Heritage: Travel writer made Havering-atte-Bower sound like the Alps

Grade 1 listed mansion house Bower House in Havering-atte-Bower. Picture: Ellie Hoskins

Grade 1 listed mansion house Bower House in Havering-atte-Bower. Picture: Ellie Hoskins - Credit: Archant

Prof Ged Martin looks at Havering as a tourist destination 200 years ago

It's fun leafing through old travel guides. John Hassell's Picturesque Rides and Walks, published in 1818, described excursions around London.

George Cooke's Topography of Great Britain or, British Traveller's Pocket Directory, appeared about 1820.

Cooke published 25 volumes, and they weren't small books either. You'd have needed large pockets!

Hassell visited Romford from London.

Beyond the "straggling villages" of Bow and Stratford, the countryside around Ilford ("a pleasant village") "may literally be termed a potato garden; this vegetable is cultivated in Essex with great success".

A roadside feature two miles from Romford was "an immense whalebone", the relic of a creature stranded in the Thames. Whalebone Lane preserves its memory.

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Approaching Romford, "the scenery on the left begins to assume a hilly appearance": Hassell made Havering-atte-Bower sound like the Alps!

He was impressed by the town's stagecoach traffic. "Conveyances are going through Romford all day", heading to and from Aldgate and Whitechapel. It cost four shillings (20p) to ride inside, two and six (12.5 pence) to perch outside.

Hassell admired Romford's stately homes. Marshalls, on the road to "Collier's Row" (later North Street), was surrounded by 172 acres of "gardens, pleasure grounds, paddocks", ornamental hot-houses, exotic shrubberies and "a noble sheet of water".

Marshalls belonged to a flamboyant banker, Rowland Stephenson.

In 1828, he became bankrupt and fled to America, owing a lot of money to Romford shopkeepers.

The lake is still there, well-hidden next to St Edward's primary school.

Another "pleasant spot" was Pettits, a mansion that stood near the site of Marshalls Park Academy.

Hassell also liked Hare Hall, "a handsome stone building, with two wings connected by colonnades". It's now the central block of the Royal Liberty School.

Sad to say, the "tasteful lodge" on the A12 Colchester Road which marked the entrance to the Dagnam Park estate has not survived. It stood for many years at the corner of Petersfield Avenue, even after Harold Hill was built behind it. If you were a Londoner on horseback who'd reached Aldborough Hatch at Ilford, "you may prolong the ride to Collier's Row, and from thence to Havering Bower", with its "uncommonly beautiful" views - all in a half-day.

But if you wanted "a pleasant day's excursion", you could continue from Havering village to South Weald, returning via Ongar and Chigwell. (Remember to feed your horse!)

George Cooke regarded the Havering area as "the most beautiful part of Essex". There was "fine country" between Romford and Brentwood, while the views from Noak Hill and South Weald were "truly beautiful".

Upminster was a "pleasant village", and Upminster Hall (now a golf club) "enjoys the advantage of extremely delightful prospects" - presumably views northward, towards Brentwood.

Although "a populous town", Romford "principally consists of one long wide street". This of course was the Market Place. South Street was still just a country lane.

There was an interesting scheme under discussion to construct a canal between London and Romford.

The capital depended upon horse-drawn transport, and horses were not toilet-trained. Canal barges could deliver manure to Romford for use as fertiliser, and "farmers might double their crops within the year."

The scheme never happened.

Cooke noted that Southend had "become of late a place of much fashionable resort, during the sea-bathing months: its retired and delightful situation particularly attracts visitors."

Before the A127 Arterial Road was built in the 1920s, there were two routes from London to Southend. The "upper road" ran through Romford and Billericay, the "lower road" through Barking and Rainham.

The lower road, said Cooke, was "more beautiful" - perhaps not a description of the modern A13.

Neither writer had much to say about Brentwood. Cooke called it a "village", "meanly and irregularly built."

Hassell praised it for having "a silk rug manufactory", turning out products "of extraordinary beauty and durability". Like so much else, Brentwood's silk rug factory is long forgotten.