Heritage: What did the Edwardians do for us?

Houses in The Meadway in Gidea Park. Picture: Ken Mears

Houses in The Meadway in Gidea Park. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

You have to search for Havering’s Edwardian heritage, but it’s worth the effort, says Professor Ged Martin

Why not take your holiday luxuriating in the distant, long sunny days of Edwardian Havering?

In the years before 1914, the brash Edwardians challenged inherited ideas and daringly broke narrow Victorian rules.

Locally, they produced some striking, even eccentric, buildings which are worth seeking out. Most are still occupied: please respect private property.

Sometimes there were hints of new artistic movements.

READ MORE: Explore Victorian Havering

Time hasn’t been kind to the Art Nouveau floral decoration over the entrance to Langtons Infant School in Hornchurch, built in 1902.

In 1908, Romford’s Crowlands Primary was inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement of William Morris, which emphasised traditional workmanship.

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The Edwardians boldly mixed styles. In 1905, Makins the grocer decided to erect a blowsy emporium in Romford Market, next to St Edward’s church. Although it’s been a bank since 1920, the concrete splodge of his logo still decorates the frontage. Oddly, it has colonnades on its gable – just showing off?

Something similar happened when four shops appeared next to Upminster Station in 1907, topped by double-storey flats, which tried to look like Buckingham Palace.

Their enormous first-floor balconies are screened by stone arches and topped by pointless colonnades. What did the architect hope to achieve? The building was erected by a brewery, but is it sober?

A mile to the north in Hall Lane is Havering’s finest Edwardian extravaganza, Upminster Court, built for a local businessman in 1906-8.

The architect, Charles Reilly, was a professor who designed very few actual buildings, but championed the neo-classical style.

Reilly’s critic, the brilliant Glasgow artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh, unkindly called him “only a 23rd rater”.

Upminster Court’s cheerful red brick is fronted by a breezy white colonnade, an entrance porch on steroids.

The energetic windows are mostly rectangular threesomes, but two give a saucy wink. The chimneys are oddly pencil-thin.

It was renovated in 2012 by its owners, Supply Chain Academy, who posted a charming video of the mansion on YouTube. Although it’s screened by trees, you can view Upminster Court from Hall Lane.

Feminine touches – softly rounded windows, pastel-coloured bricks – characterise the former girls’ secondary school in Romford’s Heath Park Road, opened in 1910, its mishmash style called “Wrenaissance”.

The ladylike reply to Upminster Court’s noisy masculinity, it’s now part of the Academy Fields housing development.

The greatest achievement of Edwardian Havering, Gidea Park’s garden suburb, was built between 1909 and 1911.

The biggest houses, priced at £500, were in Heath Drive, fronting the golf course, and Parkway, overlooking Raphael Park.

Side streets like Meadway and Reed Pond Walk were for “cottages”, at £375. They’re worth a bit more today.

Modelled on Hampstead Garden Suburb, Gidea Park was the project of Herbert Raphael, owner of Gidea Hall.

In 1902, he’d presented part of his estate to Romford Council, which opened the park named after him two years later. He probably planned his development then, but nothing came of a scheme to run trams to Gallows Corner.

It became possible after he persuaded the Great Eastern Railway to open a station at nearby Squirrels Heath (soon called Gidea Park), which began operation in 1910.

Over 100 architects, many of them famous, designed houses for a competition, followed by a sales exhibition in 1911.

The Book of the Exhibition for “Romford Garden Suburb” is on archive.org.

Some buildings were impressive, neo-Georgian and flat-fronted, but most were dinky Arts and Crafts homes from an idealised olde-England.

READ MORE: Votes for women - and more cupboards in Gidea Park

The Havering Walks leaflet on www3.havering.gov.uk is a handy guide, but as you stroll around, remember Gidea Park is a residential area, not Disneyworld. Drink in the atmosphere, don’t peer in the windows.

Gidea Park was Edwardian cosiness, but the suburb’s southward extension towards the station was planned to end in a huge colonnaded shopping piazza. Only one tiny section was built, at the corner of Balgores Square.

Sad to say, Havering’s Edwardian world, whether comfortable or naughty, was shattered by war in 1914.