Upminster: The Story of a Garden Suburb – 25 years on

It hardly seems possible that it is now 25 years since Upminster: the Story of Garden Suburb was launched with a book signing in the Roomes Store on Station Road, Upminster on Saturday 9th November 1996.

What had started in the spring of 1992 as helping my son with his school Year 7 local history project, quickly blossomed into a full-blown local history study of how Upminster had developed as a Garden Suburb from 1906 onwards and the later building developments in the first half of the early 20th century. The project took on wings when two years later in May 1994 I was introduced to Albert Parish, then aged 79, who had started work as a trainee with Gates & Son, chartered surveyors and estate agents in 1930, and had risen by 1945 to take over the firm, now named Gates, Parish & Co. Albert had a wealth of experience about Upminster’s development, a great store of personal memories about the people and characters of the town plus an intimate knowledge of Upminster’s housing stock.

From February 1995 onwards I was sharing draft chapters with Albert for his comments, and his initially cautious interest in my project began to blossom as he realised that it was important that his valuable memories should be captured before it was too late. His extensive notes about the development of Upminster in the 1930s and his memories about the sequence of traders in the parade of shops in Upminster’s Station Road led to two interesting chapters containing much that had never previously appeared in print.   My own researches at the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford, The National Archives at Kew and the Havering Local Studies Library at Romford, provided considerable archive material for Upminster’s early 20th century development as a garden suburb, and specific topics such as education.  Local press reports proved invaluable.

Correspondence with Albert Parish were still underway, although drawing to a close, when in March 1996 came the sad news of his sudden death at the age of 81. Albert had pledged financial support for the book’s publication and his widow Joan and son David kindly confirmed their commitment and indicated that they wished the work on getting the book into print to carry on.  They also provided further contacts, two of which proved particularly fruitful.

I progressed the search for illustrations alongside completing my research and writing the remaining chapters. My Upminster postcard collection was still in its infancy but growing quickly and many contacts allowed me to take copies of photos or postcards in their collections. I had decided to try self-publishing: affordable desktop publishing options had not yet evolved and I used the now long-obsolete WordPerfect word processing software to lay out my text for the printer to use and to drop in illustrations in the spaces provided.  The finished work ran to 180 pages, arranged into 11 chapters with over 80 photos and illustrations. As agreed with Albert, his name appeared alongside mine as one of the joint authors: “Tony Benton with Albert Parish”.

I chose for the cover one of my favourite postcard images, a 1930s view looking east towards the Bell Inn and down St Mary’s Lane. I chose green as the main surrounding cover colour to represent the green nature of the garden suburb.

Cover Image – original 1996 edition

The initial print run was 1,500 copies, of which 250 were provided to the Parish family. Within three weeks sales had reached 1,000 mainly through Roomes (which in those days still had a Book Department), Swan Libraries, Horner’s newsagent’s stall in the entrance hall at Upminster Station, plus various direct sales stimulated by limited local marketing and other reviews and publicity.  A reprint of 750 further copies was ordered within four weeks of the publication date of 9th November 1996. 

The project was not without some problems.  Quality control issues at the printers meant that some volumes had a block of missing pages, while others had a block of pages duplicated requiring replacement copies to be issued.  There were also some problems with the colour of the green cover, which was inconsistent across some copies, and also prone to fade easily. A few typos and minor errors which had slipped through the copy-editing process were soon noted. But without a doubt it was well-received, particularly among older residents and as a bonus it turned in a small profit. All copies had been sold within about a year but at that time there was no obvious demand to justify a further reprint.

Roll forward 10 years and “Garden Suburb” had been out of print for much of that time and copies were appearing on second hand book sites at inflated prices. I had followed up a very productive period with Upminster & Hornchurch in Old Photographs (Sutton Publishing) published in September 1997, The Changing Face of Hornchurch (The History Press) 12 months later, Upminster in Living Memory (Swan Books) in 2000, and Upminster and Hornchurch (Tempus Publishing, Images of England series) in 2004. 

A few years later an agreement was reached with Amberley Publishing to reprint Garden Suburb, which provided the opportunity to correct the minor errors that had crept into the self-published 1996 edition and make other minimal revisions. The iconic Frith image from 1908 of the Upminster Broadway (Station Road) was chosen for the front cover, with the original front cover image on the back.

This second edition was published in August 2009, almost 13 years after the original, and a further 12 years have passed since then, hence we are now amazingly celebrating the 25th anniversary of the original 1996 publication date.

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