Brentwood began as a small settlement in a woodland clearing on the London to Colchester road over eight hundred years ago. Gradually it developed into a small market town where medieval pilgrims, on their way to the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury, visited St Thomas' Chapel in the High Street. The 16th century saw new gentry families moving into the area and the foundation of the Grammar School in 1558, which provided local boys with a free classical education. Road improvements and increasing travel brought growing prosperity to the town in the 18th century, especially for the inns serving the coach traffic. The establishment of Warley Camp and Barracks also brought in business, but many of Brentwood's inhabitants remained poor, and living conditions were bad. It was in Victoria's reign that a proper public water supply and drainage schemes were undertaken. At the same time new churches were built, together with schools to educate all the town's children. The town still benefits from the community spirit of those early benefactors who improved the amenities of Bentwood.
Much is known about them and their successors who, decade after decade, continued to enhance and develop the town throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The author does not neglect the ordinary people of Brentwood either, and their changing patterns of life, work and leisure. Indeed the growth of recreational activities from the 1880s onwards, as evidenced by the town's clubs and societies, continues unabated in the Brentwood of today. Now a busy commuter town, it has grown rapidly since 1945. The author is a professional historian who has taught local history in the University of London for many years; but her narrative is no dry-as-dust textbook. Readable and entertaining, it is also lavishly illustrated and will appeal to a wide readership. Based on scholarship and original research, this vivid account of the past of her home town will be warmly welcomed.