If you fancy an amazing 'free' evening of entertainment over the Easter weekend, there are three performances of the Passion Play in Hornchurch, alongside the Queens Theatre. The passion Play has been enacted for the past twenty years, about every five years, and is a very professional performance, poignant and free. If you can make it, it is a very moving piece of theatre, of the last few days of Jesus, and his resurrection. The play starts about 7.30 on Good Friday, Saturday and Easter Sunday. There is ample parking in the Queens Theatre, and Sainsbury car parks, both are very close to the performances.
Also see the History of Hornchurch
Changing Face of Hornchurch” (Sutton Publishing 1999 - Tony Benton)
In 1762 the parish of Hornchurch, including Harold Wood, had eight inns, of which four were in the village. By 1848 these numbers had both grown by one, to nine and five respectively. The presence of the Old Hornchurch Brewery ensured that several local hostelries could rely on their village brewery for their supplies. In 1883 for instance, the King’s Head, opposite the brewery, the Bridge House at Upminster Bridge, the Cherry Tree at South Hornchurch, the Crown at Haveringwell were all freehold properties owned by the Hornchurch Brewery. Added to this were the leasehold property of the Old Oak at the junction of Brentwood Road and Hornchurch Road in north-west Hornchurch, while in later years the now-closed Greyhound in Hornchurch High Street and The Canteen, in South Hornchurch (later renamed the Albion), the Good Intent beerhouse in South End Road, were also added to the houses tied to the Hornchurch Brewery.
Of the inns which existed in 1762 only the King’s Head, now 189 High Street, but formerly known as Church Hill, still survives in its original buildings. These late seventeenth century timber-framed buildings, dating from 1680, were originally a coaching inn with a rear wing. For many years they were threatened with demolition under plans to ‘improve’ the town centre but they are now, along with the adjoining buildings at 191 and 193 High Street, Grade II listed. Following a major fire in 1966 the exterior was restored to its previous appearance but much of the interior was altered from the original. The pub was closely associated with the brewery opposite and the bottling plant next door and deliveries only required barrels to be rolled the short distance across Church Hill. At the turn of the century the landlord was Tom Mayne who, as a national reservist, was called up to active service in September 1914 immediately war broke out, joining the 11th Hussars. Sadly he was killed in action in France in March 1916, aged 45, when attached to the Royal Engineers Signals. His section officer wrote that ‘I could have better spared half my section than Tom Mayne. He was always bright, willing and even tempered.’ Tom’s widow Amelia took over as landlord, remaining in charge until the late 1930s.
A short walk from the King’s Head was the White Hart. The original inn, dating from the fourteenth or fifteenth century, burned down in November 1872. According to Perfect this ‘quaint hostelry’ was ‘said to be the most picturesque building in the village’, with gables, an overhanging front and a large sundial on its main chimney stack. It was ‘known to contain some architectural remains of an ecclesiastical character’ which led to speculation that they came from the original Hornchurch Priory, which may have stood on the site occupied by the inn. The replacement building was a functional Victorian brick-built hotel, supplied by Ind, Coope and Co. of Romford. To the rear was the White Hart’s ‘beer garden’ which Ted Ballard recalled with some pleasure had a lawn surrounded by trees and shrubs and a ring of fairy lights, which made it ‘a really quaint old style favourite evening family meeting place’.
When the junction of Station Road and the High Street was redesigned in 1935 the Victorian building was replaced by the current building and the gardens gave way to the road widening scheme. In recent decades, in light with modern fashions, the historic White Hart name has been replaced, firstly by the name Madison Exchange, and in the last few years being titled the Newt and Cucumber.
The Bull (recently renamed the Fatling & Firkin), although now heavily restored, dates back to the seventeenth century. Perfect describes how eighteenth and nineteenth century cricket matches at Hornchurch, usually played on the Langtons estate (later part of Grey Towers), were a major occasion and cricket elevens were entertained alternatively at the Bull Inn and the White Hart. Matches were often played for high stakes and Perfect recounts a story of a cricket match between eleven gentlemen of Hornchurch and a similar team from Fobbing in 1825. It was won by Hornchurch after which the teams ‘retired’ to the Bull where ‘after partaking of a most excellent dinner, provided by Mr Gooch, the landlord, they were amused by some excellent songs’. A long-serving landlord at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century was George Heath. Heath was licensee for thirrty-nine years from around 1889 to his death in January 1928, at which time he was Ind, Coope’s oldest tenant. His obituary said that throughout his tenancy he had conducted his house in an ‘exemplary manner’ and this led to the ‘high reputation’ in which the Bull was held. He was said to be ‘of genial disposition’ and he had ‘a cheery word for everyone and had hosts of friends’. For many years Heath also ran a livery stables to the rear of the pub and served as a jobmaster, hiring out carriages and carts.
The old Cricketers Inn was demolished in late 1938 when it was described as the next of Hornchurch’s ancient monuments to face the axe. It was then regarded as one of the village’s oldest buildings and was ‘a type of building in which tall men must gang warily for fear of cracking their heads on outstanding parts of the ceiling and on low door lintels.’
The former public house named the Crooked Billet, which stood on the spot now occupied by the house called The Billet, gave its name to Billet Lane. The present building is part of a modern house which replaced the original building, which was of some antiquity, said to be 300 years old when it was pulled down. It was a gabled house with dormer windows and a thatched roof, and was placed further back from the road than the present house. According to Perfect, writing in 1917, the Crooked Billet had closed about fifty years previously. In fact, this closure may have taken place during the 1850s, as by 1861 it seems to have been a private dwelling.
Until 1828 alehouse keepers and licensed victuallers were certified by the justices of the peace at the county quarter sessions and their licenses were reviewed annually each September. However, after 1828 this control was taken away from the justices of the peace and this led to the opening of a large number of beer-shops. Hornchurch was no exception: the Victorian era led to a marked expansion to the number of drinking places in the parish. Some blossomed and bloomed into public houses which today are well known. Others were short-lived and today are all but forgotten. Hornchurch village in the Victorian period boasted four other beershops or alehouses which have since disappeared.
Of these former village hostelries the Britannia had the most colourful history. This alehouse, supplied by Fielder’s brewery of Brentwood, stood on the corner of North Street, where Burtons the tailors now stands, and although it was closed down about 1907 it did continue as an off-licence for some time. The house was one of the oldest in Hornchurch and was reputed to have been, at one time, a rest house for monks. At its eastern end in North Street there was a large chimney stack and part of a flank wall was built entirely of Kentish Ragstone. The inside walls were all oak panelled. In the cellar were two bricked up entrances to passages, one of which was said to run to the church, while the other was thought to run to Capel Nelmes. Ted Ballard relates how when the house was being dismantled prior to its demolition the workmen broke through a section of the cellar wall butting on to North Street. A few steps down led into a small, vaulted tunnel made of crumbling bricks and the entrance was small and could only be entered backwards. After securing a fifty yard rope to the opposite side of the cellar, he ventured down but, for safety’s sake, he only went thirty or forty yards but the stench was unbearable.
The last occupiers of the Britannia, Mr and Mrs Aldridge, who moved out on Good Friday 1937, claimed that. in the previous four years they had seen a ghost several times in the downstairs front room.. Mrs Aldridge described the apparition as a ‘tall figure ... dressed as a monk, with a brown habit, girdled at the waist, a hood thrown back on the shoulders, and sandals. Sometimes he carried a book in his hand - at other times a candle ... there was always a deathly chill in the room ...’. The Britannia was replaced by the Burton’s store which opened in 1939.
Another former beerhouse in the village was the Foundry Arms, located close to the Cricketers Inn opposite the Union iron foundry, whose workers no doubt gave these convenient premises their custom. This seems to have been opened from the 1840s to the 1870s. The Greyhound beerhouse was located in the High Street between Thomas Pearce’s blacksmiths and Henry Franklyn’s bootmakers and was open from the 1860s to the 1880s. The Plough beershop seems only to have been in operation during the 1840s and 1850s.
Many beerhouse keepers found that there was not enough trade for them to concentrate solely on the sale of beer. In 1851 James Franklin of the Britannia was described as a ‘Grocer, pork butcher and beer seller’, while at the Foundry Arms Thomas Fry was listed as ‘Beer retailer and boot maker’. An unusual combination is found in 1861 when the proprietor of an unidentified beerhouse in the High Street was shown as a ‘Beerhousekeeper and bird stuffer’.
Even outside the village centre Hornchurch was well served with public houses and beershops. To the west of the village the present Harrow Inn in Hornchurch Road stands on the site of the original inn of the same name, pulled down in 1894. According to Perfect this ancient inn, with its thatched roof and wooded front, was typical of the old public houses in the neighbourhood, which had either been replaced by more modern buildings, or had closed completely. The inn had a very large forecourt which was needed as the Harrow was a favourite stop for the horsemen with their wagons laden with farm produce, as they travelled up to the London markets and back.
Further along Hornchurch Road, close to the boundary with Romford at the hamlet of Haveringwell is the Crown. The original premises were claimed to date from 1433, but this ancient building had been almost entirely rebuilt by 1923.
To the north of the village at the coming together of Billet Lane and North Street at Butts Green is the Chequers Inn. This late Victorian building dates from 1899, replacing an old hostelry of the same name, which Perfect said had a ‘red tiled roof and ... style of architecture in keeping with the other ancient houses of the village’. Before the current premises were built the quaint old house was the Chequers beerhouse. The Drill at Squirrels Heath is another Hornchurch premises which has its origins as a beerhouse. At Ardleigh Green the Spencer’s Arms recalls another of the older Hornchurch taverns which was near to the current site. The original public house had been replaced before 1851 when the ‘old Spencer’s Arms’ was listed.
As building development sprang up public houses were often among the services provided to the new community. This trend started with the development of the estate between Brentwood Road and Hornchurch Road (now South Street) in the 1860s. The yellow-brick Old Oak, on the junction of Brentwood and Hornchurch Roads, probably dates to around Christmas 1867, when the 99 years lease on the premises began.
The Railway Hotel, at the junction of Station Road and Kenilworth Gardens, was built at a cost of £20,000 by Ind, Coope and Co. to serve the estate developed around Hornchurch Station. The half-timbered buildings, which took eighteen months to build, opened on 19 March 1934. Not surprisingly the huge Elm Park housing development included a pub. The Elm Park Hotel at the junction of Elm Park Avenue and Elm Park (Broadway) was opened in [??1937] by [Mann’s]
The Good Intent on South End Road was described in 1818 as ‘a beerhouse near the farm called Algores’. It began in part of a cottage, one of a row of three, and with its signboard on a post outside preserved this rustic appearance into this century. It is said that John Pamment, who was the occupier in 1851, chose the beerhouse name because of his wish to give cheer to the neighbourhood.. George Oliver was the occupier throughout the 1860s, 70s and 80s and the establishment was bought by the Old Hornchurch Brewery in 1910. It was sold to Mann and Crossman in 1925, along with other brewery properties. The former beerhouse was rebuilt by its new owners in 1927 and later became the hostelry we now know, with its long frontage suggesting the site of the three cottages. Formerly frequented by farm workers, over many years of this century airmen and other staff from the airfield built alongside and behind the premises frequented its saloon and very small, dingy public bar. Officially airmen were not allowed off camp but the pub, close to the main gate, was conveniently considered to be in bounds, so much so that Maintenance Flight made it their headquarters when off duty. However, in 1941 during World War Two the addition of a new runway led to the closure of South End Road and with it the Good Intent which was turned into a NAAFI for the rest of the war. Recent renovations however have removed many of the photographs and memorabilia which provided a link to its past.
The first reference to The Cherry Tree ‘Publick House’ dates from 1773, although the present building dates to 1935. The name, and that of Cherry Tree Lane, reflect the cherry gardens which were once sited here, as possibly does the Orchard Farm which was once found nearby. Not far from the Cherry Tree is the Albion, formerly The Canteen. In 1872 the London Rifle Brigade established a firing-range along the Ingrebourne bank, the first fire-point being near the old moat of the manor-house of Great Dovers. To quench the thirst of the military men who used the firing range Edward Blewitt, farmer and builder, built a beerhouse which he appropriately named The Canteen. The range transferred to Ferry Lane in 1910, while the Canteen acquired a full licence and continued under the name, until after Mann and Crossman bought the business in 1925. It was then renamed the Albion after the Company’s brewery of that name in Whitechapel Road. At some time the house was enlarged, giving it a second gable in the frontage.