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Heritage: A bus ride into Romford's past

PUBLISHED: 15:00 05 October 2019

The Golden Lion survived despite the overhanging upper storey being a traffic hazard. Picture: John Hercock

The Golden Lion survived despite the overhanging upper storey being a traffic hazard. Picture: John Hercock

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Prof Ged Martin takes us back half a century, to ride an 86 bus into Romford

One day in 1964, a local resident caught a bus into Romford. Maybe not a major historical event, but let's follow the journey.

A local magazine published the odyssey by author B.E. Speed. I assume this was Mr Speed - but I may be wrong!

Twenty years earlier, he'd written a schoolboy essay about the future of wartime Romford. With its weekly cattle market - closed in 1958 - it had still felt like a country town. Older people called it "Rumford". That essay had featured an imaginary bus journey. Now he wanted to check what had really happened.

Mr Speed boarded the 86 bus at Hainault Road - not the thoroughfare that crosses the A12, but a side street off the A118 London Road just over the Dagenham boundary. We'll join him on the top deck.

You can still see the spire of St Edward's church ahead, although perhaps few people now think of it as "pointing to heaven".

Away to the left "the little houses of north Romford" basked in sunshine that lit up Havering-atte-Bower's white-painted water tower.

Some farmland had become school playing fields, although St Edward's hadn't yet moved out here from its location near Romford Market. Mr Speed spotted Crown Cottages, with their "VR" tribute to Queen Victoria. They're still there.

But a dilapidated farm on the right had been replaced by housing. Another casualty was a bungalow near the Greyhound Stadium. Its owner had sold plaster ornaments, and Mr Speed mourned its pretty fishpond surrounded by garden gnomes.

In those days, fresh milk was delivered to your doorstep before breakfast. There was a dairy next to Crowlands primary school - the name was new since Mr Speed's days as a pupil. He spotted the outbuildings where the milkmen had stabled their horses, but by the 1960s the firm used humming electric delivery vans. The site's all housing now, and we buy our milk in supermarkets.

There were few cars in the 1930s, and private motoring was restricted by petrol shortages in wartime. Now everybody wanted wheels. London Road was lined with garages and ugly used-car lots.

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But the "inadequate and dreary" housing around Waterloo Road had been replaced by a "well laid-out" estate, including two blocks of "skyscraper flats". "We certainly would not have imagined these twenty years ago."

A twisted bottleneck entering Romford High Street had been widened, "and a pleasant new curve of shops substituted." They're still there, opposite the Salvation Army.

High Street's coaching inn, the White Hart, had just been smartened up, with the addition of a burger bar.

Across the road, the overhanging upper storey of the Golden Lion was a traffic hazard. "Will it be pulled down in the name of progress, or saved to add a little of Romford's past for our children to see?"

The Golden Lion had been threatened with demolition in 1959, but it survived. The White Hart, renamed the Bitter End, closed in 2012.

Mr Speed left the bus at the traffic lights to look around. The town centre was dominated by the brewery. It would be replaced by a shopping mall in 2001.

South Street's railway bridge was dingy. "Romford still needs several new restaurants." (In fact, the first Chinese and Indian restaurants arrived soon after.)

Built around 1850 by developer John Laurie as part of a planned garden suburb, Laurie Hall, at the east end of the Market, was now a dance hall. Romford's new ring road was planned to run alongside.

Mr Speed hoped that banning traffic from the town centre might make a reality of John Laurie's vision of Romford as a garden city.

Alas, Laurie Hall was demolished to create Ludwigshafen Place. Downtown Romford became a concrete jungle.

The town had changed over twenty years. It would develop even more in the half century that followed.

But you can still catch the 86 bus at Hainault Road.

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