Flashback: Romford ratepayers, toxic chemicals and empty shops

40-years-ago. Picture: Romford Library

40-years-ago. Picture: Romford Library - Credit: Romford Library

A look back at the biggest local stories from this day 20, 40 and 60 years ago.


A final dramatic bid to save Romford ratepayers more than £5million over the coming 30 years was to be made by Romford councillors.

They were going to endeavour to press through an alternative £1m plan for a separate Romford-Hornchurch sewerage scheme instead of participating in the proposed enormous South Essex Regional Sewerage project.

The minister of local government housing told Romford deputations that the regional scheme was the better way to serve the public at large and a meeting of south Essex local authorities would be called by Essex County Council to decide. If Romford’s alternative plan was sanctioned, ratepayers would pay less than 6d. on top of the 6d. rate already imposed for modifications at Breton’s Sewage Works.


Nine men were rushed to Oldchurch Hospital, Romford, as the town was plunged into chaos when a bottle of highly toxic chemicals was found to be leaking. Top chemical experts and fire chiefs raced to Romford station’s parcel depot, where the bottle was being transferred to a van, as a cloud of fumes drifted into the air.

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Police cordoned off the area and ushered away onlookers as a fleet of police cars, three fire appliances and rescue units arrived at the scene.

Traffic around the town was held up and shoppers and rail passengers directed away from the area.

Great London Council’s scientific adviser Jack Sainsbury raced to the scene from Lambeth to make the chemical safe.

The drama happened shortly before 11am when the leaking bottle, containing pyridine, a poisonous and, under certain circumstances, explosive, substance was discovered.

Five British Rail employees, including the van driver, were taken to hospital for emergency X-rays and tests after inhaling toxic fumes.


Rows of empty shops and For Sale signs lining the streets may have provoked images of a ghost town but there were fears it become a reality for Elm Park shopping centre. High rents and the impact of out-of-town superstores had already forced more than 20 traders to pack up their bags and leave the shopping centre.

And unless a business plan was drawn up it could become extinct, warned traders and councillors.

Colin Saunders’ family were the first traders in the town setting up in 1938, but the 60-year reign could come to an end because no one was going to Elm Park, he said.

“Elm Park used to be a vibrant place but in recent years we have had huge superstores being built outside the smaller shopping centres and everyone seems to be shopping there. I have a five-year lease left on my shop but once it runs out I will be considering whether to renew it.”