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

Saturday, December 26, 2020


Many thanks to all my friends, colleagues and expat aficionados who kept up to date with Brentwood history via my new (twelfth book) celebrating the history of fifty of the Borough's buildings. Of course, there were far more structures (a couple of hundred more listed buildings) that could have been chosen, but publishers have their rules when it comes to pagination. 

It was lovely to present a signed copy of my latest book to HRH the Duke of Kent in February 2020 when he opened the newly remodelled Brentwood Town Hall 

During this unfortunate covid year, most of the official book-signing events had to be curtailed and even cancelled, but during early spring, we did manage to visit some of the buildings to present copies to those who kindly allowed me access to roam around their homes, offices and church interiors and I have since made some new friends and history-lovers worldwide, particularly in America where there are at least seventeen 'Brentwoods!'

I am especially grateful to Brentwood Borough Council's team, their mayor, CEO and staff for the tremendous help given, and inclusion in their re-opening day with HRH the Duke of Kent, just after their completion of the rebuilding of their Town Hall, also to Father Martin Boland at Brentwood Cathedral and Lord Petre of Ingatestone Hall, all buildings with which I've have enjoyed a long and interesting association. 

When restrictions lifted over the last year, I was able to sign (and gold-seal) my new book at Waterstones and WH Smith around Essex, and again, it was enjoyable to meet readers and history enthusiasts.

Monday, December 21, 2020


December 21 is a special day for many of us.  As well as being the winter solstice celebrated by so many throughout the world, we also remember the Mayflower ship that had set sail on 6 September 1620, with 102 passengers aboard, reaching the  American shoreline on 11 November. Many Essex folk were on board, including a party of some of our own Billericay townsfolk, including the influential provisioner of the Mayflower project, Christopher Martin. Below, is his home in Billericay High Street pictured in the 1950s.

We now have a spectacular new statue erected in Billericay by our Town Council which commemorates the sailing of the Mayflower as a permanant reminder.  The notable artist and sculptor, John Doubleday, calls it “They Sailed for Freedom”. 

This statue links Billericay to its past and as such the installation will be an important addition to our Billericay Community Archive Group. 

Currently reading informative books written by British author Julian Whybra and an older novel by the American historian Nathaniel Philbrick.  



Sunday, December 20, 2020


Currently watching Victoria Wood's life story (VICTORIA WOOD IN HER OWN WORDS) way back in the 1970s via her earliest plays and TV - so talented and funny. How lucky we were to have Victoria as our SWWJ President - really appreciated her presence at our events in the past.  www.swwj.co.uk

Friday, December 18, 2020



Always one of our favourite folk in the town

Still a  best seller by Elizabeth Wallace

Tuesday, December 08, 2020


 Due to covid restrictions, our monthly visits to Brentwood's Phoenix98fm Studios have not been possible over the last ten months.  However, at 11.50am if you listen to our local radio station Phoenix98fm, you can again learn what our guest, the author Brian Hughes MBE has been working on over the last year.  Michelle Ward, our super presenter had invited Brian into her studio in 2017 and, at the time, Brian was preparing to write his memoir which has resulted in the best selling memoir A LAW UNTO MYSELF.  Do listen to hear a little about Brian's life and loves and what he is currently working on for his second book.   @sylviaakent 

Saturday, December 05, 2020


 Everyone has a tale to tell! Journalists rarely need to travel far to find a good story. When I came to live in the village of Herongate, just down the Ingrave Road from Brentwood town, I called on my new neighbour and discovered she was a well known name in Scotland Yard. No, not a convict, but the honourable Nancy Crofton Savill, who, as a young woman had been England’s first professional woman criminologist (1905-2003).

Nancy at home aged 94

Nancy’s father, Henry headed the famous Essex Savill property firm. One of Nancy’s forebears was Archibald Cameron, doctor to Bonnie Prince Charlie. Cameron lost his head on Tower Hill after the 1745 rebellion.

“Our family came to Essex in 1905, the year of my birth. My father settled at Bell House, Coxtie Green (now Peniel Academy), later moving to Crown Cottage, Navestock. My sister Margaret and I never attended school.

“My father was educated at Harrow. He was given a ‘fag’ for a while, who was a young lad called Winston Churchill. Father cared not for education for girls, although he did employ some Irish ineffectual governesses to teach us, but primarily, we were self-taught,” Nancy laughed during our interview for my first book Brentwood Voices published in 2001.

Nancy loved Brentwood. The Savills were well connected in Essex, wealthy enough to enjoy a leisurely life. In 1909 this photograph was taken of Nancy and her friend Viola Quennell whose family consisted of doctors and lawyers who’d lived in Brentwood for generations. Nancy’s sister married into the Quennell family and moved to Ireland.

“I suppose we were lucky children. We had our own ponies. I remember trotting into Brentwood along the Ongar Road to visit Austen’s toyshop, which, before the Great War, was in St Thomas Road.

“Golliwogs and teddies were my favourites and I still have Teddy upstairs which, like me, is almost 100-years-old. Exercise was part of our regime and we played tennis on our courts.

“A big treat was when my father’s friend, Horace Bentley - whose family started the famous car firm - took us to dine at the Savoy - then drove us home in a Bentley (of course) to Bell House. He enjoyed staying with us over Christmas, a charming, amusing man.

“I took a history degree at King’s College, London and loved my job studying crime at Scotland Yard. My tutor was Professor Leon Radzinowicz and I travelled daily from Brentwood station. By then I lived at Herongate with my mother and housekeeper Edith Diment with Teddy Teal, our butler-cum-chauffeur. He taught me to drive my first car, a huge Angus Sanderson.

“With the declaration of war, I became Herongate’s billeting officer, casualty officer, fire officer, information officer, mortuary officer in the WVS Ambulance Corps. When the warden asked if each officer had arrived at the emergency scene, he looked flummoxed when I nodded ‘yes’ five times!”

In later life Nancy served on both the Essex and National Executive Committees of the Women’s Institute – and presided over the Herongate and Ingrave Preservation Society.

Nancy was kind next door neighbour, with a dry wit and sense of fun. I picked up much horticultural knowledge her and her gardener, Charlie Humphreys and the wine wasn’t bad either!

Copies of my books, including Brentwood in 50 Buildings, can be ordered from my blog www.sylviakent.blogspot.com or from Amazon, Waterstones and WHSmith.

Friday, December 04, 2020


 How fortunate I've been in my work of interviewing hundreds of the world's most creative people working in music,art and entertainment.  Invitations to the annual seminars in London and south east (Essex Book Festivals) have brought me in touch with many of my favourite folk (see my earlier blog postings over the last  fifteen years)

Currently, on BBC Radio Four, Desert Island Discs I'm listening to Helen Oxenbury whom I met at the London Book Fair some years back and bought some of her beautifully illustrated books (published by Walker Books) mainly linked to children's reading. What a great pleasure to listen to this fascinating lady's life and times, with an added bonus of catching up with Erroll Garner's Lullaby of Birdland as one of Helen's eight musical choices.  A little bit of my favourite modern jazz on a cold Friday morning has been so uplifting!  

Wednesday, December 02, 2020


 As archivist for the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, I try to collect as much historical information about our former members as I can. Zooms and webinars have been useful over the last year or so.  What a lovely invitation to be linked to last night's webinar dedicated to eminent legal women of the past. I will certainly soon be reading Judge Rose Heilbron's biography, written by her daughter, Hilary Heilbron QC. 

Helena Normanton QC

One of our own earliest members and good friend of the Society, Helena Florence Normanton QC (1882-1957) was the first woman to practise as a barrister in England in 1922. www.swwj.co.uk  She served on our Council for years as vice chairman and held many notable positions, as well as being the second woman in Britain to be called to the Bar of England and Wales, following the example set by Miss Ivy Williams in  May 1922. When Helena married, she kept her surname and in 1924 she was the first British married woman to have a passport in her maiden name.  

Thursday, November 26, 2020


 As an author with a fascination for the past, I thoroughly enjoyed researching this Christmas project for the Essex Life Magazine team.  Over the last thirty years, I've seen my essays and photographs published in this journal, once known as The Essex Countryside and numerous others.  How lucky we are to live in such a lovely part of England, despite the often disparaging remarks we receive in national press.

Within my twelve published books and press columns linked primarily to the county, I've enjoyed studying historical aspects of Essex. At this time of year, editors and broadcasters often ask me to write about the people and, more importantly, the buildings with which I've had strong associations and in some instances, have actually worked. 

Let's look at the hospitals, workhouses and schools that were set up over the last century and still hold memories for folk (many of them expats) who seem to enjoy a peek at the past. 
Check out my latest book BRENTWOOD IN 50 BUILDINGS  published by Amberley and available from Amazon and all popular bookstores. 

Brentwood's magnificent Cathedral in Ingrave Road.

Here we have Queen Mary overseeing some of the youngsters who lived at Hutton Poplars Residential School, way back in 1919.  This amazing School was the brainchild of the Member of Parliament in Hackney and Poplar, George Lansbury (grandfather of one of my favourite filmstars, Angela). Most of the buildings that housed the children from 1906 onward, when the school opened, were taken down in the 1980s, to make way for an estate, but the famous old dining hall has remained and is beautifully restored today. This lovely building can be hired via Brentwood Borough Council. 

Poplars Hall, Rayleigh Road, Hutton holds wonderful memories

Monday, November 23, 2020



The tag line of novelist Vivien Brown's recently published title NO SISTER OF MINE, which was on our latest Billericay Book Club list, is 'Your best friend or your worst enemy'. The author of this book, currently lives in, Middlesex, with her husband and two cats. She has grownup twin girls who have produced girls. 

Viv said:   "Irving Berlin wrote Sisters in 1954 for White Christmas  I come from a family of sisters for the last four generations my direct  family line has not seen the birth of a single boy. Her mum was one of two sisters and was I. When my dad embarked on a second marriage, late in life what happened. Yes - another baby girl.” 

Viv has always wanted to write novels and had succeeded for many years with short stories and articles.  As she has said on line “For most of my life I’ve immersed herself in words. I am an avid reader, writer, poet, library outreach worker, storyteller, gifter of Bookstart packs to babies and toddlers, creative writing tutor and crossword fanatic.”

 As she has said, she enjoys dipping into dictionaries and exploring the meaning of words, and watching and/or taking part in TV quiz shows. In the evenings she loves nothing more than losing herself in a good book, a compelling TV drama or her regular supply of women's magazines - which all help to provide inspiration and ideas for her own fiction. After publishing around 150 short stories in popular UK women's magazines, she produced two ebooks,  a guide to solving cryptic crosswords, and 250 articles in the professional childcare/nursery press on working and reading with young children (all written as Vivien Hampshire), she now writes full-length dramatic and relationship-based novels for Harper Impulse. 

Vivien is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association (RNA) and a Council member and a member of the Society of Woman Writers and Journalists  www.swwj.co.uk


Sunday, November 15, 2020


Difficult these days to make a personal visit to our Brentwood-based radio studio for our monthly Book Club programme, but we have still managed to meet many talented authors from this area, albeit virtually.  This month's guest author Amanda J Thomas was interviewed by our favourite radio presenter, Michelle Ward.  Amanda is an author, historian and linguist with a particular interest in social and medical history. She is also a member of our local historical society and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists. More details below. 
To date, Amanda's books include 'The Nonconformist Revolution' (Pen & Sword, 2020), 'Cholera - The Victorian Plague' (Pen & Sword, 2020, 2015) and 'The Lambeth Cholera Outbreak of 1848-1849' (McFarland, 2009). Her broadcast work comprises 'London 2000 Years Revealed' (Channel 5, 2019), 'A House Through Time’ (BBC2, 2018), 'Who Do You Think You Are?' (Wall to Wall Media/BBC1, 2016-17 and 2012-13), and 'The Flying Archaeologist' (BBC4, 2012). Amanda is Editor of the historical journal, 'The Clock Tower', for The Friends of Medway Archives Centre, Editorial Consultant to 'Harpendia' magazine, and a judge for the Alan Neame Award, the annual Kent Family History Society writing competition.
Background: Amanda Thomas was born in Chatham, Kent to British/Australian parents, and is now based in Hertfordshire. She graduated with a degree in Italian from the University of Kent at Canterbury, and also spent an academic year at the Università degli Studi di Torino where she qualified in the study of glottology and the history of Indo-European languages. Following university, Amanda wrote for a wide range of consumer and women’s magazines in London. She subsequently moved into PR, specialising in the television and music sectors, and worked on the launch of satellite television in Europe.  www.swwj.co.uk

                                        Michelle Ward

Monday, November 09, 2020


After at least twenty five years here in this town, it was sad not to be able to attend our annual Remembrance service in Billericay High Street yesterday.  All had been planned with our wonderful bugler Graham Baguley, but he had to stand down when our usual service had to be cancelled due to covid. At least, we watched the poignant ceremonials on television. Here are a few images  from years gone by, and we send our warmest thoughts to those of our community who had attended in earlier years around our war memorial.

Saturday, November 07, 2020


From Ruud Slangen, our historian friend  in The Netherlands who  sent this message today.

This morning at 11:11 hrs a small ceremony was held for the fallen airmen that lie buried in Harderwijk. Due to Covid-19 our group was limited to 2 persons only, undermentioned and a bugler. A piper was playing outside the premises. At 11:11 hrs a speech, the last post, two minutes silence, a poppy-wreath and the poem “For the Fallen” to show our respect to these brave men.

A special moment was when a poem named “Fairy Voices” was read written by one of the airmen’s sister, Elaine Capron, a poem she wrote after her brother F/O Roderick Capron died.

 Fairy Voices

Fairy Voices, why will you always be crying

Calling and crying to come out of the trees?

For under the quiet grass the brave are lying

And all the strong ones have gone over the seas.  Elaine Capron, 1902-1981

Lest We Forget   https://youtu.be/TUmBCPv-kfg    Met vriendelijke groet,

Monday, November 02, 2020



So very sad to hear of the passing 1 November of a very special friend to the members of our Society of Women Writers and Journalists.  Peter Durrant earned his unusual title of "Gentleman of Fleet Street" by working for newspapers for most of his life. Even in  retirement, he was involved both with enthusiastically supporting the London Press Club, and being one of their longest serving members and board director.  He was sought after as a great raconteur, giving humorous after dinner talks in London and in his home county of Surrey. Everyone loved Peter who often attended our SWWJ lunches and events and we shall miss his enthusiasm and presence.
A memorial service will be held next year in St Bride's Church, Fleet Street.  

Sunday, November 01, 2020


Many thanks to readers of my backlist,  particularly those who are currently reading my FOLKLORE OF ESSEX. Can be ordered through Amazon and usual bookshops. www.swwj.co.uk


Saturday, October 24, 2020



Jacqui James and Basildon's Mayor David Burton-Sampson launch this brand new book

“Basildon Writers’ Group and Basildon Hospital Radio are one of the good things to come out of the Covid crisis – as an Essex man myself, I’m proud of them.”

                                Richard Madeley (Richard & Judy Book Club)

 When Covid 19 closed large parts of Basildon Hospital to visitors, among the casualties were the volunteers at Basildon Hospital Radio.

Operating from a basement, they were heard but seldom seen. Suddenly, they lost access to their equipment used for broadcasting 24/7 to patients, staff, and visitors. BHR chairman, Jacqui James, said ‘We were devastated. We knew we had to get back on air, not only during the day, but all night for the staff and patients who couldn’t sleep and rely on us for entertainment.’

The technical and legal problems caused many sleepless nights for Jacqui and her team of volunteers as well, as they battled to change their station from am to fm at the time lockdown was put into place. Back on air as BHR 87.7 in less than four weeks the station now runs a mixture of live and recorded shows. But, it was no longer possible to raise much-needed funds.

In stepped Basildon Writers’ Group, with an offer to donate all their royalties, from their new book, ‘It Happened in Essex’, coming out on the 19thOctober.The ten local authors have each written a short story, many based in parts of Basildon that readers will know. Then, in a hilarious romp through an updated version of Snow White, also set in Basildon, all the writers take on one another in a duel to write the best ending to ‘Sno White & the Witch’. 

Also in the mix is an ending by guest Jacqui James herself.

In addition to Richard Madeley and ‘Diddy’ David Hamilton, the book has the support of the Mayor of Basildon, David Burton-Sampson, Stephen Metcalfe, MP and Baroness Smith of Basildon. The book ‘It Happened in Essex’ is available in paperback, (£4.99), or Kindle (£1.99), versions direct from Amazon. Contacts: Colin Payn, Basildon Writers’ Group  colinpayn@gmail.com  Mobile 07815865210

Jacqui James, Basildon Hospital Radio jacky.james2@btinternet.com

Monday, October 19, 2020


Victoria, Sylvia and Colin Smith 

I am currently listening to Woman's Hour which is celebrating the life of Victoria Wood CBE who was our President of the  Society of Women Writers and Journalists until she died in 2016.  Jasper Rees has written a new book about Victoria entitled Let's Do It, which is sure to be a bestseller this Christmas.

Victoria was a special guest, among other well known luminaries who came to our 120th anniversary held at London's Stationers' Hall in October 2014 and gave a sparkling talk, meeting many of our members who had made the journey from around the world.

Victoria, Patrick and Pamela

Victoria is pictured with Pamela Payne and Patrick Forsyth, members of SWWJ. 


Saturday, October 17, 2020


 As a local history writer and broadcaster, I enjoy writing about the places in which I've lived, mainly in Essex,  and, from the deluge of blog readers, it seems that many expats also like reading about the places where they grew up. This has brought me interesting contacts with residents of the various 'Brentwoods'  around the world (and there are many), primarily in America and Canada. I've recently discovered this intriguing old brochure written in 1970 to publicise the town's Becket Festival Year which then celebrated their 800 years.

Although my latest book BRENTWOOD IN 50 BUILDINGS is also linked to Brentwood Cathedral's history (see front cover), among many other interesting  buildings, I am  still studying the origins of the town which are intrinsically linked to Henry ll's Archbishop of Canterbury's Thomas Becket who was canonised after his murder in Canterbury Cathedral in December 1170.  The strength of  feeling in England and Western Europe after Thomas Becket's death, was shown by the increasing number of pilgrims passing through 'Burntwood hamlet' on their way to visit the saint's shrine at Canterbury to pay homage. The story is a fascinating one and modern day Brentwood still retains the ruins of the St Thomas' Chapel built in 1221 which can be found and visited in Brentwood High Street today. 

 I also discovered another super book reviewer Jim Reeve:

 What an interesting read! I thought I knew Brentwood but Sylvia’s book has opened my mind to what I have missed. The accurate research that has gone into it must have taken ages and out of the 500 listed buildings in Brentwood, Sylvia has chosen wisely and her selection of 50 are full of interest.  She obtained many original photographs and gives the history of each building in a most descriptive and interesting form.        

      It is difficult to believe that the thriving town of Brentwood today was once a small hamlet in the parish of South Weald that was mentioned in the Domesday Book. Brentwood came into its own after Thomas Becket’s murder in 1170 after which he was canonised. Pilgrims from all over the Country flocked to Canterbury Cathedral, travelling via the ancient Essex Great Road to Brentwood, where they rested. As a result, Brentwood is mentioned in many early historical documents. 

      In giving the history of the buildings, Sylvia mentions the many famous people who lived in or visited them. For example, Henry Roper lived in Marygreen Manor and held the stewardship of the young Princess Catherine of Aragon, who first married Prince Arthur and then, on his death, married Henry V111 and became Queen of England. Byron stayed in Gilstead Hall (built in 1726) while visiting his friend and legal advisor, James Hanson. Doctor Samuel Johnson camped in the grounds of Warley in 1778 while visiting the troops and found it very uncomfortable. Soon after, in 1805, the Army built barracks on the land. These were extended by the East India Company when they took over but the Army reclaimed them and used the barracks throughout the two World Wars. In1960 Fords took over the area and demolished the buildings, establishing their European Headquarters in their place.           

    It is said that in 1555 a young Protestant named Hunter spent his last night on earth inThe Swan Public House, before he was burnt at the stake during the reign of Queen Mary. 

    There is so much information in this book on the history of Brentwood and the 50 buildings that, in such limited space, it is impossible to do it justice and I respectfully suggest you go out and buy a copy and like me, you will not be able to put it down!      

Thursday, October 15, 2020


Welcome to new members of our Society of Women Writers & Journalists. Lots to learn about our organisation which started in 1894. (more history in our website www.swwj.co.uk).
You can learn even more by listening to BBC Radio 4's  Desert Island Discs tomorrow Friday 16 October at 9am which features our President, Baroness Benjamin (Floella).

It's good to hear more about our President's life and times, certainly from the time our children loved her appearances on Play School in the 1970s, and in this current BBC programme, you will hear much more of her achievements, over the last fifty years.  
is a Trinidadian-British broadcaster, writer and politician. She became a familiar face to millions of viewers through her work on children's television, most notably on Play School, which she first presented in 1976.

Sunday, October 11, 2020


Although this year's annual Billericay Fun Walk was threatened due to the covid pandemic restrictions, this  fabulous local fundraising event, the brainchild of our Billericay and Basildon Member of Parliament John Baron in 2002, did take place during September.  It was certainly different, being  a "virtual walk", but nevertheless, extremely successful in the circumstances, with folk putting huge effort into organising their own walking regimes.  Can't wait to learn more about the total amount raised for the dozens of important charities who will benefit. 

With thanks to Alan Woods, editor of Brentwood Gazette

Thursday, October 08, 2020



I've always enjoyed craft work of all types, embroidery, knitting, crochet, macramé, tatting and making clothes, working with unusual fabrics, and although it's a long time since I've created anything useful myself, I'm delighted when I receive a hand crafted gift, especially made by someone I know.


So, you can imagine how lovely it was recently to receive some beautifully-made cases for my specs, tablet and jewellery created especially for me in my favourite colours and on my favourite cat themes.  This craft maker is Jenni Elliott who sells her bags, cards and jewellery via her Etsy shop, Kitty Kent Handmade. Jenni's list of items is growing and it's worth taking a look at her Etsy shop  to see some of her latest creations. 


Another talented crafter friend is Liz Kemp whose beautiful bags and other items have appeared in many of the most famous craft shows that have taken place around the UK in the past.


Every one of Liz’s products is unique, designed by herself. She is often inspired by fellow designers and crafters and likes to play around with texture, colour and shape and sometimes incorporates appliqué and other techniques within her designs. Perhaps the most unique factor is that the fabric from which Liz’s amazing items are created, has been woven by her sister in the Welsh countryside. Liz's ideas are fascinating and the resulting gifts using hand woven tweeds are innovative. 

Liz said:   From my workshop in Essex I design and make my bags, accessories and dog coats. 'Working with textiles I use a variety of carefully selected natural fabrics including silk, wool and vintage, but mostly I use 100% wool tweeds which are woven in Wales by my sister, Stephanie, who is also a WGDC member. 'The tweed is unique, beautiful, soft, hardwearing and lovely to work with.

My designs are unfussy but interesting and I use the design features of the cloth to ensure every bag is unique. 'I like to play around with colour, texture and shape and sometimes incorporate applique' or other creative techniques in the design.' I really enjoy the creative process and pride myself on my attention to detail and quality.' I try to ensure my bags are practical and fit for purpose as well as being stylish.

website  www.lizzington.com


For those folk who have yet to learn about Etsy, here is a brief profile.  Etsy is the global marketplace for unique and creative goods. It’s home to a cornucopia of amazing items, from unique handcrafted pieces to vintage treasures and some wonderfully amusing gifts, too - again, all made by hand.
We are all in a time of increasing automation and thankfully, it is  Etsy's mission to keep human connection at the heart of commerce. That’s why they have built a place where creativity lives and thrives because it’s powered by real people.  Etsy actually helps their community of craft sellers turn their imaginative ideas into successful businesses. Their platform connects them with literally millions of purchasers looking for something different, something unique, with a human touch.