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High Street Brentwood Essex - - 19540.jpg
High Street Brentwood
Grid reference: TQ595938
Location: 51°37’13"N, 0°18’18"E
Population: 44,800
Post town: Brentwood
Postcode: CM14, CM15
Dialling code: 01277
Local Government
Council: Brentwood
Brentwood and Ongar

Brentwood is an affluent suburban town in Essex. It is of moderate size but swiftly expanding its[1] shopping area and high street. Beyond this is centre are extensive sprawling residential developments entirely surrounded by open countryside and woodland; some penetrating to within only a few hundred yards of the town centre.

The name has been assumed since the 1700s to derive from a corruption of the words 'Burnt Wood', and the name "Burntwood" is still visible on some 18th Century maps. The suggestion was that men settled here in the part of the Forest of Essex (later Epping Forest) that would have covered the area, where the main occupation was charcoal burning.

The town

The town is increasingly suburban, but it does have a very rural feel, with trees, fields and open spaces all around the town; Shenfield Common is less than ¼ mile from Town Centre shops.

In 2008 the Daily Telegraph found Brentwood to be Britain's 19th richest town. The Daily Telegraph cited Brentwood's private schools, open parks, good motorway access and a 35-minute train ride to London Liverpool Street station as reasons why it was chosen. A sizable proportion of the housing stock in Brentwood is characterised with large detached "mansions".[2]

A large proportion of residents, particularly those who live in the Suburbs the Shenfield and Hutton, work in the Financial services sector of London. The City "bonus season" is known to have a positive affect on the economy of Brentwood.[3]

Brentwood was the first town in Britain to install colour CCTV in 1994.

Brentwood's High Street has also recently been subject to major re-development works costing over £3 million[4] which included the demolition of the Sir Charles Napier pub for a bypass to the traffic lights at the west end of the High Street.[5] The cost of the re-development scheme is not certain, with some sources claiming them to be £3 million whereas others say £6 million[6] and some even £7 million.[7]

Several notable businesses are located in Brentwood. Countryside Properties, the property developer responsible for much of the new development in Brentwood and across Essex, has a substantial headquarters building in the town.


St Thomas's

Brentwood has several churches of various denominations. Churches in Brentwood include:


Early history

Although a Bronze Age axe has been found in Brentwood and there are clear signs of an entrenched encampment in Weald Country Park it is considered unlikely that there was any significant early settlement of the area which was originally covered by the Great Forest covering most of Essex at that time. Rather it is believed that despite the Roman Road between London and Colchester passing through, the Saxons were the earliest settlers of the area.[8]

Robert Graves in his book I, Claudius refers to Brentwood as the site of the battle where Claudius defeated the Ancient Britons in 44AD. However, Graves also states that names and places in the book are sometimes fictitious.

The "Brentwood Ring", the earliest Christian ring ever to have been discovered in Britain was found in Brentwood in the late 1940s. It is now in the British Museum in London. The only other ring of its type in existence can be found at the Vatican Museum.[9]

The town began as a small clearing in the middle of a dense forest, created by fire, giving it the name of 'Burntwood,' or 'the place where the wood was burned.' Settlement began here and, because it was on the crossroads of the old Roman road from Colchester to London and the route the pilgrims took over the Thames to Canterbury, it grew into a small town. A chapel was built in or after 1221, and in 1227 a market charter was granted.

The new township, occupying the highest ground in the parish, lay at the junction of the main London-Colchester road with the Ongar-Tilbury road. Its growth may have been stimulated by the cult of St Thomas the Martyr, to whom Brentwood chapel was dedicated: the 12th century ruin of Thomas Becket Chapel was a popular stopping point for pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. The ruin stands in the centre of the High Street, next to the tourist information office, and the nearby parish church of Brentwood retains the dedication to St Thomas of Canterbury.[10] Pilgrims Hatch, which means 'Pilgrims' Gate,' in South Weald, was probably named from pilgrims who crossed through on their way to the chapel. It is likely, however, that Brentwood's development was due chiefly to its main road position, its market, and its convenient location as an administrative centre. Early industries were connected mainly with textile and garment making, brewing, and brickmaking.[11]

During the Peasants' Revolt (1381), Brentwood was the meeting place for some of the instigators; such as John Ball and Jack Straw. They, apparently, met regularly in local inns. The Essex assizes were sometimes held here, as well as at Chelmsford. One such inn is the White Hart[12] (now known as "the Sugar Hut", which shows little appreciation of its historical interest), which is one of the oldest buildings in Brentwood. The White Hart is believed to have been built in 1480 although apocryphal evidence suggests a hostelry might have stood on the site as much as a hundred years earlier and been visited in 1392 by Richard II whose coat of arms included a White Hart. The ground floor was originally stabling and in the mid-1700s they ran their own coach service to London. On September 13, 2009, the building caught fire and fire crews took over 3 hours to bring it under control; the extent of damage has not yet been disclosed.[13]

Marygreen Manor, a handsome 16th century building on the London Road, is mentioned in Samuel Pepys' diaries and is said to have been often visited by the Tudor monarch Henry VIII when Henry Roper, Gentleman Pursuant to Queen Catherine of Aragon, lived there in 1514. It is now a hotel and restaurant.[14] In 1686 Brentwood's inns were estimated to provide 110 beds and stabling for 183 horses. There were 11 inns in the town in 1788.

William Hunter, Protestant martyr, was burnt at the stake in Brentwood in 1555. A monument to him was erected by subscription in 1861 at Wilson's Corner. Thomas Munn (d. 1750), 'gentleman brickmaker' of Brentwood, met a less noble end: he was hanged for robbing the Yarmouth mail and his body was exhibited in chains at Gallows Corner. A ducking stool was mentioned in 1584.[15]

As the route of the old Roman road grew busier, Brentwood became a major coaching stop for stagecoaches, with plenty of inns for overnight accommodation as the horses were rested. Ontinuing an old tradition, the town has an above-average number of pubs in the area, though that is possibly due to Warley Barracks in the town (closed down in the 1960s). Some of the pubs date back to the 15th and 16th Centuries.

Brentwood was also significant as a hub for the London postal service, with a major post office since the 18the century. The most recent major post office on High Street was recently closed in the 2008 budget cuts; Brentwood residents now must rely on sub-postal offices.[16]

Daniel Defoe wrote about Brentwood as being full of good inns, and chiefly maintained by the excessive multitude of carriers and passengers, which are constantly passing this way to London, with droves of cattle, provisions and manufactures."[17]

Modern history

The Black Horse, Pilgrim's Hatch

Ingatestone Hall is a sixteenth-century manor house built by Sir William Petre at "Yenge-atte-Stone."[18] The Petres of Ingatestone played a significant role in the preservation of the Roman faith in England. Sir William was assistant to Thomas Cromwell at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries but retained a position despite his clinging to the old faith through four Tudor monarchs: Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth.[19] Queen Mary, in 1553, on her way to claim her crown in London, stopped at Ingatestone Hall. Later Queen Elizabeth I spent several nights at the hall on her royal progress of 1561.

Today, Ingatestone Hall is a beautiful and interesting house like all other large Tudor houses an expression of wealth and status and still retains many of the features of a 16th-century knightly residence, despite alterations by descendants who live in the house to this day.[20]

Brentwood originated as an ancient parish of 460 acres. In 1891 the population was 4,949.[21]

In 1917, the Roman Catholic church in the town was decalred a cathedral, the seat of a Roman bishop, and between 1989 and 1991 the building was modified to appear in an Italianate Classical style.

Brentwood was the location of Warley Hospital, a Mental Institution]], from 1853 to 2001.

The town began to develop in earnest after the Second World War. The metropolitan green belt was enacted ot gird the town to prevent the urban spread from metropolitan parts of Essex reaching further and swallowing Brentwood and its neighbours, and a physical barrier appeared in the 1980s in the shape of the M25 motorway. Nevertheles, within such constraints modern houses have sprung up and offices too, to turn what was once a modest village into one of the most active Essex towns, a process which continues.

Military history

Brentwood had strategic importance during the time of the Spanish Armada; it was used as a meeting place for contingents from eight eastern and midland counties (900 horsemen assembled here) to then travel on to Tilbury.

The common was used as a military camp in 1742, and thousands of troops camped there during the summer months. It was an ideal base, as it was less than a day's march to Tilbury, whence the troops would leave for foreign service. In the 1778 encampment, George III came to inspect the troops, and Dr Samuel Johnson stayed for five days. The camps were made permanent in 1804, with space for 2,000 cavalry. 116 acres of land were bought and used for two troops of horse artillery - 222 horses, with 306 soldiers of varying ranks and ten officers - a hospital and half a battalion of the Rifle Brigade.[22]

In 1842 the East India Company's barracks at Chatham became inadequate, and they purchased the land to move their troops in. Accommodation was created for 785 recruits and 20 sergeants with new buildings for the officers. Married family housing was also provided, and a chapel. In 1856 further building work was carried out, and a total of 1,120 men were housed there every year. After training they were shipped out to India.

The area and men were absorbed into the British Army after the Indian Mutiny in 1857, and in 1861 the barracks was bought by the War Office. By 1881 the many different regiments had evolved into the Essex Regiment, which saw active service in the Boer War and both World Wars. The barracks served as a training centre and depot for the Essex Regiment for a number of years after the war, with many National Servicemen serving their first weeks here, but with the ending of conscription in 1960 the barracks closed.

During Second World War, over 1,000 bombs were dropped on Brentwood, with 19 flying bombs (doodlebugs), 32 long-range rockets (V2s) and many incendiary bombs and parachute mines. 5,038 houses were destroyed, 389 people were injured and 43 died. It is a wonder that the 15th- and 16th-century pubs survived. It should be borne in mind that Brentwood had been considered a safe enough haven to evacuate London children here - 6,000 children arrived in September 1939 alone.

Arts and media

The Brentwood Theatre and The Hermitage are the main cultural buildings in Brentwood; located on the same site in the heart of Brentwood, the yellow and blue theatre and the historic brick buildings are not to be missed. Owned and maintained by an independent charity, Brentwood Theatre receives no regular arts funding or subsidy. However, through very careful management by Mark Reed, theatre manager, and David Zelly, production manager—and with the support of a huge team of volunteers—they are able to keep costs down so that hire rates are an excellent value for a 100 - 176 seater professional venue. The Hermitage is used as the centre for Brentwood Youth Service, with which the theatre is also involved.

Brentwood Theatre is a fully-fitted community theatre that serves more than 40 non-professional performing arts groups. With superior lighting and sound, set design/production, and flexible staging, it is also an ideal venue for touring professional troupes, like Eastern Angles, who recently staged "Return to Akenfield" to critical acclaim.[23]

Local involvement provided support for Brentwood Theatre's renovation, but the campaign received a significant bump when a fan-based fundraiser (led by USA's Jean Armitage, Volunteer Fundraising Coordinator for the theatre) became known to American fans of actor Stephen Moyer, first patron of the theatre.

The Hermitage youth service operates its own cafe, youth club and a live music venue called The Hermit, which has had popular bands play there.

The Brentwood Art Trail has become a popular annual summer event. Brentwood Borough Council has a long tradition of supporting and promoting the arts in the area and works closely with artists, schools and the local community to achieve this. As a result, Brentwood Art Trail was developed to create an arts experience whereby art created by local people can be recognised and appreciated.[24]

Brentwood is also home to the Royal British Legion Youth Band Brentwood, which perform at many events throughout the year, including the military tattoo at Haileybury and Swanage Carnival. It is a very successful band and attracts youngsters from the age of eight from around Brentwood and surrounding areas. It was the first British band to ever take part in the Tournament of Roses Parade[25] in Pasadena, California. It meets twice a week in Warley.[26]

Among the many theatre companies in the region, Brentwood Operatic Society and Shenfield Operatic Society are two that represent the many groups providing excellent theatrical productions for the community. Brentwood Operatic Society also trains young actors with its BOSSY Youth acting program,[27] headed by Gaynor Wilson, who directed actor Stephen Moyer before he hit the big-time. David Pickthall serves as Musical Director[28] when he is not busy heading the music department at Brentwood School, scoring films and television shows for BBC, directing British orchestras, anc composing. The award-winning composer wrote two operas and three musicals, published worldwide by Samuel French Ltd. He is also the musical voice of the villainous penguin in the Oscar-winning Wallace & Grommit “The Wrong Trousers” (Nick Park, Aardvark Studios).

Brentwood's Orchestras for Young People was founded in 1990 and grew to include five ensembles for orchestral instrumentalists of school age, who perform regularly in and around the town. Regular rehearsals and workshops introduce the musicians to a wide variety of music, from well-known classical pieces to modern music.[29]

The Brentwood Performing Arts Festival has now been accepted into membership by the British and International Federation of Festivals of which Queen Elizabeth II is patron. With this, the Festival has achieved recognition as the Festival of Performing Arts for Brentwood.

The youth of Brentwood are also included in preparation for the Olympics 2012. Brentwood Borough Council formed Brentwood Young Ambassadors in Celebration of 2012: nine Year-7s from five secondary schools in Brentwood have been selected to be the 'voice' of young people locally. They will help to ensure that young people have a strong and memorable experience of 2012 and tis educational opportunities and celebrations through arts, sports, culture and community. Not only will they lead on key celebratory projects within their school, partnership primary schools and their local community, they will have the opportunity to take part in some key local events and have a say about how young people can be involved. The Ambassadaors will take part in a 6-week training scheme to help them deliver projects with a small budget. Training will be delivered in Team work and leadership, presentation and debating, budgeting and fundraising and project management and evaluation skills.[30]

The town is the venue of the Brentwood International Chess Congress which was set up in 2006 and first ran 17–18 February 2007. The Congress attracted 235 competitors who included three Grandmasters and five International Masters. The prize fund is quite generous in comparison to many other similar congresses being around £4000. In 2007 it was the largest chess competition to be held in Essex and it was organised by Brentwood Chess Club. See also Brentwood International Chess Congress Website and Essex Chess Association Homepage.

Sport, parks and open spaces

Brentwood is surrounded by open countryside and woodland. This has been cited as showing the success of the Metropolitan Green Belt in halting the outward spread of London's built-up area.[31]

Brentwood has a number of public open spaces including the King George's Playing Field, Shenfield Common and two vast country parks at South Weald and Thorndon. Weald Country Park was first chosen to hold the 2012 Olympics mountain bike race but is no longer the venue because it was declared to be 'too easy' a course. Brentwood hosts a number of 'Criterium Cycle Races' that attract many of Britain's greatest cyclists.

The town has two large sports centres providing access to a range of sports including badminton, squash, swimming, and football. There are a number of golf courses, including a 70 par municipal course very close to the town centre at Hartswood[32] as well as others in the surrounding countryside. A number of cricket clubs exist in and around the town although the 'County Ground', closest to the town centre,[33] no longer hosts Essex matches.

Brentwood is home to Brentwood Town FC and London Leopards, who play at the Brentwood Centre. London Junior League club, Brentwood Elvers RLFC [1], the only rugby league club in West Essex, play here too. Brentwood Hockey Club [2] is also based in the town at the Old County Ground and fielded 7 Mens and 5 Ladies league teams for the 2009-10 season.


  1. Brentwood Replacement Local Plan
  2. "Britain's richest towns: 20 - 11". The Daily Telegraph (London). 18 April 2008. 
  3. Liebman, Robert (29 June 2001). "Hot Spot: Brentwood, Essex". The Independent (London). 
  4. This is Total - £3 million revamp - Retrieved 2009-11-01
  5. This is Total - Sir Charles Napier pub demolition
  6. This is Total - £6 million revamp - Retrieved 2009-11-01
  7. Brentwood High - £7 million revamp - Retrieved 2009-11-01
  8. Brentwood Council: History
  9. Antiquaries Journal Volume 65 (1985) 'A Roman Christian ring from Brentwood, Essex' pgs. 461-463
  10. Anglican Parish of St Thomas of Canterbury
  16. "Post office closures: Full list of branches". The Daily Telegraph (London). 28 February 2008. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  17. A Tour Throughout the Whole Island of Great Britain by Daniel Defoe
  21. Vision of Britain - Brentwood: Total Population
  23. The Guardian, Lyn Gardner review of Eastern Angles "Return to Akenfield" at Brentwood Theatre, 23 April 2008
  25. Rose Parade Participants
  29. Adams, Nicky (January 2009). "A Tuneful Town". Essex Life (Archant): pp. 55–58. 
  31. Brentwood Borough Council - Brentwood Local Plan - Green Belt & the Countryside
  32. Brentwood Borough Council - Leisure and Culture - Sports and Activities - Golf
  33. Brentwood Cricket Club Official Web Site

Outside links