PUBLISHED: 11:32 18 November 2014 | UPDATED: 11:32 18 November 2014
Our high streets may well have changed over the years, along with our shopping habits, but one true survivor seems to be the market, offering customers fresh seasonal produce, clothing, bargains and banter. Nowhere is this more the case than Romford, explains Petra Hornsby
Romford is a lively town with specific features past and present that give it its own unique character, such as the popular greyhound racing stadium and the Romford Brewery, which is a busy shopping and leisure centre now. Situated in the suburbs of North East London in the London Borough of Havering, the area has an East End feel and boasts plenty of parks and lovely countryside nearby.
In fact, according to the Discover Havering Guide 2014/2015, the borough of Havering is recognised as being the second greenest borough in London,
with 108 parks and open spaces. One such park is Romford’s Raphael Park, which has recently benefited from a £1.87million makeover thanks to Lottery Heritage Funding and visitors can now enjoy a café and restaurant as well as newly-laid footpaths and planted areas.
Councillor Robert Benham, cabinet member for environment, describes the spirit of Romford: ‘Romford is fascinating. We have buildings that are centuries old alongside modern retail facilities. For example, the historic Romford Market and St Edwards Church sit beside busy retail stores which give it real character – one that we love and appreciate.’
The town has also provided characters of another sense with plenty of sports stars and celebrities hailing from the area. Footballers Jonjo Shelvey, Joe Cole and Frank Lampard originate from Romford, while author and journalist Tony Parsons and pop diva Jessie J also come from the town.
Romford is also something of a shopper’s paradise with four major shopping centres — The Liberty, The Mercury Mall, Romford Shopping Hall and The Brewery — featuring major high street brands, but when the spending gets a bit too much, there are plenty of restaurants, cafes and pubs to rest feet and refuel.
In the Middle Ages, Romford had a thriving corn industry with mills linked to local agriculture and from the 15th to the 19th centuries, leather and cloth making, weaving, charcoal burning and, of course, brewing were also major factors in the town’s economic success. Without doubt, the area’s prosperity was boosted by the existence of the Middlesex and Essex Turnpike Trust which maintained the main road from London to Romford.
This meant that Romford became a coaching town in the 18th century and many pubs or inns established then still exist today.
In 1892, Romford was connected to Tilbury Docks by rail and its situation close to the Star Brewery helped establish more business and brought valuable employment to the town. At its peak in the 1970s, the brewery employed around 1,000 workers. Sadly, it closed in 1993 but the building still remains a feature of the town today.
Housing artefacts and displays from Romford’s past, The Havering Museum is situated on part of the site of the brewery and is a great place to visit to find out about the varied history of the whole borough. The museum organises learning sessions for local schools as well as running a programme of events and workshops to suit all ages, includingcard making sessions and reminiscence sessions where this year they have been looking in depth at aspects of World War I.
A very important part of Romford’s history is its market which was originally a sheep market. The Royal Charter was given by King Henry III in 1247. Markets were a very important part of rural life, with farmers and craftsmen bringing their wares to sell, quite often on a Sunday after worship. The Royal Charter would often define the frequency of when a market could be held, but it would also only grant market rights to a town based on the travelling time from an existing market. If it took more than a day to travel to and from an existing market (sheep weren’t always the speediest animals) then permission would be given for a new market. In essence, these laws still exist today and new markets are only given permission on the authority of a town council after receipt of the Royal Licence.
Romford’s market today is one of the largest street markets in the South East with more than 150 regular stalls selling meat and fish, vegetables, fruit, clothes and household items. Perhaps one reason that markets remain popular today is that people enjoy that personal exchange often lacking in large supermarkets. Romford Market prides itself on giving a warm welcome to all visitors, regulars or not, and shoppers can get expert advice on what they are buying and how to cook it. Prices are competitive too, something that can’t be overlooked these days.
December is an important month in the market’s calendar and, anticipating the usual increase in footfall, it will be open for two Sundays, December 14 and 21, and every day from Friday 19 to Christmas Eve. In addition, there will be a special Vintage Christmas Market on December 14 outside St Edwards Church.
Traditionally, Romford Market likes to get into the true festive spirit and, during the run up to Christmas, there will be a range of events for the family — particularly the little ones — to enjoy including puppet shows, an All Girls Marching Band and live reindeer.
There will of course be plenty of seasonal produce and gifts to buy as well as festive decorations and delicious hot food to try.
This historical and enterprising part of Essex is friendly and lively. It has, since its early market days, naturally undergone many changes, but certain features happily remain (albeit some in name only) which continue to serve the region as well as attracting visitors and investment.
Councillor Benham concludes: ‘It’s always bustling and has a diverse demographic. And the future of Romford is very bright. With Crossrail coming, the dynamics of the town will change further, with a lot more businesses expected to arrive.’
Market events in December:
December 20 Costumed Reindeer & Santa Bear, 11am to 4pm
December 3 Letters to Father Christmas. On market days only, children can post their letters to Father Christmas in his magical post box located at the Clock Tower end of the market.
December 22 Meet Rudolph & Comet, 11am to 3pm
December 13 Hornchurch Drum & Trumpet Corps, 11am
December 20 Hornchurch Drum & Trumpet Corps, 1pm
December 14 A Vintage Market will offer art, design, music, fashion and food)