Romford has been a market town since 1247, and it holds the exclusive right to hold markets over an area of radius "six and two thirds miles" centred on Romford, a right granted in medieval times but successfully used to prevent nearby Ilford from opening a market as recently as the 1990s. Romford shopping centre grew up around the original marketplace. The shopping centre has recently been expanded and modernised by the Romford Revival program in order to compete with out of town shopping centres such as Lakeside, Thurrock, Essex and Bluewater, Dartford, Kent. There are now plans to demolish The Dolphin leisure centre, closed in 1995, to make way for further expansion of the shopping centre and 230 modern flats and apartments
The town has been associated with a ford over a small stream which flows through it, now known as the "River Rom", but there is some contention as to whether the name of the town was derived from that of the stream or vice versa. Some historians believe that the stream was originally named the "Murkeyditche", and that the name was altered later for the sake of appearances. The name "Romford" is said to have originated from a contraction of "Roomy Ford".