Heritage: A forgotten planning decision that shaped Gidea Park

Gidea Park residents objected to plans to build a chemical factory in the area in 1919. Picture: Ste

Gidea Park residents objected to plans to build a chemical factory in the area in 1919. Picture: Steve Poston - Credit: Archant

A hundred years ago plans for a chemical company could have changed Gidea Park forever, as Prof Ged Martin discovers

It was shock news that a chemical company had purchased a 13-acre site to build a factory in Gidea Park.

It was 1919. Soldiers who’d fought in the First World War were returning home, and looking for work. Local Liberal politician Lord O’Hagan argued that the project would create much-needed jobs.

Lord O’Hagan lived at Havering-atte-Bower. He could take a detached view.

The company, Stafford Allen & Sons, had relocated from London to Long Melford in Suffolk around 1900.

They manufactured oils from spices and sandalwood, but the pleasant nature of the product didn’t mean that the process was equally aromatic.

Critics claimed their Suffolk factory was locally known as “Stinkpot”.

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Their new site was north of the railway near Gidea Park Station, to the east of Upper Brentwood Road, stretching as far as today’s Cambridge Avenue.

The Great Eastern Railway already had a tarpaulin factory across the tracks. You can see it from the train, but it’s been apartments since the 1960s.

The chemical plant could share access to railway sidings to distribute its products.

Some locals said if there was a factory on one side of the railway, why not on the other?

But Gidea Park residents objected. In 1910-11, a “garden suburb” had been launched around Reed Pond Walk, north of the main Romford to Brentwood road.

To serve the new commuters, Gidea Park Station had opened in 1910. Elegant housing had spread down Balgores Lane and adjoining streets. The Upper Brentwood Road area seemed an obvious area for more quality housing. Across the road from the proposed chemical factory stood Hare Hall, an 18th-century mansion that had been a wartime Army camp.

Nearby were two charming Edwardian houses designed by the architect W.H. Seth-Smith, Hare Cottage (now St Mary’s primary school) and Hare Lodge.

Hare Lodge, a period gem, would be right next to the factory fumes. Some Gidea Park people had paid as much as £1,100 for houses in the upmarket suburb.

They weren’t going to sit back and allow a factory to destroy the value of their property.

Stafford Allen bought the site in late May 1919. They later angrily claimed that they had briefed officials from Romford Council, Havering’s forerunner.

When officials seemed happy, the company went ahead and ordered steel for their factory.

Suddenly, early in September, Romford Council invoked the 1909 Town Planning Act, and zoned Gidea Park exclusively for housing.

Stafford Allen appealed. Early in December 1919, a planning inspector held Havering’s first public enquiry.

The company insisted that they had no plans to manufacture noxious chemicals. But they could give no promises should the factory pass to other owners. The zoning was upheld.

Although driven away, Stafford Allen did not go very far.

They found an alternative site across the railway, in Ardleigh Green.

This was under the gentle rule of Hornchurch Council, which didn’t object to factories – not in Ardleigh Green, anyway.

At a Paris trade fair soon after, Stafford Allen issued a leaflet describing Ardleigh Green as their “Magasin d’Exportations”.

From Ardleigh Green, their products were loaded on to railway wagons and sent around the world. Stafford Allen had agents in Argentina, Japan and Poland.

Around 1931, they built houses for employees on their Ardleigh Green site – calling the street Stafford Avenue.

But in 1936, they sold the factory to a plastics manufacturer. Today, the site is the Stafford Industrial Estate, Hillman Close. In the 1920s, Gidea Park rapidly developed as a residential area.

It’s unlikely this would have happened alongside a chemical factory.

Between 1922 and 1925, the Southend Arterial Road was constructed eastwards from Gallows Corner. Had Stafford Allen built in Upper Brentwood Road, the whole area would probably have become industrial.

A forgotten planning decision a century ago shaped one of Havering’s leafiest suburbs.