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Church Cross

St.Thomas' Church         Noak Hill

Photo below taken from the north east 1981

Noak Hill St Thonas Church 1981 from NE.jpg
st Thomas Consecration Essex Standard - Friday 04 November 1842.jpg

The brief historyof the church below was recovered from a leaflet produced by the church in about 1992.

It was written by Aileen Tyler

The thriving commercial and residential areas of Romford and Harold Hill are close at hand. The busy M25 with its relentless traffic is but a few hundred yards away. But on turning down Church Road in Noak Hill, one comes across the small Victorian red brick church of St Thomas, with a peace and tranquillity worthy of the English countryside.
St Thomas’ Church, Noak Hill was part of the Parish of St. Edward’s Romford until 1978. Built in 1841 at the wish of Lady Frances Neave, wife of Sir Thomas Neave, St Thomas’ is now the sister church of St. Georges, Harold Hill.

The Neave family had, since 1788, been landowners in the Noak Hill area, and by the middle of the 19th century they were the owners of the Dagnam Park Estate and recognised as "Lords of the Manor". By tradition, the Neave family staff attended St Edward’s Church in Romford every Sunday morning, and walked to the neighbouring St Peter’s South Weald Church each Sunday evening. Lady Frances Neave felt this situation to be unsatisfactory, both to herself and to her household. Hence, St Thomas’ Chapel of Ease in Noak Hill village, came into being. At a cost of £1883 the work was undertaken by George Smith (1783-1869) and the finished building was consecrated by the Bishop of London on 29th October 1842.

Walk through the gate into the churchyard and immediately you have the impression of a church well-loved and well cared-for by its people. The congregation operate a graveyard rota and it is not unusual to see one or more of them performing their maintenance duty on a Saturday or on a summer evening - they even bring their own lawnmower with them.
As you step into the porch and through the main door, the feeling of friendship and the aura of peace is evident. It is indeed a "Chapel of Ease". To the left, at the west end of the building, is the Baptistery. This not insubstantial carpeted area is dominated, quite obviously, by the Font, placed in its traditional position. This symbolises the first step a child makes on its Christian Journey through life; hence the Font is placed by the Church Door. The Font itself is of stone and is overpainted. The copper-coloured cover of beaten metal was made by a metalwork master at St. Edward’s School, and was presented in memory of Jack Smith, a Churchwarden from 1967-72. This carpeted area at the west end of the church also doubles as a play area for babies and toddlers during family services. Continue towards the north wall and you will notice the robing area for clergy. On the west end of the north wall is a wonderful wooden carving depicting St. Christopher, the Christ carrier. On his shoulders is a child, who holds in his hand an orb, symbol of the King of Kings.
On looking round the church you can see that the fleur-de-lys design appears regularly. The pew ends may well have originally borne this design also, but because several of them became damaged, all the pew ends were eventually cut to the plain shape you see now. The ceiling of the church suffered damage during World War II and is therefore not the original.
Between the first and second windows on the north wall can be seen a memorial to those inhabitants of Noak Hill who gave their lives during World War I. Major Arundell Neave is among them; he died in action at Ypres, aged 40 years.

In the body of the church, much of the glass is very old and how it came to be sited in St Thomas’ is not fully known. It may well be that Sir Thomas Neave, as Governor of the Bank of England, was sufficiently affluent and sufficiently influential to be able to procure such priceless Flemish, German and Belgian treasures.
On the north wall the first window depicts a scene from the 22nd chapter of the First Book of Samuel. Opposite, on the south wall, the glass shows New Testament scenes: St Thomas at the resurrection of Christ, Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and His mistreatment by the Roman Soldiers. The second window on the North wall depicts a quartered shield of
Manners, Earl of Rutland in the 17th century, and back cm the South wall can be seen the arms of Charles II. At the East aid of the North wall you can read the inscription ’Honi Soit Qui Mai Y Pense’.
We now reach the carpeted chancel area. Here the choir stalls have been removed and the altar rail moved back to form an adequate space for the administration of the Eucharist. The music group sit to the north side of the chancel to provide accompaniment for the congregation.

Looking back down the church to the west end, you can see the organ, housed on the balcony. The organ is a 3-manual and pedal chamber organ, with 645 pipes, and may date from the 18th century. It was placed in St. Thomas’ at the beginning of the 20th century and is now electrically blown. On reflection it is evident that an organist at St Thomas’ cannot be faint-hearted, neither can he suffer from vertigo!
^ The small, windy stone steps at the south side of the west end of the church lead to both the organ gallery and the red brick and slate spire. There is one bell in the spire, appropriately bearing the name "Thomas".
The altar table has been moved forward in recent years, to allow the Priest-in-Charge to face his congregation. The lectern is placed on the south side of the sanctuary; the pulpit is on the north.
Standing before the altar, you can now see the three beautiful east end windows of Flemish glass. The upper centre light depicts the scene of the Crucifixion, and the upper two lights show the thieves who were crucified with Christ. The lower panels are of a later date. The glass in the two outer lights date back to about 1590 and comes from Rouen. On the left you can see St.John the Baptist; on the right is St. Peter holding the key to the Kingdom of Heaven. The middle lower panel dates back to the 17th century and comes from Brussels. Here you can see the Virgin Mary, her cousin Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) and Zecharias (husband of Elizabeth).
The painted metal reredos in seven arches records the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the 10 Commandments, being the basis of a Christian’s life and worship. Some word of Christ which are particularly significant to the Christian faith, can also be found here.

Look to your right, on the south wall, to see the hatchment which was actually placed right over a window. This hatchment came from above the fireplace at Dagnam Park Hall, the home of the Neave family, and commemorates the death of Sir Arundell Neave in 1877. This Neave family coat-of-arms bears the words ’Sola Proba Quae Honesta’.
Beneath the hatchment you can see a memorial to Lady Frances Neave who, as already mentioned gave instructions for the building of St.Thomas’ in 1841.
As you leave the church through the north-east end vestry door, across the churchyard and the car park you can see the Marriott Hall. Mary Marriott was a churchwarden from 1939-1949, and left a bequest to maintain the fabric of the church buildings. However, these funds became ’lost’ in the investments of the diocese for some years. When they reappeared, the necessary land was purchased and the Marriott Hall was built. It was opened on the 13th December 1988 by the Bishop of Barking, the Rt. Rev. James Roxburgh. The Marriott Hall houses offices, kitchen and toilet facilities and meeting rooms.
The old schoolhouse is situated across the road, opposite the church. It originally provided education for the children of residents of Noak Hill and the staff of Dagnam Park Hall. It was a primary school until about 15 years ago, when it was sold and became the Schoolhouse Restaurant you see today.

More recent photo by Don Tait 2009

st thomas pre war reduced.jpg
Noak Hill St Thomas 18-12-09 Don Tait.jpg

The picture above is an old postcard provided by Don Tait. It was taken around the time of the 2nd World War. It shows the church and on the extreme left hand edge the Tea Room, enlarged opposite.

The tea room also served as a general store and was in front of a holding known as Pentowan owned by the Hammer family. It closed just after the war. It was eventually dismantled and transported to Waverly Crescent to become part of the then St Georges Church. The new St Georges in Chippenham Rd was built in 1952  and the Waverly Crescent buildings were no longer required. The site was subsequently redeveloped for housing.

Pentowan noak hill stores.jpg

These four memorial photos were provided by Don Tait and show the headstone of Sir Thomas Neave who died on the 12th May 1940. His wife Dorina Lockhart Neave was buried in the same grave when she died on the 20th December 1955.

The Great War memorial is also shown. An extraordinary number of men are remembered from what was a tiny village, it even includes one of the landed gentry. Today it is difficult to imagine the impact of this disaster on such a small community. To think this tragic carnage was repeated not just throughout England and the UK but across the whole of Europe.

Who was it said that yesterday's politicians were better than today's?

With a few exceptions probably not.

Neave Thomas Headstone full.jpg
Neave Thomas Headstone Dorina.jpg
Neave Thomas Headstone.jpg

The Church is renowned for its beautiful stained glass, Thanks to Don Tait for permission to reproduce the photos below.

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Stained glass St Thomas Church (2).jpg
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Stained glass St Thomas Church (5).jpg
Stained glass St Thomas Church (3).jpg
Stained glass St Thomas Church (7).jpg
Rev Gaze Recollections

Below some recollections of a former vicar of St Thomas'. I don't know if or where it was previously published, if any reader can shed any light it would be welcome


by Canon A. P. A. GAZE

image 57  Buff Album Vi Hutchison scan 006b Rev Gaze with wife and child reduced.jpg

The Rev Gaze, his wife, and child with an unknown man.


Memory is subject to pressures of many kinds. Are we recalling actual experiences, claiming as our own something that we happen to have been told, perhaps allowing what might or ought to have been to replace the incident which actually occurred? What I recollect from the 'Forties may well be inaccurate in detail, though true enough in the impression it has left with me.
I can state with some assurance that 1 began my work as an assistant curate in the Parish of Romford on 9th June 1941. In those days the parish extended beyond Gidea Park and Squirrels Heath to include the area between Eastern Avenue and the main Brentwood road, beyond Gallows Corner, including the Straight Road district (mainly Council houses) and the hamlet of Noak Hill. To reach it we had to bus, drive or cycle through the parish of St. Michael, Gidea Park. In 1944, three years after the coming to Romford, the then Vicar, the Rev'd E. C Blaxland, asked me to take over the Straight Road/Noak Hill area of the parish, while still remaining an assistant at the Parish Church of St. Edward the Confessor. My father had just retired, and he bought a house (Thornhill Cottage) on the Mount, about 4!/2 miles from St. Edward's and half way between St. George's, Straight Road and St. Thomas's, Noak Hill. So I was able to share my parents' home, and live "on the job" rather than be a non-resident parson.
To speak of Noak Hill as a hamlet was to classify it, in my understanding, as a community which enjoyed some, but not all, of the usual amenities of a village. There was a school, and a school house; there had been, since 1842, a church (dedicated to St. Thomas). There was Dagnams - the Big House or the Mansion; there was the Dower House, the Priory; there had been a blacksmiths shop but (and this was the damning omission) there was no pub. When I protested that the Bear, standing between the Mount and the village proper, must surely be counted, I was firmly told that it stood outside the boundary proper. There had been, so I learned, another inn in the fields beyond the church, but that had lost its licence by becoming involved in sheep stealing. So, no pub, therefore only a hamlet.
The brick Church of St. Thomas had some of the qualities of a real village church. It was lit by oil lamps; it had in the east window, and in panels hung against the clear glass of other windows, stained glass older than the buildings. According to one tradition, some of this glass had been "acquired" from the Continent after the Napoleonic Wars by a member of the Neave family. It was slightly cruciform in shape, with North and South Transepts just deep enough for each to contain a long pew behind the choir stalls. The southern was for the Neave family from Dagnams, the northern for members of the staff. It must have been very obvious if any of them were missing from Sunday worship. The organ in the west end gallery was supposed to have been a one-manual instrument, converted - within the original frame - into a three-manual one. Being placed with its unprotected pipes against the clear west window (open to the extremes of cold and heat) it was not surprising that it encountered problems. Another tradition had it that, should any of these pipes develop a "cypher" the blacksmith would be called to remove it, and then plug the hole. During the 'Forties only the choir manual was usable, and Leonard Jupp (the organist) had to know which keys to "flick up" after playing them. Later on enough money was found to effect a reasonable restoration. How old does a building have to be to acquire a ghost? I wouldn't know, but one Sunday morning I had just begun the 8 a.m. service when I heard the door close, and footsteps coming up the aisle. When I looked down the length of the church there was no sign of any addition to the tiny congregation, nor had that tiny number been depleted. The explanation is probably quite simple -1 haven't been able to think of it. During most of my time the "mansion" was empty. It was the home of the Neave family. Originally the home of Edward Carteret, it had passed from his family to a Henry Muilman, and then in 1772 to the Neaves. The original house had been pulled down and replaced by one built on a different site. At one time it was known as Dagenhams or Dagnams, and it was to that house that Samuel Pepys came on 15th July 1665 to teach young Mr. Carteret how to approach "Lady Jem", daughter of Lord Sandwich. The marriage had been "arranged" by their parents, but the bridegroom was apparently a very diffident young man. The nearest church in those days would have been at South Weald, but there is no trace there of the consequent wedding.
At my coming to Noak Hill the house, as I have said, was empty. Sir Thomas Neave had recently died; his son Arundel had succeeded to the baronetcy, but the War had taken him away, and his mother, Lady Neave, spent most of her time in London. It was only for a brief while, later on, that she opened up a few rooms and tried to make the place habitable. The Priory, on the other hand, was inhabited by George and Mary Marriott until they moved down to Devon some time after 1948. George would be seen every day cycling down to the nearest railway station on his way to work in London, while Mary, frequently in an old white (off-white?) milking coat, with a cigarette drooping from her lips, was a familiar figure about the house and grounds, and in the village. She took a deep interest in the place and its people, in the work of the school and the church, and was even persuaded to play the part of Olivia when a local drama group performed Twelfth Night in the Priory grounds.
There were still a few characters around in those days. "Lottie", who declared that "she never forgot a kindness" (nor did she) and "never forgave an injury", explaining at the same time that she usually omitted the relevant phrase from the Lord's Prayer. Young Robert from the farm opposite the church described himself as an improved type of Scot - one born in England. He had submitted at one time to being "confirmed", and was quite prepared to attend church so long as it was not "that communion". Another, whose name I forget, had been a member of the City of London Police Force in the days of the Sidney Street Siege, when Winston Churchill was Home Secretary. Fortunately for him the "siege" took place just outside the City boundary.
Noak Hill managed to escape most of the early air raids, but V2s (the rockets) were obviously misdirected at times. It remained true, however, as some of the local folk maintained, that "the Devil looks after his own" and we, on the Mount, experienced nothing more than a bit of broken glass. One V2 did a great deal of damage to the Priory. Another made it necessary to replace the village hall, but left the church untouched and the school still fit to use. The final one (as I remember it) fell below the Mount somewhere in the area bounded by that road, the Noak Hill road, and the road to Havering. It was night, and nothing had been set on fire, and no obvious signs of what damage, if any, it had done. However, there were a few houses and a shop (owned by Mr. and Mrs. Knott) on the left-hand side of the Noak Hill road - just before the start of the climb to the Mount, and it seemed sensible to go and see if they had suffered any damage. All were unharmed, but some of the householders seemed to think the V2 had landed in their back gardens. We went to look: nothing in the gardens, so we continued into the fields behind the houses. Eventually we came across a very large and very new crater. No people, buildings or animals anywhere near. We decided to go home. In our enthusiasm we hadn't noticed that a "ground mist" had come up, and we hadn't the faintest idea in which direction to move. Quite ridiculous when you come to think of it. In the end we realised we could see a clear sky above us, and someone spotted the Pole Star, and we found our way to the nearest road.
I cannot remember, and perhaps never knew, whether the plans of the then London County Council for the development of the Harold Hill estate came into being during, or only after, the War. It was certainly not long afterwards that we were told to expect a new housing area of about 30,000 people in the area bounded by the main Brentwood road, Straight Road, and the road to Noak Hill. At that time there was a dual-purpose church hall (St. George's) on the right-hand side of Straight Road, with sufficient space for a church, separate hall, and vicarage. We were informed that the L.C.C. need that plot of ground and would provide an alternative site further into the estate. Again my detailed memory is untrustworthy, but I can recall two incidents. One was a meeting in Romford Town Hall at which the L.C.C. explained their plans for the estate. It was held on a foggy day and the representative of the Diocese, who was supposed to attend, couldn't get to the meeting. The impression which was left with us, after listening to the planners and the objectors (there were privately owned houses and farms in the area) was that the L.C.C. needed a plain, uncluttered sheet of paper on which to draw up the plans of this new development.
The second occasion was a meeting at County Hall, London, in which we tried to point out that although the L.C.C. were concerned only with the area to the north-east (right-hand side) of Straight Road, the local council already had housing property on the left, and would undoubtedly develop the area between Straight Road and Eastern Avenue. From a parish point of view it would be unreasonable to move the church further away from its present position, central to the two developments. Of course, kindly though we were received, we made no impression on the planners. Very soon the first "temporary" (aluminium) houses began to arrive. About 600 of them were placed above and behind the then church site; and we had to do something about them.
Many of the new inhabitants had been bombed out of the East End and Dockland. Some had been living in one room, with furniture piled one piece on top of another as there was no room on the floor. We had wonderful co-operation from the Romford Town Clerk, John Twinn. He provided us with the names of each family as it moved into its new home, and we were able to pay at least one visit to all of them. It was usually a very short undertaking: "Good afternoon, are you Mrs. (or Mr) So-and-So?" "Yes." "I am the local (Anglican, C. of E., or whatever) priest." "Yes?" End of interview. Unless they objected to the fact that their children had to walk two hundred yards to school - why wasn't there a bus provided? They were strangers in a strange land: no fish and chips available, and those few who had been churchgoers looked for a stone or brick neo-gothic building - like the "one on the corner that had been bombed" - not a wooden dual-purpose building where you took the children to see the visiting nurse for weighing and other necessary attentions.
We did our best. We organised a meeting for the new citizens of Romford with the Mayor, the Town Clerk, the Vicar of the Parish (there may have been one or two others). All of them turned up on time. We had put leaflets through all six hundred doors. Not a single "new" Romfordian appeared.
I was invited to attend the laying of the foundation-stone of the new St. George's Church, and asked to act as chaplain to the Bishop. It was a dull and cloudy November day, Bishop Allison was very new, as were his episcopal robes. I offered him the use of my cloak, but he wished that I should carry his umbrella - which I did for the first and only time I have carried such an object in procession. I have been back once since, to see the new building in operation. Very fine, doing fine work, But I was very fond of the old St. George's.

The Rev Gaze with part of the congregation outside the "Waverly Cres" St George's Church 1944 - 1948.

image 58  Buff Album Vi Hutchison scan 006d Rev Gaze with his Choir boys probably at the P
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