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Heritage: Havering-atte-Bower was the love of Harold Smith's life

PUBLISHED: 15:00 14 September 2019

When St Johns church was rebuilt in 1876-77, the wealthiest residents contributed over £5,000. Just £18, 15 shillings and twopence (£18.76) came from the villagers! Picture: Ken Mears

When St Johns church was rebuilt in 1876-77, the wealthiest residents contributed over £5,000. Just £18, 15 shillings and twopence (£18.76) came from the villagers! Picture: Ken Mears

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Prof Ged Martin recounts the story of 'a Doctor of Divinity who lived in our vicinity'

When the Reverend Doctor Harold Smith died at his Havering-atte-Bower family home in 1936, one obituary said he was "passionately fond" of the village.

He'd spent his childhood there, and returned in retirement.

His father, Benjamin Smith, was one of Havering's churchwardens from 1873 until his death, a few weeks after his son - an impressive 63 years.

Even when he worked elsewhere, Harold Smith was never far from home.

Born at Havering in 1867, his father was a wealthy merchant. His mother's maiden name was Barnes, probably related to the family who lived at the Round House, Havering's quirky mansion designed like a tea-caddy.

Havering-atte-Bower was packed with mansions, built by rich families to enjoy the district's wide views. When St John's Anglican church was rebuilt in 1876-77, the wealthiest residents contributed over £5,000. Just £18, 15 shillings and twopence (£18.76) came from the villagers!

Havering needed a new, larger and better designed church. In Victorian times, the parish's privileged residents had erected comfortable but inconvenient high-backed pews. Young Harold had to stand on his seat to watch the service.

Poorer residents were herded on to hard benches in a gallery.

"I well remember watching the progress of the new church," he recalled. Builders took over the village green to cut stone blocks dragged uphill from Romford.

During construction work, services were held in a rat-infested barn

Young Harold first knew Romford's South Street when it was still basically a country lane. An ancient milestone showed the distance to Upminster. It was removed when shops were built.

He also remembered the windmill on Harold Wood's Shepherds Hill, demolished around 1880. The junction near today's Bower Park Academy was called the Four Want Ways, an Essex dialect term for a crossroads - "want" was connected with the archaic verb "to wend".

Harold was told the name meant that you wanted to know which way to go!

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Smith honoured his first teacher, the Reverend James Goodday. Lacking influential Church connections, Goodday worked as the chaplain at Romford Workhouse, later Oldchurch Hospital. He lived at Tysea Hill, north of Havering, and taught pupils for extra income. Goodday retired to Harold Wood shortly before his death in 1889.

Harold Smith went on to King's College School in London. In 1886, he entered St John's College, Cambridge.

In a brilliant academic career, he achieved First Class Honours in both classics and theology, specialising in New Testament studies.

He became a Scholar of St John's College, and won three Cambridge University postgraduate awards.

But he switched to a career in the Church, including nine years as curate at an unfortunately named village called Grimley, near Worcester.

In 1906, he joined another St John's, a training college for Anglican clergy in north London - conveniently close to Havering.

There he produced six volumes analysing theological interpretations of the Gospels written before 325 A.D. - useful material for intending clergy. London University rewarded him with a doctoral degree.

In the words of Gilbert and Sullivan, Harold Smith was now a Doctor of Divinity who resided in our vicinity!

He turned next to Essex history.

In 1925, he published his History of the Parish of Havering-atte-Bower Essex. It's still reliable and readable almost a century later.

Shortly before his death, the Lordship of the Manor of Havering came up for auction. Once the powerful tool of England's Kings and Queens, it was now mostly an empty title.

Harold Smith bought the rights, and transferred them to Romford Council.

That's how Romford Council's successor, the Borough of Havering, is also Lord of the Manor, and owner of Havering's village green.

One April morning in 1936, Harold Smith's sister took him a cup of tea, and found him dead in bed. He was buried in St John's churchyard.

Havering-atte-Bower was the love of Harold Smith's life. He never married.

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