When people go travelling they usually go to South America or Asia to sample the different cultures that the human race has to offer. Not me: I go to Barking, Dagenham and Ilford (amongst other places). And so, through the act of placing one foot in front of the other, I aim to show some of the half sleepy towns of (Essex) East London in all their glory.

They’re not exactly Piccadilly Circus in terms of the amount of people bustling about (I doubt many of the elderly residents that occupy these places would survive there as it is a well-known fact that people push each other in front of buses in order to reach the promised lands of the tube station and Burger King), but like many other places of today, they are pretty much unrecognisable from the ones that based much of their life and trade on sheep, horses and bird poo. More on the latter coming up.   

Some of it is good and some of it is bad. I’m not suggesting for a second that we all wear blue and white blouses and a head scarf. Or pop on straw hats and grow beards – although why the people[1] of these persuasions only have a portion of facial fuzz below their bottom lip I don’t know. With their penchant for non-electrical forms of transport they would not have a problem walking the short distance it takes to get from one branch of Costa Coffee to another.

[1] Amish.

They say that in London you are never more than 10 yards away from a rat. Well, now it seems – wherever you are – you are never 10 yards away from a chain store. Or should that just apply to Costa Coffee and outlets of Boots? Still, Philip Green, the owner of the latter plus  Topshop, Topman, Burton, Dorothy Perkins, BHS, Wallis, Miss Selfridge and many other franchises around the globe, cannot find it within himself to afford tax. ‘Let the people on the minimum wage sort that out’ he reasons.

I will be journeying through parts of the aforementioned towns (amongst others) making notes, taking pictures and, as I will do with particular streets in Hornchurch and (maybe) Romford, list each business down in order to paint[2] pictures of places that have been tussling with the globalisation process.

This is because they are filled with chains that serve coffee that taste more like water,[3] and betting shops that play on an individual’s conscience that has been decimated by financial worries by serving as a platform to gain ‘easy’ money. It is anything but – although one can dream. And many do; lured in by betting shop after betting shop after betting shop in this town and beyond.

[2] Not literally.

[3] Admittedly, there is a lot of water placed on top of a spoonful or so of coffee beans (or vice versa if you’re a complete freak!), but that’s no excuse. The ‘greasy spoon’ cafes never seem to have that problem. Their coffees are both cheaper and better tasting.

Author’s notes for reader (and it will be A reader rather than readerS):

Hornchurch. The marriage setting for Frank Bruno and David Beckham’s sister, Joanne (not to each other). You can turn heads wearing black jeans in this town, a town that has nearly as many restaurants as McDonald’s have worldwide: Chinese, Italian, Indian, Turkish, Mexican, Thai…you name it they’ve probably not got it because I’ve just pointed them out. If you’re a vain person in need of a haircut, major refurbishments on your finger and toe nails, have numerous problems with your car, and have a mountain of birthdays etc… coming up then this is the place for you.


No, 2, …ings – it would appear to have lost a few letters during the war.[5]

No, 4, Add Spice – As I wrote down those words I got a whiff of curry in my nostrils that wasn’t there before and wasn’t there a few seconds after. Boarded up, though.

No, 6, Hair Sentials – shutters down, too. Very strange name. ‘Sential’ is such an unusual word that this hairdressers is the seventh option on the first page of its Google search. Top result is the explanation that a sential is ‘a summoner on the Europe Nordic & East Region’.

No, 8, Coral Fish Bar – shutters down. But I’m sure they’re open and ready to sell, amongst other things,


when the time comes.

No, 10-12, Roneo Prestige Cars – sell cars. Stop dreaming, start driving

Na, I’m okay, thanks.


No, 16, Metropolitan Police: Brooklands and Hylands Wards – you know what these do don’t you. Don’t you? Think ‘trees’. Never heard of Brooklands.

No, 18, Zacks – Hair, beauty and massage place. Also a tattoo studio. For reasons unknown I have written down either ‘‘Ironman’’ or ‘‘Iranian’’ next to this entry in my notepad. Formerly sold motorbikes as Ricky’s Pit Stop. Marvellous. Black shutters down constantly down it seems.[6]

[4] I thought that the residences that feature under RONEO CORNER were actually part of HORNCHURCH ROAD. I knew this vicinity was called Roneo Corner, but I didn’t know it was the name of a road.

[5] The infamous ‘Kebab War’ that left 28 people with skewers inserted up their rectums after a member of one gang breathed in the direction of another. They were four miles apart at the time of the breath, but someone had taken Add Spice too literally and put an extra load of chilli sauce on their food.

[6] Whatever time, whatever day they and previous places had their shutters down. I have been down there at EVERY time of the day, but it seems they’re hardly open, if at all.

No, 20, Roneo News – has the logos of the ‘News Of The World’ and ‘The Sun’ plastered over its sign. Oops. CONFECTIONERS, GREETING CARDS & TOBACCONISTS

No, 22, Tech. Shop Roneo Corner – this has parked up here very recently.

Tablets * Computers * Phones * Repairs * Accessories

Was formerly Roneo Wines (shops round here like reminding us EXACTLY where we are lest we forget) whose main sign had a dirty yellow background while there was a white tarpaulin one above it that said ‘Roneo Wine’. Now, come on, THAT is interesting.

No, 24, Barber G’s – last time I checked this had its shutters down with a notice underneath its sign saying ‘IRONING SERVICES TELEPHONE 01708 733253’.

Goes round a corner at this point. A crossing to the left gets me over to both sides of Hornchurch Road. I will go up to number 32 of this road, go back and walk straight across to the right-hand side of Hornchurch Road as Roneo Corner tails off into houses and Upper Rainham Road thereafter.

No, 26, Thorough Services Group – provide household services. Well, what d’ya know?

No, 28, Ugur Kebab House – always have fun saying ‘‘getting an ugur burger’’ despite having never bought anything from this place.

No, 30, Tole Haven – art and craft place. Could’ve fooled me. I thought it was a headquarters for the local traffic wardens’ association.

No, 32, Roneo Models – sell videos and the like. Whenever I think of Quentin Tarantino working in a video store before he was famous I imagine it was this one. Even though it obviously wasn’t.

As you can tell by this picture, The ‘Kebab War’ has left its apocalyptic effect on this community (me included). It was Roneo Corner’s ‘Chernobyl’.



No, 319, Roman’s Stone Traditional – you don’t wanna miss the Natural Stone Showroom. Used to be Kingspan Building Consultants. This and the next few are real ‘real man’ territory.


No, 317, Stellison’s – deal with domestic appliances. See.[7]


No, 311-315, Clarke[8]s Carpets[9] – The Company That Cares


Ahhh, well THAT’S very nice of them.


No, 309, Razorz – hairdressers. That extra ‘z’ actually makes me think of the buzzing sound of an electric razor, which in turn, puts me in that position of having a fresh new pleasant smelling hair cut. Clever marketing.


No, 307, Café Balti – Indian restaurant with purple/pink lighting inside.[10] One of the first ‘adult’[11] establishments I went to with my mates before I was 18.


[7] In reference to what I referenced immediately above. Not immediately above THIS; immediately above the reference that indicated there would be a footnote below. Not below THIS, but ACTUALLY THIS.


[8] Apostrophe missing here?


[9] And here? Probably not.


[10] Well, from what I remember.


[11] No, there was none of THAT going on.


Served food and drink the first time, but not the second time as someone who wasn’t with us first time round looked ‘too young’. And he was the OLDEST!


No, 305-263, houses.


No, 261, Hornchurch Family Dental Practice – quite a few dentists around here. Must be the old people.


No, 259-231, houses (as far as I know).


No, 229, Highland View Dental & Implant Centre – quite telling of this day-and-age that the first things that come to mind when I hear or see the word ‘implant’ are boobiesss *stifled gag-like chuckling*.[12]


No, 227-215, houses.


No, 213, St. Mary Mother Of God – alright, calm down! Basically, it’s St. Mary’s Church. No need to get all High and Mighty, JESUS! More or less opposite the Church Of England’s Holy Cross Church. So far there have not been any reports of Sectarian violence breaking out, thank God (or whoever’s responsible for what happens in this world). This was where Frank Bruno got married. Again, NOT to Joanne Beckham.


No, 211, errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…


No, 209-199, Harmony House – still got Rodwell House on the building – belonged to the Rodwell family from 1920 to January 2013. Now a nursery.


No, 197-191 erm, offices and things…?


No, 189-187, Combined Motor Services – come on, now you don’t need me for this one. Oh, maybe you don’t need me for the NEXT one either, eh? Maybe you should just stop reading this if you’re gonna be like THAT about it!


No, 185-183, Hampton Environmental Services – are you still there, reader?


No, 181-177, Little Chuckles – what a name. Never heard of or noticed this place.


No, 175-173, oh, I don’t know.


No, 171-165, Pell Court – retirement home.


No, 163-139, I’m assuming these all these are houses – Oh, just leave me alone!


[12] This one’s for Michael.


No, 137, City Alarms Ltd. – as a kid I would phone these from a nearby phone box just to hear it ring. I got a strange kick in knowing that it was me who was causing that noise. What a poor desperately unloved child I was.


No, 135-133, see 163-139.


No, 131, Iona – Irish social club. Whilst walking past with my mates as a teenager I threw a half-eaten apple[13] through its open doors as a surprise, both for the people inside and my mates. And legged it. One of my confidantes was so taken by surprise by the attack that he ran straight into a lamp post. As we were running, I looked behind to see him verging on tears as he ran.


No, 129, Harrow Dental Practice – dentistry is no longer practiced within these premises having moved to the high street. Probably devil worshipping now in its non-functioning state.[14]


No, 127, Chinipan – this place chops and changes more than a Russian chairman at Chelsea football club, but STILL manages to survive. Dunno if it’s all been under the same ownership. I have actually lost count of the amount of names this residence has had (must be a billionaire pumping money into them to keep them afloat seeing as they do hardly any business). My earliest memory of it in the early 2000s was as Barbecue Barn (if ever me and my mates were meeting to go Romford we would say ‘‘meet at the bus stop outside Barbecue Barn[15]’’). Since then it has been called, in no particular order, Roochi, Shahi Kitchen, Spice Spot, Forget Me Nots, Garlic Cuisine, Hameli, Mehraaj and potentially many more. It’s nearly always been a takeaway, but as Mehraaj it became a restaurant. I was very impressed with how they created space for a restaurant and then EQUALLY impressed with how they confined it to a takeaway again.


[13] Wasn’t even mine – I found it on the floor. That’s how disturbed I was.


[14] More on devil worshippers in the Romford section.


[15] Again, the italics are for the businesses. We didn’t emphasise the words ‘barbecue barn’.


No, 125, West & Coe – funeral directors who are also at Dagenham, Rainham and Becontree Heath.



I had already been back making notes walking through Hornchurch in order to update it as some things have changed since I last went through this process. I thought that would be the end of it. How wrong I was. One night (or MORNING shall I say as it 00:35), on my way home after playing an open mic at The William Blake in Old Street, I got off a 248 bus to be confronted with a bright light beaming in the corner of my left eye. It was West & Coe. They’d changed their bloody sign. They hadn’t done this for as long as I’d known, but decided to do it RIGHT when I was documenting information on the town. Did they EVER stop to think that this might affect MY work in some way? Or at least inform me in advance that they were changing it, so as to stop me dropping my guitar in shock? Did they, fuck![16] Now I’ve got to delete 15 words[17] and type in some new ones PLUS this rant. I never expected an undertakers’ to be so selfish. But anyway, here’s what it says now:


24 hour caring service   Golden chapter family owned est. 1903


No, 123, Cardomon’s/Green Chilli – Cardomon’s: scene of many a drunken night for me and friends. Always get complimentary drinks at the end. Might have been the Sambucas – coffee beans, fire an’ all – that influenced a chair race one time. Green Chilli is a takeaway.


No, 121 – formerly called Leon’s Hairdressers and was home to numerous German Shepherds (or were they Alsatians?).[18]




Along from this is a housing estate called Priory Mews[19] then St. Leonard’s Estate where anyone who lived there was known as ‘posh’ and/or ‘well-off’ when I was a kid. Me and a friend would often banter *cringe* with friends who lived there about our ‘working-class’ roots compared to their perceived


[16] The comma is very important in this sentence otherwise it would say ‘did they fuck?’ I’m sure the people who PHYSICALLY changed the sign HAVE fucked at some point, although not necessarily with each other. And the same goes for the ones who DECIDED that the old header should go.

[17] I didn’t in the end.

[18] ‘‘Aw, saying they all look the same…RACIST!’’

[19] Legend has it that one of Hornchurch’s most famous residents, Bill The Tramp, was offered a place in one of their properties, but turned it down.


affluence. We used to joke that as soon as you reached the estate you were safe. It was nicknamed the ‘safe haven’.

Kind of true, because when we were chased and had bottles and bricks thrown at us by a gang, who I’m assuming were the Elm Park boys,[20] we got safe once we were within its confines. I took a head butt to the cheek for my troubles. Bit annoying because I somehow had to get home by going back that way. Luckily, they had gone by the time I went round again.


Harrow Lodge Park is just further along and then once I walk up the hill I’m on Hornchurch High Street. But… onto the other side first.