An Upton introduction

Thursday 21 July 2016

This website has focused almost exclusively on Forest Gate north of Romford Road and neglected the fascinating history of the part of E7 located south of that main road - SoRo, as the hipsters would have it - Upton.

This post is an introductory taster to Upton life. Future, occasionally
published, blogs will cover, in detail , many of the fascinating people and places that have shaped its past and present. We are indebted to a great local history website, Hidden London (here), for prompting this article.

Upton was first recorded in 1203 as Hupinton, then in 1290 as Hopton and in 1485 as Upton. The name derives from the Old English words Upp and tun, meaning higher farmstead. There is a slight rise in the otherwise low-lying area, which was once marshy terrain.

Chapman and Andre's map, 1777 -
showing Upton as a significant settlement
By the 17th century Upton had become a prosperous hamlet. It was within easy coaching distance of the City of London, and so provided a rural retreat for some of London's wealthy elite. The ward of Upton had 25 dwellings in 1670. Ten of these houses had at least five hearths (generally considered a minimum necessary for genteel living) - a very high proportion for the era.

One of the houses in existence at the time was an already ancient timber-framed structure, said to have begun life as Henry VIII's Forest Gate hunting lodge, what is now the dilapidated Old Spotted Dog public house (see here for a full history of the building).

The Dog is the oldest non-ecclesiastical building in Newham. It is on English Heritage's "at risk" register, and is now in the hands of new owners (see above link for details). The grounds surrounding the pub house one of England's most famous non-league football clubs - Clapton FC (see here and here for details).

1908 postcard of The Old Spotted Dog,
 in better days for the pub
Amateur cup winning photo of Clapton FC,
 1909. Walter Tull, second from right, front row
Another house assessed for the Hearth Tax in 1670 was Rooke (or Rookes) Hall, which dated from the mid 16th century and was later renamed Upton House. In 1762 Admiral John Elliot sold Upton House to Dr John Fothergill, who enlarged the grounds on which he built greenhouses and populated them with rare and exotic botanical species.

Dr John Fothergill - 1712 - 1780

Dr Fothergill was one of as number of Quakers to settle into Upton in and around this time; many of whom were linked by marriage with the Pelly family - West Ham's then principal landowners.

Prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, who
 lived in The Cedars, in the
 grounds of  Ham House
Upton House was renamed Ham House in the late 1780's, which helped avoid potential confusion with a different Upton House, that by then stood on Upton Lane, at what is now the corner of Lancaster Road. Joseph Lister, who pioneered antiseptic surgery, was born at Upton House, which is shown in the watercolour, below.

Upton House - birthplace of Joseph Lister
- later site of St Peter's vicarage, now site
 of Joseph Lister Court, Upton Lane

Joseph Lister - 1827 - 1912

The Quaker banker and philanthropist, Samuel Gurney, bought Ham House in 1812. He stayed there for the rest of his life - and members of his family stayed there until its demolition.

Samuel Gurney's older sister, the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, lived in a house on the edge of the estate from 1829 to 1844. In 1842 she entertained Frederick William IV of Prussia there (after whom the Edward VII pub in Stratford was originally named).

Samuel Gurney - prominent banker,
 philanthropist and Upton dweller
Ham House was demolished in 1872 and two years later its grounds were transformed into West Ham Park. Since its inception, the 77 acre park has been owned and managed by the City of London Corporation. The site of Ham House is marked by a cairn of stones, near the main entrance to the park.

All that remains of Ham House, a cairn
 consisting of debris from it, located on the
 site of the house, in West Ham Park
West Ham Park, 1904
James Thorne in his 1876 book, Handbook of the Environs of London wrote "The pretty rural hamlet of Upton is a little more than a mile north-west of West Ham church". No sooner had these words been penned the area became engulfed by the rapid housing development that lead to the emergence of Forest Gate as a sizable London suburb; providing terraced housing for the factory workers of the rapidly expanding borough of West Ham.

Having once been a country retreat for prosperous eighteenth century Quakers, late nineteenth century Upton became a significant focus for East London's rapidly growing Irish Catholic community. The area's surviving Roman Catholic institutions include: St Angela's (see here), St Bonaventure's and St Antony's schools and the church of St Antony of Padua.

1953 ariel view of St Angela's school
One of the more prominent surviving buildings in the Upton area is the Red House, on the corner of Upton Lane and Upton Avenue. We have written extensively about the house here. It began life in the 18th century as the home of a Dutch merchant.

St Antony's church
It became the home of Britain's most prominent Trade Union banner manufacturer - George Tutill (see here) and was extensively remodelled in the 1880's. It later became a Catholic social club, and despite some recently externally funded refurbishment of its exterior, its interior is in a sorry state, today.

The Red House, Upton Lane - now social club
The Anglican church of St Peter's was erected in the grounds of Upton House in 1893, and the house, itself became the vicarage, for a while. That church's parish was merged with Emmanuel, on the corner of Romford Road in 1962.

The church, itself, was later demolished and the vicarage (Upton House) was pulled down in 1967-8 to be replaced by the bland Joseph Lister Court development of flats.

Megg's Almshouses were built at the same time as St Peter's church, in 1893, facing West Ham Park, and remain today as sheltered accommodation for elderly people (see here, for details).

Upton Lane board school opened in 1894, at the corner of Doris Road, but was destroyed by bombing during World War 11. In 1959 the site was used for the Stratford grammar school, which subsequently became the Stratford School Academy, which itself has recently been rebuilt.

Upton Road school, bombed 13 August 1944
A few older houses in the district have been demolished in the post-war era, along with some bomb damaged premises, and replaced with blocks of low rise flats. Since then, Upton's built environment has changed very little, except for the upgrading of some of the schools within it.

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