Ilford is a large cosmopolitan town in the northeast of Greater London, England and the administrative headquarters of the London Borough of Redbridge. It is located northeast of Charing Cross and is one of the major metropolitan centres identified in the London Plan.
Ilford forms a significant commercial and retail centre surrounded by extensive residential development. It was historically a small rural settlement in the county of Essex and its strategic position on the River Roding and the London to Colchester road caused it to develop as a coaching town. The arrival of the railway in 1839 eventually accelerated that growth and as part of the suburban growth of London in the 20th century, Ilford significantly expanded and increased in population, becoming a municipal borough in 1926 and has formed part of Greater London since 1965. Ilford was announced as the fastest-growing tourist destination in Europe in 2011.
Ilford was historically known as Great Ilford to differentiate it from nearby Little Ilford, in the London Borough of Newham. The name is first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Ilefort and means ford over the Hyle; an old name for the River Roding that means "trickling stream". Little Ilford shares the origin.
The only complete skull of a mammoth discovered in the United Kingdom was unearthed in 1860 at the site where Boots the Chemist now stands in the High Road. The skull can now be seen in the Natural History Museum and other prehistoric animal remains can be seen at Redbridge Museum, Central Library, Ilford. Redevelopment has destroyed much of the evidence for early Ilford, but the oldest evidence for human occupation is the 1st and 2nd century BC Iron Age earthwork known as Uphall Camp. This was situated between the Roding and Ilford Lane and is recorded in 18th century plans. Roman finds have also been made in the vicinity. A nearby mound called Lavender Mount existed into the 1960s, when it was removed during building work at Howards chemical works. Excavation has shown that the latter may have been a 16th-century 'beacon-mound'. Archaeological discoveries are displayed at Redbridge Museum.
Ilford straddled the important road from London to Colchester. The Middlesex and Essex Turnpike Trust controlled and maintained the road from 1721. The River Roding was made navigable for barges as far as Ilford Bridge from 1737. Ilford remained largely rural until its expansion in the 19th century. This brought about brickworks, cement works and coal yards to service the new buildings, largely centred on the River Roding. In 1839, a railway station was opened on the line from Romford to Mile End. The early businesses gave way to new industries, such as paper making and services such as steam laundries and collar making, to provide for the new commuting class created by the railway. A number of major businesses have been founded in the town, including the eponymous photographic film and chemicals manufacturer Ilford Photo. This was founded in 1879 by Alfred H. Harman, a photographer from Peckham, who established the business in a house in Cranbook Road making gelatino-bromide 'dry' plates. The business soon outgrew these premises, and its headquarters moved to a site at Roden Street until 1976 when the factory was closed. Many Ilford Limited products are displayed at Redbridge Museum.
The radio, electronics and telecommunications company Plessey, founded in 1917 in Marylebone, moved to Cottenham Road in Ilford early in 1919 and then to Vicarage Lane where became one of the largest manufacturers in its field. During World War II, the factory was heavily damaged by bombing and the company carried out much of its manufacture, with 2,000 workers servicing a production line, located in the underground railway tunnel between Wanstead and Gants Hill. In 1955, the company employed 15,000 workers, in sites throughout Ilford and neighbouring areas, with an extensive research department. BAL-AMi Jukeboxes were manufactured at 290-296 High Road, Ilford, during the 1950s, which also served as the headquarters of the Balfour (Marine) Engineering company.
Ilford formed a ward in the large ancient parish of Barking, in the Becontree hundred of Essex. The parish authorities gradually lost responsibility for a variety of functions during the 19th century; from 1836, for the administration of poor relief, Ilford came within the Romford Poor Law Union and in 1840 the Metropolitan Police District was extended to cover the area. In 1875, the Romford rural sanitary district was created, covering a wide area including Ilford. In 1888, Ilford and the neighbouring ward of Chadwell to east were split from Barking and together formed a separate Ilford civil parish. In 1890, a local board of health was set up for the parish, replacing the rural sanitary authority, and in 1894 a reform of local government reconstituted it as an urban district. It formed part of the London Traffic Area from 1924 and the London Passenger Transport Area from 1933. It was incorporated as the Municipal Borough of Ilford in 1926.
The suburban expansion of London caused a significant increase in population and the borough became one of the largest in England not to gain county borough status. In 1965, the municipal borough was abolished and its former area was combined with that of Wanstead and Woodford, the northern extremity of Dagenham and a small part Chigwell Urban District around Hainault; it was removed from Essex and since then has formed the greater part of the London Borough of Redbridge in Greater London.
By 1653, Ilford was a compact village of 50 houses, mostly sited north and south of the current Broadway and the area was distinctly rural. In 1801 the population of Ilford was 1,724 and by 1841 it had grown to 3,742. It had a population of 41,244 in 1901 and occupied an area of . 2,500 houses of the vast Becontree Estate, built by the London County Council from 1921, were within the boundaries of Ilford; the addition caused a rise in population of 11,600 by 1926. The Central Line service of the London Underground to new and former main-line stations in the area began in 1947 and the population of the Municipal Borough of Ilford peaked in 1951 at 184,706, declining to 178,024 in 1961 before being absorbed into Redbridge and Greater London in 1965. At the 2001 Census the combined populations of the Ilford North and Ilford South constituencies was 196,414.
John Logie Baird, who invented the television, moved to Ilford in the mid/late 1920s to work on his new invention. He worked in a workshop on the roof of the Plessey premises in Ley Street, which has long since been demolished to make way for new housing.