MEMORIES OF ROMFORD AND ST. ANDREW’S
by Sybil Robson
Here is a wonderful insight to life in the parish covering many years written by a parishioner. It shows how life was before many of the modern day conveiniences we now take for granted.
My parents first moved to Romford in 1929 when they bought a new house, just being built, in Rush Green Road. The road wasn’t much more than a country Lane, ditches along the side of the road with tall trees and hedges and farmed land behind us. I understand from Elsie Porter that her Father worked on this land and the road had been called Brook Road before Rush Green Road. I didn’t realize then that this was the start of a very big estate for that side of Romford, all part of the Parish of St. Andrew’s Church. I was five when we first moved to Romford and went to school at Becontree Heath in the middle of Nanny Goat Common. It was a very small country school and about a mile at least away from home and of course we walked there and back. Home at dinner time, too. This was all before the Civic Centre was built on Nanny Goat Common and the new Fire Station in Rainham Road South.
Romford was then known as the first country town outside the old metropolitan area of Dagenham. Much new building was going on all over the Romford area, but particularly in Rush Green. There were a few buses into Romford, very few cars or private telephones, we mostly walked, talked or sent letters and the railway station was at least a mile away.
When I was about seven a new school was opened in Dagenham Road known as Rush Green School and all Primary School children started there. Not just from my estate, but from older houses off Dagenham Road who had previously attended London Road School. Those children also had a long way to walk to school in those days and no buses at all, past the cemetery, through Nursery Walk, under the railway tunnel and out on to London Road.
However, life was much easier for children once the new school opened in Rush Green and here I met my school friend Hilda when we both went there at the age of seven, and we are still good friends today even though we live miles apart now.
The time came when our parents thought we should go to Sunday School, join Brownies etc., so mother took me on the bus to Romford, the nearest Church we could see which was in South Street, the old Congregational Church (long since knocked down). So I started Sunday School and Brownies and Guides. On Sunday, we attended Church Parade once a month when the Boys Brigade would meet with their band and when we were Girl Guides we could march round the streets on parade with the band.
Hilda didn’t come to the same Sunday School as me as there was a little Gospel Hall in Birkbeck Road where they held services and as she lived in Birbeck Road, Hilda’s Mother let her go there. Sometimes I would join her when we would sing choruses like ‘Joy, joy, joy, with joy my heart ringing’ or ‘I’m HAPPY’. I thought this very strange, but good fun. Sunday School at the Congregational was quite dull and I dreaded Church Parade especially when the Minister would shout from the pulpit, bang on the top and go on for ever. However, I continued there for many years until my friends Godmother discussed with Hilda’s Mother that it was time Hilda was preparing for Confirmation, so it was decided she would be sent to the Parish Church for this purpose. Needless to say Hilda didn’t want to go on her own, so she asked me to go with her. We knew it was the Church she passed when she used to go to London Road School, in fact the only Church nearest to us and so we discovered our Parish Church.
I shall never forget our first morning there! Hard to understand, but wonderful: so much happening. Lovely music, and singing so very different to the service at the Congregational Church I went to for Church Parade in South Street. Soon my friend and I were happy to attend regularly, Hilda’s brother joined the choir and very quickly we seemed to know everyone. We joined the Youth Club which met weekly in the Church Hall. We were allowed to bring our roller skates! Father Bell was in charge of the club, I’m sure it was on a Tuesday evening. A couple of our members had some instruments and we would finish off the evening dancing and in the Summer time we would go over the road to the park with our tennis rackets and play tennis. Very happy days!
We got to know Elsie and Mable Porter as they lived in Grosvenor Road at Rush Green. at that time, which was the road behind Hilda’s. Elsie was a bit older than us, but we used to meet them on our way to Church and often walked home down Nursery Walk with them too. Soon Hilda was confirmed in 1938 and I was the following year in 1939. Elsie made my Confirmation dress and there were lots of us. We had to wear veils and were confirmed by the Bishop of Barking – a very old man. It was a lovely Service; we didn’t have Communion on the day of Confirmation in those days. Only the Priest took Communion at the 11am Mass. We had to go the next Sunday at 8am to receive Communion. There were lots of said Communions early in the mornings during the week, but always on Sundays, 8am and 11am. Sunday School in the afternoons and Evensong at 6.30pm. Hilda and I used to go to all the services, we loved Church and after our Confirmation, we became Sunday School teachers, we had teachers preparation on Monday evenings at the hall. Mr. Rumsey was Sunday School Superintendant, a lovely old man. Sunday School was held in Church divided into classes. There were a lot of children there in those days, I had about 6 or 7, even 10 in my class and Mr. Darby and Mr. Harris were Churchwardens.
Sadly, the beginning of September 1939 war was declared! I will never forget that day. Hilda and I were in Church that morning. The Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain was to speak on that morning at 11am. Of course we were there for Mass and Father Bell went into the Vestry and Father Stroud sat in his pew. The service did not start. After a few minutes, Fr. Bell came to the Sanctuary Steps and told us all that war had been declared at 11am. Soon after that the sirens sounded for the first time, later the all clear sounded as we were on our way home. Later we learned it had been a false alarm, but we were all very frightened at the time.
Many things stopped during the war. Services went on as usual, but the Club stopped using St. Andrew’s hall. I believe the hall was used as a Wardens Post and for Fire Watching. The Sunday School stopped for a time. Later the Club reopened at St. Agnes. I became an Air Raid Warden, my post was opposite the Cemetery, corner of Dagenham and Oldchurch Roads. In those days there were Gravel Pits where the flats in Dagenham Road are now, but Haines and Warwick Monumental Masons were there even in those days.
We had many incidents during the time I was on duty incendiaries and landmines in the area, especially at the Gasworks which was very close to my post. I worked at Upminster during the day and on duty rota some evenings. During the early part of the war my friend Hilda moved to Hounslow as her Fathers place of work changed. Also Elsie Porter moved to Cotleigh Road from Grosvenor Road. During the war I remember Fr Stroud telling us that it was planned to hold Evensong above the library in Dagenham Road. I didn’t ever go there, as we often went to Evensong at St. Agnes, walking down Crow Lane to get there from Rush Green.
When I was 17 ½ my father who was a Station Officer in the London Fire Brigade, decided I needed to join the NFS rather than be called up for the services, so I had training and went first to Barking Fire Station, then Dagenham where I worked the switchboard and mobilizing board and Fire Alarm System. I also, after training, became Fitness Training Instructor for our girls. This I did for 3 years and during this time met my husband whilst stationed in Weymouth at the time of D Day. During this time personnel from London were sent to various towns on the coast for reinforcing duties and after D Day they started to demob us and I was allowed to join the WRNS for the latter part of the War. All this time, whenever I was on leave, I still attended Mass at St. Andrew’s. Fr. Brown came during the early part of the War after Fr. Bell went into the Army as a Chaplain.
The war ended in 1945 and at that time I was stationed at HMS Ganges near Ipswich. My Mother was taken very ill and I was given a compassionate discharge to look after her. My Father was also discharged from the LFB. on ill health, so I was needed at home to look after them.
Soon after the war the British Restaurant which was no longer needed was bought by the Diocese I presume, and became St. Augustine’s Church.
Fr. Turner, as far as I remember, became the first Priest in Charge. I did not go there, as by this time I had married and had a family. Fr. Bell came back to Romford and was appointed Priest in Charge of St. Alban’s Romford, all daughter churches of St. Andrew’s. I attended St. Albans. Even my Banns of marriage had to be called at St. Andrew’s as well as St. Albans, because at that time St. Alban’s was a Conventional District Church and the Registrar had to be present even though Fr. Bell was a Priest and licensed to marry us. It was made a Parish Church in 19.., during the time that Fr. Bell was there and he was made 1st Vicar. After he went to Northumberland we had several Priests; Fr. Brown, (not the same as the Fr. Brown at St. Andrew’s), Fr. Gilbert, Fr. Hugh, Fr. Anderson and lastly Fr. Hingley.
We moved to South Ockendon in 1981 where St. Nicolas Church was on the Village Green. Fr. Harry Black was Vicar, then to Benfleet and I went to St. Mary’s, another Anglo Catholic Church, where I was PCC Secretary. We moved to Great Waldingfield near Lavenham for 1 year in 1989 whilst Allan was building our bungalow for our retirement back in Romford. During the time I was at Benfleet I visited St. Andrew’s several times and gave Fr. David Paul some photo’s of the Boys and Men’s Choir of St. Andrew’ in my time there. I also came to the induction of Fr. Lewis with Fr. Michael Galloway of St. Mary’s Benfleet.
We move back into Romford in 1990 when the Bungalow was finished and I returned to St. Andrew’s. Fr. Lewis was Vicar and then Rural Dean. During this time we had Fr. Robin Ward as a Curate whilst he did his training then went to London as assistant Priest, he later became a Vicar at Seven Oaks. We then had Fr. Paul Kennedy as Curate who first went to Cheam as Priest in Charge then became Vicar in Steep, Petersfield and now is in Winchester. During this time I was MU Enrolling Member.
Fr. Lewis stayed with us for several years until he went to Ilford. During our Interregnum, Fr. Jimmy Froud helped us to keep things as normal as possible and made a wonderful job of the Parish before we were lucky to have Fr. John-Francis appointed as Rector.