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The Chapel of St Thomas a Becket

A Scheduled Monument in Brentwood South, Essex

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Latitude: 51.6201 / 51°37'12"N

Longitude: 0.3022 / 0°18'8"E

OS Eastings: 559474.390618

OS Northings: 193763.424618

OS Grid: TQ594937

Mapcode National: GBR XN.GWC

Mapcode Global: VHHN3.6J4W

Entry Name: The Chapel of St Thomas a Becket

Scheduled Date: 18 June 1946

Last Amended: 8 December 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017452

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29398

County: Essex

Electoral Ward/Division: Brentwood South

Built-Up Area: Brentwood

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Brentwood St Thomas

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


The monument includes the standing and buried remains of the Chapel of St
Thomas a Becket, located on the south side of Brentwood High Street, some 100m
to the east of Crown Street. The chapel was founded in c.1221 by the
Augustinian Abbey of St Osyth, near Colchester, and stood within the small
town established by the abbey alongside the Colchester to London road. It was
intended as a chapel of ease, for the use of the inhabitants of the town and
for travellers and pilgrims on the route to Canterbury. However, as a
subsidiary chapel to South Weald Church some 2.5km to the north west, it was
only permitted to hold divine offices on the dedicatory saint's day and at the
time of the charter fair after 1227.
The chapel was substantially rebuilt in the 14th century. In this final form,
which was illustrated in 1843, the building included a rectangular nave and
smaller rectangular chancel, with a tower in the north west corner and a
narrow porch on the north side. The building continued in use as a chapel
until 1832; thereafter it housed the Boys National School until it was largely
dismantled in 1869. The lower part of the tower still stands to the level of
the nave roof, retaining the two-centred archways which faced south and east
into the nave, and the lower part of a newel stair built into the north west
corner. Attached to the tower is the lower part of the west wall of the nave
and a short section of the north wall. The low two-centred archways of the
north and west doors survive and to the east of the north door is a late 13th
century, or early 14th century stoup. The standing walls, which are Listed
Grade II, are built of flint and Kentish ragstone with courses of freestone
and tile. Limestone was used for quoins and mouldings. The further extent of
the nave and chancel is marked by low brick walls built in the 1960s which
indicate the positions of the original foundations. In 1232 Henry III caused
Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent, to be starved into submission when he took
sanctuary in the chapel following accusations of treason. During the siege a
deep trench was reputedly dug around the chapel and a high fence erected. It
is not known whether any archaeological traces of these events survive.
The chapel is depicted within a small walled enclosure on a map of the town
dated to c.1717, and the north wall of this curtilage is shown in an
illustration of the chapel from 1843. The modern garden wall surrounding the
remains of the chapel is thought to follow the outline of the enclosure to the
south. A set of railings, erected along the western side in 1902, reflects its
western boundary and the eastern extent is now covered by a paved walkway
beyond the chancel. The northern boundary is marked by a band of dark brick in
the refurbished pedestrian area alongside the High Street, during construction
of which in 1997 the remains of three adult burials were uncovered. The
burials, which dated from the late 17th or early 18th century, overlie earlier
graves and are thought to represent the later use of a small cemetery within
the enclosure. Since the chapel was originally granted only limited parochial
responsibilties, the cemetery may not date back to the foundation. However,
the subsequent use of the curtilage for burials provides an important
indication of its evolving status.
A small rectangular building situated immediately to the north of the tower is
of 18th century appearance although it is thought to have originated in the
16th century. The building would have precluded the use of this area for
burials and its construction would have disturbed any pre-existing features.
The building is not included in the scheduling.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are all modern
surfaces and walls, iron gates and railings, seats, litter bins and signposts,
the socket for the town's Christmas tree and its metal lid and the modern
altar situated within the former chancel, the ground beneath all these
features is however included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Although only part of the original building survives above ground, the remains
of the chapel of St Thomas a Becket form an interesting architectural feature
within the modern town and provide a valuable indication of the town's
medieval origins. The development of the town, which resulted from a
deliberate act of colonisation in the late 12th century, is itself of
particular interest, and the chapel provides one of most significant clues to
the layout of the early settlement. The surviving walls reflect the character
of the structure, retaining architectural details which, when compared with
the illustrations of the chapel prior to its demise, provide a clear
impression of the appearance of the building as a whole. Although the chapel
was doubtless robbed for building stone in the late 19th century, the
foundations and other buried features are thought to survive and to retain
valuable details concerning the construction and evolution of the building.
The surrounding enclosure is well attested to by documentary evidence and is
also, to some extent, perpetuated by the modern layout of the grounds. Burials
recently discovered in this area indicate that the enclosure served as a
cemetery, at least from the late 17th century. The presence of burials, a
parochial attribute which contradicts the chapel's subsidiary position in
relation to South Weald Church, has significant implications for its changing
role, perhaps resulting from the demise of monastic control following the
Dissolution of the parent abbey in the early 16th century. The cemetery
therefore holds the key to understanding the later evolution of the chapel's
status within the town, as well as containing a sealed burial population
valuable for the demographic study of the town's population during the latter
stages of the chapel's use. The chapel enclosure may also retain
archaeological evidence for the dramatic events which took place in 1232.
The monument is accessible to the public.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Medlycott, M, Brentwood. Historic Towns Assessment Report, (1997)
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Essex, (1965), 101
Medlycott, M, 'Brentwood' in Historic Towns Assessment, (1997)
723-1/12/77, DoE, List of Buildings of Special Historic and Architectural Interest, Brentwood, (1958)
Details of watching brief excavations, Butler, R. (E.C.C. Archaeology Section), Chapel of St Thomas a Becket, Brentwood, (1997)
Discussions with ECC Archaeologist, Butler, R, Chapel of St Thomas a Becket, (1997)
Text and illustrations for info panel, Butler, R. et al, Chapel of St Thomas a Becket, Brentwood, (1997)
Text and illustrations for info panel, Butler, R. et al, Chapel of St Thomas a Becket, Brentwood, (1997)

Source: Historic England

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