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Hornchurch the star in 1950s YouTube film

PUBLISHED: 15:00 24 March 2018

The film opens with scenery shots from St Andrew's Church. Picture: John Hercock

The film opens with scenery shots from St Andrew's Church. Picture: John Hercock

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Historian Prof Ged Martin unearths a 1952 documentary by the Ardleigh House Film Group

It’s not the snappiest 23 minutes you’ll ever watch, but an internet search for “Hornchurch good name endureth film youtube” will take you back to Havering sixty years ago.

The documentary was made in 1952 by the Cine Group of Ardleigh House, an adult education centre that grew into Havering College.

The original Ardleigh House was demolished to make way for the modern campus, but an active community association keeps the name alive.

The film was made for Hornchurch Urban District Council.

Hornchurch UDC extended from the Thames to the A12 Colchester Road.

In 1965, it merged with Romford to form the Borough of Havering.

Hollywood quality it is not. You get the impression that it’s always about to rain in George VI’s England.

It shows a different era. At Cranham a farm worker cuts hay with a scythe.

Corbets Tey is “a queer island of real old Essex”. In 1952 it still had a working smithy.

A man goes for a stroll on Rainham marches – wearing a jacket, a tie and a hat. The women are all in flowing skirts: only bad girls wore slacks in 1952.

You’ll laugh when the fruity-voiced commentator praises Hornchurch’s modern transport. Vans and buses seem to have escaped from museums. All the cars are black. Steam trains run to Liverpool Street.

The film opens with splendid views that few people ever see – from the tower of St Andrew’s Church.

But it’s hard to make out landmarks. There was no high-rise building in 1952.

There are glimpses too of Hornchurch’s ancient mansions. The footage of Nelmes in Emerson Park is poignant.

Fifteen years later, on a stormy night in 1967, its owner demolished the building, claiming it had become structurally dangerous. It was a controversial move, but quaint old Nelmes was no more.

The council headquarters was Langtons, the Billet Lane mansion that is now Havering’s register office.

Pompous councillors engage in silent but melodramatic debate.

We follow a candidate called Smith as he contests the local elections.

We’re not told Mr Smith’s political affiliation. Maybe he represented the Popular Front for the Liberation of Emerson Park.

The film defends Hornchurch Council, rebutting complaints about the cost of the rates (the forerunner of the Council Tax).

So we’re shown council services – dustcarts, the bowling green in Haynes Park (“a billiard table carpet of beautiful turf”), soccer at Harrow Lodge, cricket in Upminster.

Council planners work imaginatively to design the new Dovers Farm estate off Cherry Tree Lane.

We see their blueprint, featuring the curved outline of New Zealand Way. Mixed styles are used for the houses in Christchurch Avenue.

But along Hacton Lane, still a country byway, the housing crisis has led to a dreary uniformity of prefabricated homes.

Still, children at the new Hacton primary school are developing skills in a pleasant, open environment.

At an unidentified secondary school, boys are busy in their metalwork shop.

There’s no school playing field, but youngsters with cricket bats line up in the playground to practise forward defensive shots. England will win back the Ashes yet!

Lacrinoids, the Ardleigh Green plastics factory, represents Hornchurch’s light industrial base.

It’s almost laughable. Automation is a long way off. Women workers pick dud buttons off a conveyor belt.

No wonder they all scoot out of the factory gates on their bicycles when the shift ends.

We see Bretons in Elm Park, but the film crew never made it to Harold Wood.

It all seems another universe.

But hang on – there’s a fuzzy shot of three small boys chatting at the kerbside in Ardleigh Green Road, the chimney pots of Stafford Avenue in the background.

I lived just around the corner in 1952. Was I one of those bare-legged urchins? The one in the school cap, maybe?

Congratulations to Havering Library Service for mounting this vintage movie on YouTube.


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