East Ham: Local government and public services

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.

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'East Ham: Local government and public services', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6, (London, 1973) pp. 18-24. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol6/pp18-24 [accessed 29 February 2024]

In this section


Very little evidence survives concerning the medieval local government of East Ham. In the 13th century the lord of the manor, Richard de Montfitchet, held the view of frankpledge, enforced the assize of bread and ale, and set up gallows. (fn. 1) Robert Burnell, bishop of Bath and Wells, was holding view of frankpledge c. 1285. (fn. 2) On 30 June 1381, during the Peasants' Revolt, the king ordered the constables of East and West Ham to issue a proclamation requiring all the tenants of Stratford Abbey in their vills to perform the customary services due to their lords; any rebels were to be arrested. (fn. 3) This suggests that some East Ham men were among those who, about that time, sacked the abbey and burnt its charters. (fn. 4) No medieval court rolls relating to East Ham, even for periods after 1381, are known to survive. Court records of the 16th century and later contain only details of the courts baron.

Vestry minutes survive from 1736 to 1836 and later, together with a few other parish records. (fn. 5) At the beginning of this period vestry meetings usually opened at the parish church but were adjourned early in the proceedings to one or other of the public houses in the parish, where food and drink were bought out of the poor rates. Joseph Sims, vicar from 1756 to 1776, was evidently opposed to festive expenditure of this kind. He rarely attended the adjournments, and in 1758 he presided over a meeting at which it was resolved that in future no money should be spent at vestry on the parish account. This resolution was imperfectly kept. Payments for food and drink continued to be made occasionally, though they were usually smaller than before. In 1794 the vestry reaffirmed the resolution of 1758, and after that date such payments are rarely recorded. That they did not cease completely is shown by another resolution against them in 1806, and in 1818 it was 'ordered that £4 be allowed for each vestry for diet money'. The allowance for a vestry dinner was later raised to £5, but in 1821 was reduced to £2. In 1826 it was decided that the cost of the Easter vestry dinner for that year should be met out of the church rate, but in future out of the poor rate.

Between 1736 and 1755 attendances at vestry, so far as these are indicated by signatures in the minutes, were usually between 10 and 15. Between 1756 and 1836 they were usually between 5 and 10 except for the years 1785–95, when 10–14 was normal. (fn. 6) The decline after 1755 may initially have been due to Sims's attitude towards free drinks. Only one woman is recorded as attending vestry: Elizabeth Fry, who appeared in 1835 to dispute her rating assessment.

When present the vicar was chairman of the vestry. John Vade, vicar 1733–56, nearly always attended. Sims often did so up to 1767, but thereafter only twice. Francis Haultain, vicar 1776–1827, attended only two meetings, in 1778 and 1818. In the vicar's absence one of the churchwardens usually took the chair, or (from about 1800) the assistant curate, an overseer, or some other prominent vestryman. In 1818 the vestry formed a parish committee to advise the overseers and churchwardens. In 1825 it was resolved that this should meet weekly, and that the members should be fined for non-attendance. A select vestry, with 20 members, was set up in 1827.

In 1742 the vestry resolved that those appointed to serve parish office should not themselves appoint deputies, and in the following year fixed a scale of fines for refusing to serve office. A list of those who had served, containing 37 names, was drawn up in 1746. Throughout the period covered by the minutes there were two churchwardens, two overseers, and two surveyors. One of the churchwardens was being appointed by the vicar at least as early as 1743, and the other by the vestry. This arrangement appears to have been followed in every year except 1828, when a new vicar, William Streatfeild, presided at a vestry which appointed both churchwardens on his nomination: this was never repeated. In 1813, for the first time, a salaried overseer was appointed; in 1817 his office was combined with that of salaried assistant surveyor, which dated from 1811. The dual office lasted at least until 1820.

One constable was nominated each year by the vestry, and from 1802 also a headborough, who was sometimes referred to as a constable. In 1806 the headborough was receiving a small salary. There were also a vestry clerk and a church clerk, both salaried. In 1743 the vestry appears to have obtained the services of a new clerk at a discount: Thomas Standbrook on his appointment undertook to pay £1 a year to a poor widow as long as he remained in office. A rate-collector was appointed in and after 1811. Some of these minor offices might be combined, especially those of vestry clerk and church clerk.

The vestry levied one rate for all parochial purposes. This sometimes included a small amount expressly stated to be for church purposes, but there was apparently no separate budgeting for expenses incurred by the surveyors and constable. In administering the income from the rates the overseers usually accounted for the regular items of expenditure, especially on poor relief, while the churchwardens dealt with casual items. In 1740 the rateable value of the parish was about £3,340; by 1800 it had risen to £4,500, and by 1819 to £6,200.

The parish was maintaining a poorhouse at least as early as 1738, when a building was rented for the purpose. The same house was still in use in 1749. The 'workhouse' is mentioned in 1783–4 and later. Between 1796 and 1803 the poor of the parish were apparently being farmed out to contractors named Hill and Woodcock. In 1804 the vestry leased a house at Wall End and converted it into a workhouse or poorhouse, both of which terms are used in the minutes. It appears to have been a small farm-house or a pair of cottages. (fn. 7) In 1813–15 about 25 paupers were accommodated there. (fn. 8) This Wall End building appears to have continued in use until about 1827, when the vestry bought land in Wakefield Street and borrowed £1,000 to build a workhouse there. The new house was used for the poor until the formation of the poor law union in 1836, when it became a church school. (fn. 9)

The parish also had a watch-house. In 1788 the vestry resolved to discover and prosecute the persons who had demolished this building a few days before. Whether they succeeded is not known. A new watch-house, 7 feet square, was built in 1805–6. This building, which was in High Street South, was demolished about 1850. (fn. 10)

In 1737–40 about 10 parish pensioners were receiving between 2s. and 3s. a week each. The number of pensioners in 1779–80, a year of unusual distress, rose to over 30, but during the 1780s it was usually under 20. Between 1791 and 1802 it fluctuated from 20 to 29. In 1813–15 there were about 40 regular adult pensioners and another 25 casual poor were relieved each year. (fn. 11) Altogether, in that threeyear period, about 8 per cent of the population were receiving parish-relief in or out of the workhouse. In 1772 the vestry ordered the poor to wear badges, and in 1779 required them to attend church or forfeit their pensions.

Other methods of relief, besides pensions and the workhouse, included the payment of rent for cottages occupied by the poor, and the provision of medical care. A parish apothecary was employed throughout the period 1736–1836 at an annual stipend occasionally supplemented by allowances for extra work. In 1766 a newly-appointed apothecary was dismissed after he had refused to serve the poor with medicines unless they came to him. In 1818 the apothecary recorded 598 visits to pauper patients in this parish: the equivalent of one visit to every 2 inhabitants of East Ham. East Ham's apothecary nearly always held the same office under the vestry of the neighbouring parish of Barking. (fn. 12) Few details of parish apprenticeships have been noted, apart from a series of 17 running from 1797 to 1827, during which period the masters were mainly Barking fishermen. (fn. 13) A less common method of relief was used in 1792, when the vestry granted a poor man £5 to stock a shop.

During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars the vestry met growing distress by special doles, fuel and food subsidies, and by the 'roundsmen' system. This last expedient was adopted in 1816 to cope with an influx of poor Irishmen.

Details of parish rates are recorded in the vestry minute books for most years from 1736 to 1802. At the beginning of this period the rateable value of the parish was about £3,340 and the rate poundage 1s. During the next 60 years the rateable value, periodically reassessed, rose steadily, reaching £4,700 by 1801. The poundage remained remarkably steady: as late as 1795 it was only 1s. 10d. Occasional higher rates, before that date, were necessary during and immediately after the Seven Years War and the American War of Independence. After 1795, again in wartime, the increase was rapid: in 1801 the poundage reached an unprecedented peak of 5s., producing £1,178, as compared with £167 produced by a 1s. rate in 1740. Poundage figures are not systematically recorded after 1802, but some indication of them is given by two sets of returns to Parliamentary inquiries, covering the years 1813–15 and 1816–21. (fn. 14) Between 1813 and 1821 the product of the rate fluctuated between £1,060 and £2,032, the highest figure being reached in 1819 and the lowest in 1821. Although the rise was steep after 1795, East Ham evidently suffered less distress than some neighbouring parishes. In 1815, for example, about 8 per cent of the population received poor-relief, compared with over 15 per cent at Barking and Wanstead and 12 per cent at West Ham.

East Ham became part of West Ham poor law union in 1836. In 1848 the vestry resolved to establish a local board of health, but this was not done. A 'local sanitary committee' apparently existed in 1853, when the vestry referred to it the question of improving roads and drainage. In 1878 East Ham was at last constituted a local government district, under a board which held its first meeting in 1879 and its last in 1894. (fn. 15) There were originally 9 members of the board, elected on a single roll for the whole parish; vacancies occurring between elections were filled by co-option. In 1886 the district was extended to include Little Ilford parish, which became a separate ward, returning three members to the local board. (fn. 16) In 1890 the district was divided into 4 wards, each with three members. The board's meetings were held in the parochial buildings, Wakefield Street, formerly the church schools, which were at first leased from the vicar, and in 1883 were bought by the board.

The chairman of the local board, throughout its existence, was Thomas Mathews, a farmer and landowner. The board appointed a full-time salaried surveyor, and a rate-collector paid on a 2½ per cent commission. Its other chief officers served part time: the clerk (a solicitor), the treasurer (a bank manager), and the medical officer of health.

In 1879 the urban development of East Ham had only just begun, and for more than 10 years after that date growth was not exceptional, at least by Metropolitan Essex standards. The local board thus had time to gain experience before the great expansion of the town took place in the 1890s. The scale of its activities, though small at first, steadily increased. In 1879 the general district rate of 3s. in £1 produced about £3,100; in 1894, at 2s. 4d., it produced £14,700.

The main burden of administration fell at first upon the board's surveyor, William H. Savage, who had to carry out public works, and also to inspect new private buildings to ensure that they conformed to the by-laws. His programme of public works can be divided into two periods. Between 1879 and 1886 he was concerned mainly with street levelling, paving, and drainage, especially at North Woolwich, where the improvement of a small slum area received immediate attention. Between 1886 and 1894 a system of main drainage was constructed, with outfall works on the Roding, the first public park was opened, at Plashet, a temporary fever hospital was built, and a part-time fire-brigade formed. The provision of works and services during this second period was stimulated by the absorption of Little Ilford, a parish where sanitary conditions were bad, and where rapid development, around the railway lines, could be expected fairly soon.

The surveyor's duties of inspection and control of private building were in some respects more onerous, especially in his early years with the board, than those relating to public works. Between 1879 and 1884 he often had difficulty with builders who allowed new houses to be occupied before they had been connected to water mains or sewers. More serious, in the long run, was the poor construction of some of the buildings, especially those on the Boleyn Estate, and in the Kelly Road (now Market Street) area. In August 1880 Savage prosecuted five different builders for breaking by-laws, and he took, or threatened to take similar proceedings on several other occasions. He sometimes insisted on the demolition of new buildings, or parts of buildings, which were below the proper standard. Flagrant defiance was probably easier to handle than 'the ingenuity people display in evading or just coming within the requirements of the by-laws' on which he commented in September 1880. Occasionally he may have been too lenient. Several times he recommended the approval of plans which did not entirely comply with the by-laws, in order to avoid hardship to builders. In 1881 he appears to have approved without comment the building of a working-class estate, at Cyprus, equipped with pail-closets which soon became foul and were a problem to the local authority for the next 15 years. But on the whole Savage carried out his duties of inspection firmly and tactfully, in spite of occasional hostility from the builders, culminating two or three times in assaults on him or his assistants. Until 1884 he appears to have made all the inspections personally, but in November of that year the board authorized him to delegate them, if necessary, to a foreman and a bricklayer.

In 1895 the local board was succeeded by an urban district council of 15 members, representing 4 wards. This governed East Ham until 1904. It held its meetings at Plashet Lane board school until 1901, and then in the school board offices in Wakefield Street until 1903, when a new town hall was opened in Barking Road. Thomas Mathews, who had been chairman of the local board, did not seek election to the U.D.C., and from 1895 the chairman held office for one year only. In 1892 and 1893 Mathews's reappointment, previously unanimous, had been opposed by a minority of the board, including John H. (later Lord) Bethell, who had been elected in 1888 as the first 'Progressive' member. From the time of his election until his retirement from the council in 1907 Bethell constantly urged greater vigour and efficiency in local government. For most of that period he was also a member of the West Ham corporation, and his experience there must have helped him to foresee the problems that would face East Ham as it grew into a large town. No permanent party groupings are apparent from the minutes of the 1880s and 1890s, but it is clear that Bethell's influence grew steadily, and that he was at least partly successful in persuading his colleagues to spend much more than the absolute minimum on public works and services in order to anticipate future needs. (fn. 17) He was a surveyor, and at that stage of his career was actively employed in property development in East Ham. As is shown below, he was by no means the only councillor with such interests.

One of the first actions of the U.D.C. was to terminate the arrangement under which the ratecollector was paid on commission, and to substitute two salaried collectors. The Council appointed a full-time accountant and in 1902 promoted him to be full-time treasurer. A minority of the U.D.C. made several unsuccessful attempts to put the post of town clerk onto a full-time basis. In the case of the medical officer of health the U.D.C. resisted repeated pressure from the Local Government Board to substitute a full-time for a part-time appointment, giving way at last in 1904. The council's first librarian, appointed in 1896, was part-time; a full-time librarian was appointed in 1898, but he apparently did not have complete authority until 1901, when his part-time colleague resigned. The electrical engineer, appointed in 1899, served fulltime from the first.

The life of the U.D.C. coincided with the district's most rapid growth, during which the population increased from about 45,000 to over 100,000. During that period the main sewers were extended to Cyprus, a full-time fire-brigade was formed, a permanent isolation hospital and the first council houses were built, important road improvements were effected, and electric tramways were opened. Additional powers for these and other purposes were acquired under the East Ham Improvement Acts of 1898 and 1903. (fn. 18) The council's new libraries cost the ratepayers relatively little, since their erection was met by Passmore Edwards and Carnegie, but the town hall and associated buildings were planned on a large scale, on a central site of 5 a., and cost over £80,000, a large sum for that time and place. (fn. 19) These new undertakings involved a great increase in spending, which outpaced even the rapidly rising rateable value of the town. In the first year of the U.D.C. (1895–6) its general district rate of 3s. 1d. in £1 produced about £22,000. In its last year (1904–5) the equivalent figures were 4s. and £87,000. In 1904 the council also became responsible for elementary education, a heavy expense which included the loan debt on many newly built schools. Education was met by the overseers' rate, which also covered the cost of poor-relief, and the police services for which the council was not responsible. The overseers' rate in 1904–5 amounted to 9s. 6d. in £1, so that the total poundage in that year was 13s. 6d. This was a high rate for the time, (fn. 20) and it was especially burdensome because many of the ratepayers were then young men of low income and with family responsibilities, who also had to meet the expense of travelling outside the district to work. It was unfortunate, also, that the boom of the 1890s, which had largely created East Ham, was succeeded by a decade of economic stagnation. (fn. 21) The council's minutes, from 1902 onwards, often refer to distress caused by unemployment.

The U.D.C., like the local board, continued to inspect and control private building. During the 1890s East Ham was growing faster than any other town of its size in England. (fn. 22) The figures for the decade ending in 1901, upon which this statement is based, remarkable though they are, mask the fact that the town's rate of growth was far from uniform during that period, and reached its peak in 1896–9. In the years 1892–1901 inclusive the local board and U.D.C. approved the plans for 11,635 houses. (fn. 23) Of these no fewer than 6,613 were in the four years 1896–9, 5,404 in the three years 1897–9, and 2,252 in the one year 1898. The rate of growth was thus nearly twice as rapid in 1898 as it was over the whole decade. Much of the building during these peak years was concentrated in Little Ilford, where the Manor farm had come on to the market in 1895. In 1898 1,129 houses, accommodating about 6,000, were built in Little Ilford. (fn. 24)

The above figures give some indication of the amount of inspection and control which had to be carried out by the council's surveyor. His task during that period was complicated by the presence on the council of men who were themselves engaged in property development in the district. Between 1895 and 1904 at least 9 such councillors can be identified, several of whom held office as chairman of the works committee, to which the surveyor was responsible. In one case, in 1898, a member of the works committee submitted plans for a large-scale development in Little Ilford which were approved by that committee but were subsequently referred back to it for amendment after the surveyor had stated before the full council in committee that he considered the plans unsatisfactory. It is significant that this case related to Little Ilford, for it was there that local politics and geography combined with the exceptional pressure of building development to make the surveyor's task especially difficult and delicate.

The geography of Little Ilford was possibly the most important single factor affecting building development there during the 1890s. The area was bounded and intersected by main roads and railways. On its eastern side, where it sloped down to the Roding, it was subject to flooding. Development was therefore very likely to take the form of cheap houses for those who could not afford to live in pleasanter places. The duty of the council and its surveyor was to ensure that the rapid building of such houses did not create slums; in this they were not entirely successful.

The greatest difficulties arose from the development of the low-lying land by the river, especially in Southborough (later Grantham), Manor (later Alverstone), and Bessborough (later Walton) Roads, and Manor (later Selborne) Avenue. Building had started at the northern end of the first three roads during the 1880s, on the Coach and Horses estate adjoining Romford Road, (fn. 25) but by far the greater part of these roads, and also Selborne Avenue, were built up in 1897–1900. The long terraces of small houses erected there presumably conformed to the local building by-laws, but at that period the bylaws apparently did not regulate the levels at which new houses were built: the power to regulate levels was eventually acquired by a clause in the East Ham Improvement Act of 1903. The council's surveyor realized that the new houses in the area between Walton Road and the river would be subject to flooding, and a number of the plans were amended, on his advice, to minimize this danger. But the inadequacy of such measures was shown in 1903, when the council had to hire boats for the use of flood victims there. (fn. 26) According to Alfred Stokes the council's policy of permitting building on this low-lying land was unsuccessfully opposed by J. H. Bethell, who urged that the land should all be acquired as a public park. (fn. 27) As early as 1899 the area was being mentioned in terms appropriate to slums, (fn. 28) and although the houses there are by no means the oldest in East Ham they are now (1966) being demolished as part of a redevelopment scheme.

None of the builders mainly responsible for developing the Grantham Road-Walton Road area in 1897–1900 was a member of the U.D.C. at that time so that direct pressure from within the council seems unlikely, but there were undoubtedly other pressures. Builders who submitted plans naturally complained if these were frequently rejected. There was also a peculiar local issue in this part of the district that probably made the U.D.C. reluctant to court further trouble there by acting firmly in controlling new building. Little Ilford had only recently joined East Ham. It had originally desired this union more than the larger parish, but in the 1890s a movement arose there in favour of secession. (fn. 29) In 1898 the county council ruled against separation, and the matter was clinched in the following year when the two parishes were united for poor-law assessment as well as sanitary purposes. But until 1898 secession was still a live issue.

Another kind of pressure upon the council and its officers at this time, and that most difficult to withstand, was the overwhelming pressure of work. Rejection of plans meant extra work for everyone concerned and this may have had as much bearing on the development of Little Ilford as political pressure or personal intrigue, for that development came at the peak of East Ham's phenomenal growth. In 1890 the surveyor was dealing with under 40 housing plans a month. In 1898, when most of the major developments in the east of Little Ilford were approved by the U.D.C., the average was 188 plans a month, and from April to July of that year it was 302.

These events placed a great strain upon the surveyor, Savage, and his small department, and in 1899 he resigned on appointment as agent to Col. Ynyr Burges, one of the main property developers in East Ham. He left the council's service reluctantly, for he was proud of his achievements there, but with the comment that his salary had long been inadequate. His resignation was followed by that of his 'outdoor' assistant O. R. Anstead, who went into business as a contractor, became a member of the council in 1900, and was soon chairman of the works committee. Anstead's influence may well have been responsible for the firmer attitude of the council towards the development, in 1903–4, of the south-eastern part of Little Ilford, in and around Gainsborough Avenue, plans for which were repeatedly rejected, apparently because the proposed levels were too low.

The burden of increasing work also fell heavily upon the treasurer's department. The district auditor more than once criticized the financial methods of the U.D.C., and his report on the accounts for 1904 was such that the council set up a special committee of investigation. He had found serious irregularities, especially concerning a secret trust fund by which the council had, in effect, been speculating in the purchase of land at Manor Park. The investigating committee admitted irregularities but found that there had been no dishonesty. Some of the irregularities were probably due to overwork. In 1900 the four assistants in the treasurer's department were working between 16 and 19 hours a week unpaid overtime. The strain on the treasurer himself was no doubt even greater; the first full-time treasurer resigned in 1904, after unsuccessful attempts to secure a salary increase. His successor resigned in 1906, immediately after the investigating committee had reported.

In 1904 East Ham became a municipal borough with 18 councillors representing 6 wards, and 6 aldermen. The appointment, in 1905, of the first full-time medical officer of health left the town clerk as the only part-time chief officer. In 1906–8 there were further attempts to make the clerk's post fulltime, but this did not happen until 1909, when C. E. Wilson, who had served since 1879, died: his son, who had for several years been acting as his deputy during illness, then succeeded him, fulltime.

The borough council completed the buildings on the central town hall site with the technical college (1905), public health and education offices (1910), and indoor swimming bath (1912), and also built a new fire-station (1914). Additional borrowing powers for these purposes were confirmed in 1908. (fn. 30) Inspection and control of building was becoming a less serious problem: the number of new houses approved each month declined to about 60 in 1908, and to under 20 in 1913.

East Ham became a county borough in 1915, by a local Act promoted with the help of Sir John Bethell, then M.P., against strong opposition from the Local Government Board. (fn. 31) In 1919 the number of wards was increased to 10, represented by 30 councillors, and the number of aldermen was also increased to ten. (fn. 32) Between the two world wars the corporation extended the sewage works, the swimming baths, and the isolation hospital, opened several clinics and a tuberculosis sanatorium, and in 1939 built an annexe to the town hall. (fn. 33) The building of council houses, started by the U.D.C., was resumed on a larger scale. When the administration of public assistance was reorganized under the Local Government Act (1929) East Ham assumed responsibility for the children's homes of the former West Ham Union.

During the Second World War East Ham was praised for its efficient Civil Defence organization. (fn. 34) After the war the corporation's main task was housebuilding, at first to replace the many houses destroyed by bombing and later in connexion with slum clearance. Between 1946 and 1964 £13,800,000 were borrowed for that purpose, representing over 40 per cent of the total loans for all purposes administered by the corporation. (fn. 35) A local Act of 1957 gave the corporation additional powers relating to public health (including derelict buildings) and various other matters. (fn. 36) After the war, also, East Ham corporation, as the local education authority, built many new schools and a new technical college. Further details of its work will be found in the sections relating to Public Services and Education. In 1965 the county boroughs of East Ham and West Ham were united to form the London borough of Newham.

East Ham was included in the Metropolitan police district, formed in 1840, (fn. 37) but in spite of repeated requests by the local authority it was not until 1904 that a station was opened there. (fn. 38)

A separate commission of the peace was issued for East Ham in 1906. The court was headed by a stipendiary magistrate from 1906 to 1954, and subsequently by a part-time chairman. (fn. 39)


The development of gas, electricity, and water supplies, and of sewage disposal, have been outlined in a previous volume. (fn. 40) When the growth of East Ham began in the 1870s two gas companies already had powers of supply there: the West Ham Gas Co., to the north of Barking Road, and the Gas Light & Coke Co., to the south. Until the 1880s, however, there were considerable areas of the parish without gas mains; it was not until 1890 that the mains were extended to Wall End, and even in 1896 Rancliffe House, High Street South, still had no supply. (fn. 41)

East Ham U.D.C. began to supply electricity in 1901, and this was continued by the corporation until nationalization. Demand grew slowly, and as late as 1926 there were only 4,600 consumers, but by 1936 there were 29,200, representing virtually all the premises in the borough. (fn. 42)

Water was supplied to East Ham by the East London Waterworks Co., one of the predecessors of the Metropolitan water board, which began to extend its mains to the parish about 1869. (fn. 43) When the East Ham local board was formed in 1879 many houses in the parish were still served by contaminated wells. During the next three years the board and the water company acted vigorously to extend the supply. By 1882 mains had been laid in all the principal streets and a supply was available to every house in the district, but some landlords were reluctant to connect their houses to the mains and in 1887 about 2 per cent of the houses in the district were still served by pumps or wells. (fn. 44) In 1898, the year of East Ham's most rapid growth, there was a water shortage so severe that for three months the water company had to restrict supplies to four hours a day. (fn. 45)

There was no main drainage in East Ham in 1879. (fn. 46) The local board immediately sewered the part of North Woolwich within its district, and in 1880 concluded an agreement by which the sewage from there was fed into the system already maintained by the Woolwich local board. This arrangement continued until 1900, when the London county council took over the drainage of North Woolwich. (fn. 47) In 1885 the East Ham board planned a main drainage scheme for the central and northern parts of the district, but it was delayed by difficulties over the purchase of land for the outfall works, and the resignation of the consultant engineer. In 1887 a site near Barking creek was at last secured, and a new and much larger scheme was drawn up, which came into operation in 1891–2. The main sewers were extended in 1896 to Cyprus, where some 100 houses had previously had only pail closets, and about 1900 to the Beckton estate. Major extensions to the works were carried out in 1901–3. The sewage works were reconstructed in 1958–63.

East Ham showed greater foresight than the other inner suburbs of Metropolitan Essex in providing public parks and open spaces. (fn. 48) By 1889, when the local board first decided to buy land for a park, it was becoming accepted that the provision of these amenities was likely to promote local prosperity as well as health. (fn. 49) Plashet Park, opened in 1891, was bought from the Wood House estate. Part of the cost was provided by the City Parochial Trustees. In 1896 the U.D.C. bought Rancliffe House and grounds, which in the same year were opened as Central Park. Both Plashet Park and Central Park were enlarged by additional purchases, to 18 a. and 25 a. respectively, and the U.D.C., by arrangements with the Epping Forest Commissioners, also acquired partial control over the 96 a. of Wanstead Flats transferred to East Ham in 1901. At North Woolwich the Royal Victoria Gardens, comprising 9 a., had originally been laid out in 1853 by a private company. (fn. 50) They acquired an unsavoury reputation, and in 1890 a fund was raised by public subscription, to which East Ham local board contributed, for their purchase, after which they were placed under the control of the London county council. Several other parks were provided by the urban district and borough councils, mostly before 1914, bringing the total area of public open spaces to over 200 a. (fn. 51)

An open air swimming pool was opened in Central Park in 1901. (fn. 52) It was closed in 1915–18 and in 1923 was converted into dressing rooms. In 1912 an indoor pool, with vapour and slipper baths, was opened on the town hall site. A smaller pool was added in 1932, and the other facilities were extended in 1919 and 1925.

In 1879 the local board arranged for the West Ham fire brigade to attend fires in East Ham, and in 1881 it accepted an offer by the Metropolitan board of works to provide a similar service at North Woolwich. (fn. 53) In 1893–4 the local board bought a secondhand manual fire-engine, fitted out a station behind its offices in Wakefield Street, and recruited a volunteer brigade. A full-time brigade was formed in 1897, and in the same year a horse-drawn steam fire-engine was bought. In 1914 a new fire station was built in High Street South, and in the following year was equipped with a motor fire-engine.

East Ham, like West Ham and Barking, made an early start with the building of council houses. In 1901 the U.D.C. built 132 dwellings in Savage Gardens, New Beckton, and in 1903 a further 80 in Brooks Avenue. (fn. 54) No more were built before 1914, but by 1939 the corporation had provided a total of 830 dwellings. During the Second World War some 27,000 houses, in fact most of those in the borough, were damaged by bombing. The corporation repaired these, and between 1945 and 1 March 1952 also built 934 temporary and 683 permanent houses. It then began to concentrate on slum-clearance. By March 1964 more than 2,600 permanent dwellings had been built within the borough since 1945, and a further 1,700 outside it, including the Ingrave estate near Brentwood.

During the 1880s and 1890s there were frequent outbreaks in East Ham of such serious infectious diseases as smallpox, typhoid, and diphtheria. (fn. 55) In 1885, for example, there were 253 cases of smallpox, with 37 deaths, and in 1894 there were 123 cases of smallpox, with 4 deaths, and 192 cases of diphtheria with 62 deaths. In 1893 the local board opened a temporary isolation hospital in an iron hut beside the sewage works. In 1902 this hospital, still in temporary buildings, was transferred to a new site in Roman Road. Permanent buildings were erected there in 1907 and 1909, and the hospital was reconstructed in 1931. In 1941 it was wrecked by bombing and after the war the site was used for new secondary schools. (fn. 56)

In 1902 a voluntary cottage hospital, named after Passmore Edwards, who had given £5,000 towards its cost, was opened in Shrewsbury Road; this became part of the much larger East Ham Memorial hospital, completed in 1929 on an adjoining site. The hospital was badly damaged by bombing in 1940, and was closed for two months at that time. (fn. 57) Mental patients were for many years accommodated in hospitals of the Essex county council, to which East Ham paid a fixed charge. When the county council terminated this arrangement, East Ham and the county borough of Southend-on-Sea built a joint mental hospital, opened in 1936, at Runwell. (fn. 58) East Ham corporation also opened a tuberculosis hospital at Harts, Woodford, in 1920. (fn. 59)

In 1930, when the West Ham poor-law union was dissolved, East Ham, as a county borough, took over public assistance within its own area, and it also agreed to take over the union's children's homes in Aldersbrook Road, together with several 'scattered' homes, and to maintain them on behalf of all the towns formerly in the union. (fn. 60) By 1964 the corporation's welfare service also included 10 homes for old people. (fn. 61)

The City of London cemetery, Little Ilford, comprising the greater part of the former Aldersbrook farm, was opened in 1857. (fn. 62) Manor Park cemetery (1875) and Woodgrange Park cemetery (1888) were formed by private companies. (fn. 63) There are also two Jews' cemeteries in East Ham. (fn. 64)

East Ham's public libraries, up to 1955, have been described in a previous volume. (fn. 65) It must be added in amendment that in 1927 East Ham, following the example of West Ham, decentralized its libraries, but that in 1934 a borough librarian was again appointed. Recent events include the closure of the libraries at the Gainsborough community centre (1960) and Roman Manor (1962). A mobile library service was introduced in 1962 and the joint arrangement with Woolwich and West Ham was then ended. In 1965 the book stock of East Ham libraries was 120,557. (fn. 66)

The municipal tramways are described above. (fn. 67)


  • 1. Rot. Hundr. (Rec. Com.), i. 152; cf. V.C.H. Essex, v. 182–3.
  • 2. J.I. 3/35B m. 13, i.e. in respect of Burnells manor.
  • 3. Cal. Close 1381–5, 74.
  • 4. Cal. Pat. 1381–5, 71–2.
  • 5. Unless otherwise stated the following account of parish government, up to 1878, is based on the Vestry Minutes: E.R.O., D/P 156/8/1–4. For some detailed extracts from these minutes see H. Denman, Chronicles of East Ham.
  • 6. From 1820 the vestry clerk included in the minutes a list of those attending: most, but not all of them, also signed the minute book.
  • 7. Stokes, E. Ham, pl. f. p. 96.
  • 8. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/10.
  • 9. E.H.L., Photograph.
  • 10. E.R.O., Sage Coll., No. 860.
  • 11. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/10.
  • 12. Cf. Oxley, Barking Vestry Mins. 141–4: Sedgwick, Brooks, Cook, Bray, and Desormeaux also served East Ham.
  • 13. E.R.O., D/P 156/14.
  • 14. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/10 and 1/12.
  • 15. The following account of the local board's work and that of its successors the urban district council and the borough council, is based on: E.H.L., E. Ham Loc. Bd. Mins. 1879–94; U.D.C. Mins. 1895–1904; B.C. Mins. 1904–15; C.B.C. Mins. 1915–65; E. Ham Municipal Diary 1918–19 to 1965.
  • 16. Loc. Govt. Board's Provisional Orders Confirmation (No. 4) Act, 49 & 50 Vict. c. 61 (local act).
  • 17. For Bethell's work at E. Ham see Stokes, E. Ham, 186 f.
  • 18. 61 & 62 Vict. c. 124 and 3 Edw. VII, c. 223 (local acts).
  • 19. For some financial details see E. Ham Improvement Acts, 1898, 61 & 62 Vict., c. 124 (local act) and 3 Edw. VII, c. 223 (local act); also Loc. Govt. Bd.'s Confirmation (No. 6) Act, 1908, 8 Edw. VII, c. 146 (local act). For the town hall see above, p. 5.
  • 20. Cf. figures for West Ham, in McDougall, Fifty Years a Borough, 97.
  • 21. Cf. R. C. K. Ensor, England, 1870–1914, 500–1.
  • 22. V.C.H. Essex, v. 5–6.
  • 23. These and the subsequent figures are taken from the returns recorded in the Minutes. The 1901 census, which covers a decade slightly different from the calendar years 1892–1901, gives the number of new houses as 11,220.
  • 24. Little Ilford Parish Mag. Feb. 1899. This is an official figure, which relates to houses completed and occupied.
  • 25. Cf. Loc. Bd. Mins. Dec. 1887, Feb. 1893.
  • 26. U.D.C. Mins. 1 July 1903; E.H.L. Photos. (Floods): see plate.
  • 27. E. Ham, 188.
  • 28. Little Ilford Parish Mag. May 1899.
  • 29. Loc. Bd. Mins. 19 July 1892; U.D.C. Mins. 21 June 1898.
  • 30. L.G.B. Prov. Conf. (No. 6) Act 1908, 8 Edw. VII, c. 146 (local act).
  • 31. E. Ham Corporation Act, 1914, 4 Geo. V, c. 3 (local act); Stokes, E. Ham, 189–90.
  • 32. E. Ham Corporation Act, 1919, 9 & 10 Geo. V, c. 52 (local act).
  • 33. E. Ham Official Guide, 1951 edn., 27, 28 (town hall annexe).
  • 34. E. D. Idle, War over West Ham, 66.
  • 35. E. Ham Municipal Diary, 1964–5, pp. 54–5; Loans under Housing Acts 1946–61.
  • 36. E. Ham Corporation Act, 1957, 5 & 6 Eliz. II, c. 37 (local act).
  • 37. V.C.H. Essex, v. 34.
  • 38. E. and W. Ham Year Bk. 1905, p. 49.
  • 39. E. Ham Municipal Diary, 1925–6 f.; E. Ham C.B.C. Mins. 1954–5, No. 320.
  • 40. V.C.H. Essex, v. 37–47, 75–81.
  • 41. E.H.L., E. Ham Loc. Bd. Mins. 12 Oct. 1880, Oct. 1882, Nov. 1883, Oct. 1886, Nov. 1890; U.D.C. Mins. 15 Sept. 1896.
  • 42. E. Ham Municipal Diary, 1936–7, p. 57.
  • 43. E.H.L., Pamphlets, E. Ham Civic Week Exhibition, 1949, p. 59.
  • 44. Loc. Bd. Mins. 1879–82, passim, Mar. 1887.
  • 45. U.D.C. Mins., M.o.H. Rep. for 1898.
  • 46. This paragraph is based on Loc. Bd. Mins., U.D.C. Mins., and B.C. Mins.
  • 47. Under the L.C.C. (General Powers) Act, 1897, 60 & 61 Vict. c. 252 (local act).
  • 48. Cf. V.C.H. Essex, v. 51. For a list of the public parks, with dates of opening, see E. Ham Municipal Diary, 1936–7, p. 54. Other details in this paragraph are taken mainly from Loc. Bd. Mins., U.D.C., and B.C. Mins.
  • 49. Loc. Bd. Mins., May 1889.
  • 50. E.R.O., D/P 156/8/4; Stokes, E. Ham, 22, 103.
  • 51. Stokes, E. Ham, 159; E. Ham Official Guide, 1964, p. 17.
  • 52. This paragraph is based on E. Ham Municipal Diary, 1934–5, p. 53; ibid. 1925–6, p. 158; inf. from Newham L. B.
  • 53. This paragraph is based on: Loc. Bd. Mins., U.D.C. and B.C. Mins.
  • 54. This paragraph is based on: E. Ham Municipal Diary, 1939–40, pp. 55–6; ibid. 1952–3, pp. 15–18; E. Ham Official Guide, 1951, p. 55; ibid. 1964, pp. 44–5.
  • 55. Paragraph based on: Loc. Bd. Mins., U.D.C. and B.C. Mins.; E. Ham Municipal Diary, 1923–4, pp. 175 f.; ibid. 1934–5, p. 44; Stokes, E. Ham, 258–61; E. Ham Official Guide, 1951, p. 36.
  • 56. C.B.C. Mins., 1945–6, nos. 1387, 1753; for the bombing see E.H.L., Photos. (Second World War).
  • 57. E.H.L., File of Misc. Docs. on Second World War: TS. report on E. Ham Mem. Hosp.
  • 58. E. Ham Municipal Diary, 1936–7, p. 50; Stokes, E. Ham, 153–4.
  • 59. E. Ham Municipal Diary, 1935–6, p. 46.
  • 60. Ibid. 1933–4, p. 40.
  • 61. E. Ham Official Guide, 1964, p. 46.
  • 62. E.R. l. 166. For Aldersbrook see under Little Ilford.
  • 63. Kelly's Dir. Essex, 1890, p. 152; E. Ham Loc. Bd. Mins., May 1888.
  • 64. See p. 38.
  • 65. V.C.H. Essex, Bibliography, 329.
  • 66. Inf. from Borough Librarian, Newham L. B.
  • 67. See p. 7.