Halbutt Street, RM9

Road in/near Becontree, existing until now

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Road · Becontree · RM9 ·
JUNE
6
2018

Halbutt Street is one of the oldest streets in the area.


Dagenham (’Daecca’s home’) was probably one of the earliest Saxon settlements in Essex: the name is first recorded in a charter of A.D. 687. From the 13th century onwards references to the parish, its farms and hamlets, are sufficiently numerous to suggest a flourishing community. In 1670 Dagenham contained 150 houses.

In the south of the parish the main west-east road from London to Tilbury entered as Ripple Side, known in the 16th century as Ripple Street, and now called Ripple Road. It turned north as Broad Street, formerly French Lane (mentioned in 1540) and then east past the Church Elm (1456), through Dagenham village, as Crown Street, formerly Dagenham Street (1441), and then south-east over Dagenham (or Dagenham Beam) Bridge. Joining that road at the village was one coming south from Becontree Heath. The northern part of this last road, now Rainham Road North, was formerly Spark Street (1540) and later Bull Lane. The southern part, now Rainham Road South, was known recently as Romford Road, but this does not seem to have been an ancient name.

The continuation of Broad Street, north of the Church Elm, was Halbutt Street, named from a farm recorded in 1339. This ran to Five Elms, where there was a small open green. Oxlow Lane, formerly Hokestrete (1456), ran east, from Halbutt Street to the Four Wants (1623), where it crossed Bull Lane.

At Five Elms, Halbutt Street joined Wood Lane (1563), coming from Barking, which ran north-east to Becontree Heath. Running west through Becontree Heath was Green Lane (1339), the road from Ilford to Hornchurch and Upminster. Whalebone Lane went north from Becontree Heath to Marks Gate and the forest, through Chadwell Heath, where it crossed the main road from London to Colchester, now High Road. Whalebone Lane took its name from whalebones set up at the cross-roads. The first known reference to the bones is in 1641, when it was stated that the rib of a whale had lately been placed at the cross-roads. A map of 1652 shows a whalebone in the middle of the road there. In the early 18th century it was stated that a bone fixed there had come from a whale taken in the Thames in 1658. This tradition is not disproved by the earlier references, for it is clear that several different bones are involved. In 1904 there were two whalebones overhanging the gates of Whalebone House, which stood on the north side of the High Road to the east of the cross-roads, and it was then stated that another pair, which had stood at the opposite corner of Whalebone Lane, had recently been removed. The pair from Whalebone House is now (1963) at Valence House.

In the extreme west of the parish, forming the boundary for part of its length, was Gale Street (1433), running north from Ripple Side to cross Wood Lane, and continuing as Bennetts Castle Lane, formerly Castle Alley (1600), to a junction with Green Lane. Chitty’s Lane, previously known as Bolimereslane (1307), Gotislane (1393), and Groves Street (1440), ran from Green Lane north to Chadwell Heath. At Marks Gate was Rose Lane, named from a medieval family. The road from Cockermouth southwards to the Thames, now Chequers Lane, was formerly the Marsh Way (1563), West Marsh Lane (1630), and Breach Lane (1752). Other marsh roads were Pooles Lane and Choats Manor Way. Workhouse Lane branched east of Halbutt Street, approximately on the line of the present Holgate Road.

Dagenham village in 1653 consisted of a single street — Crown Street — with buildings along most of the north side, some on the south side, including the church, and a few others at the junction of the road to Rainham. It was little bigger in 1805 and its growth was slow throughout the 19th century, even after the opening of the railway. In 1963, although surrounded by the modern town, the old village retained its shape and something of its character. Many of the houses, however, were unoccupied, and the whole area was awaiting redevelopment. The oldest surviving building, apart from the church, stands opposite to it on the north side of Crown Street. This is the Cross Keys Inn, a timber-framed hall house with gabled and formerly jettied cross wings, probably dating from the 15th century. In 1670 this belonged to the Comyns family, who were prominent in Dagenham and Romford. It became an inn, the Queen’s Head, about 1700, and received its present name before 1785. One of the rooms has 17th-century panelling. To the east of the inn the vicarage, a timber-framed building of early-17th-century origin, stands in its own garden. Farther east, the small houses and cottages on both sides of the narrow street leading to Rainham Road are mostly brick buildings of the 18th and early 19th centuries; a few are of timberframed construction. Nearly all are in poor repair and several, including two 18th-century brick houses of some architectural character (Nos. 33 and 35), are empty and derelict. Many old buildings in the village have been demolished during the past 80 years, among them George House, west of the church, which has been traced back to 1540. On the north side of Crown Street Comyn’s almshouses, largely rebuilt in the 19th century, still survive.

The urban development has for the most part preserved the lines and the names of the old roads. Among the important new roads are Heathway, which runs south from Becontree Heath to the Tilbury Road, Parsloes Avenue, running south-east from Wood Lane, and Valence Avenue, from Wood Lane north to Chadwell Heath. In north Dagenham, Whalebone Lane was extended northwards from Marks Gate to link up with Romford Road, leading to Chigwell Row.

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Becontree

The Becontree Estate remains the largest public housing development in the world.

The Becontree Estate was developed between 1921 and 1932 by the London County Council as a large council estate of 27,000 homes, intended as ’homes for heroes’ after World War I. It has a current population of over 100,000 and is named after the ancient Becontree hundred, which historically covered the area.

The very first house completed, in Chittys Lane, is recognisable by a blue council plate embedded in the wall. Parallel to Chittys Lane runs Valence Avenue, which is wider than the rest of the streets in the district because a temporary railway ran down the centre of the avenue during the construction of the estate - it was built especially for the building work, connecting railway sidings at Goodmayes and a wharf on the river Thames with the worksites.

At the time people marvelled at having indoor toilets and a private garden, although the sash windows were extremely draughty, there was no insulation in the attics, and during the winter months very few people could afford enough coal to heat the bedrooms. The toilet, bath tap and a tap in the kitchen over a copper boiler which was used for both washing clothes and heating bath water were all fed from a reservoir tank in the attic which invariably froze on winter mornings leaving the toilets unusable. One curious clause in the contract of tenancy stipulated that children born to parents living in Dagenham could not be housed on the estate themselves when the time came for them to establish their own homes.

Over the 15-year period of the building of the estate, the school-aged population rose rapidly to 25,000 while there were only 4 secondary schools nearby: three in Chadwell Heath and one at Becontree Heath, which meant that many children could not attend school. The first secondary school to be built was Green Lane in 1923, but it later became a primary school.

There was no town centre as is generally understood in a typical UK community. The new estate was to have large public houses few and far between, rather than smaller ones close together as in London.

Privet hedges (referred to as evers) were planted along the pavements at the end of every front garden and during the spring and summer months a squad of gardeners were employed to keep them in regulation height. Although the estate regulations stipulated that the gardens must be maintained in order, more than a few degenerated into virtual jungles. However, to encourage the application of this rule, prizes were awarded for the best kept gardens.

The houses were gas lit until after the Second World War and the old appliances remained in place after the electric fittings were installed; that is why the lights in the rooms were always ’off-centre’ except in the kitchen where the lamp was on the wall near the copper boiler. Gas street lighting was only replaced by electric lamps in 1957/58.

Becontree station was originally opened as Gale Street Halt in 1926 by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway on the existing route from Fenchurch Street to Southend. The station was renamed and completely rebuilt in 1932 with an additional pair of platforms to serve the electric District Railway local service.
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