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Nostalgia: Do you know where borough’s last remaining moats are?

The moat in Clockhouse Gardens. Picture: John Winfield The moat in Clockhouse Gardens. Picture: John Winfield

Sunday, April 13, 2014
3:00 PM

Talk of moats and we think of castles, drawbridges and portcullises, besieged by knights in armour with battering rams.

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Prof Ged MartinProf Ged Martin

So the news that there were a dozen moated sites in Havering seems surprising.

In fact, only once did a local moat feature in conflict. In 1648, during the Civil War between Charles I and Parliament, a troop of Cavaliers – the Royalists – galloped to Marks, an ancient mansion in Whalebone Lane North, to arrest the local Roundhead leader, Carew Harvey Mildmay.

Mildmay escaped by swimming the moat.

Although monarchs took security seriously, the royal palace at Havering-atte-Bower had no moat.

Local moats were intended not for defence but to prevent cattle theft.

They were probably dug between 1200 and 1350.

The population was rising in those years and crime was a problem.

The rise was halted by a terrible plague, the Black Death, of 1348-9.

Most Havering moated sites were near the two main highways along which cattle were driven to London. These are now the A12/A118 from Brentwood through Romford and the A124 linking Upminster and Hornchurch to Ilford.

Leave your cattle unguarded overnight in nearby fields and your beasts could be miles away by dawn. So Havering’s medieval farmers dug moats and corralled their herds at sunset.

Harold Hill had two moated sites, in Dagnam Park. Gidea Park had one at Goodwins, site of the Royal Liberty School.

Close to the junction of Mawney Road and St Edwards Way, Mawneys had a moat.

Other examples were at Bretons at Elm Park, Dovers, off Rainham Road by the A13 and Nelmes in Emerson Park, which partly survives on private property.

There were two moats at North Ockendon and two more at Upminster. A site behind Upminster Hall (the golf club) is now thought to have been a fishpond.

At Bretons and Dagnams, moats were filled in when big houses were built.

Goodwins moat disappeared when the farm was replaced by a handsome mansion, Hare Hall, in 1768.

Here the moat perhaps acted as an outdoor damp course. Hare Hall had no cellars because the water table was too high.

Upminster Rectory, west of the parish church, lost its moat in 1810.

The rector was a “squarson” – a parson living like a squire – and he wanted a posh carriage entrance.

Mawneys moat was filled in around 1880, as Romford housing spread.

Two Havering moats survive in public parks.

At Cockerells, west of Harold Hill’s Dycorts School, a 1633 map shows the artificial island had become an orchard.

The moat stopped people scrumping the apples!

Nowadays, Cockerells moat is home to the great crested newt, a protected species.

The moat at Upminster’s New Place became part of an 18th century landscaping project. It survives in Clockhouse Gardens.

Moats are great places to invent adventure stories.

But youngsters need warning that the friendliest stretch of water can become a death trap.

Enjoy Havering’s moats, but don’t go playing Cavaliers and Roundheads too close to them.

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