By the time the young Queen Victoria inherited the throne in the early 19th century, the great flamboyance of the Regency and the following acute economic depression rather gave way to the effects of the Industrial Revolution and growth of the Empire. Any increase in foreign competition was being delayed by continued war and revolution on the Continent and enabled British commerce and industry to begin to expand and prosper again. At this time many charismatic people were also coming forward with new ideas and brought a renewed energy both looking to the future and developing a new respect for the past. These influences brought about great change in the social, physical and economic landscape. Whilst, throughout history, the effect of the presence of the river Thames in this area has meant that the great constants here have been agricultural trends, defence, trade routes and migration, and the Victorian period was no exception.
Victorian Agricultural trends
Initially this was still an agricultural area, the local rivers remained navigable to inland wharfs such as Rainham on the tidal Ingrebourne Creek, and together with a network of drainage ditches in the Mardyke area, were used to transport muck from London to manure local farmland and carry agriculture produce back to the London market. By around the decade 1852-1862 the acutely distressed Essex farming began to recover as demand for food increased from the expanding population of London together with the improvement in farming methods brought on by the Agricultural Revolution. Chafford Heath, once the Saxon meeting place later became common land and by this time it had become the heart of the local farming community of Broadfields (now Thames Chase Visitor Centre), Damyns, Baldwins, Brambles, Cockhide, Hunts Hill, Heath, Manor and Bush farms. However this prosperity was followed from 1874 by years of successive bad harvests that triggered another time of depression in agriculture. The effect was made worse from 1880 as competition from abroad increased with the opening of major new docks on the Thames in the East End of London in 1868 and 1880 bringing the first imports of frozen meat and butter from Australia, meat from New Zealand and Argentina and wheat from America. The effect on agriculture in Essex was a disaster with numerous farms going out of production across the county and many people generally drifting towards the towns and the metropolis looking for work. The population of Corbets Tey, for example, shrank between 1891 and 1911, and led to the closure of the Anchor Inn in 1896 and The George in 1901. Rather than join the migration out of this area at least one local fellow is known to have had to walk 20 miles a day from Great Warley to find work.
Defence of London
The Thames continued to play its part in coastal defences and in this area, as part of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Defence of the UK, Coalhouse Fort was rebuilt between the 1860’s and 1874 and continued in its role defending London throughout both World Wars.
Although extensively an agricultural area the significant military Camp at Warley and its fortunes inevitably had a great impact and turned Brentwood into a garrison town. At the beginning of the 19th century the soldiers at Warley may have outnumbered local people by 11 to 1. But at the beginning of Victoria’s reign the Camp was closed for more than a decade and then taken over by the East India Company this time merely doubling the numbers of people in the local area plus training significant numbers more leading the Company to make extensive modifications and in 1857 to erect the Essex Regimental Chapel. That was also the year of the India Mutiny which led to the return of the barracks to Government control soon after, leading to further expansion, modernisation and reorganisation of Military Services here for at least the following century.
By this period the national Census and other records can shed light on local events including the effect of the Camp on local people. One local lad, Harry, was born into a family of agricultural workers, enlisted at Warley Camp in 1892 aged 17 and presumably looking for opportunity, employment and no doubt adventure. Here he received his Army training and two years later was sent abroad for a tour of duty in India. Embarking soldiers were marched to Brentwood railway station, opened in 1840, then by train to Tilbury Docks and from there by sea. Four years after he was in Burma near the Chinese border. In 1901 he was embroiled in the Boar War in South Africa and not finally home until 1903. Three years later while still stationed at the Warley Home Base he married a local girl whose family for generations had been farm workers but by now had also found alternative work. The couple were promptly shipped with the Garrison to Ireland where a few years later, their baby died from an infection apparently common in the terrible living conditions of those times.
Trades routes & Migration
The faster and more reliable new steamships first appeared on the Thames in 1815, followed in 1857 by the Thames Conservancy Act to try to ameliorate problems thrown up on the busy Thames between the modern steamboat companies and owners of the Thames barges, ferries and other small craft under sail. The Thames-side wharfs brought trade to the area and industries grew here particularly in brick, chalk and lime, cement, straw boards and paper. In 1848 there were around 400 people working some 85 acres (34 ha) of chalk pits in Purfleet. By 1870-2 the extensive drainage operations that were carried out in South Ockendon encouraged market gardening and brought an increase in population to the local area. In 1885 the Great Eastern Railway had arrived at Upminster with a commuting time of only one hour to the City and in time encouraged commuting and new ‘dormitory’ suburbs to be built. Following the closure of the Purfleet pits they were turned into the Purfleet Botany Botanical Gardens which became a great tourist attraction via the railway for 'city men and their families'. They were also used as a film location until the 1st World War, finally closing in 1917. During the turn of the century a number of local beaches also became very popular at Purfleet, Rainham and Grays with visitors from the City and the East End of London coming out on day trips by charabanc, or steam train. Over the following years this area became very popular with Londoners and the scene was set for future country retreats, Plot-lands developments and ‘Homes for Heroes.’
© 2015 S.J.Smith
Visit - Havering Local Studies & Family History Centre at local Library, Romford www.havering.gov.uk/Pages/Services/Local-history
- Essex Records Office, Chelmsford;
- Havering Museum, in Romford Conservation Area is a building of local heritage interest. The museum is housed in the Edwardian Office building and part of a Victorian Warehouse, later offices, of the old Romford Brewery. It houses exhibits, tells the stories and celebrates the achievements of local people.
- Upminster ‘Tithe’ Barn Museum of Nostalgia houses memorabilia of the area’s Victorian agricultural and folk past in a thatched roofed medieval grange barn, which was originally constructed for the Abbots of Waltham and is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument
- Lawns Way Museum, Brentwood is the original Sexton’s cottage now housing social and domestic objects from around 1840-1950. Outside is the closed cemetery, once the sexton’s responsibility, some graves are maintained by the War Graves Commission and are testament to the First World War military camp in Warley, the grounds are now a Nature Reserve.
- Essex Regiment Chapel, Warley, was the only individual regiment to have its own freestanding chapel. The imposing interior has a rich display of the Regimental Colours, as well as the pew ends and memorials of the Regimental history. The Essex Regiment Museum is included within Chelmsford Museum, Chelmsford.
- Coalhouse Fort, built between 1861 and 1874 to protect England from invasion by the French. It was used again during WW1 and WW2 before being closed in 1956 following the abolition of Coastal Defence.
- Tilbury Fort, owned by English Heritage, it is the best example of a low-profiled artillery fort in England with a circuit of moats and bastioned outworks. It has protected London’s seaward approach from the 16th century through to the Second World War. It has Victorian magazine houses where vast quantities of gunpowder were stored and underground bastion magazine passages to explore.
Walk - The Two Forts Way, a route developed between Coalhouse and Tilbury Fort passing along the river bank and past Tilbury Power Station. The path is just over three miles and is described as ‘a challenging route suitable for able bodied walkers and experienced cyclists’.
- All Walks from Thames Chase Visitor Centre start from Broadfields Farm, an older grade II listed barn and a Victorian stable block with a king post roof structure rarely found at this date. Also a 19th century cart shed and farmhouse originally built to look like a medieval hall-house.
- At the heart of Cranham conservation area Walks no.2, 5, 6a pass a Victorian farm complex built by the great local benefactor Richard Benyon MP. Now converted to private residences this was a planned model farm with a fine quadrangle of farm buildings designed for the efficient transit and processing of livestock and farm produce. The farm together with the listed Cranham Hall and Benyon’s listed Church of All Saints are a landmark forming the focus for views across the farmland. Richard Benyon owned a great deal of land in this area and he contributed to many building projects for the public including building Reading Rooms at both North and South Ockendon, repairing the parish churches in both villages as well as partly rebuilding the Congregationalist church in South Ockendon, he built a school and teacher’s house at South Ockendon and donated the land for a school at Cranham (since demolished) and the North Ockendon school which his relative later rebuilt in 1902.
- Walk no. 3 Cranham Brickfields
- Walk no.6b passes the Thatched House and Jobbers Rest Inns with their memories of times past; and Upminster Court built in 1907 in Arts & Crafts Style from locally made bricks.
- Broadfields tree trail, the Thorndon Park Gruffalo Walk, Section 20 of the London Loop from Havering-atte-Bower to Chigwell, Bedfords Park, Belhus Country Park Walk, and Belhus Chase all bring visitors into contact with many native species of trees and exotic species introduced into landscaped Parks and Gardens by the Victorians as specimen trees.
© 2015 S.J.Smith
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