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Have you ever tried to imagine what the street you live in looked like before the houses were built?

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If you have an internet connection, it’s easy to find out.

Modern map-making in Britain began thanks to war against France between 1793 and 1815. The army surveyed the whole country in case a French invasion had to be resisted.

In particular, sites were needed for heavy artillery to defend London. Big guns are termed “ordnance”. Two centuries later, we still call our official maps the Ordnance Survey.

From the 1840s, Britain was surveyed again in greater detail, including field boundaries. These maps are available on the net, showing Havering c.1870.

Visit www.british-history.ac.uk (don’t forget the hyphen!). Click on “Maps” and go down to the place-name box (where you can also use postcodes).

If you type in “Romford”, the website asks you if you mean Bromford, Cromford or Gromford, and tells you there is a Romford in Dorset. Once you’ve clicked on Romford, Greater London, another screen invites you to click on “Essex”.

For the eastern side of Havering, type “Brentwood”, while “Hornchurch” and “Dagenham” give you the south of the Borough.

Don’t be disappointed by the fuzzy map that appears. You can zoom in and move the pointing finger around to click on any part of the screen, which will centre on that section. The result is fast, clear and easy to print.

It was a very different Havering.

Elm Park, Gidea Park and Harold Hill did not exist. A new station, Harolds Wood, had just opened in the fields between Romford and Brentwood, but nobody lived there.

The railway had not yet reached Hornchurch.

But familiar landmarks stand out, like the dead-straight A12 Colchester Road, and you can work outwards from the old village centres at places like Upminster and Rainham.

You’ll be surprised by the field patterns. Builders generally swept away the hedgerows and imposed their own street patterns upon Havering.

There are links to modern maps and satellite views to help you pinpoint your home or school.

And it’s possible to go back another century.

In 1777, two mapmakers, John Chapman and Peter Andre, published an atlas of Essex. The Havering maps are accessible through another link from www.british-history.ac.uk.

This time, click on “East” in the Regions box, and then choose “Victoria County History: Essex” and look for volume 7.

Section 30 (Upminster: Introduction) shows southern Havering. Section 34 (Great Warley) shows the northern half. In each case, click to enlarge and enjoy the detail.

Two hundred and forty years ago, it was Rumford, not Romford. The local landscape was marked by huge commons at Collier Row and Noak Hill and by luxury mansions and their private parkland – all long vanished.

There was a windmill in South Street Romford, and there was still a gallows at Gallows Corner. Chapman and Andre even included a little sketch of it.

Maybe not the Good Old Days – but you can discover bygone Havering with a few clicks on your computer.

Former Havering resident and local history expert Professor Ged Martin now lives in Ireland

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