And, in a completely literal sense, this is perfectly true. Romford’s history can be traced back to the Middle Ages, while its market is still open three times a week.
But forget all your preconceptions about market towns.
Because Romford, its town centre locked within the tight embrace of the A125 and A1251 ring road, is seriously lacking on the pretty market square and farm fresh produce front.
The birthplace of Gemma Collins is a classic Essex town, with a clutch of indoor shopping malls, a greyhound stadium, and a tanning salon on almost every corner.
But amidst all the Towie-ness, there are some good reasons to consider a move to Romford, its value for money and half-hour rail commute to Liverpool Street chief among them. What Crossrail adds to the mix is a direct line to the rest of London.
And while its not going to set your Instagram feed on fire, Romford is supremely user friendly. There are parks, two cinemas, Hainault Forest up the road, a new leisure centre with ice skating and two pools, and some great places to eat and drink.
Amidst the many greasy spoons on offer, organic porridge and a coffee at Bunno will set you up nicely for the day, and Ciao Bella is the go-to neighbourhood Italian.
For a one stop shop, the 1930s Romford Shopping Hall is a unique experience. You can browse the shelves of second-hand treasures at the Alpha Book Company (and swap your used paperbacks for something new), stock up on plantain and saltfish at Fimcom Foods, or settle down to a plate of pie and mash at McDowells.
Average house prices since work on Crossrail started
When artist Laura Yuile was planning her current project, she knew the mall would be the perfect venue for a pop-up examination of modern shopping culture.
“I knew and really liked the shopping hall — it is almost 100 years old, has got a lot of family-run businesses, and there are people who have been there for decades; its very different to your Westfields,” said Laura, 35.
Since March, she has been curating a rolling series of exhibitions on everything from the rise of online retailing to the psychology of shopping.
Laura, who moved from Glasgow to London ten years ago to study at Goldsmiths, and lives in nearby Barking, thinks temporary uses like her project — which is funded by the Arts Council — could play an important part in reviving town centres ravaged by the pandemic.
“The shopping centre in general is quite empty, which is a shame,” she said. “But I do feel that I have been able to bring some new people in.”
While the town centre has been hit by the pandemic, Romford’s property market has thrived, with price growth of 12 per cent — amongst the strongest performers along the Crossrail line.
Crossrail journey times
From Romford to Liverpool Street: 31 minutes
From Romford to Tottenham Court Road: 58 minutes*
From Romford to Canary Wharf: 60 minutes*
*Timings include interchange at Liverpool Street
Ben Perkins, director of Ashton and Perkins estate agents, estimates that buyers would need to budget around £475,000 to £550,000 for a three-bedroom house in Romford, or around £250,000 to £300,000 for a two-bedroom flat.
For renters, a three-bedroom house would cost £1,500pcm to £1,600pcm, while a flat would be around £1,100 to £1,200.
“There has been a ripple of buyers coming out of inner east London,” said Perkins. “There are first-time buyers, who often have a substantial deposit from the family, and also families looking to upsize into a house.”
Renters are more likely to be locals, augmented by staff from the nearby Queen’s Hospital.
“Romford is very multicultural and there is something for everyone,” said Perkins. “You have got the more bustling areas, but if you walk for half a mile or a mile you are out in green space — it is the best of both worlds.”
Despite this, he doubts whether the pandemic’s price growth, which was boosted by the Stamp Duty holiday, can be sustained in the midst of the cost of living crisis.
“There could be a lull because we can’t sustain what has been happening in the last few years,” he said.
The future for Romford
A couple of months before Crossrail started running, planning permission was granted for a development which will change the centre of Romford forever.
Rom Valley Gardens is a £400m new “contemporary urban village” being built on the site of Romford’s former ice rink, close to the train station. The project will include some 1,000 homes, public gardens, a piazza lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants, and a gym.
Construction work is due to start on site early next year.
Meanwhile, late last year, Romford’s oldest tower blocks, built in 1961 on the Waterloo Estate, were torn down.
The first residents will move in in 2025, and over the next ten years, the estate will be replaced with almost 1,400 new homes, plus workspaces, open space, and a village green.