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The 125-year anniversary of the flood that devastated Havering

PUBLISHED: 20:00 29 July 2013

High tide receding from the High Street, August 1888. Credit: Brian Evans

High tide receding from the High Street, August 1888. Credit: Brian Evans

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Next month will be the 125th anniversary since the Great Flood devastated parts of Havering, destroying Romford’s high street, fields crops and homes.

The railway line was also submerged and the water so deep that it put out fires in the engines, bringing traffic to a complete halt. Credit Brian Evans.The railway line was also submerged and the water so deep that it put out fires in the engines, bringing traffic to a complete halt. Credit Brian Evans.

Safira Ali looks back at how the flood affected the borough and its aftermath.

With Romford’s proximity to the River Rom, it’s not surprising there were floods in the area when heavy rainfall fell. But no flood had the impact or devastation as that in 1888 which would later be known as the Great Flood.

The flood was a combination of the steady build-up of the town with a lack of a drainage system and a fortnight of steady rain and violent thunderstorms culminating with the River Rom overflowing on August 1 and 2.

A few warnings earlier in the 19th century had shown what might happen when the banks of the River Rom began to be surrounded by houses.

In 1841 the high water mark was about three to four feet above normal and minor damage was caused.

The next indication came in 1869; historian Brian Evans said in his book Romford: A History, “a local writer said: “The Rom is a strange romp. She runs over the banks and with great fury makes aggressive inroads upon cellars, lower rooms and the street itself”.”

By 1880 the Romford Board of Health instructed a civil engineer to write a report about the floods.

The authority asked him to find out the cause of the floods and how to prevent the recurrence of them, which for several years had caused considerable damage to the properties adjoining the River Rom.

Engineers recommended in their report the diversion of some of the streams which led into the Rom just north of the High Street bridge as they predicted a potential overflow.

Just before the flood in 1888 the River Rom overflowed and the culvert under the High Street bridge was unable to carry it.

Historian Brian Evans said: “The clouds burst and the rain kept going and overwhelmed everything.

“Thousands of tons of water crested straight over the top of the parapet, taking all before it, including the massive brewery entrance gates.

“Thirty thousand beer barrels were washed away from the extensive brewery grounds, past Oldchurch, towards Dagenham and the Thames beyond.”

Records show that in the southern parts of the district, in South Hornchurch, Dagenham and crowds rescued the floating barrels that were full of beer, breaking them open and consuming the contents.

Several feet of water filled Romford’s high street, ruining shopkeepers’ stock, and their basements.

Horses, some of them up to their necks in water, were rescued and ridden out of Angel Yard and other High Street passages.

Brian Evans said: “It was not the first time in the nineteenth century that it had happened.

“It just absolutely couldn’t be contained and rolled all the way down to Collier Row and Mawney Road areas. There were no restrictions and it soaked into the fields. And then it went into the Romford roads.

“There had never been anything like this because the town had been built up gradually, but it didn’t have very good drainage and the fields were soaked and could not take anymore.

“South Road was flooded and the shopping street; it went into the back gardens, behind the brewery and up to Rush Green.”

“The whole high street and market place, Western Road and South Street

“The High Street, main shopping street was also destroyed. The floods were about two-feet deep and the water couldn’t escape very quickly. As it went southwards it took barrels, which did damage as they banged into things.

“It was like a sea in the high street. A lot of businesses were affected.,

“It built up over Romford. The 1888 was the biggest flood that Romford had ever seen. It took about six months to clean it up.”

But it was seven years later when Romford Urban District was formed that better drainage systems were created to curb any future floods happening on the same scale again.

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