Heritage: What happened to Havering’s old cast iron gas street lamps

Cast iron lamp post in the grounds of St John the Evangelist church in Havering-atte-Bower. Picture:

Cast iron lamp post in the grounds of St John the Evangelist church in Havering-atte-Bower. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Street lamps are something we now take for granted but Richard Loveard looks at how they have changed over the past 200 years.

Gas lit cast iron lamp columns were in use in Romford town centre since at least the first half of the 19th century, when my great great great grandfather Charles Bloomfield Harvey was a printer and stationer in Romford Market Place.

He printed notices and instructions for the town police employed by the town Commissioners for Paving, Lighting, Watching and Cleansing Romford Town (prior to the establishment of Romford Urban District Council, which became the Borough of Romford.)

Their use spread throughout Romford and areas controlled by Hornchurch Urban District Council until the mid 1930s; from then on new cast iron columns installed in Romford had electric lamps, and new ones in Hornchurch Urban District probably also had electric lamps.

Most cast iron columns in Havering were installed prior to the Second World War; generally after that war, by the time that the Harold Hill estate was built, concrete columns were used.

Romford Borough Council did not convert cast iron lamp columns originally installed to be lit by means of gas, to be lit by electricity. Instead they were replaced by concrete columns around the mid-1950s.

Those cast iron columns that survived beyond the mid-1950s in Romford included a limited number of 2.9 metre high circular ones of common designs, and a large number of 2.9 metre high octagonal ones, most having ladder bars, which would have been installed from the mid-1930s up to the outbreak of the Second World War; the octagonal ones with ladder bars are of a design only seen locally, although there are similar ones elsewhere.

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Also in the period immediately before the Second World War, 21 4.5 metre high cast iron columns were installed in Mashiters Hill, Rise Park Boulevard, parts of Beauly Way and Lynwood Drive, and they are of a design not seen anywhere else, but have all been removed. One which I think was removed many years ago from Rise

Park Boulevard was then installed in Sunset Drive when Havering Council owned the caravan site; it remains there. When removed, some were purchased for use at my church, St John The Evangelist, Havering-atte-Bower, where they were installed some years ago.

The other frequently used design of cast iron column in the Borough of Romford immediately prior to the war was a circular 3.7 metres high fluted type, seen only locally, mainly in Romford, with a few in Hornchurch and one in Basildon.

Five, when removed, were also purchased for use in our churchyard.

Hornchurch District Council dealt differently with columns in its area originally installed to run on gas, and converted them to electricity.

Over the years most cast iron columns have regrettably been removed.

In the late 1980s/early 1990s some that were removed from elsewhere in the Havering were installed in the Gidea Park Conservation Area, to reinstate the original character of the area.

In recent years the electricity companies ceased to maintain supplies into columns without a door near the base in the event of problems occurring. There are two options available which have been used in Havering.

One is to have an extra section welded on to the base of a removed existing column to include a door; two like this made from 3.7 metre columns of the design only seen locally were installed in Parkway, and another one of a common design was installed in Balgores Crescent. However this is expensive.

The other is to keep the existing column and install a feeder pillar. Examples elsewhere include roads by Colchester Castle and in Ditchling, East Sussex. However street lighting engineers have different opinions on the use of feeder pillars.

Efforts have recently been ongoing to see whether Havering Council could be persuaded to use feeder pillars to retain the remaining octagonal and 3.7 metre high columns of designs only seen locally in the event of future problems, as if these 32 columns are removed then an important part of our heritage is lost for ever!