Heritage: 800 years of history and mystery at Redden Court

In 1906 the ornate Upminster Court was built in Hall Lane. Picture: Emmamasonsca/Wiki Commons

In 1906 the ornate Upminster Court was built in Hall Lane. Picture: Emmamasonsca/Wiki Commons - Credit: Archant

Prof Ged Martin probes some puzzles in a corner of Harold Wood

Redden Court is an indeterminate zone between Harold Wood and Ardleigh Green, but it has its mysteries.

In 1212, William the Fleming was granted 100 acres of land, providing reeds for the king's bedchamber at Havering-atte-Bower in return. (There were no carpets in those days.) The holding was called Redene, meaning "reedy valley".

In the Magna Carta of 1215, King John promised to sack unpopular foreign advisers. But William the greedy Fleming grabbed even more booty.

The original grant probably lay east of Ardleigh Green Road and south of Squirrels Heath Road, bounded by Macdonald Avenue and Coombe Road and stretching to the Ingrebourne at Harold Wood Park - no doubt the source of those reeds.

This area was heathland - Ardleigh Green was Hadlee, the heath place. With no woodland to clear, the new fields were large and square - as can still be seen in the lay-out of Harold Wood Park.

By 1235, William had added another 100 acres north of Squirrels Heath Road, towards Whitelands Way. (The railway divided this in 1840.)

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Sir John Newenton, the constable of Rochester Castle, purchased the property in 1380. Little is known about him. In 1385, he rented land in South Hornchurch, near Dagenham Road, probably for extra grazing.

In 1413, "the manor of Reden" was inherited by Newenton's daughter, Joan Swynnerton.

Soon after, the property began to be called Redden Court (locally pronounced as Ridden Court).

Why "Court"? It's an unusual addition. In 1868, Goodhouse Farm on Shepherds Hill, Harold Wood, was replaced by a mansion called Harold Court, now flats. In 1906, the ornate Upminster Court was built in Hall Lane.

But there's no other 15th-century example of the term in Essex. The nearest equivalent is Hampton Court in Middlesex, recorded in 1476. Cardinal Wolsey later built his palace there. The name suggests Newenton had built an imposing residence.

In 1469, Redden Court was bought by a wealthy London merchant, Sir Thomas Cooke, who was building his own mansion, Gidea Hall. (It stood next to Raphael Park).

Not needing two big houses, he perhaps demolished Newenton's Redden Court to re-use the building materials. But the impressive name stuck.

Around 1720, Redden Court was purchased by John Hopkins, a fabulously rich miser. In 1732, it passed to his nephew, also John Hopkins, who lived at Bretons, the Elm Park mansion which he rebuilt.

Either uncle or nephew reorganised the property, dividing it into two farms. There was some confusion, but the land north of Squirrels Heath Road became known as Old Redden Court, the land to the south New Redden Court.

New Redden Court farmhouse was demolished about 1938 to make way for Redden Court School. Old Redden Court survived until about 1954. I can just remember it! It had a cottagey look, like a picture on a chocolate box. It was replaced by Court Way.

But Havering's earliest detailed map shows an earlier farmhouse, located south of the A127 Arterial Road, near the junction of Cecil Avenue and Harwood Avenue. Perhaps Sir John Newenton's mansion stood there? The site can be pinpointed, as an accurate map of 1898 showed a pond marking the site.

The owner of Old Redden Court, lawyer Alfred Douglas Hamilton, had tried to sell the property in 1894 as "suitable for subdivision into Villa Farms", with "numerous choice sites for the erection of Private Residences". About that time, he laid out two short streets, Douglas Avenue and Hamilton Drive.

There was little development until the 1920s. To cater for the incoming suburban population, Ardleigh Green School opened in 1933, taking youngsters from 5 to 14. The over-11s transferred to Redden Court School four years later.

In the 1920s, the Arterial Road cut off the northern end of Wingletye Lane, which became Redden Court Road. An open-all-hours shop. Redden Stores, operated next to the A127. In recent years, it's become private housing.