Evidence of Poundland found in medieval Havering

The chief yeoman warder Tom Sharp, at the Tower of London, with the Domesday book.

The chief yeoman warder Tom Sharp, at the Tower of London, with the Domesday book. - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

A lost Gidea Park farm gives us an insight into Havering life in the Middle Ages.

Prof Ged Martin

Prof Ged Martin - Credit: Archant

Nineteeenth-century maps show Pound (sometimes Poundhouse) Farm facing Squirrels Heath, common land which occupied most of the triangle between The Drill and modern-day Gidea Park station.

A strip of heathland also ran along the east side of Brentwood Road, now occupied by Eugene Close and the Squirrels pub.

Squirrels Heath was enclosed as farmland in 1814.

Pound Farm stood just south-east of Gidea Park’s Catholic church, behind Cobill Close.

Havering’s first map, in 1618, shifts the focus from farmhouse to farm – Pounde Land.

A 1663 land sale confirms that the 46 acres of “Poundland” stretched from Slewins Lane to Squirrels Heath Lane, bounded to the east by “a brook called [blank]”.

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So, alas, we don’t know what 17th-century people called Haynes Brook, but Poundland is now Northumberland Avenue and Westmoreland Avenue.

Farms were rarely called after sums of money, so we need another explanation of this unusual name.

What follows is a scholarly hypothesis. That’s a smart term for a guess.

Unluckily, we have little evidence, so we must make a few leaps of explanation.

Medieval people were tagged by inherited status, controlled by obligations to the lord of the manor.

The royal manor of Havering was the modern borough west of the Ingrebourne.

Even though they were “villeins”, most local men were unusually free.

It suited the king to have prosperous tenants as a source of income.

(Also, in 1251, about one eighth of Havering tenants were women, mainly widows who had inherited their husbands’ land.)

But a survey of 1251 mentions eight more humble “cotters”, who shared seven “cotlands”.

Although their status was inferior, Havering’s cotters were not mere cottagers.

Surprisingly, their farms were about the same size as those of the free “villeins”, averaging about 50 acres.

They had to perform unpaid duties, such as guarding prisoners – an unpleasant task if your guest was waiting to be hanged at Gallows Corner.

Cotters were also responsible for looking after animals – stray beasts, stolen sheep or cattle, plus any livestock seized by the bailiff for non-payment of rent.

Most medieval villages had a pound, an enclosure for lost animals.

But Havering’s oppressed cotters had to graze the animals in their own fields.

Maybe that’s why they were granted proper farms.

Sometimes, aggrieved characters stole back cattle seized from them – rustlers in Gidea Park!

By the 17th century, feudal restrictions had long lapsed, but one farm retained a name echoing its medieval role as Havering’s animal lost property centre.

The name “Poundland” would hardly have been invented after the Middle Ages.

It’s just possible that we can push the story back before 1251.

The Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, reported that Havering contained six “servi” – serfs or slaves.

It’s been suggested that these became the cotters of 1251.

If so, it means that William the Conqueror’s slaves scratched their living in a quiet corner of Gidea Park.