Throwback Thursday: Historian looks back at Brentwood’s tradition of lighting up the High Street

Brentwood High Street as it looked in Victorian times.

Brentwood High Street as it looked in Victorian times. - Credit: Archant

This week Enjoy Brentwood More’s history columnist, author and vice-president of the Brentwood Writer’s Circle, Sylvia Kent explores the borough’s tradition of switching-on the Christmas lights in the High Street.

Brentwood historian Sylvia Kent interviewed Doris Cook about what Christmas is like in Brentwood in

Brentwood historian Sylvia Kent interviewed Doris Cook about what Christmas is like in Brentwood in the 60s and 70s. Picture: Sylvia Kent - Credit: Archant

Every year Brentwood's wide High Street looks fantastic when the 'lighting up ceremony' takes place.

This year the date is set for Saturday, November 30 and his Honour Brentwood's Mayor will perform the 'switching on' event to welcome in the festive season.

The shop windows will look great, awash with colour and tinsel and the Rotarians and Round Table lads usually provide Christmas music to put shoppers in a generous mood, collecting as they do for many local charities.

So, in reflection, it's interesting to find out what some long-time residents remember about Christmas-tide when they were young.

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One lady remembered her father talking about Brentwood sixty years ago.

"Well, there wasn't the money about when thoughts of Christmas came up.

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"Shopkeepers did their best at making their windows colourful and exciting for the kiddies - nothing spectacular like today, but they were imaginative.

"Even though there was very little money around when I was small, the shop-keepers used their imagination and their windows were decorated with red and green crepe-paper, lots of holly and dolls dressed as angels and Christmas fairies.

"There used to be Austen's Toyshop near the Post Office, but that closed down between the wars. There was the Toy Bazaar further along the High Street which was a great favourite for many years, but had to close in the 1970s.

"I remember they set up an small electric train circuit which certainly intrigued the boys. The shop was small, but they offered a service of holding the toys on order for parents to pick up on Christmas Eve.

"Wilson's Stores' windows were always fantastic. They changed their displays every year, but always included the fairy lights and angels - they were all linked to Christmas.

"They put up miniature Christmas trees along the parapets overlooking the Ingrave Road.

"Although the building is still there, they comprise just a row of individual shops. How nice it would be to have a proper departmental store back in Brentwood."

One High Street store, well known for its unusual window displays, was Bon Marche.

Here, children could meet Father Christmas in his fairy grotto. In the Millennium year, the late Doris Cook was taped recalling memories of Brentwood (she was born in 1908 at the Thatchers' Arms at Great Warley).

She recalled: "The old Bon Marche in Brentwood High Street was a wonderful place to visit at Christmas.

"I was delighted to be invited by the owner, Margaret Hutchings, to become the Bon Marche Toy Doctor.

"I loved making and mending teddy bears, so didn't mind sitting in the window and mending the toys that children brought in for repair.

"I must have sewn hundreds of limbs on teddies during the 60s and 70s. What a shame that this well known store had to close!"

My latest book Brentwood in 50 Buildings gives readers several views of Brentwood High Street in years' past and there are many stories linked to the Borough's buildings still standing.

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