Search

Heritage: Romford workhouse demo almost turned into a revolution

PUBLISHED: 10:00 25 March 2017

The offices of the old Romford workhouse, built in 1839. Picture:From A Century of Romford by Brian Evans

The offices of the old Romford workhouse, built in 1839. Picture:From A Century of Romford by Brian Evans

Archant

In 1922 protesters seized Romford’s workhouse in anger at growing poverty. Prof Ged Martin tells us more

The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution began with an attack on the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. Five years later, over 2,000 demonstrators seized Romford’s workhouse (later Oldchurch Hospital). Was history repeating itself?

Britain’s primitive welfare system, the Poor Law, was run by local Boards of Guardians. Society’s casualties were dumped in workhouses.

Active people temporarily (so it was hoped) out of work were tided over with unemployment pay. Each district set its own rates. 1922 was a bad year for jobs.

The Romford Poor Law area stretched from Barking to Upminster. Barking unemployed complained that they faced London living costs, but weren’t given the London-area dole.

On October 17, 1922, 2,000 of them (all male, it seems) marched on Oldchurch, to lobby the Guardians at their weekly meeting.

It was a good-humoured demonstration, with banners and bagpipes, headed by two Metropolitan Police officers on horseback.

At Rush Green, the Essex Constabulary took over – just three bobbies.

Would the Board hear the men’s case? A majority of Guardians took a hard line. The rules said deputations must give seven days’ notice. The Barking men had no appointment.

A minority sympathised with the marchers. Edwin Lambert, a Labour Party activist from Park Lane, Hornchurch, pleaded to give them a hearing.

The demonstrators had walked a long way – at least allow them some bread and cheese.

The Board refused, ordered the Workhouse gates to be closed, and adjourned for their own luncheon.

The Guardians resumed their meeting in the afternoon. At some point, the gates were opened so a vehicle could leave. The angry men swarmed into the compound, helping themselves to loaves from the bakery. Some streamed through the hospital wing, stealing towels and blankets.

Their spokesmen gate-crashed the meeting but, refusing to be intimidated, the majority of the Guardians ordered them to leave.

Reinforced by 600 Romford unemployed, the demonstrators now barricaded the Guardians and refused to let them leave.

Two Guardians tried to drive through the throng. In 1922, only wealthy people owned cars. Both vehicles were badly damaged.

At 8.15pm, the Chief Constable of Essex arrived.

He advised that it would take three hours to assemble police reinforcements.

Better to calm the situation by letting the men state their case. By a narrow majority, the Board agreed.

Surprisingly, they found that the unemployed had a strong case. Nine shillings (45p) a week was hardly adequate to live on. The Guardians promised action.

Outside, the demonstrators cheered the news. But victory did not inspire them to proclaim the Soviet Republic of Romford. Rather, they marched home to Barking.

Yes, they marched. Most of them had served their country as soldiers in the 1914-18 War. Now they asked their country to support them.

Romford’s Guardians kept their word, trying to steer through government regulations and their own lack of cash to increase unemployment pay.

They also asked local councils to create jobs.

If only they’d agreed that morning to welcome the deputation.

The hero of this forgotten episode was Edwin Lambert.

When he died in 1931, one tribute spoke of “a heart of love in a man of great common-sense”.

A Hornchurch school named after him closed in 2009.

Romford’s Bastille had fallen, but there was no revolution.

Related articles

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Romford Recorder visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Romford Recorder staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Romford Recorder account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest Romford News Stories

As families gather around their sofas to watch this year’s Children in Need, a hospice wishes to say thank you to the charity for all of its support over the years.

A 20-year-old Romford man had been frightened for his life and acting in self-defence when he stabbed Hosam Eisa to death at The Brewery, a court heard.

The Romford greyhound stadium will once again be opened tonight, after failing a fire safety exercise which forced them to close this week.

Model train enthusiasts were in for a treat as an annual exhibition once again celebrated the joys of the hobby.

Essex Freemasons have donated thousands of pounds to hospices serving Havering as part of a £450,000 national drive to support community services.

Havering Mind has been shortlisted for Aviva Community Funding, and is now asking for residents help to ensure it benefits from some of the money.

Road closures have been put in place while police investigate a suspected hit-and-run in Romford in the early hours of November 17.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Most read news

Show Job Lists

News from your area

Competitions

Having a brand new kitchen is something that lots of people want but can only dream of. Sadly keeping up to date and making our living spaces as nice as they can be is a costly and incredibly stressful business. Even a fresh coat of paint makes all the difference but isn’t easy or quick.

Who wouldn’t love the chance to go on a shopping spree. Imagine being able to walk into a shop and choose whatever your heart desires without having to worry about how much it costs.

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Romford Recorder
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now