Brentwood is a town and the principal settlement of the Borough of Brentwood, in the county of Essex in the East of England. It is located in the London commuter belt, 20 miles (30 km) east north-east of Charing Cross, and near the M25 motorway. According to the 2011 Census, the town had a population of 49,463.
Brentwood is an affluent suburban town with a small but expanding shopping area and high street. Beyond this is extensive sprawling residential development entirely surrounded by open countryside and woodland; some penetrating to within only a few hundred yards of the town centre.
The name was assumed by antiquaries in the 1700s to derive from a corruption of the words 'burnt' and 'wood', with the name Burntwood still visible on some 18th century maps. However, "brent" was the middle English for "burnt". The name describes the presumed reason for settlement in the part of the Forest of Essex (later Epping Forest) that would have covered the area, where the main occupation was charcoal burning. An alternative meaning of "brent" is "holy one", which could refer to the chapel dedicated to Thomas Becket, for the use of pilgrims to Canterbury.
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.
Robert Graves, in his book I, Claudius, refers to Brentwood as the site of the battle where Claudius defeated the Ancient Britons in 44 AD. However, Graves also states that names and places in the book are sometimes fictitious.
During the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, Brentwood was the meeting place for some of the instigators, such as John Ball and Jack Straw. They, apparently, met regularly in local pubs and inns. The first event of the Peasants' Revolt occurred in Brentwood, when men from Fobbing, Corringham and Stanford were summoned by the commissioner Thomas Bampton to Brentwood to answer as to who had avoided paying the poll tax. Bampton insisted that the peasants pay what was demanded of them. The peasants refused to pay and a riot ensued as Bampton attempted to arrest the peasants. The peasants moved to kill Bampton, but he managed to escape to London. The rioters then, fearing the repercussions of what they had done fled into the forest. After the event, the peasants sent word to the rest of the country and initiated the Peasants' Revolt. The Essex assizes were sometimes held here, as well as at Chelmsford. One such pub was The White Hart (now a nightclub called Sugar Hut Village and showing little of its original historic interest), which is one of the oldest buildings in Brentwood; it 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 the owners ran their own coach service to London. On 13 September 2009, the building and roof suffered significant damage during a fire.
Marygreen Manor, a handsome 16th century building on 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. 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.
Protestant martyr William Hunter was burnt at the stake in Brentwood in 1555. A monument to him was erected by subscription in 1861 at Wilson's Corner. Brentwood School was founded in 1557 and established in 1558, in Ingrave Road and behind the greens on Shenfield Road by Sir Anthony Browne and the site of Hunter's execution in commemorated by a plaque in the school. Thomas Munn, 'gentleman brickmaker' of Brentwood, met a less noble end when he was hanged for robbing the Yarmouth mail and his body was exhibited in chains at Gallows Corner, a road junction a few miles from Brentwood, in Romford. A ducking stool was mentioned in 1584.
As the Roman road grew busier, Brentwood became a major coaching stop for stagecoaches, with plenty of inns for overnight accommodation as the horses were rested. A 'stage' was approximately ten miles, and being about from London, Brentwood would have been a second stop for travellers to East Anglia. This has not changed; there is an above average number of pubs in the area - possibly due to the army being stationed at Warley Barracks until 1958. 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 18th century. The most recent major post office on the high street was recently closed in the 2008 budget cuts; Brentwood residents now must rely on sub-postal offices.
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."
The 'Brentwood Ring', the earliest Christian ring ever to have been discovered in Britain was found in Brentwood in the late 1940s. It now resides at the British Museum in London. The only other ring of its type in existence can be found at the Vatican Museum in Rome.
Brentwood originated as an ancient parish of 460 acres (1.86 km²). In 1891 the population was 4,949. Under the Local Government Act 1894, the Brentwood parish formed part of the Billericay Rural District of Essex. In 1899 the parish was removed from the rural district and formed the Brentwood Urban District. In 1934 the parish and district were enlarged by gaining Hutton, Ingrave and South Weald. The district was abolished in 1974 by the Local Government Act 1972, and Brentwood urban district was joined with the parishes of Ingatestone and Fryerning, Mountnessing, Doddinghurst, Blackmore, Navestock, Kelvedon Hatch, and Stondon Massey to form the Brentwood district with a total area of 36,378 acres. In 1976 the new district was divided into 18 wards, with 39 councillors. In 1993, Brentwood gained 'borough status.
In 1917, the parish church was awarded cathedral status, then between 1989 and 1991 the building was modified to appear in an Italianate Classical style. Brentwood Cathedral is currently the seat of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood.
Incidentally, Ingatestone Hall, noted for its Roman Catholic connections through the Petres, is a 16th-century manor house built by Sir William Petre at Yenge-atte-Stone. The staunch Petres played a significant role in the preservation of the Catholic faith in England. Sir William was assistant to Thomas Cromwell when Henry VIII sought to dissolve the monasteries and ascended to the confidential post of Secretary of State, throughout the revolutionary changes of four Tudor monarchs: Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. 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, like all other large Tudor houses, is an expression of wealth and status and retains many of the features of a 16th-century knightly residence, despite alterations by descendants who still live in the house. Ingatestone Hall represented the exterior of Bleak House in the 2005 television adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel, and also appeared in an episode of the television series Lovejoy. It is open to the public for tours, concerts, and performances; the hall and grounds can be rented for weddings and other occasions.
Brentwood was the location of Warley Hospital, a psychiatric hospital, from 1853 to 2001. A British East India Company elephant training school was based in Brentwood and this remained an active army base as a depot for the Essex Regiment until 1959, when much of the site was redeveloped as the European headquarters for the Ford Motor Company. A few buildings remain from the Barracks - the regimental chapel, the gymnasium (now home to Brentwood Trampoline Club) and the officers mess (now Marillac Hospital).
Brentwood's military history
The military has associations with Warley going back over 200 years. It also 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 local common was used as a military camp in 1742, and became a permanent feature as Warley Barracks in 1804.
During World War II, 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. The 15th- and 16th-century pubs, however, survived. Brentwood had been considered a safe enough haven to evacuate London children here - 6,000 children arrived in September 1939 alone.
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 also less than one mile from town centre shops.
Brentwood's high street has also been subject to major redevelopment works costing between £3 million and £7 million. This included the demolition of the Sir Charles Napier pub to build an additional lane to improve traffic flow at the west end of the high street, and re-laying the pavements and road surface in the high street itself.