Stapleford Road, North-East of Harold Hill, is a nice friendly place for people from London like me and my family. Being City bred and born, it was such a difference to have a country pub on our doorstep. Just the ambiance of being set in fields at the end of a country lane with hedgerows and wildlife and horses in the fields, filled us with love of the countryside.
Inside, it was very cosy, small even, tiny little sash windows looking out over the lane to the field opposite. I thought it was the epitome of country life. Nonetheless when a farm-hand came into the bar and was asked by the publican, “if all was in hand for the impending harvest?” It struck me that perhaps that very same conversation might have happened fifty or even a hundred of years ago. Of course, without mechanisation all the farm labourers and their children would have been reaping the harvest. They’d have put it into stacks to enable the wheat, and barley to dry in the fading sun of late summer.
Such a different world now, I thought, where one combined harvester could manage the whole field in hours that might have taken a team of labourers days to complete. Inside the pub were mementoes of those past days. There were photos of old farmers and their workers and their equipment like scythes. Other paraphernalia, like harnesses, hung on the walls by hooks. The well-stocked bar displayed the usual array of bottles and their respective optics, whilst the wooden bar had fist sized beer pump handles.
It wasn’t until later that day the a barmaid replaced the barman. She knew immediately I came from London. I told her we lived only five minutes away in Harold Hill. She was immediately hostile and seemed to want me and my young family to leave. It wasn’t difficult to pick up on her hostility. So out of cussedness I asked, “Why was she so negative about us”? “All you people from London are criminals and thieves, and we country folk, don’t want you here”, she replied. OK I thought, that’s your opinion, “but surely not every one from around here think like you do”! “Mostly, they do” she said. I felt humiliated and saddened and remembered the advertisements in shops and lodging houses from years back in London that read – ‘NO BLACKS, DOGS or IRISH need apply’. Here was I with my wife, out for a nice day in the countryside and treated like a second class citizen, just because we came from Hackney. What a shame, I thought, such bigotry and ignorance coming from an English rose of a girl, who clearly had labelled me and all others from “the smoke” as not welcome in that tiny little corner of Romford, that we had now made our home.
The experience wasn’t so bad that it put us off from traveling the lanes and byways – often, as the kids got older, we would stop and harvest the hedgerows of the berries especially in August and September. Blackberries were a favourite with the kids and they would eat them straight from the plants. Essex pubs were very different from those of Harold Hill even though they were a relatively short distance away. The social and cultural chasm was enormous.