Here to stay
PUBLISHED: 09:42 12 May 2015 | UPDATED: 09:42 12 May 2015
The Old Chapel in Upminster is one of the county's most unique and treasured buildings and today it continues to play an active role in modern life. Heritage officer Gemma Smith explains more
The Old Chapel in Upminster was certainly a mystery to many locals. Countless people have said to me that for years they walked past the building wondering exactly what it was and what had happened for it to fall into such disrepair.
It was originally built in 1800 as a Protestant Dissenters’ Chapel and up until 1989 was actively used as a place of worship. After extensive renovation in 2012, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the owners, Sacred Heart of Mary Girls’ School, the Old Chapel is now back in use by the community for all sorts of events, ranging from pottery painting and open days to events and talks.
As the heritage officer for the Old Chapel, it’s been a pleasure to engage the local community with this unique building once again. HLF supports projects which aim to involve people from right across the community with local heritage. The Old Chapel is open from April to October on the first and third weekend of the month, from 2pm to 5pm, for people to come and learn about the heritage of this intriguing building. On these weekends there are regular events too and since opening in 2013 the Old Chapel has hosted a 1940s tea dance, a Punch and Judy show, craft fairs and much more. These open days also coincide with those of the adjacent Upminster Windmill and the Tithe Barn Museum of Nostalgia, so you can make an afternoon out of it.
There is a range of outreach activities at the Old Chapel including the Pottery Painting Café which is open during school holidays and also an after school Creative Crafts session on the first Wednesday of each month. School visits are also welcome. Classes can come and learn about the change in Upminster from 1800 onwards and how this once rural village became the bustling commuter town it is today.
Local volunteers have been vital in creating the programme of open days. Volunteers helped to research and write the text panels on display as well as developing the Upminster Heritage Trail. Without the Chapel Stewards, visitors would not receive the warm welcome they get or the much-enjoyed refreshments! The value of these volunteers was proved again in 2014 with the development of a World War I research project on men from the Old Chapel and their involvement in the Great War. A fantastic display was created which was open throughout November.
Many events that take place in this beautiful setting explore local heritage. The Old Chapel itself forms a vital part of Upminster’s social and religious history. The fact that Protestant Dissenters or non-conformists could build a place of worship demonstrates growing acceptance of the movement after years of exclusion from society. From looking at the Old Chapel’s Roll Book from the 19th century, it is clear many prominent people worshipped at the Old Chapel, including the builder and future millers of the iconic Upminster Windmill opposite.
Several buildings in Upminster from the 19th century and earlier were demolished in the 1960s. As the Old Chapel had an active congregation at this time, it was safe, but after they left in 1989, sadly the building fell into disrepair. However, as a Grade II listed building it was safe from demolition and the refurbishment of 2012 was sympathetically done while adding new facilities and ensuring the building is fully accessible. The project to restore the building has ensured a rare survival from Georgian Upminster can still be used by the community.
The original features that have been restored include the internal gallery, in place since 1800, and the stunning Victorian pulpit, designed and built in 1873. These elements combine to create a charming hire venue and the extension brings modern facilities to assist with a range of events, creating a unique setting in the area.