Historically part of Essex but now in the Borough of Havering, Romford is one of the M25 region’s key commercial centres outside of Central London.
Romford’s history of trade goes back to 1247 when it earned the right to hold a sheep market.
The Market Place in the town centre is still taken over by around 200 stalls, three days a week.
On this square, the Romford Shopping Hall has an old-time atmosphere and amenities like a haberdasher, pie shop and butcher.
The town has a thriving local theatre and museum, while its parks are real community assets and crammed with facilities like visitor centres, cafes and miniature railways.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Romford:
1. Havering Museum
A real source of pride for the borough, the Havering Museum on the ground floor of the old Romford Brewery is run entirely by volunteers.
The museum opened in 2010, partly thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
You can drop by from Wednesday to Saturday to learn about the achievements of Havering’s brightest and best, and see how the diverse areas that make up the borough were formed and developed.
Exhibitions are rotated every few weeks and delve into topics like art, crafts, science and history, often borrowing items loaned by members of the public.
Historians are invited to give talks on all sorts of topic related to the borough, while “Reminiscence” is a weekly group event on a changing topic, when residents bring in artefacts and share personal memories.
2. Raphael Park
Long and narrow, this park between Romford and Gidea Park is on Black’s Brook, which has been dammed at Main Road to form a lake.
This land once belonged to a country estate, and you may be interested to know that it retains some landscaping by Sir Humphrey Repton, one of the leading lights of garden design in the Georgian period.
At the north bank of the lake is a rockery, used by the Romford Summer Theatre for its annual open-air plays, while the bandstand stages weekend concerts in summer.
As a Green Flag winner, Raphael Park is packed with facilities like a cafe, restaurant, tennis courts, children’s play areas and tennis courts, while anglers have landed some monster carp at the lake.
3. St Edward the Confessor Church (Anglican)
There are two churches in Romford with this name, and this post is about the older Church of England building on the Market Place.
This Grade II* monument was completed in 1850 and is on a site that has been occupied by a religious building since the 14th century.
The building is composed of material from the Quadrant on Regent Street, designed by the great John Nash and partially demolished in the 1840s.
This might be the source of the church’s profusion of carved corbels, depicting kings, queens, bishops, a Green Man and many more.
Inside there are three splendid Renaissance funerary monuments, the richest of which is for the eminent Humanist Sir Anthony Cooke and can be found on the north wall of the nave.
4. Lodge Farm Park
On the other side of Main Road from Raphael Park is the Green Flag-winning Lodge Farm Park, which is also threaded by Black’s Brook.
This restful space has also recently earned a Silver Gilt in the Best Park category for London in Bloom, and has a border that draws bees and butterflies to an otherwise built-up corner of Greater London.
A new arrival is the miniature railway, operated by Havering Miniature Railway Club and with a station, “Black’s Brook”, that was unveiled by the picnic area in 2017. The railway is a real community effort, and even the railings around the platform were sourced from Shenfield Railway Station in Essex.
Also at Lodge Farm Park are tennis courts, an outdoor gym and a children’s play area.
5. Brookside Theatre
Romford’s first and only professional performing arts venue, the Brookside Theatre is rather young, having opened in the War Memorial Buildings in 2012. It all started as a way of raising funds for the restoration of this historic complex, but has snowballed into a real enterprise.
With a 140-seater auditorium the theatre is completely self-funded and self-sufficient, and in these six years has staged a catalogue of musicals, plays, live bands, comedians and celebrity speakers.
The Brookside Theatre also has two in-house societies allowing the local community to take part in productions on and off the stage, while there are regular showcases of local talent, so the next big thing could come out of Romford!
6. Valence House Museum
Strictly part of Dagenham, this historic manor house and free museum is the briefest train ride or drive from Romford.
Valence House has Medieval origins and is still partly defended by a moat.
Drawing on a collection totalling 20,000 items, the museum presents the story of Barking and Dagenham and its people over the course of centuries.
Most enthralling are the artefacts dug up around the borough, like the Bronze Age Dagenham Idol, more than 4,250 years old and one of Europe’s earliest representations of a human.
There are also some impressive pieces in situ, like wal paintings from around 1600, uncovered in a recent refurbishment, and portraits of the Fanshsawe family who lived here in the 17th century.
Out in the grounds is the Valence Park Holm Oak, planted in the 1700s by the Mertinn family and listed as one of the Great Trees of London.
7. Romford Shopping Hall
An abiding landmark for the town on the Market Place, Romford Shopping Hall was built just after the First World War and is easy to spot for its stone portico.
Within there are small units taken up by a butcher, haberdasher, fabric seller, furniture dealer, antiques shops, eccentric gift shops and clothes stores, open every day of the week.
The food on offer is a real cross-section of 21st-century London.
On the one hand there’s a traditional pie and mash shop, of the kind disappearing from London, while the Sunrise Cafe specialises in Filipino and Chinese bites.
8. Bedfords Park
Romford is blessed with some gorgeous parks and this one is no exception.
Bedfords Park is on the south-facing slope of a 110-metre hill, affording far-reaching views over East London, but also across the Thames to Kent.
At the top of the park there’s a lake, the Round Pond, sealed by a layer of chalky boulder clay.
It’s a wonderful place to be later or early in the day.
The park is made up of two Medieval estates that were united in the 18th century.
Although the house was demolished after the Second World War, there’s still a herd of red deer as well as dozens of exotic trees still growing in the park, like a Cedar of Lebanon, a giant redwood and a monkey-puzzle.
The visitor centre is where the mansion once stood and has a spacious decked terrace.
9. Hainault Forest
Havering Borough has one of the surviving parcels of the Forest of Essex, an ancient sweep of woodland used as a royal hunting ground up to the 14th century.
By the 19th century Hainualt Forest – then much larger than it is now – was declared a waste and a clearing project was started.
The outrage that this destruction caused helped give birth to the modern conservation movement.
In the end, some 330 acres (of an original 3,000) of meadows and woodland were saved.
You could play a round at the Hainault Forest Golf Club, which has 36 holes and views over Central London, while Fox Burrow Farm has an array of rare domestic breeds as well as alpacas and meerkats.
10. Eastbrookend Country Park
Wandering in this rolling parkland a mile south of Romford town centre it would never occur to you that you’re walking on top of landfill.
That is exactly what this 207-acre site used to be.
The good news is that the landfill was topped with a layer of impermeable clay and then sculpted into a flowing landscape, with grasses and wildflowers that do well in poor soils.
Eastbrookend Country Park opened in 1995 and is home to the Millennium Centre, a sustainable building that arrived two years later and mixes environmentally themed displays with information about the history of the site and its regeneration.
11. The Chase Nature Reserve
Side by side with Eastbrookend Country Park, the Chase Nature Reserve feels like remote countryside.
The reserve has a patchwork of habitats, like ponds, meadows, marshland and woodland scrub.
As you navigate the park you may be surprised to see horses grazing in the meadows.
For the botanically minded, the Chase Nature Reserve harbours the UK’s rarest native tree, the black poplar, and has six of an estimated 600 female trees.
Over 200 bird species have been recorded at the reserve, which is a breeding ground for lapwings, ringed plovers, kingfishers and skylarks, but is also visited by pine buntings, spotted crakes and great snipes in the migration seasons.
12. Moby Adventure Golf
Five minutes from Romford town centre is the largest adventure golf course in the UK. Moby Adventure Golf has some astonishing features, like a 60-metre lagoon with a replica sailboat, as well as an eight-metre waterfall.
On one of the holes you have to play into Moby Dick’s cavernous mouth, while on another you’ll encounter Captain Ahab in a cave.
The course is part of the Golf Kingdom, which includes the 18-hole Cranfield Golf Club course (members only) and a driving range that is open to the public.
13. Upminster Tithe Barn
Havering Borough’s other museum is a 15th-century barn not far away in Upminster.
The Tithe Barn is a grand thatched structure, 45 metres long and once associated with the local priory, which itself was attached to the powerful Waltham Abbey.
Despite being known as the “Tithe Barn” for centuries the building was never used for collecting tithes (a sort of tax imposed by religious institutions and landowners). Since 1976 the barn has been put to use as the Museum of Nostalgia, with a collection of 14,500 objects on the themes of agriculture and domestic life.
There are pub signs, an old tractor, Second World War gasmasks and posters, consumer packaging from the early 20th century, typewriters, war medals, wagons and lots more besides.
The barn is open on two weekends a month, so consult the website before paying a visit.
14. Upminster Windmill
Once set in open countryside, Upminster Windmill is a four-sail smock mill built in 1805 and standing almost 16 metres tall.
At the time it was raised, Upminster was deep into Essex, and as early as 1811 the mill’s sails were supplemented by a steam engine.
The mill was in business up to 1934, and the outbuildings were demolished not long after.
Although running repairs were made every now and them, the structure has been in a state of disrepair ever since it shut down.
Until now; because as of 2018 the mill is being properly restored for the first time on the back of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, and is slated to reopen as a key visitor attraction in 2020. When this post was written the new visitor centre had already been built and opened regularly on weekends.
15. Romford Market
A 770-year tradition is upheld in Romford with a vast outdoor market on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
On these days the Market Place is flooded with 150 regular stalls and another 100 temporary traders.
Some people do the entire weekly shop here.
Romford Market has green grocers, butchers, fishmongers, and stalls selling anything from tea to cosmetics, perfumes, cut flowers, mobile phone accessories, toys for children, pet accessories, fabrics…the list goes on.
Romford Market began as a sheep market granted by Henry III in 1247, and by law, no other market was allowed to be within a day’s sheep’s drove (6 and 2/3 of a mile).