Heritage: Romford Market day in 1837 and honest Havering confronts the Cockney chancers

The north side of Romford Market in about 1900, not long before Queen Victoria died. Picture: Brian

The north side of Romford Market in about 1900, not long before Queen Victoria died. Picture: Brian Evans - Credit: Brian Evans

Professor Ged Martin gives a glimpse of Romford Market on the eve of the Victorian age

Duffield Coller was a Chelmsford journalist who wrote with a flowery flourish that’s charming in small doses. In 1837, he created a word-picture of the “warm and alive” scene of Romford Market.

Born at Ingatestone in 1805, Coller was unusual in coming from a Catholic family. The Petre family at Ingatestone Hall had stayed with the old religion, and protected members of their minority Church.

He was named in honour of a nun, Sister Duffield, who wanted him to become a priest. Instead, he was twice apprenticed, first to a tailor and then to a shoemaker.

Hopelessly unsuited to either trade, he ran away each time.

In 1827, he started a third apprenticeship, this time training to be a printer.

His employers soon discovered that he enjoyed scribbling. It was a short step to journalism.

Most Read

That’s how he found himself surveying the bustle of Romford Market one Wednesday in May 1837. The ageing William IV was on the throne. It was the last hurrah of Hanoverian England.

“These are not dim shadows, seen through the telescope of history – they are the living, moving, money-making forms of 1837,” he proclaimed of the jostling market day throng.

To Coller, Romford Market was a strange cross between “the country and the metropolis”, the place where the “rough honest simplicity” of Havering country folk collided with “the doubtful politeness, the babble and the trickery” of the city slickers.

The “honest, working, warm-looking Essex farmers” could estimate the exact weight of a bullock just by looking at it.

They sank their pints, rejecting new ideas. The railway was under construction. The first train would steam into Romford two years later. But these solid locals “shake the head at railroads”.

But on Wednesdays decent Havering people mingled with a different species of humanity: men from Whitechapel who would cheat them out of sixpence, pickpockets who could magic a silk handkerchief from a pocket.

Coller advised male shoppers to stitch their watch chains to their waistcoats as a precaution against theft.

Coller sketched the market’s characters. He enjoyed the “happy-looking, easy, red-faced London butcher, who laughs at a joke before it is half-spoken”.

Money somehow slipped into his pocket “like Mr Ind’s XX down a drayman’s throat.” Edward Ind was Romford’s premier brewer, noted for his 2-X beer. He later went into partnership with two brothers called Coope, making Ind Coope a power in the world of ale.

In Australia, they would do things on a grander scale – out there, the beer would be 4-X!

Coller was less charmed by the “smart, jockeyfied little man, who knows everything, if not a little more, about horses”.

He was “a character of another cast”: don’t trust him!

It just happened that he had “a beautiful little nag” for sale, on behalf of some gentleman forced to part with it only because he must go overseas.

Beware, was Coller’s message. This character could steal “your favourite brown mare”, disguise it as dapple-grey and sell it back to you “for a trifle more than she was worth”.

Havering had no police force in 1837. Presiding over the market was an “official-looking personage, encased in an official-looking coat, turned up with red, and a gold-laced hat” – a battered uniform that looked as if it had been handed down for centuries.

Paid to watch over the morals of Market Place and its varied clientele, the official cast “a suspicious eye” at the reporter scribbling barbed comments in his notebook.

Coller decided it was time to slip away from Havering’s “ancient bailiwick”.

William IV had ten children – David Cameron is a descendant – but unfortunately, thanks to arcane royal rules, he wasn’t officially married to their mother because she was an actress.

Six weeks after Coller visited Romford, the old king died.

The crown passed to his niece, Princess Victoria. Romford Market entered the new, starchy, Victorian age.