The Upminster Hall estate’s history can be traced to before the Norman Conquest of 1066. In 1060 Earl Harold Godwinson, soon to be King Harold who was to die at the Battle of Hastings, gave Upminster Hall and other manors to his newly-established church at Waltham Abbey (the manor was sometimes later known as Waltham Hall). The Canons of Waltham Abbey continued to own Upminster Hall and the estate after the Conquest and around 1450 rebuilt the hall itself; their ownership ended in 1540 due to Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. The Latham family were the owners for much of the following century but in 1686 the owner the Earl of Gainsborough sold the Hall and Estate for £7,400 to Captain Andrew Branfill, a master mariner who lived in Stepney. He became the first of many generations of the Branfill family to own and occupy Upminster Hall for the next two hundred years. Colonel Benjamin Aylett Branfill became the last member of the family to live there until his emigration to New Zealand in 1881. The Branfill family’s historic Upminster home was afterwards let to a succession of tenants.
The developer Peter Griggs and his company W P Griggs and Co in 1906 agreed to buy 150 acres of the Upminster Hall Estate from the Branfill Trustees for £20,000 in order to develop the Upminster Garden Suburb. Their aim was to develop 700 acres, mostly north of the railway line and beyond where the A127 Southend Arterial Road now runs.
In 1927 the newly formed Upminster Golf Club Company leased Upminster Hall and developed a golf course which opened in May 1928 converting Upminster Hall into a clubhouse; the freehold of the Hall was bought by the golf club in 1935.
The Hall itself is Grade II* listed. Its interesting pattern of mismatched gables not only gives it a distinctive appearance but also hints at its history of remodelling at various times in its past. The central timer-framed part with its cross wings may well date back to the original fifteenth century hall design, during its ownership by the Canons of Waltham Abbey. At a later date, possibly after Andrew Branfill bought it in 1685, central gables and a first floor were added and then in the eighteenth or early nineteenth century an extra wing was added on the north side and the drawing- and dining-rooms were considerably altered. Further remodelling of the interior took place after it was converted as the Upminster Golf Clubhouse.
Much of the surviving interior reveals the Hall’s long history. The fine staircase with its variety of shapes has been said to suggest a 16th century date, and is certainly no younger than the 17th century. Unfortunately the large number of portraits of the Branfill family, their relations and others which hung in the dining-room, drawing-room and staircases even after the Branfill family vacated the Hall, including a portrait by Holbein of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk (c.1484-1545) and his third wife, Mary Tudor, formerly Queen of France, have sadly long since gone, possibly dispersed when the Hall was sold by the Branfills in 1921.
The Hall had its own chapel until 1777 when it was dismantled by Champion Branfill. This contained a baptismal font, possibly dating from the fifteenth century, which Branfill then presented to St Laurence’s Church, where it still remains in use. Human bones – including whole skeletons – were often dug up in the gardens, some as late as just after the second world war, possibly dating from the time that the Hall was in Waltham Abbey’s ownership. The bowling-green is believed to cover this former graveyard.
Upminster is fortunate indeed that such a fine monument to its past is not only preserved but is in everyday use and hopefully will remain so for many years to come.