Romford is a large town in east London and the administrative centre of the London Borough of Havering. It is located 14.1 miles (22.7 km) northeast of Charing Cross and is one of the major metropolitan centres identified in the London Plan. Historically Romford was a market town in the county of Essex and formed the administrative centre of the liberty of Havering, until it was dissolved in 1892. Good road links to London and the opening of the railway station in 1839 were key to the development of the town and the economic history of Romford is underpinned by a shift from agriculture to light industry and then to retail and commerce. As part of the suburban growth of London in the 20th century, Romford significantly expanded and increased in population, becoming a municipal borough in 1937 and has formed part of Greater London since 1965 when the area was transferred from Essex. It now forms one of the largest commercial, retail, entertainment and leisure districts in London and has a developed night-time economy.
The town developed in the Middle Ages on the main road to London and the regionally significant Romford Market was established in 1247. The original site of the town was to the south, in an area still known as Oldchurch. It was moved northwards to the present site in the later medieval period to avoid the frequent flooding of the River Rom. The first building on the new site was the parish church of Saint Edward the Confessor. The early history of Romford and the immediate area is agricultural and it is recorded as being the location of a number of mills used to grind corn. The area was a focus of the leather industry from the 15th to the early 19th centuries and there is record of a wide range of industries such as cloth making, weaving, charcoal burning, metal working and brewing. Communications played an important part in its development; the main road to London was maintained by the Middlesex and Essex Turnpike Trust from 1721 and Romford became a coaching town in the 18th century. Several failed attempts were made in the early 19th century to connect the town to the Thames via a Romford Canal. Initially intended to transport agricultural products to London and later intended to serve growing industrial sites in Romford, only two miles of canal were constructed and the canal company were unable to reach the town.
The development of the town was accelerated by the opening of the railway station in 1839 which stimulated the local economy and was key to the development of the Star Brewery. Initially Eastern Counties Railway services operated between Mile End and Romford, with extensions to Brentwood and to Shoreditch in 1840. A second station was opened on South Street in 1892 by the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway on the line to Upminster and Grays, giving Romford a rail connection to Tilbury Docks. The two stations were combined into one in 1934. Light industry slowly developed, reaching a peak in the 1970s with a number of factories on the edge of town, such as the Roneo Vickers office machinery company, Colvern manufacturers of wireless components, May’s Sheet Metal Works and brush manufacturers Betterware. Suburban expansion increased the population and reinforced Romford’s position as a significant regional town centre. The Liberty Shopping Centre was constructed in the 1960s, and has been modernised and supplemented with further shopping centres throughout the town, including The Mall, opened in 1990 (as ‘Liberty 2’); and The Brewery, opened in 2000 on the site of the old Star Brewery.
There was early expansion in the 1840s in the area now occupied by the Waterloo estate, and then known as New Romford, where 200 cottages were built. To the east of the market place from 1850 middle class suburban housing was constructed with a much larger area of 200 acres (81 ha) built-over to the south of the railway from 1851. Through a gradual process of selling off former manors, houses were built radiating from the town in all directions for about a mile. More significant growth occurred between 1910 and 1911 with the construction of Gidea Park Garden Suburb, which included Raphael Park and Gidea Park railway station. Large sections of land to the north of the town at Collier Row were developed in the interwar period and after World War II, the London County Council built the Harold Hill estate to the north east from 1948 to 1958.
The right to supply electricity to the town was secured by the County of London Electricity Supply Company in 1913. Initially power was generated within the Star Brewery site, with the supply switching to Barking Power Station in 1925. Gas supply began in 1825 with gas works of 25 acres (10 ha) constructed by 1938. Following the Telegraph Act 1899 Romford became part of the Post Office London telephone area and the Romford exchange was recorded as having 240 subscribers in 1916. The town water supply initially came from the Havering Well, and 1859 a new public well and pump was built at the east end of the market. The South Essex Waterworks Company started installing mains water supply in 1863 and had offices in South Street. By 1905 its supply was serving Ilford, Collier Row, Ardleigh Green, Brentwood, and Hornchurch. Sewage works were installed by the local board at Oldchurch in 1862, with further works built in Hornchurch in 1869.
The town is served by Romford railway station on the Great Eastern Main Line in London fare zone 6. Trains calling at the station are formed of the high-frequency Liverpool Street-Shenfield local TfL Rail service. Some Greater Anglia services to/from Southend Victoria and Colchester Town also call at the station. A branch line shuttle on the Romford to Upminster Line connects Romford to Upminster, operated by London Overground. Romford is a hub of the London Buses network with services to Canning Town, Stratford, Leytonstone and Dagenham as well as feeder services from the large housing developments at Collier Row and Harold Hill. There are night bus services to Stratford, Harold Hill and Paddington. Romford town centre has a very high Public Transport Accessibility Level score of 6. The trunk A12 road passes to the north of Romford while the A118 road from Stratford connects with it at Gallows Corner at the start of the A127 road to Southend. It is planned that the Liverpool Street-Shenfield service will be replaced by the Elizabeth line in 2020 and there is a proposal that Romford will be served by a future extension of the East London Transit.