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The Meeting of the Ways

Rivers, fords and ports have been the focal points for the birth of many towns thoughout history, but Brentwood owes its existence to flows of a different kind; travellers and pilgrims. Its name is said to derive from 'burnt wood', a clearing in a thick forest created by fire in either an accidental or deliberate event. The early settlement lay on the principal Roman road from London (Londinium) through Chelmsford (Caesaromagus) to the Roman capital town Colchester (Camulodunum). No traces of Roman settlement have ben found in Brentwood so far, and so it was probably a passing place where travellers could refresh and get supplies: certainly the road has continued as an important artery of trade. The flow was increased by events which happened between 1170, and 1173. In 1170, when King Henry II complained of the behaviour of Thomas ŕ Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Knights, who were anxious to please the king, entered Canterbury Cathedral and struck him down brutally. In 1173 he was canonised by Pope Alexander. His shrine in Canterbury became a place of pilgimage and Brentwood was at a cross roads where the existing Roman road met the Pilgrims Way from the Midlands and East Anglia. Pilgrims passed through Brentwood on the way to Canterbury, crossed the Thames at Tilbury and travelled on to Canterbury.

Chapel of St. Thomas ŕ Becket of Canterbury

The remains of this Chapel stand in Brentwood High Street today. The picture below left shows that little remains today but it was a significant building as the drawing from 1835 shows. (Picture below right). The chapel was founded by monks based in St. Osyth in about 1220 and it was part of a community they built within the existing small settlement of Brentwood. Pilgrims travelling to Thomas ŕ Becket's shrine from St Osyth and East Anglia and from the Midlands used this chapel as a place of worship.

The picture below right is reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office

Today's photo and drawing of chapel from 1835.

Commuter Town

Waterside in Thorndon Park

Brentwood is in the London commuter belt, 20 miles (30 km) east north-east of Charing Cross in London and near the M25 motorway. When the railway arrived in 1840, the short journey to London Liverpool Street station made it easy for workers to live in Brentwood/Shenfield and commute into work. Many new houses were built around the station at this time. Electrification of the line as far as Shenfield came in 1949, and the consequent reduction in journey times to London increased the attractiveness of the town as a place to live.
Today a large proportion of working people commute outside the area for work. Despite once having been ridiculed as the most boring town in the land, Brentwood has many things in its favour; nearby and extensive country parks, at South Weald and Thorndon; a rural feel, with trees, fields and open spaces all around the town; a thriving arts community - as this website page and links therein will attest.
Times have changed since 1381 when the largely agricultural population was at the heart of the Peasants’ Revolt. The start of the rebellion was an incident in Brentwood, where a poll tax collector was attacked..

Brentwood Roman Catholic Cathedral.

picture of Brentwood Cathedral

Brentwood Roman Catholic Cathedral is the centre and mother church of a diocese which was formed in 1917, and comprises the County of Essex and the London Boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Newham, Redbridge and Waltham Forest.The impressive building of today was dedicated by Cardinal Hume on May 31st 1991.The architect Quinlan Terry designed the new church in the Classical style, taking inspiration from the early Italian Renaissance architecture and the English baroque style of Christopher Wren. It is beautiful seen from the outside, with Kentish ragstone walls contrasting with Portland stone pillars and finishings, and the interior is no less beautiful with Doric pillars and arches in the Italian style. The floor is in Portland stone. The Cathedral is in Ingrave Road near the town centre and just over the road from Brentwoood School the distinguished public school for boys. There have been several churches in the same area, all required by a steady increase in the congregation. The first church was built 1837 and still exists as a parish hall. The congregations had more than doubled by the 1850s and a new Gothic style church was built, which became the Cathedral in 1917, when the diocese was created. Congregations continued to grow and in 1974 a new cathedral was built, extending the older building, thus creating a multipurpose building. This served as the Cathedral and meeting hall and catered for up to 1000 persons. Unfortunately the extended building had severe structural problems and there was a need for a replacement An anonymous donor enabled the present beautiful building to be built, starting in 1979 leading to dedication in 1981.

Brentwood School

Brentwood School has a list of famous old boys whose high achievements extend over virtually all professions, the arts and all walks of life: Politician; broadcaster, artist, poet, playwright, actor, costume maker, author; comedian, professor of English, professor of philosophy, executive of major industry etc. etc. In recent times Brentwood School has opened its door to girls.
The licence to found the school was granted by Queen Mary to Sir Antony Browne in 1558 and in 1568 the school moved to a purpose built school room, which still remains. There is a disturbing background to this piece of history, which concerns the execution of one William Hunter by burning, for refusal to accept religious dogma. As Justice of the Peace, Sir Antony sentenced Hunter to burn at the instruction of Mary and the place of Hunter's burial is right next to the school room.


Although Brentwood is a residential commuter town, it is also the home of the headquarters of some notable buisnesses, including the Ford Motor Company UK ( Warley) and Amstrad, Sir Alan Sugar's electronics manufacturing business. (Now a subsidiary of BSkyB). The famous vacuum flask manufacturer 'Thermos' moved to Brentwood from Leyton in 1961. In 1996 the U.K. offices and manufacturing plant were sold for redevelopment as a Sainsbury supermarket.

The Army and Warley

Warley is a suburb on the south side of Brentwood and common lands in this area, near to Thorndon Park, were strongly associated with the military for over 200 years. The reasons for the importance of this area, to the military, was its closeness to Tilbury, an embarking point for service overseas, and the existence of established highways to the region from the eastern and midland counties of England. When the American War of Independence broke out in 1775, and France became an ally of the Americans, there was a threat to the homeland as well as a need to embark troops to fight the war and so Warley became an important assembly point. In October 1778 a review of troops included a mock battle on the site, involving 10.000 troops, training for things to come on a large scale. George II and Queen Charlotte, Lord Petre of Thorndon and Dr Johnson were all witnesses of the review and the exercise.The encampment was also used in during the French Revolution and in the Napoleonic wars. A permanent camp was set up on the site and in about 1805 the barracks at Little Warley were built. The site became the home of the Essex Regiment which remained there until 1960 at the ending of conscription after World War II.

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