The stretch of St Mary’s Lane running westwards from the main crossroads towards Hornchurch, running down Upminster Hill to the River Ingrebourne at Upminster Bridge, is an area steeped in history, with the greatest concentration of old and listed buildings in the parish. What follows provides a summary of the history of those buildings that stand or stood on either side of this route.
Looking back to the mid-eighteenth century this stretch of road was mainly undeveloped, apart from a few cottages close to Upminster Bridge, alongside which was a ford across the River Ingrebourne.
From the 1780s onwards Samuel Hammond, a carpenter and builder, acquired and then developed premises along much of the south side of the road. Hammond, born around 1745, was very much the right man at the right time. At the time that he was developing his successful carpenter’s business in Upminster Sir James Esdaile was also embarking on his major redevelopment of the properties he owned. From 1778 onwards Hammond acquired land on the south side of Upminster Hill and built properties there and bought and developed others close to the village centre.
Our journey starts at the southern side of the cross roads, walking westwards from the junction with Corbets Tey Road, past the northern part of the churchyard of St Laurence’s Church, pressed into service as an extension to the crowded graveyard in 1865.
The Rectory itself, now converted to use as offices, was built during the time that Samuel Bradshaw was Rector (1735-1768). Bradshaw inherited an old moated Rectory House that was in such a poor state of repair that his eminent predecessor Dr William Derham DD had chosen not to live in it. He soon built an H-shaped replacement, which still survives (Grade II listed), now converted to office uses.
The successive Rectors of the Holden family occupied the Rectory, right through until the final Holden Rector, the Rev Hyla Rose Holden retired in 1971. His successor Rev Maurice Harper (1971-86) continued to live in the Rectory but afterwards a new modern Rectory was built close by and the old Rectory was sold and converted into offices.
To the west of the Rectory was the northern part of the 22-acre parish Glebe, which was sold to the Upminster Parish Council by the Reverend Hyla Henry Holden in 1929, after which the area became the Upminster Recreation Ground. The Windmill Halls were built at the north-western end, the site of the old Windmill Hall was redeveloped as Millstone House, a 22 unit residential retirement development by McCarthy & Stone.
Redevelopment of the adjacent Upminster Convent, formerly Hill Place, was completed in 2014: a full account of this property (now Convent Close) can be found here.
Originally known as Hill House, it is usually said to have been built in the 1790s, but I have found no evidence to support this. It was sold it in 1820 by the Esdaile family to the tenant William Nokes, son of James Nokes, the builder of Upminster Windmill. William Nokes carried out a major redevelopment of the house and landscaped the grounds and in 1827 sold the property to Wasey Sterry, a Romford solicitor. In 1867 the Sterry family sold it to the tenant Temple Soanes, who completely rebuilt the property in 1871-72.
The last private resident was Dr John Storrs Brookfield, a Harley Street consultant, who sold it just before his death in 1927 to the Roman Catholic nuns of the Institute of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, who established a convent and private boarding and day school here. After the remaining nuns vacated the property it was put up for sale and eventually the new purchaser came forward with plans to redevelop the listed building into seven apartments with two detached houses added in the gardens to the south, which are now nearing completion.
Until 1872 a large house stood at what became the north-west entrance of Hill Place. This was built on land which Samuel Hammond reclaimed out of the manorial waste adjoining the roadside in 1778 with the permission of the Lord of the Manor. Thomas Talbot, who lived in Upminster from 1796 to 1832, kept a boys school in the house which was also registered for Independent (non-conformist) worship in 1797 and 1798. On 25th March 1847 it was bought by the Congregational Church for £250 as the minister’s residence and remained in this use until Temple Soanes demolished this manse in 1872 in order to extend the entrance to Hill Place.
Until a few years ago no image was believed to exist of this property, until The Friends of Upminster Windmill identified within their archives the above photograph, which can date from no later than the early 1870s, showing this to be a premises of substantial size.
Protestant non-conformity blossomed in Upminster at the end of the 18th century after the Rectors John Rose Holden, senior and junior, fell out with a group of prominent parishioners over the collection of the parish tithes. On 1 October 1799, a year after Talbot’s house was registered for worship, William Nokes’s Bridge Farm was also registered. The year after that his younger brother James Nokes of Hunts Farm and others established a permanent Congregational Chapel, built and leased to these trustees, by Samuel Hammond on part of his reclaimed from the roadside waste in 1778. The chapel opened for worship on 8 June 1800 and in 1801 a “Church of Protestant Dissenters” was formed when James Nokes and five other members signed a covenant. In coming years the chapel underwent enlargements and additions including a vestry, before a complete renovation was carried out in 1873.
As the congregation outgrew the Chapel, with the growth of the garden suburb from 1906, a new Congregational Church was built on Station Road which the congregation transferred to in 1911. Another non-conformist group The Brethren then worshipped at the Old Chapel from 1911 to 1987 and after they moved out the Grade 2 listed Old Chapel stood empty and fell into increasing disrepair, which led to it being included in English Heritage’s “At Risk” register.
After several more years the Chapel was bought by the Sacred Heart of Mary School for a nominal sum and eventually approval was received from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant to enable plans to be carried out to bring the chapel back into regular use by the school and the community. Work started in 2012 and the restored and extended “Old Upminster Chapel” reopened in 2013 and is now in full local use by the school and community.
To the west of the Chapel was the School, built in 1792 for Elizabeth Ann Fries by Samuel Hammond, again on another part of the same site enclosed in 1778. Elizabeth Fries, one of the founders and benefactors of the Congregational Chapel, ran a “seminary for young ladies” here. After her death in 1807 there were several proprietors before Miss Elizabeth Attwell established her Upminster House boarding school there in 1848. During Miss Attwell’s 25 year tenure the school was regarded as one of the finest educational establishments for young ladies in the county, with around 30 boarders who were taught by resident teachers of music, drawing, English and French.
The buildings were extended by the addition of wings in the 1850s but after Miss Attwell’s retirement in the 1870s the Misses Fletcher ran the school until its closure in 1878. After standing vacant for some years it was re-opened in 1915 as Hill House kindergarten by Miss Maude Renwick, who continued there into the 1920s. During the 1930s Miss Susie Northridge operated Hill House School here and post war this became Minster House, a private mixed school which continued into the 1960s, after which the building was demolished.
Next were then three pairs of cottages, built on land which Samuel Hammond acquired from William Palmer in 1784 but which had been enclosed from the waste in the 17th century or earlier and was owned by Margaret Allibone, widow of Job Allibone of Fairkytes, and later her son Sir Richard Allibone, a controversial Justice.
Isaac May, a carpenter who had worked for Samuel Hammond, and who was T L Wilson’s uncle, lived in the furthest of the first pair of cottages. From the 1840s to the 1870s this was also a beerhouse known as the Compasses run by his wife Jemima May (nee Wilson).
By the turn of the 20th century these premises were in a poor state of repair and in 1904 the District Medical Officer of Health issued a sanitary notice to the owner, Sir Edward Payson Wills (of the tobacco manufacturing family) for them to be connected to a new main sewer installed on Upminster Hill. Wills refused and insisted that he would have to give his tenants notice to quit. The Council backed down with their demands but within a few years the cottages were said to be in “a more or less dilapidated condition and are almost beyond repair”. An appeal to the parish council to help a couple about to be evicted fell on deaf ears. Wills carried out his threat, evicted the tenants from the cottages, which were all demolished in March 1909, and the site was left vacant. It’s probably quite understandable how Sir Edward Wills left a staggering £2.6m on his death in 1910 (£280m at current prices)!
Beyond these tenements towards Upminster Bridge, on a large site of around half an acre enclosed from the waste before 1704 was the last house on the south side of Upminster Hill, opposite what is now Highview Gardens. Like other sites on the south side of Upminster Hill this plot was bought by Hammond in 1784 and in 1795 he demolished the tenement houses which occupied part of the site and built a square, brick-built Georgian residence for a solicitor named William Watson. In 1802 Hammond sold the house and adjoining land to the Rev John Kennett Parker and after passing down through his family they were sold to John Goodall Brett of Hornchurch in 1840, when the occupier was Mrs Sarah Bartlett. Known as the “Red House”, by 1856 it was said to have a “neat lawn and green house to the west, and view of Hornchurch” and was occupied by the Misses Boyce, daughters of Thomas Boyce of New Place. According to Wilson it then contained “a few good paintings by the old masters: Cardinal Wolsey, St John in the Wilderness pointing his Disciples to Christ, two Holy Families &c.” In July 1930 this was taken over by the Territorial Army HQ and after alterations and extensions become the Drill Hall, surviving into the 1960s.
Bridge House Farm occupied the area north and south of the road, on the approaches to Upminster Bridge. In the Middle Ages it was a small manor, which extended across the Ingrebourne into Hornchurch, some of which were held of New College Oxford, as was much other land there. In 1663 Bridge House Farm was owned by Sir Nathan Wright of Cranham Hall and comprised of some 79 acres, 33 acres south of the road, and 46 to the north of the road, stretching from the River Ingrebourne right up to what is now Station Road, excluding only a two acre site at the junction. Wright sold the estate in 1729 and after several changes of ownership it was acquired by trustees of the Newman family who owned Nelmes in Hornchurch and in 1783 came down to Thomas Harding, who under the terms of his grandfather’s will took the surname Newman. William Nokes, brother of James Nokes of Hunts Farm, took on the tenancy of the farm which he bought the majority of in 1813. The farm was sold in 1849 after Nokes’ death and the new owner Mr Emanuel of London demolished the old, small farmhouse, and built a new one on the site. Wilson considered that the original house “with its stately trees, and winding stream, the barn and the bridge, formed an interesting picture, as approached from Hornchurch”. In 1910 Bridge House was bought by Edwin Battson, whose dairy was in Station Road (what is now Costcutter) and the area to the south of the road was developed to form Bridge Avenue. Hornchurch UDC acquired 5 1/2 acres of the site in 1950 with a football pitch developed there in and in use by 1952, adding the athletics track by 1956 – what is now Hornchurch Stadium, currently home to Hornchurch FC and Havering Athletic Club.
The Upminster parish vestry were responsible for the upkeep and repair of Upminster Bridge, which crossed the River Ingrebourne, the boundary between Hornchurch and Upminster. The bridge was often in poor condition and could only be used on foot or horseback until a new wider wooden bridge which carried small carts was built in 1759. Heavier loads still had to cross by way of the ford to the south side, until a new brick bridge was built in 1827, which in turn was replaced by a much sturdier and wider bridge, more than double the width of its predecessor, which opened in January 1892.
Opposite the site of Bridge House Farm on the north side of St Mary’s Lane at the foot of Upminster Hill stand the Grade 2 listed eighteenth-century Ingrebourne Cottages which have played an important role in Upminster’s history as they were built as the parish workhouse.
An Act of 1722 allowed parishes to build or lease houses to accommodate their poor and at first Upminster’s poor were housed in various rented premises. In 1749 the parish vestry decided to use a capital investment amounting to £100, which originated from a bequest in the 1587 will of John Fenick, a London merchant who owned property in Upminster, and which had been added to over the years by other bequests.
The parish workhouse was built in 1750, with Edward Sumpner bricklayer and John Badger, carpenter of Hornchurch the main tradesmen. Increasing pauper numbers soon meant that the workhouse was too small and in 1786 it was extended eastwards onto land granted by the Manor of Upminster Hall, with Samuel Hammond carrying out the work for some £179. Upminster’s extensive series of parish records have been used to good effect to produce a detailed and graphic account of the life in the workhouse [see Book 9 of The Story of Upminster – The Parish Workhouse (November 1959)].
In 1835 major changes to the poor laws came into effect which saw Upminster was grouped with many other neighbouring parishes to form the Romford Poor Law Union, and a new workhouse for the whole area was built at Oldchurch Road, Romford. The redundant Upminster parish workhouse was sold for £356 to George Rowe (1794-1859), a local shoemaker, who obviously enjoyed a successful business which had already seen him buy other properties in Upminster.
Rowe converted the property into six terraced timber-framed cottages under a single tiled roof. These still remain today, (Numbers 23-33 St Mary’s Lane) to although much altered despite their Grade 2 listed status.
Heading back towards the village centre to the east was Ivy House – built on what had been part of the workhouse garden. The Story of Upminster (Book 2 p3) suggests that this house was built in 1792 on the roadside waste and that the first occupier was Elijah Murduck, who was the shoemaker for workhouse. I’m not sure what the evidence for this is and I have not been able to substantiate this conclusion: it seems far more likely to me that Ivy House was only built on the workhouse garden by George Rowe after he bought the property, as he was living here in 1841. The descriptions of the workhouse and garden when offered for sale make no reference to any house built on the garden.
During the latter decades of 19th century Ivy House was occupied by William Rowe, whose wife conducted a dressmaking business, and in the early 20th century the Hornchurch draper & grocer Charles Baker, who was related to the Rowe family, ran the shop and off licence there. This later became Harold Moore’s grocers, which continued in business through to the late 1950s and is still remembered by older Upminster residents. There is an interesting account of the Rowe family and life at Ivy House in the 1920s and 30s in Brian Moore’s memoire “Upminster Connections” in Upminster in Living Memory (2000), pages 37-50. Carlton Close now occupies the site (formerly 47 & 49 St Mary’ Lane).
When Bridge Farm was sold by Richard Harding Newman in 1801 some 23 acres of the farm north of the road was bought by James Nokes who built his smock mill there from 1803 onwards. The completion date for the mill is usually cited to be 1803 but the evidence from the parish overseers quarterly rate returns confirms that this was actually two years later, between September and December 1805. James Nokes’ son William Nokes (1791-1871) bought Hill House opposite in 1813 and managed his father’s business from an office there.
As I have previously written, Upminster’s windmill is possibly the area’s best known, best loved and almost certainly the most photographed landmark in the parish. It has also been said that “more words have been written about Upminster windmill than any other in Essex” so for those who want to read the history of this remarkable survival, I will refer you to the account here.
The Upminster mill was possibly the first Essex windmill to use steam power from around 1811 but its success as a business was affected by the debts and subsequent bankruptcy of the Nokes family. Thomas Abraham, who had been Nokes’ foreman at the mill in 1844, and again in 1851, bought the mill and 12 acres of adjoining land and soon restored the mill’s fortunes. The following decades under his ownership were the heyday when the business flourished. In 1882 Thomas Abraham lent his support to the proposed London, Tilbury & Southend Railway which he felt would benefit his business, saying that he had “a team of horses going constantly between Upminster and London, nearly 16 miles which bring by road about 200 tons” of corn annually. He carted about 50 tons of coal to drive his steam mill “at some expense as the road is hilly and the horses cannot bring a full load”. The line gained approval but Thomas Abraham was not able to benefit directly as he died in 1882, three years before its opening but one indication of who it affected the business was that his successor, his younger son John Arkell Abraham added a coal merchant’s business based in the new station yard. After J A Abraham’s death in July 1912, his three nephews, Thomas, Alfred and Clement Abraham, sons of his brother Thomas, took on the mill as “T., A. & C. Abraham.”
After the deaths of Clement, the business manager, in 1935 and Thomas shortly afterwards the mill was sold. The surviving brother Alfred lived to the ripe old age of 95, dying in 1959 and is still recalled by older Upminster residents, as a familiar figure who was a Sunday School teacher at the Congregational church in Station Road.
The Grade 2* listed mill, which is owned by the London Borough of Havering and is managed on their behalf by a registered charity, the Friends of Upminster Windmill, is currently undergoing a major restoration which will return it to full working order by 2021. Alongside it an Interpretation Centre and once open regularly will allow visitors, especially school groups, to learn the history of milling, the story of Upminster Mill and the story of the Abraham family. The Centre will also house a museum of exhibits and photographs with plenty of computer graphics to show the workings of the Mill. Visitors will also be able to see some of the archaeological finds revealed during excavations of the 15 buildings which formerly occupied the site.
When Hill Place was rebuilt, the owner Temple Soanes arranged to buy the Congregational Church Manse, which was almost in front of Hill Place and therefore stood in the way of his plans to allow him to construct a drive to his property. He therefore bought the Manse off the Trustees and in 1871-2 he arranged for a new Manse to be built on a plot of land which he provided opposite the chapel. This was occupied by the Minister Rev A M Carter and his successors, until it was sold in around 1935; three houses were later built on the site.
The yellow stock brick-built property on the corner of Cranborne Gardens known as The Hollies, was built in 1863 and originally named Holly Lodge. According to Wilson a portion of the material used in building the house was provided out of the old tithe barn which had stood opposite on the Rector’s Glebe. Mrs Eliza Godsalve Crosse (1817-1895), the widow of Thomas Godsalve Crosse of Rainham, lived there in the 1870s with her daughters Sophia (1833-1888) & Frances (1840-1890).
In July 1909 Mrs Lucy King bought the premises and soon submitted plans to Romford District Council to extend the premises, which seems to have involved three extra bedrooms on the west side, joined by a connecting covered way, operating this as The Holly Hotel with a further planning submission following in 1914. Mrs Lucy King continued to run the hotel until 1927 when it was offered for sale due to her ill-health when it was described as the only private residential hotel in the District. The hotel then comprised some 16 bedrooms with grounds which extended for half an acre and included landscaped gardens and a Tennis court. They seem to have been bought by a Cyril Thorogood in 1934 and renamed the Cranleigh Hotel, but by 1939 the business seems to have gone into administration. The property was requisitioned by the Army during World War 2 and after the end of hostilities in around 1947 it was converted to form six, one and two bedroom flats, known as Flats 1 to 6, The Hollies, St Mary’s Lane.
The property later known as Mavisbank was located on what became the site for St Joseph’s School. It was built in 1850 by Thomas Turner, a Suffolk-born cattle salesman, whose occupation led to it locally being known as Hoof Hall. Wilson described it in 1856 as a “neat modern cottage with a verandah” which displayed “a taste so creditable to the architect”. After Turner moved to Romford Hoof Hall was let to tenants and it was through one of these occupiers that the property gained a notorious reputation.
In 1870 a widow, Mrs Susan Wilson, and her family, including her daughter Sarah Margaret (known as Margaret) moved there. It seems that they may have changed the name from the unflattering Hoof Hall to the much more attractive Mavisbank, but the origin of this name remains unclear. It was Margaret Wilson who entered into a liaison with the Rector Philip Melancthon Holden, twice her age, scandalously giving birth to a daughter out of wedlock in October 1872, three months before the couple legitimised their union. Mrs Wilson and family not surprisingly moved away from Upminster.
Thomas Turner had died in 1866 and in 1873 his widow sold Mavisbank and its grounds to Col Brydges Branfill. Part of the estate was later developed from 1903 as the Branfill Park Estate, with Champion Road being laid down west of the surviving house, which in 1910 had three sitting rooms and four bedrooms. Mavisbank remained in private ownership until December 1931 when the house and the remaining part of land were bought by the Roman Catholic church. Initially used as a Presbytery for St Joseph’s church, which opened on the site in temporary premises in December 1932, it was in later years used as a school. Mavisbank, now over 100 years old, was demolished in September 1956 site to provide the site for the new St Joseph’s RC church school.
We are not yet back at the village cross roads, but a later post will describe the properties further along on the north side of St Mary’s Lane.
T L Wilson History & Topography of Upminster (1881) pp.119-124 and 174-180
The Story of Upminster, particularly Books 1 – A Short Walk into History (1957), Book 2 – Historic Buildings -1 (1958), Book 6 The Windmill (1958) and Book 9 of The Parish Workhouse (1959).
Tony Benton (editor) Upminster in Living Memory (2000), see “Upminster Connections” pages 37-50.
Tony Benton, with Albert Parish Upminster: the story of a garden suburb (1996), see “Upminster Survivals” chapter pages 145-150. (Reprinted 2010 see pages 136-140)
Anthony D Butler Thirteen Centuries of Witness: a Catholic history of the Upminster district (1984)
Anthony D Butler Upminster Windmill (1968)
Linda Hawthorn The Millers of Upminster Windmill – the Abraham Family of Upminster (2012)
Kenneth Farries Essex Windmills, Millers and Millwrights – Volume Five – A Review by Parishes, S-Z. (1988) pp. 73–76.