Upminster in Living Memory Revisited

It’s been over twenty years since the publication in 2000 of Upminster in Living Memory – a collection of eight memoirs of folk born between 1905 and 1933 who grew up or lived in Upminster when it was still very much an Essex beauty spot. In those two decades more records have become available to flesh out detail to the people mentioned by the authors, and this article explores those memories with a fresh eye and add further background research. 

This book has always been the favourite of my Upminster and Hornchurch publications but revisiting it again after two decades shows just how valuable a source it is for its numerous descriptions and observations of Upminster life and its people in the 1920s and 1930s.  

The book opens with Muriel Sharp’s delightful memoir of her childhood spent with her grandparents John and Emily Wilson at New Place (Happy Memories of New Place) which can be read here. Muriel was born in December 1908 at Burnside, Hornchurch Road (almost opposite the current Upminster Bridge station) and in 1910 moved with her parents Herbert and Florence Maud Sharp to live at Malvern, 17 Hall Lane (which has recently been replaced by six two-bedroom apartments). She recalled a friend named Kathy Bonsall who lived near her in Hall Lane and research indicates that this friend was Kathleen Marie Bonsall, daughter of John Bonsall, a commercial traveller who lived at 7 Hall Lane (known as “Oak Tree Lodge”): this one of the houses on the corner of Waldegrave Gardens, which gave way to Huskards in 1987.  Kathy Bonsall was born in December 1909 – a year after Muriel – so it wasn’t surprising that the two young girls became friends.   The Bonsalls moved away from Upminster in the early 1920s to north London. Kathy married an Alexander Court in 1933 and lived to be 99, but her husband was an RAF gunner who sadly died in a bombing raid over Germany in 1942.

Muriel and John Sharp outside Malvern, 17 Hall Lane c.1911

After Muriel’s father Herbert Sharp died in October 1920, when she was 11  she went to live with two spinster aunts in Highgate. The recently released 1921 census reveals that these aunts were the unmarried sisters of her grandmother Emily Wilson (nee Scarbrick) Mary and Elinor Scarbrick, with whom Muriel and her younger sister Eileen were recorded as living with in 1921. Muriel’s older brother John (1904-1972) was at this time living with his widowed mother Florence Maud Sharp, who had moved back to New Place to live with her parents John and Emily Wilson, the last tenants of James Esdaile’s former mansion.

Muriel’s memoir shares recollections of the servants working at New Place, all of whom can be found living there in either the 1911 or 1921 census returns.  “Scarff, the coachman”, was Alfred Scarf (1873-1955), who in 1911 lived with his family in the New Place stable block, now the only surviving part. The 1901 census indicates that gardener Walter Claxson had probably only recently moved into the lodge at New Place after his marriage in 1900 to Nellie Lambert. Muriel recalled that the Claxsons had nine or ten children: the 1911 census returns show that they then had five children, and the 1921 census returns show the arrival of three more, making eight in total, one or two fewer than Muriel had recalled. The 1939 register shows the widowed Walter, now an incapacitated gardener, 64 years old, living at 27 Argyle Gardens, still close to the New Place site, with five of his unmarried children, now aged 20 to 37 still living with him.

Coachman and trap outside New Place, with members of Wilson family at the front entrance

Three house servants at New Place were recalled – Annie, Daisy and Eliza – and all three were there in 1921.  Annie Amelia Tredgett was an 18-year-old kitchen maid, Daisy Minnie Smith was a 32-year-old parlour maid, and Eliza Cook, then 50, who Muriel remembered fondly and saw as great influence. Eliza Ann Cook (1871-1942), the Wilson’s housekeeper who (by Muriel’s account) had been with the Wilson family since she was 13 – around 1884. She can be found as a domestic in the Wilson’s Wanstead household in 1891, as a parlour maid at New Place in 1901 and 1911, before her promotion to housekeeper before 1921. In the September 1939 Register, Eliza was living at 59 Deyncourt Gardens as a companion and housekeeper to Samuel and Martha Cobb.

Muriel was in poor health when Upminster in Living Memory was published in November 2000 and she sadly passed away the following year.

The second memoir was Hilda Halestrap’s An Upminster Life. After Hilda was born in Southfields, Wimbledon (now SW18) in December 1905, her parents Frederick & Amelia had moved back to their Essex roots, buying 23 St Lawrence Road, Upminster after it was built in 1907.  Hilda wrote that her father Frederick worked as a painter and decorator for his brother Walter, whose premises were in North Street, Hornchurch. The 1911 census shows Frederick working as house painter & decorator, with children Frederick junior, aged 7, and Hilda aged 5 and the 1921 census confirms Fred’s employer was (his brother) Walter Halestrap at North Street, Hornchurch; his son Fred also worked for his uncle.  In 1921 Hilda’s younger brother Ernest, aged 6, had joined the household while Hilda, who then attended the Romford County High School for Girls (Headmistress Miss Frances Bardsley) was shown as a school girl, aged 15 years and six months. Hilda was shortly to leave the school and as her memoir recalls she joined Smith and Ebbs, a firm of London printers – the 1939 Register shows her occupation as a Clerk (Printers).

Hilda was Upminster’s May Queen in 1922 and after that she took part in the annual ceremony every year until the outbreak of war in 1939. When I met her several times in the late 1990s she could still recall all the names of the all title-holders from the first, the Rector’s daughter Kathleen Holden in 1913, to Marion Tippen in 1939. The May Festival was originated by the Rector and was held on a Saturday in late May every year.  The main organiser was Miss Coles, headmistress of Westbury School in Gascoigne Road, Barking, at which she had already established a strong musical tradition and whose orchestra led the Upminster May Queen procession. Leeds-born Margaret Jessie Coles (1869-1954), lived more or less opposite the Halestrap family at “Enys”, 30 St Lawrence Road with her parents James & Elizabeth Coles, and she had bought the property from new in 1908.

Hilda recalled that one of the characters who played an active part in early May festivals, was “Jimmy” Ingleton (1837-1919) an Upminster labourer who could neither read nor write. Dressed in a smock and leading a cart pulled by Sadie the Rectory donkey, Jimmy was one of the memorable features of the festival.  Hilda also mentions being part of the St Laurence Upminster Dramatic Society, founded by Mr R H Roberts around the first War.  Robert Horace Roberts (1867-1950) had moved from Ilford to the newly-built 16 Howard Road in around 1910, later moving to “Windermere”, 3 Hall Lane (the site of Huskards) around 1916. The 1921 census shows that Roberts was employed as a clerk at the Royal Exchange. He was clearly a man of many talents as he not only produced plays for the group, but also acted in them, and he was also the author of the first guide to St Laurence Church in 1930, where he had held the offices of sidesman and server.  It was said in a newspaper obituary in 1940 that he was a “most interesting man” who had “a literary gift and his humorous writings have been widely read”.

Hilda Halestrap and her brother Fred (1903-1978) moved to 23 Cranborne Gardens around 1957, where she lived there until her death in 2003 aged 97. Both are buried in St Laurence churchyard.

The third memoir was by Brian Moore. Brian Oxley Moore, born September 1914, was the son of Harold Alfred Moore (1878-1975) who ran the Hill Stores on Upminster Hill. Originally an employee, Harold Moore later bought the business, and continued there until he retired in 1957, aged 79, after almost 65 years. The 1901 census shows Harold aged 22, a grocery assistant at the store, which was then managed by Robert Arnold. By 1911 Harold had risen to Grocer’s manager, and he was living at 29 St Lawrence Road, a few doors down from the Halestrap family, with his wife of four years Alice Ethel nee Rowe and son Eric. Ten years later the 1921 census shows Harold, Alice and their sons Eric and Brian living at the Hill Stores, with Harold now described as a “Grocer & Pro (i.e. provisions). Merchant”. Harold, Alice and Brian are recorded in the September 1939 Register living at 2 Stewart Avenue, with both Harold and Brian working in “Grocery & Provisions”.

Harold Moore’s Grocer’s Store, Upminster Hill c.1933

Brian mentions that he went to a private school in Emerson Park “run by an ex-Cambridge Don, Mr Woode”. The 1921 Census shows Alfred Ferdinand Woode as the proprietor of Emerson Park School, Parkstone Avenue. After his death aged 55 in May 1932 “after a long illness”, Woode’s obituary said that he had founded the school 20 years previously (i.e. around 1912) “building up a reputation as capable and kindly mentor”. Brian’s description was less flattering – describing Woode as retiring after delivering morning prayers “to continue long-term experiments on the effects on his constitution of Whitbread’s Pale Ale” – which perhaps contributed to his “long illness”!

Emerson Park School, Parkstone Avenue, Hornchurch around the time that Brian Moore attended

Brian’s “boon companion” was Lenny Nice who lived in what are now known as Ingrebourne Cottages, the former Upminster workhouse, just down Upminster Hill from the Hill Stores – which had a Rowe family connection as Brian’s ancestor George Rowe had bought the premises when they were put up for a sale in 1836.  Leonard George Nice (1917-1969), the son of Herbert and Flora Nice, lived in the end cottage, number 33 St Mary’s Lane and he was two years younger than Brian.  Mr Nice was a labourer who Brian recalled had died when he “was quite small” but he was actually 15 when Herbert Nice died in 1930.  Herbert’s widow Flora Nice, who was described y Brian as “in spite of her poverty … a jolly person, always laughing and joking”, survived her husband by 20 years.

Brian’s colourful memories of his apparently carefree Upminster childhood in the 1920s and early 1930s, described as “golden times … in a country side of peace and quiet, now vanished forever”, are well worth reading, if only for description of his childhood antics.

Siblings Peter and Joan Hills both contributed very different recollections to the volume.  Peter (1917-2002) was born at Park Corner Farm, Hacton the home of his maternal grandfather Walter Knight (1863-1928) and his article shares memories of growing up in Hacton in the 1920s, as well as extensive memories of his sporting and other pursuits, such as a member of the St Laurence Church choir. His sister Joan (1922-2011) was born at the family home of 14 Garbutt Road, and sadly her mother died eight days after Joan’s birth. Joan mainly shares memories of her Hills family, who lived at Tadlows, now Number 261 Corbets Tey Road, the home of their grandfather Jonathan Hills (1864-1939), gardener to Henry Joslin at Great Gaynes.

Hills Siblings – John, Joan & Peter c.1924

Both of the Hills’ memoirs are chock full of the names of Upminster people and other happenings of that era, too many to mention, so I’ll only highlight just a few.

Peter was a member of the St Laurence Church Choir, who practised under the direction of the choirmaster and church organist Gerald Edwards Sykes. Sykes (1885-1959) was a Yorkshireman, whose family lived in Cottingham, just outside Hull, where he was granted the Freedom of the City. He settled in Upminster after Gerald’s war service as a captain in the Royal Garrison Artillery and afterwards as part of the Army of Occupation from Christmas 1918 until April 1920 when he was organist at the Garrison Church, Cologne.  The family’s move to Upminster in 1920 to live at the newly-built 97 St Mary’s Lane (then described as 1 Mayfair Gardens), at the corner of Cranborne Gardens, was no doubt linked to Gerald’s employment after demobilisation as a solicitor of the Public Trustee Office in Kingsway, just off the Strand (Peter Hills recalls that Sykes worked at Somerset House nearby).

Gerald Sykes, St Laurence Church
Choirmaster & Organist 1929

Many years later in 1961 Peter’s father Ernest Hills recalled that from the time that GE Sykes took over as Organist and Choirmaster at St Laurence’s church “the choir rose to a higher plane, inspired by this fine musician whose enthusiasm permeated the whole choir”; Sykes evidently worked the choir and his helpers hard at choir practice held in the church hall (political correctness prevents me repeating the phrase he used!). In addition to his church roles Sykes organised numerous local concerts and the musical performances at parish fetes and other events. Gerald Sykes continued to live at 97 St Mary’s Lane (originally named 1 Mayfair Gardens) until his death in 1959; his widow Elizabeth survived him by 18 years, until her passing in 1977.

Gerald Sykes’ house 97 St Mary’s Lane (originally 1 Mayfair Gardens) – early 1930s

I will deal with the final three memoirs more briefly, namely June Muncey, the memoir of Peter Bassett, with inputs from his sister Margaret Ecclestone, nee Bassett, and that of Betty Heath.

June Muncey, nee Bolton, was born at 251 St Mary’s Lane on 3rd June 1920 and moved to 42 Station Road (then numbered 7 Station Road) 11 months later when her mother Gladys Bolton took over the Bonanza fancy goods store, which had been bought for her by her mother; June’s father Sidney Bolton was a Pay Clerk for the Port of London Authority at the Royal Victoria Docks. The 1921 census shows the one-year old June living at the shop with her parents and a domestic servant. As well as selling wools, drapery and fancy goods The Bonanza also sold toys, and was the local agency for Meccano and Hornby trains until Roomes Store opened opposite in 1928.

The Bonanza had originally been established in 1909 by William Ernest Lowe as a fancy repository, owned and operated by his wife Alice Lowe. Mrs Glenallen Simpson Hartley took over the business around 1915, before the Boltons took over in 1921. Gladys Bolton ran the store with the help of Daisy Cudby (1896-1991) who was living at 7 Keelings Row, Corbets Tey in the 1921 with her parents Harry & Emma Cudby. The 1939 Register shows Daisy Cudby living with her elder sister Emma (Cant) and family at 15 Meadowside Road, later moving to 3 Gaynes Road.

Daisy Cudby outside The Bonanza

With the opening of the first Roomes Drapery Store in 1927, its expansion in 1930 and further major expansion in 1937, together with the general economic conditions of the era, the Bonanza increasingly became unprofitable. In 1939 the Boltons sold the premises to Hillbery Chaplin, Estate Agent, and moved to Cambridgeshire, where they are living at the time of the 1939 Register. The premises are now Brad’s Barbers.

June Bolton took part in the Upminster May Day Parade in May 1925 just before her fifth birthday, acting as one of the attendants to the May Queen, Betty Knight. The proceedings followed a service at St Laurence’s Church, after which a parade, headed by the band of the Hornchurch Cottage Homes with the May Queen elect and her attendants at the rear, made its way up Station Road and back. The Rectory Gardens were the venue for the Queen’s crowning ceremony performed by the Rector Rev Hyla Henry Holden, who presented Queen Betty II with a “handsomely-bound bible as a memento”.  This was followed by dancing around a Maypole, country dancing and old- fashioned minuets.

Dancing round the maypole at the Upminster May Festival 1920s

The next memoir was that of Peter Bassett, with inputs from his sister Margaret Ecclestone. They were also shopkeepers’ children whose father John Leslie Bassett, known as Jack, took over a half-shop next door to the Bonanza at 40a Station Road around 1935 which he operated as a confectioner; he also had another shop at 99 Corbets Tey Road (now Caffe Gelato). 

Jack Bassett (1905-1965) attended Brentwood School and in the 1921 census he is one of only 17 boarders there. He married Minnie Eileen Bassett (known as Eileen) at Wanstead in 1930, at that time he ran a cafeteria and confectioners’ business at 125 High Street, Wanstead. Peter wrote that they lived “behind the shop” where he and his brother Philip were born in 1933 and 1931 respectively. They moved to Spratt Hall Road, Wanstead in 1935 with Sylvia added to the family in 1936 before the move to Upminster. The Bassett family lived in a rented house at 28 Melstock Avenue, and the 1939 Register records Jack living alone in as a ”Shopkeeper – Tobacco & Confectioners”, also noting that he served in the Police Reserve . Peter records that the family briefly evacuated in Hutton, before returning to live at 69 Park Drive Upminster.  

Eileen Bassett & children, Clacton August 1945

Interestingly at the time of the 1921 census Eileen’s parents John and Clara Flower enumerated in Brunswick Dock, Liverpool aboard the Steamship Oratava, of which John was the Chief Engineer. On the same day; Eileen and her siblings were recorded as at home in Manor Park, with their maternal grandmother Jane Cockshott. The Flowers moved to Upminster in 1939, living at 9 Acacia Drive until both died in 1957, by which time the Bassett family had moved to Battle, Sussex.

The eighth and final memoir is that of Betty Heath who indicated that the Heath family moved from East Ham to Upminster in May 1935 as her father William Heath had a slating and tiling business who were involved with the developers of the Gaynes Park estates. The Heath family moved into the first house built on Parkland Avenue, named Park House, (number 77) individually designed by the developer Alex MacGregor, whom William Heath was a business associate of.

Heath family – early 1930s

Alexander Duncan Macgregor was an interesting character. Betty suspected that he must have had Scottish origins and research confirms that although Alex himself was born in Shoreditch on New Years Eve 1893, his father James Robert Angus Macgregor (known as Angus) was born in Stranraer, Wigtownshire Scotland, moving to London in his teens where he was variously described as a surveyor, carpenter, builder’s foreman and later builder. Alex did not initially follow his father in the building trade. After war service in the Royal Navy and then Royal Navy Air Service he was initially a shipping clerk living in Liverpool where he married Kathleen Huddlestone in 1919, and a son Duncan Campbell Macgregor was born there in March 1921. In July 1923, when Duncan was two, there was an extraordinary incident. Press reports record that one Robert Beatty, a business acquaintance of Macgregor who lodged with the family, had “stolen the affections” of Kathleen and “induced” her to run away with him. However, as Kathleen would only do so with her young son, Beatty and Kathleen’s sister Dorothy Chatburn attempted to kidnapped the Duncan and take him to Ireland. The attempt was foiled and the case went to court soon after, where charges were dropped after Alex and Kathleen were reconciled and they even had another daughter in 1924. However, the affair was resumed and the Macgregors divorced in 1925 with costs of £200 awarded against Beatty. Alex Macgregor went on to remarry in 1929, and two more daughters followed in 1930 and 1937.

Macgregor started building activities in Upminster in late 1931 when he submitted plans to build Numbers 1 and 3 Coniston Avenue, and by April 1932 he had moved from Walthamstow to live in the newly completed 1 Coniston. He built six other houses in Coniston Avenue, six in Brackendale Gardens and a further 21 houses in Cranston Park Avenue during 1933 – the estate being advertised as the Cranston Park Estate.  In the same year he built six houses in Tawny Avenue, and moved into “Gershom”, 33 Tawny Avenue the following year and then developed seven prestigious houses in Parkland Avenue in 1933 and 1934, including that for the Heath family in 1934. Macgregor also built himself a large house at 238 Corbets Tey Road, named Stranraer after his father’s birthplace, on the large plot on the corner of Parkland Avenue.   Like his other Upminster addresses he did not live there long, moving out in June 1940 – the premises later hosting Wylie’s Veterinary surgery after the war.

Returning to the Heath family, in September 1936 Betty (born Agnes Elizabeth Heath in April 1923) and her brother Bill (born William Frederick Heath in August 1924) transferred from the Upminster (Bell) School to the newly built Gaynes Secondary School; their younger brother Sid (Sidney Ernest Heath – 1927-2021) joined Gaynes in 1938. The school opened with 399 pupils organised in eleven classes, four in the first year, three second year classes, and four in the third (top) year – the school-leaving age was then just 14.  In addition to the Headteacher, Sidney Young, there were twelve teachers, a domestic, a caretaker and two cleaners.

Betty’s teacher was Mr Lacey, who had transferred from the Bell as Deputy Head.  Frank Gordon Lacey (1908-1989) – known as Gordon – was the Gaynes art teacher and he designed the first school badge, featuring the windmill. The 1939 Register shows Mr Lacey and his new wife Ivy (nee Axon 1915-1994), living at 24 Ashleigh Gardens, Upminster; the Laceys later lived at 60 Springfield Gardens.

Staff of Gaynes School, 1936. Gordon Lacey standing on back row, on left.

Betty Heath never married but continued to live in the Upminster area throughout her life. The family home was 45 Moor Lane, Cranham, when her parents William Wallis Heath and Annie Elizabeth Heath died in 1955 and 1966 respectively. She became a Governor of Gaynes School in the late 1980s and was one of the co-authors of the school history, with the head Keith Bonny. Betty later lived at 7 Limerick Gardens, Cranham when I was in contact with her in 2000 and she passed away in November 2004, aged 81, four years after her memories appeared in print.

Copies of Upminster in Living Memory are available from Swan Books

References and sources consulted

Upminster in Living Memory (Edited by Tony Benton 2000):

  • Happy memories of New Place – Muriel Sharp pp7-20
  • An Upminster life – Hilda Halestrap pp21-36
  • Upminster connections – Brian Moore pp37-50
  • Hacton in the 1920s- Peter Hills pp51-64
  • Upminster’s Bonanza – June Muncey pp65-74
  • Tadlows and other memories – Joan Hills pp75-92
  • Open all hours: Bassett’s tobacconists and confectioners – Peter Bassett pp 93-100
  • Upminster schooldays – Betty Heath pp101-114

Upminster the Story of a Garden Suburb – Tony Benton (1996 & 2009)

Press reports from British Newspaper Collection (accessed on Find My Past)

1901 & 1911 Census (accessed on Ancestry)

1921 Census (accessed on Find My Past)

1939 Register (accessed on Ancestry)

Romford Rural District Council Building Registers (held at London Borough of Havering Local Studies Library

Upminster Rating Returns (held at London Borough of Havering Local Studies)

S. Laurence Parish Magazine October 1961

A Short History of Gaynes School, Upminster – Keith Bonny & Elizabeth Heath (1991)

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2 Responses to Upminster in Living Memory Revisited

  1. Derek Reader says:

    Another interesting read, including several family names which I knew . the reference ‘Three house servants at New Place were recalled – Annie, Daisy and Eliza – and all three were there in 1921. In the September 1939 Register, Eliza was living at 59 Deyncourt Gardens as a companion and housekeeper to Samuel and Martha Cobb.’ was particularly poignant because from the 1950s the Deyncourt Gardens property was the home of a friend of mine who attended Gaynes School and achieved 10 GCE ‘O’ level passes at a time when local grammar school pupils were achieving an average of seven!

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