History Throwback: How did Brentwood grow?

The modern site of the Lowe's hairdressing shop in Station Parade. Picture: Sylvia Kent

The modern site of the Lowe's hairdressing shop in Station Parade. Picture: Sylvia Kent - Credit: Sylvia Kent

For this throwback Enjoy Brentwood More’s history columnist, author and vice-president of the Brentwood Writer’s Circle, Sylvia Kent tells us about how Brentwood grew into the pretty town it is today.

I find it fascinating to study how a town grows. Take Brentwood, for instance. In 1801 Brentwood had a population of just over 1,000 residents. Within 50 years, the number had grown to 2,200 and by 1900, it boasted almost 5,000 residents. In comparison, the adjacent populous village of South Weald had a population of almost 6,000 at the turn of the 19th century, but later boundary changes brought many of the inhabitants to within Brentwood town’s precincts.

Many of these families lived in the town’s High Street, as was found in similar towns and villages in Essex a century ago, there was a great variety of shops in its famously broad thoroughfare. Many of the independent shop keepers and their families lived above their premises and sent their children to be educated at the numerous small private schools often referred to as ‘dame schools’ that had sprung up in the surrounding area.

Referring to the trade books at the time, the population was relatively small compared to today’s, but nevertheless, there were dozens of shops selling meat, fish, bread, dairy products and a multitude of commodities unfamiliar to us in modern times. General grocers and drapers’ shops proliferated with many boot and shoe menders; haberdashers, journeyman tailors, dressmakers and milliners, keeping the townsfolk looking smart. We loved our books as now and the town boasted booksellers, stationers and printers, and there were several private libraries (even one favourite lending library operating over Boot’s the Chemist.

One well known character who was a favourite in the barbers and haircutters manual was Mr Morris Lowe. His reputation was one of the best and men and boys would queue up to have their “short back and sides” haircut on a Saturday morning. Mr Lowe owned several barber shops in the High Street as well as in other parts of the town, including the corner of the Station Parade (now Kingsgate). Mr Morris Lowe had come from Somerset as a young man with his dream of opening up his own barbers and this he managed to do, without borrowing money, by the early 1900s. An astute businessman, he felt he could expand and did!

As a devout primitive methodist and preacher, he was instrumental in starting up Brentwood’s Methodist church at Lorne Road (once Cemetery Road) before it moved to Warley Hill. This energetic and devout man, was also voted into the council and it was he would he who helped establish the first Brentwood Chamber of Commerce. Morris Lowe’s son, William, took over The Parade shop and it was perfect for customers on their way to catch their train to London to call in for a shave (using a cut throat razor) and a trim at the same time. Morris’ grandsons, Charles and Gilbert were both born above the Parade premises and carried on the dynasty well into the 1980s, but left when their shop was demolished and the huge office block – Kingsgate, was built on the site.

More historical stories by Sylvia Kent can be found in Brentwood in 50 Buildings published by www.amberley-books.com. ISBN 978-14456-9213-5.