Harlow and the Bretts

The most amazing find was that my great, great grandparents (on my Nanna’s side) George and Harriet Brett, were both born in Harlow.  They were baptised in St Mary & St Hugh in old Harlow and lived in Back Street in Harlow, which is now known as Old Harlow.  My great, great, great Aunt was a servant for the Curate in Netteswell, somewhere near The Greyhound pub in the park, a place I remember going to in my late teens,  only a little way from where I was born in Broadfield, Harlow in the 60s. 

St Mary & St Hugh, Old Harlow

In the 50s my Dad’s company, Vandyke Engineering, moved to the new town when it was first developed, they moved into a brand new council house with my newly born brother and sister.  Apparently they were on the TV, as yet I have not found the clip! At the time the only shopping centre was the neighbourhood ‘shops’ known as The Stow.  

The Stow in the early days, it was pedestrianised must have been early 70s

Fond memories of the Stow – my Saturday job at L Smith.

In 1855 George Brett married Harriet Everett in St Pancras, they were both born in Harlow, so can only assume they knew each other from Harlow,  George is a lodger in Walthamstow in the 1851 census. They had 4 children. Both had siblings that moved from Harlow to London, and other areas, and very few stayed in Harlow.

There are entries in the parish registers for births, marriages and deaths in the church in Old Harlow, St Mary & St Hugh, and there are burials. Harlow was only a small village, when the family lived there, a full history of the town can be found on British history online.    My families were living in Back Street, which (I think) ran along behind the main street.

I have been unable to establish when my family first arrived to Harlow, Harriet descends from Hadham and Sawbridgeworth, and the earliest decendants I have found for George is his grandparents but cannot establish their place of birth:

  • Joseph Bretts and Sarah all their children baptised in Harlow from 1788
  • Henry Tucker and Ann Graves all their children baptised in Harlow from 1787

I have never solved the mystery why George had a child with a middle name of Adnum.

Harlow – the beginning

Recorded population of Harlow:

  • 1801 the population was 1,514
  • 1841 population as 2,315
  • 1931 population 3,471

Medieval Harlow grew around the market place, Mulberry Green, and the church.  The church existed by the 12th century and the market by the 13th. Mulberry formerly Mudborrow Green. It was in the 18th century when Harlow had become a small town.  There was coach traffic along the Newmarket Road, and was superseded by railways.

  • 1831 a new road built (later named Station Road )from Harlow market to the mill, bypassing High Street and Mulberry Green.
  • 1833 there was a public wharf on the canal at Harlow.
  • 1838 at least eight coaches passed through Harlow daily, serving London, Bury St. Edmunds, Cambridge, Haverhill, Norwich, and Saffron Walden.
  • 1841 The Northern and Eastern railway line from London reached Harlow, with a station north of the town, and was extended to Cambridge in 1845.

Check out the link to Newfoundland Memorial University, Canada a really good history of Harlow with some nice images.  

Residents & trades

  • Benjamin Flower 1755 –1829, political writer and printer, lived in Harlow, where his daughters Eliza Flower and Sarah Flower Adams, hymn writers, were born. 
  • Charles Perry 1807–91, first bishop of Melbourne, Australia, was born and buried at Harlow.
  • John W. Perry Watlington d.1882 was the liberal benefactor of the parish. F. M.
  • Sir Evelyn Wood retired to Harlow and died there in 1919. 

Four landholders in Harlow were named in the Domesday.  The land was originally divided into ‘hides’ – a name that the council chose to use in one of the housing estates!

The trades in early times were pottery, hence the area Potter Street, but this was gone by 17th century.

And in the 1750s for just over 100 years it had a large ‘malt’ industry with 10 malt warehouses supplying London. There are still some Malting buildings around Essex, but none surviving in Harlow.

In 1836 John Barnard, a Harlow maltster, built a school in Epping Road (London Road), with funds left by George Fawbert of Waltham Cross Herts. (d1824). The new school, designed by Robert Abraham, was for 200 children from Harlow and other surrounding villages/hamlets. Preference was given to Harlow children.

I have not found any school records, not sure if they even exist, my family in Harlow were mainly agricultural labourers along with trades like painters and glazers in later records, George moved to London and became a horsekeeper.

The New town

Harlow New Town was established in 1947 to relieve overcrowding in north-east London.  It was an area of villages and hamlets, the largest being at “Harlow”.

The master plan, for a town of 60,000, was drawn up for the development corporation by Sir Frederick Gibberd, and was approved by the government in 1949.  

The town’s new residents came mainly from North London and most of them were young couples, and Harlow was known as a ‘pram town’, although my grandparents also lived in a flat nearby, so assume that this must have been quite common.

Economic history

Here are some of the notable large factories that were big employers from those early days, I have marked  in the ones in bold if family members worked there:

  • International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) Corporation and its associates Standard Telephones and Cables, West Road, and Standard Telecommunication Laboratories which together employed 8,000 in 1979,
  • Cossor Electronics. The company, which originated in Clerkenwell, London, in the 1890s, opened with 200 workers where the first British V.H.F. radios were made, in 1979 some 1,800 were employed. 
  • B. & R. Relays, part of Greenbrook Securities, making automatic starter controls, switches, and electro-magnetic relays.
  • The Electrical Remote Control Co, makers of electronic and electromechanical timers.
  • Pitney-Bowes, manufacturers of franking machines, in 1979 employed 1,500 workers.
  • A plethora of engineering companies: Vandyke Engineering; Raymond F. Thompson, toolmakers; Beard and Fitch, gear cutters; Greenpar Engineering, Station Works; Smith’s Harlow – precision engineering; Harlow Engineering Training Centre Ltd; Precious metals are refined by Johnson Matthey Metals, (precious metal refiners).
  • Revertex Chemicals making emulsions for paints and adhesives, and polymers for paper coating;
  • The Beecham Group has a medicinal research centre.
  • Several printing firms – Colora Printing manufacture printing inks; Shenval Holdings; Dorstal Press also bookbinders; Thos. Preston; Kores Manufacturing Co. makes carbon papers, stencil and typewriter ribbons; E.S.A. Creative Learning manufactures educational stationery and equipment, supplying to many schools.
  • Key Glassworks (United Glass)
  • The Quadrant Glass Co.
  • Flo-rite Glassware,
  • G. Springham and Co.manufacture scientific and laboratory glassware.
  • Blakdale N.S.E. making steel office equipment.
  • Schreiber Furniture.
  • Walter Gould and Sons timber mills.
  • Co-operative Wholesale Society biscuit factory
  • Gilbey’s International Distillers and Vintners, wine and spirit merchants, they had an amazing still on show and lit up at night.
  • George G. Sandeman & Sons, port and sherry shippers,
  • British Petroleum (BP)
  • The Longman Group, publishers

Oddly I never secured employment in Harlow!  My first job was in Epping, then I moved around to Walthamstow, Hertford and Bishops Stortford whilst still living in the area,

Open Spaces

Open spaces were an essential part of the plan, and growing up in Harlow you really did have a football pitch on every corner! along with a huge park with landscape areas, and water features and water gardens on the edge of the town centre. Existing woods were preserved and a nature reserve was established at Parndon Wood. There are many sculptures around the town including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Lynn Chadwick

Netteswell c1875

Netteswell is the area that my family moved to as part of the new town in the 1950s, and also a descendant ‘Aunt’ also recorded on the census here.

The population rose to 365 in 1851 it fell to 332 in 1881. In the 1880s Kirkaldy’s engineering works was opened near the railway station at Burnt Mill and by 1891 the population had leapt to 555.

Netteswell Cross is preserved in the New Town park. There are several preserved old buildings, and they are all part of the park.