St Thomas of Canterbury, Brentwood

The Parish Church of Saint Thomas of Canterbury





The present church dates from 1883, but there has been a church in Brentwood since 1221, when the Abbot of St Osyth’s Abbey, who was the Lord of the Manor, built the chapel in the High Street - the ruins can still be seen near the entrance to the Bay Tree Centre.  The chapel was used by pilgrims on their way to the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury, as well as by travellers and merchants, and the inhabitants of Brentwood.  The chapel was a chapel of ease, not a parish church, so Brentwood people had to go to their Parish Church of South Weald for baptisms and burials.  Brentwood did not become a parish until 1873.  There were still close links between South Weald and Brentwood when the present church was built.


There has been a church on the present site since 1835.  By then the chapel had become too small for Brentwood’s growing population and it was decided to build a new church on a nursery garden situated between the High Street and Queens Road; St Thomas’ Road did not then exist.  This second church was designed by James Savage, and built of stick brick, with a tower at the west end and galleries round three sides of the nave.  A chancel was added in 1855.  Unfortunately, the church was badly constructed and soon after Charles Grinstead was appointed Vicar in 1876 it was decided to demolish the nave and build a new one on to the 1855 chancel.  Subsequently, the gift of £6,000 from the Revd Charles Belli, former Vicar of South Weald, made it possible to build a new chancel.  The total cost of the new church amounted to over £22,000.


The new church was designed by Ernest Claude Lee, who had previously been architect of St Paul’s Church, Bentley Common – also in South Weald Parish – which was consecrated in 1880.  He was the nephew of the brewer Octavius Edward Coope MP of Rochetts in South Weald, who contributed £2,000 to the building fund and laid the foundation stone in the west wall on 14th February 1881.  St Thomas’ Church was consecrated on 26th April 1883, and there have been few alterations since that date.


Interior of the Church: the whole church is best viewed from the west end.  Lee designed a Victorian Gothic church in the Early English style, with nave, north and south aisles, and chancel with the Lady Chapel to the north, and vestry and organ chamber to the south, and with a gallery at the west end of the nave.  The nave is narrow compared to the width of the aisles, but here Lee was constrained by the original decision to retain the 1855 chancel.  The north-west tower and spire, with the porch, were added in 1886.


Windows and Stained Glass:

• The lancet windows are in the Early English style.  The stained glass was executed by Alfred O Hemming and Co, of London, between about 1884 and 1908.


• The west window of 1886 was given by Miss Palmer, niece of the Revd Charles Belli, in memory of her uncle, and shows the martyrdom of St Thomas in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.  The main scene is carried across all four lancets, and at the top in the centre St Thomas is seen kneeling before God and receiving the palm and crown of the martyr.


• The east window depicts the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, with on his right the Virgin Mary and on the left St John.  Above Christ is God the Father, and below is Virgin and Child.  The inscription is hidden by the reredos.  The window is in memory of the Revd W Pomeroy Ogle, a curate who died suddenly in 1884.


• The east window in the Lady Chapel depicts Christ’s Ascension, and is in memory of Robert Growse MD, a leading inhabitant of Brentwood in the mid-nineteenth century.


• The aisle windows were carefully planned according to an overall theme; the inscriptions were recorded in the glass or on brass plates.  The windows of the south aisle depict Christian Saints.  Thus, the south-east window next to the organ chamber was 'in memory of Charles Grinstead, Vicar 1876-99, during whose incumbency the church was erected'.  The apostles Peter, Andrew, James and John, were each recognisable by their symbols – the keys; the saltire cross; the staff, wallet and scallop-shell of the pilgrim; and the cup with the snake emerging.


• The windows of the north aisle have figures from the Old Testament, starting with Adam, Eve and Abel, at the west end, and progressing through the Old Testament to end with John the Baptist and the Virgin and Child.


• The north-west window by John Hayward, with St Thomas of Canterbury holding the church, celebrates the church’s centenary in 1983, and was in memory of Laurence King OBE FRIBA, 'for many years consultant architect of this church', who died on 9th December 1981.


Font and Font-cover: these were the gift of CJH Tower of Weald Hall, at that time patron of the living.  The date, 1886, is incorporated in the wrought ironwork of the font-cover.


Statues: the statue of Christ the King in the south aisle was originally part of the reredos in the Lady Chapel.  The children of the parish gave the statue of St Thomas in 1946 in thanksgiving at the end of the Second World War; the sword through his head represents his martyrdom, and the emblem – the badge with the three choughs – is also found on Brentwood’s Coat of Arms.  The statue of the Virgin and Child was given in 1958 by Laurence King and his sister, Refna, in memory of their parents.  The statue of the Virgin Mary in the Lady Chapel was the gift of the Revd Arthur Challis.


Stations of the Cross: by Mayer and Co, dating from 1904, they were originally in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Mary and St Helen, Brentwood.  They were given by the Cathedral in thanks for their use of the church while the Cathedral was being altered in the 1970s.


Brasses: the oldest brass came from the Chapel and is to John Parker, clerk, 1673.  Also in the north-west corner is a brass recording the erection of the east window (of the second church) in 1856 by Revd John Francis Hawker English, Vicar 1851-76, in memory of his parents who were buried at Great Warley.


Chancel: the choir stalls were given by CJH Tower of Weald Hall and the lights by Jim and Vera Baker in 1994. The reredos of 1896 cost £1,000, and was paid for from the bequest of George Thomas Larkin.  Like the east window, it depicts the Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary and St John.  Originally uncoloured, it was painted when the chancel was redecorated by Laurence King in 1958 as a memorial to the Revd Viner George Ballance, Vicar 1935-47, and those who died in the Second World War.  The high altar was replaced by a stone altar at the same time.


Organ: the organ was built by Norman and Beard in 1897.  It is a large, three manual instrument with 41 stops and 2,108 pipes.  Six more stops were added in 1908.  It was rebuilt and modernised in 1970, and was restored in 2011 when, among other work, humidification was improved and the pitch lowered to enable the organ to be used with other instruments, thus increasing the scope of its use.


Bells:  these were given in memory of Revd Charles Belli by his nephew, EH Palmer, a Governor of the Bank of England, and by Mrs EL Boreham.  They were cast by Mears and Stainbank at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.  The first peal was rung on 3rd November 1888.  Major refurbishment started in 2007 and in 2008 the bell hanger, Nicholson Engineering Ltd, removed the bells and frame.  The bells initially went to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry for cleaning and re-tuning before transport to Nicholson’s workshop in Dorset for modification and installation in the original but strengthened cast-iron frame.  The installation at St Thomas’ was completed before Christmas 2008.  The bells are tuned to D# Major and the tenor bell weights 18cwt-1qtr-15lbs.


Exterior of the Church: the church was built of brick faced with flint with stone dressings.  The west doorway was carved by Earp and Son with figures of the four evangelists, scenes from the martyrdom of St Thomas, and of the wise and foolish virgins, with Christ in glory at the top.  The bellcote above the chancel was reconstructed in 1972.  There is a figure of Christ the King high on the east wall, and Jesus as the Good Shepherd over the north porch.  The tower clock was given by John Larkin in 1923; the Larkin family were great benefactors to the church and to the town of Brentwood.


Originally compiled by Dr Jenny Ward PhD