Hornchurch

Hornchurch, Havering

A primarily interwar suburb – though with a long history – situated to the south-east of Romford

geograph-3911449-by-Des-Blenkinsopp - Langtons House Lake

Evi­dence of occu­pa­tion dur­ing Mid­dle Palae­olith­ic times has been found near St Andrew’s church.

Hen­ry II found­ed a hos­pice here in 1159, which by 1222 had become known as the Monas­teri­um Cor­nu­tum or Monastery of the Horns, pos­si­bly a ref­er­ence to the local leather cur­ry­ing indus­try, which had either a bull’s or a stag’s head with horns as its guild sign.

Hornchurch out­grew Dagen­ham in the late Mid­dle Ages and became quite dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed but in the 15th cen­tu­ry Rom­ford gained ascen­dan­cy as a cen­tre of trade.

A gen­tly slop­ing bowl known as the Dell was a pop­u­lar set­ting for wrestling match­es and oth­er sport­ing events, espe­cial­ly in the 18th cen­tu­ry, and pos­sessed one of the best-known cock­pits in the Lon­don area. The Dell lay to the south-west of the church in the Mill Field, which was pos­si­bly the site of the monastery and is now a recre­ation ground.

Leather remained at the heart of Hornchurch’s com­mer­cial life until the 19th cen­tu­ry, with shoe­mak­ers, tan­ners and deal­ers in ani­mal skins.

The medieval St Andrew’s church was par­tial­ly rebuilt in 1802 and restored again in 1869. Sub­se­quent ren­o­va­tions have includ­ed a stained-glass win­dow fea­tur­ing a red Ford Fies­ta car.

Hornchurch Streets of Heroes: A Lasting Tribute to Those Who Flew from Hornchurch Aerodrome
Sev­er­al streets are named in hon­our of the air­men who flew from Hornchurch Aero­drome – as this book explains

The rail­way came in 1885 and periph­er­al sub­ur­ban devel­op­ment began ten years lat­er with William Carter’s cre­ation of Emer­son Park. Dur­ing the 1920s and 1930s the whole of Hornchurch became a dor­mi­to­ry sub­urb, its pop­u­la­tion increas­ing three­fold dur­ing this peri­od. In the mid­dle decades of the 20th cen­tu­ry Hornchurch held urban dis­trict sta­tus, incor­po­rat­ing Upmin­ster, Rain­ham and Harold Wood.

The town cen­tre was heav­i­ly rede­vel­oped in the late 1960s and ear­ly 1970s but some valu­able old­er hous­es were pre­served, includ­ing the 18th-cen­tu­ry Lang­tons, now a reg­is­ter office, which is shown in the pho­to­graph at the top of this arti­cle.*

Queen’s The­atre moved from a con­vert­ed cin­e­ma to pur­pose-built premis­es on Bil­let Lane in 1975, and has become one of out­er London’s most suc­cess­ful arts venues. Across the road is Fairkytes, a Geor­gian house that is now an arts cen­tre.

The Rom skatepark was built on the Upper Rain­ham Road in the far north-west of the dis­trict in 1978. In 2014 it became the first skatepark in Europe to gain list­ed pro­tec­tion.

By con­trast, the art deco Tow­ers cin­e­ma (1935) was not giv­en list­ed pro­tec­tion and Haver­ing coun­cil per­mit­ted its demo­li­tion in 2017 so that a Lidl super­mar­ket could be built on the site. The may­or of Haver­ing cut the rib­bon to open the hor­ri­ble-look­ing store on 15 March 2018.

To the south of the map below, Hornchurch coun­try park occu­pies much of the for­mer air­field of RAF Hornchurch, which was an impor­tant base for Spit­fires dur­ing the Bat­tle of Britain. To its west and south-west lie Elm Park and South Hornchurch.

In 1795 ‘Gentleman’ John Jackson defeated the ‘Whitechapel whirlwind’ Daniel Mendoza in a famous fight at the Dell. Jackson’s ungentlemanly technique included holding Mendoza by his hair while punching his head with his other hand. After that match, boxers rarely wore their hair long.

Postcode areas: Hornchurch RM11 and RM12
Population: 38,548 (Hacton, Hylands and St Andrew’s wards, 2011 census)
Station: District line (zone 6)
Further reading: Patricia Pound, Voices of Hornchurch, The History Press, 2012
and Brian Evans, Hornchurch, Elm Park and Harold Wood Through Time, Amberley, 2010
* The pictures of Langtons House Lake at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Des Blenkinsopp, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.