Heritage: The impact of the M25 in Havering

Dartford Bridge closure could spell traffic problems for A13

The QEII bridge at the Dartford Crossing - Credit: Google Maps

Historian Andy Grant invites the reader on a journey to discover the founding of the M25, taking a look at how it has impacted Havering and its surroundings. 

In the 1960s, the Greater London Council had proposed an ambitious plan for ring roads around the capital, with the first two sections of the future M25 opening in 1975.

Further construction continued in stages until its completion in 1986. Locally, the tranquil countryside of Havering was disturbed by diggers making exploratory trenches in preparation for the building of the M25, commencing in the 1970s.

Some of the beautiful scenery to the east of Havering no longer exists, the motorway having gouged its path around the borough.

The various stages affecting Havering were the segments between the A12 (junction 28), which opened April 1983; the A127 (junction 29), which opened December 1982 (southbound) and April 1983 (northbound); the A13 (junction 30), which opened December 1982 and the A282 Dartford road crossing, which opened November 1963 (west tunnel), May 1980 (east tunnel) and October 1991 (QEII bridge).

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Although the M25 might be seen in terms of its adverse effect upon the countryside, one particular benefit cannot be overstated - the construction of the motorway allowed archaeologists to compile a wealth of new historical data from their excavations.

A site in Great Warley, known as Hobbs Hole, has long been of interest as an ancient feature formed by damming a small stream and building an embankment along the western side.

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The great landscape historian Oliver Rackham contends that this was probably a medieval fishpond, although dating such an earthwork is usually problematic.

Its name dates back to the reign of Henry VI, when it is mentioned in minister’s accounts as Hobbeshaw. The name also occurs elsewhere in the country, often being associated with a well or watering hole.

Remarkably the local area has another Hobbs Hole situated in Cranham, to the east of Pike Lane. This was evidently formed in a similar fashion and was probably another ancient fishpond.

Historical survey of Great Warley

Exploratory surveys for the construction of the M25, Hobbs Hole, 1970s - Credit: Andy Grant

Hobbs Hole, 1970s

Hobbs Hole in the 1970s. This now lies under the M25 - Credit: Andy Grant

The 2008 road widening excavations at Junction 29, just north of Hobbs Hole, revealed a settlement of the area from the Middle Bronze – early Iron Age (1500 BC – 400 BC) onwards.

The site was pockmarked with small but quite deep quarry pits, thought to have been made to extract clay for pottery.

Pottery shards were also found over the area together with burials and cremated remains. Later finds indicate the presence of a nearby middle- to high-status Roman villa, as evidenced by fragments of brick, roof tile (tegulae) and floor tile (tesserae).

Signs of settlement continued into the Anglo-Saxon period but appear to have tapered off by the seventh century.

The origins of a place name is open to interpretation, but it could be speculated that Warley derives its name from the dam at Hobbs Hole – being formed from the Anglo-Saxon words wær – meaning weir, or a place for catching and keeping fish; and lēah – a woodland clearing.

The Domesday survey variously records its name as Warleiā and Wareleiā.

Rectilinear field boundaries dating to the mid-Roman period were unearthed, accompanied by a concentration of tree throw holes, a likely indication that tree clearance had taken place here during Roman times.

Of similar etymology is a series of five fields, named Warfield, Warfield Shaw, Little Shaw, War Mead and Lower War Bitt, all of which occupy the previously dammed area to the north of Hobb’s Hole (also known as Pike Lane fishpond) in Cranham.

As part of the original 1979 archaeological excavations, Iron Age settlements dating back to 700BC were found at Belhus Park, Aveley.

The building of the M25 also resulted in proposals by the London Government Boundary Commission in 1993, whereby the existing boundaries be realigned to the route of the M25. Accordingly, from Navestock Common to the LTS railway line, the M25 formed the new boundary between Havering and Essex.

However, the divided parish of North Ockendon chose to remain within Havering and became the only part of Greater London outside of the orbital motorway.

  • More Andy Grant articles can be found on the Romford History Facebook group. 

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