Brentwood was a ‘new town’ deliberately planted on marginal, probably wooded ground at the edge of South Weald parish (Eddy and Petchey, 1983). The name Brentwood is first recorded in documentary sources in 1176, however it was in 1177 and again in 1184 that the monks of St Osyth were given leave to assart forty acres of woodland in Costed manor, Brentwood. From later references it is clear that they built a small town, like Epping, with plots along one side (probably the south) of the main London-Colchester road. In 1221 the monks were given permission to build a chapel, dedicated to St Thomas Becket. This was a subsidiary chapel to South Weald church and was supposed to be self-financing from gifts from travellers and pilgrims on the route to Canterbury. In 1227 the town obtained a market-charter, although a market was probably held before this date. In 1234 Thomas de Cemill was given permission to build opposite the monks’ buildings on the other side of the High Street. Peace sessions were held in the town in the 14th century. The town is notable for being the place where the Peasant’s Revolt began in Essex in 1381. A leper hospital stood approximately 2 km to the south of the Chapel of St Thomas Becket.
In 1616 Brentwood was described in a petition to the King as a ‘great market town, consisting of many households, situate together’. The 16th century court rolls record the appointment of ale-tasters, supervisors of meat and fish, and supervisors and sealers of leather, suggesting that the latter commodity may have played an important role in the local economy. The Assizes and Quarter Sessions were also held in Brentwood in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was also an important coaching centre, in 1686 it was estimated that its inns could provide 110 beds and stabling for 183 horses (Ryan, 1993), and in 1788 it had 11 inns clustered around the chapel and market-place. The arrival of the railway in the 19th century caused further development to the town, particularly in the area to the south of High Street and in the vicinity of the railway. In the second half of the 20th century Brentwood became a commuter town for workers in London.