The History of Ilford: From Mammoths to Modernity

Ilford is a vibrant town in the East End of London, but it has a long and rich history that goes back to ancient times. Ilford was once part of Barking, a parish that a Saxon abbess founded in the 7th century. Ilford was originally two small villages, Great Ilford and Little Ilford, which the River Roding separated.

The river was a source of transport, industry, and a natural boundary and defence. Ilford has witnessed many historical events and changes, from discovering mammoth fossils to developing a garden suburb. In this blog post, we will explore some of the highlights of Ilford’s history and how it became the town we know today.

Ilford Town Hall.
Ilford Town Hall.
Sunil060902, CC BY-SA 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

The Prehistoric Past of Ilford

Long before humans settled in Ilford, the area was home to some of the largest animals ever to live in Britain. In the 19th century, brickworks operated in Ilford and unearthed mammoths, elephants, rhinos, hippos, and other megafauna fossils. The most famous of these discoveries was the skull of the Ilford Mammoth, which was found in 1863 and is now displayed at the Natural History Museum in London. The mammoth lived about 200,000 years ago and was one of the largest land mammals ever, weighing up to 10 tonnes and standing up to 4 metres tall. The mammoth fossils show that Ilford was once a grassland with a mild climate, very different from today.

The Iron Age and Roman Fort of Uphall Camp

The first evidence of human occupation in Ilford dates back to the Iron Age when a large hill fort was built on the banks of the River Roding. Uphall Camp is one of the most prominent Iron Age forts in the London area and may have been used as early as the Bronze Age. The fort had a ditch and rampart enclosing an area of about 12 hectares and was probably a defensive settlement for a local tribe.

The Romans also used the defence, built a road through it and may have used it as a military base or a town. Some historians have suggested that Uphall Camp was where William the Conqueror camped in 1066 while he waited for the Tower of London to be built.

The Medieval Manor Estates of Ilford

In medieval times, Ilford was part of Barking parish and under the influence of Barking Abbey, founded by Saint Ethelburga in 666 AD. The abbey owned most of the land in Ilford and had several manor estates, such as Valentines, Uphall, Aldborough and Loxford. The abbey also founded the Hospital Chapel of St Mary and St Thomas in Great Ilford around 1140; the oldest building in Ilford still stands today.

The chapel served as a hospice for travellers and pilgrims on the Great Essex Road, which ran through Ilford and connected London with Colchester. The chapel also had a leper hospital attached to it until the 16th century.

The Growth and Development of Modern Ilford

Ilford remained a rural village until the 19th century when it began to increase due to several factors. One was the deforestation of Hainault Forest, which opened up land for farming and building. Another was the arrival of the railway in 1839, which connected Ilford with London and made it more accessible and attractive for commuters.

A third factor was the break-up of large estates in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which led to a housing boom and an influx of new residents. Many of these houses were large and expensive, such as those in Valentines Park, designed as a garden suburb inspired by Sir Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City movement.

Victorian Terrace. Coventry Road Ilford Essex.
Victorian Terrace. Coventry Road Ilford.

Ilford also became an industrial centre along the River Roding, with factories producing chemicals, photographic materials, soap, paint and other products. One of the most notable industries was Howards Chemical Works, which supplied aspirin to Britain during World War I after imports from Germany were cut off.

In 1926, Ilford became a municipal borough with its own council and coat of arms. In 1965, it merged with Wanstead and Woodford to form the London Borough of Redbridge. Today, Ilford is a diverse and multicultural town with a population of over 170,000 people. It has many landmarks and attractions, such as Valentines Mansion, Redbridge Museum, Kenneth More Theatre and Exchange Shopping Centre.

Valentines Park: A Historic and Beautiful Green Space in Ilford

Valentines Park, Ilford
Valentines Park, Ilford

Valentines Park is the largest and most popular park in the London Borough of Redbridge, covering 52 hectares of land south of Gants Hill. The park has a long and varied history, dating back to medieval times when it was part of the Valentines Manor estate. The park has many features and attractions that reflect its heritage and character, such as Valentines Mansion, Valentines Gardens, the nearby historic Ilford Hospital Chapel and the Cranbrook River.

The park also offers a range of facilities and activities for visitors of all ages and interests, such as a café, a boating lake, a playground, a cricket pitch, a tennis court and a bandstand. Valentines Park is a green oasis in the heart of Ilford, where you can enjoy nature, culture and recreation.

Valentines Mansion: A Grade II* Listed Building with a Rich History

One of the highlights of Valentines Park is Valentines Mansion, a stunning red-brick house built in the 1690s by James Chadwick. The mansion was extensively altered and enlarged in the 18th and 19th centuries, reflecting the tastes and styles of its various owners. The estate has hosted many distinguished guests, such as King George III, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and novelist Charlotte Bronte.

The mansion was acquired by Ilford Council in 1912 and opened to the public as a museum and art gallery. Today, the estate is managed by Vision RCL and offers a range of exhibitions, events and activities for visitors. You can explore the restored period rooms, admire the art collections, join a guided tour or a workshop, or hire the mansion for weddings and functions.

Valentines Gardens: A Historic Landscape with Diverse Flora and Fauna

Another attraction of Valentines Park is Valentines Gardens, which surround the mansion and extend to the south and east of the park. The gardens have a history that goes back to the 18th century when they were designed as a formal landscape with features such as a canal, a grotto, a dovecote, a sundial, a walled garden and a ha-ha. The gardens were later modified and expanded in the 19th and 20th centuries, adding elements such as a rose garden, an American garden, an orchard and a rockery.

The gardens have a diverse collection of plants and trees, some of which are rare or exotic. The gardens also provide habitats for various wildlife species, such as birds, butterflies, bees and bats. You can stroll along the paths, admire the views, relax on the benches or join a gardening club or a wildlife walk.

Ilford Hospital Chapel: The Oldest Building in Ilford with a Medieval Origin

A hidden gem a short walk from Valentines Park is Ilford Hospital Chapel, located at Ilford Hill. The chapel is the oldest in Ilford and one of the oldest in London. It was founded around 1140 by Adeliza, Abbess of Barking Abbey, as a hospice for travellers and pilgrims on the Great Essex Road. The chapel also served as a leper hospital until the 16th century.

The chapel has survived many changes and challenges over the centuries, such as fires, plagues, wars and vandalism. It has been restored several times and retains some original features, such as the Norman arches, windows and doorways. The chapel is now an Anglican parish church and holds regular services and events for worshippers and visitors.

Cranbrook River: A Natural Feature with Industrial Heritage

A natural feature that runs through Valentines Park is Cranbrook River, a tributary of the River Roding that originates near Barkingside. The river’s history goes back to the Iron Age when it was used as a water supply and a defence for the Uphall Camp hill fort. The river also played a role in the industrial development of Ilford, as it powered mills and factories along its course. One of the most notable industries was Howard’s chemical works, which supplied aspirin to Britain during World War I after imports from Germany were cut off.

The river was also used for recreation, such as fishing and boating. Today, the river is a haven for wildlife like waterfowl, fish and amphibians. You can see the river flowing through Valentine’s Park into the boating lake, where you can hire a boat or enjoy the views. The river also forms part of the Roding Valley Way, a walking and cycling route that follows the Roding and its tributaries from Wanstead to the Thames.

Shops and Retail

Ilford is a town in Essex with a long and varied history of commerce and trade. Ilford was a market town on the Great Essex Road from medieval times, where travellers and pilgrims could find accommodation, food and goods. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Ilford developed into a suburban and industrial centre, with many shops and stores catering to the needs and tastes of its growing population. Some old shops and stores were part of Ilford’s local history.

Maison Riche: This lady’s fashion shop on Ilford Broadway was famous in the 1950s and 1960s. It sold elegant dresses, hats, gloves and accessories for the well-dressed woman. The shop had a distinctive sign with a red background and gold lettering. It was next to the Red Lion pub, a landmark in Ilford.

Ilford Station.
Ilford Station
Sunil060902, CC BY-SA 4.0
via Wikimedia Commons

Euplyton Works: This factory manufactured celluloid collars and cuffs between 1890 and 1924. It was founded by H.R. Denne, who invented a process of making celluloid from wood pulp. The factory was located on Cranbrook Road, near Valentines Park. The collars and cuffs were popular among the ‘City’ men of Ilford, who wore them formally. The factory also produced other celluloid products, such as combs, brushes, buttons and toys.

Steam Laundries: These were a notable feature of Ilford in 1900 when at least six laundries were operating in the town. They used steam power to wash, dry, and iron their customers’ clothes, sheets, and curtains. Some laundries were located on Ilford Lane, High Road, Green Lane and Balfour Road—the laundries employed primarily women workers, who worked long hours in hot and noisy conditions. The laundries also contributed to the pollution of the River Roding, which received their wastewater.

Butcher’s Shop and the White Horse: This combination of a butcher’s shop and a pub on Broadway in 1865. The butcher’s shop sold meat from animals slaughtered on the premises. The pub was called the White Horse and had a sign with a white horse on a green background. The pub served beer, wine and spirits to its customers, who could enjoy entertainment such as music, dancing and games. The butcher’s shop and the pub were located near Ilford Lane, where the market was held every Wednesday.

Shops and stores in Ilford Essex that were part of its local history:

C & A: This clothing store was located on Ilford Broadway in the early 1960s. It was part of a chain of C & A stores that sold fashionable and affordable clothes for men, women and children. The store had an arcade of showcases at the front, where customers could see the latest styles and trends. Parnall and Sons, a famous shopfitting company from Bristol, fitted the store. The store was popular among the shoppers of Ilford, who enjoyed browsing and buying clothes from C & A.

Ilford High Road
Ilford High Road

Mario’s Restaurant: This Italian restaurant was located on Cranbrook Road, opposite Valentines Park. It was popular in the 1950s and 1960s when it served customers delicious pasta, pizza, salad and wine. The restaurant had a cosy and friendly atmosphere where people could enjoy a meal with their family or friends. Mario, a charming and hospitable host, ran the restaurant. The restaurant was a favourite among the locals of Ilford, who loved Mario’s food and service.

Harrison Gibson:

Harrison Gibson was a furniture store that was a landmark in Ilford for more than half a century. It was founded in 1902 by Harrison Gibson, who started as a cabinet maker and later expanded into a furniture retailer. The store sold high-quality and stylish furniture for every room of the house, such as sofas, beds, tables, chairs, cabinets and wardrobes. The store also sold carpets, curtains, lamps and other home accessories.

The store was located on High Road, near Ilford Station, in a distinctive red-brick building with a large sign. The store had five shop fronts and was prominent on the local high street. The store was popular among the shoppers of Ilford, who appreciated its fair and square dealing and its reputation for excellence.

Harrison Gibson ran the store until his death in 1924 when he was succeeded by his son John C. Gibson. However, two months later, an electrical fault caused a fire that destroyed the store. The fire shocked Ilford and its residents, who lost one of their favourite shops.

The store was rebuilt and reopened in 1928 with a modern design and a larger floor space. The store continued operating until 1959, when another fire broke out and was reduced to ashes. The fire was the biggest blaze in Ilford’s history and threatened to spread to the entire High Road. Hundreds of firefighters across east London and Essex battled the flames for 90 minutes and managed to save the town centre from disaster.

The store was rebuilt again and reopened in 1961 with an even more modern design and a larger floor space. The store had six floors and featured escalators, lifts, air conditioning and a restaurant. The store also had a car park on the roof, accommodating 200 cars. The store was one of the most advanced and impressive in the country at the time.

The store operated until 2010 when it closed down due to financial difficulties. The store remained vacant for several years until it was purchased by Lumina Real Estate Capital (LREC), a leading real estate investor, in 2015. LREC planned to demolish and redevelop the site into 330 new apartments for rent, including 103 affordable homes, near the new Crossrail link at Ilford Station.

The site’s redevelopment began in 2019 and is expected to be completed by 2022. The project aims to transform the deteriorating, vacant building into a vibrant, modern residential complex that revitalises Ilford’s town centre. The project is also committed to working closely with the local community and minimising disruption during construction.

Harrison Gibson was a furniture store part of Ilford’s local history for over a century. It witnessed many changes and challenges over the years but also contributed to Ilford’s growth and development. It was a landmark that many people remember fondly and nostalgically.


This variety store was located on Exchange Mall, near High Road. It was part of a chain of Woolworths stores that sold a wide range of goods at low prices, such as toys, stationery, cosmetics, sweets, household items and clothing. The store had a bright and colourful interior, where customers could find everything they needed. The store also had a café where customers could have a snack or a drink. The store was popular among the shoppers of Ilford, who enjoyed visiting Woolworths for its variety and value. The store closed in 2008 when the Woolworths chain went into administration.


Fairheads was a family-owned department store in Ilford that closed in December 2008. It was founded by William Fairhead in 1906 and was one of the town’s oldest and most famous shops. It sold various goods, such as clothing, furniture, toys, cosmetics and household items. It was located at 60-64 Cranbrook Road, near Ilford Rail Station. The last managing director of Fairheads was Douglas Sweet, who Redbridge Museum interviewed for a short film about the store’s history. Many customers and staff expressed their sadness and nostalgia when Fairheads closed down.

Ron’s Music Shop: This music shop was located in Pioneer Market, near Ilford Station. It was popular in the 1950s and 1960s, selling musical instruments, records, sheet music and accessories. Ron, a friendly and knowledgeable owner, ran the shop. The shop also had a staff of musicians, such as Joe Dormer, Bob Bell, Allan Sword and Stan, who could play and demonstrate various instruments. The shop was a favourite among the music lovers of Ilford, who enjoyed visiting Ron’s Music Shop for its variety and quality.

Moulton’s: This was a drapery store located on High Road near Harrison Gibson. It was founded in 1898 by William Moulton, who started as a clothier and later expanded into a drapery retailer. The store sold fabrics, curtains, bedding, clothing and other household items. The store had a large, elegant building with a distinctive clock tower on the corner. The store was popular among the shoppers of Ilford, who appreciated its fair and square dealing and its reputation for excellence. The fire at Harrison Gibson destroyed the store in 1959, a tragic loss for Ilford and its residents.

The Beehive: This pub was on Beehive Lane, near Gants Hill. It was established in 1830 by John Smith, who named it after his previous pub in Whitechapel. The pub was a cosy and friendly place where customers could enjoy a pint of beer, wine, or spirit. The pub also served food, such as pies, sandwiches and snacks. The pub had a loyal clientele of locals who liked its atmosphere and service. The pub also had a function room where customers could hold parties or events. The pub closed down in 2013 after 183 years of trading.

The Angel Pub in Ilford: A Rich History Unveiled

Dive into the captivating history of The Angel Pub in Ilford, an iconic landmark and a testament to the area’s rich heritage. Discover its evolution and lasting legacy in the heart of Ilford.

The Angel Pub, Ilford
The Angel Pub, Ilford


The Angel pub in Ilford has long been a cornerstone of the local community, with a fascinating history that stretches back centuries. Steeped in Ilford’s rich heritage, this iconic pub has evolved and adapted throughout the years, bearing witness to the many changes that have shaped the area. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the captivating story of The Angel pub, exploring its origins, the people who frequented it, and its lasting impact on Ilford’s historical landscape.

Early Beginnings:

The Angel Pub can trace its roots back to the 16th century when it opened its doors to weary travellers and local patrons. It was initially an inn that provided lodging and stabling for horses, offering a warm and inviting respite for those passing through the bustling market town of Ilford. Its prime location on the High Road ensured a steady stream of customers, fostering a lively atmosphere that soon made it a unique gathering place for the community.

The Coaching Era:

During the 18th and 19th centuries, The Angel Pub flourished as a coaching inn, serving the needs of stagecoach passengers and drivers. The advent of the coaching era saw Ilford become an essential hub for long-distance travel, with The Angel playing a vital role in accommodating the influx of visitors. The inn boasted an expansive courtyard, which provided ample space for coaches to turn around and horses to be stabled. At the same time, its well-appointed rooms and warm hospitality made it a popular choice for travellers seeking comfort and respite.

The Railway Revolution and Transformation:

The arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century marked a turning point for The Angel Pub. As stagecoach travel declined and rail travel gained popularity, the need for coaching inns diminished. The Angel adapted to this change by shifting its focus from accommodation to food and drink, transforming into a thriving public house that continued to draw in locals and visitors alike.

Notable Patrons and Events:

Over the years, The Angel Pub has hosted various notable figures and events, adding to its colourful history. Local legend has it that the infamous highwayman, Dick Turpin, was a frequent patron of the inn, using it as a hideout during his criminal escapades. Additionally, The Angel was a meeting place for local organisations, such as the Ilford Friendly Society, which held annual dinners and gatherings within its welcoming walls.

The Angel Today:

Today, The Angel pub is a testament to Ilford’s rich history, offering a glimpse into the area’s storied past. With its distinctive half-timbered façade and charming interior, the building remains an architectural gem, preserving the essence of its historic origins. Its continued success as a pub and local gathering place is a nod to its enduring appeal and essential role in shaping Ilford’s heritage.


The captivating history of The Angel Pub in Ilford is a tale of adaptation, resilience, and community spirit. From its early beginnings as an inn for weary travellers to its transformation into a beloved local pub, The Angel has remained integral to Ilford’s history and identity. Visiting this iconic landmark is a chance to enjoy a delicious pint and immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Ilford’s past.

Ilford is a town with a fascinating history that spans Ilford is a town with a fascinating history that spans from prehistoric times to the present day. It has seen many changes and developments but has also preserved some of its heritage and character. Suppose you want to learn more about Ilford’s history. Why not visit some of its historical sites and museums, or join the Ilford Historical Society, which organises talks and events on local and general history?

6 thoughts on “The History of Ilford: From Mammoths to Modernity”

  1. You never mentioned the Angel P H which stands in the High Road. Before that it was Court House. Selfridges was never mentioned. As a child l used to be taken there to see Father Christmas. C&A was originally a cinema and finally William the Conqueror stayed at Barking Abbey while waiting for the Tower to be built.

  2. Spotted clear mistake. There is no Chapel in Emerson Road Valentines Park and never has been.
    The Chapel Is at the top of Romford road near the old Police Station.

    • Hello Russell, thank you for taking the time to post your comment. I have amended the article to clarify the location of the Chapel. Many thanks for visiting our website, hope to see you again soon online.

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