Royal Liberty of Havering

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The Royal Liberty of Havering was a royal manor and ancient liberty in the Becontree Hundred of Essex. The manor was in the possession of the Crown from the 11th to the 19th centuries and was the location of Havering Palace from the 13th to the late 17th century.[1] It occupied the same area as the ancient parish of Hornchurch which was divided into the three chapelries of Havering, Hornchurch and Romford.



The name Havering is recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book as "Haueringas" and means 'the settlement of the family or followers of a man called Hæfer', an ancient folk name.[2] From the 13th century the suffix -atte-Bower was added and means 'at the royal residence'.[2] Havering-atte-Bower continues to exist as a small village at the very edge of the metropolitan conurbation.


A liberty was formed by charter for the royal manor of Havering in 1465. The manor was an ancient demesne in the Becontree hundred. The area surrounding the royal manor house of Havering Palace had enjoyed special status since the 13th century and the liberty charter issued in 1465 by King Edward IV reconfirmed many existing rights. The event was celebrated by the issue of a copper token for currency in the late 18th century, which uniquely among the many coins of that era bears the date 1465. The charter gave residents of the area freedom from taxation, its own local magistrates and gaol, and, earlier, freedom from the service of writs by the Essex Quarter Sessions. The famous Romford Market was another privilege that was guaranteed under this arrangement.


The government of the liberty was in the hands of a high steward, deputy steward, clerk of the peace and coroner. The high steward was chosen by the lord of the manor. The office of deputy steward was instituted by the 1465 charter, being appointed by the high steward.[3] The clerk of the peace and coroner were elected by the tenants and inhabitants of the liberty. In 1848 other officers of the corporation were a high bailiff, under bailiff, two head constables and nine petty constables.[4] Gallows Corner was used as the place of execution in the liberty.

The manor and liberty originally comprised the large ancient parish of Hornchurch which was divided into eight wards. By the 16th century 'Romford side' comprising the five northern wards of Romford Town, Harold Wood, Collier Row, Noak Hill, and Havering had achieved some degree of self-government. The remaining 'Hornchurch side' consisted of Hornchurch Town, North End, and South End wards. Hornchurch Town ward was absorbed into North End and South End around 1722. Havering ward grew independent of Romford in the 17th century and became a separate parish in the 1780s.[5][6] In 1849 Romford became a parish in its own right.[1]


The manor was sold by the Crown in 1828 and the right to appoint the high steward and justices of the liberty was transferred to the private owners. During the 19th century ad hoc boards, such as unions for poor law or public health, started to erode the powers of the liberty. The Municipal Corporations Act 1883 made provision for the liberty to be absorbed by the justices of Essex, but did not force the amalgamation.[1] On 21 October 1891, the Essex quarter sessions resolved "that a petition be presented to Her Majesty praying that an Order in Council be made to unite the Liberty of Havering-atte-Bower to the County of Essex, so far as the same is not already united by the Local Government Act, 1888."[7] The Order in Council, under the Liberties Act 1850, was made on 9 May 1892, and came into effect on 1 July 1892. The last high bailiff was paid a pension of £3 for life, while the coroner became a county employee.[8]

Modern day references to the liberty include the Liberty Shopping Centre in Romford, Royal Liberty School in Gidea Park and Royal Liberty Morris dancers.


The liberty was partially bounded by rivers. To the south there was a short boundary with Erith in the Lessness Hundred of Kent, formed by the River Thames.[9] To the east the River Ingrebourne formed a boundary with the Chafford Hundred of Essex and the parishes of (from north to south) South Weald, Upminster and Rainham. To the north of the liberty was much higher ground and the boundary with the Ongar Hundred and the parishes of (west to east) Lambourne, Navestock and Stapleford Abbots. The western boundary was with the remainder of Becontree hundred and the parish of Dagenham, partially formed by the River Beam. To the south the lower elevation formed the Hornchurch Marshes. The London to Colchester Roman Road (now the A12) cut through the liberty further north. In 1831 the total population of the liberty was 6,812.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "The liberty of Havering-atte-Bower". A History of the County of Essex: Volume 7. 1978. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Mills, D. (2000). Oxford Dictionary of London Place Names. 
  3. The People's History of Essex, Chelmsford, 1861
  4. The Parliamentary Gazetteer of England and Wales, Vol. II, 1848, p.288
  5. 'Hornchurch: Economic history and local government', A History of the County of Essex: Volume 7 (1978), pp. 39–45. URL: Date accessed: 28 August 2012
  6. 'Romford: Introduction', A History of the County of Essex: Volume 7 (1978), pp. 56–64. URL: Date accessed: 28 August 2012.
  7. The Essex Review, January 1892 (transcription at, accessed 26 March 2008
  8. London Gazette, issue 26287, published 13 May 1892
  9. "The hundred of Becontree: Introduction". A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5. 1966. Retrieved 2008-01-11. 

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