#73: Romford – 18/12/2019

BUT FIRST – by the time you read this, Christmas will be over and it will be 2020 – so here’s wishing you all a very Happy New Year and who knows what delights it will bring….? Meanwhile, back to the plot…

Welcome to Romford! Some commentators say Romford is the capital of the East End; well I’ll let you and others debate and decide on that.

Romford is at one end of the Overground shuttle service running to/from Upminster, and this visit completes the set of 20 endpoint destinations on the Overground.

I’ve also left Romford towards the end of my journeys as this is where I have lived for almost 30 years, so I wanted to make sure I took an objective view of the area, and I hope I’ve achieved this by exploring the town over several days. In fact, on 02/07/2019; 04/12/2019; 12/12/2019 and 18/12/2019, and I make no apology that this blog is somewhat longer than normal as I want to do justice to the things I’ve seen and people I’ve met.

The Station

Almost my second home for the last 30 years as I pass through and often stop en route to/from Gidea Park, so I feel as if I have some affinity with this station. But to be honest, I’ve never really stopped to look around…until now. The station has 5 platforms. No 1 serving the Overground shuttle to/from Upminster, and the focus of my journey today. No’s 4-5 serving the Tfl line to/from Shenfield and Nos 2-3 for the fast service from East Anglia into London Liverpool Street.

This rainbow roundel was interestingly only displayed on Platform 1 during the summer pride celebrations which Tfl was supporting, but nevertheless I’m happy I had the opportunity to catch it when I did as it didn’t stay for long. And it’s when I took this shot I noticed the nameplate on the bridge leading to Platform 1 for Westwood Baillie & Co. A little research yields some interesting facts about this ironworks engineers who built bridges as far and wide as India and South Africa, and like the one in Romford, still stand today.

I’m always delighted by the wintry dusk skylines in Romford as when the sun sets on clear evenings looking westerly, the transition through red, orange and ultimately dark blue and black, when set against an industrial landscape, is always interesting. This is one of those evenings.

And heading down under the station, there are partly covered arches on the northern side of the station running into Exchange Street. In recent years, the footpath has been laid in multi-coloured bricks and the arches fenced in to make this once seedy cut through slightly more palatable. See my picture of the day below for another take on this scene.

A Shopping Mecca

On one of my outings I decide to explore the rooftops to see if there is a different view of the Town I’d not seen before. You see Romford is a shopping mecca defined by its market, and four shopping centres: The Brewery, The Liberty, The Mercury and the Shopping Hall.

Visitors are incentivised to visit by road as the centre is somewhat characterised by its ring road and 5 multi-story car parks.

From my observations, today’s Romford has been shaped by three architectural periods. The mid 30’s with its art deco style fashion. This is a time when the town grew significantly and became a commuter town; the 60’s with its overuse of concrete; and thankfully the more stylised 21st Century modernist look. One commentator describes quite eloquently Romford’s style as being ‘…at times a little scruffy and smelly…’, but my view is that these moments add character and depth to the hidden parts of the town. What do you think?

But on balance, the town has much to offer, and here I’ll share some examples of how I see Romford through these three eras…

1930’s Art Deco – I hadn’t realised, until I started reviewing my photos, how similar some of the buildings around the town are. Here’s two examples: the Town Hall and the entrance to the Quadrant Centre. Both built in the mid 1930’s.

The Concrete 1960’s – or is it a space invasion with a hidden flying saucer unseen by everyone. Ha! This is the rooftop of the car park exit ramp from The Brewery, but on a dank wintry afternoon, it has an eerie quality. However the use of concrete epitomises its functionality when it was fashionable to do so in the 60’s, and it’s evident in all of the surrounding car parks.

Modernist 21st Century – one of the newest buildings in town is the Sapphire and Ice Leisure Centre built in partnership with the council. A magnificent recreational centre encompassing a swimming pool, a multi-gym and an ice rink. And as a patron, I find that it represents exceptional value for money.

As with most town centres, there is a constant churn of how space is used, with some new developments being created and others left to fester for too long and they themselves become enshrined into the fabric of the town. By way of example, there’s a very new patisserie just opened in Exchange Street – Dolce Desserts. Perched on the cutting between South Street and Exchange Street, I’m welcomed in on their second day of opening to review their deco and range of food offerings. A very simple yet attractive setting in which to relax for a short respite.

In contrast, the cutting from the Liberty Shopping Centre alongside Debenhams to the Market has been left undeveloped for many a year. And the hoarding now installed has become a permanent advert for the shopping centre itself.

And despite the dank and dreary conditions of the day, there’s always an unexpeted and surprising moment to encounter when I least expect it. Where else would you find a leapord and three coloured sheep sharing the same table?

Buskers

On most days you’ll encounter buskers in South Street or thereabouts. And today is no different, but what is different is their willingness or unwillingness to have their picture taken or engage in a conversation. As is the case with the first gentleman I encounter strumming his guitar alongside Santander just off South Street. He is most adamant that I do not take his picture – I wonder why?

And similarly close by down the side of Barclays, a couple of Eastern European gents are sharing their musical talents on an accordion and clarinet. At first they are quite happy for me to take their pictures but suddenly I’m instructed with ‘No Image! No Image!’ I gesticulate that I’ll only take pictures of their instruments, but by which time I have already taken several shots. Ooops!

Into South Street, and I meet my most interesting characters of the day; two in fact. First is Joseph who is sitting outside M&S happily singing and strumming his guitar. He’s been here a while as I could hear him earlier in the day, so I stop to chat, which he’s very happy to do. A friendly and amiable artist who enjoys the busking life, and says he’s had many an invitation to support others through being listened to in the streets. Passers by complain jovially that he’s not singing, but they are still happy to throw coins into his upturned hat, for which he thanks them. I try not to keep him talking for too long, and as I leave him, I listen to his melancholic and soulful sound. Nice to meet you Joseph.

Less than 75 meters along South Street, I stop and admire the wordsmithery of @itsTrueMendous. I  listen and gesticulate if it’s OK to take pictures and with a nod of agreement, I click away. She has a very acute ear and a sharp mind as her rap takes in things in her immediate surrounds; including my distraction. She stops for a short while and as we chat, I explain my ‘journey’ to Chyvonne who’s keen to understand where the best spots for busking are in the East End. I offer some suggestions and as she continues to rap, she does so to the camera. Thank you Chyvonne, and it was a blast to meet you. Go listen to her on Twitter or Instagram.

Romford Market

Do you know what the distance of a day’s sheep drive is? To find out, read on…

The market originated in 1247 under a Royal Charter granted by King Henry III stipulating no other market is permitted to set up within a day’s sheep drive of Romford – defined as six and two-thirds miles. There you have it.

I have a fond recollection of markets; as a child in Aberystwyth, I’d listen to the traders shouting out their latest offerings, and on some occasions trying out their free samples (often sweets or rock) when the fair and market came to town every November. And so I have a particular memory of my first Christmas market in Romford in 1990, as I could hear an incomprehensible chant booming loudly over everyone and everything else. It sounded like…’pan yur sana at’. Now clearly I hadn’t quite grasped the Estuary English often heard in Romford, but as I got closer to the trader and realised what was on offer, I quickly translated his chant into ‘one pound for your santa hat’. I bought two…

Alas inflation kicked in a few years later as the chant had changed to ‘two pan yur sana at’.

Prior to visiting the market, I’d been in touch with the Market Manager, out of courtesy, to explain my intention to photograph the market and outline that I’d be approaching individual traders for their consent. And indeed I met some interesting characters.

First is Ola Leggings, who owned a number of leggings stalls in the vicinity. He catches my attention as he’s singing along to Christmas music being played across the market, but became somewhat bashful as I approach and encourage him to continue.

Secondly are the two gents of the Wickendens Meat wagon. Both are happy to be photographed, and as I start on their portraiture, they begin to move all the hung meet from the back of the wagon to the front. They sure know how to maximise this photo opportunity; and they are equally happy to share a joke too.

The market is an eclectic and diverse mix of traders, but from my experience, the essence has also changed over the past 30 years. The strains of austerity, internet shopping and out of town stores have resulted in fewer traders around at a time when I would have expected the market to be at its peak. Nevertheless, I’m always amazed at the efficiency of the clearing up progress once the traders have finished for the day.

The week leading up to Christmas sees, amongst other festive events, a free mini funfair consisting of a ferris wheel, spinning teapots, haunted house, swing chairs and smaller rides for the younger folk. So not wanting to miss an opportunity, here are a couple of shots showing how colour and movement can be captured. I was a little surprised though that the funfair closed by 4.30 pm when I would have thought more folk would have been looking to enjoy the funfair. But I guess its timing is kept in concert with the market trading times. Anyway, all those there were really enjoying this free time.

And if you wander around the nooks and crannies of the market area, you’ll discover seedy side streets and cuttings which aren’t for the casual passer-by. But take a look down the alleyways and there are some discoveries to be made.

The Brewery

Now a fashionable retail area with ample parking, this area was once the largest employer in Romford; in its heydey employing over 1,000 workers. Life began here as The Star Brewery in 1708, by 1845 as Ind Coope, and into the 20th Century as Allied Breweries, where the John Bull brand of beer was produced. 

The brewery closed in 1993 and once demolished, the site was redeveloped in 2001 into the retail park we see today. Walking around you’ll see remnants of it’s brewing heritage, and you can’t fail to miss the iconic 160 foot chimney which dominates the skyline; this is one of the original chimneys from the brewing days.

As part of the development, metal artwork camouflaged as large insect like creatures help create a canopy for the shops and car park, but I’m unable to find any reference to their origin. If you know anything about them, do please drop me a line. And if you’ve not seen them, the Brewery Centre have teamed up with Things Made Public and installed 10 animal murals throughout the centre which you’re invited to go looking for them. I’ve not reproduced the murals as part of the fun in seeing them is the hunt. Have a go and see if you can find all of them – start here.

Picture of the Day

This view is taken through the partly covered arches on the northern side of the station running alongside and eventually into Exchange Street. The multi-coloured path is almost an attractive feature if it wasn’t for the fact that this is a somewhat seedy cut-through to the west of Romford. But nevertheless, it provides for an attractive photo-opportunity.

I took a series of shots to see how best to capture the scene, and this one works best. Taken facing west, I waited for the right pedestrian to reach the end of the tunnel so that their silhouette helped to fill the tunnel opening. The late afternoon daylight coming in overhead helps to highlight the floor pattern, and the arch brickwork is enhanced using a green (Alpaca) filter.

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ3.5; Shutter Speed – 1/60; Focal Length – 18mm; Film Speed – ISO6400; Google filter – Alpac

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