Two months ago I wrote that in mid-August I made a return visit to Romford, the Essex town I grew up in, to see how the market and adjacent streets had changed. When I started to write about it on here I didn't get further than reminisciences here about my time there as a child and teenager and I have now finally found the time to return to the subject and write this update. Though, er... this is probably longer than that first missive. Hold on to your hat, pour yourself a glass of something, sit tight, and read on...
Pre my re-visit, almost
everyone I spoke to about it told me how disappointed
I would be when I got there. 'Prepare yourself', they said 'you won't like it, it's awful'. Well, it turns out I was
pleasantly surprised. I had expected change. That's normal as regards 'progress' but it was nothing like as bad as my friends had intimated. As it turne out, I really enjoyed going back, seeing things I had never noticed before and looking at how the area has evolved.
When I exited the station, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and I had a real sense of belonging being as most things looked familiar. Glad to see that Hollywoods, the big nightclub that had been built on the site of the coal yards in the 1980s, is now gone. But not plased at the loss of the ABC cinema further along South Street which reminded me of my junior school friend Lynne who lived in Regarth Avenue at the side of the cinema. Memories too of dressing up to look older to be able to get in and see some movies – successful!
Looking around now I can see how much of the station area was reconstructed in the 1930s including the building shown above where Hayley, my NewZealandish* junior school friend lived above the shops with her family in a one floor apartment accessed from the rear via an alleyway. As a child I thought it was so modern!
As I turned into Victoria Road I noticed more 1930s buildings near the junction with the station interspersed with Victorian and Edwardian houses converted into shops as the road continues eastward. The street was a delightful revelation to me now, a patchwork of architecture I had never noticed in the past and many of the buildings were still recognisable as the ones I knew as a child, albeit
Memories kept pinging back to me. I didn't
like the butcher's shop at the station end of Victoria Rd because when I was young, perhaps 5-7yrs old, Alf the butcher
would make too much of a fuss of me and try to pick me up. I hated it
and would prefer to stand (hide) outside next to my sister Anna in her pram or push chair
waiting for mum, rather than risk his attention. However, on the other side of the road there was Robbie's the toy shop
(see Stumbras pic) – I fondly remember it being absolutely packed to the ceiling with tempting things. Here I
bought Matchbox cars as presents for my sister – she loved the ones
that had moving parts such as Tow Joe and Piston Popper. She still has them all – carefully stored in their boxes.
There was a lovely baker's shop further along here, a homewares shop run by school friend's parents. And, still into the late 80s, there
was a row of three or four functioning chocolate bar dispensers on the wall
outside the sweet shop.
I made my way up the road. As I crossed King Edward Road I remembered Theresa Edward's damaged and dislodged fingernail and how we were all fascinated by its progress (kids eh!) and this threw up other names in my junior school class – Belinda, Susan, Tracy, Dawn, Julie and Sandra – thinking how these are all names of a certain era not given to new borns this past decade. Jane too. Ah but things are circular and our time will again come. Ditto Barry, Malcolm, Glyn, Keith, Gerald, Neil and Kevin. I crossed George
Street and, as I did, I suddenly rembered my favourite teacher from when I was eight years. Mr Cooper taught us about
english, maths and geography but also got us back-flipping, hand-standing
and walking upsidedown like a crab, and inspired by him I somehow achieved three BAGA gymnastic badges. Ah to be age 8 again. This is the age I think designates what we will do, or should be doing, for the rest of our lives. For instance, at that age I was so inquisitive and keen to learn. I was into everything. Questions questions. Give me a project and I would produce a magazine with articles and pictures. Butterflies. Disney. Trees. Moaris. I remember hurling myself into all of these things like no other child in the class seemed to be doing. I suppose you could say I am still doing that now! A few paces across the junction, I passed the site of Bevin's the hardware store (I fondly recall the man's gentle and helpful demeanour) and the PDSA where we took our dog a few times to be treated. I looked across the road and was delighted to see that WetPets is still going strong decades later! This was one of my favourite shops – a nocturnal indoor world of colourful aquatic animals. We had an indoor fish tank in the living room and often went to there to buy new tropical fish, plants, gravel, specialist food etc.
I think Twins wedding shop next door has been there a long time too, though it's not somewhere I would have ever need to venture inside(!).
I turned into Albert Road, passing the Victoria pub on the corner which still looks to be doing well. I don't hink I ever went in there more than twice, and even then I was probably only looking for my dad. As a child, I didn't like my street because I thought it was a mess compared to everywhere else I knew. It was a mix of all-sorts, like a trial zone for testing housing styles that would be better implemented elsewhere. My friends lived on nice uniform streets where the houses were almost the same. Why not us?
Oh dear. Silly me. Today I absolutely love streets like this as they show the changing face of the area, the local history. This street and Victoria Rd (Duh, check the street names!) are obviously some of the first-developed streets in the area and hold the clue to so much. At the Victoria Rd end there is still a short row of late Georgian brick cottages and, apart from some replaced windows and paved front gardens, they've not really changed much. Opposite that I recall there was a petrol station for a while which backed onto a large Victorian detached house, set back from the adjacent streets where, in the 1960-70s my schoolfriends Mark and Belinda Francis used to live. Happy memories of going there after school. I loved that house and the way it was accessed via a little footpath off Shaftesbury Road. All gone now. I am sure Mum
used to say that she thought 48-50 Albert Rd was
the original farm house of the area when it was all fields, but it's hard to make that out now.
I approached Manor Primary School in the middle of Albert Road. Our house was two doors to the left which meant, even though I loved school and was keen to learn things, that I could leave the home at the last minute. I'm sad to see that the red brick school buildings are today boarded up. It hasn't been a junior school for decades. For a while it was the Century Youth House. I hope it gets repurposed soon.
As a small child I fondly recall using the local shops in the street and at the end of the road. There was a small family-run provisions shop sort of opposite Shaftesbury Road, next door to a hairdresser which I now see is a dog groomer. A few doors along from us, approx at No. 53 was a greengrocer where I often went to buy 4lb of King Edwards, plus carrots and other veg in a bag made from deckchair material. Next door to that was a something to do with transport, I think, and I recall a yellow Scimitar car and some people who had four unruly but beautiful saluki dogs.
At the other/Hornchurch end of the road, I
used to love going into Speights the baker on the corner of Brentwood Road and Park Lane – the queue, the lovely staff, the smells, the bridge rolls, the split tins, the cream slices, the fanned-out stack of
tissue paper. The building is still there with a Vitbe bread sign attached (Vitbe was an attempt by Allied Bakeries to compete with Hovis).
This is still a good parade of useful local shops today which includes a fish and chips shop (I recall the long queues on Fridays!) and Sovereign motor spares which is still in business, but Blands the grocer is long gone (part of VG Stores). Ditto Mr Harris the pork butcher just round the corner in
Park Lane. I recall him all spick and span in his butcher's straw hat and stripey
apron. I can hear his jolly voice in my head right now and his ha ha ha laugh. I really enjoyed watching him make chains of sausages. He won awards for them and they were indeed very good and spoiled me for other brands which were never up to his standard. Oh, and how could I forget Nan's sweet shop at No.89 at the end of Albert Road? Rows of tempting tall sweet jars on the shelves and lots more fab stuff on the counters. A quarter of nut brittle, a quarter of toffee bonbons, some licquorice string, a packet of sweet cigarettes and a Curly Wurly please! The staff in there were lovely. One of the ladies had an amputated arm though I tried not to look at it I was fascinated how she still managed to hold the jars and fill the bags. I thought she was beautiful and really tried not to stare.
From Albert Road I made my way back down to the station via Eastern Road, walking past where a long row of impressive Victorian villas used to be. As an art assignment in 1978/9, Mr Lloyd had sent a couple of us there telling us that these old family houses were due for demolition. At that time I just didn't understand the significance or why I should care. Perhaps Mr Lloyd knew that one day this would be something that would indeed interest me. I've dug out my sketch book which contains a few of my efforts including this felt pen version. Within months of this, the houses had gone and were quickly replaced by characterless office blocks containing insurance companies and the like. The end of Eastern Rd meets South Street at the station. There is an impressive Art Deco style building to the right that was constructed by Times
Furnishing and is today a Co-op grocery store. I recall the furniture store as a landmark but don't
think I ever went inside. Perhaps Mum or Dad had pointed it out
to me as a comparison to Harrison Gibson's furniture store in Ilford
which is where they both met and worked before they married. The Times building is looking fabulous at the
moment even without the ground floor walk-through windows that used to be there. The 'T' for Times motifs at the top of the vertical fins are still
the Odeon cinema next door, also built in the 1930s, is barely
recognisable today with hardly anything left on the exterier to hint at it once being a movie house. I recall long queues here too, all the way along the side street down to the gorgeous brutalist spiral of the multi-storey carpark which, I'm pleased to see, is still there. Who'd have thought 40 years ago that I would one day be singing the praises of a vehicle access ramp?! And I
remember my friend telling me that her sister dragged her to this Odeon to
go and see someone called David Bowie. We didn't have a clue who he was, yet years later Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust were the favourite
cassettes to play in our first cars.
It's odd that I remember the Times façade but not these other 1930s buildings further along on the other side of the road. This would have been a keeping up with the zeitgeist effort in the interwar years – look at us; we're still current, we're moderene! Today this stretch is mostly food outlets, charity shops and chain pubs. In the late 70s into 80s it was a similar thing, exc the pubs with McD's (still there), Wimpy and Golden Egg (both long gone, though they could have been the
same site), Pizzaland (where I enjoyed the half pizza with
salad option rather than the slimy puffy things available over the road at PizzaHut, also long gone). There were also a few independent clothes shops here, specifically Bobby
Summers, an alternative men's
fashion boutique where my mate Paul worked on Saturdays and used to
show up at school (6th Form) wearing some quite unusual pieces. Basically, if Spandau Ballet had hailed from Romford, this is where they would have shopped. Up at the junction there was Shirleys children's clothes and school uniforms (this might be the same site that became Pizzaland). And just round the corner was the Locarno Snooker Hall where Steve Davis honed his skills. Lots of this was still discernible on my return visit – I walked into the pedestrian area of South Street and recalled Ratners jewellers on the right hand corner (oh Gerald, you ought not have said that!) and, a few doors up just by the Post Office, the opening of Bumbles burger restaurant by Radio One DJ Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart c1974. Above No.93 I noticed a letter 'N' embedded in the façade – I wondered what shop that might have been. If you have any ideas, do let me know. But I moved on. Further along there's another Art Deco era shop at FootAsylum and I think this was either Lilley & Skinner or Trueform, both shoe shops.
In the 1970s, FU Jeans shop was on the right hand side close to the access to the modern shopping precinct. FUs had a definitive style with machined vertical lines on the pockets, up-to-the-minute styling and the jeans material was different/stiffer from the well-known brands which were available from another excellent jeans shop just down the road within the Quadrant Arcade – an
independent shop lined in wood, evoking a log cabin where they stocked Lois, Falmers, Lee Cooper, Lee's, Leroy and more. I've always
found it odd how so many jeans brands begin with the letter L; probably due to Levi's...?
The Quadrant Arcade entrance on South Street used to have Dolcis on the right side where WowFactor is today. In
the 1980s, Next appeared on many UK high streets and took up position in Romford at the left hand side of this entrance. Mum and
I thought that Next was a hideously bland notion for people with no ideas of their own, offering capsule
wardrobes and accessories for the aspiring middle manager of both sexes in a one-stop-shop experience. Today Next is one of the great High Street survivors, probably due to the quality of their products.
And so to the Quadrant Arcade, a 1930s construction that must have been very plush and mdoern when it opened. In the 70s, one
of my schoolfriends had a Saturday job in the arcade, at Tito's Italian restaurant
café. At that time I found the arcade to be dark, dingy, old and out-of-date and I mostly used it as a cut-through to other places – it had certainly lost the attraction of its moderne 1930s heyday and, apart from the aforementioned jeans shop, there wan't much in there to attract a teenager, being as this also provided the back entrance to the fuddy-duddy middle-aged polyester zone of the Co-op's women's dept. Ah but no one appreciated the 1930s in the 1970s. I'd love to be able time-travel to that era now (actually, both the 1930s and the 1970s) to see what I missed – I'm sure I'd now find it to be absolutely delightful. Actually (update), as I write this I now remember as a very small child we often bought
flowers for Grandma from a florist near the centre of the arcade adjacent to where I
am pretty sure there was an access door to another large/department
store that faced onto the market. I think this might have become Keddies...?
Back to South Street, opposite the arcade. In contrast to my teenage years, these days I'm all about looking up, looking around me, noticing those little snippets that hint at local history. This means that on this return visit I looked at things with a different eye, noticing buildings and details that had never been on my radar when I lived there,
such some hints of early C20th interwar façades at the southern end of South Street on the right hand side just before the market. Also, this building (right), today a branch of the Halifax. It's an elegant construction but I am torn as to whether it's 1930s or 1950s. Does anyone have any idea who it was built for? It also sports a strange metal canopied arcade along the side edge and this intrigues me because last week I read somewhere that the some of the metal supports for the arcades that used to line Regent Street were relocated to Romford when the street was rebuilt in the 1920s. The article referenced them being re-sited somewhere along the market, but I am now wondering if these are those salvaged elements. Again, any further info is welcome.
This side road by the Halifax leads to what would have been access to the Romford brewery buildings at the rear of the White Hart pub. Which reminds me – the
stink of Romford's Ind Coope Brewery where they brewed Double Diamond, Oranjeboom and others.
Whatever they cooked up on a Tuesday was hideous – it hung in the air
and stuck at the back of my throat – ugh.
time to spare before I was due to meet my friends, I wandered round into the High
Street and continued all the way to the end, almost to the roundabout, where it meets Waterloo Road and the London Road, and I turned and looked back. I tried to imagine how this busy thoroughfare was originally the main route eastwards from London taking traffic along here and through the market then along the old Roman Road to the Essex coast. The view shown here has been almost the same for about 40
years – an interesting brutalist design church and a selection of independent shops including a barber, a couple of charity shops and an antiques shop etc set below post-WWII flats. The old Angel public house, just beyond the church, is still standing and displays a lovely old tiled panel advertising Romford's brewing heritage of Ind Coope's Ales & Stouts to nobody inparticular. The sign might be the largest of this kind I have seen. As regards the pub itself, I can't recall ever going inside. Or perhaps I did. By at least 1990 it had been converted into a nightclub. I wonder what will become of it next. The main entrance to the brewery site is oppostite The Angel and faces north between the church and the market place. The huge metal gates were once used by draymen steering carts laden with ale pulled by powerful cart horses. Today, if you walk through these gates, you will feel you've somehow managed to travel to a different location, because beyond here it resembles out-of-town retail zone – it's a huge car park surrounded by the big guys such as TKMaxx, Boots, plus other outlets and homogenised entertainments. This is the kind of 'progress' that depresses me.
Further along the High Street, closer to the market, I noticed that part of the brewery buildings now houses the Havering Museum. It's a big shame that when I was there, on a Saturday, it was closed. Taht's bonkers. I must go back to have a look in there. Perhaps they can answer my question about the Halifax canopy?
favourite Romford pub of my early drinking days in the late 80s was The White
Hart in the High Street which at that time faced Woolworths and High and Mighty (both gone). It's closed as you can see here, but external evidence of how this was once a marvellous old coaching inn and an integral part of Romford's history is still visible. As 6th formers
we loved hanging out in the wood-panelled room at the rear – it simply reeked of history.
You could imagine the coaches arriving and the horses whinnying as they
came to a halt and were led to stables at the rear. By 1980 the pub had been
gutted and remodelled as The Bitter End, a ridiculous theme pub. I was
appalled. And so to the market. I
had been pre-warned that it would be a dribble compared to its
vibrant past. But it was OK, a pleasant surprise, especially considering
the past 18 months. It wasn't anywhere near the densely-packed
environment that I experienced 30+ years ago but there was still a good
diversity of products available. I met with Susie and Sal and we walked a bit more around the market and the handful of old buildings adjacent to the church and the Rumford shopping hall, whilst sharing stories, observations and remembrances. I stupidly didn't take photos at that time so the image shown one is from later in the day when the traders were packing up but it still gives a sense of the space, and also shows the other entrance to the Quadrant Arcade building.
At the top end of the market the
Bull's Head public house is still there, which is great, but I don't recall going in there very
often – back in the 80s we preferred The Lamb next door to Lloyds (to the immediate left in the pic above, but out of shot) because it was more intimate and attracted a cross-section of ages and
personalities – market traders and old fellas having conversations with
punks and librarians at the bar. It still appears to be doing well.
There was also the
Kings Head which was a late-70s build (I think) as part of the shopping precinct at the far end opposite the new Sainsbury's
supermarket (which mum correctly predicted would bring about the end of
the independent trader and the market. She was also right when she predicted that free plastic shopping bags would also cause problems). As a late-teen I really didn't like the King's Head. It was named after the [old] King's Head pub that had been demolished on the market place, sort of where Habitat used to be. This new one was designed like a dodgy nightclub and attracted mostly underage kids wearing the latest cheap and hideous fashions. Even at age eighteen I would go
in there and feel old! But I suppose at least the police knew where
everyone was. Had they raided he place the clientele would have scattered far and wide.
My friends and I peeked in through the windows at the cavernous shell of what used to be Debenhams and also recalled Littlewoods, Keddies and C&As and then it was time for some lunch. Our hostelry of choice was The
Golden Lion where we were joined by Gill, one of my dearest schoolfriends from my 6th form years. We sat outside in the "Secret Garden" at the rear, which wasn't really a secret being as it is advertised on an A-board outside. It's
basically the pub's old deliveries, storage and parking area recovered in fake grass** but it's a great place
for a few al fresco drinks and pub grub. The Golden Lion, a
historic tavern, is one of many pubs that likes to say it was a stopping point for Dick Turpin –
boy, that man covered some ground! The exterior still evokes bygone
times with its horizntal weatherboarding over warped walls but the
inside has undergone many adaptations – back in the 80s-90s the interior
changed about four times – it seemed that every time I went
in there, the bar had moved from the centre, then to the left and to the
Again, the back room was always the best place to be when I was in my late teens and early 20s.
It was great to catch up with my girlfriends in 2021 and, of course, one drink turned into three. At about 5pm we said our goodbyes and wandered off in different directions.
I then made my way into The Liberty, the central shopping area, only to discover that it's been completely covered over and is now more like an airport or train station, with no individual identity at all – the
boxy fountain and outside spaces are long gone. I was also amazed to find that the shops were closing at 5.30pm which I thought was strange for a Saturday
but I was later told that it's because the town has a very busy nightlife and
the powers that be seal off the whole shopping precinct. Oh OK. And ugh.
So I instead went for a walk around the around
the municipal buildings and gardens at the lower end of Main Road, adjacent to the library and town hall.
It turns out that Romford
Town Hall is now Havering Town Hall. Considering how often I had walked past this (see school section at the end) I had never before taken in how beautifully designed it is. Municipal buildings are often overlooked. I walked the full circle, looking for a foundation stone with information about the architect and date, but found nothing.
I then entered the memorial gardens and reaslised that this was probably the first time I had never set
foot in there! As I wandered further up the road and saw the police station, I remembered going there (ooh 1973?) with many other schoolkids to see Mervyn Day, goal keeper of
West Ham FC, to get his autograph. To be honest, at the time I had no
idea who he was and didn't really give a hoot about football, yet for some
reason I occasionally wore a claret and blue scarf, though it was mainly
white with thin stripes. That's teeanagers for you. Fitting in and all that. I didn't even like that scarf!
It was now coming up to 7pm. I needed to decide whether to find somewhere to eat and drink or to head back home. I made my way back towards the station through the market and along South Street. The cavernous
pubs run by well-known chains such as Yates and Wetherspoons were already busy. Some people were obviously enjoying a drink after a day's shopping, and others, by the sound levels and colourful language, had been there all afternoon. Many more people were approaching, dressed as if they were on a Med holiday. Compare this to the Romford pub scene of my youth which consisted of a few old regulars, a handful of punks, three goths and a five people having a pint before the pictures.
Just before I reached the station I glanced to the right. At the side of the railway tracks there used to be a narrow
footpath known as 'the battice' that
ran through to Waterloo Rd alongside
the brewery site. Most evenings, usually Fridays and Saturdays, there was a man selling tasteless burgers and hotdogs from a white hand cart here – he
was an enigma because nobody ever saw him arriving or setting up. Ping! He was either there or
not there. Well, he wasn't there this time. Not that I would have bought anything from him if he was there.
A super-fast train arrived within three minutes of me reaching the platform and I was back home in north London just after 8pm. Wow! What a great day out. It took me much much longer to write it all up that it did to experience it.
Other thoughts, memories and observations:
The Romford Carnival – wow that was good when I was a child. A long procession
than went down Victoria Road where we stood waving streamers and
blowing horns at the floats and bands such as The Romford Drum and
Trumpet Corps. We then went over the railway bridge and through Lodge
Farm Park to see it all again from Main Road before the procession went
into the park and ended on the football fields at the rear of Raphaels
Park. Then a couple of days of the fair. It was bloody marvellous.
Victoria Hospital in Pettits Lane. This was much smaller than
Oldchurch, the main hospital. I am amazed, considering the extent of
demolition elsewhere that these buildings, where mum went when she had
appendicitis and I went to have my tonsils extracted, are still standing almost unchanged. The
same cannot be said of my school buildings. I was the first year of the
comprehensive system (something else mum wasn't happy about). I went to
Marshalls Park school which meant 3 years at the Lower School building
(previously Pettits Lane Grammar) and then the rest at the Upper School
(previously Romford Tech, which is where I would have gone had the
11-plus not been scrapped). The latter, complete with modern
outbuildings containing then state-of-the art science labs, art rooms
and cookery departments, was demolished and replaced with housing abut
20 years ago. These mock-Tudors houses in Havering Drive are where the entrance to the school used to be and I notice that the tennis courts that used to be opposite have also gone. There are some pics of the old school on The Marshall Park Academy site.
The Dolphin centre – a rubbish swimming pool with a stupid wave machine and pyramidal roof.
The massive pale blue gas holders by the railway line at the end of Crow Lane. Impressive landmarks. Now gone.
in the 1980s.
Not much worth mentioning. Not sure there was anything. We mostly took it in turns to drive somewhere or got trains/buses to other
places such as Chadwell Heath (aargh what was the name of that place?),
to Seven Kings (Lacy Lady), Ilford (a few), and many others, or the other way out
towards Brentwood and beyond. Romford did boast The Rezz, in North
Street, sort of below Caxton's bookshop and a furniture store – a fab venue for alternative and live music on Wednesday nights. By the
90s both cinemas, the ABC and the Odeon had failing attendances and the
latter was converted into a two-zone nightclub called Time/Envy. I went
in there with a couple of friends in the late 90s. We managed
30 mins but all felt the need to run away.
If you think I've missed something, I might have mentioned it last time here.
*There is no word for this!
**Are we not trying to rid the world of plastic?