Upton, Newham

A pretty and prosperous rural hamlet that evolved into a built-up corner of West Ham, situated just south of (and nowadays often considered part of) Forest Gate

geograph-3264280-by-David-Anstiss - Red House - Upton - West Ham

Upton was first record­ed in 1203 as Hupin­ton, then in 1290 as Hop­ton and 1485 as Upton. The name derives from the Old Eng­lish words upp and tūn, mean­ing ‘high­er farm­stead’. There is a slight rise here in an oth­er­wise low-lying area of what was once marshy ter­rain.

By the 17th cen­tu­ry Upton had become a pros­per­ous ham­let. The ward of Upton (which did­n’t last long before it was absorbed with­in Church Street) con­tained 25 dwellings in 1670. Ten of these homes had at least five hearths (gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered the min­i­mum nec­es­sary for gen­teel exis­tence) – a very high pro­por­tion.

One of the hous­es in exis­tence at that time was an already ancient tim­ber-framed struc­ture said to have begun life as Hen­ry VIII’s For­est Gate hunt­ing lodge and/or dog ken­nels, though there’s not much evi­dence for this. The house was lat­er extend­ed and con­vert­ed into an inn called the Spot­ted Dog.

Won­der­ful­ly, ‘the Dog’ has sur­vived to the present day as the old­est non-eccle­si­as­ti­cal build­ing in the Lon­don Bor­ough of Newham. Woe­ful­ly, it has been aban­doned for more than a decade, board­ed up and left to rot – as shown in the pho­to below. It is on His­toric Eng­land’s Her­itage at Risk reg­is­ter.

Hidden London: The abandoned Spotted Dog public house, David Anstiss

Anoth­er dwelling assessed for 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 and filled them (and sev­er­al glasshous­es) with rare and exot­ic botan­i­cal species. Dr Fothergill was one of a num­ber of Quak­ers to set­tle in Upton around this time. The close­ly-knit com­mu­ni­ty was linked by mar­riage with the Pel­ly fam­i­ly, West Ham’s prin­ci­pal landown­ers.

Upton House was renamed Ham House in the late 1780s, 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 this Upton House, which is shown in the water­colour below.

Hidden London: Watercolour of Upton House on Upton Lane, birthplace of Joseph Lister, courtesy Wellcome Images

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 for the rest of the build­ing’s life. Samuel Gur­ney’s elder 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.

Ham House was demol­ished in 1872 and two years lat­er its grounds were opened to the pub­lic as 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 in the park – and by a big pink pin on the map below.

“The pret­ty rur­al ham­let of Upton is a lit­tle more than a mile north-east of West Ham church,” wrote James Thorne in his Hand­book to the Envi­rons of Lon­don, pub­lished in 1876. No soon­er had Thorne’s words appeared than the pret­ty ham­let began to dis­ap­pear beneath grid­ded streets of ter­raced hous­ing, built for the fac­to­ry work­ers of West Ham. When the house­builders turned their atten­tions to the fields south-east of Upton in the mid-1880s, they called their new estate Upton Park (which will be the sub­ject of a sep­a­rate arti­cle on Hid­den Lon­don soon-ish).

Hav­ing once been a coun­try haven for Quak­ers, urbanised Upton gained favour with east Lon­don’s Irish Catholic com­mu­ni­ty. The local­i­ty’s sur­viv­ing Roman Catholic insti­tu­tions include the church of St Antony of Pad­ua and St Antony’s, St Bonaventure’s and St Angela’s schools.

Shown in the pho­to at the top of this arti­cle,* the Red House began life in the 18th cen­tu­ry as the home of a Dutch mer­chant and was exten­sive­ly remod­elled in the 1880s. It was lat­er the home of a man­u­fac­tur­er of ear­ly trade union ban­ners, after which it served as a Catholic club until its recent con­ver­sion back to res­i­den­tial use. The Red House stands at the cor­ner of Upton Lane and Upton Avenue. It should not be con­fused with the oth­er Red House in the oth­er Upton.

The Angli­can church of St Peter’s was erect­ed in Upton House­’s gar­den in 1893 and the church gained its own parish a year lat­er. Upton House became the vic­arage and parish rooms. A lit­tle to the south, Meg­gs’ almshous­es were also built in 1893. They now pro­vide shel­tered accom­mo­da­tion for elder­ly peo­ple.

Upton Lane board school opened in 1894 at the cor­ner of Doris Road. It was destroyed by bomb­ing dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and in 1959 the site was used for the new Strat­ford gram­mar school, which has since become the Upton Lane cam­pus of Strat­ford School Acad­e­my.

In 1962 St Peter’s parish was unit­ed with Emmanuel, For­est Gate, and the church was after­wards demol­ished. Its vic­arage (Upton House) was pulled down in 1967–8 and replaced by the unpre­pos­sess­ing flats of Joseph Lis­ter Court. A few oth­er old hous­es were demol­ished in the post-war era, along with some bomb-dam­aged premis­es, and replaced by coun­cil flats. Since then, Upton’s built envi­ron­ment has changed very lit­tle, except for mod­erni­sa­tion of the schools and the con­struc­tion of a scat­tered hand­ful of low-rise apart­ment blocks.

Demo­graph­i­cal­ly, the local­i­ty has evolved in sim­i­lar ways to the wider area in recent decades. In par­tic­u­lar, Upton’s eth­nic pro­file resem­bles For­est Gate’s, with around half of res­i­dents declar­ing Asian/Asian British eth­nic­i­ty at the 2011 cen­sus. Res­i­dents of Indi­an and Bangladeshi her­itage are espe­cial­ly numer­ous here.

As for whether Upton should be con­sid­ered part of West Ham or For­est Gate, there’s no doubt that its his­tor­i­cal con­nec­tions are pri­mar­i­ly with West Ham. But Upton’s inclu­sion with­in the E7 postal dis­trict and the prox­im­i­ty of Rom­ford Road per­mit For­est Gate a strong claim to be its adop­tive par­ent, espe­cial­ly giv­en the demo­graph­ic rela­tion­ship between the two. South of Plashet Road, Upton Park is of course a dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

Clapton football club moved to the Old Spotted Dog Ground in 1888. The Tons’ politically active fans have attracted some media attention in recent years, with the Mirror asking, “is Clapton FC the most left-wing football club in Britain?”

Postal district: E7 (but most of West Ham Park is in E15)
* The pictures of Red House and the Spotted Dog on this page are both adapted from original photographs copyright David Anstiss, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence. The watercolour of Upton House is slightly modified from a copyrighted image at Wellcome Images, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. Any subsequent reuse of these images is freely permitted under the terms of those licences.