Heritage: Romford and Hornchurch merge to become Havering

The results being announced at the Havering Council election count at Hornchurch Leisure Centre on Thursday, May 4.

The results being announced at the Havering Council election count at Hornchurch Leisure Centre on Thursday, May 4. Photo: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

As Havering went to the polls last week, Prof Ged Martin looked at an election 54 years ago as the borough was created

On May 7 1964, voters elected the council that would oversee the merger of Romford and Hornchurch into the new Borough of Havering.

Havering was divided into twenty wards, fifteen with three councillors apiece, five with two. Over half a century, boundaries and names have changed – for instance, Havering Park replacing Collier Row, Brooklands spanning Oldchurch.

Most wards were safe seats. In Romford, Bedfords, Gidea Park and Heath Park were solidly Conservative. Harold Hill – Gooshays, Heaton and Hilldene – was equally strong for Labour.

So were Central, Mawney and Oldchurch, around the town centre. Collier Row was comfortably Labour too – cynics said Romford’s ruling Labour group had swung the vote by building council houses there.

As a perceptive observer remarked, Romford was a town, Hornchurch a series of villages.

Five years earlier, Upminster’s Ratepayers’ Association (RA) had won its first council seat. By 1964, the Ratepayers dominated nearby Cranham and Hacton too.

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Residents’ Association candidates dominated Rainham local elections. But the various “RA” councillors were Independents, not a political party.

Many Rainham streets were bumpy tracks needing major upgrades. Upminster ratepayers wanted the council to spend money wisely. Rainham residents just wanted the council to spend money.

Hornchurch Tories were sure of two wards, Emerson Park, and St Andrew’s. Labour dominated Elm Park and neighbouring Hylands, but were challenged in South Hornchurch by a Residents’ Association.

Harold Wood was a swing seat. It had elected a Conservative in 1961 and a Liberal in 1962, but Labour had won in 1963. With Labour likely to win the forthcoming 1964 general election, Harold Wood seemed likely to vote for Harold Wilson.

Labour fielded a full slate of candidates. The Conservative gave the anti-Labour Residents a clear run in Rainham and South Hornchurch. Just one Tory candidate carried their flag in Elm Park, tacit endorsement of the Liberal ticket.

In fact, smaller parties did badly. Emerson Park was a disappointment for the Liberals. Although the area was no socialist hotbed, they were pushed into third place by Labour in a ward they’d won during the “Liberal revival” two years earlier.

Four Communist candidates, three on Harold Hill and one in Rainham, netted 365 votes.

Election night saw few surprises. Turn-out was over 40per cent. Labour beat the Residents in South Hornchurch.

Two results were especially popular. Conservative Stanley Shute won in Bedfords. Wheelchair bound, he was an unusual example of somebody with a disability achieving a role in public life.

Labour veteran Arthur Twigger headed the poll in Hylands. Widely respected, he would become Havering’s Charter Mayor.

The main parties had adopted different strategies. The Tories recruited a quarter of their candidates from their youth wing, the Young Conservatives, although this new blood was mainly shed in hopeless seats.

Their youngest standard-bearer, a final-year mathematics student at Manchester University, entrusted his fate to the voters. If he lost, he’d study for a PhD. He eventually became a professor of statistics!

Labour shuffled their team around. Romford Labour’s austere chief, Arthur Latham, lived in Gidea Park. His popular deputy, Michael Ward, came from Pettits Lane. Both were elected in Harold Hill.

Stanley Heath-Coleman, well-known Harold Wood Labour activist, was awarded a safe seat in Elm Park.

Instead, the party nominated a hard-working Romford councillor to contest Harold Wood. This was probably a tactical mistake. Harold Hill voters were loyal to party. Harold Wood people were suspicious of outsiders.

Whatever the reason, there was shock news on election night. Recount in Harold Wood! Against the national trend, Harold Wood had swung to the Tories. A mere eighteen votes separated the two “tickets”.

This left Labour, with 27 seats, just short of a majority on the new 55-seat council. But their internal strains prevented the twelve “RA” councillors from forming a coalition with the sixteen Tories.

Havering Council got off to an uncertain start.