History: Looking back 60 years ago at Brentwood’s Town Hall

PUBLISHED: 17:06 05 September 2018 | UPDATED: 17:06 05 September 2018

Brentwood's Town Hall in the late 1940s. Picture: Brentwood Library

Brentwood's Town Hall in the late 1940s. Picture: Brentwood Library

Brentwood Library

This week, historian and vice-president of the Brentwood Writers’ Circle Sylvia Kent delves more into the history of the town hall.

The Queen and Prince Philip opening Brentwood's Town Hall in 1957. Picture: Brentwood LibraryThe Queen and Prince Philip opening Brentwood's Town Hall in 1957. Picture: Brentwood Library

People who want to pay a visit to the Town Hall in Ingrave Road, will notice from the hoardings that the building is undergoing considerable remodelling.

The planned work will improve the space within the building and include a new roof, windows, lifts, and residential units on the upper floors.

The hoardings have been decorated with colourful artwork by local school children.

The Brentwood council offices in 1957. Picture: Brentwood LibraryThe Brentwood council offices in 1957. Picture: Brentwood Library

But let’s travel back sixty years.

Some folk may remember the Queen and Prince Philip in October 1957 formally opening the building which was known then as the council offices.

The town came to a standstill as crowds watched the royal procession.

Even before this occasion, some history buff may also remember an earlier seat of authority which served as our town hall.

This was a rather grand building erected at 86 High Street on the site of the ancient 16th century Assize House (now O’Neill’s Wine Bar).

Built on classical lines, this huge dignified building was fronted by four stout columns.

Serving as the largest central public meeting place in Brentwood, it was the grandest in the area.

The hall was advertised in the local newspaper and was in demand, not only for public meetings and assemblies, but was part of the town’s social scene.

On Saturday mornings, cinematograph sessions were put on by Mr Britten and the children piled in, sitting on the dusty floor. Jumble sales and charity events also took place here including flower shows and concerts.

Older residents remember the Saturday night hops.

Local bands would perform. One group, who had the young film star Peter Sellars playing the drums performed at the venue in the early 1950s.

The local police held their annual ball there when the super-sprung dance floor was specially treated with French chalk for the occasion.

Wedding receptions, political meetings, Christmas pantomimes, everything went on in that great hall.

The Town Hall’s central position in the High Street – its prominent feature being its enormous clock, made by Smiths of Clerkenwell, originally illuminated by gas and paid for by public subscription - was an important landmark.

The hall had been built by a private company on the site of the old Assize House where the Justices of the Peace and magistrates had met in session for least 300 years.

The original lease was for 99 years, but the building was unceremoniously pulled down before this expired.

Local residents were waiting for the demolition gang on 8th September 1961, and many were sad when witnessing the machines that destroyed the old building.

By then, it was in a sorry state, dilapidated and in a desperate state of disrepair.

The lovely old Town Hall clock, however, was saved.

This huge timepiece was put in storage by the Council and eventually renovated before being re-hung on the Town Hall fascia. When the contractors’ hoardings are finally removed, we will begin yet another chapter in the life of one of Brentwood’s most important buildings.

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