History: Discover Havering’s poetic past
07:00 13 January 2014
You might not associate Romford with poetry or Upminster with verse, but Havering has played its part in English literature.
Francis Quarles was a Romford boy. His father profited from supplying Queen Elizabeth’s navy and bought Stewards, a South Street mansion that used to stand between Western Road and the market.
Francis was born there in 1592. The Stewards estate stretched all the way to the Drill, but Francis was the second son, and his older brother inherited.
Father of 18 children, Francis Quarles wrote to earn money. But he was not poor – the only picture of him shows he had a double chin.
Just across Hornchurch Lane, as South Street was then called, the River Rom trickled through the fields where the Brewery shopping centre now stands.
Young Francis probably played here. In a later poem, he pictured two lovers yearning to be together:
Like two little bank-dividing brooks,
That wash the pebbles with their wanton streams,
And having ranged and searched a thousand nooks,
Meet both at length in silver-breasted Thames.
If he thought of the Rom and the Ingrebourne as husband and wife, he was an unusual child.
Havering College’s Harold Hill campus is named after Quarles.
A forgotten 18th-century poet, Charles Churchill was a half-hearted clergyman. In 1756, he became curate at Rainham, where local people could not understand his abstruse sermons.
He confessed in verse that he kept “sacred dullness ever in my view”, so that “sleep at my bidding crept from pew to pew.”
Lord Byron was the great hellraiser of 19th-century English culture – “mad, bad and dangerous to know”.
Major Frederick Howard, an aristocratic army officer who lived at High House in Upminster, was a friend. Byron is said to have visited him.
Major Howard was killed at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Byron saluted his heroism. His friend, he said:
... was of the bravest, and when showered
The death-bolts deadliest the thinned files along,
Even where the thickest of war’s tempest lowered
They reached no nobler breast than thine, young gallant Howard!
I respect great poets, but frankly I could do better myself.
Rhyming “lowered” with “Howard” is poor stuff, but maybe “Frederick Howard, you weren’t a coward” would lack literary grandeur.
High House was replaced in the 1930s by Corbets Tey Road shops, which bear the name of Byron Parade.
After training at a Gidea Park army camp, First World War poet Edward Thomas scattered Havering placenames, such as Gooshays and Wingletye, through his verse.
Lilliputs, a farmhouse in Hornchurch’s Wingletye Lane, now a care home, inspired him to create a picture of Havering before the suburbs arrived:
Their copses, ponds, roads, and ruts,
Fields where plough-horses steam and plovers
Fling and whimper, hedges that lovers
Love, and orchards, shrubberies, walls
Where the sun untroubled by north wind falls.
Havering has some poetic street names. There’s Quarles Close in Collier Row. A literary cluster north of Gallows Corner commemorates Byron, Chaucer, Coleridge, Eliot, Masefield, Ruskin, Tennyson – even forgetable Shenstone.
In Hornchurch, Milton, Shelley and Tennyson form another poetic enclave off Upper Rainham Road.
If it’s verse that you want to be savouring, you could do worse than the borough of Havering.