St Laurence Church and its Masonic Associations

St Laurence Lodge No 5511 is named after the St Laurence Church in Upminster, founded by Saint Cedd around 660 CE. Largely re-built in 1861/2, it was further extended in 1928/9.

St Laurence Church

The foundation stone for this extension to St Laurence Church can be seen at the corner on the South side.

St Laurence Church

The stone claims that it was laid by the R. W. Provincial Grand Master, although in the event he was indisposed and his deputy, V. W. Bro. Salter,  actually officiated. The stone is a bit of an oddity in that it carries the inscription AMDG, Ad maiorem Dei gloriam, meaning For the greater glory of God; not exceptional in itself but curious in that it is the motto of the Jesuits, a Roman Catholic Order.

In its early days, St Laurence Lodge met in St Laurence Church. The Church was used by many other bodies, of course, and on one occasion, a third degree was halted while the boy scouts entered to retrieve some of their kit.

St Laurence ChurchSt Laurence Church Hall, seen from Corbets Tey Road


Members of the Holden family were Rectors of St Laurence Church, one succeeding the other, for many years — not without controversy. John Rose Holden (born 1752) Rector 1780–99 spent most of his time in London, leaving a series of curates to look after the parish. He fell out with his parishioners over tithes and resigned in favour of his son, John Holden, Rector 1799–1862, under whom things got worse. He employed a particularly difficult curate who caused a rift in the parish enough, it is said, to have caused the growth of Congregationalism in Upminster. However, things did get better towards the end of John Holden’s 63 year incumbency, such that he paid most of the cost of re-building St Laurence Church in 1861/2.

He was followed by Philip Melancthon Holden, Rector of St Laurence Church from 1862–1904. A brilliant orator, he was also somewhat eccentric and once drove through Upminster in a white carriage, wearing a white dress, hat and whip, behind a white pony with white harness. He caused a scandal by becoming involved with a woman half his age, who gave birth before the Rector married her, an event which caused his suspension.

St Laurence ChurchPhilip Melancthon Holden

He was followed by two Freemason Holdens: Hyla Henry Holden, Rector of St Laurence Church from 1904–43, and Hyla Rose Holden, Rector from 1944–71. Hyla Henry was very active inside and outside St Laurence Church. Unlike his predecessors, he lived in the parish and held church services himself. He increased their number and put heating into St Laurence Church to enable his parishioners to attend more regularly. He was a member of the Parish Council, Captain of the Fire Brigade, a cricketer, tennis player and hockey enthusiast. He was also a founder of St Laurence Lodge. His son, Hyla Rose Holden, carried on his father’s work in St Laurence Church and gave an oration at our 60th Anniversary. (Holden Way runs behind the Upminster GC clubhouse from the playing fields to Ingrebourne Gardens.)

St Laurence ChurchHall Lane about 1900

Early science

The speed of sound was first calculated by a Rector of St Laurence Church, William Derham (1657-1735.) He used a 16 foot long telescope on the St Laurence Church tower to observe the flash of a gun fired at various points at known distances away, for example North Ockendon church. By timing the flash and the arrival of the sound of the gunshots at St Laurence Church, he calculate the speed of sound to be 1142 ft. per sec., comparing well with the 1130 ft. per sec. (at 20°C) in textbooks today. Isaac Newton revised his own earlier calculation to take account of Derham’s results, in the second edition of Principia (1713). The Rev Derham was elected to the Royal Society and wrote on a wide range of subjects including:

Observations concerning the Subterraneous Trees in Dagenham, and Other Marshes Bordering upon the River of Thames, in the County of Essex. By the Revd. Mr. W. Derham, Rector of Upminster in the Same County, and F. R. S.

Between four for five years ago, there happened inundation at Dagenham and Havering marshes, in Essex, by breach the Thames wall at an extraordinarily high tide; and by means of great violence of the water, a large channel was torn up for passage for the water, of 100 yards wide, and 20 feet deep in some places; in some more, some less. By which means a great number of trees were laid bare, that had been buried there many ages before.

An Account of the Rain which Fell Every Year at Upminster in Essex, the Last Eighteen Years, with Remarks upon That of the Year 1714. By W. Derham, F. R S, which starts:

Last year being so remarkably dry, that ponds hereabouts are for the most part dry and the springs generally very low or failing.

St Laurence ChurchWilliam Derham, Rector of Upminster, Canon of Windsor
and Fellow of the Royal Society

He was a man of great curiosity and an early experimental scientist. He wrote several books, among them Physico-Theology (1713), subtitled A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God from his Works of Creation. The book demonstrates as much the author’s amazing breadth of knowledge and reading. Today we would think of it as Creationism or the argument from design; the attempt to prove the existence and describe the nature of God from the nature of the universe. He writes:

The atmosphere, or mass of air, vapours and clouds, which surround our globe will appear to be a matter of design and the infinitely wise Creator’s work if we consider its nature and make (a) and its use to the world (b).

Echoes of this are found in the third degree when the WM provides the candidate with a retrospect of the degrees through which he has already passed. Speaking of the second degree, the WM says:

Proceeding onwards, still guided in your progress by the principles of moral truth, you were led in the second degree to contemplate the intellectual faculties and trace them in their development through the paths of Heavenly science, even to the throne of God himself. The secrets of nature and the principles of intellectual truth were then unveiled to your view.

In addition to the atmosphere (in discussing which he includes respiration, birds, wind, navigation, and the origins of fountains) Derham’s book takes in:

Gravity (which he speaks of as a great benefit to mankind!)
The nature of the earth including its distance from the sun, soils, strata, caverns and volcanoes
The production of vegetables, animal farming, minerals and metals
The inhabitants of the globe, animals above and below ground
The blood vessels, muscles and medicine
The nature of eyes and ears, smell and taste

And so it goes on for 440 pages about a host of other subjects of this kind. He also wrote three other lengthy books, most famously the Artificial Clockmaker, in which he described in layman’s terms how clocks are made and calibrated, and Astro-Theology, in which he treats the solar system as a clockwork device and posits the presence of planets around stars other than the sun. Indeed, he claimed to have seen planets circling stars through the 126 foot Huygens telescope, as unlikely at this may be. He viewed the universe, not just the earth, as made for habitation:

What is the use of so many planets as we see about the sun and so many as are imagined to be about the fixed stars? To which the answer is that they are worlds or places of habitation.

He wrote numerous articles for the Royal Society, wrote a biography and edited other works. Above all, he was among the first to see the value and indeed necessity of empirical data series and spent much time collating them. It is not easy to see how he had time for matters concerning St Laurence Church! Still, clergymen at that time were not expected to manage their own churches, but to delegate that to curates. I cannot discover whether Derham was a Freemason but he certainly moved in those circles. (Derham Gardens runs parallel to and south of Cedar Gardens behind Clockhouse Park in Upminster.)