Heritage: The romantic history of Langtons register office

Thomas Latham owned Langtons in Hornchurch. It is now a register office. Picture: Ken Mears

Thomas Latham owned Langtons in Hornchurch. It is now a register office. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Thomas Latham, owner of Langtons, was a Puritan but he wasn’t against fun, as Prof Ged Martin explains

Langtons in Hornchurch's Billet Lane is Havering's Register Office for weddings and civil partnerships. The mansion was once the home of a prominent local Puritan - but labels can be misleading.

Step back in time and meet Thomas Latham.

Four hundred years ago, the Lathams were one of Havering's richest families.

One branch occupied Upminster Hall (now the golf club). Thomas was a business partner of his "cousin Lathum" (spelling was loose in those days) who lived at Stubbers, now North Ockendon's adventure centre.

In fact, when young Thomas lost his father back in the 1540s, Havering's manor court allowed him to inherit his property without a guardian - even though he was only five years old! There were enough Lathams around to look after the boy.

Thomas was a Puritan - but that did not mean that he was against having fun. He fathered nine children, so he evidently enjoyed married life.

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His Puritanism was religious, a belief that arid ceremonies and muttered rituals were not enough. When he was prosecuted for failing to attend services at Hornchurch's parish church in 1591, he slammed the vicar.

Clergyman William Lambert rarely bothered to deliver a sermon. When Lambert did preach, Latham heard nothing to "edify his conscience".

He would stay away from St Andrew's "until there be a sufficient preacher" in the pulpit.

Maybe Thomas Latham wasn't just being a busybody. His health was probably poor and he worried about his soul.

Facing death in April 1593, he made his will. In true Puritan fashion, he insisted on a plain funeral, the only extravagance to be a piece of carpet "laid over my coffin". (Carpet was a luxury item then.)

His "good and loving wife", Frances, came from the north of England. She had "willingly consented" to sell her dowry, land in Yorkshire and Lancashire, so Thomas could expand his property in Havering.

In gratitude, he left her £60 a year - a fortune. "I doubt not but that she will rest satisfied, knowing what loving care I have always had of her," he wrote optimistically.

He also made arrangements to spare her financial responsibility for their children, "otherwise than her virtuous nature shall move her".

Mistress Latham also received all the corn and cattle on the Langtons property, "and my household stuff so long as she remain unmarried" - not a sign that he distrusted Frances, but rather a device to protect her against amorous fortune hunters.

She also inherited the remaining 18 years lease on a nearby farm called Gardens -remembered in Heath Park's Great Gardens Road.

This would provide an income for their six daughters - plus a massive £100 apiece to help them get married.

Among the properties Latham had acquired with his wife's capital was a house called "Fayrekytes", next to Langtons, with two and a half acres of "meadow" - probably now the register office car park.

He owned other Havering land with romantic names that can't now be identified - 3 acres called Pollardes, 20 acres of arable and woodland known as Hedgeland, and a "tenement" called Fysshers rented to the Widow Hasell.

Latham left three young sons. He asked a brother-in-law to take charge of the education of William, the eldest, until he was 21. William would eventually inherit all his father's property, but his younger brothers, John and Thomas, were awarded cash incomes for life.

Thomas was his father's favourite. The will earmarked £10 to buy him a horse on his 18th birthday.

Langtons and Fairkytes were rebuilt in the 18th century. Fairkytes is now Havering's arts centre.

It's appropriate that couples should pledge their vows today at Langtons, where Thomas and Frances Latham enjoyed their successful marriage 400 years ago.

But it's sad that he was barely 50 when he died.

Long life and happiness to all who pass through Havering's Register Office!