Heritage: How Gallows Corner got its sinister name

Gallows Corner c1925

Gallows Corner c1925 - Credit: From own collection of Andy Grant

Now associated with traffic jams and air pollution, historian Andy Grant unveils just how Gallows Corner got its sinister name.

“Gallows Corner” has become one of the most familiar features to motorists travelling along the ancient Roman road from London to Colchester.

Before the Southend Arterial Road was opened in 1925, Gallows Corner took its name from the junction where Gallows Lane (later renamed Straight Road) intersected the main road. In the past, a gallows had historically stood near to this junction.

During the 13th century, the Hundred Rolls record a number of manors that had petitioned Edward I for the right of a gallows.

Around 1273-74, the Bishop of London claimed the right of gallows in his manor of Cranham. The Abbott of Westminster claimed the right of gallows in his manor of North Ockendon. A year later, the Knights Hospitallers claimed the right of gallows for their manor of Rainham. By 1285 the Lord of the Manor of Suttons in Hornchurch also claimed right of gallows.

The area surrounding the Royal Manor of Havering-atte-Bower was granted the status of a Liberty by Edward IV on July 15, 1465.

Although a gallows in Havering was almost certainly in use before 1465, under the charter, the local justices could try capital offences upon payment to the crown. It is likely that the place of execution was the gallows upon land named Gallows Field at Gallows Corner.

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The 1618 map of Havering shows a gallows consisting of a crossbar supported on two uprights, as does the 1675 road map by John Ogilby.

Later maps from 1777 indicate both gallows and a gibbet of the more familiar single post inverted L type. Gibbets were usually set up beside main roads or at crossroads.

The bodies of those executed were left hanging, often in chains or an iron frame, as a deterrent to potential criminals.

However, the effectiveness of this was questionable.

On January 19, 1769 at 7am, “the Norwich coach was stopped and robbed over-against the gallows about a mile outside Romford”.

Romford Gallows, 1685

Romford Gallows c1685 - Credit: Courtesy of Andy Grant

There are no comprehensive sources that record the executions on the Romford gallows, but a few burials are detailed in the parish register.

On May 17, 1570, “Wm. Cooke, Hy. Hawkins and Thos. Apparry were buried, who had been hung”. On September 21, 1574, “Thos. Reed, Simon Jones and Rise Laugher were buried having been hanged for stealing soldiers’ money”. On May 30, 1610, “Ollyver, a prisoner, executed and buried”. On October 29, 1656 “two women that were executed”.

Thomas Munn and John Hall, at around 1am on July 20, 1749, held up the Yarmouth mail coach on the London to Colchester Road, near present day Petersfield Avenue.

They were executed at Chelmsford on April 6, 1750. Their corpses were “the next-morning early carried to the common where the Gibbet was fixed, near Rumford 
Gallows, and there hung in chains, pursuant to their sentence”. 

The Murder Act of 1751 stipulated that “in no case whatsoever shall the body of any murderer be suffered to be buried”.

The alternatives to burying the corpses were dissection by the anatomists or gibbeting. More capital offences were also being referred to Newgate by the latter part of the 18th century. 

Romford Gallows c1777

Romford Gallows c1777 - Credit: Courtesy of Andy Grant

With the gallows at Romford reportedly in a ruinous state, repairs were undertaken in 1785.

On January 14, 1792 a further order was made for payment for repairs to the gallows. It is more likely that it was solely used as a gibbet at that time. By 1815 the gallows had ceased to be used. Romford Common had been enclosed in 1814, including Gallows field.

After World War One, proposals were made to build a new arterial road from Wanstead to Southend.

Work commenced in 1921 and the road was formally opened by HRH Prince Henry on March 25, 1925. The route bisected the London to Colchester Road at Gallows Field, and although the gallows had been removed a century earlier, the name Gallows Corner endured.

More Andy Grant articles can be found on the Romford History Facebook Group.