History: Three decades of Brentwood's sweetest summer event

Carol and Roy Dyer founded the Brentwood Strawberry Fair

Carol and Roy Dyer founded the Brentwood Strawberry Fair - Credit: Peter Kent

As Brentwood's Strawberry Fair rolls around for another year, our history columnist Sylvia Kent has embraced her sweet tooth to explore the origins of the event and its green venue, Shenfield Common.

As we know, strawberries are synonymous with Wimbledon’s tennis tournaments in June and July, where thousands of punnets will be enjoyed.

The fruit will also be the focus of Brentwood’s Strawberry Fair, which is to be held on Shenfield Common on June 18 from 11am to 6pm.

Stalls, displays and entertainment provided by local businesses, clubs and craft groups will attract visitors and of course, strawberries will be plentiful! 

This favourite occasion has taken place during June for more than 30 years, excluding the Covid interruption.

Roy Dyer and his wife Carol started the Strawberry Fair among many other Brentwood events, including his international Dog Displays. 

Newcomers to the town are often curious about Shenfield Common - this piece of open greensward, thicket and woodland is originally some 40 acres and within easy walking distance of the town centre.

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Fringed by a pretty millpond, it is regarded as one of the jewels in Brentwood’s crown. 

TV celebrity Richard Madeley once lived close to Shenfield Common. As a youngster, he loved walking alone there, watching the birds and wild animals.

He later became a reporter for the Brentwood Argus (now defunct) and has happy memories of the town.

Recorded history of the common can be traced back to 1042 when the area was known as Scenefelda.

We know that Bodd, a Saxon freeman, administered the land, followed by Eustace, Earl of Bologne.

In latter centuries, Lord Petre’s family owned Shenfield Common. A century ago, the common had been used for the now-outlawed badger baiting, cock fighting and bare-knuckle combats, which brought the town’s citizens to the area.  

Brentwood author John Larkin wrote about this open piece of land: “The common afforded amusement to our forefathers in various ways.

"On Good Friday, wrestling matches between the neighbouring parishes took place – also prize fights.

"On one occasion, Lord Petre presented a purse of money to the victor – a Brentwood man – who fought and defeated a Weald man… for the championship of the neighbourhood.”

Parts of the land were sold off during Victorian times. In 1840, when railway-engineering work began, navvies excavated the deep cutting, creating the famous “tips”.

From diaries, we learnt how local children would take tin trays to the common on snowy winter days, sliding down the steep slopes (still extant)!

In 1881 the site was made into a public park.

The avenue of lime trees through the centre of the woodland was planted in 1895 to give work to the unemployed; four oak trees on the grassland area of the common were planted by four parish chairmen in 1900 to commemorate the approaching 20th Century; and trees that line the adjacent Seven Arches Road were planted in 1901 to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII.

A bandstand once stood on the common and on Sunday afternoons, regimental bandsmen from Warley Barracks could be heard playing their military music.

Unfortunately, in 1913 vandals frequently targeted the structure, which regrettably was demolished. 

With the sun shining, let’s hope visitors will enjoy 2022’s Brentwood Strawberry Fair!

To learn more about Brentwood’s past, Brentwood in 50 Buildings is published by Amberley Publishing, and is available in all bookshops.