Heritage: From a crinkle-crankle wall to a phantom Spoon Pond

Rainham Clock Tower war memorial. Photo: Paul Bennett

Rainham Clock Tower war memorial. Photo: Paul Bennett - Credit: Archant

This week’s column by Prof Ged Martin is about five unexpected local oddities

Ever heard of a crinkle-crankle wall? Stubbers, the North Ockendon outdoor adventure centre, has one, a reminder of the stately home that once stood here.

A crinkle-crankle wall weaves in and out in semi-circular loops. It’s probably the work of Gidea Park landscape designer Humphry Repton, and dates from around 1796.

Stubbers is packed with family activities, so if you visit, you won’t just be hitting a brick wall.

When Rainham’s war memorial Clock Tower was unveiled in 1920, it was called “an artistic piece of work in the Georgian style”.

The style was a polite architectural gesture towards nearby Rainham Hall, the 18th-century National Trust property open to visitors.

The memorial cleverly combines a six-sided stumpy tower with three clock faces, fronting on to the three-way road junction.

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Its red bricks were specially imported from Belgium, a tribute to the country that British soldiers fought to protect during the 1914-18 War.

In South Hornchurch, hidden off South End Road, there’s an echo of the Second World War.

This was the location of RAF Hornchurch, the fighter station that defended London against Nazi bombers.

The formal porch tells you that the plain single-storey building in Astra Close has a story to tell.

Astra House was the Officers’ Mess, where pilots gathered for breakfast each morning, grimly noting the empty chairs of comrades killed in the previous night’s combat.

A copper beech picks out the quiet tones of the brickwork. Completed in 1938, it’s nowadays a health centre.

At Brentwood, St George’s Church in Ongar Road was built in 1934, an art deco design that the church’s website jokily calls the “Gaumont-Odeon style”.

Its bizarre feature is an outdoor pulpit at its east end.

One journalist called it “the motorists’ pulpit”, reporting that “in fine weather clergy will deliver from it addresses for motorists”.

It’s unlikely that many clergy have tried the gimmick, which nowadays would cause a traffic hazard. Luckily, a fine tree has grown up, blocking the pulpit from passers-by.

It’s back to Romford for our final oddity, the phantom Spoon Pond in Raphael Park.

Landowner Sir John Eyles, who rebuilt Gidea Hall around 1720, was probably the creator of the long, eye-catching water feature, stretching around 400 yards north of the mansion.

Its inspiration must have been the ornate gardens of French king Louis XIV at his imposing palace of Versailles. There was a statement here: Gidea Hall was England’s Versailles.

A later owner, Richard Benyon, remodelled the grounds around 1776, creating the present-day Raphael Park Lake.

Maybe it was then that the long narrow formal water feature was given a rounded extension at its far end.

Hence its name, the Spoon Pond. Nowadays we’d think of it as a thermometer, with its rounded bulb.

In 1902, wealthy politician Herbert Raphael presented part of the Gidea Hall estate, including the Lake, to become public park for Romford. The Spoon Pond was added later.

In 1910, Raphael developed another section as the Gidea Park garden suburb, a block of streets from Heath Drive across to Parkway, which adjoined the Spoon Pond.

Built to high standards, the new suburb’s drainage system soon lowered the local water table.

Raphael Park Lake, fed by Black’s Brook, was not affected, but the Spoon Pond rapidly drained away.

This was a loss to local anglers, but a crisis for the fish, which were left floundering in the muddy bottom.

Many were carted away to Romford. One observer recalled that “it was curious to see the more robust fish leaping into the air as the carts passed through the market place”.

Nowadays, the outlines of the Spoon Pond can be traced through a procession of tennis courts and a children’s playground.

Within Havering’s suburban sameness, there are some interesting oddities – if you know where to look!