Upminster is a suburban town in east London, England, and part of the London Borough of Havering. Located east-northeast of Charing Cross, it is one of the locally important district centres identified in the London Plan, and comprises a number of shopping streets and a large residential area. It was historically, a rural village in Essex and formed an ancient parish. Although peripheral to London, the town has good transport links; it was first connected to central London by rail in 1885 and has a terminal station on the London Underground network. The economic history of Upminster is characterised by a shift from farming to garden suburb. As part of the suburban growth of London in the 20th century, Upminster significantly expanded and increased in population, becoming part of Hornchurch Urban District in 1934, and has formed part of Greater London since 1965.
The placename Upminster is first recorded in 1062 as Upmynstre and is recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book as Upmunstra. It is formed from Old English upp and mynster, meaning the large church on high ground. The high ground of the parish church being in relation to the valley of the River Ingrebourne and the Upminster Bridge over the river shares the name. An alternative explanation suggests the upp could refer to the geographical relationship to a church at Barking or Tilbury in Anglo-Saxon times (cf. Southminster and Bradwell-juxta-Mare). The lower two storeys of the church tower may be older than the 13th century date that Pevsner gave to the timber above.
There was an ancient farmstead from the 1st century to the 3rd century in the Upminster area, and agriculture was the predominant industry throughout the following centuries. The area was once wooded, but clearances in the 12th century gave more land over to arable farming; and by the 17th century there were a variety of crops and livestock. There was a growth in market gardening in the 19th century. There have been a number of windmills in Upminster and one of which, a smock mill built in 1803, remains. Local industry included a tannery, gravel extraction and a brick works that was connected to the railway station by a tramway in 1895.
The London, Tilbury and Southend Railway from Fenchurch Street was extended from Barking to Upminster in 1885. The underground Whitechapel and Bow Railway opened in 1902 and allowed through services of the Metropolitan District Railway to operate to Upminster. The Metropolitan District converted to electric trains in 1905 and services were cut back to East Ham. Delayed by World War I, electrified tracks were extended by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway to Upminster and through services resumed in 1932.
Upminster formed an ancient parish of in the Chafford hundred of Essex. The parish vestry had meetings in the church until 1798, when they moved to the Bell Inn. The parish was divided into North and South wards by the Hornchurch to Cranham road. In 1836 the vestry lost control of poor relief, with Upminster becoming part of the Romford Poor Law Union and in 1875 the parish became part of Romford rural sanitary district. Following the Local Government Act 1894, the sanitary district became Romford Rural District and a parish council was formed of nine members, increasing to twelve by 1913 as the population had doubled. The parish council acquired the Clock House building on St Mary's Lane for use as offices in 1924. The parish formed part of the London Traffic Area from 1924 and the London Passenger Transport Area from 1933. In 1934 the parish council was abolished and Upminster was combined with other parishes to form part of Hornchurch Urban District. In 1965 the urban district was abolished and its former area was combined with that of Municipal Borough of Romford; and since then has formed part of the London Borough of Havering in Greater London.
The parish had three early centres of activity; the village around the church and the settlements of Hacton and Corbets Tey. The estates of Gaynes, New Place and Upminster Hall were purchased during the 17th century by merchants in the City of London. This caused a significant number of buildings in the town to be constructed or improved. Upkeep of the three bridges crossing the Ingrebourne were the responsibility of Upminster, as the adjacent Hornchurch parish was in the Havering liberty and was exempt from responsibility because of its charter. Although the opening of the station was key to the development of the suburb, land was not purchased for development until were secured in 1901.
Electricity was introduced in Upminster in 1926. Gas main supply came from Romford in 1872 and from 1905 there was gas street lighting. The area was served by good spring water, with mains supply provided by the South Essex Waterworks Company from 1836. Works on the sewerage system began in 1899 in Upminster village and Corbets Tey. In 1922 sewage works for Upminster and Cranham were opened in Great Warley. Land for Upminster Park was purchased by the parish council in 1929.