Thursday, January 21, 2021


A snowy Shenfield pond in 1979.

A snowy Shenfield pond in 1979.


Peter Robert Kent

Enjoy Brentwood More’s history columnist, author and vice-president of the Brentwood Writer’s Circle, Sylvia Kent tells us about Victorians skating on a pond in Shenfield Common, when winters were a lot harsher!

Shenfield Common in 1972.
Shenfield Common in 1972.

It’s strange how cold weather changes our familiar countryside. Take for instance, Shenfield Common, which encompasses the wood-fringed mill pond that so many residents love.

Even in a covid-pandemic situation where residents are urged to stay safely at home, many locals have included a solitary, socially-distanced walk around the pond for their daily dose of exercise.

This week, there has been a decidedly ethereal appearance to the area - no sign of birds, trees laced with snowy cobwebs and a thin covering of ice on the pond, giving one a snapshot of how Shenfield Common must have looked like a century ago.

Check out the 1777 Chapman & Andre map in the local museum, and you will see that a tiny triangular pond is visible. It wasn’t until the snowy winter of 1885 that one of the new Conservators of Shenfield Common (a group established in February 1884), suggested that the small pool alongside the existing pond could be joined, giving more room for the pleasure of skating in wintertime. Apparently, winters were often more severe at the end of the nineteenth century, more so than we experience today.

One of my favourite local writers, John Larkin, described in his book, Brentwood Fireside Tales 1906-26:

“On summer evenings and early mornings, came young men, old men and big boys. Some with picks, some with shovels, some with wheelbarrows. Working men, city clerks, bank clerks, shop assistants and tradesmen – in fact, all sorts, and conditions of men, set to work Some picked, shovelled, wheeled away, whilst others went to the Artichoke for beer. So, by working hard in black coats, cricket costumes, football jerseys velveteen coats and in shirt sleeves the job was finished and the mill pond as we see it now (Larkin was then writing in 1926), is evidence of what one can do by volunteer labour, if men are of the mind.”

Some local residents have described another pond that had existed at the end of that century - not deep enough for skating - but was regarded by the youngsters as “a wonderful sliding pond.” This was known as How’s Folly which had been dug on the far side of Shenfield Common, running alongside Ingrave Road. It was the brainchild of a master at Brentwood School (Mr. How) who lived nearby and who took it into his head to pay men to extricate the soil, with the help of his students, and create his pond that gave such fun to youngsters in hard winters, How’s pond lasted for many years, after which the council grassed the area, planting the willows we see today.

To discover more about Brentwood’s past, my latest book BRENTWOOD IN 50 BUILDINGS, released by Amberley Publishing in Stroud is available from all good bookshops.ISBN 978-1-4456-9213-5 and Amazon. Signed copies can be obtained from Sylvia Kent via

Tuesday, January 19, 2021


Art, in all its various forms, is uppermost in my mind at present. You will find out why this is so in a few months' time.  But in the meantime, I thought my family and colleagues may like to see the work of a good friend, Mike Yates, whose paintings can be  seen on his website: 

Michael attended a short 'introduction to watercolour' course at Hylands House, Chelmsford in 2008 and found watercolour painting quite a challenge - but great fun. His artist's statement for the 2017 Billericay Town Art Trail, was "A painting turns a flat sheet of paper into an illusion." 
Whether it is The subject matter or a style, he just loves to see what 'new illusions' he can produce. He generally paints for himself, but it is great when other people like the results, too. When people want Mike's paintings hanging on their walls, he considers that this is the icing on the cake. Many of the pictures that Mike paints are based on photos that photographers have uploaded to the site, for which he is grateful. 
To get the best results, he use high quality paints and paper. Mike’s current work focuses on views of the Italian cities of Venice and Florence as well as flower presentations. The views are constructed from three tonal washes, light, medium and then dark. The results have been unpredictable and varied.The free and easy approach to the flower presentations has allowed interesting use of colour to provide the settings for the flowers. 


Friday, January 15, 2021


Time flies when you're having fun, so the old saying goes, but when you have never dipped a toe into the publishing world, life can become a little confusing, as well as being exciting (and fun) when you are offered a two-book offer for publication. That date twenty years ago in January 2001 was exciting and the beginning of my book research and friendship with more than one hundred local resident interviewees in the Borough of Brentwood. Since then, eleven more books featuring various themes and topics have followed. 

Although I had been a local history columnist working freelance for Essex press for ten years prior to my first traditional publications and a member of the Society of Women Writers & Journalists, plus chairman of Brentwood Writers' Circle at the time, it was still a thrill to see my first historical book on sale in the best bookshops in the county. Check out our SWWJ website and discover their eclectic appeal and broad membership across the world.

1948 Line-up  of pupils at Junction Road School, Brentwood

Wednesday, January 13, 2021


 Still in lockdown, we recall that it’s only ten months since our local newspaper highlighted the decision to expand Brentwood Community Hospital to help accommodate the increasing numbers of coronavirus patients. Work on the isolation areas was carried out with help from Fire & Rescue Service and the Army. This state-of-the art hospital was built in 2008 under a PFI deal and foundation stone laid by MP Eric Pickles (now ennobled).

New patients and older Brentwood residents have expressed their appreciation for the modern Brentwood Community Hospital opened in 2008, built on the site of the former hospital known as the Brentwood District. This earlier building was opened in 1934 and that, too has an interesting history.

Brian Lynch Sylvia and editor Nev Wilson Brentwood Gazette

The late Brian Lynch was a local journalist who wrote the book “The Finished Stairway” on the 50th anniversary of the building of the Brentwood District Hospital. He outlined the story of the original hospital, which opened its doors in the summer of 1934. Its cost  –  £40,000 was met by the people of Brentwood. It was a wonderful achievement as the building was opened absolutely free of debt, remarkable in that Depression era of the thirties, when so many people were out of work.

Fund-raising is part of our lives now, but in 1931 – when the idea was first mooted - the cost of building a modern hospital was an impossible dream for such a small community. What happened next was an amazing feat. From a population of just 5,000 residents, rich and poor, working, middle and upper classes all came together to raise the money needed to build and equip this much needed hospital.  The 20-acre piece of land was generously donated by a local resident, Percy Bayman. The elected chairman of the Brentwood Hospital Governors, Frederick “Limelight” Jackson, was a successful businessman.  His nickname derived from his ebullient character, but his passion for ‘getting things done’ was appreciated and vital to this communal project.

He launched the Brentwood Hospital fundraising campaign in January 1931 and the foundation stone ceremony was performed by the then Princess Royal, daughter of King George V in May that year.  Every penny was needed for the fundraising bucket, Carnivals, coffee-mornings, raffles, school bazaars, church collections and contributions from anyone who had small change, was collected for the hospital fund.

The building work was undertaken by sixty local workmen who had been previously unemployed.  On 14 June 1934, Frederick Jackson wrote: 

“The interest taken by everyone in the district has been wonderful and I anticipate that it will continue thus providing for upkeep and maintenance in which we shall require your further help.”

 When the hospital was finished, the whole of Brentwood turned out to welcome Princess Helena Victoria, grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, who took a key from Geoffrey Bayman, grandson of the great benefactor and turned it to open the doors of the new hospital which remained the pride of Brentwood for more than seventy years. And now Brentwood Borough residents are again expressing their appreciation of the valuable work being carried out by hospital staff at our own Brentwood Community Hospital in these stressful times.

Further historical information can be found in BRENTWOOD IN 50 BUILDINGS published by Amberley Publishing available at WH Smith Ltd and Waterstones in Brentwood.   


 A few days ago, myself and some of our Carry On filmfans mourned the loss at the funeral of one of our favorite actors, Barbara Windsor, who brightened up our silver screens over many decades.  Years ago,  I had the privilege of meeting Barbara at the TV studio canteen and she was as chatty as myself, but much, much funnier! 

Nobody can make low budget comedy films like the British. The Carry On series was a humorous mixture of clever filming using double- meanings,  pure slapstick and farce – all rolled up in cheaply-made movies. From 1958 until the early ‘90s, thirty one films were released, first in Britain and then worldwide. Christmas Specials, TV series, West End stage plays and provincial touring followed.   

 Producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas recognised a winning recipe when they chose their cast.The series began with Carry on Sergeant in 1958 which featured a National Service mob of raw recruits being trained to become soldiers.

The Carry On actors included Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques, Barbara Windsor, Peter Butterworth, Bernard Bresslaw, Terry Scott and June Whitfield, among many others.  All the films were made at Pinewood Studios and the same film crew were employed in the majority of productions.

One of the most repeated film clips in tele-visual history is surely from the 1969-produced Carry On Camping which, during  Babs Windsor’s first morning aerobics session, her bikini bra swiftly pops off - landing in the next field.  Many viewers have often reflected on whether the camera was playing tricks to save her modesty!  From that particular film, two of the leading stars went on to continue successful TV careers with BBC’s sitcom Terry and June.  

Although sadly, many of those actors have now passed on, their legacy of fun and frolic lives on in the numerous repeats that pop up on TV to provide us with chuckles from yesteryear.  

Wednesday, January 06, 2021


The |Baddeley Cake celebrations in 1996 with some of the cast of Miss Saigon

January 6 - Twelfth Night - down with the Christmas decorations and our poor old tree
 is out in the cold!  Epiphany What You Will is a romantic comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written around 1601–1602 as a Twelfth Night's entertainment for the close of the Christmas season. The play centres on the twins Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a shipwreck. It's a good read and even better  performed in the theatre.

And this year's Twelfth Night which is usually an evening of fun, frolic and a piece of Baddeley Cake eaten at  London's Theatre Royal, Drury Lane among the cast of the current show appearing there.  However, this theatre has been closed for some time for remodelling. 
Robert Baddely1733-1794
Some years ago, when researching and writing about the history of the Robert Baddeley Cake, I had an wonderful evening, meeting the whole cast of Miss Saigon and some of Britain's most famous actors alongside the Master and Directors of Drury Lane Theatrical Fund, and Stoll Moss Theatres.  What a great evening, particularly as it was the 200th anniversary of the First Baddeley Cake ceremony dating back to 1796.  When the theatre next opens and the covid pandemic is but a nasty memory, let's hope the Baddeley Twelfth Night observations will, once again, take place.

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane 

News of Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

In 2019, we embarked on an ambitious £60 million project to restore the historic Theatre Royal Drury Lane, at the heart of London’s West End, to its former 1812 glory. Throughout 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, we have adjusted, adapted and, most of all, persevered. When we reopen the doors in Spring 2021, we hope the return of Theatre Royal Drury Lane will lead the revival of our beloved and vital theatre industry.

Friday, January 01, 2021


I admit it, I love listening to The Archers, particularly in these difficult pandemic times and was delighted some years back when I was invited into the BBC Studios to learn how the programme was made. Fascinated with the sound effects team.  Then later still, our SWWJ supremo, Pamela Payne organised the actor, Sunny Ormonde (who plays the character Lilian Bellamy) to give us a talk about her life and times working on this amazing radio programme, and of course, I loved interviewing her and posting on my blog at the time (September 2016).

Now the programme has reached its 70th birthday.  As well as broadcasting episode number 19,343 of the world's longest-running serial drama, stars from
The Archers - are currently appearing on the programmes. The Archers, set in the fictional village of Ambridge, began in 1951 and the plan was to educate farmers on modern agricultural methods. So far, more than eighty actors have appeared on the programme. 

The show's editor Jeremy Howe, said its achievements over the years, coming up to the modern day, are incomparable. Almost daily and in real time The Archers has tracked life in the village of Ambridge across years and more than 19,000 episodes. "No work of fiction or drama can truly compare to that. As I look back on this incredible legacy, I am looking forward to the next 70 years of The Archers."

Back in May 2020, the programme returned to BBC Radio 4 with a "new style" forced upon the show by the coronavirus lockdown. Large cast recordings with interaction between multiple characters were scrapped in favour of monologues recorded at the actors' homes.

The storyline of Friday's anniversary episode remained a secret, but celebratory programming on Radio 4 included a special edition of With Great Pleasure at Christmas, where cast members from the series shared their favourite prose and poetry. Russian listeners would have enjoyed this programme.

Tomorrow, on Saturday 2 January, historian David Kynaston will delve into the history of the programme with a further documentary feature entitled A Social History of The Archers.

I loved the character of Joe Grundy. Actor Edward Kelsey played the role for the  last 34 years of his life. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020


Tuesday, 29 December is a significant day remembered since 1170 when Thomas Becket, Archbishop to King Henry ll was murdered by four knights before the High Altar at Canterbury Cathedral. Three years later, on 21 February, Thomas was canonised by Pope Alexander lll and pilgrims from around the world made their way to Canterbury to pay homage to this extraordinary man. 

Note below from 'On This Day' historical website:                                            

Thomas Becket

Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket

Profession: Archbishop of Canterbury


Why Famous: Commoner made good, he was appointed as Archbishop by King Henry II; they argued over Church privileges, and Becket was killed by four knights who took the king at his words "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?"

Subsequently canonized by Pope Alexander III. The king made public penance at Canterbury Cathedral.

Born: December 211117
Birthplace: Cheapside, London, England
Star Sign: Sagittarius

Died: December 291170 (aged 53)
Cause of Death: Assassination