History: The story behind Brentwood’s first ever police station
PUBLISHED: 12:00 14 February 2019
This week, historian and vice-president of the Brentwood Writers’ Circle Sylvia Kent talks about crime, the “cage” and who manned the first police station.
Brentwood’s Coptfold Road, so close to the library and children’s day nursery, is surprisingly one of the town’s busiest roads. Traffic is increased as drivers aim for the multi-storey car park.
The laughter of children at play and the colourful pictures displayed on the nursery walls contrast with the building’s original purpose - that of Brentwood’s first police station.
It’s hard to imagine Brentwood when it had just 2,000 residents and the crime figures were small by comparison with today’s statistics.
But there was always the arm of the law in some form.
Two hundred years ago, the parish constable dealt with crime.
Felons were put in the stocks alongside the “cage” a small weather-boarded construction in Back Street (now Hart Street) behind the Assize House, then sited in the High Street.
The cage was just large enough to house one person overnight before he/she appeared before the magistrate next morning.
In 1840, mention is made of plans for a small police station in Brentwood, but it was not until four years later that a suitable piece of land was found.
This was bordered to the south by Queens Road and to the west by Well Lane – now Library Hill.
The land was sold for £150 by John Duncan.
Thomas Hill was the chosen builder and the police station eventually opened in 1851.
It was staffed by the first superintendent, Thomas Coulson and five constables joined him.
This purpose-built station of red brick had two storeys with cells below and a row of houses for the police officers and their families which still stand in Coptfold Road.
A stable block for the police horses was also a vital part of the development.
The original entrance to the building was through an archway in Library Hill which was later bricked up.
Brentwood’s solidly built Court House was erected in New Road in 1848, sufficiently close to the police station and this, too, still stands.
It is now an up market private medical clinic.
As the town’s population expanded, the police force increased and in 1937, a spanking new police station and courthouse were built off the London Road.
La Plata Grove, behind the police station, had 12 houses for sergeants and constables and two for inspectors.
The old La Plata house was converted into a section house for single officers and also the police social centre.
The Essex Library Services moved into the vacated Coptfold Road police station and served the town for fifty years.
The present library, built opposite the court house, was built in 1987 in New Road and was officially opened by HRH Princess Anne in May 1991.