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 adapted.
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 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.
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.
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.
Downtown Records in Lockwood Walk was excellent.
Big events in the market – top celebrities and TV stars such as Anita Harris (oh yeah!)
*There is no word for this!
**Are we not trying to rid the world of plastic?