Upminster: Local government and parliamentary representation

Pages 153-156

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 7. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1978.

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View of frankpledge was held on the manor of Upminster Hall in 1271 and 1531, but no certain record after the Dissolution reveals a like occurrence. (fn. 1) In 1271 the lord enjoyed the assize of ale; in 1531 a constable was chosen. Rolls and books record courts baron of Upminster Hall in 1607, 1608, and 1634 and from 1650 to 1895. (fn. 2) No record of a medieval court at the manor of Gaynes has been found, but court books record the meetings of the court baron from 1678 to 1923. (fn. 3)

At the cross-roads on the village green, stocks were preserved until the early 19th century, and adjoining the lands of Upminster Hall manor, possibly by the pond on the village green, there existed in the 16th and 17th centuries a ducking-stool. The parish cage, mentioned in 1803, was probably nearby. (fn. 4) Gaynes manorial pound, near Gaynes Cross, was repaired by the lord of the manor in 1819. The vestry in 1842 asked him to erect a public pound for the general use of the parish, and in 1864 undertook to pay for re-establishing the old pound if he declined to do so. (fn. 5)

Parish records survive from the late 17th century. They include vestry books for 1681–1713, 1721–1826, 1830–66, overseers' rates and accounts 1745–1836, and surveyors' accounts 1790–1810, 1818–36. (fn. 6) In 1706 vestry meetings were ordered to be held on the first Monday in the month. They were normally in the church, but in 1798 the vestry voted to meet in future at the Bell Inn opposite the churchyard. (fn. 7) Thereafter adjournments thither were frequent. In 1696 those attending vestry meetings were allowed 4d. expenses each, but in 1704 the rule was rescinded. Attendance fell, and in 1709 the subsidy was brought back, at the increased rate of 6d. for those who arrived at the meeting within two hours of the time announced. In 1739 it was agreed that the parish would spend £2 at each Easter vestry. Nevertheless attendance at meetings was normally small, rarely numbering more than ten, and being restricted to the parish officers, aspirants to office, and a few of the more important tenant-farmers. Occasionally the gentry and other farmers appeared in person or by proxy, as in 1799 when there was discontent over a new rate assessment. No chairman of a vestry meeting was named until 1820. Before that date the rector or curate signed the minutes first when present. From 1820 the rector usually presided at the Easter vestry, the churchwardens presiding at most other times.

The parish was divided by the Hornchurch-Cranham road (now St. Mary's Lane) into two ends or wards, North and South, for each of which was appointed a churchwarden, an overseer of the poor, a constable, and a surveyor of the highways. (fn. 8) Despite the administrative division of the parish, differences of opinion only once resulted in a clash of factions exactly representing the two wards: in 1813 the South end stopped the North end from replacing the master of the workhouse by an inhabitant of the North end. Until 1772 and from 1774 to 1791 the vestry elected both churchwardens, but in 1773 and from 1792 the rector appointed one warden. Parish autonomy had first declined, however, c. 1730: until 1733 the vestry had nominated a single overseer for each end, but thereafter the justices selected the overseers from four or more vestry nominees. Constables, 1736–63, and highway surveyors from 1729 were similarly chosen, four of the latter being nominated annually 1729–66 and no fewer than ten 1778–1833. The appointment of a salaried vestry clerk was recorded from 1701 onwards; there was apparently a church (or parish) clerk in 1722–3; he was salaried from 1761–2. In 1746–7 the parish paid a dog whipper; from 1784 he was termed the beadle and from 1788 the sexton. (fn. 9)

With a population of 370 in 1695, Upminster's rates in 1696–1700 and 1706–10 totalled in each quinquennium 4s. and 4s. 3d. respectively, of which two-thirds was for poor-relief. (fn. 10) A century later, with a population in 1801 of 765, the total rates levied in 1796–1800 were 15s. 2d. and in 1806–10 10s.; in 1796–1800, however, the poor-rate represented almost five-sixths, and in 1806–10 all, of the amount raised. In the 18th century the population had doubled and the rateable value had quadrupled: in 1700 it was £1,612, in 1801 £6,451 10s. (fn. 11) Upminster's annual expenditure on the poor first exceeded £100 in 1739–40, £200 in 1757–8, and £300 in 1773–4. Between 1783 and 1798 it was above £400 in every year but one. It rose to £860 in 1799–1800, £1,200 in 1800–1, and £1,232 in 1801–2. Thereafter until 1836 it was usually between £600 and £900, with expenditure lowest in the years 1820–9 and highest, £982, in 1833–4. (fn. 12)

The earliest evidence for systematic parish care for the poor dates from the 16th century. There was a poor-box in the church in 1567. (fn. 13) The earliest vestry book regularly records the apprenticing of village orphans, and the earliest surviving apprenticeship agreement dates from 1612. (fn. 14) In 1723 recipients of parish relief were to be paid only if they wore badges, a proviso repeated in 1734. Throughout the 18th century the parish rented dwellings for the poor, and even in 1704 contracted with an Upminster carpenter to build 'a sufficient house for any poor man to live in' on the Upminster Hall waste. In 1750 a parish poorhouse was built on Upminster Hill (now St. Mary's Lane) near Upminster bridge. The building was financed by selling the £110 stock held by trustees for the poor. (fn. 15) In 1762 its inmates, including six widows, numbered ten. By 1783 the problem of the poor was increasing, and an extension to the workhouse, as it was then called, was reckoned necessary. A grant in 1786 of an adjoining part of the waste of Upminster Hall enabled it to be built. Meanwhile (1784–6) some of Upminster's poor were lodged in the Great Warley workhouse. No record of the capacity of the extended workhouse has been found, but in 1803 the master claimed allowances for 37 inmates, the largest number recorded.

A master of the workhouse was first named in 1787. After frequent changes, a shoemaker was master in the years 1793–1801. He was succeeded by two Colchester weavers, (1803–7 and 1808–10). The former master of the Shenfield workhouse, John Harden (d. 1831), and his widow Mary in turn ran the Upminster workhouse from 1810 until its closure in 1836. At first the parish paid directly for workhouse provisions but in 1788–9, 1794–1801, and 1802–36 it contracted with the master to feed and clothe the inmates.

Agreements in 1801, 1802, and 1813 allowed the Cranham overseers to place a maximum of ten of their poor in the Upminster workhouse. The arrangement apparently ended in 1816, and a request by Cranham for a renewal of the agreement in 1825 was rejected, because there were no places to spare. (fn. 16)

The appointment of a weaver as master of the workhouse in 1802 was in part meant to allow the inmates to learn weaving. The weaver received ten guineas for bringing his loom with him, and the vestry built a room for it. In 1807 it was agreed that all the earnings of the poor should belong to the master; and in 1822, when the master's weekly allowance was reduced, his previous half-share of their earnings was increased.

In 1805 the vestry ordered a cell to be built at the workhouse for the solitary confinement of unruly inmates, and in 1806 it arranged for the weekly inspection of the workhouse by parishioners. The vestry's attitude to bastardy was normally limited to the avoidance of financial responsibility, but in 1833 all single women in the workhouse who were pregnant were ordered to wear a distinctive dress.

Besides running the workhouse the parish made regular payments to the poor in their own homes. Litigation over settlement and casual payments also absorbed part of the rates: in September and October 1795 soldiers and their families, c. 250 in all and including at least 170 children, received £5 12s. 6d. as they moved south and north through Upminster. In 1816 and 1821 the parish made bulk purchases of bacon, cheese, butter, and soap for re-sale at cost to the poor outside the workhouse.

Until c. 1724 the health of the poor was apparently treated casually by various doctors. Thereafter only one doctor at a time seems to have been retained. (fn. 17) In 1767 he attended only those paupers living within 2 miles of the parish church; the whole parish was his responsibility in 1775; from 1797 Upminster's poor in neighbouring parishes were included. Until 1833 the doctor was usually paid separately for inoculations, fractures, amputations, and confinements. These additional fees were surrendered in 1833 when the retainer reached £24 a year.

In 1836 Upminster became part of Romford poor-law union. The workhouse was sold and converted into six dwellings. (fn. 18)

What parish business remained after 1836 was administered by Jesse Oxley (d. 1877). At the time of his death he was vestry clerk, church clerk, assistant overseer and collector of the poor-rates, and surveyor of the highways. (fn. 19) The vestry was still nominating constables in 1866 despite the presence at Upminster from 1843 of members of the new Essex Constabulary. In addition, after a burglary in 1865, some of the leading householders appointed a private night-watchman, still active in 1875. (fn. 20) In 1864 a burial board was established. (fn. 21)

Under the Local Government Act, 1894, a parish council of nine members was formed for Upminster. The first election was contested by 19 candidates. (fn. 22) The electorate was about 250, and the successful candidates polled from 69 to 103 votes. (fn. 23) Enthusiasm was never again comparable. (fn. 24) The development of Upminster garden suburb began late in 1906, and in 1910 the new council was composed of 5 old and 4 new inhabitants. (fn. 25) By 1913 membership of the parish council had been increased to twelve, and Upminster was divided into two wards, north and south of the railway. (fn. 26) In 1928 the last member of the original parish council retired, and for the first time a woman was elected. (fn. 27) In 1934 Upminster was merged in Hornchurch urban district. (fn. 28)

The parish council was served by a salaried clerk, who was also the rate-collector. In 1924 the Clock House, St. Mary's Lane, was bought to provide council offices. (fn. 29)

A continual growth of parish council business demanded an increasing number of council committees. By 1910 there were four, and by 1918 six more, of which two were temporary wartime committees. (fn. 30) A rate-payers' association existed briefly in 1906; a larger and more effective one was formed in 1915. (fn. 31)


In 1872, upon receiving a guarantee from a prospective consumer, the Romford Gas & Coke Company laid gas mains to Upminster. Gas street-lighting was installed in 1905. (fn. 32) Electricity became available only in 1926. (fn. 33) The South Essex Waterworks Company's mains passed through Upminster on their way from Grays to Romford. They first supplemented the supply of good spring water in 1863, though it was not until 1909 that Upminster Common received piped water. (fn. 34) The development of the village after 1906 was attended by none of the problems of water supply which faced Cranham at the same time. (fn. 35)

The geography of Upminster made drainage difficult. In 1893, under threat of prosecution, the Romford rural sanitary authority at last piped the Cranham (now St. Mary's) Lane ditch, but it was 1899, nine years after the first complaint, before work on a sewage scheme was begun, restricted to Upminster village and Corbets Tey. (fn. 36) In 1900 tenders were invited for a sewer from Hacton, and the development of the Upminster Hall estate necessitated further extensions of the system in 1907. (fn. 37) In 1922 new works, to serve both Upminster and Cranham, were completed at Bury farm, Great Warley, on a site where the lie of the land made pumping-stations unnecessary. (fn. 38)

The parish adopted the 1833 Lighting and Watching Act for Upminster village south of the railway line in 1904, and north of it in 1910. The Act was extended to the whole parish in 1930. (fn. 39)

The first land acquired for recreation by Upminster parish council was rented from the Upminster Hall estate for allotments in 1899. In 1928 alternative land had to be found when the site was reclaimed by the new golf club. (fn. 40) Upminster Park, Corbets Tey road, originated in 1929, when the parish council agreed to buy 18 a. glebe adjoining the church. (fn. 41) The Upminster Hall playing fields (35 a.) were developed in 1962–3. (fn. 42) In 1969–70 there were 93 a. of public parks in Upminster. (fn. 43)

A volunteer fire brigade was formed for Upminster in 1909. Its efficiency was greatly improved in 1925 by the appointment as captain of a retired professional fireman, and in 1927 by the purchase of motorized equipment in place of a hand truck. (fn. 44)

The Upminster and Cranham Nursing association was formed in 1898. By 1936 the association had over 400 members and its nurses in 1935 had paid over 3,000 visits. From 1933 it was aided by an ambulance of the St. John Ambulance Brigade. (fn. 45)

In 1894 the rector said that the churchyard was almost full. The parish bought 2½ a. in 1900, and in 1902 opened the new cemetery at Corbets Tey. In 1957 the South Essex crematorium was opened immediately to the west. It was enlarged in 1961–2. (fn. 46)

In 1887 the Upminster district club and reading room was opened at Locksley Villa, Upminster Hill (now St. Mary's Lane). The original intention, to provide lectures, meetings, and reading matter for 'men of every class' as well as occasional evening entertainments, was changed when from 1888 ale was sold and a bathroom and smoking room provided. At first the club flourished but, caught between the paternalism of the founder-president and the resentment of excluded labourers, officials resigned. Membership dropped, and in 1896 the club was dissolved, the assets being shared among the remaining members. (fn. 47) At Corbets Tey a reading room and library for working-men existed between 1885 and 1891. (fn. 48) A branch of the county library was opened in 1936 at Clock House; in 1963 this was transferred to a new building in Corbets Tey road. (fn. 49)


In 1974 Upminster became one of three parliamentary constituencies in the London borough of Havering; previously it had formed part of the parliamentary borough of Hornchurch. (fn. 50) In February 1974 the Conservatives won the seat, retaining it in the election of November 1974.


  • 1. S.C. 2/173/30, 80. In the 17th century the James family was said to be paying a rent to the farmer of Chafford hundred for view of frankpledge in Upminster: Cal. Treas. Bks. 1689–92, 239.
  • 2. S.C. 2/173/102; E.R.O., C/T 388/1, 4–6; B.L. Add. Ch. 683.
  • 3. E.R.O., D/DZb 1–4.
  • 4. Wilson, Upminster (1881) 57–8; E.R.O., D/DGt 5–7, 10; E.R.O., C/T 388/1, p. 11; E.R.O., T/P 95/1, p. 87.
  • 5. E.R.O., T/P 67/5; E.R.O., D/P 117/8/8, 9, 11, 12.
  • 6. E.R.O., D/P 117/8/1–12; D/P 117/11/1–13; D/P 117/12/1–27; D/P 117/21/1–5. All information in this section, unless otherwise indicated, derives from these records.
  • 7. Joseph Lee had just become landlord of the Bell and overseer of the poor.
  • 8. The overseers were termed 'collectors for the poor' in 1596: E.R.O., D/DA T448. The use of the term 'head-borough' 1791–1836 apparently represents the antiquarianism of a vestry clerk. Until 1762 the North and South wards kept separate rate books.
  • 9. E.R.O., D/P 117/5/3.
  • 10. Morant, Essex, i. 111.
  • 11. E.R.O., T/P 67/3.
  • 12. The records are incomplete for 1798–9 and 1809–10, and missing for 1810–12.
  • 13. Hale, Precedents, 150.
  • 14. E.R.O., D/P 117/14.
  • 15. See p. 163.
  • 16. Cf. E.R.O., D/P 118/12/3–6, and above, p. 107.
  • 17. Dr. Kennedy was first paid in 1725–6, and last in 1746–7. From 1767 there is clear evidence for the exclusive retention of one doctor.
  • 18. Story of Upminster, ii. 2. Cf. E.R.O., T/P 67/3, pp. 106a, d; Rep. Com. Char. [108], p. 722 (1837–8) xxv (1).
  • 19. E.R.O., T/P 62/2 p. 144.
  • 20. E.R.O., Q/APr 8; E.R.O., T/P 67/1, pp. 82, 260; T/P 67/3, p. 14.
  • 21. In 1895 the parish council wrongly claimed that the Burials Act had never been adopted: E.R.O., T/P 67/3, p. 60.
  • 22. E.R.O., T/P 67/3, p. 48.
  • 23. E.R.O., T/P 67/5, p. 271 (1885: 230); T/P 67/3, pp. 138a, c, e (1899: 286).
  • 24. In 1895 18 votes secured a seat; in 1896, 29; in 1897, 25; in 1899, 40. In 1901 and 1904 there were no contests (E.R.O., T/P 67/3, pp. 58–9, 123, 145; T/P 67/5, p. 4).
  • 25. E.R.O., T/P 67/6, p. 328.
  • 26. E.R.O., T/P 67/7, p. 276.
  • 27. E.R.O., T/P 181/11/27: women had been unsuccessful candidates in 1922 and 1925.
  • 28. Ibid. As early as 1911 Upminster considered applying for urban status: E.R.O., T/P 67/7, p. 192.
  • 29. E.R.O., T/P 67/6, pp. 241–2; T/P 181/11/27.
  • 30. 1910: allotment, cemetery, fire-brigade, and lighting; 1918: finance, footpaths, general purposes, sanitary, and food economy and war charities. For the activities of the first four and of the sanitary committee, see below.
  • 31. E.R.O., T/P 181/11/27; T/P 67/5, p. 195, 67/8, pp. 96–99, 103, 105, 110.
  • 32. E.R.O., D/F 5/11/1, 3.
  • 33. E.R.O., C/DP 225; C.D.L., W. Marston Acres 'Upminster Past and Present' (TS c. 1940), 161.
  • 34. Wilson, Upminster (1881), 17; E.R.O., T/P 67/5, p. 205, 67/6, p. 279. In the 1830s the supply of spring water was said to be abundant.
  • 35. See p. 103.
  • 36. E.R.O., T/P 67/2, p. 47, 67/3, pp. 22, 125.
  • 37. E.R.O., T/P 67/3, p. 131, 67/6, pp. 14, 49, 50, 88.
  • 38. E.R.O., T/P 67/8, pp. 6, 30, 44–5, 53–5, 64, 77, 120; T/P 67/9, p. 11, T/P 67/10, pp. 90–1; T/P 181/11/27.
  • 39. E.R.O., T/P 67/3, p. 85, 67/5, pp. 2–4, 67/6, pp. 290, 312–13; T/P 181/11/27.
  • 40. E.R.O., T/P 67/3, pp. 40, 45, 67/5, p. 31; T/P 181/11/27.
  • 41. E.R.O., T/P 181/11/27.
  • 42. Hornchurch Official Guide (1962–3), 43; Cf. Hornchurch Charter Petition (1956).
  • 43. Havering Official Guide (1969–70), 57, 63; L.B. Havering, Recreation and Amenities Division (1970).
  • 44. E.R.O., T/P 67/6, p. 233, 67/7, pp. 258, 275; T/P 181/11/27.
  • 45. E.R.O., T/P 67/3, p. 120, 67/5, p. 7; T/P 181/11/27.
  • 46. E.R.O., T/P 67/3, pp. 118a, 149, 170, 178–9; E.R. xi. 172–3; inf. from Superintendent.
  • 47. E.R.O., T/P 67/1, pp. 189–93; 67/2, pp. 8–9, 54–5, 80, 82–3, 141; 67/3, pp. 48, 40b–43, 66a, 71; 67/5, p. 68.
  • 48. E.R.O., T/P 67/1, pp. 42, 135–6; 67/2, pp. 43, 89; 67/3, p. 68.
  • 49. Inf. from Mr. L. Rose, H.R.L.
  • 50. This section is based on Dod's Parliamentary Companion (1970 and later edns.).