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The Romford banker forced to flee country over cash scandal - nearly 200 years ago!

PUBLISHED: 09:00 14 July 2012

Rowland Stephenson: a dodgy banker from the 1800s

Rowland Stephenson: a dodgy banker from the 1800s

Archant

There is nothing new in financial scandals,

A Romford banker fled the country in 1828, leaving a trail of misery behind him.

Rowland Stephenson entered the family bank, Remingtons, when he left school – Eton of course – and lived a lavish lifestyle.

Around 1816, he bought Marshalls, a small country house off North Street Romford.

He spent huge sums furnishing the house - £20,000 on art work alone.

Although there was no railway to London, Stephenson managed to commute – and was often seen on horseback riding through Romford at 8 a.m.

Marshalls became famous for its glittering weekend parties, which were long remembered in Romford.

But Stephenson always rounded up his guests and made them attend St Edwards’s Church in the Market Place on Sundays.

It was important to keep up appearances!

He was also disliked for blocking a public footpath across his 130-acre estate, making clear he would use his bottomless purse to fight any legal challenge.

The local gentry treated this brash incomer with some reserve, but one regular guest at his parties was the Reverend Charles Belli, the super-rich Vicar of South Weald.

Reverend Belli’s brother-in-law, the Bishop of London, gave him several fat Church appointments, for which Belli was paid well but did no work.

One Sunday, Stephenson invited Theodore Hook, the leading satirist of the day. Hook had a knack for comic verse, but on meeting Belli he rhymed a warning – “we may chance to be undone” because the Vicar “may report to the Bishop of London”.

Belli thought this awful rhyme was so funny that he told the story to everybody he met – for the next sixty years.

To impress the locals, Stephenson bought many houses in and around Romford. He owned property in Dagenham and South Weald, plus a small country house called Hare Lodge at Ardleigh Green.

Now completely vanished, it stood in Ashlyn Grove.

This impressive property portfolio persuaded some locals to entrust their cash to Stephenson.

An Upminster landowner invested £8,000 and a retired local miller deposited £4,000 with Remingtons. Hearing rumours of trouble, he withdrew £1,100 just before the crash.

The problem – there’s nothing new in the world – was a rogue trader, a Remingtons employee who lent too much cash without security.

Remingtons Bank closed its doors in December 1828 and Stephenson fled the country. He hid on a fishing boat out of Bristol which transferred him to ship sailing to America.

There, of course, he lived in comfortable exile (as “Mr Smith”) until his death in 1856. Family members made sure he had plenty of cash – and it was rumoured that he had taken £200,000 with him.

Romford shopkeepers had been happy to extend credit to such a wealthy customer, even though Stephenson was slow in settling his bills.

The “fugitive banker”, as he was nicknamed, left many local businesses with big debts.

Stephenson was declared bankrupt, expelled from parliament (where he had never made a speech) and his properties sold.

A century later, the site of Marshalls became Romford Technical School, later Marshalls Park Upper School. This was replaced by housing in 2000.

Havering survived Rowland Stephenson, and it will survive the ruthless and incompetent bankers of today!

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