History: Story behind Brentwood’s popular shopping parade Crown Street

PUBLISHED: 12:00 08 August 2019 | UPDATED: 12:00 08 August 2019

Crown Street sign. Picture: Sylvia Kent

Crown Street sign. Picture: Sylvia Kent

Sylvia Kent

This week, Enjoy Brentwood More’s history columnist, author and vice-president of the Brentwood Writer’s Circle, Sylvia Kent talks about what makes Crown Street so special.

Carter's Grocery store in High Street, Brentwood. Picture: Sylvia KentCarter's Grocery store in High Street, Brentwood. Picture: Sylvia Kent

A stroll along Brentwood's Crown Street today with its modern bright, artisan shop windows gives no hint of the historical background to this vital part of the town.

Well, some of the buildings are pretty old, as can be seen if you look upwards at the roof structures and in particular, this plaque dated 1894.

There are several apocryphal stories as to why this now popular shopping area, once known as Love Lane, was so named.

For centuries the famous Crown Inn stood not far from the very narrow entrance to this road, which, for centuries until the end of the nineteenth century, was merely 15 ft wide.

This narrow entrance off the High Street, made life difficult for the farmers' carts and coaching traffic, turning from the High Street.

The grocer, Mr Carter, who kept his shop on the corner of Crown Street had to relinquish his weather-boarded building in the mid-1890s to make way for the road widening and the link with Back Street (now Hart Street) which historians believe to have been the site of the town's medieval market-place which housed the 'meat shambles' among the food stalls.

Here also, was the town stocks (for miscreants) together with the cage (a tiny, stockaded prison cell) for prisoners who were held overnight before appearing at the Court Assizes in the High Street.

The building was demolished in the 1860s.

Even though the population was just over 1,000 around 200 years ago, at least a dozen inns, including The Crown in Brentwood's tree-lined High Street managed to trade and hold on to their licence, many adding stables to their courtyards.

This was the era of the horse-drawn coaches through this busy thoroughfare town.

The old Crown was one such coaching inn which traded close to the famous George & Dragon and the King's Head Inn on either side of Love Lane (later Crown Street), all standing for over three hundred years.

The Crown closed in 1818, but had traded next to the ancient St Thomas' Chapel (remains of which we see today).

The town's first post office address was at The Crown in 1637 with Samuel Smith its recorded postmaster at an annual wage of £5, a sum unchanged for 120 years.

Another tale comes from a local historian and shop-keeper John Larkin, who was also a great benefactor to Brentwood, who told readers in his book published in 1926, that in 1840 a tradesman in the area decided to save every crown piece received through his till (a huge sum in Victorian times), using the eventual amount to build a row of cottages (still extant) in Love Lane, as it was then known, whereupon in 1860, the Crown Street road-name appeared on the town map.

Larkin quoted the one-hundred year old joke in a local schoolboy's book "Why does Crown Street resemble a Crown piece?"

Answer: Because it has the King's Head on one side and St George & The Dragon on the other.

This means nothing to modern day scholars, as the crown coin disappeared years ago and the two inns mentioned were demolished in the 1970s, but Crown Street prospers in its modern environment.

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