High House and its rich cast of characters

Have you ever wondered how Byron Parade in Corbets Tey Road came to be named after Lord Byron, one of Britain’s most famous poets? Or wanted to know what the site was before this 1930s shopping parade was built or who were the people who lived there?  Wonder no more! Read the rich and varied history of High House, Upminster and its occupiers.

Byron Parade c. 1950

Byron Parade c. 1950

The 16 shops in Byron Parade and the two storey block of flats above them, which were described as “the finest residential flats for miles around”, were built in 1936 and opened from August onwards that year. The shops included at No. 2 Messrs L S Green, radio dealers’ “modern and spacious showroom … lit by concealed lighting”, at No. 4 Walter John Knight’s Fruiterers, and at No.6 Craddocks “stationers and fancy goods specialists of Romford and Westcliff-on-Sea”. Further down was Mrs E Walters’ Swan Libraries, booksellers, which still survives almost 80 years later as Swan Books. As well as these specialist shops, the modern parade also provided a full range of shops including a butcher, tobacconist, grocer, chemists, wine & spirit merchants, boot & shoe repairer, pastry-cooks, newsagents and hairdressers.

This whole plot, on a frontage of almost 300 feet, had until September 1935 been occupied by the ancient residence of High House, probably dating to the Jacobean era, although much added to in subsequent centuries, together with its majestic cedar tree, almost 20 feet in girth.

Dr William Derham FRS 1657-1735

Dr William Derham FRS 1657-1735

The ownership of High House seems to have been linked to New Place and the earliest reference dating from 1701 is to “a messuage and one acre” of land.  At that time the occupier of High House was one of Upminster’s most famous residents Dr William Derham DD who became Upminster’s Rector in September 1689 and remained until his death in 1735.  Dr Derham chose to live in Upminster, unlike many of his predecessors and successors who lived elsewhere and employed poorly-paid curates to look after their parish. However Upminster’s Rectory was in a dilapidated state so Derham decided to find other accommodation and from around 1700 rented High House, conveniently situated opposite St Laurence’s Church.

Dr Derham's weather observations were made at High House

Dr Derham’s weather observations were made at High House

Derham’s less than onerous clerical duties gave him the freedom to pursue his other wide-ranging interests in science, medicine and natural history. In 1703 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society where Isaac Newton and Edmond Halley were his contemporaries and he published countless articles in the Society’s transactions on such varied topics as meteorology, astronomy, physics, medicine, and natural history.

We know a little about his life at High House. In the preface to his famous book “Astro Theology”, published in 1715, Derham said that the trees surrounding his home were a hindrance to his astronomical observations as was “the want of a long pole, 100 or more feet, to raise my long glass to such a height as to see the heavenly bodies above the thick vapours”. He had a large museum of insects and birds at High House and his interest in geology led to his observations of the density of the various strata in a 178 feet deep well dug at Upminster in 1712 and he also found a mineral spring in the north east corner of Tyler’s Common.

A thatched single-storey cottage which stood on the southern boundary of High House in the gardens, was later known as “The Hermitage”, and was said by Wilson to probably have been built by Dr Derham.

After Derham was installed as Canon of Windsor in 1716 he spent less time at Upminster, taking a curate from 1721 to officiate in his absence but he certainly spent time at Upminster in 1720-1722 when he exchanged letters with the Rev Holman who was writing his history of Essex. However a deed dated April 1722 said that High House was occupied by Dorothy Harris, widow. Derham did however die at High House in 1735 and was buried in the chancel of the parish church.

High House probably passed to James Esdaile through his wife’s inheritance in 1757 along with other Upminster properties and would have been rented to tenants by Esdaile and his successors. It’s also probable that in the late 18th century the three acres paddock to the south was added to the High House grounds, possibly when Esdaile built the Post Offices Cottages. At some stage during the Georgian period a new entrance and portico was added to the front of original Jacobean three-bay house.

Moving forward we come to the connection which High House was said to have with Lord Byron, which later led to the name of Byron Parade. This claim originates in the Rev Alfred Suckling’s “Memorials of the Antiquities & Architecture, Family History and Heraldry of the County of Essex” (1845) which stated that High House was “inhabited by Major Howard, the particular friend of Lord Byron; and here many of the stanzas of Childe Harold were composed.”

Lord Byron

Lord Byron

Wilson doubts the story in both his 1856 and 1881 histories, and when he wrote his first history there were still many locals who had been living in Upminster over 40 years before with whom he could check, including his father Thomas (born 1790). In the latter volume Wilson states:

“We have been at some pains to ascertain the truth about Byron’s visiting Upminster, but have found nothing to corroborate Suckling’s statement. There is, however, no doubt that the poet and Major Howard were on intimate terms and that the latter occupied High House during the time that “Child Harold” was being written (1812).”

Wilson would have had firm ground for confirming that Major Howard lived in the parish. The Hon Frederick Howard (b.1785) came from one of England’s most noble families. The son of Frederick Howard, the fifth Earl of Carlisle, he was a Major in the 10th Hussars and died in their service at Waterloo in June 1815 when gallantly leading a cavalry charge. Lord Byron (George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron,1788-1824) was a cousin of Howard, as his great-aunt Isabella Byron (1721-1795) was Howard’s grandmother.

The Upminster Rate Books indeed confirm that Major Howard lived in the parish from December 1814 to at least May 1815, so the Waterloo hero actually had a connection to Upminster at the time of his death.  However, I’ve found no evidence that he lived there in 1812 when the first stanzas of Byron’s poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage were published. Byron was in London in April and May 1815 and visited Essex that summer when he wrote a letter from Epping, but by then Howard had already perished. What is certain is that in May 1816 Byron visited the Waterloo battlefield where his kinsman had died and that in the third Canto of Childe Harold about the battle Byron referred specifically to Howard’s death and lamented the loss of “young, gallant Howard”.

After Howard’s death the Esdaile family continued to own High House, which was rented out to a series of short-term tenants. This was to change in 1827 when Dr William Tabrum came to Upminster, first renting High House and living there for almost 40 years until his death. When it was offered for sale in August 1839, it was bought by Dr Tabrum’s father John Tabrum for £880, before it was acquired by his son two years later.

High House 1842 (TNA)

High House 1842 (TNA)

Dr Tabrum was a Margaretting-born physician, who had trained as a medical student at Edinburgh University from 1823 obtaining his MD in 1826. He was therefore a mature student there, as he had been born in 1785 and was in his late 30s and married when he enrolled, having wed Elizabeth Bawtree in her home parish of Southminster in 1810. Dr Tabrum had rented the premises for £45 net and when it was offered for sale in August 1839 as a “Genteel family residence” he paid £880 for a property described as:

“Upper story; an apple chamber, servants’ bedchamber and two others; first story, four good bedchambers and a water closet; principal story, a good entrance hall, a very neat dining room, a handsome drawing room, opening to a small conservatory, kitchen … a detached library with approach covered by trellis work, a paved yard, bottle house, poultry house, piggery … coach yard, three-stall stables, harness room, carriage house. A Lawn and Flower Garden, tastily disposed and decorated with Shrubs and Evergreens, an Excellent Kitchen Garden, well stocked with Fruit Trees, a Fruit Wall, well clothed with Peaches, Nectarines etc.”

Dr Tabrum and his wife gave refuge in their household to the Rev Henry Poynder, Rector of Horne in Surrey, who was described in the 1851 census as “H— P—“ an “inmate” whose occupation was given as “Clergyman (Ward in Chancery)”. Poynder had in December 1822, then of Whitworth House, Middlesex, had been examined by the Commissioners for Lunacy who had certified him as a lunatic, not capable of managing his own affairs.  It’s likely that he had suffered a nervous breakdown and at some stage came into Dr Tabrum’s care at High House where he remained until his death in March 1858, aged 83; he was buried in the churchyard opposite.

The front of High House were graced by a “remarkable” cedar of Lebanon tree “considered to be an ornament to the village” which in 1856 had been described by Wilson as follows: “Its girth is nearly 16 feet and between 4 and 10 feet from the ground, it throws out eleven branches from 5 feet 6 to 6 feet 6 in girth. At the 15 feet, where the trunk ceases, it throws out 4 branches, 3 feet and 4 feet round. It spreads 76 feet and is probably nearly 70 feet high”.

In 1865, some nine months before his own death, which occurred on 10 March 1866, Dr Tabrum arranged for one of the branches of the cedar tree to be removed and fashioned into his coffin. It’s reasonable to assume that T L Wilson, carpenter and undertaker, was the craftsman and he may well also have carried out Tabrum’s funeral when he was buried in St Laurence’s churchyard with his late wife who had died in 1858. Strangely William Tabrum was not a rich man when he died, leaving effects of under £100. His niece Mary Ann Eliza Kettlewell, who had married William Kettlewell, formerly of New Place in 1864, inherited High House.

High House ,1895 (Image: ERO I/Ba 74/3)

High House was purchased in September 1870 by William Rowe, who had considerably improved the house and grounds by 1881. However, Rowe did not live there immediately but continued to live with his family at his grocer’s business on Upminster Hill until he retired.  The tenant in 1871 was John Irving, a 26 year old Colonial & East India Merchant, who three years later was involved on an extraordinary assault on Upminster’s Rector the Rev Philip Melanchthon Holden in Marylebone, for which he was initially sentenced to two years’ hard labour. They had originally been on good terms but he felt that the Rector had become ”bad friends” over business matters.

Either before or after Rowe’s death in 1892 High House was bought by Stanley Richard Preston, a local solicitor, whose father William Richard Preston of Harold Court had fled Upminster for Australia in 1881, a bankrupt, when his plans to dispose of Brentwood’s sewage went badly wrong. It was Preston who put the property up for sale by auction in July 1902, when it was marketed as having “Special capabilities for building development”, with its “Main road frontage of nearly 300 feet facilitating sub-division into sites for detached residences”.

But High House escaped any developers’ ambitions on this occasion, as it was bought by a London Architect Charles Reilly, FRIBA for £2,550. Upminster was the perfect location to commute from to his company office at 23 St Swithin’s Lane, EC1. Within two months Reilly had submitted plans to the local authority for an addition to High House and it was later noted that £400 had been spent on improvements, although there is no record of what these entailed. The grounds were extended slightly in 1913 when Reilly bought from WP Griggs & Co a strip of land adjoining High House to the east, which had previously been a tree-lined walkway to New Place.

High House – Front View (By courtesy of The University of Liverpool Library ref: D207.41.1.2)

High House Side v2 Liv Uni D207.41.1.3

High House – Side View (By courtesy of The University of Liverpool Library ref: D207.41.1.3)

High House – Rear View (By courtesy of The University of Liverpool Library ref: D207.41.1.1)

Charles Reilly’s most lasting contribution to Upminster’s history was in designing Upminster Court for Arthur Williams in 1905, although this work is often incorrectly attributed to his eldest son, Charles Herbert Reilly who became one of England’s leading architects. Charles Reilly junior probably lived at High House for only a short time before in 1904 taking over the post of Roscoe Professor of Architecture at Liverpool University. His post was in charge of the School of Architecture, which under his stewardship became world-renowned and he was largely responsible for establishing the university training of architects, rather than the apprenticeship system which he had trained under. Reilly remained as Professor at Liverpool for 33 years until his retirement and he was knighted in 1944.

Another of Charles Reilly’s children, his unmarried eldest daughter Sophia, continued to live at home with her parents and at the outbreak of World War One took on the organisation of the Voluntary Aid Detachment Auxiliary Military Hospital set up at St Laurence’s Hall, opposite High House. By the end of the hostilities over 300 servicemen had received treatment and care there.

Charles and Annie Reilly celebrated their golden wedding at High House in 1921 but three years later in July 1924 Mrs Annie Reilly died aged 81 and was buried in Upminster churchyard. Charles Reilly himself died four years later on 5th June 1928, aged 86, leaving effects worth £2,775 13s 11d and by his will directed his executors, his son Charles and daughter Sophia to sell his High House. Although Sophia moved away from Upminster to Beckenham, this sale didn’t take place immediately as the premises were soon being run as a guesthouse under Mrs M A Tisdale, Proprietress, offering inclusive terms of £2 12s 6d per week, half board £2 2s or 8/6 daily terms. In 1931 part of the grounds, the former paddock of over three acres, were sold to Essex County Council to be added to the playing fields of the Upminster Infants and Junior School, leaving just the house and gardens.

Sale Catalogue cover 1935High House and its remaining gardens were eventually offered for sale by auction on 18th June 1935 and marketed as an “important building property” which was under Hornchurch UDC’s Town Planning scheme scheduled for shops fronting onto Corbets Tey Road, and houses to the rear. The purchaser was Mr George Stewart of Hall Lane for a price of £9,750 and within three months High House was no more. After some speculative planned development proposals, one of which included a cinema, a few months later plans for the shops and flats in Byron Parade were approved and the three hundred year old property with such a rich and varied pageant of owners and occupiers finally succumbed to demolition.

So when you next walk down Corbets Tey Road, past Byron Parade, spare a thought for the rich cast of characters associated with the site – even if Lord Byron isn’t amongst them!

Byron Parade, c.1960

Byron Parade, c.1960

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6 Responses to High House and its rich cast of characters

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