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Heritage: Day the king’s mistress opened Romford Methodist Church bazaar

PUBLISHED: 15:00 21 October 2017

Trinity Methodist Church in Romford. Picture: Ken Mears

Trinity Methodist Church in Romford. Picture: Ken Mears

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Scandalous Daisy, Countess of Warwick, made a brief visit to Romford, says Prof Ged Martin

In 1888 Romford’s Methodists built themselves an imposing church in Mawney Road. They had to borrow money for the project, and Methodists were careful people who didn’t like debt.

Seven years later, in June 1895, they held a fundraising bazaar in the Corn Exchange, a High Street public building next to the Golden Lion, to raise the £375 that was outstanding.

It was a jolly event. Volunteer stall-holders came in fancy dress, some as cowboys, some as fortune-tellers, others in Japanese costume.

A “galvanic battery” was a novelty sideshow: for a few pennies, you could feel a shock – probably the first time many Romford people had encountered electricity.

They needed a celebrity to open the bazaar and bring in the punters. The glamorous Countess of Warwick – “Daisy” to her friends – was an obvious choice.

Heiress to Easton Lodge, an estate near Dunmow, Daisy liked Essex good causes. She also enjoyed passionate extra-marital sex.

Her life has been called a mixture of philanthropy and philandering.

In 1881 Daisy had married Lord Brooke, who later became Earl of Warwick. She soon embarked on aristocratic adultery, including an affair with Britain’s top admiral, Lord Charles Beresford.

When Beresford’s wife threatened a public scandal, Daisy tearfully appealed to the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, to intervene.

His Royal Highness hushed up the row – and made Daisy his mistress in 1889. She liked to gossip about their relationship, and was nicknamed the Babbling Brooke.

In 1898, Edward moved on to Mrs Keppel, great-grandmother of the Duchess of Cornwall. She shared him with Queen Alexandra until the king’s death in 1910.

Mrs Keppel’s role as royal mistress was widely known. Once, she rushed out of Buckingham Palace and hailed a taxi. Out of breath and fearing she would miss a train, she gasped to the driver “King’s Cross!”

“I’m sorry to hear that, ma’am,” replied the cabbie.

At his Coronation in 1902, Edward VII arranged for all lady-friends to share a pew in Westminster Abbey.

Out of respect for the monarch’s enthusiasm for horse racing, the pew was called “the king’s loose-box”.

South Street, Romford, was hung with flags for Daisy’s short drive from the station.

Introducing her, Methodist minister Reverend John Westlake said the name of the Countess of Warwick was “honoured throughout the world”. Obviously, Romford hadn’t heard the gossip.

Daisy was “becomingly attired in a black and white check costume, with a light blue silk bodice covered with black net”, a glamorous lace head-dress and a bouquet of carnations.

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

Socialist journalist Robert Blatchford attacked Daisy’s extravagant lifestyle. An angry Daisy confronted him – and he converted her to socialism.

She became an early member of the Labour Party, even though it aimed to rid Britain of butterfly parasites like herself.

Daisy had money problems. Years later, she tried to blackmail George V, by threatening to publish his father’s love letters.

The government persuaded a helpful businessman to buy them for a massive £64,000 (over £6million today). He was made a baronet.

But spendthrift Daisy was soon forced to sell the family treasures.

When thieves broke into Easton Lodge not long before her death in 1938, they found nothing worth stealing.

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

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

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