Michael Powell


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Stories & People - Paper 10  




Most papers in this series have been concerned with ‘the great and the good’, or at least with the professional. After all, it is they who get written about. It is more difficult to drill down and identify small local business people and artisan workers in the building field who had connections with their local churches. This is a beginning!


In his very detailed history of the Brentwood Congregational, later United Reformed, Church, WF Quin includes lists of known church members. At some periods it seems to have been the policy to indicate a member’s trade or occupation, while at other times just the name is given. It is not clear whether these are ‘Church Members’ in a strict theological or confessional sense, or whether they are more like ‘attenders’ or ‘hearers’.

Quin’s lists identify some 30 people, either as men having a building-related occupation, or as women who were the wives of such. Each had a point of contact with Brentwood Congregational Church between 1834 and 1895 sufficiently significant to have been recorded in church documents. The mix of building occupations covers a range from 'architect and surveyor', through builders or carpenters with their own businesses, to the employed trades of brickmaker, bricklayer, carpenter, plumber and painter-decorator.

Of the 30 noted, eleven, nine men and two wives, are reliably traceable in the census documents of 1841-1911. While only a small, non-statistical, qualitative sample, they provide interesting examples of the ways in which individuals and families engaged in building and interacted with the church, either in long-term local commitment or for a brief year or two of transient youthful contact.  In the notes below, the date is that of joining the church.

1834 James Winter  Builder

James Winter (1) came from the London area and by 1881 had a substantial business in the High Street/Back Street area of Brentwood. His link with the church in 1834 was early in his career.


1844 Edward Hammond  Carpenter

Edward A Hammond appears to have had an almost lifelong connection with both the building and carpentry trades and the Congregational church. His various Crown Street addresses of 1861 and 1881-1901 are only a few minutes away from the Sunday School and the church. His transition from carpenter to builder may reflect a move with age from practical to more managerial activity.

1869 James Winter  Architect

James Winter (2), the second son of James (1), noted by the Brentwood church in 1869, seems to have been 'upwardly mobile', being recorded as a carpenter in 1861 and as an architectural assistant in 1871. By 1881 he is with his uncle in Epping, married to Mary 'Daynez', living at Dane's Lodge, and described as an 'architect and surveyor'. His work included designing the new up-market, church-type facade for the previously simple Epping Meeting House.

1870 James Frost  Carpenter

A 17-year old carpenter living in lodgings in Back Street is in 1871 sufficiently part of the church to be noted. No further traces of him have been found.

1872 Thomas Sworder  Bricklayer

Thomas Sworder, a bricklayer living with his parents, appears to be the son of an Ingrave-based agricultural labourer. In 1872, when he was 19, he was in contact with the Brentwood Congregational Church. He married Mary Ann from Barking. In 1891, still a bricklayer, he and Mary Ann are in Somerset and, similarly, in 1901 they are in Middlesex. By 1911 Thomas, then living in Wandsworth, had changed occupation to that of Insurance Agent with the Royal London Mutual Insurance Society.

1875 Joseph Martin  Brickmaker

By 1851 Joseph Martin had come from Northamptonshire to Brentwood as a young single man. He marries Elizabeth, a Brentwood woman, and stays for the rest of his life. All his addresses up to 1891 are in the King's Road area close to the brickyards where he is described as working variously as a labourer or brickmaker, ending as a 'retired brickmaker.' He is noted as connected to the Brentwood Congregational church in 1875, about the time that he and Elizabeth would have been bringing up their children.

1876 Mr H[enry] Rainbird  Bricklayer

Henry Rainbird touches base with the Congregational church in 1876, at about the time his grandsons Harry, Walter and Arthur were born.  Over 5 generations his descendants are linked to the local bricklaying and building trades and professions. Their various business locations begin in the villages of Doddinghurst and Kelvedon Hatch and continue in Wellesley Road and Warescot Road, both in the Doddinghurst Road area of Brentwood. Whether there were any further connections with the Congregational Church is not known. 

1881 Mrs Crow  Painter’s wife

1886 Thomas Durling  Painter

1894 Mrs T Durling  Painter’s wife

These three people are best viewed together. Thomas Durling, born in Chislehurst, Kent, is connected with the Brentwood church in 1886 when, described as a painter, he would have been 18.  In 1891 he is still single, a painter living in Crescent Road with another painter, George Crow. It seems reasonable to assume that the Mrs Crow, painter's wife, documented by the church in 1881, was Mrs George Crow, By 1891 Thomas and Elizabeth, who was born in Finchingfield, are living in Shenfield parish with their one son. Thomas now has the slightly fuller title of house painter. This picture continues in 1911.


1887 Isaac Bacon  Painter [later Plumber]

Isaac Bacon's recorded contact with the Brentwood church is in 1887, along with his wife Harriet. They are aged 70 and 66 respectively. In 1841 Isaac was living at the Royal Oak with his mother and siblings. She appears to have been the baker for a household of publicans, wheelwrights and railway labourers. Isaac, aged 25, is single and a painter. By 1851 Isaac has married Harriet. In 1861 and 1871 they are living at various addresses in Shenfield. In 1861 Isaac is a painter and plumber and by 1871 he is described only as a plumber. In 1881 and 1891 they are living in Ongar Road, Brentwood and Isaac is solely a plumber. Painting and plumbing are often linked, perhaps because lead is the basic material of both. Possibly Isaac's move from painting to plumbing would have been regarded as progressive. At no point is there any record of children. As regards the church, it may be that an elderly couple with no family of their own, they find there friendship and support.

1890 George Yorke  Carpenter [actually Painter]

The young, Birmingham born George York touches base with the Brentwood church in 1890. They note him as a carpenter. In 1891 at the age of 20 he is living on Shenfield Common with his uncle, James Reeve, and family. While in the census James Reeve is recorded as a carpenter, George is described as a painter. George marries Louisa who was born in Terling. In 1901 and 1911 George and Louisa and their children are living in Romford. George is variously described as a house decorator or house painter. By 1911 his elder son, William, is a house painter's apprentice.


This information, although socially interesting, does not tell us how, if at all, these people related their building work to what may be thought of as church membership, faith or theology. But as I have said in other papers, they did have a foot in both camps. There must have been some sense of leavening in two directions – building into the church and the church into building.



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