How Brentwood's heritage is tied to a countess, a school and gardening

Middleton Hall in Taskers Lane, now Middleton Hall Lane.

Middleton Hall in Taskers Lane, now Middleton Hall Lane. - Credit: Sylvia Kent

With the Easter season of eggs, bunnies, and chocolate now in the rear-view mirror, Sylvia Kent, our Brentwood history columnist, looks at what is next on our journey - the great garden bonanza.

The great garden bonanza has already taken off.

Maybe many have been dabbling with a little lawn-mowing and tidying up the debris of winter, but with the prospect of longer days and lighter evenings, our green-fingered fraternity have emerged from their cosy homes and from out of the garden-shed come our garden tools and wheelbarrows.

This time of year has traditionally been regarded as the Easter start of our growing year. We are sharpening our spades, secateurs, hoes and mowers before limbering up for some gentle digging, weeding, seed-sowing and planting.

When once, living adjacent to Hartswood Road allotments in Brentwood, I realised that the great Eastertide gardening bonanza was about to kick off, all I could see was a plethora of elbows enthusiastically digging in order to make ready their five-rod allotment space against a noisy background of modern battery strimmers and mowers working hard before the great sowing sessions started.

But, despite coping with our difficult Essex clay soil, keen gardeners and super allotmenteers all had something in common – a love of growing and the joy of the open air.

Brentwood, Hutton, Shenfield and surrounding villages have historically enjoyed a reputation for their gardening expertise in national competitions.

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The Brentwood Horticultural Society was formed in spring 1872 by a formidable lady – Countess Tasker - who lived at the beautiful Middleton Hall in Taskers Lane (now Middleton Hall Lane). She took advantage of her extensive grounds by inviting local residents to join her new club. which she christened the Brentwood and District Gardeners and Allotment Society.

Countess Tasker shared her fascination with plants with her 17-year-old god-daughter Ellen Willmott, who arrived in Great Warley in 1875.

Several books have been written about both these ladies, who first created their magnificent gardens at Middleton Hall, now Brentwood Preparatory School and later at Warley Place gardens, a place which often attracted royalty.

In 1922, local resident Count Lescher’s wife presented a trophy for the highest points in vegetable growing and other local upper-class luminaries awarded silver cups and ornate salvers.

These were returned to the society as perpetual trophies.

The well-known Brentwood philanthropist Percy Bayman was a wonderful supporter of the society, presenting the Professional Gardeners’ Challenge Cup, which was the pinnacle of Brentwood gardening prowess.

In 1949, the society changed its name to Brentwood Horticultural Society.

Now 150 years later, gardeners still enjoy ‘growing their own’ and meeting and working together on one of Brentwood’s eight well-kept allotments spread around the town and organised by Brentwood Borough Council.

Certainly, a healthy and useful hobby.

To discover more about Brentwood’s past, Sylvia Kent's book Brentwood in 50 Buildings, released by Amberley Publishing in Stroud, is available.