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The facade of 29 Romford High Street, Milner Elledge Solicitors, in Romford Conservation Area was restored last year, allowing us to appreciate its decorative details.

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Built in 1900-01 as part of an attractive row of shops at 25-35 High Street, the building was one of the earliest purpose-built shops in the town.

By April 1901 Elizabeth Buckeridge was recorded as living in the flat above 29, which replaced older buildings on this site. Smith and Balderson’s “high class provisions” were at 25, H Prior Tobacconists at 27, Arthur Brown a ship builder’s manager at 31, Gabriel Spiegel a Polish-born Jewish tailor at 33, and 35 still had no tenant registered.

Some tenants, such as Elizabeth Buckeridge, recorded as a greengrocer in the High Street in 1899, had moved from the old buildings which had been demolished to make way for the new ones.

Others, such as Gabriel Spiegel, moved from elsewhere in Romford to take advantage of the new buildings.

By 1911 even where the occupants of the flats were not the proprietor of the shop below, such as Beatrice Bately above Prior and Co. tobacconists at 27, they were related to them.

The 1911 census shows two Prior boys, one born (like her) in Rotherhithe in the flat, and she identified herself as a tobacconist/manageress.

The development of purpose built shops was part of a significant intensification of the economy of Romford away from agriculture towards construction, retail and light industry, and as a place to live.

When Lasham’s chemist at the junction of the High Street and South Street opposite the Golden Lion was re-developed in 1882 “The Building News” magazine emphasised how the whole of the new building was “utilised for business purposes”.

Earlier shops, such as Denny Stone’s department store founded in the Market Place in 1864, had been in old buildings adapted to new shopping uses.

Between 1881 and 1901 the number of men employed in agriculture in Romford declined from 27% to 11%. This was, however, still higher than in neighbouring towns.

In Chelmsford the figure was 5%, Ilford 6%, Barking 4%. In contrast the number employed in construction in Romford rose from 9% to 17%.

The number of houses in the town increased by 64% between 1881 and 1901, from 2,765 to 4,524, as new developments began between Linden Street and Mildmay Road.

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