Romford has long had importance as a market town with a charter granted by Henry Ill in 1247. In the eighteenth century it was a stage post for coaches. The surrounding area has been largely agricultural with a few grand houses, but the arrival of the railway in 1839 led to the rapid development of the town as a commuter suburb. Romford became the administrative centre for Romford Urban District when it was created in 1937. During the early twentieth century a number of parks were created. This gives us an opportunity to look at the development of public parks in a specific area. I have done this as a couple of routes from Romford Station to Gidea Park Station.
The first open space I encountered was Oldchurch Park, next to the new Queen's Hospital,which was built in 2006 on part of the land. The area was the site of the original parish church of 1177. In 1410 a new church was built on the site, which itself was replaced in 1850 by the current parish church, St Edward the Confessor, located in Market Place. The remaining land eventually became gravel pits that were worked out and then used for landfill. It was purchased by the Council in 1951 and once it had settled, part of the area was made into a park in 1959. The park was mainly used for sports with pitches, tennis courts and a pavilion constructed between 1963 and 1965. The new and smaller park consists of a number of raised mounds and a wandering path; there are a few trees especially in the southern part. At the entrances are large round spaces surrounded by concrete benches. There is another concrete circle near the hospital, which is the heliport. The sports fields covered by the hospital have been replaced by equivalent facilities within the London Borough of Havering and the lost open space will be replaced in the new development on the Oldchurch hospital site to the north of the new hospital. Next door to the park is Romford Cemetery, opened in 1871, when the parish burial ground was closed. There are good gates and twin chapels in the Gothic style and a variety of designs of grave. In many cases statues and crosses have been laid down for safety reasons; it is a pity that this has to happen, but it does at least preserve the sculpture. It is also good to see that more flamboyant modern gravestones are permitted. Continuing along Crow Lane we pass the Recreation Ground, home to the local rugby club, and beyond that a golf course.
The next park is Jutsums Park, opened in 1932. It is mainly grass with a border of trees. There are a couple of carved posts which can act as goal posts. To the east end of the park is a children's play area and a separate group of rocking toys for the very young. There are also some seats among the shrubs. In 2002 the park was the subject of an environmental project to improve the habitat for wildlife, commemorated by some wooden arches, one of which has a list of participating organisations. It appears that there were two mosaics on the ground but the details have been lost.
As I approached London Road, I saw a green field ahead of me. It turned out to be a field of cabbages, part of Crown Farm, showing how rural the area still is. I entered Cottons Park - opened in 1927 - at the sports field end. There are football and rugby pitches and a large wheeled sports area with several curved ramps. The park then opens out on to London Road. There are plenty of shrubs along the road and two new planters made from railway sleepers. The original oval bed at the main entrance is now a bee and butterfly garden. There are play facilities for children and outdoor gym equipment for older people.
Park Lane Recreation Ground was created in the 1950s. It is an area of open grass space with a few trees and some trim-gym equipment. It was designated a Queen Elizabeth Playing Field in 2012. Nearby is Hylands Park, which was opened as a trotting track and races were held from 1925. In 1927 it was purchased by Hornchurch UDC and converted into a park. Good avenues of trees survive from the time when it was a private estate. The racetrack remains as a wide oval path. There is a rose garden, but the park is mainly used for sports activities. The fine gateposts are from Grey Towers, a nineteenth-century mansion.
Haynes Park is another park mainly given over to sport; it was also originally in Hornchurch. The area was used for food production during the Second World War and was made into a park in 1947, laid out with a mini-golf course, a bowling green, football pitches and tennis courts. Play equipment came in the fifties. The entrance road has a planting of shrubs including rhododendrons. In 1963 more land was added to the park. There is no entrance at the north end of the park, so go into Northumberland Avenue and make for Gidea Park Station.
To visit Coronation Gardens, the first park on the second walk, we can walk through Market Place where the parish church of 1850, by John Johnson, stands. To get under the inner ring road, we pass through a mini park, Ludwigshafen Place, which commemorates the twinning of this town on the Rhine with Romford. This is a mini-park. Romford has a good number of the Havering in Bloom planters, and has good planting on the roundabouts on the ring road. We will pass some on this walk, and will also have seen some on the first walk. They do add colour to the street scene.
The land on which Coronation Gardens were laid out was purchased in 1844 as the site for a new parish church; but, as we have just seen, the new church was built on an alternative site in Market Place. The land was therefore used as a burial ground for the parish and a small chapel was built. The graveyard became full by 1871 and a new cemetery was created. In 1953 the land was cleared and laid out as a park to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth 11. The base of the chapel became a raised bed. In 1970 the war memorial was moved to the Gardens to make way for the ring road. The civilian dead of Romford were added to the memorial in 1996 for Armistice Day. The park has since gained a Holocaust memorial, a Burma Star Association memorial and a Korean War memorial. Some old graves remain at the back of the park behind a row of fine cypress trees.
The next two parks are separated by Black's Bridge, designed by James Wyatt. Lodge Farm Park on the south side was purchased in 1927 and was used for food production during the war. It then became a refuse dump and finally between 1961 and 1963 was made into a park. It is an undulating site with many fine trees. There is a play area, a trim-gym and a bowling green. To the north is Raphael Park. Sir Herbert Raphael, a barrister and Liberal Party politician, gave the park to the local authority in 1903 to act as a buffer between the expanding town and a new housing estate he was building. The local authority purchased more land from him to increase the size of the park. Raphael was a member of the Tudor Walters Committee that produced the standard for social housing, which led to the garden suburb look to much interwar social housing in England. The park's most immediate feature is a large lake, for which George Bridge acts as the dam. There is a lakeside walk that leads into a woodland walk. The park is spending its Lottery money; there is a new café attached to the lodge; there is new planting, mostly of perennials; the trees are being managed; there is a bandstand and to the east of the woodland is the play area with pitches, a good children's play area, a new pavilion and sunken tennis courts.
North of Raphael Park across the Eastern Avenue is Rise Park. The park contains a pavilion, children's play area, trim-gym and a lot of flat grass. The land was given by Thomas England, who was also involved in getting Lodge Park opened. His vision was for a 'green lung' through the Borough of Romford. Rise Park connects with Bedfords Park, a large country park opened in 1933, which I have yet to visit. The park also commemorates Romford becoming a Borough in 1937. There is a wonderful picture of the Charter Mayor and Town Clerk in full robes together with other councillors on a small roundabout.
We now return to Herbert Raphael. He had purchased Gidea Park in 1897. Gidea Park was a royal residence from 1205 until the Civil War, by which time it was very run down. It was pulled down in 1720 and a new manor house was built. This formed a centrepiece to the new garden suburb Raphael was building. The building, which was used by the Artists' Rifles Regiment in the First World War, was demolished in 1930. Raphael and two other Liberal MPs, John Tudor Walters and Charles McCurdy, set up Gidea Park Ltd. They held a competition for a master plan that attracted over 30 entries and was won by W Garnett Gibson and Reginald Dunn. (In the end the plan was not fully implemented). The next stage was a grand competition to design cottages and houses. Many of the architectural great and good submitted plans and these were built in the Gidea Hall and Balgores estates. About 100 architects produced 159 dwellings. In 1934 there was another competition to build modern houses and 35 were built.
Over the years there has been some infilling. To the east of the estate is a golf course, which protects the suburb from encroachment as Raphael Park does from the west. I will leave you to wander about the estates. Look out for a small fragment of wall, a gate and a view of the fishpond which remain from Gidea Hall. There are also two small areas of open land that are managed as wildlife habitat. When you have finished wandering, you should end in Heath Drive and make for Main Street (which used to be called Hare Street). There are some old public houses here dating back to coaching days. But the most unusual building is a wood-framed Tudor building with some very splendid pargetting. It was moved here after the White City Exhibition of 1910.
The original garden suburb plan included a parade of shops here, but it was never built. The post-war shops, although useful, are not as splendid as those on the original plan. The TSB bank on the south side of the road is on the site of Humphry Repton's house and the school behind it is in his garden. There are a number of exhibition homes in this area. To see a reasonable sample go from the western entrance of Balgores Crescent and down Squirrel Heath Avenue, noting the decorative (or perhaps anti-rat-run) roundabout and the houses that surround it. Balgores Square has some pretty houses. The square was intended as a market, but that would have infringed Romford's market Charter and so it has become a car park; rather useful as most of the houses were built without garages. There are a few shops with houses above in Hare Hall Lane, but both are now specialist companies. We are now at Gidea Park Station.