This article was found in Progress, the monthly magazine of Romford Congregational Church, March 1949. It was written by the editor and choirmaster Mr T. J. Dove of Oaklands Avenue.
Up to the moment I have not been able to obtain anything very much about life in Romford under the Roman occupation although there are, of course, the stories handed down of the fierce fighting that took place in what is now known as Essex and East Anglia. It is also a matter of conjecture as to what induced Julius Ceasar [sic] to invade these shores. It may have been like subsequent Dictators he had to keep his people quiet with promises of further conquests, but there is a strong belief that oysters played an important part. I have seen it stated that Ceasar [sic] was very partial to them and as they were plentiful in those days and provided one of the main articles of food the Romans came over to commence a new export drive! A cynic, however, has suggested Ceasar [sic] may have had a bad oyster and came over in revenge!! There is little doubt the bivalve played some important part at that time. One of the things that has mystified experts through the ages was how the Romans made their cement, and some years ago when going over the remains of an old Roman villa the archeologist told me it was believed to be the humble oyster was the secret but in what form no one had as yet found out.
It is known that at the time of the Roman invasion the Trinobantes [sic], then the inhabitants of Essex, were in the throes of a dispute with a neighbouring tribe - the Catuevellauni - and their king slew the ruler of the Trinobantes [sic] and proclaimed himself King of the two tribes. This didn't suit Mandubratius son of the slain ruler and he fled to Gaul, then inhabited by the Romans and it was probably he who induced the latter to come to this country as he is said to have returned with them and eventually became chief of the Trinobantes [sic] under Roman rule.
This all goes to show that the inhabitants of the land were not the savages we have been led to believe. They had a form of government and must have had considerable strategic military knowledge because it took the Romans a long while, with all their strength to overcome the tribes.
Exactly what that form of government was I cannot say but some time after the Roman Conquest the country was divided into counties and a Sheriff placed in charge. He was appointed by the crown or ruler and had very wide powers. He was probably the forerunner of Hitler's Gauliters or the Regional Commissioners appointed to act (should the emergency ever arise) in this country during the last war.
He in turn appointed a county court. This should not be confused with the judicial county court we know to-day but it was in the nature of a government assembly composed by freemen of the shire.
It was no easy matter in those days to control the population, small though they may seem compared with ours to-day. The land had to be self-supporting and accordingly there was always some strife going on between those who had cleared ground for the growing of crops and the more nomadic tribes who kept to the woods and forests living largely by their hunting and what they could steal from others.
To counteract this the county was divided into hundreds, an expression most of us have heard or seen but perhaps did not know how it was derived. This meant that every hundred families and each one of these families had to appoint its own representative to attend the hundred court. He also had to be responsible for the good behaviour of his family and assist in detection or prevention of crime. Later this started the police force because one male in every ten families had to take the office and all males over the age of twelve were eligible.
One can see in this hundred court the elements of communism as we know it to-day.
Romford did not have its own hundred but came under the Liberty of Havering which seems to have been rather higher up in the social scale and had privileges of its own.
The hundred court was presided over by a bailiff appointed by the sheriff and this kind of government went on for a long while. Every seven years there was an inspection by judges who examined the courts and questioned the bailiff, members and sheriffs on their decisions and saw how the hundreds were being run, but the main portion of this fell into disuse about the reign of Edward the third.
It would seem fairly clear that although The Emperor, King or Senate (whichever operated at the time) laid down the policy it was left, in the main, to the local people to administer, a point upon which there is in varying opinion to-day when so much power is being taken from the elected representatives for dealing with local affairs.
It would be interesting to know what Romford looked like in those days. In imagination I can see a company of Roman soldiers marching along the main road late in the afternoon having started from Londinium in the morning. Possibly they had to cross the Lea at Bow in boats because it is known that it was only after one of the Queens (Elizabeth I fancy) got something of a drenching with her retinue due to the river being in flood at that point that the first bridge in the shape of a bow was made in this country at that point. Or it may be they waded through at Old Ford as we know it now.
Although only twelve miles it would be by no means an easy journey. Chariots would get stuck in the mud, attacks from natives were always a serious risk; provisions and equipment had to be transported and meals arranged en route. By the time Romford was reached everyone from the centurion to the cook would have had enough. I wonder how the old Romfordians of that day greeted them - if at all! Probably doubtful at first because few people really welcome a conqueror - except irresponsible girls. Yet after a short time it would become the recognised practice.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon