Heritage: Havering threatened by torrent of bad poetry 100 years ago

Some poems called for street lighting in Wingletye Lane, Hornchurch. Picture: Google

Some poems called for street lighting in Wingletye Lane, Hornchurch. Picture: Google - Credit: Archant

Prof Ged Martin looks at an epidemic of doggerel that engulfed our area a century ago

In the early twentieth century, local versifiers produced poetry that was so curious it deserves to be remembered, if only with amusement.

In 1914, Upminster historian T.L. Wilson hymned his native village:

'Tis sometimes asked if any claim

Upminster has to age or fame?

Why, yes, it's not a modern place.

The name for centuries eight we trace.

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Wilson was embarrassed that one of Upminster's most famous residents was Alice Perrers, mistress of King Edward III. She made gifts to the parish church.

But all she did to hide her errors

Has not sufficed for Alice Perrers.

No power can ever free the shame

Or shift the sin that stains her name.

Wilson, who was in the building trade, welcomed Upminster's smart suburban development:

Upminster's well maintained her place

With, may I say, a worthy race?

And now, besides, to look more pretty,

She's building fast a Garden City.

In 1905, an anonymous bard published a tribute to Henry Pammett, who'd become a successful shopkeeper. In 1859, he left the family home at Rainham's twin village of Wennington to seek his fortune:

The small thatched-roof cottage he looked on with pain

When he left the old spot he might ne'er see again.

This seems exaggerated, since he only moved as far as Woolwich. There he became a shop assistant, specialising in courteous customer service:

He would answer each one with a "Yes, Ma'am" or "No, Sir",

And everyone flocked to this popular grocer.

The Reverend Herbert Dale, vicar of Hornchurch, defied convention by refusing to wear the clerical dog collar and clergyman's standard black outfit. Hornchurch historian Charles Perfect satirised Dale's critics:

He wears a layman's collar, and a simple bow of white!

I ask you, Christian brethren, do you think that this is right?

He may be a good parson, and maybe he can preach,

But if he don't know how to dress, how can he morals teach?

Perfect also wielded his pen in support of the campaign by his friend, Scotsman Major Ewing, for street lighting in Wingletye Lane, an unpaved road notorious for hazardous potholes and puzzles.

Although Ewing wanted only six streetlamps, penny-pinching ratepayers attacked his scheme, resorting to underhand stratagems the block it:

The gallant Major shouted, "Halt, there's treason in the camp!

'Tis said that darkest Wingletye won't have a single lamp!"

"We must have six," quoth he, "or, sure as my name is Ewin',

We'll bust these bloomin' gas bags, their little scheme we'll ruin."

Another newcomer to Hornchurch rallied to the cause:

"Oh, right you are, my bonnie Scot," said an Irishman named McQuire,

"In Wingletye, 'let there be light', as well as mud and mire."

After an initial defeat, Ewing forced a local referendum. His Light Brigade won the poll, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed formally to carry the proposal. Charles Perfect offered lyrical consolation:

Black darkness brooded o'er the land,

When homeward sped the vanquished band;

They'd fought their second fight and failed -

The powers of darkness still prevailed.

The Major scowled - then struck a light,

(Their only "glim" that dismal night);

He lit his fag, then heaved a sigh,

And thought of Darkest Wingletye.

One of England's most famous poets, Edward Thomas, was stationed at Gidea Park during the First World War, and used local place names to create a moving picture of rural Essex in his verse.

But I think we've had enough poetry for one week.