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History: How Romford’s 767-year-old market has always been a focal point

12:00 23 February 2014

Cattle in Romford high street. Picture: Brian Evans

Cattle in Romford high street. Picture: Brian Evans

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Romford Market began in 1247. Cattle trading ended in 1958, but Wednesday is still market day – and Friday and Saturday too.

St George's Day celebrations Romford Market.St George's Day celebrations Romford Market.

Romford Market became the meeting point between sellers from Essex and buyers from London.

Clues to the market’s economic zone come from deals that went wrong.

In 1394, John Mokke, from Orsett in Thurrock, sold 12 lambs at the market to a Londoner who failed to pay.

In 1686, Sarah Abit, from Bulphan, rode to Romford Market with John Adams, of Childerditch, near Brentwood.

Prof Ged MartinProf Ged Martin

Adams, who hated his neighbour, poultry breeder Thomas Stanes, threatened to make “Stanes his geese fliue short home” [Suggesting their wings will be clipped]. When the geese were slaughtered the next day, she reported the conversation.

Farmers brought cartloads of grain for sale.

Richard Thurgood came from Roxwell, near Chelmsford, in 1596, hoping to sell his wheat at seven shillings a bushel.

But the consignment was seized by John Harmon, a Romford baker, claiming he had compulsory purchase powers to feed the poor. Fobbed off with five shillings a bushel compensation, Thurgood alleged Harmon then sold his wheat for private profit.

The market was a trading centre. War with France in 1793 interrupted food imports and prices soared. A farmer from Herongate, near Brentwood, established a record price next year selling grain to a windmill on Shepherds Hill, Harold Wood.

Outlying communities needed road access to Romford. Parishes mended their own highways. North Ockendon, a large parish but with few people, was a weak link for the Basildon area.

In 1590, there were complaints about a “noyful slough” on “the direct way to Romford Market from Laindon”.

Hacton Lane crossed Ingrebourne on a footbridge, but in the 1660s, Upminster pressure upgraded it to a cart bridge – because it was a route to Romford Market.

Romford butchers resented competition from London. In 1392, John Aldewyn used the confidential proceedings of Havering’s manor court to accuse London butchers of malpractice. Somebody leaked the story. Aldewyn went “in despair of his life”.

Others welcomed their custom. Because the market started early, the Londoners arrived on Tuesday night.

In 1579, Romford innkeeper John Bright left cash in his will so his Tuesday guests, the London butchers, could have a memorial dinner.

Romford Market went through a bad patch after 1885, when the railway (now the District Line) reached Hornchurch and Upminster, whose poorer residents started shopping at Barking.

But the Romford-Grays line, opened in 1893, restored its central position, and from the 1920s Romford became the hub of bus services.

Hence local historian Ted Ballard recalled that “all the people from the surrounding villages” thought of Romford as “our old market town”.

On December 6, 1698, a Purfleet man journeyed to Romford. Evidently, he planned to stay overnight for market day.

Some joker wrote in the West Thurrock parish register: “Old Dance has gone to Rumford; And a good dinner be his Comford.”

This precious voice from the past gives a pronunciation hint - Rumford/Romford rhymed with “comfort” - and a reminder that for 767 years, the market has made Havering’s capital the focal point for a wide area.

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