Upminster Old Chapel: under Restoration after the discovery of Unexploded World War Two Bombs

Article by George Young – connect on Twitter @highlystrungyng.

(Image: John Winfield, cc-sa-3.0)

Just over two weeks ago, in the build-up to Halloween (a festival which fascinates and repels me in equal measure), I was walking down my local high street in Essex when struck by a peculiar memory. A memory from childhood: one of fear. The type which stays with you in years gone by, despite being able with the benefit of hindsight to see how absurd your fear was. Maybe it was the chill wind in the air or maybe it was the faintly ridiculous Halloween window displays on the high street, but it suddenly seemed apt, leading up to October 31st, to go and investigate the abandoned remains of Upminster Old Chapel.

(Image: Openhouse, reproduced with permission)

Standing adjacent to Sacred Heart of Mary Girls’ Catholic School, the Old Chapel is a budget horror movie writer’s paradise – a crumbling, creaking relic, overrun with disrepair and the type of atmosphere designed to give you sleepless nights. As a child I’d walk past it on an almost daily basis and be struck by two emotions: unease, as well as intrigue at what laid within. Last week, it was the latter emotion which ruled my thoughts and I resolved to learn more about this captivating building.

Originally constructed in 1800 by Samuel Hammond for a group of Protestant dissenters, a small congregation began to worship here before eventually outgrowing its confines; since then, the Old Chapel has fallen into a variety of hands, all unable to find a lasting use for the Grade II listed structure.

After finally closing its doors to the public in 1987 and languishing for several years without any sign of improvement, the Sacred Heart School next door decided to purchase the building and provide a much needed injection of life into it. So far, so (relatively) normal I can hear you all saying; and you’d be right, the future looked bright for the Old Chapel after all the trauma and uncertainty it had experienced since its construction two centuries earlier. However, then came the discovery of the unexploded World War Two bombs.

(Image: GCYOUNG81190, all rights reserved)

Earlier this year, builders responsible for the renovation of the abandoned building struck on something solid in the foundations. Probably expecting some dusty old bibles or other religious paraphernalia, the ‘something solid’ turned out to be two unexploded shells, unknown and undiscovered for the last seven decades. Most shocking of all was the finding by bomb disposal experts of a further 22 shells; why on Earth was a church in what was then a small, rural community housing enough explosives to blow apart a small town? It’s like the village of Midsomer unearthing a nuke behind the church organ- it simply doesn’t make any sense.

(Image: GCYOUNG81190, all rights reserved)

Nevertheless, the bombs have been safely removed and work to restore the Old Chapel to its former glory is continuing at a pace. Sacred Heart School intends to utilise the building in an educational capacity, entrusting pupils in the task of informing locals and tourists alike of its unique history which, even to this day, continues to astound everyone with the secrets lying within. Considering its chequered past, who would bet against The Old Chapel throwing up a couple more surprises in the near future?

Keep reading – visit 6 Creatively Converted Chapels & Churches and explore 7 of the World’s most Overgrown Churches – all in one English County!

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