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 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, this is probably longer than my first misive. 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. Well, it turns out I was
pleasantly surprised. Perhaps I had expected the worst. I really enjoyed seeing things I had never noticed before and seeing 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, although Hollywoods, the nasty big homgenous nightclub that had been built on the site of the coal yards in the 1980s, is now gone, as is the ABC cinema further along South Street. I was remided 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 thie station area was reconstructed in the 1930s including the building shown on the right of the pic here where Hayley, my NewZealandish* junior school friend lived with her family, in a one floor apartment accessed from the rear via an alleyway. I turned into Victoria Road and noticed more 1930s buildings interspersed with Victorian and Edwardian houses converted into shops. 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, albeit adapted.
Memories kept pinging back to me as I walked up Victoria Rd, such as the butcher's shop at the station end. I didn't like it there 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 offer to stand (hide) outside with my sister Anna in her pram or push chair waiting for mum rather than risk his attention. However, on the flip side, I fondly remember Robbie's the toy shop on the opposite side of the road (see pic left) 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 – carefull 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 away 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 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 Avenue, 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 went to buy 4lb of King Edwards, plus and carrots and other veg in a bag made from garden chair 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 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 obviously an attempt by Allied Bakeries to compete with Hovis.)
This is still a good parade of useful local shops today – there is still a thriving fish and chips shop (i recall the long queues on Fridays!) and Sovereign motor spares is still going but Blands grocer is long gone (part of VG Stores). Ditto Mr Harris the pork butcher just round the corner in
Park Lane, 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 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 new late 1970s build (I think) within the shopping precinct at the far end of the shopping precinct, 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). I really didn't like the King's Head and thought it a horrible place. 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. The new one was designed like a dodgy nightclub and attracted mostly underage kids wearing the latest cheap and hideous fashions. Even at age 18 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?