Brentwood Circular
16th January 2016

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Our Saturday Essex Walk in Thorndon Park

Our Saturday CLOG walk today took in most of the Thorndon Country Park, both north and south sections. It was "circular", with Brentwood Station as the starting point. Our 10 mile walk was through the undulating park land, once part of the extensive estate of Thorndon Hall. From the southern extremity of this former deer park we had good views over southern Essex, views reaching to the Thames Estuary and beyond. It was a crisp January day. The weather was nice and frosty, but largely sunny - just right for an invigorating winter walk. And to think that all this countryside was only a 30 minute train ride from the City of London!

Our walk was ably led by Ralph, who realised that the weather forecast would be for a lot of winter sunshine and devised this walk at short notice. Despite this we had a good number of participants. Indeed, it is one of the strong points of CLOG that walks can be arranged at short notice to take maximum advantage of positive meteorological opportunities as they arise.

It's the start of our winter walk in Essex and we are ready for what the day has in store for us.
Here we are in Hart's Wood on the southern outskirts of Brentwood.

So here is what these pages have in store for you. Even if you were not able to join us, here's your chance to find out how we enjoyed our fine mid-January Saturday CLOG walk - a walk to remove the winter cobwebs.

Enjoy your browse!

Coming to Brentwood

Coming to the start of our Saturday CLOG walk today was quite easy, since Brentwood has a direct rail connection from London's Liverpool Street Station. Early birds could warm themselves up in one of the waiting rooms on platforms four and three respectively, at the same time getting a glimpse into Brentwood's past. I photographed two of the pictures gracing the walls of the waiting room on platform four. I show them here by kind permission of Mr. John Fryer, the curator of the Brentwood Museum, which organized the displays in the waiting rooms.

On 1st of July 1840, the Eastern Counties Railway opened Brentwood station as its temporary terminus for trains from London, before extending the line in 1843 towards Colchester. The Great Eastern Railway (GER) took over in 1862 and after the grouping of 1923 the station passed to the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER). In the thirties the tracks through the station were quadrupled. Electrification had to wait until 1949. Now a poster on platform three proudly advertises that Crossrail - with its direct connections to Heathrow and Maidenhead - will be coming in the next two to three years. Our picture, circa 1910, shows a London-bound train, probably headed by one of the famous Claud-Hamilton 4-4-0s.

This is the view westwards towards the Capital. This is also from about 1910. The passengers' apparel, the news stand and the Dutch-style station architecture, together with characteristic Great Eastern features such as the "Dragon Tooth" platform awnings and the platform-mounted signal box, all help to place these two pictures in their historical context.

Our Morning Walk

In the morning we soon rose to higher things as we left Brentwood Station. In fact, the highest parts of our walk were in the woods just south of Brentwood's affluent suburbs, before we reached Thorndon Park itself. The Park's attractive western entrance was a nice feature on our route. After the Visitor Centre (North) we eventually crossed into Thorndon Park South on our way to the historic church of All Saints in East Horndon, and our lunch stop at the famous "Halfway House".

We set off on our walk as the winter sun lights up Hart's Wood.

It's a tad muddy, ...

... but "all in a day's work" for seasoned CLOGgies!

The western gate of Thorndon Park is next on our route. It is flanked by two "mirror image" lodges - one on the south side ...

... and one on the north side. It looks as if they were built at the same time as Thorndon Hall itself.

The gate is also flanked by two lions who, over the centuries, have been keeping a watchful eye over all who pass through the gate - at one time it was the aristocracy in their horse-drawn carriages, now it's day trippers in their horse-less carriages.

We head past the Visitor Centre (North) ...

... and cross into Thorndon Park South.

The Old Hall Pond greets us.

To our right (to the west of the pond) is the site of Old Thorndon Hall, which Elizabethan edifice gave way to the New Thorndon Hall. We shall pass the site in the afternoon on our way to Jury Hill.

Midday in Essex

By late morning we had reached the southern extremity of Thorndon Park, and indeed, the southern extremity of our walk. From the southern Visitor Centre we had good views to the south and across to the time-honoured and now restored church of All Saints, which we visited. A short distance away, the "Halfway House" made for a suitable lunch stop. We then retraced our steps via the southern Visitor Centre to the Old Hall Pond and the start of the afternoon "leg" of our walk.

From the Visitor Centre (South) we see the now restored All Saints church (in East Horndon), guarded over - somewhat incongruously - by an icon of the modern age.

All Saints Church makes a nice "packed-lunch" stop with views to match over South Essex and the Thames Estuary. This Grade II* listed church was built in the last quarter of the 15th century. After the late 19th century it had a chequered history but has since been saved from dereliction. Had it been open, we would have seen a number of interesting monuments including some to the forebears of Baden Powell.

The church is surrounded by some interesting gravestones, including this one which suggests that life expectancy in 1766 was statistically not as good as that which we might expect today. (I shan't delve here into the need to have a good sized data sample!)

Here you see "All Saints" church silhouetted against the south.
It was a fine bright sunny winter's day! Only a bit of high level cloudy haze!

Some of us had our main lunch in the "Halfway House" (Food Rating 5/5) on the A127.
The A127 is an early "between-the-wars" example of a dual carriageway, much used by the pre-war day-trippers in their motorcycle-and-sidecar combinations as they left London for the delights of Southend. In those days, the A127 must have felt like a motorway. "Halfway" means of course "halfway between London and Southend", wherever the start and end measuring points may have been located! (Of course, the term "Halfway House" probably has no connection with the less fortunate 50s and 60s connotation!)

We await our respective orders ...

... and find a lot of things to talk about, as is par for the course for CLOG events!

On our return walk we again pass the Visitor Centre (South), silhouetted against the flatter lands of South Essex. It wasn't evening yet, but photographing against the sun can give that effect.

Our Afternoon Walk

In the afternoon, we skirt around the southern end of Old Hall Pond, take a look at the Old Hall site with its poster explanations, visit Jury Hill and mingle with a herd of goats. We take another look at Thorndon Park's West Gate, which we passed this morning. Finally, we drop down to Brentwood Station by a different route, savouring the muddy delights of the "Donkey Lane Plantation".

Here we skirt around the southern end of Old Hall Pond which, I think, was used to supply fresh fish to the occupants of the erstwhile Old Hall.

On Jury Hill, a stile gives access to the south eastern lower slope and to south-facing views.

Here we are among the goats on Jury Hill. The goats were mildly inquisitive, but luckily, they were not inclined to head-butt!

Here is another view of the residents of Jury Hill.

To avoid muddy terrain, we decide not to descend into Childerditch but to stay "on top" as we make our return progress. Here we take a short rest ...

... and check the map.

Here's a last look towards the Thames Estuary. The end of the day draws ever closer.

A vintage tree demonstrates its contortions as we approach the Visitor Centre (North) again.

Yes, the lions are still guarding the West Gate to Thorndon Park.


These two heads can be seen high up on the walls of each of the two lodges flanking the West Gate to Thorndon Park. The lady graces the northern lodge, her partner the southern lodge. The asp leads me to think that the couple could be Anthony and Cleopatra. (I took Anthony's picture in the morning and Cleopatra's in the afternoon, hence the difference in the lighting.) I could not find out why they were placed here. Did they in some way represent the Lord and Lady Petre of New Thorndon Hall at the time when it and the West Gate were built? The mystery endures!

Here's a last look at the West Gate, guarded by its two lions.

Our return route takes us through the Donkey Lane Plantation, wherever Donkey Lane itself may be.

One last water stop, then the homeward journey beckons, for we are getting close to the southern affluent reaches of "Brentwood Town".

Thorndon Hall

Some of you asked me to put these pictures of New Thorndon Hall on this web page. Thorndon Hall was a bit off our direct route today, but it does provide the original raison d'être for Thorndon Park. New Thorndon Hall was the ancestral home of the Catholic Petre (pronounced "Peter") family, whose interesting chapel is hidden in the trees nearby and is due to be opened to the public this year (2016). The Hall itself was built between 1764-1770 by the architect James Paine and the park was landscaped by Capability Brown. The Hall replaced the Elizabethan "Old Thorndon Hall" which stood on the north side of the path we took today from Old Hall Pond to Jury Hill, as some of you gleaned today from the description at the site.

New Thorndon Hall was built in the Palladian style.

Its southern aspect looks splendid from any angle.

In 1922, the Petre family moved out of New Thorndon Hall to Ingatestone Hall, their other country seat. By that time, the result of a serious fire in 1878, coupled with the financial aftermath of WWI, no longer made the occupancy of New Thorndon Hall a viable proposition. In 1976, New Thorndon Hall was "sympathetically converted" to prestige apartments. Part of the south-east facing vista from the Hall had already been converted to a golf course between the wars. Howzat for info?!!

And here is one last sideways look at all this elegant living.

I took these three pictures on 1st February 2008, almost eight years ago, with a 3MP camera bought at "Woolies". Tempus fugit!

Thank You All for a Nice CLOG Day Out!

Thank you Ralph for suggesting and leading this walk. The weather forecast was good and CLOG, to its great credit, has the flexibility which allows us to plan walks at short notice (i.e. of just two to three days). Thank you everyone for making this yet another enjoyable CLOG walk. Thank you to the weather gods for bringing good walking weather - nice and frosty, but with plenty of winter sunshine!

Copyright Aspects of the Brentwood Station Pictures

As you can see, these are old postcards. They both date from about 1910 - over a century ago. I have reproduced them here by kind permission of Mr. John Fryer, Curator of the Brentwood Museum. (For the record, I initially contacted Mr. Fryer on Monday, 18th January at about 15:20). The "picture frames" are my own embellishment courtesy of HTML5!

Technical Bits and Pieces

There are at least three aspects which I could raise here, including the behaviour of your browser, the behaviour of Windows 10® and general items buried elsewhere on my site.

  • Browser Behaviour: If your browser appears to be lazy and does not want to load all the pictures, a friendly press on its refresh button might just get your browser out of its recalcitrant ways. You might notice that in order to speed up loading of individual items, I have split up these pages.
  • Windows 10®: I have started to use Windows 10® in earnest. So far so seemingly good, and hopefully my continuing experience - and indeed that of other new users - of Windows 10® will remain positive. However, unannounced updates are inconvenient for the user, and suggest that Windows 10® is still subject to ongoing development.
  • More Technical Items: Whilst I have not had a chance to update the technical items on my "Read Me" page, you might find some further relevant things here.