A History of the County of Essex: Volume 7. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1978.
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The name Upminster suggests that an ancient mother church, serving an area wider than the later parish, existed here long before the Conquest. (fn. 1) The site of the church, away from the manor-houses but at the centre of the village, is also consistent with an early origin.
In 1223 Viel Engaine, lord of the manor of Gaynes, granted 40s. a year from Upminster church to the priory of Worspring (Som.). (fn. 2) The advowson descended with Gaynes until 1297, when the manor was sold to Simon of Havering. The advowson was excluded from the sale and remained with the Engaines until the death in 1367 of Thomas Engaine, Lord Engaine. It then passed to Thomas's sister and coheir Elizabeth, wife of Sir Laurence Pabenham, and subsequently passed to her descendents, the Cheynes and the Vauxes of Harrowden. (fn. 3) The Cheynes regularly presented, but the Lords Vaux appear to have sold single turns four times, the last in 1562. (fn. 4)
The recusant John Wright of Kelvedon Hatch was said at his death in 1608 to possess the advowson of Upminster, but in 1609 the king presented by reason of the minority of Edward Vaux, Lord Vaux. (fn. 5) Vaux suffered forfeiture in 1612 for refusing the oath of allegiance. His property was restored in the same year, but in 1614, because of a defect in Vaux's title, the king presented William Halke (d. 1615). (fn. 6) William Halke was succeeded by Michael Halke who was presented by Dr. William Harvey (1578–1657), discoverer of the circulation of the blood. Harvey, who was a kinsman of the Halkes, also presented John Halke in 1638; two further presentations, in 1662 and 1679, were made by members of the Halke family. (fn. 7) The advowson passed through the hands of the Newman, Bray, Bradshaw and Copestake families until in 1780 it was bought by William Holden of Birmingham. (fn. 8) Since 1780 it has continued in the Holden family, five of whom in succession were rectors between 1780 and 1971. (fn. 9)
The rectory was valued at £14 13s. 4d. in 1254, £12 in 1291, and £26 13s. 4d. in 1535. (fn. 10) In 1546 it was farmed to Stephen Heath, cooper of London, for 61 years at £20. (fn. 11) In the 18th century the value was said to be about £200. (fn. 12) The figure was probably a considerable under-estimate, for in the 1790s the Holdens apparently received about £750 a year. (fn. 13) In 1842 the tithes were commuted for £1,052. (fn. 14)
In 1610 the rectory house, which was apparently moated, contained 7 upper and 6 lower rooms, in poor repair. (fn. 15) Because of the ruinous state of the rectory Dr. Derham, rector 1689–1735, lived at High House, opposite the church in Corbets Tey Road. (fn. 16) A new rectory was built before 1740 by Samuel Bradshaw, rector 1735–68. (fn. 17) It stands a few yards south of the earlier rectory, and has two storeys of red brick, colourwashed. The projecting wings have hipped old tile roofs and are balanced by a central pediment. The brick porch is modern. A tithe barn formerly stood west of the rectory. It was used for services in 1861–2 while the church was being rebuilt. It was later sold to Dr. Newman of Nelmes, Hornchurch, and before 1870 its materials were used in the construction of Tharp Lodge. (fn. 18)
The proximity of Upminster to London and the comparatively high value of the rectory made Upminster a desirable living. In the 15th and 16th centuries pluralist rectors were common, and there were others in the 17th century. (fn. 19) Absentee rectors, held the rectory for 84 years in the period 1492–1678, and exchanges in 1410 and 1482, and the resignation of eight of the eighteen known 15th-century rectors alike suggest that the living was often in the market. (fn. 20) The first named assistant curate occurs in 1557, but there appear to have been earlier ones in 1532–5 and 1547–51. (fn. 21) Two rectors were deprived of the living, one in 1554 for marriage, another in 1558 for non-residence. (fn. 22)
The religious upheaval of the mid 16th century apparently had little effect on Upminster. A guild of the Trinity, which may have existed in 1479, was dissolved in 1552, but in 1573 the church had still not been stripped of all popish features. (fn. 23) Such activity as the rector and congregation showed was more secular in spirit. Since 1543 the Lathams had owned both Upminster manors but not the advowson, and in 1574, 1577–8, 1588, and 1600 quarrels between the family and the rector reached the courts. (fn. 24) William Washer, rector 1562–1609, was described contemptuously by the Puritans, c. 1589, as 'sometime a grocer', but they found nothing more serious to allege against him. (fn. 25) John Bowle or Bowles (rector, 1609–13), who was presented by the king, no doubt owed his preferment to the earl of Salisbury, to whom he was household chaplain. He later became dean of Salisbury and bishop of Rochester. (fn. 26) In his time (1610) Thomas Frith founded his charities for a St. Mark's day sermon and for reading the Litany. (fn. 27)
Michael Halke, rector, 1615–24, was soon embroiled with his parishioners. In January 1617 he was bound to keep the peace; in October he was cited in the archdeacon's court; by November he was engaged in three tithe cases. (fn. 28) In 1618 he was accused to getting his maid with child. (fn. 29) An assistant curate conducted the services in 1619, and by 1620 Halke was suspended, though he continued to live at the rectory at least until 1624, when he was deprived. (fn. 30) In 1641 he was awarded £40 a year from the rectory's profits. It was still being paid in 1650. (fn. 31) John Fuller was the parish lecturer from 1631 until his death in 1635. (fn. 32)
The tensions of the Civil War did not at first affect Upminster, but there is evidence later of at least two factions in the village. As before, the trouble seems to have begun with a tithe dispute. John Halke, rector from 1638, survived an attempt to remove him in 1644 but was sequestrated in 1646. He regained the living in 1660, but was ejected again, for nonconformity, in 1662. (fn. 33) It seems likely that he and a minority of the parishioners supported the Presbyterian or Parliamentary position, but that his successors Marmaduke James (1646–52), Reuben Easthorpe, and John Robotham (c. 1657–60) were backed by other inhabitants more in sympathy with the Army and Independents. (fn. 34) James and Easthorpe, like Halke, were apparently graduates, but Robotham, ejected in 1660, had a different background. An Independent or Anabaptist from Stepney (Mdx.), he was described by Halke as . . .'a mean tradesman'. (fn. 35)
John Newton, rector 1662–78, and William Derham, rector 1689–1735, were both royal chaplains and scholars. Newton was an absentee, but Derham lived in Upminster for most of his incumbency, and acted also as physician to his parishioners. He became a canon of Windsor in 1716 and employed an assistant curate thereafter, but he continued to visit the parish regularly until his death there. (fn. 36) Throughout the 18th century and the earlier 19th century there was usually an assistant curate. (fn. 37)
John Rose Holden, rector 1780–99, was the first of five members of that family to hold the cure. He and his son of the same name, rector 1799–1862, engaged in a tithe dispute which alienated many of their parishioners and stimulated the growth of Congregationalism in the parish. (fn. 38) The young rector's visit to Rome in 1800 further complicated the affair, and on his return he fell out with the farmer of his tithes and was sued by him. (fn. 39) P. M. Holden, rector 1862–1904, nephew of his predecessor, lost his earlier popularity when he married his mistress in 1873, and for 20 years thereafter was engaged in continuous disputes. (fn. 40) Once again Congregationalism benefited. (fn. 41) After the passage of the 1880 Burials Act a third of those buried in Upminster churchyard between 1881 and 1900 were given 'nonconformist' burial, although far fewer parishioners than a third were nonconformists. (fn. 42) Opposition to Holden diminished in the 1890s, and under his kinsman H. H. Holden, rector 1904–43, the church revived. Regular collections at services, a mothers' meeting, annual church fetes, sidesmen, and a parish magazine were started, and the church was repaired and enlarged. (fn. 43) The only disturbance in those years was a Kensitite demonstration in 1910 against the rector's ritualism. (fn. 44) The growth of Upminster in the 1920s led to the reappointment of an assistant curate. (fn. 45) H. R. Holden, rector 1944–71, was the last of his line. (fn. 46)
A brick mission used as a Sunday school was built in 1872 at Hacton Corner just across the border in Rainham, probably by the owner of Rainham Lodge with which it was offered for sale in 1891. (fn. 47) It appears originally to have been associated with Rainham parish church, but by 1907, and later, was a mission of Upminster. (fn. 48) It was closed c. 1949 and afterwards demolished. (fn. 49)
The church of ST. LAWRENCE consists of a nave and chancel, north aisle, two north chapels, two east vestries, a south chapel, south porch, and west tower. With the exception of the tower the church was almost wholly rebuilt in 1861–2, but the 19th-century structure reproduced closely the form of the earlier church with nave and north aisle terminating respectively in a connecting chancel and chapel, and entry to the church being through the south porch. The eastward extensions of the church in 1928 and 1937 considerably enlarged the building. (fn. 50)
The earliest part of the church is the stone tower of c. 1200. It is capped by a leaded and shingled spire the framing of which dates partly from the 13th century. (fn. 51) Internally the weight of three stages is partly borne on a massive frame inserted in the shell of the tower.
The arcade separating nave and north aisle was one of the few elements retained in the rebuilding of 1861–2. It dates from c. 1300 and may be contemporary with the construction of the Gaynes (or St. Mary's) chapel at the eastern end of the north aisle. A wooden screen for the chapel was provided in the 15th century, elements of which are incorporated in the present one. (fn. 52)
The rood-loft beam and stairs were still standing in 1573 and the monuments had not then been whitewashed. (fn. 53) Complaints were made, 1597–1609, concerning the state of the church, churchyard and rectory, and repairs were undertaken. (fn. 54) In 1630 Hamlet Clarke, father-in-law and stepfather of Serjeant Ralph Latham of Gaynes, renovated the Gaynes chapel. Some of the dated and painted armorial glass installed then still remains. Clarke also embellished the 15th-century screen but the embellishments did not survive the restoration of 1861–2. (fn. 55) In 1638 the church and spire were fired by lightning, but the bells, which happened to have been taken down at that time, were not damaged. (fn. 56)
A new pulpit was installed in 1740. (fn. 57) In 1771 the north aisle was encased with stock bricks and given circular windows. (fn. 58) It contained c. 1790 an octagonal 15th-century font from the former chapel of Upminster Hall. (fn. 59) In 1782 a western singing-gallery, of mahogany with elaborate Gothic carving, was erected with the aid of a legacy from William Hornby (d. 1780). In 1845 it was replaced by a lower and larger gallery, removed in 1861–2.
From the 17th to the 19th century Gaynes chapel was apparently attached to New Place. In 1685 it belonged to Sir Thomas Skipwith, Bt. (fn. 60) Sir James Esdaile, of New Place, rebuilt it in 1771, constructing a family vault below; and in 1839 James Esdaile sold the rights in the chapel along with New Place. (fn. 61) At that time the chapel contained a large family pew, and six other pews which later tenants of New Place sometimes rented to other families. (fn. 62)
In 1861–2 the church was rebuilt in stone, partly from a gift from the younger J. R. Holden, to the designs of W. G. Bartleet. (fn. 63) Additional seating was provided by the wholesale removal of the old fittings. (fn. 64)
In 1906 the vestry was rebuilt, the tower repaired, and the spire re-shingled. (fn. 65) Choir-stalls were inserted in the sanctuary in 1909, and in 1912 the church was entirely lit by gas for the first time. (fn. 66)
In 1928–9 the church was extended eastwards to the designs of Sir Charles Nicholson. A new Lady chapel was erected beyond the Gaynes chapel, the chancel was taken into the nave, and a new one built. A south chapel of St. George was also added, with an adjoining organ chamber. (fn. 67) New vestries, east of the south chapel, were built in 1937. (fn. 68)
An organ was bought by subscription in 1876; a new one, bought in 1911, was rebuilt in 1928. (fn. 69)
There were four bells in 1552. There are still four; (i) c. 1480; (ii) 1974; (iii) 1583, Robert Mot of Whitechapel (Lond.); (iv) recast 1602. The old (ii) was recast in 1602 and sold in 1823. Its replacement is a memorial gift from the Bowman family. (fn. 70)
The plate includes a silver chalice of 1607 or 1608, with the cover missing, a silver paten of 1686, and a silver paten on foot of 1704. (fn. 71)
The oldest surviving monuments are 8 brasses. They commemorate, among others, Elizabeth Deyncourt (d. c. 1455), Nicholas Wayte (d. 1542) and his wife Ellen (d. 1545), and Gerard Dewes (d. 1591) in armour. (fn. 72) There are various Branfill monuments, including a half-figure of Andrew Branfill (d. 1709). An inscription to James Esdaile (d. 1812) by Sir Richard Westmacott, and another to Sir James Esdaile (d. 1793), attributed to Richard Westmacott the elder, are with other Esdaile monuments in the former Gaynes chapel. (fn. 73)
In 1961 the rector and churchwardens received £2,600 under the will of Caroline F. Whitehead, to be used for the advancement of religion in the parish. The money was placed in trust and is used for church purposes. (fn. 74)
In 1864 the vestry bought the NE. corner of the rectory's kitchen-garden to extend the churchyard, thus giving it a boundary on Upminster Hill (St. Mary's Lane). The 'old' churchyard was closed in 1891, and by 1902 the 'new' churchyard was full. (fn. 75) In 1926, with parish sentiment continuing to prefer burial in a churchyard, the rector gave another piece of the rectory garden north of the nave. (fn. 76) The present avenues of yew were planted by Mrs. Branfill in 1848; they replaced horse chestnuts given by Champion Branfill (I) before 1735. (fn. 77)
A cadet branch of the recusant Wiseman family of Felsted and Wimbish was resident at Upminster from 1576 to c. 1612. (fn. 78) In 1628 there were two Catholic yeoman families in the parish, servants of the Petres of Cranham. (fn. 79)
In 1880 or 1881 Helen Tasker, Countess Tasker, bought the Hill Place estate which included Hill House (or Minster House or Upminster House), St. Mary's Lane. Canon J. Kyne (d. 1881) of Brentwood opened a small oratory at Hill House, and services were continued there until 1888, when the property was sold after the Countess's death. (fn. 80)
In 1923, through the efforts of the Revd. Julius Van Meenen of Romford and other Romford Roman Catholics, the church of ST. JOSEPH was opened; it was served at first from Romford, but by the end of the year a separate parish was formed. (fn. 81) The original building, on the corner of St. Mary's Lane and Sunnyside Gardens, was closed in 1932 when a corner site was acquired in Champion Road and a temporary church opened there. (fn. 82) In 1934 the adjoining property of Mavisbank, St. Mary's Lane, was bought for use as a school. (fn. 83) The present church of St. Joseph was built in 1939. (fn. 84)
In 1927 Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary bought Hill Place, St. Mary's Lane, as a convent and girls school. (fn. 85)
Even after the Restoration and the ejection of the rector John Halke in 1662, the influence of Puritanism continued. Five parishioners were charged in 1663 with refusing to attend the parish church. (fn. 86) In 1672 the house of Samuel Springham was licensed as a Presbyterian meeting-place. (fn. 87) Six nonconformists were reported in the parish in 1676. (fn. 88) Some of them may have been Baptists, for in that year a known Baptist, Richard Robinson, was rated in the parish, as well as Springham. (fn. 89) Springham's Presbyterian congregation still existed in 1708 when application was made for his house at the Brick-kilns to be licensed, but there is no record of it later. (fn. 90)
A general Baptist church drawing its worshippers from Pilgrim's Hatch, Hornchurch, Aveley, and Upminster originated before 1700. One of its members, Richard Robinson of Upminster, was transferred from Pilgrim's Hatch to a sister church at Rainham c. 1697. (fn. 91) John Pain, whose house at South Weald was licensed for Baptists in 1705, was one of the elders in 1715, the other being Coomes; at that date congregations of 200 were attending meetings at Pilgrim's Hatch and Aveley. (fn. 92) From 1737 the church, located from 1732 in Hornchurch, was centred on Upminster. Abraham Nelson was named as elder 1732–53. (fn. 93) The church died out between 1756 and 1773, perhaps after Nelson's death c. 1764. (fn. 94) Its meeting-place was probably an old house on Chafford Heath traditionally associated with the Robinson, Nelson, and Wood families, of which part was said to have been used for many years as a chapel by the Wood family. (fn. 95) John Wood, a contemporary of Nelson's, died c. 1775. (fn. 96) A pulpit was removed c. 1816 when the house was converted into two cottages, but some chapel fittings still remained in 1856. In a burial ground behind the house were two box trees clipped to form an alcove for the minister and a desk for the bible. (fn. 97)
Upminster Baptist church, Springfield Gardens, originated in 1934 with support from North Street Baptist Church, Hornchurch. (fn. 98) In 1935 a school-chapel was built and a church of 33 members was formed. The church building was opened in 1959. Membership rose from 133 in 1945 to 257 in 1973. (fn. 99) The church initiated the formation of Cranham Baptist church. (fn. 100)
The Society of Friends held meetings in 1913 on the initiative of Harry Frizzell (d. 1933), a baker newly arrived in Upminster. After several months the attempt to establish an allowed meeting was discontinued. (fn. 101)
Upminster (Wesleyan) Methodist church, Hall Lane, originated in 1910 when a temporary iron church was erected for the developing garden suburb. It was in the Ilford circuit. A permanent church, in the Tudor Gothic style with two low corner towers, was built in 1923 and enlarged in 1935. In 1947 it was included in the new Romford circuit. (fn. 102)
A house in Upminster was registered for worship in 1848 by a Primitive Methodist preacher, Robert Eaglen of Brentwood. (fn. 103) This society, which was no doubt in the short-lived Brentwood mission circuit, does not seem to have survived.
Upminster United Reformed (formerly Congregational) church, Station Road, originated before 1799 in a weekday lecture given by an unnamed neighbouring minister. He was probably Henry Attely, of Romford Bethel chapel, who registered Thomas Talbot's house in Upminster for Independent worship in 1797 and 1798. (fn. 104) In 1799 William Nokes (d. 1846) of Bridge Farm registered his house for Independents, and Hoxton academy was asked to supply students to preach there. (fn. 105) Nokes's brother James (d. 1838) of Hunts Farm registered the chapel which was opened in 1800. (fn. 106) It stood on the south side of Upminster Hill (St. Mary's Lane) next to Thomas Talbot's house. (fn. 107) The strength of local support for the chapel derived partly from the bitterness of local tithe disputes. (fn. 108) In 1803 the freehold of the site was bought. Mrs. Elizabeth Fries (d. 1807), who had been a benefactor in 1800, left £100 stock for the maintenance of the chapel and made an equivalent reversionary bequest for poor members of the congregation. (fn. 109) In 1819 a plot south of the chapel was bought, the building extended southwards, and a vestry built. (fn. 110) In 1824 George Rogers became the first settled pastor. (fn. 111) In 1829 the chapel was attracting many members from neighbouring parishes. (fn. 112) It was refronted in 1847. (fn. 113) In the 1850s the congregation gained an influential if somewhat formidable patron in the Revd. George Clayton (1783–1862), recently retired to Gaynes Park after some fifty years as pastor of York Street chapel, Walworth (Lond.). He had preached his first sermon in the new Upminster chapel in 1800 and preached his last there in 1862. (fn. 114) He left £500 stock to the church. (fn. 115) A mission was supported at Hornchurch, and Upminster shared with Brentwood the oversight of the chapel at Upminster common. (fn. 116)
The disgrace of the rector and the coincidental death of Mrs. Branfill in 1873 left a social and religious void in the parish. It was filled by Congregationalists under the leadership of Henry Joslin of Gaynes Park and his brother-in-law A. M. Carter, minister 1870–1907. (fn. 117) In 1885 three, if not four, of the five members of Upminster's first school board were Congregationalists. (fn. 118) In 1873 the chapel was restored. (fn. 119) In 1911 a larger stone church, designed by T. Stevens in Gothic style, was built in Station Road. (fn. 120) The old chapel was sold to the Brethren. (fn. 121) The new church had a mission room in St. Lawrence Road, c. 1912–26, and also took over the Hacton mission. (fn. 122) In 1972 the church joined the United Reformed church. (fn. 123) There were 205 members in 1975. (fn. 124)
The Hacton Central mission, Smokeholes, opposite Harwood Hall Lane, was founded in 1904 by Mrs. James Strang of Rainham Lodge. (fn. 125) It was undenominational and for some years Wesleyan lay preachers helped there. Mr. and Mrs. W. Strang gave the hall to the Upminster Congregational trustees in 1911. (fn. 126) It continued as Hacton Congregational mission until 1963 when services ceased, but the hall was in use in 1966, let for undenominational youth meetings at a nominal rent. In 1974 it housed an afternoon Sunday school. (fn. 127) The mission has chiefly served Corbets Tey and Hacton, but the site of the hall is just within Rainham.
At Upminster Common there has been a nonconformist congregation, more or less continuously, since the early 19th century. In 1829 about 60 worshippers were meeting in a house there under the superintendence of Samuel H. Carlisle, minister of Romford Congregational church. (fn. 128) The connexion with Romford ceased, but for some years, c. 1835–40, services were held at the mill-house on the common, in connexion with Upminster Congregational church. Those services seem to have ended with the death of the miller, James Pinchon, in 1840; but in 1850 a chapel was built in Hall Lane on a site given by his sister-in-law, Mrs. Lydia Pinchon of Potkiln Farm. (fn. 129) The chapel was under the joint oversight of the Congregational churches of Brentwood and Upminster, and the Brentwood town and village missionary, George Matthews, was in charge of it from 1851 to 1870. (fn. 130) An Upminster Common Sunday school existed in 1888. (fn. 131) After a period of inactivity the chapel was reopened in 1915. (fn. 132) In 1940 the building was re-certified for undenominational worship. (fn. 133) The chapel was destroyed by bombing in 1944, and the site was sold. (fn. 134) A new undenominational chapel was later built there and was registered in 1953. (fn. 135)
The congregation of Open Brethren, St. Mary's Lane, appears to have originated about 1907. In that year Brethren who had been worshipping in a cottage near Hunts Farm built a gospel hall on the south side of St. Lawrence Road. (fn. 136) It seems likely that these were the Brethren who took over and registered the former Congregational church and at the same time, perhaps in part-exchange, acquired the gospel hall as a mission. (fn. 137) The chapel was bought for the Brethren by Henry Warren of Cranham. (fn. 138) In 1971 Open Brethren were still worshipping in the Old Chapel, by then the oldest surviving nonconformist building in the neighbourhood. (fn. 139) It has a Tuscan porch and a pediment with a semi-circular window. (fn. 140) In 1952 Brethren also registered the Assembly Room, St. Lawrence Road, the original gospel hall. (fn. 141)