St Thomas of Canterbury, Brentwood
Brentwood began as a clearing made in the woods by burning trees (hence 'burnt wood' which became Brentwood) to provide a stop-off point about one day's journing from the Thames for pilgrims en route from East Anglia to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. The first church building dedicated to St Thomas in Brentwood was a chapel built around 1221 to serve these pilgrims. The ruins of the original chapel are still to be seen in the High Street. Brentwood remained part of the Parish of South Weald until 1873, but in 1835 a new church was built on the site of the present church to cater for the growing population in Brentwood. The new building had a short and unhappy history, being poorly designed and structurally unsound. Not long after Brentwood became an independent parish, the church was demolished to make way for the third St Thomas's in Brentwood.
On 14th February 1881 the local MP, Octavius Coope (a member of the brewing family), laid the foundation-stone in the west wall of the present church. Two years later the main part of the church had been completed, and it was consecrated on 26th April 1883 by the Bishop of St Alban's (in whose diocese Brentwood then was). A total of seven services were held between 5.00am and 9.00pm that day. The present church is Victorian Gothic in the early English style, and it was designed by Mr EC Lee, also responsible for the design of St Paul's Bentley, a nearby parish.
A generous gift from the Revd Charles Belli, a former vicar of South Weald, made it possible to rebuild the chancel, and the following five years saw further collections and gifts towards the building fund. The tower was completed in 1887 and dedicated by the Bishop on 19th October. The following year saw the installation of a peal of bells, and the old organ was replaced in 1897. A beautiful reredos depiciting the crucifixion was bequeathed by George Larkin in 1896. Originally uncoloured, colour was added during as a memorial to those who died in the second world war during the redecoration of the chancel by Laurence King in the late 1950's.
The church centre was added in 1988, to replace the old church hall which was located on Queens Road near the present vicarage. The centre contains the foyer where refreshments are served during the day, a hall, kitchen, sacristy, choir vestry, office and meeting rooms.
The 13th century chapel of St Thomas
The chapel today on the high street
The short lived second church
The present Church