Heritage: Birth of the Mawneys estate
- Credit: Archant
Slow and scattered growth marked the development of Mawneys from the 1880s, says Professor Ged Martin
Mawneys farmhouse stood on the site of the United Services Club, just yards from downtown Romford.
Parish records show that destitute travellers trudging to London often slept overnight in its barn: some died there.
By the 1880s, cheap North American grain imports had created a crisis in English agriculture. Around London, dairying was the only profitable form of farming, supplying the capital with milk.
When foot-and-mouth hit Mawneys in 1881, it was the last straw. The next year, Benjamin Harding Newman of Nelmes in Hornchurch inherited the 265-acre estate and decided to sell it for building.
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To level the area for construction, hedges were cleared, and nine-inch pipes laid in the ditches, which were then filled in.
After torrential rain in August 1888, eight feet of water flooded Romford’s High Street. Some blamed poor drainage on the Mawneys estate.
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At first, progress was slow. In June 1887, a poorly attended site auction at the Golden Lion was abandoned after only six plots were sold, for low prices.
Two years later, magistrates decided that a Mawneys off-licence was “altogether unnecessary, as the estate was not developed”.
Development picked up in the early nineties. There was a “good attendance” at a site auction in 1894 held in a marquee. “Luncheon was served to the purchasers”, which may explain why “satisfactory prices were realised”.
By 1893, there were plans for a school. Local worthies chose a site in Mawney Road, rejecting a cheaper option in Como Street.
Plans for a school accommodating 700 children and costing just under £10,000 secured government approval in September 1895. The school opened on August 31, 1896. It was demolished and replaced by a modern academy building in 2016.
Construction required the felling of a giant elm tree, sixteen feet in circumference and estimated to be 260 years old.
The school’s headteacher was paid £175 a year. The caretaker received much less, but was awarded a bonus of three shillings (15p) a week to fetch coal for the classroom fireplaces, and two shillings (10p) to wash the towels.
Mawney Road School was divided into girls’ and boys’ section. When the School Board failed to hire a man to teach the boys at £60 a year, one member suggested that they should advertise for a “female teacher” (they came cheaper) instead.
The chairman doubted whether government officials would approve such a radical idea.
Cookery classes were planned from the start “to teach the senior girls how to cook a plain working-class meal”. Evening classes in cookery were financed by selling the food produced.
The Mawney Arms, built during the summer of 1894, received its licence that October: a nearby beerhouse was closed to keep a limit on Romford pubs.
Its unknown architect designed a friendly village inn, with a few Naughty Nineties touches in the porches and windows.
One problem with Mawneys was that the estate was very scattered.
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Marks Road was built up by 1895, Olive Street by 1898. But whatever was built in Poplar Street was probably sub-standard.
Its Victorian houses have not survived: in 1901, there were nine people living in a single room in one of them.
As late as 1898, there was still room in Mawney Road itself to erect Romford’s new swimming baths, an ornate building sadly demolished in 1975.
Away to the north, houses were being built in Marlborough Road by 1897, with more cheap lots sold there and at Hainault Road in 1900.
Luckily, this dispersed sprawl left room for a new highway, the A12 Eastern Avenue, to snake through in the 1920s.
Between 1896 and 1901, the large-scale contractor, A. Cameron Corbett, created massive mushroom suburbs at Seven Kings and Goodmayes, persuading the Great Eastern Railway to open convenient new stations to attract commuters.
The development of Mawneys stalled. Not until the 1920s and 30s did its half-empty streets fill with houses.