Harold Wood

Harold Wood, Havering

A Victorian railway township, now much enlarged and rebuilt, situated just over two miles north and a little to the east of Hornchurch

The streets of Harold Wood - Andrew Bowden - via Flickr

Harold’s Wood was a large for­est stretch­ing far to the north-west of the present dis­trict. Although King Harold once owned the estate there is no evi­dence that he ever vis­it­ed it. After the trees were cut down in the 15th and 16th cen­turies the land became known as Harold’s Wood (or Rom­ford) Com­mon. Harold Wood Farm was prob­a­bly estab­lished in the mid-18th cen­tu­ry and was lat­er acquired by local grandees the Neave fam­i­ly. The dis­trict of Harold Wood grew up some dis­tance away, on 300 acres of Gub­bins Farm, fol­low­ing the open­ing of the sta­tion in the late 1860s.

The sta­tion was built with the spon­sor­ship of the Harold Wood Estate Com­pa­ny, formed by a group of builders to exploit the poten­tial for res­i­den­tial devel­op­ment here, in the first sub­ur­ban scheme in the parish of Hornchurch. New roads were laid out and some expen­sive vil­las were built, togeth­er with the King Harold pub­lic house, but nei­ther pros­per­ous nor cler­i­cal com­muters want­ed to live so far out of Lon­don and the project foundered.

St Peter's church, Gubbins Lane
St Peter’s church, Gub­bins Lane*

In an indi­ca­tion of the slow pace of the suburb’s evo­lu­tion, an iron church was pro­vid­ed in 1871 and it was almost 70 years before this was replaced by a per­ma­nent struc­ture, St Peter’s church (shown in the pho­to­graph on the right). Mean­while, indus­tri­al­i­sa­tion took the form of a brick com­pa­ny and lat­er a proven­der mill on Gub­bins Lane.

In 1908 a Vic­to­ri­an house called the Grange became a children’s con­va­les­cent home, which was to form the nucle­us of Harold Wood hos­pi­tal, ini­tial­ly run by the bor­ough of West Ham.

Harold Wood’s rur­al char­ac­ter final­ly van­ished after the First World War as the dis­trict filled with new hous­ing, and Vic­to­ri­an prop­er­ties were demol­ished to make way for more afford­able dwellings. The brick company’s site was built over in the late 1940s. Unilever acquired the mill in 1965 and its build­ings were demol­ished around 1970.

Harold Wood hos­pi­tal closed at the end of 2006 and has been replaced by a res­i­den­tial project called Kings Park, an NHS poly­clin­ic and the Haver­ing cam­pus of Lon­don South Bank Uni­ver­si­ty.

Three-quar­ters of Harold Wood’s homes are own­er-occu­pied, and 90 per cent of res­i­dents are white (down from 95 per cent in 2001).

Postcode area: Romford RM3
Population: 12,650 (2011 census)
Station: TfL Rail (zone 6)
Further reading: Brian Evans, Hornchurch, Elm Park and Harold Wood Through Time, Amberley, 2010
See also: Harold Park
* The picture entitled ‘The streets of Harold Wood’ at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Andrew Bowden, at Flickr, and the picture of St Peter, Gubbins Lane, Harold Wood, on this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright John Salmon, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, both made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.