Festivals and fun for our autumn calendar

festival crowds

Crowds at the Billericay Food and Drink Festival - Credit: Abby Knight

Following the last 18 months of Covid-related health problems, we can welcome a healthier autumn and a chance of relaxation and fun.

Many of our festivals and special occasions that were planned so long ago were cancelled over the last year, others postponed.

Now the calendar is filling up with festival dates both in Brentwood and surrounding towns.

One event held a few weeks ago brought scores of visitors to the New Lodge ground at neighbouring Billericay’s Football Club.

This first Billericay Food and Drink Festival was organised by Abby Knight and Jodi Presswell and attracted plenty of Brentwood merrymakers.

Social distancing still rules, but many festivals are about to take place.

The annual Essex Book Festival has been attended via Zoom screens since March, but many readers have met during August.

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Literary events were enjoyed at libraries in both Brentwood and Billericay recently with novelists Claire Fuller and Liz Trenow.

Essex Book Festival

The Essex Book Festival - Credit: Sylvia Kent

On the topic of books, another much-awaited event will hopefully be held in Brentwood in the coming months.

As president of the Brentwood Writers’ Circle, I am pleased that our current members and guests will be able to meet together in the town to celebrate the 80th birthday of our unique writing organisation and launch the Circle’s anniversary anthology A Circle of Words – containing the work of different members supported by Brentwood Arts Council and sold on Amazon. 

circle of words

A Circle of Words - Credit: Brentwood Writers' Circle

During our festivities, we’ll remember Elizabeth Baxter, the woman who started the ball rolling way back in May 1941.

At the time, Elizabeth ran the Brentwood Secretarial Academy in New Road.

Elizabeth was an author and poet who wrote romantic novels and a comprehensive history about her beloved town entitled Brentwood: My Heritage.

In the 1940s she had been a member of the Society of Women Journalists and loved her regular meeting venue London Stationers’ Hall.

When the hall was badly bombed, that area was quarantined and roped off.

She missed the company of her fellow members and decided to start her own writing club in Brentwood.

She paid sixpence to the Brentwood Gazette who printed an advertisement announcing an invitation to aspiring writers to meet at her home.

Six people responded, gathering in her parlour, including older ladies and a couple of young soldiers from nearby Warley Barracks.

Brentwood Writers’ Circle was born.

Basildon Mayor David Dadds

Basildon mayor David Dadds enjoying the fair - Credit: Abby Knight

Eventually, they met at the Old House in Chelmsford Road.

Influential friends including Vera Brittain and Brian Flynn were on the committee.

Other distinguished authors attended. Margery Allingham, Ursula Bloom, Evelyn Anthony and other luminaries visited Brentwood, often lunching at the White Hart hotel and the Lion and Lamb.

In later years, we welcomed Douglas Adams, Michael Holroyd, Lena Kennedy and Ronald Blythe CBE who became our president during the 1970s.

We have also entertained authors such as Colin Dexter, Simon Brett, Jurgen Wolff, Martina Cole and others. 

Sadly, in 1963 Elizabeth developed a debilitating illness, becoming a long-term patient in Highwood Hospital.

She continued writing books which were published.

One visitor during 1972 was a young journalist, Gyles Brandreth, who wrote an article for Woman magazine entitled The Most Romantic Person I know.

He commented: “Miss Baxter was a delightful character with a truly romantic spirit – she was my kind of heroine.”

Elizabeth died in 1974 but is not forgotten.

As soon as we can, members and guests will gather and raise a glass to our remarkable society, created in the dark days of war, continuing Elizabeth’s legacy of helping writers realise their dream of seeing their work in print.

Today, we offer a warm welcome to new members. www.brentwoodwriterscircle.org