Throwback Thursday: Brentwood historian explores the story behind the borough’s famous hospital
PUBLISHED: 12:00 24 October 2019
This week Enjoy Brentwood More’s history columnist, author and vice-president of the Brentwood Writer’s Circle, Sylvia Kent explores the history of St Faith’s Hospital.
What was once a special place for eplileptics, is now a building at the height of modern technology and communication in Brentwood.
You only have to look at a map of Brentwood to realise that the town has seen so much historical life and time over a thousand years.
Just 18 miles from London, the long straight highway, known as the Essex Great Road to Colchester was the route taken by the Romans and Saxons and many of those who came afterwards.
In ancient times, Brentwood developed due to it being an important thoroughfare for the ancient pilgrims travelling from parts of East Anglia to the shrine of St Thomas a'Becket to Canterbury in Kent.
Although Essex itself is generally considered to be a flat county, Brentwood's position sited on a hill with an altitude of over 122m above sea level, certainly contrasts with its neighbouring towns and villages.
In centuries past, Brentwood's high elevation obviously attracted the administrators and authorities of hospitals, residential schools and orphanages to the area, particularly for their young residents and those suffering poor health who lives had been blighted by the pollution and hardship of London.
So it was that in the nineteenth century, various London borough superintendents visited Brentwood with a view to building hospitals for their own sick residents.
In 1854, the Shoreditch Agricultural and Industrial School was built in the London Road and during the following year, it became the Hackney Union Branch Workhouse and Infant's School, employing a high proportion of staff from the town.
At the outset of the First World War, there were more than 500 pupils in residence at the school but by 1930 the building, surrounded by spacious grounds, became St Faith's Hospital, caring and treating epileptics over the next 50 years.
Again, the hospital provided work for hundreds of medical, nursing and general staff until 1980 when the building closed, looking so forlorn for many years after.
But by 1997, in came the property developers arrived and soon the enormous British Telecom building rose from its foundations, completed in 1999 with an expectation of around 2,000 staff who appreciate being so near the centre of Brentwood's busy High Street.
The 16-hectare St Faith's Country Park was created at the rear of the building and is an attractive green addition to the town, managed by Brentwood Borough Council since 1999.
The site is managed to benefit wildlife and biodiversity whilst still allowing informal public access.
For country-lovers, there are spacious grassland fields bounded by mature hedgerows, along with small areas of scrub and wet woodland, watercourses and ponds.
The undulating land form serves to hide the proximity of the A12 and urban area and gives views towards South Weald and the surrounding countryside.
To discover more about Brentwood's past, refer to Brentwood in 50 buildings, newly released by Amberley Publishing.