Heritage: The Romford gold rush of 1904

Cakebreads' West End Stores, Romford

A cache of gold and silver coins was unearthed during building work at the West End Stores in Romford in 1904. - Credit: Andy Grant

Frank and Leonard Cakebread were the proprietors of the West End Stores in the High Street, a successful bakery and confectioner’s shop with a prominent position diagonally across the corner of High Street and Waterloo Road, Romford.

Having occupied the centuries-old building for around a dozen years, a decision was made to modernise the premises. This entailed raising the floor and frontage to bring it up to the level of the footpath.

Local builders, Messrs. Partridge Brothers, were commissioned to undertake the necessary works.

During the first week of September 1904, the workmen had commenced work on the bakery and having removed the shop frontage and wooden floorboards, they set about digging out the ground below, depositing the spoil in a large heap outside. A group of young boys had noticed black disks in the pile of spoil and promptly set about extracting them.

Upon finding they were coins, a small crowd gathered, rapidly turning into a much larger one that blocked the junction. Rumour quickly circulated the town and it was not long before the press turned up, keen to hear to the reports of those proclaiming a cache of gold and silver coins had been found.

Steadily the numbers grew of those who still hoped to find a fortune, invading the premises in their quest to unearth more coins.

The police patrols that regularly passed were seemingly uninterested in the commotion, although unsurprisingly many of those who found coins disappeared as quickly as they had appeared!

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In reality, estimates of between a few pounds to two hundred pounds were made as to the actual amount recovered.

Although it was purported that a few coins of George II had been found, this could not later be verified. The earliest verifiable coin dated to 1774.

Most of the coins found were out-of-date Victorian bronze coins, with a few silver and gold coins. Some coins were recent and a number of sundry tokens were also unearthed.

It is thought that dropped coins fell through large gaps between the floorboards and accumulated beneath over a period of 200 years. It was an ironic twist of fate that neither the store owners, nor the builders, profited from the find.