Georgian era 1714 - 1837
Although this time was a period of continual foreign warfare, this area remained in agricultural use during the Georgian era – so dubbed after the first four Kings who were all named George. The stable and prosperous economic end to the Stuart period continued during this time and the resultant accumulated wealth enabled a flourishing of the Arts including literature, science, philosophy and culture and also led to a development in politics. This became a reasoning ‘Age of Enlightenment’ when people found they had time to be thinkers and to debate, they wanted to improve on nature and had ideals of freedom and equality.
The old traditional timber-framed buildings of the area – like Rainham Vicarage and the Old Cottage in Corbets Tey were being ‘dressed up’ or giving way to the new ‘correct’ designed house introduced from Italy as architecture really began to flourish in Britain during the Georgian era. These purpose designed buildings in the grand manner were erected in brick or stone or rendered to look like stone, especially in towns and when in the ownership of richer and fashion-conscious people. Famous architects like James Paine and James Wyatt were active in this area as were well-known landscape gardeners including Charles Bridgeman, and local men Richard Woods and Humphrey Repton as the planned Parkland also became fashionable. Consequently there are some fine examples of houses and landscaped Parks, or surviving fragments, from the Georgian period in the area, some of which, like Rainham Hall, are open to the public.
In Upminster Sir James Esdaile had taken advantage of the newly introduced toll roads out of London that had made commuting to the City a real possibility. He had Gaynes Mansion built for himself by James Paine, a leading architect of the day. Although the mansion was demolished after only 50 years part of the grounds survive as Parklands Park (Walks no. 5 & 6a). Esdaile invested heavily in speculative building development around Upminster such as Harwood Hall, a listed building now a private school, erected in 1782 it was later enlarged and castellated. At Hacton, Hacton House was built in 1762/5 but is now converted into private flats and bungalows.
Historic Parks and Gardens:
Gaynes Park (Walks 5 & 6a) was laid out in the late 18th century to the designs of James Paine and once extended to 100 acres (40.5 ha.). The stream running from Cranham marsh was dammed here to form the large ornamental lake with a bridge and a small island. Together with an extensive greensward they survive as Parklands Park. At the west end the original waterfall and rapids have been long-since replaced by a concrete weir. North from the weir the Walk traces through an area of Ancient Woodland along the path of Paine’s holly-lined woodland walk to another listed bridge, once giving access to Gaynes House which it faced in picturesque fashion.
Stubbers (Walk no 2) is now an Outdoor Adventure Centre. The house was demolished in the 1960’s but the walled garden and crinkle-crankle walls and entrance gate survive as a listed building. In the early 17th century the botanist William Coys had first introduced many plants into this country at Stubbers, including tomatoes, yucca and the ivy-leaved toadflax. It is also claimed that here hops were first introduced into ale to make beer. At Stubbers the lane from Cranham was diverted by the last great English landscape designer of the 18th century Humphrey Repton, to a position slightly further west where it now forms Stubbers Lane.
By the mid 17th century Belhus was one of the largest estates in Essex; although the mansion was demolished after WWII Belhus Park survives as a Grade II Registered landscape in Essex County Council ownership. It was designed by Lancelot (Capability) Brown with additions by Richard Woods and Humphrey Repton may also have later given some advice. A bird's-eye view of the property in the late 17th /early18th century is held at Thurrock Museum. The Belhus Woods Country Park adjoins Belhus Park to the north and is within the Community Forest lying to the south of the Thames Chase Visitor Centre.
Thorndon Country Park in Brentwood district is also within the Community Forest, it is at some distance north-east of Thames Chase Visitor Centre and provides its own visitor facilities. The listed Mansion by James Paine survives to the north of the Park, and is converted into private flats. The Park is Grade II* Registered, designed by Lancelot Brown but with fragments of an earlier Park retained and with some later work by Richard Woods.
A number of local settlements survive from this period, although often with an older origin, including examples of 18th and early 19th century buildings upgraded to suit Georgian taste. Corbets Tey village (just off Walks no.2, 5 & 6a) is a Conservation Area with a fine cluster of listed buildings centring on High House and the Old Cottage, once the George Inn, the Old Anchor was also an inn at the time, the earlier cottages at 1-3 Harwood Hall Lane served the village probably as a butchers shop at no. 1 and it’s likely that the 17th century cottage at no. 8 further along the row originally supplied the village bread.
At Rainham (on the London Loop just to the south of Walk 5) the village was regenerated around 1729 with investment by an entrepreneurial newcomer Captain John Harle. The village centre boasts a variety of both red brick and timber constructed Georgian properties, many originally with a commercial use in this riverside village. The listed buildings from this period include Rainham Hall, Redberry and the Old Vicarage in Broadway, and in Upminster Road South no’s 2-6 were originally a barn and at one time the Horseshoe & Can Inn and then the Lamb (and Crown), and a tiny shop and covered passageway at no. 8. No’s 9-27 were originally 18th century cottages that were converted to shops soon after construction.
The late 18th century brick built Old Rectory stands next to the medieval church in North Ockendon (Walk 1), while there are more vernacular listed Georgian properties in Ockendon Road at the old Bakehouse in the outbuildings attached to the earlier Kilbro, also no. 7 Castle Cottages and the Forge that was previously the Smithy and Smithy Cottage.
Science & Literature:
Dr Derham was Rector of Upminster, royal chaplain and scholar, and also the village physician. He was the first to accurately measure the speed of sound which he did from the tower of the parish church of St Laurence (Walk 6a adjoining Upminster Park) and other local landmarks, including North Ockendon church.
Cranham Hall (Walk no 2, 5, 6a.) is a listed Georgian house at the centre of Cranham Conservation Area. The house is built on the site of an earlier mansion once the home of General James Oglethorpe (1691-1785) from which the earlier walls of the walled garden survive. He was a British General, MP and philanthropist interested in social justice; he founded the colony of Georgia in America and his plan for the city of Savannah has heritage protection in America. Oglethorpe is buried at All Saints' parish church which immediately adjoins Cranham Hall.
Many of the friends Oglethorpe entertained at his Cranham home were great academics and thinkers of their day, including Dr. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, all close friends for many years. Boswell was interested in intellectual, philosophical, and academic thinking and in time met a great variety of powerful people with these interests. He looked up to Oglethorpe, and he became known for writing Johnson’s biography, which has been described as "the most famous single work of biographical art in the whole of literature". Johnson is most famed for writing the pre-eminent English dictionary and has been described as "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history". He also made satirical allusions to public concerns of the times including corruption and crime, finance and immigration.
Politics & Social change:
By 1815 with the end of the Napoleonic Wars there followed a period of economic depression, unemployment, with social discontent and unrest and political uncertainty that led to support for electoral reform, and an evangelical revival.
The two-party system of rival political parties – the Tories and the Whigs – developed during this period. Generally Tories represented the Anglican gentry (like Dr. Johnson) while the Whigs supported constitutional monarchism, Protestant Dissenters and industrialists.
The listed Old Chapel in Upminster (Walks 6a & 6b) was built in 1800 as an alternative place of worship for Protestant Dissenters and was used for non-conformist worship until 1989. Now in private ownership it is at times open to the public. A major dispute between two Upminster rectors with their congregation over the payment of tithes led to the growth of Congregationalism in Upminster. At Rainham Hall (via Walk 5 and the London Loop) the young John Harle and his wife hosted Methodist meetings, and the Hall became the scene of a near riot when, at the head of an angry mob, her father William Dearsley had a visiting Methodist preacher horsewhipped out of the house.
Economics & trade:
Economic stability was maintained through the continued practice of mercantilism common in Europe at the time; this led to the development of capitalism and as wealth poured into London so these Essex marshes continued as a haven for smugglers along the Thames-side. Fear of invasion by the French under Napoleon led the Government to expand the Royal Navy and it was common for the Press Gangs to capture disembarking trained merchant seamen at Tilbury and press them into Navy service.
Prompted by the years of War and with opportunity presented through technological innovations of the time, the Government sought to increase agricultural production to feed the expanding population and canvassed opinions from experienced local farmers. As part of this drive, Upminster Windmill was built in 1803 by local farmer James Nokes. A Grade II* listed building its quality, completeness and significance makes it one of the very best surviving English smock mills (Walks no. 6a & 6b). This area became famed for its market gardening produce with both farm carts and Thames barges taking produce into London using the new toll roads as at Wennington, and the wharfs in Rainham, Wennington and Purfleet.
This Agricultural Revolution increased agricultural output and the proportion of the workforce in agriculture fell and this helped drive the Industrial Revolution. This with an expanding empire set the scene for change in the coming of the Victorian period and the modern age.
More information on the Georgians can be found by visiting websites for the Georgian Group and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB); or by visiting Purfleet Heritage & Military Centre in the Grade I listed Government Powder Magazine No. 5 (built 1763-5) and the Grade II* listed Proof House (erected mid 1760’s) Centurion Way, Purfleet and walk the Two Forts Way path which links Coalhouse Fort at East Tilbury and its Napoleonic and Victorian history with that of the older Tilbury Fort; visit High House, Purfleet; Rainham Hall house and gardens, Rainham (National Trust).
Read local history books including T.L. Wilson ‘Sketches of Upminster’ pub. Ian Henry ISBN-10 0860259242, ISBN-13 978-0860259244; John Drury ‘A History of Upminster and Hornchurch’, 1986 pub. Ian Henry 0860254054; and to get a feel for Georgian life and times read novels by writers including Jane Austin, Mary Shelly, Bram Stoker and Henry Fielding or the romantic poets like William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Blake, John Keats and Robert Burns. Also see works of art by artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds and the young J. M. W. Turner and John Constable illustrating the changing world of the Georgian period.
- Historic paintings of Warley Camp overlooking this area - 'Warley Camp: The Review' & 'Warley Camp: The Mock Attack' both by Philip Jakob de Loutherbourg and held by of website www.royalcollection.org.uk/ and ‘The Camp at Warley’ by Thomas and Paul Sandby, held by courtesy of the Royal Collection 2009 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II website www.royalcollection.org.uk
© 2015 S.J.Smith
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