Heritage: Exploring Victorian Havering

St Thomas' Church, Noak Hill, was built by the squire in 1842. Picture: John Hercock

St Thomas' Church, Noak Hill, was built by the squire in 1842. Picture: John Hercock - Credit: Archant

If you can’t holiday overseas, then slip back in time to explore Victorian Havering, suggests Professor Ged Martin

If you’re not going away this summer, how about some time travel: staying put but exploring Havering’s Victorian days?

Because nineteenth-century survivals are scattered, you’ll do a lot of walking. Respect private property. Develop the skill of street-surfing: walking purposefully and taking in the details with the corner of your eye. Don’t look as if you’re casing the joint.

Our area didn’t change much in Queen Victoria’s days. Suburban growth was faster in Leyton and Ilford, places nearer London.

Romford expanded slowly, Hornchurch, Rainham and Upminster hardly at all.

Churches tell interesting stories.

The classical pediment of Salem Baptist Church in London Road, Romford, built in 1847, proclaims that Baptists were free citizens, who defied the official Church of England.

READ MORE: Romford shopkeeper who helped build Trinity Methodist Church

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Forty years later, Trinity Methodist Church – now on Romford’s ring road – translated Anglican Gothic into respectable Wesleyan red brick.

The Church of England added new real estate too.

Contrast St Thomas’ at Noak Hill, a pretend-village church built by the local squire in 1842, with St Andrew’s in urban Waterloo Road, Romford, dating from 1861-2. Outside, St Andrew’s is unexciting grey stone with a goblin-hat spirelet. But inside, its high roof made space for aromatic High Church services that offered colourful escape from the drab lives of its working-class parishioners.

Very different from Collier Row’s Church of the Ascension (the dedication was a joke – it’s uphill from Romford) – a humble chapel for farm workers, described in 1884 as “quaintly designed”.

It’s now squeezed beside a busy roundabout.

Romford’s first post-Reformation Roman Catholic Church, opened in 1856, used the Gothic style and the dedication to the local saint, Edward the Confessor, to say “we belong here, our roots are medieval”.

But Catholics were a distrusted minority, and the tiny, folksy chapel tucked away in Park End Road was also carefully unthreatening.

Victorian institutions projected their message through architecture. Oldchurch workhouse, opened in 1838, was intentionally grim, warning the poor to work hard and support themselves. But St Leonards, the Hornchurch children’s home, was friendly if businesslike. Built as a village between 1886 and 1889, St Leonards offered problem kids a fresh start. Both are now housing.

“Don’t worry, everything will be fine” was the message of Romford’s first public hospital, now the Victoria medical centre in Pettits Lane. It resembled a cricket pavilion – plus nurses and doctors.

Schools also tried to look welcoming. There are fine examples at Albert Road in Romford, Gubbins Lane, Harold Wood (both now in other use), Dame Tipping at Havering-atte-Bower and in Upminster Road North at Rainham, where the 1872 building with its quirky bellcote is now a children’s centre. North Street Halls in Hornchurch tell an unusual story. Built in 1855, the original building included a teacher’s house.

Although this was the Steam Age, Havering’s railway stations are either twentieth century or much rebuilt.

The best Victorian example, at Upminster, dates from 1885. Tucked away down Station Approach, it includes the stationmaster’s house. Like the schools, it seems to say: “Come on a journey. It’s fun and it’s safe.”

The engine repair works in Elvet Avenue, now flats, is a reminder that Gidea Park narrowly escaped becoming a railway town. Built in 1841, its workshops were moved to Stratford six years later.

READ MORE: A forgotten planning decision that shaped Gidea Park

Thanks to later infill, Havering has few complete Victorian streetscapes. In Romford, Victoria Road and Albert Road date from around 1860. Observe tiny differences in the fight for status: did your home have a bay window, twiddly gables or an ornate doorcase (plaster moulding around the front door)?

Romford’s Victorians weren’t keeping up with the Joneses. They were trying to catch up with the Gladstones.

Mawney Road, Olive Street and Willow Street reflect the comfortable 1890s. So too do the sensible homes of Cotleigh Road and Honiton Road off Waterloo Road.

What did the Victorians ever do for us? Search the streets of Havering and maybe you’ll find out!