Heritage: How a Hornchurch mill relates to boar heads, boxing and WW2
- Credit: Postcard submitted by Andy Grant
Historian Andy Grant takes a deeper look at The Millfield, and how it relates to wrestling boar, boxing and the rescue of Jewish children from Nazi Germany.
A wide hollow with steeply wooded sides, south of St Andrew's Church, is known locally as the Dell.
It had been a gravel quarry in former times and its grassy banks once formed a perfect amphitheatre, where thousands of spectators gathered.
The site is also well known to geologists, being the most southerly extent of the glacier that covered most of Britain during the Ice Age.
As early as 1250, documents record the existence of a windmill and the Mellesfeld (Millfield), “abutting on the Church way” at Hornchurch.
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The Millfield was the venue for local fayres and an ancient custom of wrestling for a boar’s head traditionally took place there on Christmas Day.
The boar’s head was dressed and garnished with bay leaves and cooked at Hornchurch Hall. Competition for the prize was considerable, predominantly contested between the men of Hornchurch and Romford.
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Owing to rowdiness, residents petitioned for its discontinuance in 1868 and it was cancelled thereafter.
During the 18th century, the Millfield was also a very well known venue for cock fighting. Perhaps the most celebrated event to have taken place at the Dell occurred on April 15, 1795, when Daniel Mendoza fought "Gentleman" John Jackson for the English boxing championship.
Three thousand people, including royalty, turned up to witness the fight between the two opponents for a stake of 200 guineas a side.
Mendoza was an English, bare-knuckle, prize fighter of Jewish Iberian descent. He became champion of England from 1792 until 1795, having previously defeated around 32 opponents.
By contrast, it was only Jackson’s third professional fight, although he was five years younger than Mendoza, with a 10cm height and 19kg weight advantage.
After nine punishing rounds, Mendoza was beaten into submission. He retired after his loss and although he tried to make comebacks, never regained his previous popularity.
He died penniless on September 3, 1836, aged 72.
In 1494 a windmill on this site was leased by New College, Oxford, to William Fryth and by 1564 it was recorded that the mill was rebuilt by its lessee, William Leggatt.
As the mill does not feature on the 1618 map of the Royal Liberty of Havering, it is presumed the mill was not rebuilt until the 1660s.
From the 1850s it was known as Mitchell’s Mill and latterly it became Howard’s Mill, when Thomas and George Howard took over as joint lessees in 1897.
However, by 1912 the sails and structure of the windmill had become unsafe and the business was consequently wound up.
Unfortunately, in 1921, a hedge fire got out of control and spread to the derelict windmill, causing its complete destruction. Although unable to save the windmill, the providential arrival of the fire brigade managed to save the thatched roof of the adjacent mill cottage from significant damage.
The Grade II listed mill cottage still remains today, hidden from sight in the densely wooded area at the rear of the Dell in a manner reminiscent of a fairy-tale cottage.
It is a timber-framed building dating back to the 17th century with 19th century alterations.
Sadly neglected today, the building has deteriorated somewhat. One of the more interesting occupants of mill cottage was Bill Barazetti who, assisted by his wife Anna, helped thousands of persecuted victims get out of Germany before the outbreak of war.
With parallels to the film Schindler’s List, he produced false identity papers for Jewish children from Prague and organised trains to evacuate them to Holland and then on to London.
He continued to render aid to refugees and also acted as an MI19 agent during the war.
His role in the kindertransport only came to light in 1989. In 1910 a fund was set up to purchase the Millfield for public recreation, although an electrical substation, built in the Dell during the late 1970s, now sadly monopolises much of the site.
- More Andy Grant articles can be found on the Romford History Facebook group.