For one thousand years the county of Essex stretched westwards from Harwich to Waltham Cross on the River Lea. The county boundary then continued south along the course of the Lea to the River Thames at Trinity Buoy Wharf, before turning eastwards following the north bank of the capital’s river all the way to Shoeburyness.
This changed in 1965 with the formation of the Greater London Council. Five new London Boroughs were created, Newham, Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Havering and Waltham Forest becoming in effect Metropolitan Essex in London.
Whilst only a tiny proportion of the land was taken, nearly one third of the existing Essex population was removed from the county. Despite these changes over two generations ago, many residents who live in these boroughs still refer to themselves as Essex people, as does much of the media. Now London’s Metropolitan Essex endeavours to tell some of the fascinating stories of Essex now in London.
Snatched from Essex
On April 1st 1965, following the demise of the London County Council, five new London Boroughs were formed that became the core of Metropolitan Essex. The western boundary of the greater Essex, that had survived more or less intact for over 1000 years since Saxon times, was radically altered. The county border defined by the River Lea was moved over 12 miles east to align approximately with the section of the route followed by the easterly outer ring road, London’s M25.
The change resulted in long established councils such as Romford, Hornchurch, Chingford, Ilford, Walthamstow, Leyton and Woodford disappearing into the new larger authorities of Havering, Redbridge, Barking or Waltham Forest as the case may be. Even West Ham and East Ham that had functioned with looser Essex ties for several years became part of the London Borough of Newham. At the same time North Woolwich which was part of Kent, although north of the River Thames and geographically in Essex, was transferred to the London Borough of Newham.
The reorganization brought relatively little change to the land area of Essex. The five new boroughs accounted for less than eight percent of the original ‘Saxon’ Essex. However for the population it was a different matter. With the new status, at a stroke over one million people, or 40% of the Essex population, became Londoners.
The change had been on the cards from some time. Following the end of World War II it had become clear that the London County Council (LCC), originally formed in 1889 to administer the capital, was too small to cope with the new demands being placed upon local government by the introduction of the welfare state and the chronic housing shortages affecting the capital. Built up London, as it once was, no longer ended at the River Lea where it became leafy rural Essex. The London Metropolitan area of continuous housing, offices and industry had extended to Dagenham and beyond. Capital wide bodies such as education, transport, police and the utilities, many of which were already in existence, needed to be co-coordinated with a measure of democratic accountability. It was also obvious that Essex County Council, administering an area fourteen times the size of Metropolitan Essex and based 25 miles away in Chelmsford, was not equipped to manage the diverse problems of its Essex charges in what, in effect, was Greater London.
In 1957, a Royal Commission for Local Government recommended that the LCC be wound up and replaced with the Greater London Council (GLC), a body with more powers to administer the larger area.
Seven years later, following what seemed to be interminable delays, petty disputes and much local infighting and haggling on the finality of the new boundaries between ‘Essex’ and London, the new Greater London Council (GLC) began work in 1965.
Newly created Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Newham, Redbridge and Waltham Forest became just five of the 32 new London Boroughs. Essex was not the only county to be truncated. The new GLC took territory from Kent, Surrey and Hertfordshire. Middlesex, much of it abutting the River Lea, and which had existed for 1000 years, ceased to exist as a county.
The GLC had a relatively short life and was abolished by the government of the day in 1986. In turn, the existing boroughs including those in Metropolitan Essex were given greater responsibilities especially in the field of education. Fourteen years later in the year 2000, London-wide government was re-established with the creation of a new Greater London Authority (The GLA) based in a new city hall in Queens Walk close to Tower Bridge. The change also brought about the introduction of London’s first directly elected Mayor and a new London wide assembly. The boundaries and responsibilities of the London boroughs though remained largely unchanged.
Evidence of the Essex legacy is still much in evidence throughout the municipal buildings of Metropolitan Essex. The illustration to the left shows an Essex County shield which can clearly be seen on Henry Green Primary School in Dagenham. The school was originally opened in 1923 and has undergone several modifications and upgrades since, which have always included ensuring that the Essex shield is fully and lovingly maintained.
Despite the five new boroughs having been part of London for two generations, it is still the case that, for much of Dagenham, Romford, Hornchurch, Ilford, Chingford and Woodford, the local inhabitants and much of the media still consider these areas to be, at least geographically, part of Essex today.
Extracted from London’s Metropolitan Essex
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