EDWARD WALFORD, M.A.
First published 1883/4 by Cassell & Co. Ltd., under the title Greater London
VOLUME 1 : CHAPTER 54 : LITTLE ILFORD, WEST HAM, ETC.
LITTLE ILFORD, which nearly adjoins its great sister south-west, is a quiet, out-of-the-way village. The River Roding, winding its way through fields and market-gardens, forms its boundary on the east, separating it from the parish of Barking. On the south and west lie East Ham and Stratford, whilst to the north the parish stretches away to Wanstead, and includes within its boundary in that direction the City of London and Manor Park Cemeteries, the former covering upwards of 250 acres, and the latter about 45 acres. They are both neatly laid out, and planted with trees and evergreens of the ordinary type.
In 1871 Little Ilford had a population of 675, which during the next decade had become nearly 1,000.
The church, which hides itself in a grove of elms and chestnuts, and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is poor and uninteresting. It is built of brick, and consists of chancel, nave, north chapel, and bell-turret. From the frequent coats of plaster it is impossible to make out the date of its erection, but two of the windows at the west end of the nave are as early as the Norman era, and may, indeed, be Anglo-Saxon. Among the monuments preserved from the old church is one on the north wall of the chancel to William Waldegrave, who died in 1610, and his wife, who died in 1595; it comprises coloured effigies of the deceased, with kneeling figures of their three sons and four daughters. There is a brass to Thomas, son of Sir John Heron, private secretary to Henry VIII. He died at Aldersbrook, in this parish, in 1517. Another brass records Anne, only daughter of Barnard Hyde, of London, who died in 1630, and her brother William, who died in 1614. One of these brasses represents a lady in a ruff of the Jacobean type, and also includes a baby in swaddling clothes. Two more brasses, long buried under the floor, were discovered in 1883, by the Vicar, the Rev. Arthur Shadwell, a son of the late Vice-Chancellor Sir Lancelot Shadwell. There are also monuments to the Fry family, formerly residents, and well known for their philanthropy; also to the Lethieulliers, a family whose name occupied a high position in Essex in the last century. One of these latter monuments - to be seen in a sort of chapel on the north side of the nave - commemorates the learned antiquarian whose writings we have had occasion to quote in describing this neighbourhood. The inscription runs as follows :- 'In memory of Smart Lethieullier, Esq., a gentleman of polite literature and elegant taste, an encourager of art and ingenious artists, a studious promoter of literary inquiries, a companion and a friend of learned men ; industriously versed in the science of antiquity, and richly possessed of the curious productions of nature, but who modestly desired no other inscription on his tomb than what he had made the rule of his life - to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with his God. He was born Nov. 3rd, 1701, and died without issue Aug. 27th, 1760.'
This Mr. Lethieullier lived for some years at Aldersbrook, a manor-house in this parish. He is said to have much improved the grounds, in which he built a small 'hermitage', as a shrine for many of the antiquities that he had collected in his travels. This structure, however, was pulled down, together with the manor house, by Sir James Tylney Long, who purchased the property a few years after the death of Mr. Lethieullier, and built a farmhouse on the site of the old mansion.
Ilford Gaol, or House of Detention for the county of Essex, a large brick building, was erected on. the north side of the London and Romford road, about fifty years ago. It has lately been pulled down, and its site covered with cottages, the only prison in the county being at Springfield Hill, near Chelmsford, and the prisoners from this district being conveyed to the metropolitan prison.
Lysons, in his 'Environs of London', says that in the parishes of Ilford, East Ham, West Ham, Leyton, and Wanstead, on the level part of Epping Forest - that is, on Wanstead Flats - 'a great mart for cattle brought from Wales, Scotland, and the north of England, is held annually, from the latter end of February till the beginning of May. The business between the dealers', he adds, 'is principally transacted at the sign of the 'Rabbits,' on the high road, in Little Ilford parish.' This 'mart', whatever it may have been towards the end of the last century, when Lysons wrote, has long been done away. The 'Three Rabbits', however, is still a favourite 'house of call' for graziers and cattle-dealers of Essex on their way to and from London.
WEST HAM is a very extensive parish, stretching from Wanstead and Leyton in the north to the Thames in the south, and from Little Ilford and East Ham in the east to the river Lea in the west. It is divided into three 'wards', namely, Church Street, Stratford, and Plaistow. This division has reference chiefly to secular matters; for ecclesiastical purposes it is divided into several districts. The population of the entire parish in 1871 was 62,900, and that of Church Street, or West Ham proper, 7,900; but such has been the rapid extension of building in the parish since then that these numbers have more than doubled. In the middle of the last century West Ham and the low-lying district surrounding it was largely inhabited by merchants and wealthy citizens of London ; but the mansions which they occupied have mostly disappeared, or been so altered to convert them to other purposes that they are scarcely distinguishable. In an official return made in 1762, the number of houses in West Ham parish was stated to be 700, of which by far the larger proportion were entered as 'mansions'. In Morant's 'History of Essex', written about six years later, this place is described as 'the residence of several considerable merchants, dealers, and industrious artists.' Even at the beginning of the present century the number of the inhabitants of the parish did not amount to 6,500, the number of houses being about 1,100.
West Ham formerly had a market, the charter for which was procured, in the middle of the thirteenth century, by Richard de Montfichet, whose ancestor, William de Montfichet, founded an abbey at Stratford-Langthorne, in this parish, endowing it with the manor of West Ham and other estates. An annual fair of four days' duration was granted at the same time, but both have fallen into desuetude for many years. Much of the prosperity of West Ham and its adjoining townships is due to the formation of the Victoria and Albert Docks at Plaistow, the construction of the railway-works at Stratford, and the establishment within the bounds of the parish of extensive chemical works, flour-mills, smelting and copper works, shipbuilding establishments, and other large works and factories, where employment is given to thousands of hands.
The parish church of West Ham, dedicated to All Saints, occupies a central position in what would formerly have been called the village, and about half-way between the main road at Stratford and Plaistow. It is a large building of brick and stone, partly ancient and partly modern, and principally of Perpendicular architecture. It consists of a chancel, with north and south aisles, nave and aisles, and an embattled tower at the western end. The church contains the monuments of several eminent persons who have been buried here, including Sir Thomas Foote, Bart., Lord Mayor of London in 1650, who died in 1688; Henry Ketelby, who held a law office under the Crown in the reign of Henry VIII., and other members of his family are also commemorated. Robert Rook, who died in 1485, has an altar-tomb in the north chapel, with figures of himself and family. Sir James Smyth, sometime Lord Mayor of London, who died in 1706, has an elaborate monument.
In 1844 a large mural painting was discovered in this church, but after a brief exposure, was again covered with lime-wash. An anonymous pamphlet was published at the time, purporting to give a description of the picture; but, as Mr. H. W. King observed at a meeting of the Archaeological Institute in November, 1865, the writer evidently did not understand the subject, and was unacquainted with Christian iconography, therefore his account was inaccurate and of no archaeological value. 'The renovation of the interior of the church in September, 1865', remarked Mr King, 'afforded a favourable opportunity for endeavouring to disclose the picture anew, and under the superintendence of the Rev. R. N. Clutterbuck, of Plaistow, it was successfully developed, though apparently in a less perfect condition than when exposed in 1844. Its situation was upon the eastern part of the wall of the north clerestory, and it extended as far as the second pendant of the roof, measuring eight feet in width by five in height. It does not appear that more than this was visible when previously exposed; but, from some heads which were found on the south side of the chancel arch, it seems clear that this is only one wing of the subject, which probably extended over the east wall of the nave, and to an equal distance on the north and south sides. The whole subject undoubtedly represented the 'Final Doom of Mankind.' Upon the east wall was doubtless depicted our Lord as Judge. The right wing. which remained, represented the 'Reward of the Righteous,' and the left the 'Condemnation of the Wicked,' but not a trace of the latter could be discovered. Was this a forecast of the theology of to-day ?
The picture upon the north wall, representing the 'Resurrection of the Just,' was executed not in distemper, but in oil colours, on very rough plastering, and covered also part of the stones of the arch; in one place, where a beam of the aisle-roof comes through the wall, it was continued upon the surface afforded by its section. It appears to be the work of the latter part of the fifteenth century, and was of inferior, though some- what elaborate, execution. The upper part of the painting, extending as high as the wall-plate, and forming a background to the whole, was richly grouped, though rudely executed, tabernacle work, chiefly white shaded with grey, the windows and crochets strongly outlined in black; and some of the windows were coloured red. From the general treatment, it seems clear that this tabernacle work is a conventional representation of the Heavenly Jerusalem. In the niches were several celestials, each wearing a circlet, with a small cross over the forehead, and among them two of the heavenly choir playing upon gitterns. At the lower pan of the painting, below the basement of the canopy, were two angels raising the righteous by the hand. They seem to have issued through the poncullised gates behind them. There are two of these gates at the lower part of the picture, besides that in the upper part of the canopy, into which one of the blessed is entering. From one of them the angels who are assisting the risen seem themselves to have issued, and to be leading the righteous into the other. The risen saints were grouped along the line of the arch in that crowded manner usual, as Mr. Clutterbuck remarks, with mediaeval limners. They are singularly irregular in size, the largest being placed just over the crown of the arch, and diminishing as they approached the caps of the columns. All were nude, with their hands either joined in prayer or extended as if in admiration. Among the group were two ecclesiastics with red mitres, and a cardinal with a red hat.
The writer of the pamphlet above referred to also noted a figure with a beard, which is supposed to represent a 'monk, friar, or priest,' and a royal personage wearing a crown of gold. The two angels mentioned as raising the blessed were larger than the other figures, and in pretty good preservation : their faces painted with care, and not without dignity. They were vested in white albs, without cincture or apparels. Close to the angle of the wall, where the painting was much mutilated, three demons were visible ; one seemed to be falling headlong, as if to denote the abortive malice of the evil spirits unable to hurt the redeemed, now placed beyond their power. It appeared to the author of the pamphlet that the lower one had a person in his arms, as if bearing him away, with an expression of malicious pleasure in his countenance. The writer also conceived that he saw in this part of the picture the representation of flames in which others were tormented, which he supposed to be 'the suburbs of Hell.' If such existed, it might possibly have represented Purgatory, but it was not apparent either to Mr. Clutterbuck or myself. 'The Doom of the Lost' was no doubt depicted upon the opposite wall, upon the left hand of the Judge, and there was but the least possible space upon the north side for the introduction of any other portion of the Judgment scene. Since I offered a brief unpremeditated description of this painting at the meeting of the Institute, the Rev. R. N. Clutterbuck has kindly placed in my hands the memoir which he has prepared for the Journal of the Essex Archaeological Society; and in the present report I have, with his permission, availed myself of his more detailed observations. As the picture was very imperfect, and wholly unintelligible except to those who could read it by a scaffold, Mr. Clutterbuck observes that he could not suggest any sufficient reason for its preservation, all the rest of the plastering having, moreover, to be removed, for the purpose of pointing the inner masonry. There were indications that the whole interior of the church had been freely polychromed in distemper, but only one small portion of diapered pattern of late date could be copied. We are indebted solely to the exertions of Mr. Clutterbuck for the development of this interesting example of mural decoration.'1
In the churchyard lies buried a distinguished naturalist, Mr. George Edwards, F.R.S., who was born at Stratford in 1693, and died at Plaistow in 1773. He became celebrated for his knowledge of natural history, more especially with regard to birds, and besides various papers in the 'Philosophical Transactions', he published seven large quarto volumes on subjects in natural history, upwards of 600 of which, it is said, had never before been described. Here, too, is the tomb of James Anderson, LL.D., the editor of 'The Bee', and author of several papers on agricultural and industrial subjects.
WEST HAM CHURCH.
Dr. George Gregory, author of the 'Economy of Nature', a 'Dictionary of Arts and Sciences', and a translation of Bishop Lowth's 'Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews', was vicar here from 1804 till his death, in 1808.
Dr. Samuel Jebb, a noted physician in his day, author of several professional works, and editor of the works of Aristotle and Bacon, was baptised in West Ham Church, in 1729, and lived in the parish far many years. He was the father of Dr. Richard Jebb, who was some time physician-in-ordinary to George III., who conferred upon him a baronetcy.
West Ham is well off for charitable institutions. Near the church are almshouses for twenty poor women, each of whom receive a small sum of money weekly. Roger Harris's Almshouses, in Gift Lane, provide homes for six others ; and there are also numerous bequests to the poor of the parish, amounting in the aggregate to about £450 per annum, left from time to time by various benefactors, whose gifts are distributed by a local charity board. In West Ham Lane is the West Ham, Stratford, and South Essex Dispensary, erected in 1878, on a site given by Mrs. Curtis.
The Congregationalists, Unitarians, Wesleyans, and other Nonconformist bodies, have chapels here, and there are several schools.
The hamlet of Upton lies about a mile to the north-east of West Ham Church, its northern extremity bordering on the London road. Here are one or two interesting old houses, notably the 'Cedars', formerly known as Upton Lane House. It was for many years the residence of Mrs. Elizabeth Fry, the prison reformer, sister of the late Mr. Samuel Gurney, the equally well-known philanthropist, who lived at Upton Park, close by. His residence, called Ham House, was taken down a few years after his death, which occurred in 1856. The park, comprising about eighty acres, lies between Ham Lane and Upton Lane, and formerly belonged to Dr. Fothergill, by whom the gardens were laid out; it still contains many trees which he first introduced to this country in the early part of the last century. Shortly after the house was demolished an offer was made to purchase the park for building purposes, but, fortunately, this proposal was met by another to secure it as a public park and recreation-ground for the poor of this rapidly-increasing locality. Mr. John Gurney, the grandson of Mr. Samuel Gurney, accepted the latter proposition, and offered it for that purpose for the same sum that had been named by the building society, namely, £25,000, the Gurney family at once contributing £10,000 towards that amount. The Corporation of London also voted £10,000, and the remainder having been made up by local subscriptions, the park - under the new name of West Ham Park - was formally opened by the Lord Mayor on the 20th July, 1874, and has since proved an inestimable boon to the neighbourhood. The cost of maintaining the park and gardens is entirely defrayed by the Corporation of London.
FOREST GATE, a rising and populous hamlet of West Ham, lies to the north of the London road, and stretches away to Wanstead Flats. It has a station on the Colchester line of the Great Eastern Railway, near the entrances to the Manor Park and Ilford Cemeteries. Near the railway-station is the 'Eagle and Child' tavern, and not far distant is the 'Spotted Dog'; each has 'tea-gardens' and pleasure-grounds attached, and both are well-known resorts for East-end holiday-folk.
A district, embracing parts of Upton and East Ham, was formed into a separate parish for ecclesiastical purposes in 1852. The principal church of the district, dedicated to Emmanuel, stands at the corner of Upton Lane, in the main road. It was built by Sir Gilbert Scott, but has since been enlarged; it is of Gothic design, and consists of chancel, nave, aisles, and central bell-turret. St. James's Church, built in 1881, is a pseudo-Gothic structure of the most simple kind. The district contains two or three temporary iron churches, besides several chapels for different denominations of Dissenters. The Jews' Cemetery, and also the West Ham Cemetery, are in this district.
The area covered by the district of Forest Gate, although only 800 acres in extent, comprises a population of more than 20,000, or nearly treble of what it was ten years ago.
In Woodgrange Road are the Pawnbrokers' Almshouses, which were founded in 1849 by the Pawnbrokers' Charitable Institution - they provide homes for seven couples; whilst Legg's Almshouses, in Forest Lane, founded in 1858 by one Jabez Legg, of Stratford, afford homes to six poor women.
WEST HAM PARK.
West Ham, although third in point of size of the nine parishes comprised in the Hundred of Becontree, is by far the most densely populated. 'West Ham', writes Mr. Coller in 1861, in his 'History of Essex', 'from its traffic, trade, and importance the capital of the Hundred, is the most thickly-peopled parish in Essex, more than doubling the whole population of some of the smaller Hundreds in the county. It has, in fact, become a busy suburb of the metropolis, which has rubbed off its once rural character. Its little hamlets have grown into large towns. Fields over which the plough passed a quarter of a century ago are covered with workshops and teeming factories. On its riverbanks have risen up the largest ship-building works in the world. Its quiet creek and marsh land have been converted into mighty docks, furnishing a haven and a home for commerce from all countries of the earth. Its pleasant spots, on the edge of business, but just beyond reach of the sound of the hammer and wheel, and the wearying hum of the London hive, are studded over with handsome residences.'
We touched so lightly upon Stratford in OLD AND NEW LONDON2, that there is ample opportunity for a further description. This place is described in the 'British Traveller', 1771, as 'formerly a small village, but now greatly increased by a vast number of additional buildings. It stands', he adds, 'in the parish of West Ham, and is only parted from Bow in Middlesex by the river Lea, over which there is a bridge.' This is the celebrated Bow Bridge, said to have been the first stone bridge built in England.3
It is amusing to read in the work above quoted :- 'Many of the rich citizens of London have fine houses in Stratford and its neighbourhood, it being particularly convenient for such as live eastward of the Royal Exchange. Almost all the lands in the neighbourhood are either let out to gardeners or improved in the culture of potatoes. Vast quantities of all kinds of roots, herbs, and greens, are daily sent hence to the London markets ; and upon the whole the place is in a very thriving condition, having many good inns, with other places of public entertainment. If the new buildings from Mile End to Bow, and from thence to Stratford, are continued, both these places will be, as it were, joined to London.' What would the writer have said if he could have looked forward a century, to see a population of 30,000 covering the market gardens,. and the place 'joined to London' literally by railways, tramcars, and omnibuses.
The Abbey of Stratford-Langthorne stood on the marshes, a little to the west of West Ham. The pumping-station of the northern system of the Metropolitan Main Drainage Works at Abbey Mills occupies part of the site, whilst a few fragments of the old monastery may with difficulty be traced in the walls of the 'Adam and Eve' public-house, close by. The abbey itself was founded about the year 1135 by William de Montfichet for brethren of the Cistercian order, and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and All Saints. It was richly endowed by its founder, who gave it all his lordship here. In the days of its splendour it possessed 1,500 acres of land in this parish, with the manors of West Ham, Wood-Grange, East Ham, and Plaiz (now Plaistow); thirteen manors in other parts of the county, besides lands in other counties. The abbey grounds and gardens covered sixteen acres, and were enclosed by a moat, but at that time no scientific improvements had been made in. the way of drainage, and the consequence was that the waters of the Lea occasionally invaded the sacred precincts of the monks. On one occasion they were actually driven away by the floods, and were compelled to seek refuge on their property at Billericay, some miles off.
The story is thus told by Leland :-
'This house, first sett amonge the lowe marshes, was after with sore fludes defacyd, and removed to a celle or graunge longinge to it called Burgestide, in Essex, a mile from Billirica. These monks remained in Burgestide untyll entrete was made that they might have sum helpe otherwyse. Then one of Richards, kings of Englande, tooke the ground and abbey of Strateforde into his protection, and recdifienge it, brought the foresayd monks agayne to Strateforde, where among the marsches they re-inhabytyd.'
Thus re-established, the abbey seems to have gone on prosperously, and to have taken a leading position among the religious houses in the kingdom, many high personages resorting to it. In 1307 the abbot was summoned to Parliament; in 1335, John de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex, High Constable of England, was buried within its precincts ; and the Countess of Salisbury, whom the remorseless Henry VIII. caused to be beheaded in her old age on a charge of high treason, appears to have resided in the abbey about the time of its dissolution, at which period its revenues were valued at £652 3s. 1¼d. Its possessions were subsequently granted to Sir Peter Mewtis, or Meautis, who had been Ambassador to the Court of France. The building itself, like many of these religious edifices, was allowed to fall into decay when the monks had been expelled. Early in the seventeenth century a descendant of Sir Peter alienated 'the site of the abbey, with the abbey mills and 240 acres of land', to Sir John Nulls, and since that period the property has passed through many different hands.
In the 'Beauties of England', published in 1803, Mr. Britton writes :- 'The chief remains of the monastic buildings now standing are a brick gateway, which was formerly the entrance to the conventual precincts, and an ornamental arch, which appears to have been the entrance to the chapel.' Lysons, writing a few years previously, observes :- 'The foundations of the convent were dug up and removed by the present proprietor, in doing which, no antiquities worthy of note were found, except a small onyx seal, with the impress of a griffin, set in silver, on which is the following legend : 'Nuncio vobis gaudium et salutem,' perhaps the priory steal of one of the abbots. 'The brick gateway' and the 'ornamented arch' have now disappeared from the scene. Indeed, the obliteration of the abbey has been so complete that we cannot even record of it, in the words of the poet, that :
'The sacred tapers' lights are gone,
Grey moss has clad the altar stone,
The holy image is o'erthrown,
The bell has ceased to toll;
The long-ribbed aisles are burst and shrunk,
The holy shrine to ruin sunk,
Departed is the pious monk :
God's blessing on his soul.'
With the exception of a few that may have been worked into the walls of some of the neighbouring houses, it would be difficult for the most diligent searcher to discover a stone of the once important abbey of Stratford-Langthorne.
The pumping-station in connection with the northern sewer of metropolitan main drainage at Abbey Mills covers about seven acres of the ground once covered by Stratford Abbey. The sewer itself enters the parish at Old Ford, and crosses the West Ham Marshes by a grass-covered embankment. It afterwards traverses Plaistow, and then passes eastward in a straight line through East Ham, on its way to the outlet into the Thames, at the mouth of the Roding at Barking Reach. The works at Abbey Mills are of great capacity, comprising sixteen pumps, worked by steam-engines of immense power, their combined force being capable of lifting some 15,000 cubic feet of sewage per minute from the low-level sewer, and forcing it through large iron cylinders into the outfall sewer. The buildings, which are mostly of brick, are of an ornamental character, two octagonal chimney-shafts, each more than 200 feet high, being conspicuous for miles round.
The ecclesiastical parish of St. John was formed in 1844 from the mother parish of West Ham. The church, a handsome building in the Early English style, had been built about ten years previously. It stands in the middle of the town, at the point where the main road from the east of London diverges towards Romford and Leytonstone.
Christ Church was formed into an ecclesiastical parish in 1852 out of the parish of West Ham. The church, which stands in the High Street, close by the Main Drainage Works, is built of stone in the Decorated style, and is conspicuous by its tall spire.
St. Paul's Church in the Maryland Road, Stratford New Town, dates its erection from 1865, when the district was carved out of the mother parish, and converted into a separate ecclesiastical parish.
The Roman Catholic Church of St Francis of Assisi, in Grove Crescent Road, was built in 1868, and is in the Italian style of architecture. Near it is a Congregational Church, also of Italian design, but erected in a much larger and more costly manner.
The Town Hall, in the Broadway, at the corner of West Ham Lane, is a large and handsome building, of Italian design, opened in 1869. The facade towards the Broadway consists of a portico of two stages, formed with columns of polished red granite. To the right of the main front is a tower 100 feet high; the building itself is surmounted with statues of Science, Art, Commerce, Britannia, St. George, &c. Stratford is included in the Local Board district of West Ham.
Stratford New Town may be said to owe its existence to the Great Eastern Railway, the two main branches of which, leading respectively to Cambridge and Colchester, diverge at this point. Here, about the year 1847, the company established its chief depot for carriages, engines, and rolling stock, and yards for their repairs. Employment is here given to about 3,000 hands.
A market for the sale of vegetables, fruit, &c., has been established, adjoining Stratford Bridge Station, by the Great Eastern Railway Company, warehouses and sidings being constructed for the development of the trade.
In the olden days, when a pilgrimage to the image of 'Our Ladye of Berkynge' was thought conducive to the health of the soul, a procession of courtly equipages was no unfrequent sight on the dull road leading through Whitechapel into Essex and the other eastern counties, though now almost wholly abandoned to farmers, graziers, and butchers. For example, the Princess Maud, after she had become the consort of King Henry I., would often strive to keep alive the flame of that piety which, as a child, she had imbibed in the convent of Romsey, by going on this pilgrimage at Eastertide or Whitsuntide.
At this period the river Lea was crossed by the pilgrims and other travellers at the Old Ford, as the place is still called, but the inconvenience and danger of wading through so considerable a river induced the royal devotee to turn the road to a more convenient part of the stream, where she erected Bow Bridge, which is said to have been the finest example of pontine architecture then in the kingdom, and of which, as well as of its successor, an account will be found in OLD AND NEW LONDON.3
The name of Stratford evidently points to the existence near this spot of a ford, which doubtless connected London with the old Roman street or road (stratum} to Camelodunum, whether that was at Maldon or, as is more probable, at Colchester. At Old Ford have been found several sarcophagi of a plain description, with flat covers. They are fully described, and some of them are engraved, in the third volume of the 'Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society;' whilst in a lane at Stratford, called Blind Lane, between Old Ford and Leyton, were dug up about the middle of the last century a large Roman urn and fragments of pottery, confirming the derivation of Stratford from the Latin stratum.
The line of communication anterior to the erection of Bow Bridge was, in the opinion of Dr. Stukeley, who wrote very largely - and sometimes very fancifully - upon the Roman remains in this country, by a road extending from Chichester to Dunwich, in Suffolk, which, having crossed the Watling Street at Tyburn, passed along Old Street, north of the city, continued forward to Colchester, following as nearly as possible the course of the high Essex road of the present day. The same author also informs us that 'when the Romans enlarged the city, and enclosed it by a new wall, they also made a branch from St. Giles's, which is now called Holborn, built a gate at Newgate, and continued the road to Cheapside.' This line of communication was continued east of the city; and Maitland, in his 'History of London', describes it to be the 'Roman vicinal way through Aldgate by Bethnal Green, to the trajectus or ferry at Old Ferry', where it, no doubt, joined the Via Icenaia described by Dr. Stukeley. From this it would appear that the great Roman road into Essex crossed the river Lea by means of a ferry at Old Ford, in which direction it continued for many centuries after the Romans left this island, or, in fact, until the erection of a bridge at Bow.
Morant, in his 'History of Essex', has particularly noticed these roads, as also the circumstances which led to the erection of the bridge. 'The ancient road from this county to London. was by Old Ford, that is, through the ford there without a bridge; but that passage being difficult and dangerous, and many persons losing their lives or being thoroughly wetted, which happened to be the case of Maud, Queen Consort of King Henry I., she turned the road from Old Ford to the place where it now is, between Stratford, Bow, and West Ham, and caused also the bridges and causeway to be built and made at her own charge.'
In the Itinerary of Antoninus, two of the great Roman roads are stated to have passed through Essex. One of these followed very nearly the track of the present highway through Stratford and Ilford, and some remnants of what appear to have been parts of its banks are, or were till recently, visible at West Ham, and again near Ingatestone, this conclusion being strengthened by the fact that this road was made long prior to the fixing of boundaries of the ancient forest on that side.
The native Britons, as readers of ancient history know, suffered severely under their Roman masters, large bodies of them being forced to work in making causeways across marsh lands, cutting down woods, draining morasses, and embanking the Thames with river walls. Campbell writes thus of the Roman roads in England, Vol. II., p. 250 :- 'The commodious communication between the several parts of a country by means of roads, causeways where necessary, and bridges over intervening rivers, is of general convenience to the inhabitants, a constant source of opulence, and a signal proof of sound policy. The Romans were distinguished by their attention to the straightness, solidity, and admirable disposition of their larger and their lesser roads, which, though used for other purposes, were chiefly intended for military ways; and this wise economy of theirs was carried through all the provinces of their extensive empire. It is, however, remarkable that scarce in any of the countries they possessed there are still remaining more authentic monuments of these useful and stupendous works than in Great Britain, which, with indefatigable pains and most extensive learning, have been studiously traced, accurately described, and the stations on them, with as much certainty as might be pointed out by our industrious and laborious antiquaries.
'The Roman roads, while yet in a great measure entire, appeared of such amazing grandeur and solidity, manifested such a wonderful sagacity in the design, and such prodigious labour and expense in the execution, that it is no wonder, in the barbarous ages succeeding to the ruin of that empire, we find these noble and stately works confidently ascribed to giants and art magic. The intention of these military ways was worthy of the genius, and expressive of the policy, of that wise and potent people. They were so many links or lines uniting the provinces to the seat of empire.
'They extended, therefore, from Rome to the limits (however remote) of her dominions. To form some idea of them, the shortest and surest method is to consult the Pentingerian Tables. It is evident from hence that they were very numerous, and the certainty of this is confirmed by the remains which are still to be seen in many countries. In our own, as Camden observes, they are most visible, or, in other words, best preserved, and the manner of their construction (by which they have lasted more than twelve centuries) most apparent in wild heaths, over which they were carried, because near towns and villages they were pulled to pieces for the materials. In the 'Itinerary' ascribed to Antoninus there are fifteen roads, with the stations marked upon them, and the distances between them in miles, which, taken all together, make a total of two thousand five hundred and seventy-nine miles, the construction of which must have necessarily consumed much time, required much toil, and demanded immense treasures.'
The Saxons, on becoming masters of the south of England, showed their appreciation of the use and value of the roads bequeathed to them by their predecessors, the Romans. The Danes, however, wreaked their vengeance on them as well as on the churches, and after the Norman Conquest, when trade and commerce were at a low ebb, they fell into disrepute, and were allowed to be gradually destroyed, especially in the neighbourhood of towns, where their materials were made of use for building purposes.
1. "Archaeological Journal", No.89, 1866, pp. 63-65.
2. See 'Old and New London', Vol.V., pp.571-2.
3. See 'Old and New London', Vol.V., p.570.