Local History Month: Havering historians share delights of job

Romford Market in the mid-1930s. Picture: Brian Evans

Romford Market in the mid-1930s. Picture: Brian Evans - Credit: Brian Evans

For our final week of Local History Month coverage, we asked three local historians to share some thoughts on what they love about the occupation, how they look into their subject matters and what inspired them initially to delve into the past

Brian Evans with the book which launched his writing career. Picture: Steve Poston

Brian Evans with the book which launched his writing career. Picture: Steve Poston - Credit: Archant

Brian Evans, of Brentwood

I have always been interested in the history of my local area, even as a child.

Working as a professional librarian and talking to people (once they were older than me!) how life and local buildings and the local scene had changed was fascinating.

It all started with my older parents, who remembered a lot of the 20th century.

I had contributed information to books before (Encyclopaedia of London) but when asked to compile a book on Romford in the Bygone series I realised I could seize this great opportunity to open a window on the past, using clear photographs from Victorian and Edwardian times, some that would be seen for the first time by the public. It was a great day when the book was published.

I had been doing talks to many local groups for a number of years and it all fitted together with the publication of the local historical society’s Romford Record, which by 1988 had reached number 20. The director of leisure said he had been inspired by articles therein, and it had decided him to hold the Havering Heritage Exhibition at the Dolphin Centre. Since the late 1960s local memorabilia and objects had been collected for the local studies section of Havering Reference Library.

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Many decades later a considerable collection of these found their place in the new Havering Museum, and this was one of the biggest excitements for me.

A large part of my research has been listening to the memories of people which, when I started my Havering project, dated back to Victorian times – one of the earliest articles in Romford Record was the recollections of the daughter of the workhouse master and mistress!

Richard Smith attending an aviation and history event at Ingrebourne Valley Visitor Centre. Picture:

Richard Smith attending an aviation and history event at Ingrebourne Valley Visitor Centre. Picture: Ellie Hoskins - Credit: Archant

Richard C. Smith, of Rainham

It is now over 17 years since I had my first book published, and I can still remember the buzz of picking it up and feeling and smelling the crisp new pages, and feeling what an achievement it was.

Writing a non-fiction book is not an easy task, you have to try and lay down strict rules, whereas those who write fiction can let their imaginations run wild and think up new characters and places. As I am writing about historical events or places, the effort is more about getting the facts and figures right and finding the most interesting stories. As most of my books deal with the events of either the First or Second World War, you can still come across some gems of information from either those still living, or from their surviving relatives.

My own experience in writing a book, is rather like undertaking a giant jigsaw puzzle. It eventually all comes together as if I am one of those old fashioned detectives trying to put together and solve a case. I use many sources, including the National Archives at Kew.

Finding images which have never been seen by the public is always exciting, not only for the author but for the book buying public.

Having written 14 books, I can say that it never gets any easier, but it has always been worth the effort, especially when you receive praise from the public on a job well done.

Michael Foley, of Rush Green

My first serious interest in local history began when I read a biography of the Earl of Cardigan, who led the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Michael Foley. Picture: Steve Poston

Michael Foley. Picture: Steve Poston - Credit: Archant

It said when he first joined the army he was posted to Romford. I was interested enough to find out why, at this time I hadn’t heard of the Napoleonic Cavalry Barracks that existed in Romford.

As I began to research this I found a lot of information on Essex military history, but not much on the barracks.

Just after this, I was standing outside a book shop when another customer asked the proprietor if he had a book on Essex military history.

He said there wasn’t one but perhaps someone would write one.

Someone did, my first book Front Line Essex was published about a year after this, thanks to hearing that conversation.

It was a bit of a shock when my idea was accepted for publication, but a very pleasant one. I had been writing for years before this with no success. A number of other Frontline titles followed until I have now had 26 books published.

As your experience grows so does your methods of research.

I now use the National Archives, Imperial War Museum and National Newspaper Archives, along with many other sources including personal experiences.

I find local history fascinating.

It’s amazing to think about what could have happened in the past in your own back garden.