Essex Life - - INSIDE -

His­toric se­crets of this mod­ern town

Michael Fo­ley is the au­thor of Se­cret Brent­wood, a book which high­lights the fas­ci­nat­ing col­lec­tion of his­tor­i­cal trea­sures that have helped make this town the vi­brant place it is to­day. Here Michael shares some of the those trea­sures with Es­sex Life read­ers

Brent­wood is a town around 18 miles from Lon­don that stands on the road to Nor­wich. In the mid 19th cen­tury it had a pop­u­la­tion of just over 2,000. As well as those liv­ing in the town there were around 400 in­mates in the asy­lum at War­ley, plus a sim­i­lar num­ber at the schools in the area and around 1,000 men at the bar­racks at War­ley. The bar­racks were oc­cu­pied at dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods by both the Bri­tish Army and the forces of the East In­dia Com­pany.

In the dis­tant past, it was the small vil­lage of South Weald that was the more im­por­tant set­tle­ment in the Brent­wood area and it was South Weald that was men­tioned in the Dooms­day Book. The area known as Burnt Wood was only men­tioned later when pil­grims mak­ing their way to the death place of Thomas a Becket in Can­ter­bury needed some­where to stay. Their route by-passed South Weald and, be­cause of this, a church was built in Brent­wood in 1221 ded­i­cated to Thomas a Becket.

Brent­wood soon be­came bet­ter known through con­flict. Henry lll sent 300 sol­diers to ar­rest Hu­bert de Burgh in 1232, when he was hid­ing and claim­ing sanc­tu­ary in the chapel in the town. Then in 1381 Brent­wood was one of the first towns to ex­pe­ri­ence the Peas­ants Re­volt led by Wat Tyler.

The town has grown through the years and as well as the pil­grims pass­ing through there have been other at­trac­tions through­out its his­tory, such as a race course and large sum­mer mil­i­tary camps at nearby War­ley. Large crowds would gather to watch the sham bat­tles put on by the sol­diers, who of­ten fought be­fore roy­alty. The mil­i­tary camps were reg­u­lar events in the 18th cen­tury, of­ten for train­ing but also in times of na­tional se­cu­rity, such as in 1778 when there was a danger of a French

in­va­sion. A mock bat­tle was watched by Ge­orge lll and Queen Caro­line at the camp. Another fa­mous vis­i­tor was Ben John­son. The camp even­tu­ally evolved into per­ma­nent bar­racks in 1805 be­fore, in 1842, the bar­racks were sold by the Gov­ern­ment to The East In­dia Com­pany. A num­ber of houses were built in the town for the of­fi­cers of the com­pany army, but in 1861 the bar­racks re­turned to the own­er­ship of the Gov­ern­ment.

Brent­wood is far from the coast, so it may come as a sur­prise to read that it has many con­nec­tions with the sea. Ad­mi­ral John Jarvis lived in a house called Rock­etts in South Weald. Jarvis joined the Navy at 14 but after he cap­tured a 74-gun French war ship in 1782 while com­man­der of the Foudroy­ant, he was made a knight and an ad­mi­ral.

Per­haps one of Brent­wood’s most fa­mous in­hab­i­tants was Wil­liam Hunter. Hunter was burned as a heretic in 1555. The place where he was burned was not where his me­mo­rial now stands, but was on part of Shen­field Com­mon known as the Butts. It is now part of the gram­mar school.

One of the old res­i­dents of Brent­wood was the fa­ther of Ce­cil Rhodes, who had such an in­flu­ence on ob­tain­ing South Africa for the Em­pire. His fa­ther was the Rev­erend Fran­cis Rhodes who once climbed on the roof of a burn­ing build­ing in the High Street to re­move tiles so the wa­ter from the fire en­gine could reach the flames. If he had fallen through, then his son may never have been born and the course of his­tory might have been much dif­fer­ent.

One of the larger houses to have stood in the town was Brent­wood Hall. It was owned by a Mr Ka­vanagh in around 1840 and stood at the end of Ka­vanagh Lane, named after the hall owner. The build­ing was later used as part of the asy­lum after Mr Ka­vanagh sold 86 acres of his es­tate in 1849 to be used to build what was known as War­ley Hos­pi­tal.

The build­ing was com­pleted and opened in 1853 and it still looks fright­en­ing to­day what the pa­tients in their poor men­tal state must have thought at the first site of the build­ing can only be imag­ined. Although some parts have been de­mol­ished, a large orig­i­nal part of the build­ing re­mains as apart­ments.

Brent­wood was also in­stru­men­tal in the de­vel­op­ment of the tram­po­line in the UK, thanks to the en­trepreneur­ship of a gen­tle­man called Ted Blake. It was ac­tu­ally Ge­orge Nis­san, an Amer­i­can, who got the idea for a tram­po­line from watch­ing the use of safety nets for cir­cus acts. He built his first tram­po­line in 1934 and toured Amer­ica per­form­ing at car­ni­vals. He then founded his first com­pany man­u­fac­tur­ing them in 1941 and they were even used to train Amer­i­can pi­lots dur­ing the war.

After the war, Nis­san be­gan to tour in Europe. Blake even­tu­ally per­suaded Nis­san to open a tram­po­line fac­tory in Eng­land. This opened in Hain­ault in 1956. Blake was at­tract­ing more at­ten­tion now through his own tram­po­line in his back gar­den in Manor Park, where he was liv­ing, and the tram­po­line was fea­tured in the Daily Mirror in 1957. The fac­tory ex­panded to larger premises, first in Rom­ford and then to its fi­nal home on the Hut­ton In­dus­trial Es­tate in Brent­wood.

ABOVE: Shen­field Com­monLEFT: Bren­tood High Street, lead­ing to­wards Shen­fieldRIGHT: The me­mo­rial to Wil­liam Hunter, who was burnt at the stake for heresy

ABOVE:Part of the old bar­racks build­ing in War­ley

BE­LOW LEFT:Brent­wood School

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