Heritage: Is it Romford or Rumford? You decide

Romford Market in the late 1930s. Picture: A Century of Romford by Brian Evans

Romford Market in the late 1930s. Picture: A Century of Romford by Brian Evans - Credit: Archant

Historian Andy Grant asks a controversial question: Romford or Rumford?

If there was one subject that could generate a fierce debate and heated argument among older residents of Romford, it would be about the naming of their town.

Many would allude to the name emblazoned above the Shopping Hall in the market place to emphasise their point – was it Romford or Rumford? And why the difference?

In the case of the Shopping Hall, the reason for the name changes is quite simple, although it changed more frequently than many would realise.

Stanley Lloyd Sunnucks (1879-1953) had built a shopping hall at East Ham in 1922, forming a company named East Ham Shopping Hall Ltd. A decade later, the company followed its successful East Ham venture by building another in Romford Market Place.

When it opened it was categorically named Romford Shopping Hall, as contemporary photographs and adverts listing the stall holders clearly show.

A rather fanciful anecdote was once in circulation, which related that the blast from a wartime bomb had damaged the letter O, turning it into a U. Although very unlikely, there may be a modicum of truth in the story, as post-war photographs of the building simply bore the words Shopping Hall.

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It remained like that until shortly after Sunnucks died on January 29, 1953. Upon his son James taking control of the company, he decided to change the name to Rumford Shopping Hall.

His own sons later persuaded him to change it back again. However, that was not an end to the matter. Following an unprecedented number of complaints to the council and newspapers, it was changed back again to Rumford.

Around 1964, the hall was repainted and the same name repositioned onto the canopy fascia, remaining until the early years of the 21st century, when it once again was renamed to Romford.

The building was ultimately demolished around 2011 and has since been replaced with a new shopping hall sporting the name originally conferred upon its predecessor.

However, the argument as to whether Romford or Rumford is the "proper" name of the town still remains. Readers can choose to believe whichever version they prefer, citing one
recorded version of the name or another.

What history shows is that the town has equally been called both Rumford and Romford in various records - either is correct.

The earliest record dates from 1177 and refers to the Capellam de Romfort (Romford Chapel). Other recorded spellings are Rumford (1199), Rongeford (1285), Rounford (1289),
Rumpford (1308), Roumford (1399), Rungford (1420), Ramford (1466), Rowmford (1518), and Rompford (1535).

The name is generally considered to have derived from the Saxon word "rūm", which became "roomy" in middle English and the word "ford" - thus "wide or roomy ford". Another credible view is that it derived from the presence of a Roman ford or fort on the main London to Colchester road.

However, it is not proven that the Roman staging post of Durolitum was actually Romford.

As there were so few people who could read and write, those that recorded the name wrote it down as they heard it, accounting for a wide variation in spelling, even into Victorian times.

This was compounded by difficulty in distinguishing the sound between O and U in the old Essex dialect.

A commonly held view is often voiced that Romford took its name from a ford over the River Rom.

This is wholly incorrect, as historic records show the River Rom did not get its name until much later than Romford. It is a back-contraction derived from the name of
Romford.

Although the river was originally marked as the Bourne Brook on maps, there is a historic record dating back to 1272 referring to the Schiteburne in Romford.

I'll leave the translation to your own imagination!

Other 13th century records name the river as le Markediche, meaning "marker or boundary ditch".

So argue all you want - everyone is equally right and wrong about it!

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

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