History: Election caused real stink in Romford town
12:00 18 May 2014
Romford’s first elected local body took office in 1851.Called the Local Board of Health, its remit was to clean up the growing town.
Driving forces behind its work were the vicar of St Edward’s, Archdeacon Grant, and High Street solicitor, North Surridge.
Surridge was Romford-born and a local patriot who wanted to tackle the town’s problems.
The arrival of the railway in 1839 had underlined Romford’s position as the local growth centre.
Off South Street, Eastern and Western roads were laid out by 1854. Houses were being built in Junction Road. Development of Victoria Road started about 1856.
More people meant more sewage. Unfortunately, Romford was short of sewers, and had nowhere for them to discharge – except the Rom.
The town already had problems. At the top of the market, the Loam Pond – now the site of Ludwigshafen Place – badly needed a clean-up.
In 1853, the Local Board of Health tried to divert drainage away from the pond so that it could provide clean drinking water. Eventually, the Loam Pond was filled in, about 1874.
Off the Market Place, narrow alleys were packed with people, living among overflowing drains, rotten vegetables and stinking garbage.
Did the town cheer on board members as they spearheaded the clean-up?Well, no. In 1853, four of the 12 board members were up for re-election.
Critics targeted two outgoing members, North Surridge, and his ally, Noah Dunnett, landlord of the Golden Lion.
Opponents, headed by North Street miller Edward Collier, issued a manifesto promising “to save public money, and not squander it away in new-fangled and extravagant notions”.
By “new-fangled and extravagant notions” they meant clean water and drains.
One of Collier’s team was P. Taylor, a London Road gardener. He probably had his own ideas about the disposal of sewage.
Surridge formed a rival ticket, whose manifesto was curt in dismissing the malcontents.
Promising they would “fearlessly support the true interest of the inhabitants”, Surridge’s team pledged to “carry out, with the strictest economy, those measures which were absolutely necessary for the health of the town”.
A lively election followed which, “to the regret of the more intelligent inhabitants”, resulted in a narrow victory for Collier’s candidates.
As one angry observer wrote, Romford people enjoyed the “privilege” of living “with overflowing cesspools at their doors” and “the far off scented river Rom flowing through their town in the shape of an open sewer”.
With Collier as chairman, Romford’s Board of Health continued to serve the people.
The next year, 1854, the rate collector was dismissed for embezzlement, and three more officials were sacked for misconduct during the 1870s. A sewage works opened at Oldchurch in 1861 but never worked efficiently.
In 1868, a resident of Havering Well – today’s Roneo Corner – sued the board over the stench from the Rom. This forced action. In 1869 the Local Board of Health bought Bretons, in South Hornchurch, for use as a sewage farm.
Bretons sewage works lasted exactly 100 years. Overloaded by suburban growth, it was closed in 1969. The site, now Bretons Outdoor Centre, still belongs to Havering Council, the Local Board of Health’s eventual successor.