A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.
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WORTHIES. (fn. 1)
Richard de Montfitchet (d. 1267), lord of the principal manor in East Ham and West Ham, was one of the barons appointed to enforce Magna Carta. (fn. 2) Robert Fabyan (d. 1513), chronicler, acquired by marriage a small estate at Upton. (fn. 3) Margaret Pole (d. 1541), countess of Salisbury, executed by Henry VIII, held the manor of Bretts (1512–39), and appears to have been living within the precincts of Stratford Abbey shortly before 1537. (fn. 4) Gabriel Donne (d. 1558), monk of Stratford, took part in the treacherous arrest of William Tyndale at Louvain (Belgium) in 1535, and subsequently became abbot of Buckfastleigh, receiving other preferments after the Dissolution. (fn. 5)
Sir Thomas Lodge (d. 1584), merchant of London and formerly lord mayor, was living at West Ham in 1583, (fn. 6) and Sir Edward Coke, judge and law writer (1552–1634), at Upton in 1598. (fn. 7) Such residents became more numerous in the 17th century. Merchants included Sir Thomas Foot, Bt. (d. 1688), grocer and lord mayor, who lived at Hyde House, Plaistow, (fn. 8) and Sir Robert Smyth, Bt. (d. 1669), draper of London, who lived at Ham House, Upton, and was prominent in Essex local government during the Interregnum. (fn. 9) Sir John Wittewrong, Bt. (d. 1693), a London brewer of Flemish descent, lived at West Ham in the earlier 17th century. (fn. 10) William Clowes the elder (d. 1604), surgeon and writer, lived at Plaistow, (fn. 11) his son William Clowes the younger (1582–1648), surgeon to Charles I, at Rokeby House, Stratford. (fn. 12)
Edmund Burke (1729–97), statesman and writer, lived at Brunstock Cottage, Plaistow, c. 1759–61. (fn. 13) Among other 18th-century writers were George Edwards (1694–1773), naturalist, (fn. 14) and Aaron Hill (1685–1750), dramatist, (fn. 15) both of Plaistow. John Fothergill (1712–80), physician and botanist, owned Ham House. (fn. 16) Sir Richard Jebb, Bt. (1729–87), physician to George III, was born at Stratford. (fn. 17) Two notable industrialists working in the parish were Peter Lefebure (d. 1751), distiller at the Three Mills, (fn. 18) and Thomas Frye (1710–62), Bow chinamaker at Stratford. (fn. 19) William Dodd (1729–77), executed for forgery, had been curate and parish lecturer. (fn. 20)
Since 1800, with the huge increase in population, West Ham has produced persons of distinction in many fields, but especially trade and industry, politics, philanthropy, and social service. Industrialists have included: Luke Howard (1772–1864), chemical manufacturer (fn. 21) and Walter Hancock (1799–1852), engineer and inventor, (fn. 22) both of Stratford; Charles Mare (1815–98), founder of the Thames Ironworks at Canning Town (fn. 23) and Arnold F. Hills (1857–1927), a later director of the same company; (fn. 24) George P. Bidder (1806–78), designer of the Victoria Dock; (fn. 25) and Sir Henry Tate, Bt. (1819–89), sugar refiner at Silvertown. (fn. 26) Among merchants was Sir John Pelly, Bt. (1777–1852), governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, who lived at the Manor House, Upton, and was one of the largest landowners in West Ham. (fn. 27) Sir William Mallinson, Bt. (1854–1936), timber merchant and philanthropist, lived in youth at Forest Gate, and always maintained a close connexion with the Field Road Methodist church there. (fn. 28) George G. Harrap (1867–1938), founder of the publishing firm of that name, was educated at West Ham Church school. (fn. 29)
Among politicians J. Keir Hardie (1856–1915), Charles F. G. Masterman (1874–1934), William J. (Will) Thorne (1857–1946), and John J. (Jack) Jones (1873–1941) all represented West Ham in Parliament. (fn. 30) The first two were better known outside the borough, but the last two were far more important within it, as trade union leaders and borough councillors. (fn. 31) John H. Bethell, later Lord Bethell (1861–1945), was a prominent borough councillor in West Ham, as in East Ham. (fn. 32)
Philanthropists included Elizabeth Fry (1780–1845), prison reformer, who lived at The Cedars, Portway, (fn. 33) her brother and neighbour Samuel Gurney, of Ham House, (fn. 34) and Sir Antonio Brady, of Maryland Point. (fn. 35) (Sir) Percy Alden (1865–1944) was warden of Mansfield House University settlement (fn. 36) and Sir Reginald Kennedy-Cox (d. 1966) of the Dockland settlements. (fn. 37) Thomas Given-Wilson (d. 1916), vicar of St. Mary's, Plaistow, (fn. 38) Robert Rowntree Clifford (d. 1943), superintendent of the West Ham Central (Baptist) mission, (fn. 39) and Father Andrew (1869–1946), of the Society of Divine Compassion, Plaistow, (fn. 40) were religious leaders especially noted for social work.
Joseph Lister, Lord Lister (1827–1912), founder of antiseptic surgery, was born at Upton House. (fn. 41) Sir Patrick Manson (1844–1922), expert on tropical diseases, worked at the Albert Dock seamen's hospital, Custom House. (fn. 42) Dorothea Beale (1831– 1906), principal of Cheltenham Ladies College, was educated at Stratford. (fn. 43) Thomas E. Cleworth (1854– 1909), educational controversialist, attended and later taught at the West Ham Church school. (fn. 44) Edmund Curtis (1881–1943), historian, (fn. 45) was in 1896 working reluctantly in the rubber factory at Silvertown and expressing his melancholy in verses, some of which were published in the weekly journal London. (fn. 46) A fund was raised for his education, and by 1914 he was a regius professor at Trinity College, Dublin. Charles C. Winmill (1865–1945), architect, (fn. 47) was born at Plaistow and articled to J. T. Newman, architect to West Ham local board. (fn. 48)
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89), poet, (fn. 49) and Anna Kingsford (1846–88), mystical writer, (fn. 50) were both born at Stratford. (fn. 51) John Curwen (1816–80), Congregational minister, musicologist and publisher, lived at Plaistow and later at Forest Gate. (fn. 52) George Glover (1854–1936), forger of archaeological remains, lived at West Ham. (fn. 53) Notable persons connected with the theatre and sport are mentioned elsewhere. (fn. 54)
ENTERTAINMENTS, SPORTS AND PASTIMES.
West Ham's first permanent place of entertainment was Relf's, later the Royal Albert, music hall, Victoria Dock Road, Canning Town. (fn. 55) It was opened about 1875 by Charles Relf, who adapted the Town of Ayr public house for the purpose. He later rebuilt and enlarged the music hall and managed it until his retirement in 1906. In 1909 it was again rebuilt, partly with the materials of the Imperial theatre, Westminster, which had recently been demolished. The New Imperial, as it was then renamed, was burnt out in 1931, but was later rebuilt and became a cinema. It was renamed the Essoldo about 1958. (fn. 56) It became a bingo club in 1963 and was demolished about 1967. (fn. 57)
The Theatre Royal, Salway Road, Stratford, was built in 1884 by Charles Dillon (formerly Silver), an actor-manager. (fn. 58) There had been earlier attempts to establish a theatre at Stratford. A music hall, in Martin Street, existed in 1868. (fn. 59) In the early 1880s Dillon, his sister, and her husband Frederick Fredericks, had regularly visited Stratford with a mobile theatre, using a site in Oxford Road adjoining Angel Lane. (fn. 60) That may have been the theatre in Angel Lane, erected without a building licence in 1881, which the local board in 1882 ordered to be removed. (fn. 61) The Royal, designed by J. G. Buckle, was built on the site of a former wheelwright's shop, on the corner of Salway Road and Angel Lane. In 1886 Dillon sold it to Albert (brother of Frederick) Fredericks, who enlarged it in 1888 and again in 1891. The Fredericks family managed the theatre from 1888 to 1932. After the First World War it fell into financial difficulties, and from 1926 onwards it was often closed for long periods. In 1953, however, the Royal was taken over by Theatre Workshop, and became one of the best-known theatres in England. The East 15 Acting school, opened in 1961 in association with Theatre Workshop, met at Mansfield House, Canning Town, until 1966, when it was transferred to Loughton. (fn. 62) Theatre Workshop left Stratford in 1964 but returned in 1967. (fn. 63)
The Borough theatre, High Street, Stratford, was opened in 1896 by Albert Fredericks, owner of the Theatre Royal, to the design of Frank Matcham. (fn. 64) It was one of the largest theatres in Greater London, with seating for over 3,000. In its early years many well-known actors played there, including Beerbohm Tree, Sir Henry Irving, and Ellen Terry. (fn. 65) The Fredericks family managed the Borough until 1933, when it became the Rex cinema. (fn. 66) It became a bingo club in 1969. (fn. 67)
The Empire theatre of varieties, Broadway, Stratford, was opened by London District Empire Palaces (later Moss Empires) Ltd., in 1898, to the design of W. G. R. Sprague. (fn. 68) It was built on the site of Rokeby House. (fn. 69) It was wrecked by bombing during the Second World War, and was demolished in 1958. (fn. 70)
The Forest Gate public hall, Woodgrange Road, built about 1902, contained a theatre, known for many years as the Grand. (fn. 71) The Y.M.C.A., Greengate Street, Plaistow, built in 1921, included the Little Theatre, used for live productions as well as cinema shows. (fn. 72) A theatre at the Dockland Settlement, Canning Town, was opened in 1926. The warden promised that Shakespeare would be played monthly or even fortnightly by the best companies at cinema prices. (fn. 73) The Passion plays produced at Plaistow by Father Andrew, S.D.C., are mentioned elsewhere. (fn. 74)
Cinema shows, 'the latest London craze', were advertised in 1897 by the Theatre Royal, which used them as supporting items between the acts of a play. (fn. 75) Occasional films were shown there again in 1907 and 1909, but never became a regular feature. (fn. 76) By then, however, cinemas were beginning to spring up throughout West Ham. The earliest ones used converted premises with serious fire hazards. The danger was demonstrated, in December 1908, at Gale's picture house (formerly Volckman's confectionery factory), High Street, Stratford, where a slight fire caused a stampede. (fn. 77) Three months later the borough council ordered five cinemas to close until they had been made safe. (fn. 78) By 1909, however, purpose-built cinemas were appearing: the Rathbone cinema, Rathbone Street, Canning Town, was one of the first. (fn. 79)
In 1917 there were at least 19 cinemas in the borough. (fn. 80) The number remained at about that level during the 1920s and 1930s, (fn. 81) but the total accommodation probably increased, since the new cinemas opened in that period included four very large ones. The New Imperial (former music hall) and the Rex (Borough theatre) have been mentioned above. The Broadway (later Gaumont), Tramway Avenue, Stratford, opened in 1927, claimed to be the largest in the country. (fn. 82) It was designed by George Coles for Philip and Sid Hyams. It was closed in 1960. (fn. 83) The Odeon, Romford Road, Forest Gate, was opened in 1937 by Odeon Theatres Ltd. (fn. 84)
During the Second World War several cinemas were bombed and by 1950 only seven remained open. (fn. 85) By 1969 only one, the Odeon, Forest Gate, was still a cinema, though several survived as bingo clubs. (fn. 86) Among cinemas, not previously mentioned, which survived for many years, were the Greengate, later the Rio, Barking Road, Plaistow (c. 1912–57), (fn. 87) the West Ham Lane Kinema, later the Century (c. 1922–63), (fn. 88) and the Queen's, Romford Road, Forest Gate (c. 1914–41). (fn. 89)
Music has played a remarkable part in the life of West Ham. (fn. 90) Much of this was due to the Curwen family. John Curwen (1816–80) established the Tonic Sol-Fa Press at Plaistow and the Tonic Sol-Fa college at Forest Gate. (fn. 91) In 1882 his son, John S. Curwen (1847–1916), founded the Stratford musical festival, which still survives. (fn. 92) Musical education in the borough was greatly stimulated also by the Forest Gate school, later the Metropolitan academy of music, founded by Harding Bonner in 1885. (fn. 93) The West Ham philharmonic society, founded in 1868, survived until 1877 or later. (fn. 94) Another society with the same name was founded by H. A. Donald in 1896 and ceased about 1912. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was also much musical activity in the churches and in several municipal schools. Some of the school choirs won prizes in international competitions. The borough council appointed a part-time official organist (later musical director), arranged concerts, plays, and recitals at the town hall, Stratford, and the public hall, Canning Town, and employed military bands to play in the public parks. Many musicians trained in West Ham achieved distinction elsewhere. Most of the town's musical activities were halted by the Second World War, and some, including the Metropolitan academy, came to a final end. In 1946 the council appointed a full-time music adviser and entertainments organizer. (fn. 95) That experiment ended in 1948, but after that the council supported cultural activities by providing accommodation for bodies like the public libraries Music Circle, and by subsidizing Theatre Workshop and amateur drama groups. (fn. 96)
Football, West Ham's main sport, was recorded as early as 1582, when a man was murdered during a game there. (fn. 97) West Ham United F.C. was formed as a professional club in 1900, but its origin has been traced back to three earlier amateur clubs, St. Luke's, Old Castle Swifts, and Thames Ironworks. (fn. 98) A. F. Hills, of the Thames Ironworks, was the principal founder of the professional club. West Ham entered the Football League in 1919, won the Football Association cup in 1964, and the European Cup Winners' cup in 1965. (fn. 99) Since 1904 the club's ground has been Upton Park, East Ham, formerly part of the grounds of Green Street House. (fn. 100) Clapton F.C., a leading amateur club founded in 1878, has played since 1888 in Upton Lane, on the ground previously attached to the Spotted Dog public house. (fn. 101) Several young players have gone from Clapton to West Ham United, and the professional club has also recruited many from the local schools. Early in the present century the West Ham schools football association was one of the strongest in the United Kingdom. Between 1907 and 1936 West Ham schools won the English shield three times and were runners-up four times, while individual boys won 36 international caps. (fn. 102) At a lower level football was being played in the 1920s by over 100 clubs in the borough. (fn. 103)
In the 18th and early 19th centuries prize fights were sometimes staged on the southern marshes of West Ham, despite opposition from magistrates and police. (fn. 104) Jem Mace (1831–1910), heavweight champion of the world, lived at Stratford during his fighting career. (fn. 105) The Park council school produced three British schools boxing champions before 1936. (fn. 106)
The West Ham swimming club, founded in 1894, is said to be the oldest surviving in Essex. (fn. 107) Plaistow United swimming club, founded in 1920, soon became one of the best in the country and in 1936 supplied five members of the English Olympic water polo team. (fn. 108) E. H. Temme of Plaistow was the first person to swim the English Channel in both directions. There are several other swimming clubs in West Ham, including the Starfish, founded in 1948 for the south of the borough. (fn. 109)
In the mid 19th century cricket was played on the Spotted Dog pleasure ground, Upton Lane. (fn. 110) That may have been the ground used by the Cricket Company, a well-known club of the period. (fn. 111) The South Essex cricket club, said in 1923 to be one of the oldest in West Ham, was founded about 1888. (fn. 112)
Speedway (motor cycle) and greyhound racing are carried on at the West Ham stadium, Custom House, opened in 1928. (fn. 113) The stadium has been used occasionally for other sports, including stock car racing. A skittle ground, attached to a public house, was mentioned in 1764. (fn. 114) Several skittle alleys were built in the parish in the later 19th century. (fn. 115) Plans for a roller-skating rink, in Hamfrith Road, Stratford, were approved in 1876, and in 1909 there was a rink attached to the public hall, Woodgrange Road, Forest Gate. (fn. 116) The latter continued in use until after the Second World War. (fn. 117)
Among various forms of public or social service to which many West Ham residents devoted their leisure, especially before the First World War, was the promotion of temperance, thrift, or mutual aid among a population living in conditions which made it difficult to cultivate such habits. Before the First World War there were some 75 temperance societies and 100 friendly societies in the borough. (fn. 118) The temperance societies, with their emphasis on total abstinence, were closely linked with the churches. Their strength was shown in 1897, when they successfully opposed the granting of a liquor licence to the new Borough theatre. (fn. 119) A few of the friendly societies were concerned with temperance as well as thrift, but most were not, and they usually met in public houses. Their total membership was low for a town of this size. (fn. 120) More important were the cooperative movement and the trade unions. (fn. 121)
Notable among cultural organisations has been the Essex Field club, founded in 1880, and based since 1900 on the Passmore Edwards museum, in Romford Road, Stratford. (fn. 122) The Canning Town Field club, later the Chip Chap club (1883–5), comprised five working men. It collected many prehistoric remains, which were eventually acquired by the Passmore Edwards museum. (fn. 123)
The Loyal United East Ham and West Ham Volunteers appear to have been formed in 1798. (fn. 124) In 1803, when the war with France was renewed, the West Ham Volunteer Infantry was formed, comprising two companies, commanded by Capt. (later Major) William Manbey, who had served with the earlier corps. It was demobilized in 1814. A separate East Ham corps, apparently formed after 1803, was demobilized in 1807. (fn. 125) When the volunteers were revived in the 1860s an artillery depot was opened at the Green, Stratford. (fn. 126) It closed c. 1960. (fn. 127) An infantry depot was opened about 1890 at the Cedars, Portway. (fn. 128) It survived in 1969. (fn. 129) In 1914 volunteer service became more than a pastime: during the First World War some 100,000 West Ham men served in the forces. (fn. 130)
The Stratford Times, West Ham's first paper, was founded in 1858. (fn. 131) It is said to have been closely identified, at least in its early days, with the Victoria Dock Co. The Stratford Express, following an independent line, was founded in 1866, absorbed the Stratford Times, and outpaced other rivals to become the leading local paper. (fn. 132) The East and West Ham Gazette (1888), which survived, as the South Essex Mail, until 1941, was a Liberal paper. The West Ham Guardian (c. 1888–1902) was Conservative.