Upminster Hall and its estate have a history that can be traced back almost a thousand years to before the Norman Conquest of 1066. Unlike Upminster’s other main manor, Gaynes, which frequently changed hands before it was split up and sold in 1929, Upminster Hall was owned by only two significantly owners – the monks of Waltham Abbey for over 450 years and the Branfill family for over 200 years.
The manor lay in the northern part of Upminster parish, and the main boundaries were what is now St Mary’s Lane to the south, the River Ingrebourne on the west, and on the east by the parish boundary with Cranham, with Hall Lane running up middle of the manor.
In 1060 Earl Harold Godwinson, soon-to-be the King Harold who died at the Battle of Hastings, endowed his newly-established Waltham Abbey with a number of manors, including Upminster Hall, which is why Upminster Hall was sometimes referred to as Waltham Hall in medieval documents. The estate remained in the hands of the Abbey after the Conquest and at the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086 it comprised 2 ½ hides and 40 acres of arable land (about 340 modern acres), which the monks had two ploughs (perhaps 16 oxen) to cultivate. The estate also had woodland assessed as being sufficient for 300 swine, roughly equivalent to 1,200 acres, over three times larger than the cultivated, arable manorial demesne. The manor’s male population (excluding the monks) totalled six villeins (who typically farmed 30 acres each), four bordars (with perhaps five to 10 acres each) and three landless serfs (or slaves); between them they had four ploughs for their fields and to carry out their obligations to the Abbot as the Lord of the Manor.
The Canons of Waltham Abbey continued to own Upminster Hall and estate for over four centuries and in around 1450 they are thought to have rebuilt the hall and its barn. In 1540, after Henry VIII’s break with the papacy, all church lands were confiscated, with Waltham Abbey being very last monastery in Essex to be dissolved. The displaced monks were pensioned off and their estates were sold, with the Crown getting the proceeds.
Upminster Hall was sold in 1543 for £848 8s 11d to Ralph Latham, a London goldsmith who also owned Gaynes and New Place in southern Upminster; he also had to pay an annual rent of £38 19s 8d to the Crown “for the keeping of thirty dogs or hounds”. Ralph Latham was succeeded in 1557 by his son William, who in 1594 sold to Roger James, a London mercer who died two years later. Upminster Hall and estate returned to the Latham’s ownership in 1628 when Ralph Latham, Serjeant of London, bought the estate from Roger James, the earlier Roger’s heir. In 1642 Latham sold Upminster Hall to Elizabeth Hicks, Lady Campden (d.1643) whose kinsman Edward Noel, Earl of Gainsborough sold the Hall and estate to Captain Andrew Branfill for £7,400 in March 1686.
Andrew Branfill’s descendants remained the owners for over 200 years but their links were weakened in 1881 when the last member of the family to live there, Col Benjamin Branfill, emigrated to New Zealand. After this Upminster Hall and 27 adjoining acres were tenanted. George Palmer Hope, an old Etonian and Cambridge-educated stockbroker, who had previously lived at Chase Cross House, Romford, was the tenant from 1886 until June 1895 when the retired Army Captain George Herbert Tayler Swinton (1852-1924) took on the tenancy. Swinton’s occupancy began not long after the death of his wife in Godalming, Surrey in 1894, leaving him with two children aged under five. His resident staff at Upminster Hall between 1901 and 1911 were a governess, a nursemaid, a parlour maid, cook and housemaid.
Benjamin Branfill died in New Zealand in 1899. His eldest son Champion Edward Branfill had died in 1890, so Benjamin’s grandson Champion Andrew Branfill (b. 1889) inherited the estate, which was managed by family Trustees as he was a minor.
Swinton had moved on by 1913 and at the start of World War One Upminster Hall stood empty. Like many properties it was later requisitioned by the War Office for military use. It served as the HQ of 49 Wing of the recently-formed Royal Flying Corps, commanding the local airfields of Suttons Farm (later RAF Hornchurch), North Weald Basset and Hainault Farm, under the Commanding Officer Capt Malcolm Christie. The HQ provided a variety of war-time employment for local women as cooks, drivers, clerks, typists, riggers and magneto repairers.
During the summer of 1920 the Branfill family’s long ownership of Upminster Hall finally ended when the Hall, surrounding parkland and the lordship of the manor were sold. The purchaser was Major Godfrey Pike (1886-1968), then of County Cork, Ireland, who had served in the Royal Army Service Corps during the war. After moving to Upminster Major Pike and his wife were active in the local community, with the Major serving as the Romford District Scout Commissioner and his wife in the Romford Division of the British Red Cross Society; both supported the Waifs and Strays Society, whose aims were similar to Dr Barnardo’s.
The Pike’s ownership was fairly short as in 1927 they relocated to the Ty-Mawr Estate, Breconshire in South Wales. In July that year their Upminster estate and 61 adjoining acres were sold by private treaty before they came to auction. It seems likely that the private purchasers were Upminster Estates Limited who offered the newly formed Upminster Golf Club an option on leasing the Hall while starting work on building their golf course. William Garbutt Key, Director of Upminster Estates and Vice-President of the golf club, who lived in Glen Caladh (now The Oaks, 28 Hall Lane), was an instrumental figure. His acquisition of the golf club’s final £1,500 shares enabled the project to proceed and Key’s company leased the clubhouse and six adjoining acres to the golf club for a peppercorn rent. In 1934 the club was able to buy these leases from Upminster Estates and they still remain the owners there.
Upminster Hall: buildings
Upminster Hall is Grade II* listed. Its interesting pattern of mismatched gables, both at the front and rear, give it a distinctive appearance but also suggest a complicated building history which has attracted a range of different interpretations.
An accurate assessment of the age of the Hall’s timbers would require tree-ring dating and without this evidence the date of the original parts of the Hall remains uncertain. The Victoria County History dates the Hall “certainly from the 16th and probably from the 15th century”, the architectural historian Pevsner opted for the 16th century, while the Royal Commission for Historic Monuments in 1923 settled for “the second half of the 16th century”. Clearly, the central timber-framed part of the Hall is the oldest, possibly built during the ownership of the Canons of Waltham Abbey in the mid-fifteenth century. Tree ring dating of timbers from the Hall’s adjacent large nine-bay barn, now mistakenly known as the Tithe Barn, were felled between 1423 and 1440, suggest a building date no later than 1450.
The original plan for the Hall may have resembled the timber-framed central aisle hall at nearby 15th century Tomkyns, which was a copyhold farm of the manor of Upminster Hall. At a later date, probably after the Canons were evicted, two cross wings were added to the central part of the Hall at its north and south ends; these have front-facing gables which bring light into the upper storey. The northern wing has been described as the “Solar Wing”, suggesting that a first-floor room was the owner or occupier’s private apartment. This may suggest that the first private owners, the Lathams, added these wings in the mid-16th century.
If the southern cross-wing was added at the same time as the northern wing then it seems to have been further altered around 1600 by the tenant George Wiseman. Wiseman had leased Upminster Hall in 1576 for 61 years from his kinsman William Latham, son and heir of Ralph Latham. Wiseman was a member of a recusant (Roman Catholic) family originating from Felsted and Wimbish. On his death in November 1603 Wiseman gave his wife Martha the use of “all the newe roomes on the soweth side of my said house for and during one whole yere nexte after my decease”.
More detail about the layout of the Hall in 1603 comes from a legal case about the inheritance of George Wiseman’s lease. Wiseman’s widow Martha was the daughter of William Strangman (d.1574) of Hadleigh Castle and the lease granted to her husband in 1576 appears to be Martha’s marriage portion or jointure. The buildings are described in documents from the case which indicate that, in addition to the original Hall, there was “a parlour called the great parlour and a room above it and a garret above the said room, another room called the cheese chamber and a room above it and a garret above the said room last mentioned, a buttery, a cellar, two kitchens called the old kitchen and the new kitchen, and a “boultinge house”, another part of the house called a milkhouse, a brewhouse, a larder and a room above the larder, and another parlour called the new parlour, another buttery and cellar adjoining the said parlour last mentioned, and another parlour called the old parlour with another buttery and cellar adjoining it, and a barn, a stable, and a room above the door there called the gatehouse chamber”. This description suggests that Wiseman’s recently built south wing included a “new kitchen” and “another parlour called the new parlour”, with an adjoining buttery and cellar.
It’s unclear what the reference to a “boultinge house” refers to. In the 1600s “boulting” usually referred to sifting flour through a cloth to remove the bran, a process typically carried out away from the mill itself. This explanation is perhaps more probable than an alternative suggestion that, given Wiseman’s Catholic faith, this may refer to a bolthole or priest hole, where recusant Catholics could hide when necessary; there may also be other meanings.
The fine staircase off the north-east corner of the hall has also been assessed of varying dates. The heritage listing and Pevsner suggest an early 18th century date, but the balusters and ornamentation in a variety of shapes on the stairs suggest to Tony Fox a 16th century date. It is probably no later than the 17th century, which is consistent with Wilson’s imprecise dating to the “age of Charles”.
The existing wing at the northern end of the house must have been added after 1789, as it isn’t shown on an engraving of Upminster Hall published in that year which shows only a premises with three bays. This extension may date from the early decades of the 19th century when Champion Edward Branfill made Upminster Hall his home. This matches Wilson’s comments that the “north end was … partly reconstructed” in the “second decade of the present century” (i.e. between 1810 and 1819).
The brick-built extension to the north-east, which includes what looks like staff accommodation and possibly a stable block, may similarly date from the 19th century remodelling and is shown on the 1842 Tithe Map. A fire in March 1852 destroyed stables which originally adjoined the north of this extension. Wilson’s 1881 account did not mention any further modifications to the Hall after these early 19th century additions and it seems unlikely that any changes were carried out after Benjamin Branfill emigrated.
One difficulty in assessing the building history of the hall is that there is no description of the premises after the 1603 case and no detailed map or plan until the Tithe Map of 1842. Chapman and Andre map of 1777 appears to show a reversed C shaped footprint, with wings projecting further forward from the central building than the existing wings do. However, the more accurate 1842 plan appears to show a footprint similar to that which still existed in the early 20th century.
In 1910 the Hall, which was then said to have nine bedrooms, three attics, and five receptions, was described as “old fashioned but picturesque” and the premises were said to be “in bad repair” with “defective drainage”. When Godfrey Pike bought the premises in 1920, he wasted no time in seeking approval to carry out additions and, although we have no evidence what these changes were, photographs from a few years later show the buildings in good repair, inside and out suggesting that some refurbishment had taken place since 1910.
When Pike offered the Hall for sale in 1927 it was described as having an entrance porch and lounge hall, four reception rooms, 12 bed- and dressing-rooms, three bath rooms, and “excellent offices”, including a servants’ hall. The entrance porch was said to be “a fine example of the Tudor period” and this led into the Tudor Lounge Hall with a stone block floor (“reminiscent of the ancient Monastic Dining Halls”) and now known as the Stone Lounge.
When Upminster Golf Club took over the lease in 1927 they converted Upminster Hall into their clubhouse over the next year or so. This probably included removing the dividing walls between the lounge and drawing room in the south wing and the Lounge Hall, changing the entrance from the front of the porch to the north side, and extending the dining room at the rear (this was considerably enlarged in later years). The golf club’s long stewardship of Upminster Hall since 1927 have ensured its preservation at a time when other historic timber framed buildings have failed to survive, and given it a contemporary, modern usage.
The monks of Waltham Abbey had their own chapel at Upminster Hall which survived for over two centuries after their departure. A surviving lease from the start of the 18th century described the chapel as having a parlour, a closet and other rooms, as well as a cellar. This chapel was a detached building just beyond the north-west corner of the Hall itself. The chapel had a font which stylistically can be dated to the 15th century – although it is unclear what uses the monks may have had for this. When the chapel was demolished in the 18th century the font was presented to St Laurence’s Church, where it is still in use. The church guide and other texts date the chapel’s demolition and the donation of the font to 1777, but that seems unlikely. While the demolition of the chapel and the font’s donation is credited to Champion Branfill, there is no indication which Champion Branfill this was. Wilson dated this to the mid-18th century, but he is also on record as stated that this was gifted by the first Champion Branfill I who died in 1738. An account in 1789 states that the chapel “was remaining within the memory of many now living” which does not suggests a recent date such as 1777, just 12 years before, when the Lord was Champion III who was aged only 13. While an alternative is his father Champion II who was Lord of the Manor from 1760 until his death in 1770, I’m inclined to believe that Champion Branfill I was the probable donor.
When the chapel was demolished “a vestige” of it “was inserted in the south end of the stables”, which were destroyed in the 1852 fire. In 1881 Wilson mentioned that an arched brick vault, which was probably under the old chapel, still existed in the garden, next to which was the site of an old cemetery. Wilson records that whole skeletons and other human bones had been unearthed – possibly those of the Waltham Abbey Canons who had retired to the hall. A skeleton was found in June 1947 by workmen excavating a sewer in the forecourt of the golf club. It is often said that the bowling green at the rear of the club house, established in 1949 and expanded a few years later, now lies over this graveyard but this seems unlikely.
In 1881 the area around the Hall still had extensive remains of fish ponds, considered to date back to the Canons’ ownership. To the north-east of the hall was a pond which Wilson described as “a beautiful and sequestered spot” containing gold and silver fish and which was once the favourite resort of Champion Branfill II (d.1770). The surviving expanse of water at the back of the Hall was said by Wilson as once forming part of the moat over which a rustic bridge had been erected in the late 1850s to link with a grass terrace on the other side. The terrace offered fine views of the surrounding countryside which are no longer visible as they are now masked by trees. Further water features were formerly found in a field to the south east of the hall that was named Five Ponds Mead, and a further large pond that fronted Hall Lane which was filled in after the development of the golf course.
The outbuildings in 1927 included “a very large Tithe Barn”, two cottages facing Hall Lane, and an entrance lodge to the south-west of the Hall, by the entrance on Hall Lane to the driveway leading to the Hall. Before the southern entrance and drive were added the main route to the Hall ran directly from Hall Lane to the central porch. This lodge and driveway appear to date from the early 19th century and were shown on the 1842 Tithe Map. The lodge itself was probably demolished and the pond filled in during the 1930s after the golf course opened, and the gates were incorporated into the entrance to Number 98 Hall Lane, where they can still be seen.
The so-called Tithe Barn remained as part of the Upminster Hall estate until 1935 when it was sold with adjoining fields to Hornchurch UDC, initially remaining in agricultural use. The barn which then had a corrugated iron roof which was only re-thatched in 1965, the same year that ownership passed to the newly formed London Borough of Havering. Arsonists set light to the thatch in 1973, but after it was again restored the Hornchurch & District Historical Society took over custody to use it as an agricultural and folk museum, which opened in 1976. It is now known as the “Upminster Tithe Barn, Museum of Nostalgia“, and in normal (pre-COVID) circumstances it is open to the public at weekend s throughout the summer.
Thanks to Tony Fox and Andy Grant for their help with this article.
For an article on the Upminster Hall manor and estate see link HERE
For the Branfill family at Upminster Hall see link HERE
Main Printed Sources:
The Upminster Local History Group: The Story of Upminster: Book 4 People of the Middle Ages (1958)
The Upminster Local History Group: The Story of Upminster: Book 5 The Branfills of Upminster Hall (1958)
Thomas Lewis Wilson Sketches of Upminster (1856) pp110-115
Thomas Lewis Wilson History & Topography of Upminster (1881) pp84-85, 182-189
Tony Fox Upminster Hall, its barn and estate (2002)
WR Powell “Upminster” in A History of the County of Essex: Vol 7 (1978) pp.143-163
Ian Tyers Tree-ring analysis of Upminster Tithe Barn, Greater London (Ancient Monument Laboratory Report 79 – 1997)
Hornchurch Urban District Council Report on parks and recreation grounds September 1961 (Havering Local Studies ref LC 711.558)
N.B. Meggs “Still used for sport: the story of Upminster Hall” Essex Countryside Vol 13 No 99 (April 1965) pp.358-359
Upminster Golf Club: The first fifty years (1928-1978)
“A Short Account of Upminster Hall” The Topographer Number III (June 1789)
Main Archive Sources
Essex Record Office:
- Manor of Upminster Hall – Court Books 1653-1862 – D/DEc 9/1 & 9/4
- Deeds of Upminster Hall 1686 – 1711 D/DM T83
- Deeds of Upminster Hall 1686 – 1701 D/DCq T1
- Sale Catalogue – Upminster Hall: 1927 SALE/A421
For the description of the Hall in 1603 see ERO catalogue entry Q/SR 165/86
The National Archives:
Prerogative Court of Canterbury Will: George Wiseman 1603 PROB 11/103
For information about the ownership of the Hall in 1603 see catalogue entry for Star Chamber case of Wiseman v Wiseman STAC 8/307/21