Wednesday, May 22nd 2013
Today’s expedition started aboard the Highspeed 1 (HS1) train that took us north-east to the old market town of Romford, once in the county of Essex but now part of the London Borough of Havering. This map shows its location in relation to London and if you click on it, this will take you to an interactive Google map of the area.
The origins of Romford are lost to us but its very name suggests why it came into being. I refer of course to the second syllable –ford.
Even though the name appears as Romfort in earlier documents, there is no doubt that ford or fort means what you think it does: Romford is one of those towns that grew from a settlement beside a ford across a river.
What about the Rom part of the name, though? Quite often, when there is ford in a town’s name, the preceding syllables refer to the name of the river. Is that the case here? We can only answer both yes and no! The name comes from Anglo-Saxon rum, meaning ‘broad’, and ford, meaning, well, yes, a ‘ford’. So the name means “Broad ford”. However, people thought that Rom ought to be the name of the river and so the river came to be called the Rom. At least, it is called the Rom where it passes through the town. Further south it reverts to its original name, the Beam, and under that name eventually runs into the Thames.
I have never previously been to Romford, at least, not as far as I know. I therefore had no preconceptions about the place and am being honest when I say that it failed to impress me. More than that, I found it depressing. Maybe the dull weather had something to do with this. (The lighting of the photos gives you a clue to conditions.) Maybe on another occasion I would have liked the town but not today.
My mood improved a little when I spotted this old inn, the Golden Lion in the High Street. The building is a bit of a mish-mash but in a case such as this, that lends interest rather than detracting from it. This site reckons that records of an inn on this site go back to the 15th century and they could well be right. According to English Heritage, the structure as it appears today began in the 17th century and bears additions and alterations applied at certain times since then. It also has a coach entrance (on the left) showing its use as a coaching inn. I believe that there is also some fine period structure left in the interior but we did not go in to see this.
As noted above, Romfort is an old market town, and this was one of our reasons for visiting it. The market started as a sheep market and its charter, granted by Henry III, was given in 1247. It operates on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and is claimed to be one of the largest street markets in the South East with up to an estimated 270 stalls.
It was certainly a lively scene and there was a wide range of goods on sale. The whole area was busy and it is my experience that when a market is in full swing, the nearby shops also benefit from an upsurge in custom.
The spire you can see in the first photo of the market above belongs to the Church of St Edward the Confessor. The church’s Web site claims that the first church on this site was built in 1410 and I have no reason to doubt them. The present church, however, is somewhat younger. Designed by John Johnson it was consecrated in 1850 and has a rather unusual gateway whose pointed arch of course fits the Gothic Revival style of the church as a whole.
This photo gives a better idea of how the arch fits in with the wall and the rest of the church. The fabric of the church is local ragstone, with Bath stone ornaments, and it is apparently suffering from the ravages of time.
Edward the Confessor, of course, was so called because he was the King of England who preferred to spend his time praying instead of attending to affairs of state. His laxity and confused dealings led directly to the Norman invasion and the depredations of that gangster, William of Normandy. His sainthood is therefore one of those rewards for incompetence that are still too common in business, government and the civil service in our own day.
We didn’t go into the church but had a look around the churchyard. It is no longer used for burials but is tidy and remains intact, unlike many inner city graveyards that have been turned into gardens. (Not that I object to this; quite the contrary.) The high point for me was having a kind of interaction with a pigeon and being able to photograph him, or possibly her, close up. (You know I like pigeons.)
Behind the church is a short street with the quaint, if sinister, name Ducking Stool Court. Today it is dominated by a multi-storey car park and I cannot say what purpose it served in medieval times. Was there ever a ducking-stool here? I don’t know. However, I did read that the leet court ordered the establishment of instruments of punishment in three places within the town, comprising stocks, ducking stool and cage. It is therefore possible that a ducking stool existed somewhere near here. The absence of a pond or river need not give us pause because, though it is popularly thought that punishment by ducking-stool implies dunking the victim in a pond or river, this isn’t necessarily the case. Known also as the scolding-stool, the cucking-stool and the stool of repentance, this device was a chair into which the victim was tied and then exposed to the crowd for purposes of humiliation. The stool might also be designed to be dragged around the streets. The victim was normally a woman (if you haven’t already guessed), as the ducking-stool was commonly used as a punishment for those accused of being scolds and backbiters.
We thought we would go and visit the museum. This is called Havering Museum. Why “Havering Museum” and not “Romford Museum”? Well, because the local governing body is the Borough Council of Havering, not to be confused with the village of Havering-atte-Bower, though I suppose there must be a connection somewhere.
The museum was closed when we arrived but, so we were told, would open shortly. We took the opportunity to go across the road to the Divan Cafe and have lunch. The service was friendly, the food good and the prices reasonable. What more could you reasonably ask for?
Having finished lunch, we found the museum open and went in. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited. (When are public museums and galleries going to desist from this silliness?) As I cannot show you any pictures it seems pointless to say anything about it.
We left Romford by bus and after a roundabout journey arrived at London City Airport. This airport is less well known than, say, Heathrow or Gatwick and, to tell the truth, I don’t know much about it myself. It seems that most of its flights serve the UK and European destinations, though there are also flights to New York (JFK).
We went first to the Costa coffee bar in the airport and dawdled there for a while. We didn’t have any plans and waited for something to suggest itself.
What suggested itself was to go and watch the planes landing and taking off. It was a simple enough idea but not so simple to carry through. There seemed not to be a viewing platform, at least, not one accessible by the public. We went outside and searched around until we found a viewpoint, not a very good one, but a viewpoint nonetheless, out of the way of people. We started taking photos. Then, guess what happened. Yep, two robots in security jackets came and told us to stop. Photography is not allowed within the precincts of London City Airport.
My feeling of déjà vu did not reduce my even stronger feeling of annoyance. We were alone in a corner, away from the passage of people and not causing the least obstruction, two amateurs engaging in a harmless hobby. There was no point in refusing to co-operate, however, as this would have merely resulted in our being escorted from the premises. Nor did it seem worth asking the obvious question: “Why can we not take photos?” In my experience the robots don’t know why not. They are told “No photos” and thereafter they simply follow the script. Asking questions merely irritates them because it exposes their ignorance. You meet the same mentality in shopping centres and other places that, though they may appear to be public, are in fact privately owned, meaning that the owner can impose and enforce his own rules with his own private police force and eject you if you do not comply.
This is a matter that, in my opinion, is not receiving the attention and concern that it merits because, increasingly, swathes of our land in cities are being incorporated into private fiefdoms where the public are admitted but have to conform to idiosyncratic rules that are nowhere displayed and are discovered only when you breach them.
We caught a bus and travelled away from there. I took a photo through the bus window of this figure in Connaught Road that seemed to be expressing the same exasperation that I felt, lifting its arms to call heaven as witness to the stupidity of officialdom. It is not so, however, for this 12-metre high sculpture, by Nasser Azam, is supposedly the Greek goddess Athena. Not that you would ever guess from looking at it. At best it looks like a chubby-thighed woman with a bikini bottom and no top. Why do councils and corporations persist in wasting money encouraging this kind of vapid and lazy “art”? And when will artists learn that just because a thing can be done is not by itself sufficient reason for doing it?
We changed buses at Stratford where my mood was lightened by seeing this pretty locomotive, looking like something out of a grownup’s edition of Thomas the Tank Engine. It’s not every day that you meet a locomotive called Robert. This one is a 0-6-0 saddletank locomotive (I hope that means more to you than it does to me) built in 1933. You will find more details here.
Travelling on from Stratford, we changed buses once more at Bow Church and this final bus carried us back to the Angel. If the day had produced some frustrations, it had at least acquainted us with the town at the Broad Ford on the spuriously named River Rom, though whether we shall ever return there is not at all probable.
(For information on Bow Church, see here.)