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The ever-changing face of Chadwell Heath

PUBLISHED: 17:37 08 December 2008 | UPDATED: 09:10 11 August 2010

It may be difficult to imagine, but for many centuries Chadwell Heath was just a quite, rural hamlet – a far cry from the busy shopping parade we see today. Tony Clifford, who has written a short history on the district, includes a quote in his text which

It may be difficult to imagine, but for many centuries Chadwell Heath was just a quite, rural hamlet - a far cry from the busy shopping parade we see today.

Tony Clifford, who has written a short history on the district, includes a quote in his text which says that in`` the 16th century Chadwell Heath's inhabitants were 'with the exception of a few farmers and trades people, a poor thriftless set of people, who lived in small log cabins.

They gained a precarious livelihood by cultivating patches in of land, lopping trees, and breeding cattle, colts, donkeys, swine and geese.'

However, Chadwell Heath, wasn't as isolated as you might think. It was actually built on an old roman road which linked London and Colchester, (some of which is now High Road.)

This route was an important and much used thoroughfare for many centuries, which, as Clifford's text explains, 'kept a quite rural hamlet in touch with some of the chief events of the political and social life of the nation.'

The road meant Chadwell Heath saw a fair few celebrities pass through over the years, including the famous author Samuel Johnson, who reportedly took this route on his way to Harwich in 1762.

In the 18th century around 60 to 70 coaches would travel along the road every day. Many of these would stop off at The Greyhound Inn (now a Harvester restaurant in High Road) so the horses could be changed and fed. The pub can be traced back to as early as 1592.

Despite Chadwell Heath railway station opening in 1864 it took a while before suburban growth really got going.

At that time there were only about 100 houses in the area. In 1895 the village was reported to be "quiet" and "set in the midst of an agricultural district. The lumbering farm wagons made their way to London with their farm produce.

A few solitary passengers travelled to business in the city, and they were looked upon sometimes as lacking in wisdom in taking such a long journey day and night."

Development took off in earnest after the First World War - to the north of the High road by private builders and to the south of the railway as part of the Becontree Housing Estate.

Sadly there are no pre-19 century buildings left in Chadwell Heath.

But many of the terraced houses and villas built at the turn of last century can still be seen today, such as the West View Cottages near South Wood Road and a large house dated 1901 at the junction of Whalebone Grove and Whalebone Lane North.

One of the oldest streets is Back Lane, which in the late 19th century was known as Post Office Lane.

Many people living in Chadwell Heath will be familiar with the whale bones which stood at the entrance of Valence House Museum, in Becontree Ave, until the building closed for refurbishment.

There appears to be a long history of whalebones in the area, (the earliest reference to them is 1641) with many stories of whales being washed up at Dagenham Breach and on the Thames.

Some say the Valence House bones are the ribs from a whale stranded in the Thames in 1658, the night before Oliver Cromwell died.

Chadwell Heath's most famous resident is probably Titanic survivor Eva Hart, who lived in Japan Road until her death in 1996.

Eva was seven years old when she and her parents boarded the doomed ship in 1912. Her and her mother managed to find room on a lifeboat, but she never saw her father again.

Eva was one of the most outspoken of all the survivors, often criticising the fact there were so few life boats on board. There is now a pub named after her in High Road.

l Many of these details came from "Chadwell Heath 1914" by Tony Clifford, which appears on the reverse of a modern reprint of a 1914 map of the district. The text kindly given to the POST by Chadwell Heath Historical Society.


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