Upminster Common Revealed: Part 1 – Bird Lane and around Tylers Common

To the Victorian Census Enumerators the whole area to the north of Upminster parish – north of the line of what is now the A127, the Southend Arterial Road – was referred to as “Upminster Common”. In earlier times the whole of this part of Upminster was all common land governed by Upminster’s two manors, Gaynes and Upminster Hall, but over time much of it was progressively enclosed and farmhouses, cottages and small holdings were developed.

This article, and another one that follows, explores the area known as Upminster Common. To the west of Nags Head Lane was the part of the Common usually known as Gaynes Common or Upminster Mill Common (although shown on some early maps as “Upminster Common”), while to the east was Tylers Common, part of the manor of Upminster Hall.  Just to further confuse matters the manorial books of Upminster Hall and other document sources also seem to consistently refer to this eastern area as Upminster Common.

What may also come as surprise that the rural “Upminster Common” area of the parish, northwards from Upminster Hall, had a population of over 300 in 1841 living in over 60 separate dwellings – compared to the 337 living in 77 premises in the central part of the parish in the same year.

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Extract from Chapman & Andrew Map (1777)

Tylers Common lies north of Warley Road, and east of Nags Head Lane, with Stony Hills Farm on its east and Tylers Hall Farm to the north. In 1842 it comprised 76 acres of common land belonging to Upminster Hall Manor, whose tenants under the manorial system which continued into the 20th century had customary grazing and other rights.

As mentioned in the previous article on brickmaking “Tylers” is usually said to derive its name from the Old English words “tigel” and “hyrste” signifying a wood where tiles were made. According to Morant (1768) the best tiles and bricks in the area were made here.

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Tylers Common – Looking up Warley Road c.1904

Wilson wrote in 1856 that “not more than eighty years since it was a wood, and contained much timber” but this description isn’t reflected in Chapman and Andre’s map published in 1777 (see above). Wilson described the common as covered with furze but in 1911 George Tasker was less complimentary saying that it was covered with “coarse reedy grass hiding innumerable holes and small mounds over which the pedestrian stumbles if he departs from the beaten tracks”.

By all accounts, on a clear day in Victorian and Edwardian times the view from the common was extensive. To the south the “long line of the Thames and Kentish Hills” could be seen, as could the “spires of London” while to the west “Highgate and Hampstead Hills are distinctly visible” and it was still considered by Tasker in 1911 to be “worth traversing for the fine views it affords”. To me these days the Common is disappointing as the growth of vegetation in recent decades has obscured any views, and is no longer a venue worth a visit. The dubious reputation it acquired in 2011 for disreputable sexual encounters taking place in the car park only adds to this disappointing conclusion!

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Upminster Common, c.1908

In earlier times the common was noted for a mineral spring and well, referred to in certain guidebooks for its alleged medicinal qualities.  Located to the north-east of the common, just south of Tylers Hall Farm, it was first mentioned in 1699 by Benjamin Allen in his “History of the Chalybeat and purging waters of England” who recommended its medicinal properties for “agues and dropsies, the common diseases of the county”. The spring water probably issued from the junction between the gravel and the Claygate Beds which overlay Tylers Common’s London Clay bedrock. In 1734 Champion Branfill of Upminster Hall cleaned out the spring and lined it with brick but a century later it was said to “nearly filled with mud … and the water are both of a nauseous smell, but tasteless” . In 1856 Wilson wrote that “the fence has long since been destroyed, and the spring is nearly forgotten” and 25 years later stated that “it is now a somewhat difficult job to find it, although still in existence”.  By 1911 Tasker said it was railed in by a triangular fence and overgrown with bushes and the Essex Field Club reported that it was “brick-lined and surrounded by a wooden fence to keep cattle away” but was little more than “a depression in the ground with minor water seepage.”

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Artist’s impression of the well on Tylers Common 1890, with Tylers Hall Farm in the background

The common, one of the largest in Greater London, is now a public open space. Its survival as common land is thanks to a bitter dispute in 1951 which became known as the Battle of Upminster Common. Requisitioned in 1943 by the Essex War Agricultural Committee and ploughed to contribute to the war effort, on its release in 1950 the Essex County Council as the Lords of the Manor fenced it and leased it, in an attempt to enclose and extinguish the common. The proposed enclosure was fiercely opposed in Parliament by the MP for Hornchurch, Mr Geoffrey Bing with local support from Edward Luther, Edgar Fordham and Ben Cunningham.  Their campaign successfully resulted in the Minister for Agriculture in 1951 ruling that the county’s enclosure was illegal, as a result of which the Government Auditor surcharged the county council members for the enclosure costs – the first such surcharge. The commoners’ victory was celebrated by a commemorative stone erected opposite the Common where it can still be seen in a front garden.

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Stone commemorating the commoners’ victory in the “Battle of Upminster Common” in 1951

Tylers Hall is a large farm on the northern boundary of Tylers Common comprising some 198 acres in 1881. The timber-framed and weather-boarded farmhouse and out buildings are all Grade II listed, with the listed building description dating the farmhouse to the early 18th century and the outbuildings and barn to the same century.

It’s likely that originally the farm was enclosed from Tylers Common, from which it took its name. The farm formed part of Andrew Branfill’s purchase of the Upminster Hall estate from the Earl of Gainsborough in 1686.

Previous statements that Andrew Branfill’s daughter Mary (1696-1758), who married Captain John Redman in 1717, lived here appears to be incorrect. On his death in 1709 Andrew Branfill bequeathed Tylers Hall to his youngest son Andrew (1701-1750), who inherited it after his mother Damaris’s death in 1722, by which time he was 21 years of age.  It was Andrew Branfill who on his death in 1750 in turn bequeathed Tylers to his nephew John Redman (1730-1798), son of Captain John Redman and Mary Branfill.

Tylers Hall’s early eighteenth century dating can’t be verified from the documentary evidence but if correct it possibly coincides with Andrew Branfill junior’s ownership. He appears to have lived in part of the farm as a lease dated 1737 reserves to his use “two parts of the soller to ye North as is now divided”, three downstairs rooms to the east, three bedrooms above and two garret rooms. The wording “as is now divided” may suggest a recent modification to the buildings to create his private apartments. Andrew’s will drafted in 1748 mentions “all that part of Tylers Hall with the orchard, garden and appurtenances which I hold and enjoy for my own proper use”.

In 1751 John Redman carried out substantial renovations to his newly-inherited property when he engaged Thomas Bassett, bricklayer of Ingatestone to carry out work there, later claiming the works cost him £1000. Tylers probably served as Redman’s main country property until he bought Greenstead Hall in 1771, after which he divided his time between that property, Tylers Hall and his London homes at Hatton Garden and Mile End Green.  In 1797 Redman attempted (unsuccessfully it seems) to sell Tylers Hall Farm, then of 174 acres, along with the contents of his apartment which were described as a parlour, kitchen and diary, a back chamber, a right-hand and left-hand front chamber and a front and back garret – which matches the description of the rooms reserved for the owner 60 years previously.  There was also a brew house, cellar and yard with large stables and coach house.

Redman was quite a character!  He evidently had a poor regard for previous tenants as in his will in 1798 he enjoined his executors “to keep the Owners Apartment and land in hand to be a check on Shufling Sharping tenants, who are much disposed to impoverish the land”. He had earlier claimed that a previous tenant Skinner during the “Mad Brained American War” (i.e. the American War of Independence” let sub-the premises to “the Camp people” (presumably the Army) during which time “The farm (was) poisoned with Weeds, Twitch, Robbed of the Wood and a General Devastation appeared”.

Redman’s wife Mary Smith died soon after giving birth to their daughter Mary Smith Redman in September 1764. Five years later Redman married again to an Ann Bates, but the marriage was an unhappy one and in 1784 they resolved to live separate lives. Redman was also a revolutionary, and associate of the radical MP Charles James Fox, to whom he bequeathed 500 guineas in his extraordinary and curious will in which he styles himself a “Citizen of the World”.  Tylehurst Lodge Farm, as Redman describes it, was devised to “the eldest son of my second cousin, Mr Benjamin Branfill, on condition that he, the eldest son takes the names Redman”. However, this doesn’t seem to have happened and instead Tylers was inherited by his grandchildren, the sons of his daughter Mary Smith Redman and her husband the Craven Ord (1759-1832).  One of those who inherited Redman’s considerable estate was their son the Rev Craven Ord (1785-1836), Vicar of St Mary-de-Wigtoft, Lincoln from 1809 to 1836 after whose death his properties were held in trust by his executors.

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Tylers Hall Farm c.1912

In 1842 Tylers farm comprised some 149 acres and was occupied by Thomas Brown. Like other properties inherited by the Ord family it was in the late Victorian period bought and farmed by Joseph Lescher of Boyle Court, Great Warley.

The land to the east of Tylers Common, and south-east of Tylers Hall down to Warley Road formed part of Brick House Farm or Stony Hills. This lay partly in Great Warley, with 48 acres in Upminster, and was the property of the Clothworkers’ Company of London. The Upminster part of the farm is now bisected by the M25 and the western part is now a public open space called Tylers Wood from which there are excellent views over London.

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View looking towards London from Tylers Wood public open space, Summer 2018

As the farm name suggests this area was formerly a brick field as evidenced by the field names which include Clay Pits and Kiln Field and in 1881 there was still evidence of a brick kiln “crumbling away”. This was another farm held by Arthur Shuttleworth for nearly 50 years in the Victorian era and later by Lescher.

South of Warley Road was Great Readings Farm, which according to Wilson was formerly known as Smiths. It was owned by Harman Browse, a Mile End merchant who had married Andrew Branfill’s daughter Elizabeth in 1703, and after her husband’s death in 1718 Elizabeth Browse continued to live there until her death in 1752 when  Browse’s properties passed to their four surviving daughters. One of these Elizabeth Browse had married Charles English in 1725, and their son Thomas English of Brentwood (1735-1808) inherited a quarter share of Browses properties from his widowed mother; by 1774 English had acquired the other three-quarter shares inherited by his three aunts. After English’s death in 1808 these properties passed to his cousin Admiral John Child Purvis (1747-1825), a respected contemporary of Nelson with a long and distinguished naval career which is the subject of a published biography (“Admiral of the Blue: the life and times of Admiral John Child Purvis 1747-18” by Iain Gordon, Pen & Sword, 2005).

Joseph Giblin farmed there in the late 1700s and early 1800s, Thomas Alexander farmed 48 acres there from 1829 until Eliza Shuttleworth and her son Daniel took over.

From Readings a footpath ran south west to Suttons Farm on the eastern side of Bird Lane. According to Wilson this seems to have formerly known as Birds, but to add further confusion it was named as Browns on the Tithe Map.  The the late Frederick Sutton was named as the owner by Wilson in 1881 and in 1910 it was owned by Mrs Sutton so its current name no doubt derived from that family. In 1881 Suttons comprised some 14 acres occupied by Mr David Cornwell; Charles Fielder was in occupation in 1910.

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Map of Tylers Common & surrounding areas. Reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office (C/T 388)

Great Tomkyns Farm (often previously spelt as Tomkins) comprised around 35 acres west of Bird Lane, plus two fields on the other side of the road north of Suttons and west of Readings known as Great and Little Socketts.  The Grade II* listed farmhouse is one of Upminster’s oldest surviving buildings and is described in “The Buildings of England” as “a good example of a C15 yeoman’s hall house with exposed timber framing; two-storey jettied wings to W and E, the earlier E one with arched braces.” According to the same source the farm’s thatched and weather boarded barn is “datable to C13 or C14” and ”unusually it has a complete set of carpenters’ marks which follow a circuit round the building, suggesting the order of assembly.”

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Great Tomkyns, early 1930s.

Unfortunately the original building date for Great Tomkyns farmhouse or later additions can’t be proved, as an analysis of timber samples in 1997 was unable to produce any useful dating evidence.  A similar study of the Upminster Tithe Barn in the same year found that the timbers there were felled between 1423 and 1440, and considered that there is a “close stylistic affinity” between that barn and the Great Tomkyns Barn and that this early 15th century date range “can perhaps be used as a guide to the construction of the Great Tomkyns Barn”.  As at that time both Tomkyns and the Upminster Hall estate were in the hands of the monks of Waltham Abbey, these enhancements may perhaps have formed a planned improvement to their holdings.

Ownership can be traced back to 1612 when Robert Frith succeeded his father Thomas Fryth as owner. Great Tomkyns was a copyhold farm of 30 acres of land and meadow plus other small parcels totaling a further 16 acres. After several changes of ownership in the seventeenth century Tomkyns was bought in 1662 by the Templer family, who still owned it in 1699 when it comprised 48 acres plus a further 25 acres on the north side of Tylers Common. It was bought in 1704 by Harman Browse, and as mentioned above after Thomas English’s death in 1808 Tomkyns passed with other properties to his cousin Admiral John Child Purvis.

Tomkyns remained in the Purvis family’s ownership for several successive generations into the twentieth century, during which time the farm and farmhouse was let to tenants. Arthur Shuttleworth succeeded William Jex as the tenant farmer in the 1840s and remained there until his death in January 1873, when his widow Eliza Lydia Shuttleworth (nee Maling) took over.  By the early 20th century the house was tenanted while the farm was leased to a local farmer.  One house tenant from around 1907 to 1909 was Horace Newte, now forgotten but a well-known author in the Edwardian period. Newte drew on his own experiences in his writing and in his novel “The Lonely Lovers” (1909) included a description of what was then called “Moat Farm”

It was a typical Essex farmhouse, built of lath and plaster; its skeleton of stout oak beams followed the original configuration of the trees from which they had been hewn; the gables at either end (the eaves of which projected some inches from the wall below) seemed consumed with a desire to turn and see how the other was getting on. At right angles to the house, and facing the road, was a decrepit thatched barn.

Two tall sentinel poplars stood on the lawn in front of the house, and as if its situation were not sufficiently isolated, it, the lawns, and much of the adjacent grounds were surrounded, first, by a thick growth of trees, then, as if this were not enough to make for privacy, by wide ponds and contributory streams, which encircles them as might an indifferently fashioned moat”

A century after the Purvis family inherited this farm, which was managed by tenants, members of the family came to live on their property in the early 20th century, adding a property known as Upminster Cottage to the south of the ancient farmhouse.

Emery’s Farm is the final farmhouse, on the western side before the northern stretch of the former Bird Lane was renamed as Tomkyns Lane in 1968 after the improvements to the A127 a few years earlier divided Bird Lane into two discrete roads. The farm was initially comprised just 11 acres of copyhold land bought by Andrew Branfill in 1707, who as Lord of the Manor of Upminster Hall, made this freehold before his death in 1709.  Like Tylers Hall it then passed to his youngest son Andrew (1701-1750), who left it in 1751 to John Redman, and to Rev Craven Ord. By 1856 it had been sold to William Worrin of Brentwood, who was still the owner in 1881. Joseph Hawkins was the occupier from before 1831 until the 1870s, although in 1851 Hawkins was described as farming just 5 acres, employing one man and a boy.

A second part of this article will follow shortly covering Gaynes Common, the area west of Nags Head Lanes and the farms and properties on either side of Hall Lane, north of the A127.

 

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