Foundation of the Town
The early history of Brentwood is obscure. A Bronze Age axe has been found in the district and there is an entrenched camp in Weald Park. However, it is unlikely that early man settled on the site of the town because it was probably part of the Great Forest which covered much of Essex.
Although the Great Roman Road from London to Colchester ran through the town, no remains have been found which suggest a Roman settlement.
The Saxons came to South Weald and its bounds included modern Brentwood.
Foundation of the Town
Thomas à Becket's murder in 1170, and his canonisation in 1173, played an important part in the foundation of the town. Miracles were wrought at his tomb and pilgrims travelled to the shrine at Canterbury. The most convenient way for those from the Midlands, and for many from East Anglia, ran through Brentwood to the ferry at Tilbury. Houses sprang up in a clearing in the forest, made either by an accidental or deliberate fire, and seven years after Becket's death, the name of Brentwood (Burnt Wood) appeared for the first time in history.
In the latter half of the 12th century, William of Ockendon gave to the Abbey of St Osyth his lands of Brentwood called Cocstede. Permission was granted by the Vicar of South Weald for the Abbot of St Osyth to build a chapel for use of the growing population and passing pilgrims. It was dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury. Only the ruins remain today in Brentwood's High Street (pictured above).
The town was beginning to grow in importance. It was the centre of an agricultural district, the crossing place of two important roads and a halt on the pilgrims' route; it was a natural centre for business. Henry III granted a Charter for a market in 1227. The growth of the wool trade and cloth industry in Essex encouraged the development of the town. To the pilgrims passing through were added merchants, many of them Italians.
Medieval remains found in Hart Street
Archaeological investigation of a site in Hart Street, in the town centre, back in 2000 provided proof of medieval inhabitant as well as some activity from as early as the 12th century.
Some of the original foundations of the town were revealed, including a medieval bread oven, a number of wells and a cess pit, a 16th century iron foundry, plus the walls and drainage of at least three or four medieval homes, some of which still displayed the scorched clay of their fires. Various items found included pottery, nails and coins.