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Help us celebrate Brentwood History Day

On September 24th you will find some strangely dressed people in Brentwood High Street. Actually you may well find some any day, see TOWIE for example, but on 24th September they will be in period costume as the town celebrates its long, illustrious and occasionally bloodthirsty history for the very first time. This features the Martyr’s Walk.

DOT Productions are set to perform the Martyr’s Walk on Saturday, September 24 from 11am-2pm, taking audiences through the history of Brentwood, stopping off at key locations along the way, including the Chapel Ruins and the Martyr’s Tree. Director Penelope Lambton said: “We are really excited about the production, hopefully we will get people coming along and learning something about their town, and be moved by the story.”

The production consists of professional actors and is based on the story of William Hunter, a Protestant who was burned at The Stake in Brentwood in 1555. The production forces audiences to question whether the 19-year-old, who sacrificed his life rather than his God, was a martyr or if he was simply misguided. It is estimated to last 50 minutes and starts by the History Column at Bennetts Corner, then pilgrims will lead on to the Chapel Ruins where William is challenged about his choices. It will also visit the scene of the “crime” where William read his English Bible and highlight the meetings and trials. The third location is the Martyr’s Tree, and the final scenes of William’s horrible death are on Shenfield Common.

Penelope said: “The whole idea of the show is to instigate a debate about whether he was a martyr or was just misguided. It is something that is long over due and hopefully people will enjoy it.” Audiences should meet at The History Column, Bennetts Corner, Brentwood.

All this happened during the reign of Bloody Mary (who at that time was a Queen of England but now of course a drink! How times change.) So what, you may ask, are the other key moments in the town that should be considered on that day? Well, there is the 12th century ruin of Thomas Becket Chapel which was a popular stopping point for pilgrims on their way to Canterbury.  Our image at the top of the page is the church of St Thomas the Martyr, built in the early 19th century in the town to continue the tradition.

Brentwood was a meeting place for the Peasants who were revolting in the 14th Century and they, including their leaders Watt Tyler and Jack Straw who is still on TV quite a bit, gathered in local pubs and inns.

Moses Drayne, an Ostler, was hanged at Brentwood in 1667 for the Murder (by a Chelmsford Innkeeper and his Family some Years before) of Thomas Kidderminster, a Guest. Fortunately the Hotels in Brentwood are significantly better than this now.

Then we had Thomas Munn, ‘gentleman brickmaker’ of Brentwood, who was  hanged in 1750  for robbing the Yarmouth mail and his body was exhibited in chains at Gallows Corner near Romford. Suppose if you are going to hang people, Gallows Corner is a pretty good place to do it. Hangings and burnings then, Law and Order rules here for sure.

In the early 18th century, Daniel Defoe wrote that Brentwood was a place of fine inns and taverns, so TOWIE has a fine and long history too.

On Thursday 19 September 1850, at just before 8am, a dreadful accident occurred at Brentwood and nine railway workers were killed. On the morning of the accident it was very foggy with visibility no more than 40 yards and steadily decreasing. Just by the Seven Arches Bridge on the Brentwood to Shenfield stretch of the ECR, twenty five men were working on track maintenance. Ballast had been brought up the line on a number of trucks and had been tipped out between the two tracks.

The gang were working on the down-track spreading the ballast between the sleepers. The ballast train was stationary on the other track – but as the driver Edward Muirhead later stated, the engine was very noisy. Thomas Coldwell, the foreman of the gang was aware that a train was due to pass on the down-line yet no look-out had been posted.

Suddenly, looming out of the fog, not less that 50 yards away was a passenger train coming towards them. Thomas Chalk, one of the gang shouted out a warning “The train is coming. Get out of the road, chaps”, but because of the noise of the ballast engine not all of them heard this. It struck the men and killed nine of them instantly. So remember those whose lives were lost building services that we today take for granted.

So, on September 24th, why not join in this historical re enactment before you come down and visit us on the farm, and you can also pop up the High Street, enjoy the shops and centres, book tickets for Brentwood Theatre who are hosting the start of this parade, and join in the celebration of this town, the next best thing to London. We may not be historic here, only 16 years old, but you will have a hysterical time and can learn of the history of farming in Essex and the background of your favourite farmyard friends.

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