Friday, April 20, 2007


By permission of Newsquest Essex


Pepperell House – Brentwood’s Information Centre in its prime location at 44 High Street – enjoys a central position, its helpful staff providing a warm welcome to tourists and residents alike. Here you will find advice, maps and up-to-the-minute information, all aimed at helping to make visitors’ time in the town more enjoyable.

Many tourists are intrigued with this fine old building standing so close to the Chapel ruins. However, Brentwood residents appreciate how fortunate they are that this particular eighteenth century building hasn’t been demolished as has most of its neighbours. Until about fifty years ago, there were many similar large red brick buildings facing the unusually wide, formerly tree-lined, High Street. Built for the wealthier folk, many were private homes for the professional classes. Labour was cheap then and servants were usually crammed into the tiny attics. Pepperell House has retained these rooms as offices and to reach them you have to climb winding flights of stairs to approach them via creaky landings. One wonders if some of Brentwood Council staff and Chamber of Commerce folk who work within, have encountered the resident ghost!

Local Studies in Brentwood Library offer good research references to many of Brentwood’s fine old houses – some demolished – others which were refurbished and converted into shops, above which owners and managers often lived with their families.

Local historian John Fryer has written about the commercial side of Brentwood and has collected reminiscences and photographs of the people who once occupied the buildings.

Strangely though, there is little information about No 44. We have to look at the published recollections of one of the town’s earliest chroniclers, John Larkin (1850-1926) who used much of his wealth for the benefit of the citizens. He wrote in his "Fireside Talks" set in the 1860s, that he remembered Mr Quy at the address practising barber and haircutting services. As with many shopkeepers he obviously diversified and began selling toys and stoneware. Larkin wrote that he felt that the house had in earlier times been connected with the ancient St Thomas’s Chapel.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the building was the address of an auctioneer & estate agency, and this trend continued for many years through the partnership of Jinman and Richardson. Later, Thain & Richardson, that well-known partnership, followed by Douglas Allen Spiro. Other businesses have used the warren of offices until October 2002 when the property owner, Elsie Pepperell, died. She had spent much of her life in the town and bequeathed the premises for the use of the people of Brentwood. So this fine old building lives on with its new name, offering help to the community. For information: Telephone 01277 200300

Thursday, April 05, 2007



Early in summer 1942 war-torn Essex faced an invasion. More than 40,000 American servicemen from the 8th and 9th Army Airforce progressively established themselves within numerous newly built airbases throughout Essex. Between bloody air battles these young men drank our warm beer in timbered pubs on village greens and when peace was eventually declared three years later, many Essex girls sailed to the US as GI brides.

In 1943, more than 100,000 US servicemen were based in Britain and by D-Day – 6th June 1944 – more than half of the USAAF’s combat strength was concentrated in this island, mostly in East Anglia where most of the 8th Air Force and some of the 9th were located on almost 100 air bases.

I recently met Dennis Pittson who came to live in Billericay in 1961. As a teenager living in Walthamstow when the war was at its height he grew up to the sound of aero-engines. "We used to watch the dog fights over London sitting on top of the air-raid shelter," he recalls. Although not realising at the time, Dennis’s observations studying planes of all types was the start of a life-long interest and hobby of modelling RAF and USAAF fighter aircraft. When Dennis was called up in 1946, he chose the RAF.

During a six-month recuperation following an accident, Dennis began building model aircraft from kits, the first of which was the famous Spitfire. He created hundreds of model planes set on an airfield made from plastic sheeting. Initially these were displayed at North Weald Aces High, then at Blake Hall Airscene which had the benefit of a war-time memorabilia with a background of 1940s music. Sadly Blake Hall Air Museum has now closed.

With Dennis’s encyclopaedic knowledge of aircraft and airfields he’s amassed a huge music collection dedicated to Big Band war-time music, including 700 Glen Miller recordings.
Fortunately Dennis found a new home for his latest models, photographs, paintings and portfolio "History of Military Aviation 1914-1975" at Ridgewell Commemorative War Museum, near Wethersfield. Dennis’s models are part of the collection of World War II memorabilia displayed in and around the old hospital buildings behind the memorial which commemorates the USAAF 381st Bomb Group (H) and 90 Squadron RAF which served there.

Dennis and his wife Mavis are preparing to welcome visitors to Ridgewell War Museum on Sunday 8th April 11.00am-5pm. Among visitors will be families of those young Americans who lost their lives in service missions. The Museum is open on the second Sunday of each month from April - September. Free admission. For further details contact Curator Jim Tennet: 01787 277310.

(With kind permission of Newsquest Essex)