Heritage: Stations helped a developer create an instant town

The public announcement in 1901 of the opening of Seven Kings Railway Station.

The public announcement in 1901 of the opening of Seven Kings Railway Station. - Credit: Archant

In the first of a two-part special, Prof Ged Martin looks at the history of the stations along the Liverpool Street line.

You’ll know the stations to Liverpool Street by name. Each one has its own story. I’ll start with those closest to Romford.

Ilford, opened in 1839, and Chadwell Heath, in 1864, are the oldest.

Three of the stations on the Ilford to Romford section are associated with a Glasgow politician and property developer, Archibald Cameron Corbett.

Corbett specialised in building large-scale suburban estates – always working closely with the railways to ensure commuter services.

Corbett was a temperance enthusiast. His developments have long, straight streets and no pubs.

The original Ilford Station was built when the line opened. It’s said sixty houses were demolished to make way for it. The old station “could not be called an object of beauty”, and it became inadequate as Ilford grew. In 1894, it was replaced by “a more commodious erection”.

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Corbett promptly built off nearby Cranbrook Road. In 1898, he helped pay for two extra platforms. Commuter services, which had previously only run to Forest Gate, were now extended out to Ilford.

Making developers contribute to local infrastructure is a good idea. It should happen more often!

Corbett also named two other stations along this section of the line.

The name “Seven Kings” dates back to early Saxon settlement in Essex. It wasn’t written down until 1285, when it was “Sevekyngges”.

It means the “ingas” (people or followers) of somebody called Seofeca: we know nothing about him. The lost Old English word also appears in the names of Havering and Wennington.

By 1456, it made no sense, so locals called the district “Sevyn Kynges”.

In Saxon times, England was divided among seven kingdoms – Essex, Kent, Sussex, Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria.

Local legend claimed that all seven monarchs once met here, although it didn’t explain why. Their horses drank from the stream, which became known as Seven Kings Watering.

For Corbett, the name bestowed a touch of tradition upon a mushroom suburb.

“What was but agricultural land in 1896, with scarcely a house within a mile of it, is now covered by bricks and mortar,” an Ilford historian noted in 1901.

Corbett turned farmland north of the High Road into “a town without going through the preliminary stages of hamlet and village.”

The first residents felt remote from the facilities of Ilford. Unmade streets became thick mud in winter (helped by the stream, which frequently flooded), while dust storms blinded inhabitants in summer.

A gold rush was under way in the wilderness of western Canada. Corbett’s estate was sarcastically nicknamed “Klondyke”.

Conditions improved after Seven Kings Station opened in March 1899. There were 28 “up” trains (to London) each day, and 32 “down”: the evening rush hour was longer than the morning.

Corbett now moved further east. In February 1901 another station opened. “Why the stopping place is called Goodmayes is not quite clear,” sniffed one local expert. Goodmayes was a farm “some distance from the site”.

Barley Lane would have been “a more correct name, but perhaps the developer, who cuts up fair fields, waving with golden grain, to cover them with bricks and mortar, prefers the name of Goodmayes.”

It can certainly be traced back a long way, to “Goodmaistrete” in 1456. Goodmayes probably owes its name to John Godemay, who lived locally in 1391.

The original Chadwell Heath Station was “primitive and comfortless”. It was apparently intended to serve scattered communities like Little Heath and Becontree Heath.

Dagenham itself had no station until 1885, when the Fenchurch Street line was constructed through Hornchurch and Upminster.

Chadwell Heath Station was rebuilt in 1901, largely displacing an ancient mansion with the strange name of Wangey. Suburban development soon followed.

Around 1900, another station was planned, at Crowlands, near Jutsums Lane, to fill the gap between Chadwell Heath and Romford. Platforms were built, but the project never happened.