A History of the County of Essex: Volume 7. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1978.
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Until the 19th century Rainham drew its living from farming and the river Thames. The creek gave it a share of the river traffic and provided an outlet for local and inland produce. Cattle and sheep grazed on the coastal marshes; and the upland arable produced grain and from 1850 vegetables for the London market. Industry gradually spread along the creek and river bank after 1870.
The prosperity of Rainham apparently diminished in the generation after the Conquest: manorial values and the number of ploughs and recorded population all dropped. (fn. 1) There were 4 freemen, 24 villeins, 11 bordars, and 11 serfs in 1066, but only 25 villeins, 18 bordars, and 4 serfs in 1086. In 1066 there were 8½ demesne and 13½ tenants' ploughs; they numbered respectively 4 and 8½ in 1086. Of the 3 chief manors South Hall fell in value from £6 to £2, and Berwick from £6 to £4. Only Walter of Douai's manor, the largest in Rainham, kept its value. His demesne and the tenants each lost a plough: in 1086 he had 2 ploughs and his tenants 5; but the manor's population had risen. In 1066 there had been 12 villeins, 2 bordars, and 5 serfs; in 1086 the manor had 12 villeins, 9 bordars, and 4 serfs. The later total included 3 men whose holdings had been free in 1066. The most notable difference is the sharp rise in the number of bordars. Their presence often indicates forest clearance, (fn. 2) but there were no woodland-pastures for swine in Rainham, and in 1086 there were only 20 pigs on Walter's manor. Perhaps his bordars were reclaiming land along the Ingre-bourne. In 1086 Rainham and Berwick manors had 185 sheep, which were presumably kept on the marshes along with the flocks of South Hall, for which no livestock was recorded.
Rainham marshes have always provided grazing. The only change in their extent appears to have occurred with the reclamation of 185 a., probably in the 17th century. (fn. 3) In 1309 it was said that 40 a. of marshland were arable, but that was probably a round figure; the amount of marsh arable in 1861 was only 28 a. (fn. 4) The livestock of Moorhall in 1333, besides 5 draught animals, comprised 32 head of cattle, and 137 sheep. (fn. 5) From the 16th century onwards Rainham wills name butchers, graziers, sheepand cattle-breeders, and herdsmen. (fn. 6) Bequests were often expressed in terms of livestock: William Radley in 1540 bequeathed at least 65 cattle and 164 sheep. (fn. 7) By the 19th century the marshes provided pasture for many Welsh, Scottish, Lincolnshire, and Norfolk sheep, as well as cattle for the London market each autumn. (fn. 8) In 1838 there were 1,334 a. of pasture; in 1905 there were 975 a. (fn. 9) In 1906 the War Office bought 195 a. for use as rifle ranges. (fn. 10) Since the Second World War the ranges have been seldom used. Some receive spoil dredged from the Thames, others are once again used for grazing. (fn. 11) In 1961 there were 787 a. pasture. (fn. 12) The Berwick herd of Friesians was sold in 1961, the Moorhall herd in 1974. (fn. 13)
Rainham farming was linked to London from the Middle Ages. St. Bartholomew's hospital drew grain, beans, and hay from its Rainham estate c. 1200. (fn. 14) In 1333 Moorhall had 89 a. sown with grain and 14 a. with beans and peas; a further 54 a. were fallow, 14a. of them manured. (fn. 15) In 1631 two Rainham farmers were accused of selling cart-loads of hay and straw in London, thus enhancing prices. (fn. 16) Capt. Harle's development of the wharf in the 1720s made trade with London even easier; Rainham was probably supplying peas in 1794, and perhaps potatoes in 1807. (fn. 17) In 1838 there were 1,705 a. of arable. (fn. 18) In the mid 19th century intensive market-gardening reached Rainham from parishes nearer London; arable had increased to 1,995 a. by 1905, (fn. 19) and by 1929 almost every major farm in the parish was said to be a market-garden. (fn. 20) In 1849 or 1850 Thomas Circuit (d. c. 1867), already a market-gardener in East Ham, leased Brick House (84 a.) between Upminster Road and the Ingre-bourne. (fn. 21) He was succeeded by John Circuit, who at his death in 1876 was farming 413 a. in Rainham, including 227 a. freehold. (fn. 22) William Blewitt (d. 1875) was a market-gardener on an even larger scale, as the tenant of Ayletts, Bright's, and Parsonage farms, 664 a. in all. (fn. 23)
Rainham's access to the river favoured such a development. The light lands of the parish were suitable for intensive cultivation only if thoroughly manured, and it was by river that barge-loads of London muck were brought to Rainham. Before 1872 the parish was already in bad odour with travellers because of the barges unloading near the railway station, (fn. 24) and in that year John Circuit built another wharf on the creek for unloading muck. (fn. 25) Rainham produced chiefly vegetables for the London market, especially asparagus and cabbage. (fn. 26) The 'Early Rainham' cabbage was first advertised in 1876, and though supplanted by newer varieties was still being grown in 1957. (fn. 27) Pickling onions and cauliflowers were widely grown, the latter even giving their name to a public house on the edge of the village in 1878. (fn. 28) Since the Second World War the production of greens has been abandoned, temporarily on some farms because of gravel-winning, permanently on others because of the cost of labour. (fn. 29) In 1961 there were 825 a. of arable. (fn. 30)
The size of farms has diminished in the past century. In 1838 there were 11 farms of 50 a. or more: 3 had between 50 a. and 100 a., and 6 between 150 a. and 500 a. The 2 largest had 581 a. and 664 a. (fn. 31) In 1961 only 5 farms had more than 50 a.: 2 had less than 100 a., and 3 between 100 a. and 500 a. (fn. 32)
Rainham manor had a windmill in 1248 and perhaps as early as 1219. (fn. 33) There was a water-mill on Berwick manor in 1315. (fn. 34) South Hall manor had a water-mill in 1270, and in 1838 the manor included a Mill Hill field. (fn. 35) St. Katherine's hospital (Lond.) had a water-mill at Rainham in 1335. (fn. 36) Moorhall in 1729 included a Mill field but no mill. (fn. 37)
In 1270 South Hall manor was granted a weekly market and a yearly fair on the eve, feast, and morrow of St. Giles (31 Aug.-2 Sept.). (fn. 38) In 1342 the manor was granted a Tuesday market and a fair on the feast of St. Faith and the two following days (6–8 Oct.). (fn. 39) In 1878 an annual fair held in Rainham on Saturday in Whitsun week was abolished. (fn. 40)
Alehouses were recorded at Rainham from the mid 16th century, (fn. 41) and the first inn may have been established as the result of petitions submitted in 1633. (fn. 42) It may originally have been called the White Hart, but in 1716 it was the Phoenix. (fn. 43) It was said to be 'new built' in 1739. (fn. 44) It was burned down in 1891 and rebuilt with a brick front on the same site in the Broadway. (fn. 45) The Ferry house, later the Three Crowns, was first recorded in 1556 and closed in 1951. (fn. 46) In 1640 there were 5 licensed houses in the parish. (fn. 47) On the north side of the Broadway, the Bell was in existence by 1718. Its site has belonged since 1618 to the Almshouse and Pension Charities of St. Giles-in-the-Fields (Lond.); the house was rebuilt c. 1900. (fn. 48) The Angel, also in the Broadway, was first recorded in 1730 and last rebuilt in 1907. (fn. 49) In 1702 an earlier Bell stood in Back Street (Upminster Road). By 1733 it was the Horseshoe and Can, and by 1769 the Lamb (and Crown). It ceased to be a public house in 1789. (fn. 50)
Before the 19th century there was little industry in Rainham, although a boat-builder and two tanners were recorded in the 16th century. (fn. 51) From 1869 Rainham Ferry provided a suitable location for obnoxious chemical and fertiliser factories. (fn. 52) By 1886 there were 6 works, 2 fronting the creek, and 4 on the Thames. (fn. 53) Salamon & Co. occupied a creek site from c. 1880 to 1971; (fn. 54) the company refined crude tar, but with the introduction of North Sea gas, coal carbonization ceased, and crude tar was no longer available. On the river-front the 3 main firms have been Hempleman & Co., blood- and fish-manure manufacturers (1882–c. 1917); (fn. 55) J. C. and J. Field Ltd., candle and soap manufacturers (1906–c. 1937); (fn. 56) and Murex Ltd., iron-founders and ferroalloy manufacturers. Murex, founded in 1909, moved to Rainham in 1917. Between 1928 and 1937 it bought out the other companies on the water-front, and in 1970, after further land-purchases, owned 63 a. In 1972 Murex was part of the British Oxygen Co. (fn. 57) Between 1919 and 1939 there was also a barge-builder at the Ferry. (fn. 58)
In the rest of the parish there has been only scattered industry. In 1894 there was a brickfield on an unidentified site; (fn. 59) and in the 1930s two sand and ballast companies were operating. (fn. 60) Gravel-digging increased after the Second World War, (fn. 61) but reclamation has allowed the land to be returned after extraction of the gravel to farming. (fn. 62)
CREEK, WHARF, AND FERRIES.
Rainham creek was being used as an outlet for local stock as early as 1200, (fn. 63) and that use continued until the 19th century. (fn. 64) In the later 15th century Rainham ships were also trading in wool to Calais. (fn. 65) In the 16th century ships were probably built as well as berthed in the creek, for a Rainham shipwright's will was proved in 1533. (fn. 66) Rainham watermen appear regularly in the 16th- and 17th-century records, which from c. 1650 also name Rainham lightermen. (fn. 67) In 1637 boats were carrying goods and passengers on every tide from Lion quay, London, to Rainham and other Essex river-ports. (fn. 68)
In 1526 a wharf and granary, at the west end of the village, were held on lease from the Hospitallers by Thomas Balthrop (d. c. 1547). (fn. 69) He devised his lease to his wife, with reversion to William Peacock and his wife. (fn. 70) In 1574 Richard Peacock (d. 1602) was the wharfinger. (fn. 71) Thomas Silvester (d. c. 1644) owned the wharf in 1642. (fn. 72) In the early 18th century it belonged to William Arnold, a yeoman grazier. (fn. 73) The import of coal is first recorded at that time, Arnold having considerable dealings with Thomas Willyford, a coal-factor of St. Botolphs without Aldgate (Mdx.). (fn. 74)
In 1718 John Harle, a sea-captain from South Shields (Dur.) married a Stepney widow and about the same time acquired the Rainham wharf. (fn. 75) After improving it, he imported building materials as well as coal, and advertised granaries for the storage of corn, and shipments to London twice a week. (fn. 76) His business prospered, and by 1729 he had built Rainham Hall. (fn. 77)
Capt. Harle (d. 1742) was succeeded by his son, another John Harle (d. 1770), who married Sarah Dearsly (d. c. 1824). The Hall and wharf passed to her, and thence successively to two daughters of her second marriage, Miss Susanna Dearsly Chambers (d. 1850) and Mrs. Alicia D. Nicholls (d. 1859). (fn. 78) In 1861 the Revd. George M. Platt (d. 1898) owned the wharf and apparently retained ownership until shortly before his death. (fn. 79) Lessees of the wharf can be traced from the late 18th century. (fn. 80) In 1801 it was described as 'the grand lodging and landing place for the whole mercantile goods of that part of the county.' (fn. 81) A series of linked tenancies from 1799 named Messrs. Rose, Pratt, and Daldy, coal-merchants and maltsters. The malting on the wharf was apparently built in the early 19th century; it was demolished after the Second World War. (fn. 82) Between 1890 and 1897 Daldy & Co. bought freehold of the wharf piecemeal. (fn. 83) The firm continued to trade from the wharf until c. 1920. (fn. 84) In 1927 it was re-opened as Station Wharf by John Newman Ltd., timber merchants; they closed it in 1969. (fn. 85) In 1872 John Circuit built a wharf south of the railway for the unloading of London muck for his market gardening. (fn. 86) By 1976 it had silted up.
Two ancient ferries were available to the inhabitants of Rainham: the 'long' ferry from Gravesend (Kent) to London, which made its last stop at the mouth of Rainham creek, and the 'short' ferry across the Thames, from Coldharbour, in Wennington, to Erith (Kent). (fn. 87) The way to Coldharbour branched off Manor Way (Ferry Lane) (fn. 88) and ran almost due south across Rainham marsh to the ferry, which was in operation until the late 19th century. (fn. 89)
The long ferry from Gravesend to London was first recorded in 1279. (fn. 90) The first known reference to Rainham ferry under that name was in 1531. (fn. 91) In 1556 there was an alehouse there, (fn. 92) and in 1559 the London Company of Watermen and Lightermen issued a tariff of charges which included fares from London to Rainham. (fn. 93) In 1580 Thomas Wiseman of Great Waltham devised the alehouse, ferry, and two adjoining marshes to his grandson William Wiseman, who in 1598 sold them to Sir Robert Southwell, the chief landowner of the parish. (fn. 94)
With the coming of the railways in the mid 19th century, the long ferry apparently ceased, but pleasure vessels plied up and down the Thames, and from 1850 the Margate paddle steamers called at Rainham ferry. (fn. 95) In the 1860s there was a hard leading from the inn to the low water mark, and in the early 20th century a narrow wooden pier surmounted it. (fn. 96) In the 1890s there appears to have been for a few years a ferry across the river to Erith marshes. (fn. 97)
In 1729 the Ferry house was sold as part of the Berwick and Moorhall estate. (fn. 98) It had become the French Horn by 1769 and in 1772 changed its name to the Three Crowns. (fn. 99) Edward Ind bought the property from John C. G. Crosse, apparently in 1804, and in 1826 or 1827 sold it to John Wade, the innkeeper. (fn. 100) It was burnt down in 1834, and the present structure built. (fn. 101) Joseph Lee owned it in 1838. (fn. 102) It was sold to Ind, Coope & Co. in 1876 and remained a public house until 1951. (fn. 103) It was demolished in 1972. (fn. 104)
MARSHES AND SEA DEFENCES.
The marshes of Rainham are bounded by Rainham creek on the west and Wennington Road on the north; eastwards they continue as the Wennington marshes. Unlike the marshes to the east and west they seem rarely to have suffered from serious floods, probably because the alignment of the Thames, NW. to SE., protects them from the worst storms driving up the river.
In the Middle Ages responsibility for the marshes' defence rested on the tenants, and there was already a custom and law of the marsh in 1210. (fn. 105) The marshes then were probably several feet higher than at present, (fn. 106) but they did not always escape flooding. Rainham was flooded at Eastertide 1448, and 3 months later a commission was issued to inspect the walls and ditches from Purfleet to Rainham. (fn. 107) In 1452 a more general commission ordered an inquest throughout the county of all lands flooded; it had been provoked by the inhabitants of Rainham, Wennington, and Aveley, who complained at being assessed as usual for a tenth and fifteenth. (fn. 108) Their claim that certain lands were still profitless suggests a serious flooding; but whether it caused the 'breach' mentioned in 1524 is not clear. (fn. 109)
In 1547 Rainham was under the jurisdiction of a court of sewers whose authority extended from Bow Bridge to Mucking. (fn. 110) Aveley 'level', which included Rainham, ran from Rainham bridge to Grays Thurrock. (fn. 111) Within the level, Rainham marsh contained 662 a., of which 426 a. had passed from the Hospitallers to Sir Robert Southwell at the Dissolution. (fn. 112) About 1680 Aveley level was amalgamated with Mucking level, and the enlarged level was known thereafter as Rainham level. (fn. 113)
Between 1563 and 1833 the extent of Rainham marsh under the jurisdiction of the court of sewers increased by 175 a. to 837 a. (fn. 114) There is little doubt that the new land came by reclamation, probably in the 17th century at Little Coldharbour, on the SE. edge of the marsh. (fn. 115) The Sewers Act, 1833, increased the powers of the court of sewers, and enabled them to bring a further 279 a. under their jurisdiction. (fn. 116)
In 1931 Rainham level came under the control of the Essex Rivers catchment board, which in 1952 was merged in the Essex Rivers board. (fn. 117) Rainham suffered little damage from the great flood of 1953. (fn. 118)
In the later 13th century the three manors of Rainham, Berwick, and South Hall had view of frankpledge and assize of bread and ale. In 1274–5 the Hospitallers claimed the right of gallows at Rainham. (fn. 119) In 1285 they set up a new gallows there, claiming that they were merely replacing a previous one; the Crown, however, denied their right. (fn. 120) Gerpins manor was said to have view of frankpledge in 1800, but no records of a Gerpins court have been found, and the claim must be regarded as doubtful. (fn. 121)
The parish records include vestry minutes (1705–1892); churchwardens' rates (1810–16, 1825–60), bills (1683–1890), and accounts (1679–80, 1718–90, 1810–16, 1825–60); constables' rates (1708–54), bills (1727–92), and accounts (1720–89); overseers' rates (1745–83, 1792–7), bills (1723–1847), accounts (1685–6, 1706, 1718–97), and apprenticeship papers (1686–1847). (fn. 122)
Vestry meetings may have been held monthly, but from 1705 to 1742 only two or three meetings were normally recorded each year; there were seven in 1706 and five in 1710 and 1715. In 1742 the vestry ordered a monthly meeting; but from 1743 to 1769 only the Easter and Christmas vestries were noted, and from 1770 to 1837 only the Easter vestry. The minutes from 1705 to 1807 were signed by those attending; the vicar or curate, when present, normally signed first and presumably took the chair. Until the early 1730s there were usually between 5 and 8 present at meetings; from then until 1807 numbers were between 8 and 14, but only 5 or 6 attended between 1784 and 1796. Before 1719 the meeting place was not stated. From 1719 to 1733 meetings were usually held in the church. Thereafter they were often adjourned to a public house: the Horseshoe and Can was used in 1733, 1736, and 1743, but the list was normally limited to the Phoenix, the Bell, and the Angel. The custom, however, was clearly older: Easter Vestry dinners were held in 1706 and 1707 and often thereafter. In 1742 the vestry, acknowledging that past meetings had often been extravagant, limited expenditure on monthly, Christmas, and Easter vestries by varying amounts. There was a vestry clerk in 1711. In 1719 and 1739 the vicar appointed his successors.
There were two churchwardens, except from 1745 to 1780, and from 1788 to 1822, when there was only one. (fn. 123) There were usually two overseers of the poor until 1716, one only from 1716 to 1782, and two again from 1782. A woman was overseer in 1776 and 1777. In 1774 and 1775 the constable acted as the overseer's deputy, and in 1788 the vestry clerk described himself as the overseer's substitute. (fn. 124) In 1706, 1711, 1713–15, and from 1804 there were two constables, but for most of the 18th century there was only one. In 1732 there was a headborough as well as a constable. (fn. 125) For much of the 18th century separate rates were levied for the churchwardens, overseers, and constables, but after 1782 the constables were reimbursed by the other officers. The names of the highway surveyors are recorded only from 1712 to 1770. There seem normally to have been two. From 1779 to 1791 there was a voluntary association of Chafford and Barstable hundred against robbers, and in 1797 Rainham vestry wanted Aveley and Wennington to join in action against gipsies and vagrants. (fn. 126)
In the earlier 18th century poor-relief usually took the form of doles, rent subsidies, and medical care. Those on regular relief numbered only 6 in 1714. In 1723 the vestry ordered parish paupers to wear badges. Strangers, with or without passes, were occasionally given relief. Among them were sailors in 1723 and 1734 who had been Algerian slaves, others in 1759 and 1761 who had been in French prisons, and in 1788 an American refugee.
From 1685 or earlier the parish was renting houses to accommodate the poor. In 1715 a parish house or alms-house was built, in part with a charitable bequest, (fn. 127) but in 1721 the house was seized by the lady of the manor of South Hall, who evicted the inmates. The vestry continued to rent houses for the poor until c. 1808, when Rainham, Aveley, and West Thurrock established a joint workhouse at Noke House, Wennington. Rainham, like West Thurrock, paid nine twenty-fifths of the cost. Noke House remained in use until 1836, when Rainham became part of Romford poor-law union.
In 1726 the vestry erected stocks, which were repaired in 1757 and 1774. Shortly before 1813 a parish cage was built in Back Street. It was still in use in 1851, but in 1874 its materials were sold. (fn. 128)
Medical care for the poor was provided casually until 1811, when a doctor was for the first time employed on a regular contract. (fn. 129) Between 1686 and 1821 at least 48 parish orphans were bound as apprentices, two-fifths of them outside the parish but most within Essex.
For much of the 18th century the rateable value of Rainham was about £1,800. In 1791 it was £2,234, and in 1810 £3,152. Before 1740 the overseer's annual expenditure was usually about £30, though it reached £118 in 1720 and £74 in 1723. Between 1741 and 1755 the average was about £50 a year, and in the period 1756–60 over £77. It rose to £115 in the years 1761–79, and to £180 in 1780–97. In 1793, 1795, and 1796 expenditure was over £200 a year. Between 1800 and 1817 the amount spent merely on the relief of the poor varied little from year to year and averaged £346. (fn. 130)