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Romford, Essex

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Up to 1834

Romford (or "Rumford") was the subject of a report in An Account of Several Workhouses..., dated October 24th, 1724.

THE Number of People taken in and provided for in the Workhouse here, is very different, sometimes more, and sometimes less. We have had above 30, and now under 20. These being impotent people, very aged, or Children, it cannot be expected they should earn a great deal: However, somewhat they do, both Men and Women go abroad to work, when there is a Demand for them ; and at Home the Women spin or wind Silk, and the Men pick Ockam.
   I must, SIR, observe to you, that the Advantage of the Workhouse to the Parish, does not arise from what the poor People can do towards their Subsistance, but from the Apprehensions the Poor have of it. These prompt them to exert, and do their utmost to keep themselves off the Parish, and render them exceedingly averse to submit to come into the House, till extream Necessity compels them.
   PRIDE, tho' it does ill become poor Folks, won't suffer some to wear the Badge; others cannot brook Confinement; and a third Sort deem the Workhouse to be a mere State of Slavery, and so Numbers are kept out.
   THERE are two things more that have greatly contributed to render the Workhouse beneficial towards reducing the Poor's Rate, viz. That whereas before a great many Pensions were granted, thro' Partiality or Favour, these are all stopped: An whereas it was usual to pay Rents for the Poor, we have resolved to pay none ; and in this Article we have saved to the Parish above 70l per Annum.
   BEFORE opening of the House, our Poor were sometimes 1s. 8d. and 1s. 10d. and never under 1s. 6d. per Pound ; last Year they were but 1s. out of which too we paid a Debt of 50l. and this Year we hope to some off for 8d.
   THE Expenses for the Workhouse from Michaelmas 1723, to Michaelmas 1724, were 147l. 11s. 0d ¼, and the Receipts for the Labour and Work of the poor in the same Time, were 10l. 17s. 7d. ¼.

The Orders in the Work-house at Rumford are to the following Effect.

I. THAT the Master and Mistress be sober and orderly Persons, and not given to swear, and that they see the Orders strictly performed.
   II. THAT they rise by seven a Clock in the Morning from Michaelmas to Lady-Day; and by six from Lady-Day to Michaelmas.
   III. THAT they see the Family a Bed by eight a Clock, and their Candles out, during the Winter half-Year ; but in the Summer half-Year, that they be in Bed by nine.
   IV. THAT they have their Breakfast in the Winter half-Year at eight in the Morning, and in the Summer half-Year by seven.
   V. THAT they have their Dinner by one a Clock all the Year.
   VI. THAT they have their Supper at six in the Evening during the Winter half-year, and in the Summer at seven.
   VII. THAT the Beer be drawn by one Person for a whole Day in his Turn.
   VIII. THAT the Cloth be laid by Turns for Breakfast, Dinner, and Supper.
   IX. THAT they sit at the Table to eat their Meals in a decent manner.
   X. THAT the Master say Grace before, and after their Meals.
   XI. THAT they have the House swept from top to bottom every Morning, and washed once a Week.
   XII. THAT they are called to work in Summer by seven, and in the Winter at eight in the Morning.
   XIII. THAT they leave Work at seven a Clock at Night in the Summer, and six in the Winter.
   XIV. THAT no Person go out of the Gate without the Master's Leave.
   XV. THAT if any Person steals, or is heard to swear, or curse, for such Crimes the first time to stand on a Stool at one Corner of the Working-Room, the whole Day, with the Crime pinned to their Breast.
   XVI. THAT for the second Offence, he or she stand in the like Posture, and have half a Pound of Bread, and a Quart of Water for that Day.
   XV1I. THAT for the third Offence, he or she be ordered by a Justice of Peace to be publickly whipt.
   XVIIL THAT the Master read, or cause to be read, Prayers every Morning before Breakfast, and every Evening before Supper, and call together as many as can be conveniently there.
   XlX. THAT these Prayers shall be out of the Whole Duty of Man, or some other good Book, as the Minister shall appoint.
   XX. THAT the Master and Mistress shall every Lord's Day attend at the Publick Worship, with as many of the House as are not hindred by a just Reason.
   XXI. THAT on the Lord's Day, either before Church, or after Dinner, he do read, or cause to be read, the Psalms and Lessons appointed for the Morning Service : and after Evening Prayer, the Psalms and Lessons for the Evening Service ; and also a Section or Chapter out of the Whole Duty of Man.
   XXII. THAT the Master and Mistress do receive the Holy Sacrament four Times every Year at least.
   XXIII. THAT the Master do give an Account every Monthly Meeting, of all such as are negligent and disorderly.

The same publication mentions a parish workhouse in operation at Barking (alias Bury-king) in a report dated 13 March, 1725:

In the Year 1721, the Parish took a House upon a Lease for 30 Years, at 10l. per Annum, and having fitted up with necessary Accommodations for receiving the poor Pensioners of the Parish, they opened it at Christmas the same Year. It will conveniently lodge about 48 People, two in a Bed; and there is a small Infirmary built on the Backside of the House, but the People are generally in so good Health, that there has been hitherto little Occasion to use it.
   The Number of Poor now in the House is,
4 old Men} from 50 to 80 Years of Age.
10 old Women
3 Boys} from 4 to 7 Years of Age.
3 Girls

   THEIR Employment is picking Ockam, at which they earn altogether about 20l. per Annum ; the Materials for this Sort of Work being pieces of old cable, or Junk (as it is called), are bought of two Merchants, one at Rotherhith, near Three Mariners Stairs, and the other at Cuckold's Point, and cost 7s. per hundred Weight ; which is sold again in Ockam for 10s. per Hundred.
   Or in spun Yarn at 2d. ½ per pound.
   Or in Rope Yarn at 2d. per pound, or 16s. 8d. per C. Wt. For all these are made out of old Cable.
   THE Women knit, and mend Stockings for the whole Family, make Beds, and keep the House clean, and sometimes pick Ockam.
   The Steward and his Wife have the Government of the Family ; he buys all the Necessaries for Food at the Market, and she takes Care for dressing it.
   The Victuals is divided into Messes, 4 Persons to a Mess ; this being a cheap Country for Flesh, they have 4 Flesh Days in the Week, according to the following Bill of Fare, viz.
SundaySheeps Head BrothBeef, Pudding, and BrothWhat's left at Noon
MondayBeef BrothOatmeal Hasty Pudding with a quarter of a Pound of Butter to a MessBread Butter or Cheese
TuesdayHasty PuddingThree bak'd Ox CheeksWhat's left at Dinner
WednesdayOx Cheek BrothPease PorridgeBread, Cheese and Butter
ThursdayHot Pease PorridgeBeef & BrothWhat's left at Dinner
FridayBeef BrothMilk PorridgeBread and Cheese
SaturdayMilk PorridgeSheep's Head for each MessWhat's left at Dinner

Bread and Beer are allowed without Limitation.
   They have Roast Beef at the Three Great Festivals, and Plumb-Pudding at Christmas.
   The Poor's Rate here is reduced from 2s. to 1s. in the Pound, and the Poor better provided for.

A new parish workhouse was erected in 1788 at a cost of £4,000. The brick building was two storeys high, plus a basement, with two side wingss. An inscriptio above the front entrance read 'This House of Industry at the sole Expence of the Inhabitants of Barking is to provide and protect the Industrious and to pubish the Idle and Wicked'.

Barking North Street workhouse, late 19th century.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Hornchurch, too, featured in a further brief report.

THERE is also another Workhouse in this Neighbourhood, viz. at Hornchurch, and the Parish has had good Success in the Establishment of it : The Poor's Rates are reduced from five hundred Pounds per Annum, to under two hundred ; and there is this Singularity there, that they have set the Workhouse, and give a Man one hundred Guineas to provide for the Poor for one Year, and hope to agree with him for the next at fourscore.

A parish workhouse operated at Upminster in a building on St Mary's Lane dating from around 1751.

Upminster former parish workhouse, 2004.
© Peter Higginbotham.

A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded parish workhouses in operation at Barking (for up to 70 inmates), Dagenham (30), and Upminster (20).

After 1834

Romford Poor Law Union formally came into being on 31st May, 1836. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 24 in number, representing its 10 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):

Essex: Barking (8), Cranham, Dagenham (2), Hornchurch (3), Havering-atte-Bower, Rainham, Romford (5), Upminster, Great Warley and Wennington.

The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 19,521 with parishes ranging in size from Wennington (population 127) to Barking (8,036) and Romford itself (4,294). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1833-5 had been £11,958 or 12s.3d. per head.

The new Romford Union workhouse was built in 1838-39 on a 5 acre site on Oldchurch Road to the south-west of the town. The site, then open farmland, was bought from a Mr Philpot at £160 per acre. Originally, three architects (James Savage, Sampson Kempthorne and Francis Edwards) submitted plans and tenders for the new building which was to accommodate 450 inmates. Savage later withdrew, and the nine-man building committee eventually chose the plans of Francis Edwards by a vote of five to four.

Edwards' design, although based on the popular cruciform plan, was unusual in having the main accommodation ranges running diagonally rather than square to the outer perimeter walls. Among the relatively few other examples of this type of layout are George Wilkinson's Oxfordshire workhouses at Chipping Norton and Witney. No other workhouse buildings are attributed to Francis Edwards.

Romford workhouse site, 1890

Romford entrance from the south, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The entrance block to the south would have contained the Guardians' Board Room and other administrative offices.

Romford entrance block from the south-west, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Romford entrance archway, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The main accommodation ranges radiated from a central octagonal hub which incorporated observation windows for the workhouse master to observe each of the four inmates yards.

Romford south-east and south-west ranges from the south-west, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

The north-east and south-east ranges contained the females' day rooms and wards. Those to the north-west and south-west provided male accommodation. Dining-rooms and kitchens lay at the north of the building.

Romford entrance lodge, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

According to an 1840s directory, able-bodied paupers at the workhouse were employed in grinding corn and cultivating the garden ground, etc.

In 1922, during a period of high unemployment, two thousand men marched to the workhouse to lobby a meeting of the Romford Board of Guardians. The demonstrators were petitioning for an increase in their unemployment pay, which was less than that given to those living within adjacent districts falling within the Greater London boundary. Although a few of the Guardians sympathised with the request, the majority refused to give the men a hearing, or even a ration of bread and cheese. Instead the Board adjourned for their own lunch, ordering the workhouse gates to be locked. During the afternoon, when the gates were opened to allow a vehicle to leave, the men rushed through. They helped themselves to loaves from the bakehouse, and towels and blankets were stolen from the infirmary. Refusing demands from the Guardians that to leave, the men barricaded the Guardians inside the workhouse. Two Guardians tried to drive their cars through the crowd, but their vehicles were damaged. Later the the evening, the Chief Constable of Essex arrived at the scene and advised the Board that giving the men a hearing would be a far quicker way of resolving the situation than organizing a sufficient body of police reinforcements. The Guardians reluctantly agreed and, surprisingly, were moved by the case put by the men. Action was promised and was followed up by the efforts to change official rules and provide more money to support the unemployed.

The former workhouse buildings later became part of Oldchurch Hospital. The cruciform section of the workhouse was demolished in 2000 to make way for a car park.

Children's Homes

In 1905, the Romford Guardians decided to adopt the scattered homes system for its pauper children. Two large semi-detached houses were purchased for use as a receiving and probationary home. Initially, thirty children were housed there under the care of a foster mother and one assistant. On 24th September, 1907, Gertrude Smedley was appointed foster mother of the scattered homes at 3, Adelaide Villas, Mawneys, Romford — aged only 19 years she was the youngest ever foster mother employed by the union.. By 1914, there were children's Homes at 5-8 Laurie Square, and 1-2 the Croft, Heath Park Road. In 1914, there were scattered homes operating at Gilmore House, 36 Pelham Road, and Richmond House, 38 Pelham Road, Ilford. In 1929, there were homes at 26-28 Manor Road, 42-44 Brentwood Road, and on King Edward Road.


  • 1846 — Clerk to the Board of Guardians: WH Clifton; Relieving officers: John B Miller and Richard Parker; Chaplain: Rev. Thomas Donkin; Master and Matron of workhouse: Mr. T. and Mrs. Sellars; Miller: Charles Godbold; Schoolmaster: Walter Easton; Schoolmistress: Martha Howman; Porter: William Hawes. Eight surgeons were employed by the Union.
  • 1881 Census



Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.

  • Essex Record Office, Wharf Road Chelmsford CM2 6YT. Relatively few records survive. Holdings include: Guardians' minute books (1836-1930); etc.


  • None.


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