Cities > London > 7 Things Tourists Don't Do in London, but You Should...

7) Understand Brexit a Bit

Romford: A Stronghold of English Identity

Romford, London

Although a settlement in the area dates to the Middle Ages, an urban council first was established for Romford in 1851. It became a municipal borough in 1937 and it was swallowed formally by London in 1965 as part of the borough of Havering.

More recently, Romford has received some attention for being the core of the borough that voted to leave the European Union, or Brexit, more than any other borough in London. Seventy percent of Havering voted to leave the European Union with an impressive turnout rate of 76%.

You could assume that a pro-Brexit voter is whiter and older than the London average, and with a population that is 83% white and a median age of 40, those assumptions would be correct for Havering, but as is nearly always the case, people are both more complicated and more interesting than numbers in a spreadsheet.

Although will not be arrogant enough to propose that a few hours in Romford — or even a few years — truly would be enough to understand the place and its people, even a brief visit is enough for an observant traveler to notice that Romford is more traditionally English than much of the rest of London and views itself as separate. The core of Romford — more precisely Romford Town — has a pleasant built environment that is a nice day out, too.

One aspect of Romford that might surprise you from its average demographics is that it actually has substantial nightlife. It has one of the "largest night time economy areas outside of London" according to the Havering borough of London's government website, perhaps forgetting that it has been part of London since 1965. Romford's nightlife has a dodgy reputation, confirmed by significant reported crime, particularly for violence at higher rates than reported crimes in central London party hotspots like Soho. As a short-term visitor, unless you have a trusted friend from the area who knows the ropes, it would be wise to leave Romford's nightlife to locals.

Other than its rough and tumble nightlife, as far as most of those who live in the region are concerned, the biggest draw to Romford Town likely is shopping. Romford Market — which is "considered to be one of the largest and best street markets in the south-east" (referring to England, rather than London) — first was established as a sheep market way back in 1247 but now sells cheap clothing, food, and other day-to-day goods. It is open only on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday morning to early afternoon, so these are the best times to visit Romford.

Romford Market pops up in the Market Place street between The Quadrant and The Liberty malls, built in 1935 and 1968, respectively; and the Romford Shopping Hall, established in the 1920s. Two newer shopping malls also flank this area — The Brewery and The Mercury — but they are well-designed to support the primary "town square" feel around Market Place and the attractive people-only South Street with car parking facing away so they do not detract from the experience for those arriving at the train station or the bus mall that feeds the train. The Mercury even is connected directly to The Liberty, which is easy to appreciate when it is raining.

Most of the mall stores are common brands in the UK targeted to middle-class residents, and available throughout London, but still might be of interest. Food also is offered, of course, and there definitely are food options available in Romford that are more classically English than the international leaning options that dominate London's core. Pie and mash[ed potatoes] is available readily — as it is across most of London — but eel commonly is available as a filling, which is not nearly as common elsewhere. You even can buy jellied eels and mash, that has been disappearing in London for years now. A couple of options include McDowells Pie & Mash in the Romford Shopping Hall and Robins Pie & Mash in The Quadrant. Although it was established in 1929, Robins offers a vegan veggie pie, so they do evolve with the times while maintaining English traditions. We will let you know when Robins has gluten-free and paleo-friendly options.

The future of the world likely looks more like London. The future of England, on the other hand, likely looks more like Romford, which as far as it is concerned, is not London. Understanding both is part of understanding the future of the United Kingdom however united it may be. Whether or not you choose to try jellied eels is up to you.

We've mapped out our favourite walk in the core of Romford Town below. It takes you up the people-only South Street, through the street market, and loops back through The Liberty.

How to Get Here: Take the Jubilee Line (Silver) to Stratford Station. Walk to the connected Stratford National Rail Station. Take National Rail to Romford Station (Zone 6). Turn left after exiting Romford Station for our suggested walk.

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  • Writing & Photos By Brock Kyle. All Rights Reserved. Published 10 January 2017. Feedback.