Being born, bred and still living in Ilford means that I’m somewhat protective of my hometown and therefore wanted to point out that there is more to it than flipping shopping! Let’s get the boring stuff out the way. Ilford has the typical identikit main shopping street and mall that you will in any other town. The M&S does have a Café and substantial food hall and The Body Shop has a Green Room attached to it, offering beauty therapies and massages, again not something all branches can offer. There is a whopping new Woolworths where the now sadly departed C&A was, a welcome return after about a 20 year absence from our High Street – the old Woolies fell victim to the great Superdrug onslaught at the time - it was a sad day when that old Woolies went. Where it used to be that shoe shops had the dominance in Ilford, now it seems to be Mobile phone stores, there are five of them in about a five minute walk but hey-ho, each to their own. The stores that aren’t out of the Pack A – Medium Sized High Street Mix, are pretty boring too, Bodgers & Harrison Gibson are the main departmental stores – personally I would be happier if they knocked them down and built a Debenhams, as they are both fairly stuffy and over priced and have exceptionally unfriendly assistants. The jewel in eccentric curiosities must, however, be Fairheads in Cranbrook Road. Imagine Are You Being Served without the humour and that’s Fairheads. This shop is struggling towards the 20th Century – it now takes Switch cards! But it wasn’t that long ago that it had one of those zingers for transporting notes across the store to receive change. It actually is a very good shop but probably doesn’t really cater for the Over 9 to Under 50 age range very well as far as clothes go, but if you want needlecraft supplies, household wares or lingerie, it really is the place. It’s proud boast (other than “
We now have electric light”) is that it has bras up to a double J size although I guess they need to give Boering a bit of notice for a new order!!) Fairheads has character and I for one would be absolutely devastated if it shut down. Likewise the odd Pioneer Market around the corner has gone down hill rapidly since Bishops the Wool shop went but has a good range of old books, indie records, West Indian foodstuffs, a fishmonger and independent butcher. It’s claim to fame was that Roy Rogers and Trigger (not the one from Only Fools & Horses) visited it in the 50s. Wow! Stuff the shopping I hear you cry, what about the Woolly Mammoth! Well in the little publicised Ilford Museum (housed in Ilford Central Library) are the remnants of a woolly mammoth with tusks, discovered whilst excavating the sight of the new Ilford Police Station. Apparently sabre tooth tigers , bears and the like used to roam the frozen plains of Ilford, waiting for a 169 bus the other night meant I now have a greater empathy with them! The rich soil that Ilford is built on meant that for Victorians, fossil hunting in the early Ilford was a notable pastime. And the scary women? No, not the lot that have had too many VodkaBulls at one of the 30+ pubs and bars in the immediate vicinity of Ilford Town Centre, but that ultimate Essex babe - Queen Boadicea. She allegedly rode down Ilford High Road, not pick up an impressive new corset from Fairheads, but on the way to London from Colchester along the new straight Roman Road that had been constructed. One of the more notorious and mis-undertood residents was Edith Thompson. Who? Her story is the subject of the film Another Life and she was hung on 9th January 1923 after her abusive husband was stabbed to death in front of Ilford Station when the only other two people around were her and her lover. So why did she dance upon the airless dancefloor as well as her lover? It was felt that she was as gu
ilty as her lover in the murder despite there being no evidence to convict her, the fact that she was a judged to be a loose and immoral tart was deemed enough to hang her. The judge instructed the jury that they were 'trying a vulgar, common crime.' And her fate was sealed. Had she been a quiet little mouse, she would have been acquited. So, don’t cross us Ilford girls! Another infamous resident, albeit only in death was Catherine Eddows, victim of Jack the Ripper. She was interred Ilford Cemetery at the behest of a local undertake, Mr G C Hawkes, this family firm still has offices in Ilford, although whether poor Cat’s remains remain is debatable as the much of the cemetery was built upon a few years ago. On a less moribund note, sportsmen seem to like Ilford, the treacherous Paul Ince (I am a West Ham fan afterall) hails from here, as does former Hammer George Parris and ex-boxer Nigel “The Dark Destroyer” Benn. More culturally orientated, Ilford is the birthplace of Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Ian Holm and Sylvester Williams (Mick the night café bloke from EastEnders). Whilst on the subject of acting, The Kenneth More Theatre is a brilliant local theatre, has good wheelchair access, unblocked views and a wide range of groups performing there, from am-dram to Opera, Music Hall to Ballet, if it’s on in Ilford, it’s at the KMT. Don’t try to book for panto though, it sold out ages ago! The Angel Pub is an old coaching inn and has stunning architecture – the top bit of Burger King is part of the original building and is really nice, there are also the Art Deco styled old Burton Buildings with their sleek lines and marble facades and the solicitors office opposite the General Havelock has an original Arts & Craft stained glass window. One of the hidden gems of Ilford is the old Convent/Leper Hospital (St Mary’s & St Thomas of Canterbury) which dates back to the 12th century
and has the occasional open day which is worth a visit, just to see the stained glass alone. Eating out is a bit limited if you want anything other than pizza,burgers, curry or Chinese although Essex-man steak houses are within a short bus ride of the town centre. The Coco Noodle bar is excellent value and of course the pubs offer good value nosh and the delights of Meze-Meze await you if you venture through Valentine’s Park and up to Gant’s Hill. A new leisure complex is currently being built, devastating the bus routes with JCB diggers stuck in the road at the moment, but this will at long last restore a cinema back to Ilford (it’s a long time since I was an ABC Minor at the old cinema in the High Road!) So in all, if you want to shop, eat, walk in the footsteps of murder, watch a show or just have a damn good time, Ilford can deliver! So why is the Great Spoon of Ilford pub so named? In honour of the famous Morris-Man William Kemp (1600) who danced for nine days going from Norwich to London, and quaffing ale on the way. The measure served in Ilford was a spoon (about a quart), A Great Spoon being enough to knock you senseless. Nice to see what goes around comes around!
Ilford used to be a nice little town, lots of local shops where you could buy the esentials which you neded and over the past few years they have made it even better! They have built up a new shopping mall known as the exchange. It's three levels of great shops such as Marks and Spencers, W H Smiths, Toy Stack and Thorntons. There are lots of well known shops aswell as the one of shops such as abracadabra's! There is a splendid water fountain in the middle of the mall which is one of the most popular meeting points. Ilford may seem that big but after spending a few hours there it can get a bit boring. It;s not the best shopping place in Essex, obviously Lakeside is.