Nostalgia: The history of Havering, Shenfield Common and Navestock’s ornamental waters

Boating at Gidea Hall c1893

Boating at Gidea Hall c1893 - Credit: Archant

You don’t dream of Windermere or Loch Ness when you think of Havering and Brentvvood, but there’s a lot of ornamental water in the area. How did we acquire our lakes and ponds?

Raphael Park today

Raphael Park today - Credit: Archant

The oldest stretch of water in the district must be Berwick Pond, near Rainham.

Geese in the snow at Raphael Park Romford

Geese in the snow at Raphael Park Romford - Credit: Archant

There used to be two ponds, but one became pasture. Berwick Ponds are shown on a 1575 map.

They probably supplied power for a watermill mentioned in 1315. In that era, the manor of Berwick belonged to a paramilitary religious order, the Knights Hospitallers.

Their Prior often visited, and the ponds would have provided Friday fish for the clerics. Berwick Pond is still popular with anglers.

Childerditch Pond existed by 1720, maybe dug to provide drinking water for cattle grazing in the woods.

The 18th century created ornamental water features in gentlemen’s parks. The two lakes in South Weald Country Park date from the early 1740s.

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Half a century later, Sir John Jervis (later Earl St Vincent) added a third at Rochetts.

One of Britain’s top admirals, he once took three other senior Navy officers out in a rowing boat. Decades later, yokels still delightedly recalled how the four admirals had to be rescued from their own chaos.

Lady’s Pond at Navestock dates from the same era. It’s on private land, but can be glimpsed from a public footpath behind the ancient church. It’s bigger than its name suggests.

Romford’s best known lake is in Raphael Park. It dates from around 1776, when the Gidea Hall estate was given a landscape artist’s makeover. In the 19th century it was called Black’s Canal, after the family who owned the now-vanished Hall.

However, that isn’t the whole story. A map of 1618 shows a round “Mill Pond” by the main road.

So Raphael Park Lake owes its origin to a lost watermill. The 1776 work simply extended it to the north with a romantic wiggle.

The lake in Upminster’s Gaynes Park was another landscaping project, probably from around 1789.

Connaught Water in Epping Forest was dug out in 1883 as a relief project for the unemployed, but no such job creation projects were adopted locally.

However, in 1885, Brentvvood volunteers decided to link up two small ponds to form a lake on Shenfield Common. On summer evenings, “the young men, the old men, the big boys, working men, City clerks, shop assistants set to work, some picked, some shovelled, some wheeled away, whilst some went to the Artichoke [the local pub] for beer and poured it out.”

Many local ponds have vanished. High Trees Pond, a water feature at Gidea Park’s Hare Hall, now the Royal Liberty School, was dry by the 1950s. Gidea Hall’s ladle-shaped Spoon Pond is now tennis courts opposite Parkway.

The Loam Pond, at the east end of Romford Market, was for thirsty cattle as they were driven for sale. It was filled in during the late 19th century, and is now Ludwigshafen Place.

Our local water-stretches hardly rival Canada or Switzerland, but they are valued public amenities inherited from the past.