Heritage: How Laurie Town lost its splendour and disappeared

Laurie Hall, 1934

A postcard of Laurie Hall from 1934 - Credit: Supplied from the collection of Andy Grant

Historian Andy Grant, in the second part of the story of Laurie Town, explores what happened to the development after its creator passed away.

After the death of its creator, John Laurie (1797-1864), the splendour that was once Laurie Town at the eastern end of the marketplace was lost to "improvements".

St Edward's Hall stood on the east side of Laurie Square (formerly St Edward’s Square) and had been used for vestry meetings, entertainment, a drill-hall and a school room.

Laurie Square

A 1930s postcard view of Laurie Square. - Credit: Supplied from the collection of Andy Grant

It was purchased in 1865 by Thomas Bourne, clerk to the Local Board of Health and deputy coroner.

It was last used in December 1869 and demolished shortly thereafter. Bourne had openly stated it was “a great eyesore”, probably due to its imposing height and close proximity to his residence, Gresham Lodge.

In the centre of the square was the Loam Pond, which Laurie had originally started to fill in until stopped by the council.

It was finally filled in during 1874.

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Laurie Hall stood on the opposite side of Laurie Square and had been used as the County Court until a replacement was opened at the opposite end of the marketplace on November 4, 1858.

Thereafter it was used as a lecture, entertainment and public meeting hall.

It was offered for sale in 1865. From 1869 until 1894 the Catholic Apostolic Chapel were holding services in the upper hall.

Joseph Scruby, a grocer and wine merchant, evidently bought the hall for £400 and was asked in 1875 if he would part with it for use as a Romford Club House.

His offer to sell at £2,200 was, however, declined.

By 1882 the hall was stated to be “almost unused”, although in the autumn of 1887 Scruby started advertising his “old established wine and spirit stores” at the site.

This subsequently became W.J.Veitch & Co and later the Laurie Wine Co.

Romford Town Mission had been founded by James Finley around 1886 and met at a cottage in Mawney Road. In 1895 it moved to the upper hall, where it held services until 1911.

James Blackstock set up the short-lived Laurie Auction Rooms in the building in 1903, being succeeded by the Laurie Lead and Glass Company until its liquidation in 1911.

A year later Messrs Westgate and Hammond mooted the likelihood that the hall might be demolished, requesting the council sell a strip of land to its side in order that it might be “rebuilt and enlarged” to create a more imposing building. The request was refused.

In 1913 the hall was acquired by the Sinclair Cinema Co and significant alterations were made to convert it into an “electric theatre”.

The generating plant and cinematograph equipment were installed under the supervision of consulting engineer James Barber.

The Laurie Cinema opened on Monday September 1, comfortably seating 700-800 persons.

John Laurie

A portrait of John Laurie, from the London Illustrated News 1858 - Credit: The collection of Andy Grant

In 1925 the Sinclair Cinema Company was wound up and the Laurie Cinema was purchased by Romford Cinema Ltd.

In 1939 the decision was taken to close the Laurie Cinema due to the war. On January 27, 1941, the Laurie Cinema was re-opened after it was purchased by Laurie Cinema Ltd. After some refurbishment and improvements in 1944, its name was changed to the Vogue Cinema, which finally closed its doors in April 1954.

The building was compulsorily purchased in September 1954 with a view to converting it to a public hall.

By 1969 the hall had become somewhat dilapidated and with plans for a new ring road, the building was demolished in January 1970.

Gresham Lodge was purchased by the council in February 1931 and demolished to build the Town Hall.

The eastern block of villas flanking Laurie Square was demolished to make way for the library in 1965.

The western block was bulldozed to accommodate a new roundabout and St Edward's Way as part of the ring road scheme around 1970. No trace of Laurie Town now remains, but the council did deign to name the otherwise unconnected Laurie Walk after John Laurie.

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

READ MORE: How a London merchant secured his Romford legacy for over a century