Heritage: Mystery of the moated mound on Romford Hill

1618 map of the Royal Liberty of Havering.

Andy Grant's own interpretation of a 1618 map of the Royal Liberty of Havering. - Credit: Andy Grant

Historian Andy Grant looks into the intricate history of a Romford windmill, and the horseshoe ditch which reveals its former presence.

In the 1960s the Magistrates' Court and police station in Main Road replaced an earlier gentleman’s residence known as The Elms, once the home of William Mashiter.

Now lost under this site, there was also a feature which fascinated many over the years, consisting of a horseshoe-shaped pond with a hill around two metres at its centre.

This intriguing feature could still be seen on maps as late as 1921.

A 1618 map of the Royal Liberty of Havering shows that Pettit’s Lane did not follow its present course, but turned sharply westwards where the Victoria Cottage Hospital stands, to join Main Road in the vicinity of Coronation Gardens.

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Situated upon the resultant triangular plot, a windmill and group of houses are clearly shown on the map.

Another map of 1678 also shows a mill, but by the 18th century there are no further references to this mill.

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Post mills were often built by digging a circular ditch with the spoil forming a central mound. The mill would be placed on top, its elevated position enabling longer sails to be used.

It was not unusual that the surrounding ditch would fill with water and effectively become a moat.

It is highly likely that a mill existed in this area from at least 1450, as it appears to have been mentioned in the will of Anthony Cooke in 1478.

However, the 1618 map also shows nearby “Mill Water” – which might equally allude to the previous presence of a Water Mill.

Black’s Bridge at Raphael Park was also previously known as Watermen's Bridge in 1777.

The Cooke family held Gidea Hall until 1657, when Sir Edward Sydenham sold the whole estate to Richard Emes.

Within two years, Emes sold his three manors, but retained a parcel of freehold land fronting Main Road (then called Romford Hill), which included the mill and his residence.

In his will, he left the mill and his residence to his heirs.

By 1724, the mill on Romford Hill was succeeded by a new post mill built on the opposite side of Main Road, where Hill Court now stands.

This later became known as Collier’s Mill. Around the middle of the 18th century, the Mashiter family came to Romford and acquired substantial estates to the west, north and east of the town, including this site.

It was probably William Mashiter (the younger) who built the villa known as The Elms.

Another building called Elm Lodge - or sometimes Elm Farm - stood nearby to the east and contained the horseshoe-shaped moat.

The sale of Mashiter’s former estates influenced early 20th century development of the land flanking Main Road, although unlike the bulk of the estate, The Elms and Elm Lodge remained.

One of the first new buildings to appear on the corner plot was a small petrol station, whilst the remainder was purchased around 1928 by a wealthy scrap metal dealer, Edward James Webster.

In 1929, he sought planning permission to build a laundry on the site, but legal battles with the council ensued that were not resolved until 1937.

The Romford Sanitary Steam Laundry Co had a receiving house at 33 North Street, with the Main Road premises as its centre of operations. Webster’s daughter, Grace Victoria, became the manageress of the laundry and with her husband, remained in control of the business until her father died in 1962.

Romford Sanitary Steam Laundry Co

Advert for Romford Sanitary Steam Laundry Co, which operated from Main Road. - Credit: Andy Grant

The similarly-named Romford Laundry Co took over operation of the laundry, but ceased to trade in 1970.

The site was sold to Esso Petroleum and plans were jointly submitted with the Romford Motor Centre to build a new self-service petrol station and one of the country’s first auto diagnostic centres.

Many still remember the Steam Laundry with affection; some remember The Elms, but very few are aware of the windmill that once stood on this site.

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

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