It’s almost half a mile from the main Upminster crossroads eastwards along St Mary’s Lane to the parish boundary with Cranham and although this now forms a continuous stretch of shops and houses, a century ago the stretch of road looked very different and remained a tree-lined country lane with few buildings, much as it had in throughout the Victorian era. The post is one of two that covers the development road once known as Cranham Lane – now St Mary’s Lane – and looks at the south side.
The whole area south of Cranham Lane from the crossroads to the Cranham boundary formed the New Place estate, with the mansion of New Place and its outbuildings the only premises along that side of the road until the early 1920s.
This changed after W P Griggs & Co bought the New Place Estate from the owners, the Umfreville family, in September 1909 – although development only started more than 10 years later. Griggs entered into a development agreement for the estate in 1917 with the Romford Rural District Council but the first plans were only submitted for approval in July 1920. The purchase of the estate had been on the understanding that no building would go ahead immediately around New Place during the life of the final sitting tenant, John Wilson, the Scottish-born former Chief Engineer of the Great Eastern Railway. Some development started in late 1920 but it was only after John Wilson’s death in November 1922, that the rest of the estate surrounding New Place was finally earmarked for development.
Bell Corner to Sunnyside Gardens
Essex County Council in July 1914 bought two and a half acres of the New Place estate with a frontage of 200 feet on Cranham Lane from W P Griggs & Co. for £963 as a site for a new school to cater for the population growth after the building of the Upminster garden suburb from 1906. But during the war years or afterwards nothing happened until the impact of further housebuilding made the position unavoidable. In September 1926 the County Council’s plans got the go ahead, initially adding a temporary portable building on this site to accommodate 150 pupils in three classrooms, while permanent school buildings were being built. This new temporary school opened on 1 April 1927 followed a year later by the permanent buildings. “Upminster Council School”, known from the outset as “The Bell School” due to its location next to the Bell Inn, had six classrooms, each holding 50 children, and a central hall. Mr F J Cox, Headmaster of the old Boys’ School, was the first Headmaster for the older children up to the school leaving age of 14, with Miss M Jackman, headmistress of the old Girls’ & Infants’ School, head for the younger children. Further expansion was soon needed and more land was added from the adjacent High House and seven new classrooms each holding 40 pupils and an assembly hall, were finished in March 1932.
Between the school and what is now Sunnyside Gardens (but which was originally due to be named Argyle Gardens – West!) a parade of shops and businesses (numbers 160-170) was developed by their individual owners, which accounts for the lack of uniformity here.
Ernest Bramwell Humphreys, who had operated the chemists at 64 Station Road (now Govanis) since 1907, had by 1922 acquired a site for a second chemist’s shop at 160 St Mary’s Lane and that year submitted building plans for his new shop. A later occupier of the chemist’s premises was Elliott but by the 1960s Wyndham (Wyn) Shearn ran the chemist’s, living with his family in the large flat above the shop.
Also in 1922 Humphreys’ neighbour in Station Road the butcher William Tollworthy submitted plans for a new butcher’s at no 166. Within a few years this had been replaced by a fish shop, which it still remains.
Plans for a garage on the key corner site, at the junction of Sunnyside Gardens (now the Shell petrol station – number 168-170) were reported to be in hand in 1922 and building plans were approved by the Council in December 1923. The developer was a Mr Vernon Stanfield Knight, only 27 years old, originally from Evesham, Worcestershire and his origins may be the reason why the Birmingham firm of Messrs Satchwell and Roberts were employed to design the premises. Satchwell and Roberts specialised in cinema design which may explain the ornate design for the garage buildings! Knight’s involvement was short-lived and he was succeeded by new owners Douglas and Victor Natusch. Despite their foreign-sounding name the Natusch family had lived in and around London for over a hundred years before they came to Upminster. The Upminster Garage that was developed on the site offered a full range of motoring services from petrol, to car repairs, and including car hire and driving instruction, as well as arranging insurance – a true one-stop-shop!
Sunnyside Gardens to Tudor Gardens
In 1921 Canon Van Heenan of St Edwards Parish Romford, with the permission of the Catholic Bishop of Brentwood, acquired a site for a church and presbytery on the opposite corner of Sunnyside Gardens. Plans were approved in July 1922, and the following year saw the new buildings completed and the appointment of the first parish priest Fr Michael Healy in October 1923. These major steps enabled Upminster’s Catholic community to establish a thriving church in the parish for the first time but when cracks began to appear in the building’s structure around 1929 it was decided to seek another location. A new site was acquired at the corner of Champion Road in December 1931, with a temporary church built there the following year, allowing the Sunnyside Gardens site to be sold.
During the early 1930s the former church plot was developed as parade of shops and other retail premises. Sissley’s Cycles opened on the corner at Number 172, and next door at Number 174 was The Regent Café (now Kushoom Bugh, Indian restaurant), with Frank Rivetts & Sons Funeral Directors – now part of the larger T Cribb’s – at Number 174 for over 50 years.
Upminster’s new, purpose built telephone exchange opened in 1929 at numbers 180-182 replacing the original exchange which had operated above Green Stores in Station Road from 1922. The corner plot next to the exchange, on the corner of Tudor Gardens was originally the car park for the Capitol Cinema, but a few years later this became the premises of E.N. Giddens Brothers, Builders Merchants. The car park in later years was to the east of the cinema.
Tudor Gardens to New Place Gardens
The cinema boom of the 1920s, which gathered pace after “talkies” were introduced in 1927, saw large “picture palaces” seating thousands spring up all around London and its developing suburbs. Upminster’s cinema was built on the prime site at the junction of St Mary’s Lane and Tudor Gardens at a cost of £25,000 during the summer of 1929 and the 1,170 seat Capitol “Super-Cinema”, part of the DJ James circuit opened on Thursday 10 October 1929.
The cinema boasted a café, stage facilities with four dressing rooms and theatre goers were entertained by an organist playing a “John Compton Super-British Organ”. Admission prices ranged from 8d to 2s 4d with continuous performances from 2pm to 10.30pm. There were two programmes weekly, from Thursday to Saturday and Monday to Wednesday (no Sunday performances for many years). It became part of the Eastern Cinemas Ltd in 1937 and in February 1943 the Capitol was taken over by Odeon Theatres , and renamed the Odeon from August 1946. It was soon renamed the Gaumont from August 1949, as part of the Rank Organisation. Its closure as a cinema came on 5 July 1961 and was marked by a showing of “The Magnificent Seven” after which it was redeveloped and operated as a Top Rank bingo club before its closure in 1973 and demolition the next year. A Wallis supermarket was then built on the site, later rebranded Somerfield and now Waitrose.
The premises beyond the Capitol Cinema were developed on what originally had been the lawn and gardens of New Place, surrounded on the west and south by a watercourse, described as a canal in 1839, and on the east by the still-surviving moat. These properties seem to have a history in healthcare from the time they were built, as numbers 222 and 226 were the Upminster Nursing Home, under Miss G Smith, in the 1930s. This was a private nursing home in the days before the NHS covering a range of medical services, including maternity.
Another Nursing Home – St Mary’s Nursing Home under Miss F.H. Cobham, Principal – was listed at Number 224 in 1937 but by 1939 Drury & Archer’s Builders were based there. Ernest Drury and Albert Archer had originally operated from 217 St Mary’s Lane in the1920s opposite but by 1939 they had bought 224 and relocated their business there. This remained in the company’s ownership until the late 1970s or early 1980s when they both retired – Ernie Drury died in November 1982, aged 70.
Dr Angus Bain’s surgery and residence was at number 228. Dr Bain (1895-1978) was a Scotsman who qualified at Glasgow in 1923-and his house was named “Gowancroft” after his parental home in Stornaway. In addition to his Upminster practice he was also the Honourable Medical Officer of the Romford Victoria Hospital, Divisional Surgeon for the St John’s Ambulance Brigade and a Member of the British Medical Association. After retiring in the late 1960s, Dr Bain moved to Westcliff, and his former surgery became a children’s home, and is now a care home.
Sir James Esdaile’s grand mansion of New Place occupied the sites later developed as a clinic (Number 230 – currently being replaced by a development of nine flats) and the two shops, numbers 240-242, which were replaced by a block of nine flats seven years ago. Number 240 was built around 1930 as a dairy premises (and later sub-post office) for David Watt, a Scot whose family farmed at Brett’s Farm, Aveley. Next door at 242 was Stuart Ltd, hairdressers.
Following the sale and demolition of numbers 240-242 in 2010 archaeological excavations were carried out there which confirmed that an earlier New Place, probably dating from the 17th century, occupied the front of the site. Sir James Esdaile built New Place around 1775 to the south of the former building, forming an entrance drive over the footprint of the demolished house.
Upminster Parish Council bought the dilapidated New Place in 1924, demolishing the once-grand mansion and retaining the former stable block, known as Clockhouse as their offices. The previous parish office were operated by the Parish Clerk Albert Briebach from his house in Gaynes Road. The site also became home to the parish fire engine, initially a hand pump but from 1929 a grand modern engine. When Upminster became part of the Hornchurch Urban District Council in 1934 Clockhouse was converted to form a branch library, which it remained until the current library was opened in Corbets Tey Road in 1963.
By the time that the parish offices moved out in 1934 the remaining grounds of New Place, had become neglected and overgrown but work was put in hand and by July 1938 flower beds had been laid out. By February 1939 the moat had been cleared out, paths had been laid out but the fruit trees that had formerly formed an orchard had given way to the council workmen’s axes. The new gardens around the moat and island opened later in 1939 and soon became the popular spot that they remain today.
Beyond Clockhouse at Number 248 was an off licence, originally Pendrill’s in the late 1920s, superseded by T.A. Anglin -who had previously had a premises opposite.
Numbers 254 to 268 St Mary’s Lane received planning approval in 1923 and were built the following year. There were initially named 23 to 30 Upminster Grove, with the numbers running upwards from Cranham towards Upminster, but were renumbered as part of St Mary’s Lane in the early 1930s. Number 30 Upminster Grove (254 St Mary’s Lane) became the home of Bertie Mulley who started his builder’s business there in 1929. Bertie Frank Owen Mulley was born in Elmswell, Suffolk in 1893 and followed in the footsteps of his father Herbert Mulley, a builder and contractor. The business at 254, which has now also expanded to take over the adjacent 256, where the Mulley family lived, added undertaking in the 1930s, which became the company’s focus. B.F. Mulley & Son remains a family business, and the founder was succeeded by his son Raymond (Ray), who in turn was succeeded by his son Robert (Bob).
New Place Gardens to Argyle Gardens
The 16 houses between New Place Gardens and Argyle Gardens – now numbers 270 to 300 St Mary’s Lane – were completed between November 1920 and March 1921, with numbers 282-300 built initially, soon followed by the following six properties numbers 270-280. These houses were originally numbered 7 to 22 Upminster Grove, with number 7 (now 300) being on the corner of Argyle Gardens and St Mary’s Lane and number 22 The Grove (270) on the corner of New Place Gardens.
Argyle Gardens to the Cranham boundary
Presumably the original intention was for Numbers 1 to 6 Upminster Grove to be built from the corner of Argyle Gardens to the Cranham boundary but it seems likely that any plans for housing were replaced by retail development instead, although this was delayed until the current block (numbers 302-314) 1930s. The newsagents shop on the eastern corner of Argyle Gardens (Number 302 – now St Mary’s News) was originally Forbuoys Ltd in the late 1930s. Archibald & Ellen George bought the newsagents in 1945 and after World War Two ended, Ellen’s son Fred Grummitt and his wife Irené took over the running of the newsagents and sweet shop (then known as George’s) whilst Ellen and Archibald retired. By the early 1960s after Fred & Irene took over the ownership it became known as Grummitt’s. Fred retired a few years after Irene’s death in 1977 but the name Grummitt’s is how many older residents still know this shop.
Number 304 was originally a grocers run by Oswald & William Patchett, who post-war seem to have operated from number 306 next door and later diversified into removals. The eastern end of this parade, now Mason’s Upminster Car Sales (Numbers 312-314) marks the boundary between Upminster and Cranham, which runs south at the back of the gardens of the houses on the east side of Argyle Gardens, the former boundary of the New Place Estate.
Follow-up articles will cover the history of north side of St Mary’s Lane, and also explore the area around the cross roads at the centre of Upminster village.