A nod at our neighbours (2): Manor Park pt 1

Friday, 20 November 2015



This is the second in an occasional series of articles taking a quick peep at the history of a neighbouring area. This time our friends to the north east: Manor Park: from the Domesday Book until the latter part of the nineteenth century.

What we now know as Manor Park was, until the late nineteenth century, called Little Ilford (the small crossing over the River Hile - former name of the Roding) - as indeed the eastern part of it still is.

The area gained its modern name to describe the growing suburb being constructed around Manor Park railway station. This, itself, took its name from the home of the Lord of the Manor of West Ham, just round the corner, in what is now Gladding Road. 

Nineteenth century railway builders were a bit like modern estate agents in trying to brand areas with upmarket names; so, locally we have Manor Park, Upton Park, Woodgrange Park and Wanstead Park stations - all some distance from anything we would recognise as a formal park!.

Little Ilford was identified in the Domesday Book (1086), following the Norman Conquest, as part of Ham(me) - a low-lying pasture. It had a population of only 10. It was simply a hamlet at this time, and barely grew in population for the next 400 years.

It is thought that an alehouse has stood on the site of the former Three Rabbits pub, on the corner of Rabbits Road since the 1630's - probably taking its name from a rabbit warren on the old Aldersbrook estate (hence Warren Avenue). The pub was said to have been used by dealers trading at the annual cattle fairs on what is now Wanstead Flats, until the nineteenth century. It was situated, of course, on the old Roman - Colchester, now Romford, Road.


To the left, an early 20th century
 image of Three Rabbits pub. To
 the right the former Manor Park library,
 now re-opened as an arts centre.


Boots the Chemist, on the corner of Rabbits
 and Romford Roads, on site of former
 Three Rabbits pub, location of an
 alehouse for almost 500 years
The Three Rabbits lasted until the early years of this century, as a large music pub (ex-Tremeloes front man, Brain Poole was a regular, for a while), when it was refurbed into a Boots the chemist, with flats above - see photo.

Chapman and Andre's map (see below) of 1777 shows that the parish of Little Ilford, then, consisted of the parish church, Manor Farm, a few cottages, the Three Rabbits and the Aldersbrook estate.  Its small size was confirmed by the 1801 census, suggesting it had a population of just 100.


Chapman and Andre's 1777 map,
 showing the hamlet of Little Ilford
The Manor House that was built between 1810 and 1827 was the seat of the Manor of West Ham. It replaced a former house, of which there are few extant details. The nineteenth century dwelling, and the surrounding land, was purchased by the Eastern Counties Railway in 1839, when the London to Romford line was being constructed, to accommodate its route, for £10,000.


The Manor House,and splendid
 grounds, in better days
The house, itself, however, was not directly affected by the railway line and was leased to William Storrs Fry - son of Elizabeth, the prison reformer, who lived nearby, firstly in what is now East Ham's Plashet Park and then later behind what is now West Ham Park. 

The Manor House, and much of the land, remained leased to the family until 1866, when it was sold to the Victoria Land Company, from when it was to have a fascinating history.

Meanwhile, other developments were happening apace in what was still Little Ilford. Between 1829 and 1831 a jail was built in the area: The Little Ilford House of Correction (around what are now Gloucester and Worcester Roads), at a cost of £30,000.

Unfortunately no photographs of the prison survive, but when it was demolished in 1878, some of its rubble was used in the construction of houses in the aforementioned roads.

It was a brick building, designed for 100 inmates, who were expected to spend their time in silence, while incarcerated. It consisted of 60 cells, with eight day wards, 10 exercise yards and a treadmill, for the exhausting "hard labour" sentences.

Life there was grim. Existing records, still within the Essex Records Office, show a lack of adequate water supply, poor ventilation and diseases like scurvy, associated with poor diet. It is not known whether Elizabeth Fry ever visited, or was influenced by conditions there, but within a year of its opening she was giving evidence to a House of Commons Committee on poor prison conditions.
Print of prison reformer, Elizabeth
 Fry, reading to prisoners
Largely as a result of the existence of this penal institution, Little Ilford's population began to expand. By 1848 it stood at 189, which figure, in turn, had more doubled by the census, three years later. 

The growth came from a combination of the development of the jail and incoming Irish immigrants, fleeing the famine in the late 1840's, for cheap accommodation on the outskirts of London (see reference to Irish Row, in our recent blog about Ebor cottages - here).

We have written previously about the development of much of our local area as cemeteries in the second half of the nineteenth century (see here). Manor Park was at the forefront of this development. 

In 1854 the Corporation of the City of London bought over 112 acres of land from the Manor of Aldersbrook -  part of Little Ilford - for £200,000 for the construction of the City of London cemetery. It opened two years later, to accommodate up to 6,000 burials per year.


City of London Cemetery,
 Manor Park, c 1850
Within twenty years, another 50 acres parcel of the land was bought in the area, this time from the former Hamfrith farm's new owner, Samuel Gurney - a relative of the Frys - for the construction of the Manor Park Cemetery. This is a privately owned cemetery (for details see cemeteries articles referred to above) and was opened in 1874, with its original chapel opened two years later. Its success would have been confirmed by the opening of Manor Park station in 1872 (see next post).

Between these two cemetery developments in the area, the Catholic church purchased the Manor House, itself, and seven surrounding acres in 1866 and established St Nicholas Industrial School. We pick up the Manor Park story, next week with the school's story.

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