Heritage: Australia’s view of the wacky world of Havering
- Credit: PA
Seventy years ago, Australian newspaper editors thought Romford and Hornchurch a very strange world, says Professor Ged Martin
Thanks to Australia’s National Library, which has digitised most of the country’s newspaper archives, we can see how our area was reported 12,000 miles away.
In the decade after the Second World War, Australians must have thought Havering was a very strange place.
One night in 1952 local police checked a report of an escaped convict wandering around Gallows Corner. They found a disoriented 17-year-old called Jim wearing an outfit covered with broad arrows.
His mates in Chelmsford had kindly decided to stuff him into fancy dress before trussing him up and dumping him fifteen miles away. The police flagged down a lorry driver who gave Jim a lift home.
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One day in 1950, a woman ran into Romford police station gasping for a bowl of water. Fearing a health emergency, the duty officer obliged.
She produced three live goldfish and dropped them in. Her son had bought them from a market stall, but the bowl had smashed when he dropped it.
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Even community leaders seemed oddballs.
A prominent member of Romford Council was heavily fined in 1946 for making fake gin from methylated spirits and fruit juice.
He claimed he’d drunk it without ill effects, and his friends liked it, he’d decided to go into business.
“I knew it wasn’t gin but I had to call it something.” Unluckily, party-goers had become violently ill. An expert witness said the concoction was potentially lethal.
Romford’s coroner suggested pedestrians should “treat all motorists as if they were homicidal maniacs.” His advice to motorists was similar but cannot be quoted in our politically correct age.
A local vicar asked parishioners not to get married on Saturdays when Arsenal were playing at home.
Compulsive behaviour seemed widespead.
A Hornchurch GP followed an anti-burglar ritual whenever he left home, locking all doors and windows before closing the front door behind him. One day in 1949 he left his keys indoors. Not even the fire brigade could help.
In 1950, an inspector checking tickets on a Romford bus encountered a passenger who rummaged through 185 used tickets before locating the right one.
Where else would you find a couple who lived in a concrete flat? They complained they had to use a broom to clean the concrete furniture, and on winter nights they froze in their concrete bed.
Some local people were heroically daft.
In 1946, a 47-year-old man – admittedly from East Ham – decided to break the record for walking 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours. It had been set in 1809 but apparently nobody had ever bothered to challenge it.
He spent several weeks striding around Romford Greyhound Stadium, the rules requiring him to walk even between races.
He drank “buckets of tea”, lived on sandwiches and pills, smoked forty cigarettes a day and barely slept. His ambition was to walk across America.
“If we don’t do this now, we never shall,” said a 21-year-old Romford man in 1951, as he set off hoping to hitch-hike to Australia. Accompanied by a friend from Down Under, they aimed to reach his pal’s home in Ballarat within four months. I don’t know if they made it.
Even local disasters were bizarre. To mark the official Victory Celebrations on June 8, 1946, Hornchurch planned a two-hour firework display. It lasted just two minutes. A stray spark set off all the bangers and rockets at once. Onlookers fled in terror.
Next year, a fire at Romford Brewery caused a massive explosion.
Hundreds of barrels and 480,000 bottles of beer blew up. Not even the Luftwaffe had managed that.
An engineering works in Elm Park was fined under safety regulations after a machine sliced off a female employee’s hair. A fellow worker had told her a very funny joke, causing her to throw her head back to laugh.
Was Havering really such a strange place seventy years ago?