probably often visited his brother in Romford. In addition to poetry, Quarles wrote books, like Enchiridion, published in 1640, offering advice on Life. So here’s a Romford voice talking about marriage, four centuries ago. But be warned: Francis Quarles was – shall we say? – old-fashioned in his attitudes

Once a man’s “fancy and judgement” had selected his bride, “be not too fond, lest she surfeit, nor too peevish, lest she languish.” Being the boss kept your woman on her toes. “Love so, that thou mayest be feared, rule so, that they mayest be honoured.” Wifely faults should only be criticised gently. “Reprove her not openly, lest she grow bold; rebuke her not tauntingly, lest she grow spiteful.” Telling your wife she was beautiful risked making her proud. Boasting about her intelligence would make your friends think you were a fool. Far from treating his wife as confidante and partner, a husband should preserve a rigid exterior. “Shew her not thy imperfections, lest she disdain thee.” And don’t tell her any dirty jokes. “Prophane not her ears with loose communication, lest thou defile the sanctuary of her modesty.” All in all, “an understanding husband, makes a discreet wife, and she a happy husband.”

Only 17 when she married the 26 year-old Quarles, Ursula Woodgate probably had little alternative but to accept his male chauvinism. There would be eighteen children. Francis Quarles took his parental role seriously too. Sons might choose their brides, but daughters must obey Father. “Bring thy daughter a husband of her own religion, and of no hereditary disease,” he advised. The chosen son-in-law need not be rich, but a good family background helped. “Let his wisdom outweigh his wealth. Let his parentage excel his person.” Above all, “let his years exceed hers”. It was easier to dominate a younger wife. That was all any father could do to ensure a happy marriage for his daughter, so “let thy prayers recommend the rest to Providence”. If the bridegroom was well chosen, “thou hast found a son, if not, thou hast lost a daughter.” Marriage was final. Quarles did not expect his daughters to move back home if their relationships failed.

Although born into a Puritan family, Francis Quarles became a moderate Royalist during the Civil War between Charles I and Parliament. Maybe neither side completely trusted him. His health suffered and he died in 1644, aged just 52. Although he was a best-selling author, Quarles left his widow and children in poverty. However submissive she was at home, Ursula fought to control publication of his books, but without success. Francis had forgotten one basic piece of matrimonial advice: don’t have more children than you can afford.

Havering College’s Harold Hill campus is named in his memory.


Miss Havisham is one of the creepiest characters in the novels of Charles Dickens. A wealthy lady jilted on her wedding day, she retreated to the bedroom of her decaying mansion, where she wore her fading bridal dress and plotted misery upon the world. Miss Havisham was played by Helena Bonham Carter in the 2012 movie, Great Expectations.

Fifty years ago, I heard a Romford legend ─ that Miss Havisham originated in Gidea Park. Tradition said two Miss Pembertons had lived in mysterious seclusion at Hare Hall, now the Royal Liberty School. Was one of them the jilted recluse who inspired Dickens?

Born at Beauchamp Roding near Ongar, Robert Pemberton farmed near Chase Cross in Collier Row before purchasing Hare Hall, a mansion and 71-acre farm, in 1852. Pemberton fathered ten children. His wife, Elizabeth, died at the age of 49. Several youngsters did not survive, and the eldest son emigrated to Australia, which suggests he did not expect to inherit a fortune in Romford. By 1891, when Robert was 76, two sons were living at home, probably farming, along with five daughters, none of them married. Remarkably for such a big house, there was only one live-in servant, a teenage maid of all work. Cash was probably in short supply.

When Pemberton died in 1894, his estate was valued at £12,644 ─ but most of this was the value of the property. Hare Hall was sold in 1896 for £12,000. The purchaser, Edward Castellan, found the mansion “very dilapidated”. Rotten window frames had to be replaced, and plumbing installed for the first-ever indoor bathrooms. Pemberton was a working farmer not a country gentleman. His daughters were not so much young ladies as housekeepers.

The eldest, Elizabeth Ellen, later moved to Leytonstone with her sister Fanny ─ a come-down from Hare Hall, however seedy the old mansion had become. Elizabeth Ellen was fifty in 1891, and Fanny 35. Were there admirers? Did suitors disappear on realising that Pemberton couldn’t give his daughters a generous dowry? Maybe one of the sisters was unlucky in love, and became a bed-ridden invalid? If so, we can picture Romford gossip claiming them as the inspiration for Miss Havisham ─ a broken-hearted woman marooned in a run-down old house.

Was there any truth in this legend? Dickens knew the area. Chigwell appears in Barnaby Rudge, Chelmsford in Pickwick Papers. Perhaps the famous novelist heard about the Pemberton women while visiting Romford, and decided to put them in a novel? Unfortunately, the timing is against it. Great Expectations was written in 1860-61, and Dickens had been planning a story about a scheming recluse since 1855. Elizabeth Ellen Pemberton was still in her teens, too young for a broken heart.So the legend originated backwards. Middle-aged and toughened by house and farm work, she was tagged by all-knowing Romford gossips as the Dickens original.

Miss Havisham characters have been proposed from as far away as America and Australia. The story is a warning against believing everything you hear! But it gives us a glimpse of a family who farmed in Gidea Park for forty years. Pemberton and Castellan Avenues recall the names of Hare Hall’s former owners.


Have you ever tried to imagine what the street you live in looked like before the houses were built? If you have an Internet connection, it’s easy to find out.

Modern map-making in Britain began thanks to the war against France between 1793 and 1815. The Army surveyed the whole country in case a French invasion had to be resisted. In particular, sites were needed for heavy artillery to defend London. Big guns are termed ‘ordnance’. 200 years later, we still call our official maps the Ordnance Survey.From the 1840s, Britain was surveyed again in greater detail, including field boundaries. These maps are available on the Net, showing Havering c.1870.

Visit www.british-history.ac.uk (don’t forget the hyphen!). Click on ‘Maps’ and go down to the place-name box (where you can also use postcodes). If you type in ‘Romford’, the website asks you if you mean Bromford, Cromford or Gromford, and tells you there is a Romford in Dorset. Once you’ve clicked on Romford, Greater London, another screen invites you to click on ‘Essex’. For the eastern side of Havering, type ‘Brentwood’, while ‘Hornchurch’ and ‘Dagenham’ give you the south of the Borough. Don’t be disappointed by the fuzzy map that appears. You can zoom in and move the pointing finger around to click on any part of the screen, which will centre on that section. The result is fast, clear and easy to print.

It was a very different Havering. Elm Park, Gidea Park and Harold Hill did not exist. A new station, Harolds Wood, had just opened in the fields between Romford and Brentwood, but nobody lived there. The railway had not yet reached Hornchurch. But familiar landmarks stand out, like the dead-straight A12 Colchester Road, and you can work outwards from the old village centres at places like Upminster and Rainham.

You may be surprised by the field boundaries. Builders generally swept away the hedgerows and imposed their own street patterns upon Havering. Only occasionally does a modern street like Rosslyn Avenue in Harold Wood, fit the dimensions of the earlier countryside.  There are links to modern maps and satellite views to help you pinpoint your home or school.

And it’s possible to go back another century. In 1777, two mapmakers, John Chapman and Peter Andre, published an atlas of Essex. The Havering maps are accessible through another link from www.british-history.ac.uk. This time, click on ‘East’ in the Regions box, and then choose ‘Victoria County History: Essex’ and look for volume 7. Section 30 (Upminster: Introduction) shows southern Havering. Section 34 (Great Warley) shows the northern half. In each case, click to enlarge and enjoy the detail.

240 years ago, it was Rumford not Romford.  The local landscape was marked by huge commons at Collier Row and Noak Hill, and by luxury mansions and their private parkland ─ all long vanished. There was a windmill in South Street Romford, and there was still a gallows at Gallows Corner. Chapman and Andre even included a little sketch of it. Maybe not the Good Old Days ─ but you can discover bygone Havering with a few clicks on your computer.


There’s a legend about nightingales at Havering-atte-Bower. The story goes that the saintly king Edward the Confessor used to visit the royal palace there, Being a holy man, he liked to pray. But nightingales disturbed his devotions singing with such a racket that he prayed to have them banned from the park. According to Essex historian Philip Morant in 1768, “credulous neighbouring swains” (he meant Havering people) insisted that nightingales never again sang around the palace, although plenty chirped away in other local spots. Unfortunately, Domesday Book indicates that Earl Harold of Wessex (later King Harold) had taken over the royal estates in Essex well before 1066, and so it’s unlikely that the Confessor spent much time at Havering. He may have been the heroic loser at the Battle of Hastings, but Harold was not such a nice guy.

Miller Christy’s Birds of Essex (1890) says nightingales were common summer visitors, especially to Epping Forest. But there is evidence that their numbers had already been hit by bird-catchers, who trapped the beautiful songsters and stuffed them as ornaments.  Horrible! In 1858, some moron at Leytonstone caught 38 of them.

But they were still around Havering during the First World War. E.C. Montagu who was a journalist on the Manchester Guardian. In 1914 he was 47, but he was determined to fight. He dyed his grey hair (which turned yellow) and joined an exotic outfit called the Artists’ Rifles, a special unit made up of writers and poets. In March 1915, he found himself billeted in a hut at Hare Hall Camp. Training was tough. One day in May 1915, the men started digging trenches at 5.30 a.m. By the time they men got back to camp, they were exhausted.

Montagu wrote to a friend:“Last night a nightingale started executing masterpieces in a tree over this hut, just after ‘Lights Out’, and we all lay still to listen to it; but none of us could remember, this morning, that he had heard more than a minute or two of the singing.”Roll on three years to Sunday 19 May 1918. The Germans launched a major raid on London with about 30 aeroplanes at around 11 o’clock at night. For two and a half hours searchlights probed the sky and from anti-aircraft guns opened up in thunderous bombardment. Hornchurch residents recalled an odd accompaniment “provided by a nightingale trilling its beautiful song in the Millfield, its sweet notes being distinctly heard between the gunfire.” The Millfield was the old quarry just south of St Andrew’s Church. Perhaps birdie was annoyed at being woken up.

I have been told that there was a nightingale in Castellan Avenue, Gidea Park, in the 1940s. But when my Havering 6th-form class read ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ by Keats in 1962, nobody had ever heard one. I’ve never read any Keats since. Perhaps the nightingales retreated as Havering became built up. Maybe pollution drove them out. There’s a skit on a romantic song, ‘A nightingale coughed in Berkeley Square’. But, despite the saintly monarch, nightingales once flourished in Havering. Could they be encouraged to come back?

[Nightingales have occasionally been sighted in Dagnam Park, Harold Hill in recent years. In 1980, one was recorded singing, and can be heard on:



Just north of Havering’s urban spread, and you can find yourself deep in rural Essex, in the mysterious parish of Navestock. There isn’t even a real village called Navestock. Saxons settled here in dense forests, so there are at least four small settlements. The place name is a puzzle. It was Nasestoca in the Latin of Domesday Book in 1086. It probably meant “the stockade on the headland”, a reference to the high ground jutting out north into the Roding Valley. ‘Naze’ was an Essex dialect term, as at Walton-on-the-Naze. In the Middle Ages, the parish mostly belonged to St Paul’s Cathedral. The massive nave of Old St Paul’s dominated London until the Great Fire of 1666. Perhaps income from this Essex estate was ear-marked for repairs, and this might explain why the spelling changed after 1300.

The original Navestock was probably around St Thomas’s church, famed for its fine timber tower. Tree-ring dating suggests it took its present form in the mid-1390s. It survived a near-direct hit from a Nazi landmine in 1940. The crater is now a memorial garden. Nearby, the mansion of the wealthy Waldegrave family, Navestock Hall, was demolished in 1811. Lady’s Pond, an 18th-century ornamental lake, is accessible to the north by public footpath.

The nearest thing to a village is Navestock Heath, half a mile south of the church, where houses straggle around a patch of common land. An official history in the 1950s called it “desolate” and “isolated” but, on a sunny day, it’s an adventure playground. A mile to the east, the open ground at Navestock Side is neatly mown ─ for this is one of England’s oldest cricket grounds, where the game has been played since at least 1784.

Between the two settlements is Horseman Side, where the oldest houses are on the north side of the road. Until 1770, the south side was common land, but Earl Waldegrave persuaded parliament to pass an enclosure act, adding 350 acres to his estate. The landscape here is more like Canada than Essex ─ giant fields and straggly hedges. It’s ‘only’ been farmed for 240 years! At Horseman Side, the parish council marked the Millennium by erecting a puddingstone dug up from nearby fields. These huge boulders were made of pebbles naturally cemented together and dumped by glaciers during the last Ice Age. Horseman Side is home to the Alma Arms, Navestock’s gastro-pub. Viscount Chewton, son of the Lord Waldegrave of the day, was fatally wounded in 1854 at the battle of the Alma in the Crimean War. Unluckily he was shipped to Scutari, the hospital run by the famous pioneer nurse Florence Nightingale. Miss Nightingale was a famous heroine, but she did not understand the principles of hygiene. Lord Chewton survived the battle but not the health care. There is a memorial to him in the church.

There are still more Navestocks ─ its Alpine corner at Beacon Hill, Sabines Green named after a 13th-century resident, William FitzSabine and Shonks Mill bridge over the Roding (the watermill has long since vanished). The woodland paths of Curtis Mill Green are now cut off by the M25, and only accessible via Passingford Bridge.

Navestock is Havering’s secret back garden ─ just fifteen minutes zig-zag drive from Gallows Corner.

[I have since been told that the Alma Arms was named after the wife of a previous owner, and the link to the battle is imaginary and coincidental. You can never be sure in local history...]


Nowadays, the Victorian poet Algernon Swinburne is remembered mainly for his oddities. Born into a wealthy family ─ property-owners in Ongar ─ a birth defect left him with jerky movements, while his wild red hair made him hard to ignore. He was sent to Eton, in days when boys ran wild at the famous public school. Sadistic corporal punishment imposed order. Swinburne was bullied, and became a masochist.

In 1856, he went to Balliol College Oxford, whose head, Benjamin Jowett, worked to raise academic standards. “Here come I, my name is Jowett / All there is to know, I know it,” sang admiring undergraduates. “I am the Master of this College / What I don’t know isn’t knowledge.” Swinburne’s progress did not match Jowett’s standards, and it was feared he might fail his History degree. When a terrorist threw a bomb at France’s Emperor Napoleon III, Swinburne publicly rejoiced, displeasing the University authorities. Jowett decided that Swinburne should leave Oxford briefly, and study privately with a rising expert in History, William Stubbs.

Stubbs was Rector of Navestock, the village three miles north of Harold Hill. He lived at Navestock Hall Farm. His church was (and is) just a few yards up a track beside the farmhouse. On health grounds, Swinburne was excused from attending church on Sunday mornings and allowed to rest in bed. But one sunny Sunday, Swinburne thought it would be fun to watch the yokels assembling for worship. Victorian males wore sombre shades of black and grey, but Swinburne’s artsy personality preferred bright colours. He donned an ankle-length scarlet dressing gown and padded across the lawn in ornate red slippers, sunshine rippling through his auburn locks.

The church bell summoned the congregation from across the large parish. Some made the short stroll from Navestock Heath, others the longer trudge along winding lanes from Navestock Side. Swinburne positioned himself leaning on the garden gate just as the first worshipper turned into the narrow trackway. Confronted with a sight he had never seen before, red-haired, red-garbed and distinctly weird, the frightened local hung back, hoping the apparition would go away. Swinburne, who had no idea that his appearance was odd, stared back as other locals formed a wary crowd, too scared to brave the scary figure.

Knowing nothing of the problem, Rector Stubbs became impatient and ordered the clerk to ring the bell again. This emboldened one local to slink alongside the hedge opposite the gate and make a dash for safety. The whole congregation followed in a stampede. Swinburne always marvelled at the strange behaviour of the Essex peasants.

Stubbs went on to become a bishop, becoming one of England’s two top historians. Unusually, his rival, Professor Freeman, was also an admirer, and the two formed a mutual admiration society, praising each other’s books: “See, ladling butter from alternate tubs / Stubbs butters Freeman, Freeman butters Stubbs.”

Swinburne never finished his History degree, but he became a famous poet and was even nominated to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (although he didn’t get it). Nowadays his poetry is largely forgotten, but it’s likely that his bizarre manifestation was long remembered in Navestock. 


In 1880, some Romford people still believed if you stood near the corner of South Street and Oldchurch Road on November 30th, you could hear bells ringing deep underground. They were the bells of an ancient church, swallowed by an earthquake. So sudden was the disaster that the bells had dropped straight into the earth. The lost church was dedicated to Saint Andrew. Every year, on St Andrew’s night, they rang out in celebration.

The royal manor of Havering, the modern borough west of the Ingrebourne, formed a single parish, centred on the church at Hornchurch, also dedicated to St Andrew.  But, by 1176, Romford had its own chapel, a kind of religious branch office. That original chapel is remembered in the name “Oldchurch”.

Romford people had three problems with their old church. First, it was located half a mile from Romford town, inconvenient for “aged and feeble persons”. Second, it stood next to the River Rom, and was liable to flooding, which damaged the building. Worst of all, the priests at Hornchurch refused to allow Romford to have its own cemetery. Burying the dead was good business, and Hornchurch wanted to keep the fees. Romford people grumbled about travelling to Hornchurch for funerals. There were “perils of the way, inundations and dangers between the two places,” they claimed in 1410. Even 600 years ago, people preferred to avoid Roneo Corner.

Around 1400, Romford people found a leader. Robert Chichele was a wealthy London merchant – a contemporary of the famous Sir Richard (Dick) Whittington. He bought Gidea Hall (now Raphael Park), Romford’s largest property. Squire Chichele objected to going all the way to Oldchurch for Sunday service. His brother, Henry Chichele, was a rising clerical politician, who could get things fixed in Rome. In 1408 he travelled there on a diplomatic mission – and the Pope made him a bishop.

Bishop Chichele had the connections to arrange for a new church, St Edward’s, to be built alongside Romford Market. Rome allowed it to have its own cemetery, but with a share of the income paid to Hornchurch. Every year, on St Andrew’s Day, Romford people had to go to Hornchurch to pay their dues. That’s how November 30th came to be remembered for so long.

The site of the original chapel was recalled too. Documents refer to Old Church Mead, near South Street, from 1462 until 1864. The strange story of the earthquake was still “lingering” in 1880. Perhaps the legend was ‘borrowed’ from east coast places like Dunwich in Suffolk and Walton in Essex, where coastal erosion washed away ancient churches – but locals claimed they could still hear bells tolling under the waves. Romford people probably heard these stories from travellers passing through on the Great Essex Road.

But there is another possibility. About once every century, southern England is hit by a medium-size earthquake. The last one was near Colchester in 1884. In 1382, a big tremor near Dover wrecked Canterbury Cathedral and caused alarm in London. Was Romford’s original chapel damaged by the 1382 earthquake – and perhaps never properly repaired? If it was a stone construction, Romford builders wouldn’t have known much about foundations.

So maybe the story of moving Romford’s old church became mixed up with memories of the 1382 earthquake?


You might not associate Romford with poetry or Upminster with verse, but Havering has played its part in English literature.

Francis Quarles was a Romford boy. His father profited from supplying Queen Elizabeth's navy and bought Stewards, a South Street mansion that stood between Western Road and the Market. Francis was born here in 1592. The Stewards estate stretched all the way to the Drill, but Francis was the second son, and his older brother inherited. Father of eighteen children, Francis Quarles wrote to earn cash. But he wasn't poor -- the only picture of him shows he had a double chin, so he must have eaten well!

Just across Hornchurch Lane, as South Street was then called, the river Rom trickled through the fields where The Brewery shopping centre now stands. Young Francis probably played here. In a later poem, he pictured two lovers yearning to be together: “Like two bank-dividing brooks / That wash the pebbles with their wanton streams / And having ranged and searched a thousand nooks / Meet at length in silver-breasted Thames.” If he thought of the Rom and the Ingrebourne as husband and wife, he was an unusual youngster. Havering College’s Harold Hill campus is named after Quarles.

A forgotten 18th-century poet, Charles Churchill was a half-hearted clergyman. In 1756, he became curate at Rainham, where local people could not understand his abstruse sermons. He confessed in verse that he kept “sacred dullness ever in my view”, so that “sleep at my bidding crept from pew to pew.”

Lord Byron was the great hell-raiser of nineteenth-century English culture ─ “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” Major Frederick Howard, an aristocratic army officer who lived at High House in Upminster, was a friend.  Byron is said to have visited him there. Major Howard was killed at the battle of Waterloo in 1815. Byron saluted his heroism. His friend, he said, “was of the bravest, and when showered / The death-bolts deadliest the thinned files along / Even where the thickest of war’s tempest lowered / They reached no nobler breast than thine, young gallant Howard!”  I’ve been told by a distinguished professor of English Literature that in rhyming “lowered” with “Howard”, Byron was using the word to sound like ‘glowered’. I suppose “Frederick Howard, you weren’t a coward” would lack literary grandeur. High House was replaced in the 1930s by Corbets Tey Road shops, which are called Byron Parade.

After training at a Gidea Park army camp, First World War poet Edward Thomas scattered Havering placenames, like Gooshays and Wingletye, through his verse. Lilliputs, a farmhouse in Hornchurch’s Wingletye Lane, now a care home, inspired him to create a picture of Havering before the suburbs arrived: “Their copses, ponds, roads, and ruts / Fields where plough-horses steam and plovers / Fling and whimper, hedges that lovers / Love, and orchards, shrubberies, walls / Where the sun untroubled by north wind falls.”

Havering has some poetic street names. There’s Quarles Close in Collier Row. A literary cluster north of Gallows Corner commemorates Byron, Chaucer, Coleridge, Eliot, Masefield, Ruskin, Tennyson ─ even the forgetten Shenstone. In Hornchurch, Milton, Shelley and Tennyson form another poetic enclave off Upper Rainham Road. If it’s verse that you want to be savouring, you could do worse than the Borough of Havering.


[This piece was written to mark the 72rd anniversary of the Japanese attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.]

At every anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, TV movies recall the event which President Roosevelt said “will live in infamy”. The Japanese planned to declare war on America thirty minutes before the bombers struck, but their Washington embassy failed to decode the secret message in time, so the attack happened when the two countries were officially at peace. Pearl Harbor was a turning point in World War Two. America abandoned its neutrality. Foolishly, Hitler also declared war on the USA, sealing his own downfall.

Oddly enough, Hornchurch played a small part in Pearl Harbor. RAF Hornchurch had opened in 1928, succeeding the famous First World War Suttons Farm fighter station. Training flights were familiar in Havering skies. Locals ignored planes buzzing overhead. But one April day in 1930, a plane caught fire, crashed and exploded. The pilot had bailed out at just 500 feet. Somehow his parachute opened, and he survived the low jump. He was a Japanese officer seconded to the RAF for training.

Japanese people adopted Western-style surnames as part of the country’s 19th century modernisation policy. Most chose some reference to where they lived. So ‘Kobayashi’ (little forest) is the country’s ninth commonest name ─ like Wood in England ─ and it’s not easy to sort them out. But we can be reasonably sure this was Lieutenant Yoshita Kobayashi. Japan had been Britain’s ally in the 1914-18 war, so his presence in Hornchurch was no surprise. But when Japan invaded China in 1931, relations cooled. China was in chaos. The Japanese hoped to grab control. Japan was a military dictatorship. Politics was all about rivalry between the Army and Navy. The China war put the Army on top.

But intrepid airman Minoru Genda saw the Navy as Japan’s attack weapon, making possible massed bomber attacks from aircraft carriers. In 1932 he teamed up with Hornchurch veteran Lieutenant Kobashayi to form Genda’s Flying Circus. They toured Japan with stunt-flying events. The skills Kobayashi had gained at RAF Hornchurch now campaigned for military aviation.

As the war in China bogged down, Japanese commanders desperately needed oil and rubber to keep their military vehicles operating. Outraged by Japanese savagery in China, Roosevelt banned US oil exports in July 1941. There was oil in Indonesia, then the Dutch East Indies. Britain’s colony of Malaya was the source of rubber. In distant Europe, the Nazis had conquered Holland, and Britain faced Hitler alone. Seizing South East Asia looked easy to the Japanese. But to stop the Americans intervening, they must first destroy the US Pacific Fleet. And so 300 Japanese bombers flew from a secret task-force of six carriers to attack Pearl Harbor. Although 2,300 Americans were killed and eighteen ships were sunk, the Genda-Kobayashi plan failed.

America’s own aircraft carriers were not in port. They survived to halt the Japanese at the battle of Midway.

If Yoshita Kobayashi’s parachute had failed to open in the Hornchurch sky, would Pearl Harbor have happened?


Havering has produced few politicians, so it’s a coincidence that two Romford men should have represented a town 90 miles away ─ and exactly 200 years apart. The political careers of Richard Benyon and Michael Ward remind us how Britain has moved from oligarchy to democracy.

In the 18th century, few men (and no women) could vote. Until 1872, votes were cast openly, not by secret ballot. Shopkeepers and tradesmen voted as wealthy landlords dictated. Lord Fitzwilliam owned enough property in Peterborough to dictate the choice of one of the town’s two MPs. In 1774, he nominated his old school friend Richard Benyon, even though he had no connection with Peterborough. Benyon owned the Romford mansion Gidea Hall, where he landscaped the park, creating Raphael Park lake. On 7 October 1774, Benyon was elected, polling 259 votes. The second MP won 219 votes, a majority of seven over the defeated third candidate. During 22 years as Peterborough’s MP, Benyon faced no more rivals ─ even though he never once spoke in parliament. He died in 1796 of “gout in his stomach” ─ probably cancer.

In 1966, Peterborough Labour party imported Havering Council leader Michael Ward as their candidate. Benyon had attended Eton, the famous public school. Ward was a product of Romford’s Royal Liberty School. All adults could now vote, unless they were confined to prisons or mental hospitals ─ or sat in the House of Lords.Michael Ward faced popular local Conservative MP, Sir Harmer Nicholls. In a nail-biting contest, Nicholls polled 23,944 votes ─ to Ward’s 23,941.The three-vote majority emerged after eight recounts ─ four put Labour ahead, four gave victory to the Tories. Four ballot papers were disqualified because voters had signed their names, so breaking the anonymity rule. All were for Michael Ward, and would have put him in by one vote. Peterborough’s 500 electors had registered a 7 vote majority in 1774. Now just 3 votes separated winner and loser out of 63,000 voters.

Sir Harmer Nicholls easily beat Michael Ward when the Conservatives triumphed nationally in 1970. But in February 1974, as Edward Heath’s government lost office, Nicholls-versus-Ward was another cliff-hanger, the MP holding on by 22 votes. Another election followed on 10 October 1974. Two hundred years and three days after Benyon had coasted home on 259 votes, Michael Ward was finally elected. His 1,848 vote majority was a Peterborough landslide!

The two gladiators both have well-known daughters. Michael Ward’s daughter was Labour MP Alison Seabeck. She lost her Plymouth seat in the 2015 election. Sir Harmer’s daughter, Sue Nicholls, plays Audrey in Coronation Street.

Unlike Benyon, Michael Ward had to defend his seat. In 1979, he lost Peterborough to Conservative Brian Mawhinney, later a John Major cabinet minister. Havering can be proud of the two politicians we exported to Peterborough. Benyon was called a “well-meaning honest man”. Michael Ward was a popular figure in his Havering Council days. He died in 2009. And their contrasting political careers illustrate how Britain travelled the road to mass democracy.


A lost Gidea Park farm gives us an insight into Havering life in the Middle Ages. 19th-century maps show Pound (sometimes Poundhouse) Farm facing Squirrels Heath, common land which occupied most of the triangle between The Drill and modern-day Gidea Park Station. A strip of heathland also ran along the east side of Brentwood Road, now occupied by Eugene Close. Squirrels Heath was enclosed to become farmland in 1814. Pound Farm stood just south-east of Gidea Park’s Catholic church, behind Cobill Close.

Havering’s first map, in 1618, shifts the focus from farmhouse to the farm itself, calling it  Pounde Land. A 1663 land sale confirms that the 46 acres of “Poundland” stretched from Slewins Lane to Squirrels Heath Lane, bounded to the east by “a brook called [blank]”.  So, alas, we don’t know what 17th-century people called Haynes Brook, but Poundland was obviously what is now Northumberland Avenue and Westmoreland Avenue.

Farms were rarely called after sums of money, so we need another explanation of this unusual name. What follows is a scholarly hypothesis. That’s a smart term for a guess. Unluckily, we don’t have much evidence, so we must make a few leaps of explanation. Medieval people were tagged by inherited status, controlled by obligations to the lord of the manor. Although most tenants of the royal manor of Havering were ‘villeins’, bound by feudal restrictions, they were unusually free. It suited the king to have prosperous tenants as a source of income. (Also, in 1251, around one eighth of Havering tenants were women, mainly widows who had inherited their husbands’ land.)

But that survey of 1251 also mentions eight more humble ‘cotters’, who shared seven ‘cotlands’. Although their status was inferior, Havering’s cotters were not mere cottagers. Surprisingly, their farms were about the same size as those of the villeins ─ averaging around 50 acres. They had to perform unpaid duties, including the guarding of prisoners ─ an unpleasant task if your unwilling guest was waiting to be hanged at Gallows Corner. Cotters were also responsible for looking after animals ─ stray beasts, stolen sheep or cattle,  plus any beasts seized by the bailiff for non-payment of rent. Most medieval villages had a pound, an enclosure for lost animals. But Havering’s oppressed cotters had to graze the animals in their own fields. Maybe that’s why they were granted proper farms. Sometimes, aggrieved characters stole back cattle seized from them ─ rustlers in Gidea Park!

By the 17th century, feudal restrictions had long lapsed, but one farm retained a name echoing its medieval role as Havering’s animal lost property centre. The name “Poundland” would hardly have been invented after the Middle Ages. It’s just possible that we can push the story back before 1251. Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, reported that Havering contained six “servi” ─ serfs or slaves. It’s been suggested that these became the cotters of 1251. If so, it means that William the Conqueror’s slaves scratched their living in a quiet corner of Gidea Park.


Havering’s first historian, the Reverend Philip Morant, was a clergyman and a scholar – but he liked a saucy story. Morant was born in Jersey in 1700, and grew up speaking French. In fact, his surname was “Mourant”, which means “dying” but he changed it to study at Oxford.

He spent much of his life in Essex, living mainly in Colchester. In the easy custom of the day, he held two parishes at once, doubling his income but not his workload.

In 1768, Morant published his chunky two-volume History of Essex. He liked “Havering-Bower”. “This is a charming spot, having a beautiful extensive prospect,” he wrote, “and also a view of the Thames, with ships continually sailing up and down.” He recounted a legend explaining Havering’s name, although dismissing it as “fabulous”. One day, a beggar had asked King Edward the Confessor for alms. The king had given him a ring from his finger. The beggar turned out to be Saint John the Evangelist. Nobody explained how a saint was hanging around locally a thousand years after Biblical times. The area was named after the king’s words as he made his gift to the beggar: “Have ring”. Some story!

Morant was not very flattering about our local river, which he dismissed as “the rivulet Ingreburn”. But at Rainham, he noted: “This rivulet receives vessels from the Thames, and has a commodious wharf”. He was more enthusiastic about Romford Market, “the greatest thoroughfare in Essex”. Romford had once been famous for manufacturing “leathern breeches” – the Germans call them lederhosen. Morant said this explained “the vulgar Proverb, to go there to be new bottomed.” The reverend gentleman was on dodgy ground here. The proverb described Romford as the place to be “new breeched and new bottomed”. The hidden meaning was that Romford was not just a centre for the leather trade but also big in the sex industry. While a man was waiting for his leather trousers to be made up, he could adjourn to a brothel. An odd story for a clergyman, but there was more nudge-nudge to come.

Why did Hornchurch have such an odd name? Why were there horns on St Andrew’s church? Morant related the story that the church “was built by a female convert, to expiate her sins”. A clue to those sins was the story that St Andrew’s was originally called Hor-Church. As a clergyman, Morant could not bring himself to use word ‘whore’, an old-fashioned term for a prostitute. But the meaning was clear. An unknown king “riding that way” decided to spare the lady’s embarrassment by tweaking the name. He commanded the addition of the horns, and Whore-Church became Hornchurch. As Morant himself said, the tale was “groundless”.  So why tell it?

Until 1978, historians consulted Morant in their original dusty, leather-bound tomes. Nowadays we use a photo-reprint edition. Whenever I smell ancient polished leather, I’m still reminded of Morant’s History of Essex.

[It has been suggested to me that Morant’s name derived from not from the French word ‘mourir’, meaning ‘to die’, but from a Channel Islands version of ‘demeurer’, which means ‘to live’ or ‘to reside’. If so, the names tells us that his family were living, not dying, on Jersey.]


Nowadays, Havering people only play quoits when they go on cruises. But, from about 1880 to the 1950s, a muscular version of the game was played across South Essex. Centres included the Thurrock villages of Orsett and Bulphan, and it was popular among railwaymen in Stratford and East Ham. Both Ilford and Orsett produced English Champions. There were even international matches ─ against Wales and Scotland.

Different versions of the rules applied across Britain. The Essex game featured a six-foot square clay pitch. The steel quoits weighed around ten pounds. Doughnut shaped and open on one side, they were pitched from a grass patch eighteen yards away. “Quoits was a real man’s game,” one enthusiast recalled; “no weakling could throw a quoit eighteen yards.”  It was also a game of skill. “A well-pitched shot described a graceful arch” but experts also used a low-level “pancake throw”. Points were scored for circling a steel pin (or ‘hob’) in the middle of the clay pitch. But this was hidden in a hollow so that the players could not see it.

Each contestant had a helper, called a ‘lighter’, who placed slips of paper as targets to help his aim. Points were also scored for landing inside a circle around the pin. Skilled players could not only hit the target but also dislodge opponents’ quoits from the circle ─ as in bowls or curling.

Balance was vital when pitching your quoit. After heavy rain, the Bulphan team once defeated top-class London opponents by the simple trick of removing their boots. While the cockneys slithered, the Thurrock yokels literally ran rings around them in their socks. “They must be web-footed in these parts,” one visitor commented contemptuously.

In 1919, the Romford and District League claimed 250 members, from Beckton gasworks to Thurrock. Its chairman claimed “he had never come across a finer or healthier set of men.” Quoits players were said to have made good soldiers in the First World War and were good citizens in peacetime.

Several pubs had quoiting grounds in their gardens. Employees of the Old Hornchurch Brewery played across the road at the King’s Head (later a restaurant). The Fox and Hounds, a pub near the Market end of South Street Romford, was another centre. Unfortunately, Hornchurch Brewery closed in the 1920s and Romford’s Fox and Hounds was a casualty of South Street redevelopment. Collier Row had a quoits team in 1890. Brentwood historian Frank Simpson was born in 1911. He recalled “the dink of the quoits” at the Artichoke pub on Shenfield Common when he was a small boy. The New Inn in Squirrels Heath Lane, between Gidea Park and Ardleigh Green, was probably the last local stronghold of the game.

The final of the English Quoits Championship was held there in 1951. The pub served the Factory Road community, which was demolished in the 1960s, and replaced by Durham Avenue. Its quoiting ground became a car park. Quoits is still played in a few places in north Essex along the Suffolk border. Oddly enough, deck quoits, played on shipboard with rope rings, was invented in the 1930s, just as the masculine game died out.


One Monday morning in January 2015, I paused to remember the German V2 rocket that fell on Ardleigh Green on January 26th 1945. I wasn’t around seventy years ago, but I was on my way.

Havering had already paid a high price ─ 46 dead and thousands of houses damaged ─ inflicted by the Nazi V1s, forerunners of the cruise missile. But at least you could hear the ‘doodlebugs’ coming and take cover as they dived to earth. British Intelligence used double agents to persuade the Germans that their V1s were falling twenty miles beyond London. The Nazis obligingly shortened their range ─ and Havering, fifteen miles east of the City, took the punishment.

In September 1944, the Nazis began a last-minute rocket campaign to snatch victory by destroying London. Fired from sites in Holland, the V2s soared 60 miles high, at three times the speed of sound ─ you heard them coming after they’d crashed.Unlike modern missiles, they had no guidance systems and could not be aimed accurately. Local historian Peter Watt calculates that five percent of all the rockets fired at Britain hit our Borough. A straight line from the launch sites around The Hague to central London passes right over Havering.

Luckily, over half Havering’s 61 V2s landed in fields, where their warheads cratered the Essex clay, reducing blast damage and casualties. Six exploded in midair, generally causing little damage, although debris from an “airburst” over Romford killed two people in Mawney Road. One rocket crashed in Northumberland Avenue, Gidea Park, but failed to explode. Peter Watt reckons that massive investment of money and materials in Germany’s V2 campaign did more damage to their war effort than to Britain’s civilian population. Even so, Havering’s 83 fatal casualties were a high price.

The rockets rained down over six months. Ironically, the very last, on 26 March 1945, wrecked Noak Hill’s ‘Victory Hut’, a village hall built to commemorate the First World War.

Rainham was hard hit by V2s. Fourteen people were killed in Penerly Road, and six more in nearby Ferro Road. In South Hornchurch, three residents died in Victory Road, and eight more in Manser Road. In Romford, Rosedale Road, off Eastern Avenue, was devastated and thirteen people died. Twelve were killed in David Drive, Harold Park, including a seven year-old boy who was cycling home when the monster crashed at ten to seven in the evening. Three children were among the twelve killed in Fairholme Avenue, Gidea Park. Five died in Upminster’s Waldegrave Gardens, and three in Ravenscourt Grove, Hornchurch.

The Ardleigh Green rocket fell on Stafford Avenue, wrecking the local primary school. Officially, three people ─ all young women ─ were killed. But there was probably a fourth victim. 500 yards from the impact site, in our family home on the Southend Arterial Road, my mother was thrown into the air by the explosion. The blast wave shook every inch of her body. She was five months pregnant, carrying twins. Only one of us survived.


Shalimar Bagh is a beautiful garden near Srinigar, capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Inspired by Iranian horticulture and created in its present form 400 years ago by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, the Shalimar expresses peace and order. In Islam, gardens often symbolise paradise. So it sounds a long way, in every sense, from Collier Row ─ but there is a link.

Born in 1860, Amy Warde was a keen musician. But, aged 34, she had neither a career nor had she found a husband.  So she joined the Fishing Fleet ─ a cruel nickname for women who headed to India in the cool season, hoping to find a mate among the lonely exiled servants of the British Raj. Amy struck lucky. In 1894, she married a widower, Colonel Woodforde Woodforde-Finden, a doctor serving with the Indian Army. Two years later, they retired back to England. By 1901, they lived at Lower Bedfords, a small mansion near Bedfords Park, between Chase Cross and Harold Hill. By 1908, they had relocated to a nearby house called The Firs. Neither house stands today. Lower Bedfords Road recalls their first Havering home. The site of The Firs is now Collier Row’s Chelmsford Avenue.

Amy wrote songs for young ladies to squawk to piano accompaniment. Complain about TV programmes if you like, but the entertainment available a century ago could be dire. Nobody seemed interested in Amy’s compositions. She paid herself to publish her ‘Kashmiri Song’ in 1902. All the same, ‘Pale Hands I Loved Beside the Shalimar’ was an instant hint. It’s a tinkly, warbly song which you can find on the Internet. The lyrics were by Adela Florence Cory, a poet who suffered from serious depression. Adela used the pen name ‘Laurence Hope. Her sister wrote adventure stories as ‘Victoria Cross’. 

There is a vague sense of racism about those “pale hands”. Many north Indian aristocrats were descendants of invaders from central Asia. Their ‘Aryan’ culture became the most hateful of Nazi racial classifications. Adela seemed to hint at a love affair between a Raja and European woman. She was obsessed with broken romances, and this one ends badly. “I would have rather felt you round my throat,” she sings to her departing lover / “Crushing out life than waving me farewell!” So we have casual racism plus glorification of violence against women. Not the sort of song you’ll hear on the BBC. But ‘Pale Hands’ was popular in its day. As late as 1943, actress Deanna Durbin sang it in a Hollywood movie. That’s on the Internet too!

By 1908, Amy had a second career, giving evening recitals in London concert halls, who respectfully billed her as ‘Madame Woodforde-Finden’.The couple moved up to town. In 1911, they lived in Great Portland Street. Returning exiles often found it hard to put down roots. The Colonel died in 1916 in Yorkshire. Amy’s death came from a heart attack three years later. She was playing the piano at the time.

It’s odd to realise that one of the most syrupy invocations of India came from a composer who lived in Romford. Perhaps Collier Row’s Chelmsford Avenue allotments should become Havering’s Shalimar Gardens?  Well, it’s just a suggestion.


I expect Havering magistrate Thomas Mashiter shook his head when well-meaning reformers abolished the death penalty for stealing sheep in 1832. The alternative ─ transportation for life to the hellish Australian penal colonies ─ huh! an ocean cruise to a holiday in the sun! A wealthy man, Mashiter probably kept his twenty sheep not for money but to mow the grass in his 30-acre park at Hornchurch Lodge. Lodge Court, off the High Street, recalls the site.

One June night in 1832, seven of his sheep vanished. Mashiter tracked them to the road but there the trail disappeared. A local magistrate could squeeze information from Havering’s hoodlums, and Mashiter soon located his sheep in a stable at still-rural East Ham. One escaped, five were hidden in a loft and the seventh had already become a side of mutton.

Hornchurch was a sleepy village, but it was big. How could you herd stolen sheep right through the High Street towards East Ham without somebody noticing ─ even at night?

James Lazell, Peter Brand and John Conn had trussed up Mashiter’s sheep and thrust them into sacks. Brand was a carter, a lonely job driving hay-wains on all-night journeys to reach city markets at dawn. Many carters got drunk and left the dray-horses to find their own way to London. The sacks had been stuffed deep into the bales of hay. The sheep were invisible and thick straw muffed their bleating. John Conn’s brother Charles had driven them to East Ham, where 21 year-old John White hid them.

The gang broke down. Brand wailed “that it was not possible for an honest man to go along the high road” and wept for his poor wife. Charles Conn blamed his mother: brother John was her favourite and she “would hang one son to save the other.” Mother’s boy John Conn saved himself by giving evidence for the Crown. In fact, Charles got off on a technicality, but Lazell and Brand were sentenced to transportion for life. Brand sailed on the convict ship Georgiana from Portsmouth that autumn and reached Hobart in Tasmania in May 1833. James Lazell followed on the Enchantress in April 1833. I don’t know how long they survived in Tasmania, but they certainly saw lots of sheep. Young John White probably served his fourteen-year sentence on a prison hulk on the Thames. Charles Conn stayed in Hornchurch. The 1861 census reported him living in Cage Lane, now North Street. In 1841, a labourer called William Lazell lived at Butts Green (now Emerson Park Station). He was perhaps the convict’s brother. If so, a seven year-old son, James Lazell, recalled the memory of an uncle lost in a distant land.

When Thomas Mashiter died in 1862, a fine east window in St Andrew’s church was his memorial. I doubt if the Conns and the Lazells were impressed.

Sheep stealing remained big business. In 1835, animals were stolen from Scottish gentleman Major James Anderson at Havering Grange, now the site of Immanuel School. Romford butchers complained that mystery traders sold sheep at absurdly low prices, clear proof of dishonest origins. The formation of the Essex Constabulary in 1840 began the policy of the local bobby on the beat. Sheep stealing became a rare crime.                                              


April 23rd 2014 marked the 450th anniversary of the birth of our greatest playwright, William Shakespeare. We don’t know if he ever visited Havering, although rival dramatist Ben Jonson twice made smutty allusions to Romford prostitutes.

But a quarrel between ‘the Bard’ and his theatre’s song-and-dance man brought Britain’s first publicity stunt to Romford. Shakespeare wrote plays for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Will Kemp was the resident comedian. Kemp played Dogberry, the incompetent constable in Much Ado About Nothing, and probably also the loveable rogue Falstaff.

In the late 1590s, Kemp was dumped, probably because Shakespeare objected to the wise-cracking comic ad-libbing on his immortal scripts. To recapture public attention, in February 1599, Kemp announced that he would Morris-dance from London to Norwich in nine days.

That meant nine days dancing. In fact Kemp took three weeks, allowing time to rest and build up excitement along the route. There were no newspapers in 1599 (and, of course, no radio or TV), but Kemp published an account of his adventure to make it a ‘media’ event too.

Early on a February Monday, he “began frolickly to foote it”, dressed in jester’s costume with bells around his legs, and accompanied by a three-man staff to play music and arrange accommodation. A crowd of Londoners followed him to Stratford, many confident that Kemp would soon give up. But he had heavily backed himself at three-to-one and had no intention of stopping. Kemp rested at Ilford, where the local tourist gimmick was “the great spoon”. Visitors were dared to down the contents of a ladle filled with alcohol, a challenge Kemp wisely declined.

As he danced by moonlight towards Romford, his target for the first night, he found the highway blocked near today’s Cottons Recreation Ground. Two large females were fighting, “beating and byting either of other”. A small man, Kemp stooped and managed to jig beneath their flying “hoofes”. He compared them to “two Smithes over an Anvyle”. Exhausted, Kemp gratefully accepted a lift from a friendly horseman to his inn in Romford. There he rested his “well-labour’d limbes” through Tuesday and Wednesday. Kemp thanked “the Londoners that came hourely thither in great numbers to visite me”. This was spin. Wednesday was Romford market day. The Londoners were there because they were traders, not fans. On Thursday morning, Kemp retraced his steps before “dauncing that quarter of a myle backe again thorow Romford, and so merily to Burnt-wood [Brentwood].” Cavorting beyond the Market Place, he hurt his hip, “and for a time indured exceeding paine”.

Two London pickpockets were arrested among the Brentwood crowds. The thieves claimed to followers of Kemp, but he identified one of them as “a noted Cut-purse” who infested London theatres. He gloated that they were sent to perform their own dance “at the whipping crosse”.

Kemp reached Norwich after 23 days, nine of them skipping along the road. Unlikely legends say he later danced across Europe, but in 1602 he made a stage comeback with another theatre company. Kemp probably died soon after.  A quarrel with England’s greatest playwright had led to Havering’s first publicity stunt.


Edward Pilgrim was a sensitive man. He worked as a toolmaker, and his wife Bertha was an engraver. They moved from Ilford to a bungalow off Romford’s Mawney Road, probably just after the Second World War. In the 1940s, only scattered sites towards the west end of Marlborough Road were built on. There wasn’t much traffic on the A12 Eastern Avenue, across the field. To safeguard their privacy, in 1949 the Pilgrims bought the empty block of land next door, mortgaging their bungalow to raise the £400 purchase price.

Nobody told them about the 1947 Planning Act. Postwar Britain faced a housing shortage. The 1947 Act gave councils compulsory purchase powers. They could buy urban land at agricultural prices. Valuing town sites as farmland obviously wasn’t fair, so a compensation fund was set up ─ but claims had to be made before 1949. Romford had 1,600 people on its housing list. In April 1953, Romford Council earmarked the Pilgrims’ block for new homes. It was valued at just £65 ─ £335 less than they’d paid. Edward Pilgrim protested ─ to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, to Housing Minister Harold Macmillan, even to Buckingham Palace. Nobody took any notice. In a March 1954 letter to the Recorder, he asked: “is this the freedom we have all fought for?”

In fairness, it must be said that the law actually banned Romford Council from paying the market price. But Town Hall bureaucrats disparaged their victim. He was “making a lot of fuss,” commented one local official. Whitehall concluded that Pilgrim was just a speculator who’d made a bad investment – tough luck.

Soon, the new houses were crammed close to the bungalow, cutting off daylight. Pilgrim was now clinically depressed, but there were few mental health services in those days. He earned about £500 a year – and taxes were high in the 1950s. Romford Council had wiped out a year’s take-home pay, but nobody cared. One autumn weekend in 1954, he spent hours staring at the building site. Then he locked himself in a shed, and took his own life. Pilgrim alive was a minor nuisance. Pilgrim dead was a national scandal.

Macmillan tried to shrug off his death as “just one of those tragedies which happen.” But even Prime Minister Churchill was angry that a man had been driven to suicide. Ministers found they could pay Mrs Pilgrim the extra £335 after all – but she was still burdened with mortgage interest, and on a widow’s income. The Planning Act was changed to provide proper compensation. Lawyers called it the Pilgrim Clause ─ although as it only applied to future cases, it would not have helped him. On a crowded island, private citizens must sometimes give way to public projects. But the lesson of the Pilgrim case is that people must not be robbed of their money and their dignity.


Most Havering road names were dreamed up by builders. Ardleigh Green’s Primrose Glen is a pleasant street, but I doubt if wild primroses ever grew there and the nearest glen is in Scotland. But some local road names do echo the past.

Hornchurch was a large parish, stretching from the Thames right up to the A12. For administrative purposes, it was split in two. North End – from Emerson Park to Harold Wood – is entirely forgotten, but Southend Road in Elm Park recalls the other section. It has nothing to do with Southend-on-Sea, whose name similarly evolved from the South End of the parish of Prittlewell.

The Romans drove dead-straight Colchester Road across the landscape soon after they arrived in 43 A.D. But most Havering roads grew out of winding farm tracks. It would be 1,800 years before the area gained its next planned highways. In 1809, the route from London to Tilbury Fort was privatised, and the new turnpike company constructed a direct link across South Hornchurch from Dagenham to Rainham. Two centuries later, we still call the A1306 ‘New Road’. In 1926, it was extended eastward to give Rainham a bypass.

Extensive commons stretching across the northern half of the Borough were enclosed for farming in 1814. The Commissioners who carved up the land had power to make new roads. Their major initiative, more than a mile long northward from Gallows Corner, astonished local people. Admiringly, they called it ‘Straight Road’. We still do. Romford did not get another major new road until the mid-1850s, when Victoria Road was laid out and named in honour of the great Queen.

Many of Havering’s modern-day roads recall vanished farms and mansions. They include Marshalls Drive and Gidea Close (Romford), Clockhouse Lane and Priests Avenue (Collier Row), Grey Towers Avenue (Hornchurch), Parsonage Road (Rainham), Gooshays Drive (Harold Hill), Nelmes Way (Emerson Park) and Gaynes Park Road (Upminster). There’s some mystery about Great Gardens Road in Heath Park. It recalls a former farmhouse, but it’s an odd name for a farm. The solution can be found in a plaque in St Andrew’s church, Hornchurch, to Thomas Hone, “who died ye 7th of Septemb. 1604, being of ye age of 63, having had 6 sonns and 6 daughters.”  The contribution of Mrs Hone to this heroic reproductive effort is not mentioned. Hone lived at a house called “Garolens”. It seems that, in days when all documents were hand-written, some short-sighted lawyer misread a clerk’s scrawl ─ and “Garolens” became “Gardens”.

Harold Wood has a puzzler too. The original Redden Court stood in Cecil Avenue, but around 1700 it was replaced by two farms further to the north – one in what is now Court Way, the other on the site of Redden Court School. The latter was all of fifteen feet higher above sea level than the Cecil Road site – positively mountainous for Essex. It must have had an unrecorded nickname that is preserved in Upland Court Road.


Havering’s modern street network is largely based on roads which had existed for hundreds of years before the suburbs arrived. It’s no surprise that names have been changed over the centuries.

Many of the ancient roads were simply farm tracks, and some have vanished under bricks and mortar. A map of Harold Hill in 1633 shows a track winding north from the Colchester Road (A12) close to modern-day Dagnam Park Drive. It was called Thieves Lane, perhaps a hiding place for robbers who attacked travellers on the Great Essex Road. In 1400, Upminster had a road called Hoggeslane. Estate agents are probably glad both names are now lost.

Some roads have been renamed to make them sound more upmarket. Rainham’s Back Street became Upminster Road. Romford’s Well Lane became Mawney Road.18th century maps show a Dog Lane near Romford. In the 1840s, it was renamed in honour of the Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon in 1815 – Waterloo Road. A sad loss is Romford’s Woolford Street, which turned into the more prosaic North Street. Later, Hornchurch Lane became South Street.

Cottages in the Borough’s other North Street, in Hornchurch, were known as Cage Row until at least 1860. They took their name from the village lock-up, a hut for locking up drunks and trouble-makers. Cage Row is now shops. In the Middle Ages, Hornchurch’s High Street was the centre of a local tanning industry. Between 1281 and 1373, local records call it “Pellestrate”, ‘pell’ being a variant of pelt, the word for an animal skin. The name died out around 1900, probably as newcomers moved into the growing suburb.

A 1777 map shows “Upminster Lane” heading north towards Tylers Common, but in 1880 villagers called it “The Hall Lane” – because it led to Upminster Hall, now the Golf Club. Today it’s simplified as Hall Lane. That same 1777 map shows two roads north from Cranham, one called Cranham Lane and the other, a winding by-road named Cranham Back Lane. I don’t know when or why the Back Lane became Moor Lane, but it left a mark on its neighbour – Front Lane. I can’t find another Front Lane anywhere in England.

The road east from Upminster was also called Cranham Lane. In 1924, it was renamed. Upminster people wanted a name associated with their ancient parish church, dedicated to St Laurence. However, there was already a St Laurence Road, by Upminster station. Somebody recalled that, in the Middle Ages, when England was a Catholic country, the parish church had contained a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. So Upminster’s east-west highway became St Mary’s Lane. It’s a charming name ─ but an invented one.

Some of Havering’s more modern streets have also been renamed. The road that commemorated William Carter, the founder of Emerson Park in 1895, is now called Maybush Road. Maybe, locals wanted an address that was smarter than Carter – and renaming avoided confusion with Carter Drive in Romford. Factory Road, near Gidea Park Station, was rebuilt as Elvet Avenue. Sussex Avenue, off Harold Wood’s Avenue Road, was originally Dorset Avenue, but the name was changed to avoid confusion with Dorset Avenue, Romford. With a little more imagination in street-naming, problems could have been avoided: Havering has an Oak Avenue, Oak Court, Oak Glen and Oak Road as well as a Kenilworth Road and a Kenilworth Gardens.


Most Havering street names were invented by developers who wanted a nice address to sell houses. But some tell a story – and sometimes that story has moved on, so the name has lost its meaning.

In the 19th century. maps showed a smithy at a road junction in Rainham Road (A125). In 1886, James Venables was described as “smith and farrier” in South Hornchurch, meaning that he looked after horses. If you stroll along Rainham Road today, you won’t hear the hammering of red-hot horseshoes on the anvil, but Blacksmiths Lane marks the spot where the smithy stood.

In 1871, a church was built to serve the new suburb of Harold Wood. It was a simple building with a tin roof and a puppy-tail spire. Naturally enough, Harold Wood’s first church stood in Church Road. But in 1939, it was succeeded by St Peter’s, a sternly handsome brick building in Gubbins Lane. The old building became the church hall. It just failed to reach its centenary, being sold for redevelopment in 1969. Result: Harold Wood has a Church Road – without a church.

Given the rivalry between Spurs and Arsenal, Gunners fans might object to Collier Row’s White Hart Lane. But they have no reason to complain: the name remembers a long-vanished pub. Billet Lane in Hornchurch also recalls a lost hostelry – the Crooked Billet stood near today’s Emerson Park Station. It closed about 1870.

Curiously, Havering has two fake-monastic street names.  Sir Thomas Crosse, a wealthy London brewer who died in 1738, bought the Rainham manor of Berwick, remembered in Berwick Pond Road. One of the oldest documents in English history is a charter from the year 687, granting Barking Abbey “Deccanham” and “Ricingaham”. Deccanham was Dagenham, which was certainly Barking Abbey property. “Ricingaham” is a mystery, but the Crosse family guessed (wrongly) that it referred to Rainham. So they named a patch of trees near Berwick Pond “Abbey Wood”, and Abbey Wood Lane in Rainham remembers the name. Several bus routes terminate there, so the name is well known. (Other land is Rainham belonged to Lesnes Abbey in Kent during the Middle Ages, but not this area.)

At the other end of the Borough, the wealthy Neave family owned Dagnam Park at Harold Hill. It was probably during the 1840s that the family built a “dower house”, maybe as a retirement home for the widow of Sir Thomas Neave, who died in 1848. It was called The Priory, recalling the medieval tradition of rich widows becoming nuns and retreating into convents. The Priory, a 40-room house to the east of modern Harold Hill, was demolished in 1956. Priory Road, about a half a mile away, recalls this romantic name.


The builders who made modern Havering liked to name streets after family members. We’ll probably never know the real people behind Frederick Road in South Hornchurch, Percy Road, Romford, Gidea Park’s Eugene Close, Patricia Drive in Hornchurch, David Drive in Harold Park, Helen Road and Michael Gardens in Ardleigh Green – or Martin Road in Rainham.When Elm Park streets were laid out in the 1930s, whoever named Brian Close could not have foreseen an England cricket captain called – Brian Close.

But some names can be decoded. Romford’s Albert Road must commemorate Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, who died suddenly in December 1861. Clues? Well, it’s off Victoria Road, and one of the older properties bears the date “1862”. Alfred Douglas Hamilton was a distant cousin of the Scottish grandee, the Duke of Hamilton. Around 1900, he created two streets at Harold Wood – Douglas Avenue and Hamilton Drive. Samuel and Edward Jutsum were listed among local farmers in 1848. Their unusual surname comes from Devon. They did not stay in the area for long, but Jutsums Lane, on Romford’s western fringe, remembers them.

John Heaton of Bedfords is recalled in Heaton Avenue, Straight Road. An experimental farmer, he was hailed by a breathless admirer in 1816 as the first man in Havering to grow mangel wurzels. Everybody has to be famous for something. By contrast, Squirrels Heath Road at Harold Wood was known as Ropers Hill until the 1920s, after the Roper family who farmed on the site of Redden Court School. The name did not survive.

Around the former Hornchurch aerodrome, fighter pilots from the two world wars are remembered – Robinson, Sowrey and Tempest from 1914-18, Mungo Park, Deere, Malan, Bader and Tuck among the heroes of the Battle of Britain – along with the head of Fighter Command, “Stuffy” Dowding.

One technique used by developers building near a stately mansion was to borrow the names of former owners, the more aristocratic the better. Ex-owners of Hare Hall (now Royal Liberty School) gave swish-sounding names to Gidea Park streets – Wallinger, Pemberton, Castellan, Severn. When building began in Upminster in 1909, developers used names like Deyncourt, Engayne and Branfill to add cachet to their new homes. But for 99 years from 1543, Upminster Hall had belonged to a family called Latham. That didn’t sound aristocratic, and so ‘Latham’ was scratched off the map and replaced with the much posher ‘Waldegrave’. The famous Victorian Society hostess, Lady Waldegrave, had lived at Navestock, but Navestock is not Upminster. The Lathams eventually got posthumous revenge, in the modern gated development, Latham Place, where houses sell for over a million pounds.


Many local streets were named after pretty places to help sell houses. But sometimes there was a personal connection. William Carter, who began Emerson Park in 1895, came from Parkstone in Dorset. He gave his development Parkstone Avenue. Sometimes, a place name may refer to a person. Salisbury Road in Heath Park probably commemorates Lord Salisbury, three times prime minister between 1885 and 1902, not the cathedral city in Wiltshire.

When Hornchurch’s Hacton Lane area was laid out for building in the 1930s, streets were named after race courses – Kempton, Plumpton, Chepstow, Goodwood, Haydock, Epsom, Lingfield, Doncaster, Newbury. Unfortunately two of the racecourses soon closed. Chelmsford Drive recalls the Essex racecourse, located on Galleywood Common. As this was a public open space, punters could watch the races without paying. Chelmsford went bust in 1935. The other casualty was Gatwick racecourse in Sussex., which closed in 1940 for the duration of World War Two – and never reopened. After the War, it became part of Gatwick Airport. But Hacton Lane’s quiet, traffic-free Gatwick Way was named for the racecourse not for the airport.

In Romford’s Rise Park, builders used names from Scotland – Beauly Way, Deveron Way, Ayr Way. This was a marketing ploy – the less romantic Glasgow, Motherwell and Dundee do not feature! But when Harold Hill was built as a public housing project in the late 1940s, the street names were resolutely English. The first generation of Harold Hill people came from Inner London, grim places like Stepney and Hackney – but they moved to streets named after English country towns – Barnstaple, Chippenham, Cricklade, Chudleigh, Taunton, Woodbridge. A couple of Welsh and Scottish names were included, but overall the raw new council estate was given the roast-beef flavour of Old England.

Oddly, Havering has few overseas street names.  The 19th century was the heyday of the British Empire. In older parts of London, you find roads named after colonies and imperial battles. Havering has few examples. Pretoria Road, off Mawney Road, dates from the time of the 1899 South African War against the Boers, white settlers who ran the tiny Afrikaner republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. When General Kitchener occupied the Transvaal capital, Pretoria, in 1900, everyone assumed the war was won – except for the Boers, who fought on until 1902. Other imperial echoes include Clive Road and Lawrence Road in Heath Park. These probably honour Robert Clive, who conquered Bengal for Britain in the 1750s, and Sir John Lawrence, a hero (to the British) of the Indian Mutiny of 1857-8. Nearby Lytton Road perhaps commemorates Lord Lytton, Viceroy of India 1876-1880.

Six million Indians died of famine during his viceroyalty, and in 1878 he invaded Afghanistan.

An exception to Havering insularity is New Zealand Way in South Hornchurch, part of a cluster of streets and tower blocks named after Kiwi cities and towns – Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Napier. And there’s a charming example off Cross Road, just north of Eastern Avenue, where Pitcairn Close is named after one of the smallest islands in the Pacific Ocean. Maybe it seemed the most remote spot in Romford!


Railways arrived in Havering in 1839. The area has been lucky ─ there have been few crashes. Four people died in September 1840 when a 22 year-old engine driver speeded recklessly down what railwaymen call the Brentwood Bank. Near Nags Head Lane, the train buckled and crashed. There was no health and safety in those days. 101 years later, the same section saw another smash, in the other direction. On a February morning in 1941, the Norwich express halted to get up steam to haul itself through Brentwood. It was hit from behind by a Southend train. The experienced driver should have seen both danger signals and the stationary train ahead. An enquiry concluded he had briefly fallen asleep after leaving Harold Wood. When we laugh at Dad’s Army, we forget that Home Guard and ARP volunteers who were on duty all night also had day jobs. Exhaustion was a major wartime problem. Seven people were killed.

Late on January 2nd, 1947, a stopping train was leaving Gidea Park when it was hit by a mail train. There was dense fog around Romford, and the driver was unable to see warning signals. The rear carriage of the local train was hurled over the station roof. Five of the six killed were from Brentwood. Ironically, one of them was a Post Office worker. Three were returning from theatre outings. Surgeons at Romford’s Oldchurch Hospital fought in vain to save Miss Mabel Payton, a member of a popular Harold Wood family. There is a silent clip of the grim wreckage on the Pathe News website.  (You can search for it by key words: gidea park, crash, 1947). An identical crash ─ late-night, fog ─ killed ten people at Dagenham East in 1957.

Criminal stupidity caused the 1965 Elm Park tragedy. At 6 p.m. on Monday 29 March, the driver of a train from Shoeburyness reported hitting debris on the Fenchurch Street line near Rainham Road. He saw a young teenage boy run across the track, with others nearby. Within the next hour, three more drivers were forced to brake hard as they hit obstacles. Two feared their trains would be derailed. British Rail’s policy of reporting and tackling problems was criticised: could the tragedy have been avoided? Soon after 7 p.m., a down train travelling at 70 mph hit metal objects on the line. The driver, Ernest Whybrew, had spotted the debris and applied the brakes, but he suffered fatal injuries when the impact hurled him against the control handle in his cab. The train was travelling so fast that it dragged itself almost a mile to Elm Park station. Passengers were terrified as coaches hurtled through the air. Remarkably, there was only one other fatality, plus fifteen seriously injured. Elm Park residents rushed to help survivors.

British Rail called the Elm Park crime “imbecile folly” and offered a £1,000 reward for information. In the Eastern Region, 263 obstacles had been placed on tracks the previous year. You can’t derail a train in broad daylight without being observed, but nobody was ever arrested. Police investigated fully, tracing twenty youngsters who had been playing nearby. There was no suggestion the children were involved. But nobody named the vandals who wrecked that train.


If you ignore the hum of M25 traffic, North Ockendon church is one of the quietest places in Havering. Yet, hundreds of years ago, it was a scene of hideous torture. The story begins in the year 1075, nine years after the battle of Hastings. William the Conqueror wanted to build a fortress on a ridge overlooking the Thames in Berkshire. Today we call it Windsor Castle. But Windsor belonged to the monks of Westminster Abbey, so the king ordered a swap for two manors in Essex. One of these was North Ockendon, then called “Wochendona”. The king’s grant included “the church in which the examination of the judgement of fire and water is held by ancient custom”.

Professor Robert Bartlett of St Andrews University is the expert on judicial ordeals. He has foiund that fire and water were still used to try criminal cases until around 1200. In the ordeal by fire, the accused was forced to walk holding a red-hot iron. The burns were then bandaged for three days. If they were found to be healing, you were innocent. The alternative was to be thrown into water. If innocent, the water would embrace you; but if the water rejected you, you were guilty. In serious cases, you would then have your right foot cut off. After 1176, when the law was toughened up, your right hand might also be removed. The ordeal by water was later used to try suspected witches. It wasn’t much of a choice: you either drowned or suffered amputation.

These ordeals were held at churches because priests were needed to bless the red-hot iron and sanctify the water. There is no recorded case of judicial torture in Norman times at North Ockendon. But the water may be a clue. There is a well next to the churchyard. Local legend associates it with St Cedd, the missionary who converted the East Saxons to Christianity after 633 A.D. The saint is reputed to have baptised converts here, suggesting a tradition of a sacred place. There were only 23 families living in North Ockendon at the time of Domesday Book in 1086, so there was never much demand for a church here. It’s likely that the well was a sacred site in pagan times, perhaps dedicated to the Germanic goddess Frija, from whom we get the name ‘Friday’. Pagan sites were often taken over by the Church. There’s another clue in the dedication of North Ockendon church to St Mary Magdalene. In Church tradition, Mary Magdalene was the woman who bathed the feet of Jesus with her tears. It would be an obvious story to transfer to the sacred well and so ease pagan Saxons into the new faith. The holy well, fed by its constant spring, would be an obvious place for the ordeal by water. When the 1075 document talked of the ordeal or fire and water happening at North Ockendon “by ancient custom”, perhaps it had not taken place for centuries – since pagan times. However, 200 years after that 1075 charter, the Abbot of Westminster claimed the right of gallows on the Abbey’s North Ockendon property – the privilege of hanging his own thieves. This may have been a holdover from the ordeal of fire and water. Believe me, it was no fun living in the Middle Ages. You could be hanged, maimed, burned or flogged for the slightest offence – if you weren’t starved or sick already.

North Ockendon is the only part of Greater London east of the M25. That happened by accident. The suburban areas of Upminster and Cranham were added to the Hornchurch Urban District in 1934, and the next year part of North Ockendon was tacked on, probably because it was assumed housing would spread eastward. Happily, North Ockendon was never built up. Happily, too, nobody has been forced to prove their innocence by carrying a red-hot iron or floating in a well there for a thousand years either.


Shakespeare’s love story, Romeo and Juliet, turned into tragedy because the couple’s families, the Montagues and the Capulets, were locked in a vicious feud. Written about 1595, the play was set in Italy – but it might have been located in Hornchurch, where two fighting families, the Ayloffes and the Legatts, split the community.

Havering gardeners won’t be surprised to hear that, in the 16th century, it was difficult to farm the local clay soil.  But the rich marshes beside the Thames were an exception. The area south of Rainham New Road, now covered with factories, grew fine crops. The land was a patchwork of tiny holdings. But there was a problem. To stop the Thames from flooding, every landowner had to repair a section of the river wall. If one farmer failed to do the job properly, everybody would suffer. In 1591, there was a serious flood. It was blamed on William Ayloffe, owner of Bretons, in South Hornchurch.

Havering’s unofficial leader was John Legatt, who farmed at Hornchurch Hall, opposite St Andrew’s church. The Legatts were a prominent local family. Branches lived at Suttons (now Sanders School) and at Dagnams (now Harold Hill). John Legatt took charge of draining the flooded land. He’d soon spent £1,500 – equal to millions today. In 1593, a Havering court fined Ayloffe and the next year, a special commission imposed a £500 penalty on him, plus heavy rates on other marshland farmers. But Ayloffe and other “obstinate persons” took no notice. So John Legatt sued, and Queen Elizabeth’s law courts ruled that he could seize Ayloffe’s lands as compensation.

In 1597, Legatt’s men planted crops on Ayloffe’s marshland holdings. But, living at Bretons, Ayloffe was just a mile away, while Legatt, in Hornchurch, was three miles from the marshes. When the crops ripened, Ayloffe sent his men in to harvest them before Legatt could get there. By 1600, Ayloffe was on the offensive, attacking Legatt’s property. And all this happened just 16 miles from Queen Elizabeth’s royal court at Whitehall. How did Ayloffe get away it?

Nowadays we sometimes think of people as working class or middle class, but in Tudor times there was a social ladder of many different grades. Ayloffe was a “gentleman”, from the very top drawer. Although Legatt was probably richer, he was only an “Esquire”, one step down. Ayloffe owned Bretons. Legatt rented his farms. When Scottish king James I came to England’s throne in 1603, he handed out knighthoods like sweeties. Ayloffe became Sir William, but Legatt remained just Master John. A word or a wink to other “gentlemen”, and Ayloffe could ignore the courts.

The feud outlasted John Legatt’s death in 1608. The Legatts moved away from Havering around 1630, and so the quarrel died out. The Ayloffes were ruined in the Civil War of the 1640s. They backed the loser, Charles I. Nowadays, Ayloffs Walk is one of the quietest streets in Emerson Park. But, 400 years ago, there was a Wild West feud going on in Havering. And Shakespeare missed the chance to set a famous tragedy in Havering.


One of Upminster’s saddest stories began in sunny Naples during the winter of 1934-5. An RAF pilot, Flight-Lieutenant Charles Forbes, arrived from Malta on a 2-week visit. He met 20-year old Jane Du Bois and her inseparable 23-year old sister Betty, daughters of a wealthy American businessman. Jane fell in love with him. Although Forbes already had a fiancée in England, Jane believed they had pledged to spend their lives together. Jane travelled to London soon after, and it was there that she heard that Charles Forbes had died in a plane crash. “I must keep my part of the bargain,” she said of their vows. Betty, also heartbroken, agreed to join her. Like Charles, they would die falling from the sky.

There was a daily six-seater airliner service from Stapleford Abbotts to Paris. The sisters booked all the seats for Thursday 21 February 1935, but they were the only two who checked in for the morning departure. As take-off time approached, anxious airfield staff asked when the other four passengers would arrive. Jane said she would phone them. Staff were puzzled when she rang somebody in Romford. A resident of Gidea Park’s Pemberton Avenue was also surprised by the call, which he assumed was a wrong number.  Jane had picked his number at random. She announced that their friends were not coming, and the two sisters would travel alone.

There were few navigational aids in 1935. After take-off from Stapleford, the pilots looked for Gidea Park Station. Cross the Liverpool Street railway line at right angles over Gidea Park, and you are heading straight for Paris. To make sure you are on the right route, you then look out for Tilbury Docks. (Check on a map if you don’t believe it.) So the crew were too busy navigating the plane to argue when the girls complained of a draught and closed the cockpit door. The sisters swigged a flask of whisky, before forcing open the external door.

This took determination: the door was locked and wind resistance was strong. The plane was flying at about 2,000 feet and 85 mph, much lower and slower than a modern airliner. Over Upminster, Jane and Betty plunged earthwards in fatal embrace.

Suburbs were spreading off Corbets Tey Road. Two Hornchurch men, skilled gasfitters, were connecting new houses to a gas main. As they looked up at the Paris flight, they were shocked to see something fall from the plane through swirling black cloud. Perhaps it was a dog? “Poor little animal,” said one of them, as the two ran towards the cabbage field where the  figures almost seemed to be floating to the ground. They were horrified to find the broken bodies of two beautiful young women. Jane’s face was calm and unmarked. “I half expected her to breathe,” said one of the men. “It was ghastly.”

The flight was bumpy, and the pilots did not realise their passengers had jumped. When the airliner flew into a thunderstorm, the pilots opened the cabin door to offer reassurance. It was then they realised a ghastly tragedy had taken place. They turned back to Stapleford.


For a pig-dealer, he took himself very seriously.He was “Mr Halfhead”, too important to reveal his first name to reporters. And he knew his rights. One July day in 1841, he was taking a cartload of pigs to London’s Smithfield Market. There was a tollgate in Aldersgate Street, but Halfhead objected when gatekeeper John Edgar collected the twopenny fee (less than 1p today) to allow him to pass. A few days later, he summonsed Edgar to appear in court at the Guildhall. Edgar’s alleged offence? He had violated the privileges of the royal manor of Havering.

In 1465, king Edward IV had granted Havering a charter, listing them various privileges, most of them already existing by custom. In popular terms, Havering – the modern Borough west of the Ingrebourne – became a “royal liberty”, a term recalled in the names of a local school and a Romford shopping mall. (Officially, Havering remained a manor.) One valuable privilege freed “all tenants of the manor, and also all inhabitants residing and dwelling therein” from paying tolls in “any city, borough, town, fair, market, or other places whatever” anywhere in England. Havering people could obtain a “docquet” from a local magistrate which they could flourish at any toll barrier in the kingdom. The precious pass probably cost a fee, and two shillings (10p) was charged in stamp duty. But if you were pig-dealer and often passed through tollgates, it was worth having.

But when “Mister” Halfhead had produced his document in Aldersgate Street, John Edgar had refused to recognise it. Havering’s toll-free privilege, Edgar insisted, was limited to residents. Halfhead hadn’t lived there for years. Halfhead agreed that he lived in Shoreditch but insisted that he was still connected with Havering, since he rented an acre of land there. Edgar countered that Halfhead’s acre was sub-let to another man, who also had a Havering toll-free pass.

The case came before a former lord mayor, Sir Peter Laurie. Like Dick Whittington, Laurie had come to London and made his fortune. He was probably the uncle of fellow Scotsman John Laurie who tried to develop a smart suburb, Laurie Town, beyond Romford Market around 1850. Novelist and social reformer Charles Dickens nicknamed Laurie “Alderman Cute”. Sir Peter insisted it was “common sense” that only one person could claim Havering’s toll-free privilege for any piece of land. In “the spirit of the age”, the City Corporation had borrowed £60,000 to clean up London. The debt was paid for by tolls, so these must be collected efficiently, Laurie insisted. The toll-free privilege required a direct connection with Havering land. Halfhead’s cartload of swine were not even Romford pigs. When Halfhead grumbled, Laurie curtly told him to launch a court case against the City Corporation, not wrangle with employees who were doing their duty.

Halfhead was probably right: the charter referred to tenants and inhabitants as two distinct categories. So, in strict legal terms, it didn’t matter that he’d lived for years in Shoreditch. But the “spirit of the age” was turning against ancient privileges, and in 1892 Havering finally lost the last vestiges of its semi-independent status.


The invention of the modern bicycle helped change the status of women. Replacing clumsy devices like the penny farthing and the boneshaker, the safety bicycle became popular in the mid-1890s. In Victorian times, nice girls only met young men under the supervision of chaperones, older ladies who guarded their virtue. But bicycles gave young women freedom to escape supervision. Female dress changed too. You couldn’t reach the pedals wearing an ankle-length dress. Skirts became shorter, and some daring women even adopted masculine garb.

One Saturday in March 1896, a sensational defendant electrified the all-male Stratford magistrates’ court. Of “medium height and slender figure”, Beatrice Walker from Harold Wood wore “a light grey costume, a tunic reaching to about six inches above the knees, with brown stockings and gaiters.” Nowadays, we’d just call it a trouser suit. Beatrice Walker was charged with riding on the pavement at Chadwell Heath. Pleading guilty, she complained that the roadway was sticky with new tarmac. She’d only ridden a short distance on the footpath.

Ms Walker defied the magistrates. “No doubt they would make an example of her,” she proclaimed, “as she was one of the women of the future.”  Male chauvinist Stratford roared with laughter. “You are the pioneer of the ‘new women’ at this court,” agreed the chairman of the bench, fining her ten shillings and sixpence (52 and a half pence), including costs. Grumbling about unfairness, Beatrice Walker paid her debt to society and left. The courtroom emptied to watch this new woman cycling away “until machine and rider disappeared in the traffic”. Sad to say, it’s been impossible to identify Beatrice Walker, or explain how she came to live at Harold Wood. Havering’s first bicycling feminist just vanishes among the carts and cabs of Stratford Broadway.

But Harold Wood made another contribution to women’s liberation. Supporting their demand for citizenship rights, Suffragettes contested male arguments that women were the inferior sex. In May 1909, their newspaper, Votes for Women, triumphantly reported: “A girls’ tug-of-war team at Harold Wood, near Romford, having beaten all the local men, now offers to meet and beat any team of men in the district.” Was the challenge from the muscular maidens of Harold Wood accepted?

A Suffragette branch formed in Emerson Park in 1908 probably did not last long. Suffragettes targeted Romford pillar boxes in May 1913, pouring in blue paint to destroy the letters. If their movement was weak in Havering, there would be no local suspects for the police to arrest. Suffragette violence dramatised the votes for women campaign, but it was probably the female contribution to the 1914-18 war effort that won citizenship rights. Hornchurch historian C.T. Perfect praised local women who queued for hours at Romford shops. He wrote: “during winter, these queues were pitiful, and the fortitude of the women was worthy of all praise.” In 1918, women over the age of 30 won the right to vote. The voting age was lowered to 21, equal with men, in 1928, and to 18 for both sexes in 1970.


“As easy as turning on a tap.” We take abundant clean water for granted ─ but it wasn’t always like that. In bygone days, Havering people relied on wells and springs and ponds and streams. Supplies were unreliable ─ a pond at the corner of Billet Lane and Hornchurch High Street dried up most summers. Streams were easily polluted. In 1472, John Cole, a tanner at Hare Street (Main Road, Gidea Park) was prosecuted for washing animal hides in a public water supply.

Springs were commonest on higher ground, where gravel topped the London clay. Upminster had a superb spring off Hall Lane, near the modern Arterial Road ─ but remote from the village. Natural minerals in a spring at Tylers Common smelt so awful that doctors assumed it must be good for you. Nothing came of a scheme in 1734 to sell it as spa water. Romford’s public well was at the east end of the Market.

Victorian Hornchurch people had several supplies. Water cost a halfpenny a bucket at Soane’s Well in Suttons Lane. It was officially free from a well in a High Street orchard, but the owner, baker Jimmy Stevens, “a cute old chap”, limited access to his customers. South of St Andrew’s church was Mason’s Well, property of an old soldier who’d fought at the battle of Waterloo. Six feet four inches tall, Mason eked out his Army pension by delivering pails of water from house to house.

The modern era began with the South Essex Water Company in 1861. The company pumped water from the chalk quarries at Grays through a network of mains. Later, to supply Romford, it sank an artesian (deep) well at the lower end of South Street, opposite Clydesdale Road. A storage reservoir on higher ground, at Hog Hill, north-west of Collier Row, provided the necessary water pressure.

An official report of 1901 noted that the growing suburb of Hornchurch was entirely supplied by the company. So were most houses in Romford town. The company supplied most homes in Rainham, Wennington and Upminster, although some residents relied on springs and shallow wells. It also served Cranham, but mainly through standpipes: “some of the inhabitants go a mile for water.” Water mains ran through Ardleigh Green, Collier Row, Corbets Tey and Harold Wood. But Upminster’s Hall Lane, Wingletye Lane in Hornchurch and Straight Road, Romford had no mains. As late as 1917, lack of water meant there was no Fire Brigade cover in most of South Hornchurch. Havering-atte-Bower’s height created problems. Only two houses had mains water in 1901. Villagers depended on an unreliable well and “polluted ponds.” A pumping station at Great Warley provided mains water to hilltop Brentwood, but the challenge of Havering village was only solved in 1934, by building the Broxhill Road water tower, still a noted local landmark.

Water supplies kept pace with suburban growth, thanks to Hanningfield reservoir, constructed in 1957. If we take it for granted, we might once again have to pay by the bucketful for our precious water supply. [For a map of Havering’s water network in the early 20th century, see page 32 of:



When 94 year-old Reverend Charles Almeric Belli died at South Weald in 1886, he was probably England’s oldest Anglican clergyman. He was also one of the most generous. He had given vast sums of money ─ probably £50,000 ─ to Church causes in the Brentwood area, building schools at South Weald and Warley and financing the construction of churches at Bentley Common and in Brentwood. He was quirky old man, who helped the poor. He took pleasure in alarming his friends by threatening to learn to ride a bicycle in old age. He donated priceless Michelangelo prints to the British Museum. But there’s another side to the story.

The Reverend Belli left an estate worth £233,000 ─ probably twenty million in today’s money. Where did it come from? Belli’s Italian father had served in India under British governor Warren Hastings. In the 19th century, the British brought efficient, honest government to India. But in the 18th century, they had extorted and robbed. Hastings and his crew were notoriously rapacious. Apparently, it never occurred to Belli that his vast fortune was tainted.

We can’t answer for the sins of our fathers, but Belli had faults of his own. His sister married William Howley, the Bishop of London. Essex was then part of Howley’s diocese, and the bishop proved a generous brother-in-law. In 1823, he made Belli Vicar of South Weald. Parsons lived off tithes, compulsory payment of one-tenth of all crops to the Church. In the 1830s, tithes became cash payments. South Weald was worth £653 a year to its Vicar. This was a huge salary. By comparison, in 1858, Havering-atte-Bower paid its village schoolmaster £50 annually. Belli retired at 85, but continued to live atthe Vicarage – he had built it himself. Over 53 years, South Weald netted this rich man more than £30,000.

Belli also double-jobbed. Bishop Howley made him Rector of Paglesham near Rochford, worth £533 a year. Avoiding the unhealthy Essex marshes, Belli hired other clergy to read the weekly service. He held on to Paglesham for forty years, probably pocketing around £16,000 for doing nothing.

In 1819, Bishop Howley also appointed him Precentor of St Paul’s Cathedral. With an ornate stall in the Chancel, the Precentor was in charge of the choir. The salary was only £50 a year, but there were also perks. Belli remained Precentor until his death 67 years later. Living so near London, surely it was easy for him to make St Paul’s a great musical centre? But Belli only visited the cathedral twice. Not twice a week. Not twice a year. He set foot in St Paul’s just twice in those 67 years.Once was to watch the funeral of the Duke of Wellington. A verger tried to stop him taking his seat, telling him that the stall was reserved for the Precentor. “I am the Precentor,” Belli replied. Because Belli was never there, clergy at St Paul’s Cathedral nicknamed him their Precentor ‘the Absenter’.

Belli’s attitude was simple. He had a right to the income from his jobs. He had no duty to do anything in return. Sure, Charles Almeric Belli was generous to local churches and schools. But he was simply returning the money that he had ripped off from the system. Fabulously wealthy, he could have given so much more. In 2010 South Weald’s Anglicans built a parish hall. They called it the Belli Centre.


One day in 1907, an RSPCA Inspector spotted a sick cow in Romford Market. It was little more than a skeleton and coughing violently. Angrily, he told the dealer the beast had tuberculosis, a lung disease that could infect humans. Before antibiotics, there was no cure for the scourge of ‘TB’. The only hope was that high winds might blow affected lungs clear.

That’s why a TB sanatorium was opened in 1919 at Harold Court, on top of breezy Shepherds Hill at Harold Wood.

While the RSPCA man reported the problem at the Police Station in South Street, the dodgy dealer sent the diseased cow for slaughter. Confident that he’d destroyed the evidence, the dealer mounted a cocky counter-attack when the police swooped. There’d been nothing wrong with that cow, he insisted. That very morning, she’d produced eight gallons of milk -- 64 pints of poisoned milk, 64 lethal cocktails of disease, all sold to the unsuspecting public! A criminal gang operated in the Market, buying diseased cattle, and selling them on, dirt cheap, to be made into sausages -- poor people’s food. This glimpse of Romford Market a century ago appeared in a newspaper published in Dawson City, the gold rush town in northern Canada. Bad news spread far.

There are happier glimpses of Romford Market in Edwardian times on the www.francisfrith.com website. Type in ‘Romford Market’ and you’ll find postcards from 1908 and 1910. One looks west towards St Edward’s church. At the South Street corner, there’s a mystery building, like a Roman temple with columns. This was the old Havering courthouse, demolished in the 1930s.

The second 1908 view is taken from the courthouse, looking east towards another fine building,  Laurie Hall, a public hall that became Romford’s first cinema in silent-film days.

The Market is crowded with people, but nobody bothers about traffic. There are no cars -- just three horse-drawn waggons.It’s a sunny day and, in the foreground, a stately lady glances up at the camera from under her parasol.

On the 1910 postcard, you’ll spot a narrow 3-storey gabled building on the north side of the Market. Now open a new window and search for ‘Edith Mary Garner Romford’. This leads you to a BBC website showing a charming picture of that part of the Market.  The old buildings are long gone, but you are looking from Debenhams towards Aldi. It’s a delightful picture, pastel-coloured farmers chatting beside a sheep pen, a stolid policeman, a man riding an over-sized bicycle and everybody, women and men, wearing hats. Stranger still, this calm moment happened while the world was plunged into war. Edith Garner’s husband, fellow-painter William Lee Hankey, joined the Artists’ Rifles in 1915. This quirky unit, which encouraged arty types to fight the Germans, was based at Hare Hall in Gidea Park (now the Royal Liberty School). Edith Garner’s picture seems to have been painted from a first-floor window, perhaps where she stayed when she visited him.


Newspapers reported “considerable excitement” in Romford in late October 1874 as four children died in mysterious circumstances. It was Queen Victoria’s England, Disraeli was prime minister and Romford had a population of 8,000.

William and Ann Copsey lived alongside Romford Market, where William worked an upholsterer. They were incomers: William had been born near Chelmsford, Ann at Rayleigh. There were other Copseys in town (today, the removals firm of Geo. C. Copsey and Co. must be Havering’s oldest business) but probably no grandparents around to help rear five children under the age of seven.  On Monday 26 October, the youngest, Reginald, aged 19 months, was teething and crying. Ann sent her eldest, seven year-old Susan, to buy a “powder” from Lasham’s, the respected chemists on the corner of High Street and South Street. Mixed with jam, it made Reggie sick. He was given a second powder with his bottle. The Copseys were not worried when he fell asleep. Aspirin had not been invented.  The “powder” was opium based, to relieve pain and quieten grizzling children. Reginald died on Tuesday afternoon.

Benjamin Keeble was a printer and bookbinder in Waterloo Road. His daughter, 10 month-old Sarah Jane, was also teething. Sarah’s mother mixed a Lasham’s powder with her breast milk. The child died on Tuesday evening.

It was the same story with Richard Brazier, a labourer at Ind Coope’s brewery. His boy, 15 month-old Joseph, died at his house in Mawney’s Lane (now Mawney Road). The fourth victim was Septimus, the two year-old son of Joseph Adams, a “mechanic” who lived in Moss Lane, at the Brentwood Road end of Albert Road.These last two tragedies seem unpardonable: they happened later in the week, caused by powders purchased on Wednesday and Thursday. Why had sales continued? The South Street surgeon, Dr Alfred Wright, admitted he knew of other cases. He applied a stomach pump to Septimus, but it was too late.

Every TV cop show has a brainy pathologist who decodes the grisly story, but no such resources were available to the Romford coroner. Medical gentlemen performed tests, but without results. The inquest was an elaborate cover-up. “Old Mr Lasham”, the founder of the business, had recently handed it on to his son, John William, who had been on his honeymoon at the time of the tragedies. Nobody enquired whether there was some connection here. The local elite felt sorry for the grieving parents, but their chief aim was to protect a fellow professional.

Two shop assistants gave unhelpful evidence. Nobody remembered who had mixed the powders and when. They could not even recall selling them. The coroner steered the jury away from blame: “if a party acted to the best of his judgment in the discharge of his duty he could not be found guilty of manslaughter.” The jurors needed persuading, debating for half an hour before returning their verdict. The four children had been poisoned by Lasham’s powders, but there was no evidence “as to how or by whom such powders were prepared.”

The cover-up had worked -- no prosecutions, no fines, nobody in jail.

D-DAY 1944

Havering people knew the Normandy invasion had begun when they heard unusually heavy air activity from around dawn on 6 June 1944, D-Day.  Essex was dotted with air bases, and bombers flew much lower than modern planes. Large formations of aircraft passed very close over people’s houses, with a constant rumbling noise in the sky. Even before the official announcement, everyone knew that the invasion of mainland Europe had begun.

A week after D-Day, the Nazis retaliated by launching V1 pilotless jet planes (in effect cruise missiles but without a guidance system) in an attempt to break morale in London and the south-east.  V1 Flying Bombs were propelled by a flame of jet fuel. At first people on the ground thought they had been shot down. Two local men actually stood on a front step on the Southend Arterial Road and cheered as they watched the first ‘Doodlebug’ pass overhead towards Gallows Corner!

British troops in Normandy were targeted by German propaganda which alleged that London was in ruins. My mother recalled writing to her brother in the Forces who was worried by these stories. She told him the attacks were bad but that the propaganda was exaggerated and the civilian population could take it.  Havering was hit many times both by V1s and the later by V2 rockets. It became local folklore that Collier Row was a target area, so many missiles fell in that part of the Borough.

Many people (including the government) feared that even if Allied troops could get safely ashore on D-Day, a 1914-18-style war of attrition would follow. Harold Wood was one of many hospitals that were readied for possible mass casualties. I was told as a child that Harold Wood Hospital did not receive major casualties until November 1944, when Canadian and British troops were sent to clear the Nazis out of Walcheren Island in the southern Netherlands. The fighting was desperate, and many soldiers suffered from exposure as well as wounds when dykes were breached and Walcheren was flooded. It was necessary to free Walcheren as it forms the approach to Antwerp, and the Allied advance into Germany needed this major port for reinforcements. 

As in the First War, heavy artillery barrages were often heard locally. My parents recalled the surreal experience of gardening in Harold Wood, weeding and clearing up on a fine autumn day, with the distant sounds of the battle for Arnhem in the background.

For more collections, see:

More Havering History Cameos

Havering History Cameos: Third Series (2016-2017)

Havering History Cameos: Fourth Series

Havering History Cameos: Exploring Essex