Woodford: Local government

Pages 351-352

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

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During the Middle Ages the abbot of Waltham, as lord of the manor, held courts for Woodford. He took the profits of justice (fn. 1) and, from the 13th century at least, held a view of frankpledge there. (fn. 2) In 1465 the abbot rebutted the demand of the abbess of Barking that the farmer of Woodford manor should make suit at her hundred court. He claimed that, because of the annual payment of 4s. to the exchequer, and references in the great roll of 1287 and 1344, Woodford manor was quit of that service. He maintained also that the manor was provided with the necessary instruments for correction and punishment, such as tumbrel and gallows, while such offenders as could not be dealt with at Woodford could be carried to Waltham gaol. (fn. 3)

Court rolls exist for 1270–1, 1581, 1606, 1615–68, and 1727–32, (fn. 4) and court books for 1670–1732 and 1735–1848. (fn. 5) A court leet was held most years after Easter, but occasionally in October and for a few years at both times. A jury of between 12 and 18 made presentments for the usual petty offences, including encroachments on the waste, the unlicensed sale of ale, sheltering strangers, and the failure to scour ditches or repair roads. The court also regulated grazing on the common. As well as constables one or two bread- and ale-tasters were usually elected. The number of presentments increased during the Interregnum but tended to lessen afterwards, and no court leet was held after 1718. Monkhams was not included in the jurisdiction of Woodford Hall manor court. (fn. 6) A court baron was always combined with the court leet but as many as three more courts baron might be held during the year.

The surviving parish records of Woodford are very numerous. (fn. 7) They include a parish book 1641–79, vestry minutes 1679–1851, churchwardens' accounts from 1737, and overseers' accounts from 1765. They have been fully analysed in a book, upon which the following paragraphs are based. (fn. 8)

The monthly vestry meetings, held usually in church, sometimes in a public house, were attended by 10 or more residents of the parish who paid scot and lot. From at least 1657 the more wealthy residents carried out an annual audit. In 1776 the vestry clerk, who had previously served unpaid, was granted £10 10s. a year.

Two overseers were appointed each year. Each overseer served for 2 consecutive years; the first year the appointment was nominal, as the duties were carried out by the overseer in his second year. Two or three years later he would expect to be appointed junior churchwarden and, the next year, 'upper' warden. Occasionally, in the early 18th century, the rector appointed his own warden. From 1786 a salaried assistant to the overseers was appointed. Two constables were usually elected in the court leet, having been nominated at the preceding Easter vestry. In the absence of courts leet the appointment of constables was confirmed by justices. Substantial inhabitants were often elected constables. After 1746 paid beadles were infrequently appointed. In 1788 the parish was divided and one constable was appointed for the 'town' and one for Woodford Bridge.

Fining to avoid parish office was allowed from at least 1641. (fn. 9) In 1781 service by deputy was prohibited and during 1782–6 and from 1809 onwards a scale of fines was established for those who did not wish to serve.

The money raised by churchwardens' rates was not always used for church repairs; payments for poor-relief, vestry dinners, or killing vermin are found in their accounts. (fn. 10) Until 1700 overseers and constables levied separate rates; thereafter the former reimbursed the latter for their expenses. The rate was 4d. an acre in 1647 but after 1659 rates were assessed on property values: 1s. in the pound in 1707, rising in the late 18th century to 9s. in 1801, and the equivalent of 16s. in 1817 and 1834. (fn. 11)

From the 17th century there was a parish poorhouse (often called the alms-house) comprising 3 cottages by the turnpike at Woodford Bridge. (fn. 12) Because it was too small to accommodate all in need of relief paupers were boarded out, often with other paupers, or were paid pensions, until 1724, when the millhouse at Woodford Row was leased for 21 years as a workhouse (fn. 13) and all pensioners were ordered into it. But most of the inmates were incapable of heavy work, and outdoor relief had to be continued. On the expiration of the lease in 1745 Woodford paupers were farmed out to a succession of London contractors. Outdoor relief continued only for those who could be supported on less than the cost of sending them to the contractor.

In 1783 the vestry again opened a workhouse within the parish, leasing a building in Monkhams Lane. This was replaced in 1792 by Hereford House in Snakes Lane, (fn. 14) also leased. Oakum picking was the chief occupation, but it became increasingly difficult to find materials for the poor to work on. Outdoor relief largely ceased between 1786 and 1794, but under the pressures of war and bad harvests it became necessary to subsidize food and fuel for the poor, in 1796 by means of voluntary subscriptions and in 1801 by a special rate; and justices of the peace were occasionally persuaded to grant orders for the payment of pensions. In 1818 between 6 and 7 per cent of the population of Woodford were receiving some relief.

In 1820 a new workhouse was built on waste land in the north of the parish leased from the lord of the manor. Brice Pearse of Monkhams gave £1,000 towards this. At first there was little work for the inmates, but by 1827 land around the house was being cultivated, and in 1829 adjoining land was inclosed and made copyhold after the parish had agreed to surrender to the lord of the manor the lease of the poorhouse at Woodford Bridge. In 1836 the workhouse was taken over by West Ham union. (fn. 15) It was sold a few years before 1848 and converted into a residence called Manor House. (fn. 16) The site is now (1965) occupied by Bancroft's school.

The overseers sometimes paid for nurses to attend the sick or assisted the latter to enter one of the London hospitals. Grants were also made for the maintenance of lunatics, the more violent ones being sent to private asylums. In 1775, following outbreaks of smallpox, a doctor was appointed to attend poor parishioners at an annual salary. In 1778 a pesthouse was built on a site adjoining that on which the workhouse of 1820 was built. (fn. 17) When not required for the sick this was used to house the ordinary poor.

Quarter sessions records indicate that crime was less prevalent in Woodford than in most Essex parishes, though the forest provided cover for thieves. In 1771 an association of inhabitants was formed to provide rewards for the capture of felons. A police horse patrol, who received an allowance from quarter sessions, was stationed in the parish by 1826. In 1839 Woodford was brought into the area of the Metropolitan police. (fn. 18)

The lord of the manor was presented in 1584 and 1653 for failing to maintain the stocks. (fn. 19) A cage is mentioned in 1694 and in the early 19th century one was standing, together with stocks, on the green by the High Road opposite the White Hart. This cage, a small brick building, was demolished in 1930. (fn. 20)

Responsibility for the repair of Woodford and Winn bridges was frequently debated in quarter sessions, and individual landowners were occasionally presented in courts leet for failing to repair sections of highway, but the main responsibility for the upkeep of roads rested with the vestry. Highway rates rarely seem to have been levied until the later 18th century. Six days each year were set aside for the performance of statute labour but in 1733 labourers paid 5s. as composition. In 1721 the Middlesex and Essex turnpike trust became responsible for the upper road and in 1736 for the lower road. The vestry compounded with the trustees for repairs to sections of the roads within the parish, the money being paid from the overseers' or churchwardens' accounts, not the surveyors'. Road work was sometimes found for unemployed labourers in the early 19th century.

No select vestry was introduced under the Sturges Bourne Act (1818), probably because the vestry was already appointing committees to deal with particular problems, such as the workhouse. The Local Government Act (1858) was adopted in 1873 when a local board of 9 members was set up. From 1894 Woodford was governed by an urban district council of 12 members. Four wards were created in 1914. (fn. 21) The urban district was united with that of Wanstead in 1934 and in 1937 the combined urban district was incorporated as a municipal borough. (fn. 22) In 1965 Wanstead and Woodford was amalgamated with Ilford and parts of Chigwell and Dagenham as the London borough of Redbridge. (fn. 23)


  • 1. Pipe R. 1199 (P.R.S. N.S. x), 91.
  • 2. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), i. 152.
  • 3. B.M. Add. MS. 37665, f. 258.
  • 4. S.C. 2/173/30, 31, 33–8, and 174/42, 43; E.R.O., D/DCw M17–25.
  • 5. E.R.O., D/DCw M26–30.
  • 6. E.R.O., D/DCw M19.
  • 7. Cat. Essex Par. Recs. 2nd edn., 237–9.
  • 8. E. J. Erith, Woodford, Essex, 1600–1836.
  • 9. E.R.O., D/DCw M21.
  • 10. F. G. Emler, Hist. of Woodford Parish Church, 121–5.
  • 11. Erith, Woodford, 11–12. The actual rate in 1817 was 7s. following a revaluation in 1804. Erith analyses the overseers' expenditure in a graph at the end of the book.
  • 12. E.R.O., D/DCy P2B, f. 103, D/DCy P3, ff. 25, 191 (plan).
  • 13. See p. 349.
  • 14. Tuffs, Wanstead and Woodford, 29; E.R.O., D/DCy P2B, ff. 194–5, 253 (plan). For Hereford House, see above, p. 341.
  • 15. For the site see E.R.O., D/CT 408.
  • 16. White's Dir. Essex, 1848; O.S. Map 6", Essex LXV (1876 edn.).
  • 17. E.R.O., D/CT 408.
  • 18. V.C.H. Essex, v. 34.
  • 19. E.R.O., Q/SR 90/36; D/DCw M23.
  • 20. J. W. Mackail, Life of Wm. Morris, 6; E.R. xxix. 138 and xxxix, 196.
  • 21. E.R.O., C/M 2/20, p. 1057.
  • 22. Wanstead and Woodford Official Guide (1964–5).
  • 23. London Govt. Act, 1963, c. 33.