West Ham

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For the football club, see West Ham United F.C.. For other uses, see West Ham (disambiguation).
West Ham (County Borough)
Stratford Old Town Hall.jpg
West Ham Town Hall, Stratford
West ham essex 1961.png
West Ham within Essex in 1961
 • 1861 4,667 acres (18.9 km2)[1]
 • 1911 4,683 acres (19.0 km2)[2]
 • 1931/1961 4,689 acres (19.0 km2)[2]
 • 1861 38,331[3]
 • 1911 289,030[2]
 • 1931 294,278[2]
 • 1961 157,367[2]
 • 1861 8/acre
 • 1911 62/acre
 • 1931 63/acre
 • 1961 34/acre
 • Origin West Ham ancient parish
 • Created 1856
 • Abolished 1965
 • Succeeded by London Borough of Newham
Status Civil parish (until 1965)
Local board of health district (1856–1886)
Municipal borough (1886–1889)
County borough (1889–1965)
Government West Ham Local Board (1856–1886)
West Ham Borough Council (1886–1965)
 • HQ Town Hall, Broadway, Stratford (1869–1965)
 • Motto Deo Confidimus (We trust in God)
Arms of the county borough corporation
Arms of the county borough corporation

West Ham is an area of East London which lies within the traditional boundaries of the county of Essex and now forms the western part of the modern London Borough of Newham.

West Ham was formed when the older territory of Ham was split in two in the 12th century. Originally a Parish, and ultimately a County Borough, West Ham was an administrative unit, with largely consistent boundaries, from the 12th century to the formation of Newham in 1965.

The area lies immediately to the north of the River Thames and east of the River Lea. It includes the districts of Stratford, Plaistow, Canning Town, Silvertown and Custom House; while the districts of Forest Gate and Upton Park straddle the Green Street boundary of West and East Ham.

Ham(me): Pre-partition origins[edit]

West Ham appears to have been formed after a sub-division of the larger ‘Hamme’ territory sometime in the 12th century,

A settlement in the area named Ham is first recorded as Hamme in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 958 and then in the 1086 Domesday Book as Hame. It is formed from Old English 'hamm' and means 'a dry area of land between rivers or marshland', referring to the location of the settlement within boundaries formed by the rivers Lea, Thames and Roding and their marshes.[4]

These natural boundaries suggest that Little Ilford and North Woolwich are likely to have been part of Ham(m).

The earliest recorded use of West Ham, as distinct from East Ham, is in 1186 as Westhamma. It could be speculated that the partition arose as a result of population increase resulting from economic prosperity delivered by the construction of Bow Bridge over the Lea and the creation of Stratford Langthorne Abbey

The boundary between West and East Ham was drawn along Green Street down to the small, now lost, natural harbour known as Ham Creek.

Local Govt – Ancient Parish[edit]

West Ham formed a large ancient parish of around 4,500 acres (18 km2) in the Becontree hundred of Essex. The parish was divided into three wards: Church-street, Stratford-Langthorne, and Plaistow. The parish also included the hamlet of Upton.

All Saints Church, West Ham
A map showing the wards of West Ham Civil Parish as they appeared in 1867.


West Ham underwent rapid growth from 1844 following the Metropolitan Building Act. The Act restricted dangerous and noxious industries from operating in the metropolitan area, the eastern boundary of which was the River Lea. Consequently, many of these activities were relocated to the other side of the river and to West Ham, then a parish in Essex centred on All Saints Church, West Ham. As a result, West Ham became one of Victorian Britain's major manufacturing centres for pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and processed foods. This rapid growth earned it the name "London over the border".[5] The growth of the town was summarised by The Times in 1886:

"Factory after factory was erected on the marshy wastes of Stratford and Plaistow, and it only required the construction at Canning Town of the Victoria and Albert Docks to make the once desolate parish of West Ham a manufacturing and commercial centre of the first importance and to bring upon it a teeming and an industrious population."[5]

Many workers lived in slum conditions close to where they worked, leading to periodic outbreaks of contagious diseases and severe poverty. It had become apparent that local government in the parish of West Ham was not adequate to meet the needs of the area which was divided between the parish vestry, highway board and the Havering and Dagenham Commissioners of Sewers. Problems centred on provision of adequate paving, water supply, fire fighting and control of development. In 1853 a group of ratepayers initiated moves to improve local administration. This led to a public enquiry by Charles Dickens' brother Alfred, a medical officer, who published a report in 1855 severely critical of conditions in the slum areas.[5]

Accordingly, the Public Health Act 1848 was applied to the parish, and a local board of health was formed in 1856. The board had 15 members: 12 elected and 3 nominated by the Commissioners of Sewers.[6]

Initial administrative response to urbanisation[edit]

In 1840 the parish was included in the Metropolitan Police District and soon after the built-up area of London had encompassed West Ham and soon after the in the London Postal district, established in 1857.

West Ham was not included in the statutory metropolitan area established in 1855 or the County of London established in 1889. Instead, administrative reform was undertaken in the area in much the same way as a large provincial town. A local board was formed in 1856 under the Public Health Act 1848.

In November 1878 the inhabitants of the parish decided to petition the privy council for a charter, incorporating the town as a municipal borough.[7] This was in reaction to proposals to enlarge the area governed by the Metropolitan Board of Works to include adjoining districts with a population of 50,000 or more: the primary aim of incorporation was to prevent the inclusion of West Ham in an enlarged London municipality.[5] This initial application was unsuccessful. However, encouraged by the 1883 incorporation of Croydon, a second petition was submitted in May 1885.[8] Following an inquiry in October 1885, a scheme for the creation of the borough and dissolution of the board of health was made in June and the charter was granted in July 1886.[9][10] A corporation consisting of a mayor, 12 aldermen and 36 councillors replaced the board, with the first elections held on 1 November.[5] The first mayor was John Meeson, head of a local lime burning and cement making firm, and a former chairman of West Ham Local Board.[11]

Local Govt – County Borough[edit]

In 1889 the borough was large enough in terms of population to become a county borough and was outside the area of responsibility of Essex County Council – though still formally within the county. At the time of the 1901 census it was the ninth most populous district in England with a population of 267,308.[4] From 1934 to 1965 it was surrounded by the County Borough of East Ham to the east, the municipal boroughs of Wanstead and Woodford and Leyton to the north, and the metropolitan boroughs of Poplar to the west with the Thames to the south with Greenwich on the far side.


The borough acquired the horse-drawn tram services in its area in 1898, electrified them in 1904, and extended the network. There was also through running of the corporation trams and those of the London County Council system. West Ham Corporation Tramways operated 134 tram cars on 16.27 miles (26.2 km) of tracks when they became the responsibility of the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933.[12] The borough ran its own fire brigade which was absorbed into the London Fire Brigade in 1965. The corporation's electricity generation and supply undertaking was nationalised in 1948, when it was transferred to the London Electricity Board.

Following the passing of the Local Government Act 1929 the Council took over responsibility for certain health services, such as the large Whipps Cross Hospital in neighbouring Leyton (now the Whipps Cross University Hospital) which they developed until it passed into the new National Health Service in 1946.[13]

Borough council[edit]

* Top row: Councillors W Crow, T Knight, T Anderson, A Govier, J H Pavitt, W Lewis, C Mansfield, H Wagstaff, J Cook * Second row:Councillors H Young, J Maw(?) E Fulcher, R Fielder, E Jex, S Vinicombe, E E Barnett, J H Bethell, F Hammersley * Third row: Councillors G H Courtney(?) W Hands, G W Kidd, R Wortlet, H Callaghan, R White, WH Medcalf, M Adamson, F Smith * Seated: Aldermen H Pillips, J Scully, W Deason(?) G Hay, J Meeson (Mayor) G Rivett, H Worland, C Stoner, H Barry(?), R L Curtis


Under the original charter the borough was divided into four wards: Canning Town, Forest Gate, Plaistow and Stratford. Each ward returned nine councillors, with three councillors elected in each ward for a three-year term on 1 November each year.[14] In addition to the 36 directly-elected councillors there were also 12 aldermen, who were elected by the council itself, giving the town council a total membership of 48.[6]

In 1899 the wards were redrawn: the borough was divided into 12 wards, each returning 3 councillors. The number of councillors remained at 36.[6] The 1899 wards were as follows: No.1 or New Town, No.2 or Forest Gate, No.3 or High Street, No.4 or Broadway, No.5 or Park, No.6 or Upton, No.7 or West Ham, No.8 or Plaistow, No.9 or Hudsons, No.10 or Canning Town, No.11 or Tidal Basin and No.12 or Custom House & Silvertown.[15]

In 1922 the number of wards was increased to sixteen, each represented by three councillors and one alderman. The size of the council was thus increased to sixty-four members. The names of the wards, which continued in use until 1965, were: Beckton Road, Bemersyde, Broadway, Canning Town & Grange, Custom House & Silvertown, Forest Gate, High Street, Hudsons, Newtown, Ordnance, Park, Plaistow, Plashet Road, Tidal Basin, Upton and West Ham.[6]


The borough was notable for having the first Labour controlled council in England. Following the London Dock Strike of 1889, a number of Socialists and Progressives were elected to the council, formally becoming the Labour Group in 1897. The Group gained a majority on the town council in 1898. In reaction to this, a Municipal Alliance was formed by the West Ham Ratepayers Association and Chamber of Commerce to oppose the Labour Party. In 1900 they gained parity with Labour on the council and in the following year they took control.[16] The Municipal Alliance retained power until 1910 when a Labour-Progressive coalition replaced it. Two years later Municipal Alliance councillors regained a narrow majority, which they held at the 1913 election.[6] Elections were suspended for the duration of the First World War, and at the 1919 elections Labour won an overall majority which it retained for the rest of the borough's existence. The Labour majority was to increase over the years, with a small group of Ratepayers Association councillors supported by the Conservative Party forming the opposition group. From 1947 the Conservatives contested elections in their own name, but after 1954 had no councillors elected. From 1954 to 1960 Labour held all the seats on the council, after which a number of Liberal Party councillors formed a minority group.[6]

Coat of arms[edit]

The coat of arms was granted by the College of Arms on 14 January 1887. The chevrons on the lower portion represent Stratford, taken from the device of Stratford Langthorne Abbey. At the top right, there are crossed hammers, representing the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company – the borough's main employer. The ship is representative of the Royal Docks, and the area's long association with the sea. The Latin motto "Deo Confidimus" at the base translates as "In God We Trust."[17]

Formation of Newham and inclusion in Greater London[edit]

The omission of West Ham from the London-administered metropolitan area, which took in nearby places such as Greenwich and Woolwich, was first commented on in 1855 and West Ham Council later considered the case for inclusion in the County of London in 1895 and 1907.[18] The reluctance to proceed with amalgamation was largely explained by lack of perceived support, fear of financial disadvantage caused by increased rates, the detrimental effect of London planning laws on industry, and the desire to retain the independent civic institutions and privileges attached to county borough status.[18]

The Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London reviewed the local government arrangements of the Greater London Conurbation and in 1965 the county borough, and the County Borough of East Ham, were abolished and their former area was amalgamated with small parts of Barking and Woolwich to form the London Borough of Newham in Greater London.

Sporting Associations[edit]

The football club West Ham United F.C. is named after the area. Their nicknames, the Irons and the Hammers derive from their association with the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company, whose workers formed Thames Ironworks F.C. West Ham United F.C. have played at the Boleyn Ground in nearby Upton Park since 1904. The West Ham Stadium, a football, greyhound racing and speedway stadium, operated between 1928 and 1972, with a capacity of 120,000. The street names of housing developed on the site of the former stadium pay homage to the speedway greats associated with West Ham, including Bluey Wilkinson and Jack Young. The West Ham Hammers team were involved in the top flight leagues 1929 to 1939, 1946 to 1955 and 1964 to 1971, winning the inaugural British League in 1965.[19]

While football is probably the main focus for the community, there is quite a lot of interest in other sports—with rugby being one of them. Next to West Ham station, on Holland Road, is the home of 3 rugby teams, all playing in Essex RFU leagues: Phantoms RFC, King's Cross Steelers and East London RFC.

Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ W R Powell (ed.) (1973). "West Ham: Introduction". A History of the County of Essex, Vol.6. British History Online. Retrieved 5 November 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Vision of Britain – West Ham population (area and density)
  3. ^ Census of England and Wales 1871, Summary Tables VII: Inhabited Houses and Population in 1861 and 1871, of Cities, Municipal Boroughs, Parliamentary Boroughs, Local Board Districts, Improvement Commissioners' Districts, Paving Commissioners' Districts and Other Principal Towns in England and Wales
  4. ^ Mills, A.D. (2001). Dictionary of London Place Names. Oxford. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "The Incorporation of West Ham". The Times. 1 November 1886. p. 12. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f W R Powell (ed.) (1973). "West Ham – Local government and public services". A History of the County of Essex, Vol.6. Retrieved 2008-06-22. 
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 24651. p. 6695. 29 November 1878.
  8. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25472. p. 2366. 22 May 1885.
  9. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25596. pp. 2797–2798. 11 June 1886.
  10. ^ "The Incorporation Of West Ham". The Times. 23 June 1886. p. 6. 
  11. ^ "John Meeson, first Mayor of West Ham, 1886-7". The Newham Story. Newham Council. Retrieved 3 November 2009. 
  12. ^ London's Trams and Trolleybuses, John R Day, published by London Transport, 1979
  13. ^ Victoria County History of Essex; Vol 4: OUP; 1973: p214
  14. ^ Census of England and Wales, 1891, County of Essex
  15. ^ Census of England and Wales, 1901, County of Essex
  16. ^ Municipal Socialism VIII: A Socialist Régime in West Ham, The Times, 16 September 1902, p.12
  17. ^ "The Newham story, Coat of Arms (3) – West Ham". Newham London. Retrieved 5 March 2013. 
  18. ^ a b Local administration and public services: Administrative bodies, A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5 (1966), pp. 32–37. Date accessed: 7 December 2007.
  19. ^ Speedway information on West Ham accessed 11 May 2007
  20. ^ "US Congress candidate Allan Levene's humble beginnings in West Ham – News". Newham Recorder. 26 February 2012. Retrieved 24 January 2014.