Big houses and farms around Corbets Tey

The two previous items about Corbets Tey have looked at the village and the area around Hacton. This third piece looks at four large houses and farms around the village centre, three of which still survive, and shines a light on Upminster’s ancient origins.

We start at the Grade 2 listed Harwood Hall, which was built in 1782 by Sir James Esdaile for his son-in-law George Stubbs (1738-1808), who had married Esdaile’s daughter Mary five years previously.  Stubbs was a London solicitor, not to be confused with his contemporary of the same name – the famous painter of horses.  Andrew Wilson, a carpenter and an expert in constructing circular and cylindrical staircases, was employed to superintend the works at Harwood Hall. His grandson, Upminster’s historian T.L. Wilson, believed that Harwood Hall’s main staircase was an example of his work.

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Harwood Hall from the lake in the early 1920s

Harwood Hall is one of a number of ancient sites in southern Upminster. In 1962 excavations of a field directly west of Harwood Hall uncovered ancient ditched enclosures which were identified as a Romano British farmstead, which had been occupied throughout the first century and again in the third century.

According to T.L. Wilson among the outbuildings of Harwood Hall “some portions of the old house remain, which by their massive timbers attest their antiquity”. The previous house had been called Harwards in 1704 when it owned by Mrs. Mary Doe and comprised a copyhold tenement and 15 acres occupied by Jenour Sedgewick, a local lawyer.  Mary Doe died in 1720 and in both 1725 and 1729 Harwards was owned and occupied by Samuel Doe, from whom it was bought in 1732 by Richard Molineux, a London merchant and needlemaker, who seems to have been Doe’s brother-in-law. Molineux came from a prominent Wolverhampton family, after whom the local football stadium takes its name. He acquired the freehold in 1748, along with other lands, 40 acres in total and on his death in 1762, his widow Sarah inherited. When Sarah died in 1770 these estates passed to her sister Margaret Molineux of Wolverhampton who in February 1771 received approval from the manor court to sell the premises It’s likely that Sir James Esdaile then became the owner.  Thomas London senior was the occupier there from 1770 to 1781 before Esdaile’s major redevelopment.

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Harwood Hall c.1907

By 1808, when George Stubbs died, the Harwood Hall estate extended to some 59 acres, let at a rent of £70 per annum. When the premises were put up for sale by the Esdaile family in 1819 the Hall was described as “a handsome dwelling house … with extensive offices and every accommodation for a large and genteel family”. It had “five good attics, seven principal bed rooms and closets, entrance hall, dining room, two drawing rooms, communicating by folding doors, large kitchen, housekeeper’s room, servants hall and scullery”. There was also a separate “brewhouse and dairy, laundry with granary and dove house over” together with a double coach house, stabling for twelve horses, a barn, cow-house and poultry house. There was a lawn at the front, a “capital kitchen garden” and a fine timbered park-like meadow and plantation adjoining, in all just over 21 acres.  An adjoining large 20-acre arable field was let separately, as was “the remainder of Harwood Hall Farm”, a further 23 acres to the south: all (apart from the house itself) were leased to Henry Blackman.

At auction on 17th September 1819 the purchaser was Philip Zachariah Cox Esq who lived at Harwood Hall from 1820 until his death in 1858. The heritage listing indicates that Harwood Hall was altered in the Gothic style around 1840, presumably by Cox – it’s possible that the alterations included adding the battlements. Wilson recorded that the stone portico over the front door, and a billiard room at the east end, forming the wings, were brought from Great Myles, in Kelvedon Hatch after it was demolished in 1837.

The Tithe Award in 1842 shows Cox occupying the Hall and 13 acres surrounding, including lands opposite, which had formerly been part of Gaynes Park. A further 60 acres owned by him, directly to the south, were leased to Thomas Wade Towson, who also farmed at Little Sunnings (see below).

Cox and his wife had no surviving children and on his death in 1858 he bequeathed Harwood Hall to a relation Arthur Zachariah Button (1814-70), who assumed the name of Cox; his infant son Arthur Philip Cox succeeded him.

Like many of Upminster’s major houses Harwood Hall often had tenants in the Victorian period. It was advertised to let “furnished” in 1862 and Henry Holmes JP, owner of the Hornchurch Brewery, lived there from after his 1863 marriage until he moved with his family to his newly-built home at Grey Towers, Hornchurch in 1876 – perhaps the battlements at Grey Towers were inspired by those at Harwood Hall?

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Harwood Hall in the 1920s

Harwood Hall, with its sitting tenant John George Chidley, was offered for sale in 1881 in two parts. The house and 21-acre grounds were sold separately from the 45-acre Harwood Farm which was bought by J C Havers for £2400. The owner of the farm in 1910 was Edward Clark.

Harwood Hall was again on the market in 1897 when it was bought for £3,800 by Herbert Platten, a London stockbroker, who moved from Cranbrook Road, Ilford with his wife and two young daughters. They lived in some style, with a parlour maid, cook, a housemaid, a kitchen maid, plus a coachman who lived at the entrance lodge and a gardener who lived in a cottage there on census night 1901, with several guests staying with them. When Herbert Platten died in 1917 aged just 58 he was worth around £74,000. His wife Kate survived him by seven years and on her death in 1924 the entire contents of Harwood Hall were sold at auction.  The occupier during the 1920s and 1930s was William Grant Fiske, an American citizen, who was the Managing Director of a Paper Board Company – like the Plattens he also lived in the upper-class style befitting his Upminster home.

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Harwood Hall in the 1950s

Claude Mead (1904-1990), described in 1939 as a Builders’ Merchant and Gravel and Sand Pit Owner, lived at Harwood Hall by the 1950s and established an equestrian centre to the south, which today occupies a 70-acre site. Harwood Hall itself and surrounding grounds was converted into the present-day Oakfield’s Montessori School, which opened in 1993 and Derham House Care Home was built over 20 years ago to the south of the school.

London’s House stood just north of Corbets Tey village on the Gaynes side of Corbets Tey Road, where London’s Close now stands. The house itself was built on land which was formerly part of the Gaynes estate, whereas the 54-acre London’s Farm and associated farm buildings were on the other (east) side of the road. It took its name from the village physician Dr Thomas London (c.1758-1819), who took over the farm around 1804, after living nearby in High House from around 1788. His father Thomas London (c.1724 -1798) had at various times occupied Hacton House and Harwards.

The farm was certainly owned by the Esdaile family as part of the Gaynes Estate in 1799 and like other local farms had presumably been acquired by Sir James Esdaile. Although Esdaile is usually credited with having built London’s House itself it only seems to have acquired the name “London’s” shortly before 1819, when it was described as “a farm now called London’s Farm”.

The Gaynes estate map of 1752 shows London’s Farm as “Mr Stamper’s lands”. John Godfree or Godfrey, who married Ann Stamper, widow at Upminster in 1766 was the occupier until his death in 1777; Ann, widowed for the second time, took over after that. Philip Storey was the farmer there from 1785 until his death in 1804 when Thomas London Junior took over the lease; Thomas Curtis occupied the farm in 1819.

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London’s House in the early 1920s

When the main Upminster builder, Samuel Hammond bought London’s Farm in 1819 the house was described as a “substantial brick-built house with two attics and closet, two good bedrooms and closets, two front parlours, a back parlour, kitchen, washhouse and cellaring”. It was later bought before 1841 by Thomas Price (c.1783-1860) and after his widow Anna died in 1872, it was sold in 1874 for £4,000. The new owner was 22-year-old Hubert Adkin Gilliat who incorporated the farm back into the Gaynes estate, which he had earlier bought for £15,000. Gilliat proceeded to set up a dairy farming business, investing a further £4,000, but his venture ran into problems and he sold to Henry Joslin in January 1878.

London’s seems to have been successively let to tenants, with a nautical instrument maker, a chief bank clerk and a “gentleman” heading the households in the 1891, 1901 and 1911 census returns.  The Gaynes Sale Catalogue in 1929 records that a Stanley Orr had leased the house and surrounding gardens since June 1916 but his name does not seem to appear in other Upminster sources.

In 1900 Upminster Parish Council bought two and a half acres of the eastern part of the farm from Joslin in order to establish a cemetery, as the churchyard at St Laurence’s was almost full. The parish council received approval from the Local Government Board in October 1900 to borrow £2,600 for these works and the new Upminster Cemetery opened on 9 May 1902.  The South Essex crematorium was opened immediately to the west in 1957 and was enlarged in 1961–2.

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Corbets Tey Cemetery in the early 1920s

After Henry Joslin died in November 1927, London’s was sold at auction as part of the Gaynes Estate in July 1929. The house formed one lot and a 14-acre plot opposite, south of the stream towards Corbets Tey village, was sold as building land. It was here that Meadowside Close was built on the northern part of the farm in the 1930s, with Huntsman Drive and The Glade added after the Second World War. Vasil Motors was opened to the south of the site before 1937 – this is now Allen Ford. The eastern part of the farm comprising 33 acres, was sold separately.

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Vasil Motors, Corbets Tey Road c.1936

London’s House was occupied in 1939 by William Grant Fiske (1913-1981), whose father of the same name, owned Harwood Hall. It was demolished around 1961 and London’s Close was built on the site before 1963.

We now concentrate on two farms east of the Corbets Tey centre. Sunnings Lane, formerly known as the Green Lane, continues south from the right-angle bend in Ockendon Road. Wilson referred to it in 1856 as the footway to Stifford, rather than the current main road route through North Ockendon, which Sunnings Lane meets in South Ockendon, via a slightly shorter route. On either side of the lane stand two farmhouses of ancient origins.

Great Sunnings, which stands back from the road on the east side of Sunnings Lane, is one of the oldest farmhouses in the parish, dating back to the 17th century. The heritage listing confirms it to be timber-framed, of two storeys with a central three-storey cross gable.  Wilson wrote that there was “abundant evidence of its antiquity in the panelling that lines the walls of several of the rooms and the ironmongery of the doors”. This panelling still existed in 1923 when the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments recorded that one room on the ground floor, and three on the first floor were panelled in oak, with carved mantelpieces dating to around 1600. Unfortunately, after the last war, much of this was shipped to the USA, along with a fine Adam fireplace.


Panelling and fireplace at Great Sunnings (1880) – from T L Wilson “History & Topography of Upminster”

Archaeological excavations in 1983, in advance of gravel extraction, revealed ample evidence of a settlement here, possibly in continuous occupation from the early Iron Age up to around 100 AD in the early Roman period. There is also evidence of Roman field systems, arable farming, weaving and livestock farming, and cremation burials.

The written evidence from surviving title deeds begin with a transfer of land in 1490 and show that in the late 16th century the premises and its 45 acres were in the possession of the Frith family who owned other estate in Upminster, Rainham and elsewhere.  References in the sequence of deeds from 1606 onward describe this estate as New Sunnings, while other early documents refer to the estate as Sonnings. Robert Frith, who probably lived there, sold the farm in 1630 to John Tuthill, whose father had taken the lease four years earlier. It then passed through several hands and by the early 18th century was owned by Daniel Dodson of Lincoln’s Inn, on whose death in 1741 it was inherited by his nephew George Dodson. It was then farmed by Oliver Willows or Willis, who was succeeded as tenant in 1745 by John Wood.  George Dodson’s widow Mary inherited it, on his death in 1766, and she sold it to Daniel Russell soon afterwards. The farm comprised 51 acres in 1842 and by 1910 had grown to some 136 acres, with the incorporation of fields to the south from the Stubbers estate.

Sunnings remained in the ownership of the Russell family and their descendants for almost two centuries. The farm was bounded on the west by the Green Lane, now Sunnings Lane, on the north by Ockendon Road, and to the east by Stubbers Lane, which marked the boundary between Upminster and North Ockendon. The current route of Stubbers Lane dates from 1814 when it was moved westwards as part of a major reconfiguration of the Stubbers Estate.

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Great Sunnings – north front – early 1920s

One of the fields on Stubbers Lane was called Potash Field in 1842 and it is interesting to note that in the 1780s and 1790s the farmer was also rated separately for potash. The making of potash for use as fertiliser was once a common local rural industry in Essex but largely died out by the early Victorian period, as the availability of other commercial fertilisers became more widespread.  Potash was historically made by collecting green wood cuttings and other plant matter and burning it on flat ground. Potash makers also collected wood ashes from households for miles around, as most houses had wood fires and needed to dispose of the ashes. An Upminster potash maker, William Freeman, who died at Stapleford Abbots in 1751 after falling under the wheel of his wagon, may well have been collecting ashes there for this purpose.

The potash-making process involved filling large tuns with ashes, through which water was run to extract potassium-containing salts, and then collected in another large vat set into the ground. A serious of further processes followed before potassium was ready for sale. The residue of the fine powdery ashes was also often sprinkled directly over the fields and the potassium salts would leach out when it rained.

It was in Potash Field, opposite the junction where the Ockendon Road turns sharply east towards Stubbers and North Ockendon that William Russell built the premises known as Flint House in 1790. So called as its exterior was rendered in large flint nodules, this building survived into the 1960s.

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Great Sunnings – South Front in the early 1920s

The farm bailiff for the Russell family at Great Sunnings from the mid-1860s to his death in 1913 was the Wiltshire-born Isaac Matthews Gay, who moved there from Barking where his elder brother William was a market gardener.  The Gay brothers seem to have been innovative farmers. This was recognised in 1881 when Isaac won a prize given by the Royal Agricultural Society for creating a ‘new model’ in market-gardening – with the first prize awarded to his brother William.

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Isaac Matthews Gay (front right) and his brother Jesse (centre) outside Sunnings c.1910. Image reproduced thanks to the Friends of Upminster Windmill

Isaac Gay was evidently a popular figure locally as when the elections for Upminster’s parish council were held in 1894, he topped the poll of the 19 candidates with 103 votes. His local links were strengthened two years later when his daughter Anne Catherine married Alfred James Abraham, the miller at Upminster Windmill – the couple and their two daughters Grace and Emily lived with Gay at Sunnings. When Isaac Gay died at Sunnings in 1913 he was succeeded as the farmer by his nephew John William Gay until just before World War 2.

Three cottages known as Gays Farm Cottages, built for local labourers in the 1880s or early 1890s, still survive, standing south of the farmhouse, almost opposite the entrance to Little Sunnings.

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Gays Cottages – Sunnings Lane c.1912

Sunnings was unexpectedly in the news for all the wrong reasons in 1999 when printer Ken Mainstone, along with other associates, pleaded guilty to being members of a gang which ran the largest counterfeiting operation ever discovered in Britain. Between 1994 and 1998 they had flooded the country with fake banknotes with a face value of £50m – two thirds of the fake money in circulation in Britain at that time. Mainstone, who also ran a legitimate printing business, Intech Graphics in Hornchurch, printed the counterfeit notes using a sophisticated four-colour printing press in an outbuilding at his home at Great Sunnings. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison at Winchester Crown Court in March 2000.

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Sunnings Lane – looking north towards Great Sunnings Farm Barn c.1907

Little Sunnings, more commonly called Sullens, stands on the opposite, west, side of Sunnings Lane. Also known as Old Sunnings, this estate may well pre-date the fifteenth century origins of New or Great Sunnings.

The house itself a Grade 2 listed timber-framed house dated to the 16th century with early 19th century additions. The main part was originally a hall-house of two bays and two storeys, and an early 19th century two storey cross-wing, which apparently incorporates part of an earlier structure.

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Sullens Farm – in the early 1920s

Little is known about the origins and early ownership of Little Sunnings are unknown. The Gaynes manorial records indicate that this copyhold estate of around 40 acres comprised three former holdings: Old Sunnings itself, also known as Hackfields or Hackfords, was a messuage and 15 acres of lands, a croft called Melmans had another 15 acres of land, while a tenement named Holcrofts had an associated eight acres.

Richard Frith, yeoman, was the owner in 1592 and his will indicated that he lived in the “capital messuage … known by the name of Hackforde”, which contained 25 acres and that he also owned “one little tenement adjoining known as Mealemans” of an estimated 15 acres. His widow Margaret inherited these.

What we next know is that the late 17th century owner was one Philip Macham, said to be of Whitechapel but who was buried at the now-demolished St Olave, Southwark in 1692. In his will in May that year Macham bequeathed the estate to the Worshipful Company of Feltmakers who were to pay each year out of the rentals of the estate an annuity of one pound each to “20 decayed hatmakers”, with a further annuity of £5 payable to his kinswomen Katherine Parsons for life, and after her death there were to be five more hatmaker beneficiaries.  Macham’s will indicates no obvious links to hat making or to the Company of Feltmakers but a history of the company says that he was a pawnbroker whose Borough High Street premises were regularly patronised by local hatmakers, who pawned fur used in hat making. Macham made much money from these transactions and, realising that hatters often had difficulty making a living in old age, made his bequest to the Company to assist them.

Sullens was farmed by tenants for the Feltmakers’ Company. Robert Nettleton was the farmer there in the first decades of the 18th century and John Wood was tenant in 1749. According to Wilson one Creighton Horne carried on a distillery there – he may have been Creighton Frances Horne, a glass maker of Whitechapel who died in 1779, or a close relation.

In 1842 Sullens comprised just over 40 acres. Thomas Wade Towson was then the farmer and he carried on there as market gardener until around 1849, when he took the farm at Little Thurrock Hall. Thomas Alston succeeded Towson, remaining there until 1869. Later tenants included Israel Battson, James Edwards and Charles Rogers before Alfred Knight took on the tenancy in around 1900. After Alfred’s death in 1918 his brother Walter Knight of Park Corner Farm carried on there.

In February 1921 the Feltmakers’ Company bought the freehold of this previously copyhold estate and in June the same year the Charity Commissioners gave them approval to sell it. The tenant Walter Knight bought Sullens for £2700 and after his death in 1928 it remained in the Knight family, who sold it to Thomas Blade in 1935, with the Knights remaining as tenants. Walter John Knight (1888-1973), who was a market gardener and fruiterer there, married Annie Aggiss in 1909. Annie was the daughter of William (“Billy”) Aggiss, who established the Chestnuts Garage in central Upminster before the First World War. The Knights sold some of their produce from a stall nearby in Station Road, Upminster. Their son Eric Knight (1917-2010) continued as the tenant at Sullens until his death. Macham’s charity existed until 1996, over three hundred years after Philip Macham’s bequest.

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Map of the four houses & farms described in this article: Harwood Hall, London’s, Great and Little Sunnings. Map (c) Andy Grant 2020

Thanks to Tony Fox, Andy Grant and Simon Donoghue for their support & help with this article.

The fourth & final article on south Upminster covers Chafford Heath and the farms in the south of the parish. 

Main Printed Sources:

Thomas Lewis Wilson Sketches of Upminster (1856) pp 86-87, 91-92 & 95

Thomas Lewis Wilson History & Topography of Upminster (1881) pp 154-155, 161-163 & 167

The Story of Upminster Book 3 pp 10, 16 & 17

Pamela Greenwood, Dominic Perring and Peter Rowsome  From Ice Age to Essex: a history of the people and landscape of east London (2006) particularly pp34-36

Isca Howell and others Archaeological landscapes of east London Museum of London Archaeology Monograph 54 (2011) pp 51-57

Kenneth Marshall The excavation of a ditched enclosure site at Corbets Tey The Essex Naturalist Vol 31 (1962-1966) pp 118-131

Tim Bouquet Who’s printing all this money? Readers Digest (September 2000, pp 92-98)

Main Archive Sources

Essex Record Office:

  • Manor of Gaynes – Court Books 1678-1847 – D/DZb 1 & 2
  • Sale Catalogues – Harwood Hall 1881 (D/DJn E1); 1891 (T/P 221/1), 1897 (T/P 221/23);
  • Sale Catalogues – Gaynes Estate: 1808 (D/DHt E183); 1819 (D/DRu 18/31); 1929 (SALE/A1047)
  • Deeds of New (Great) Sunnings Estate – D/DRu T1/165-210
  • Upminster Tithe Apportionment 1841 – D/CT 373A
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1 Response to Big houses and farms around Corbets Tey

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