Notes on Weald Park
Weald Country Park is a beautiful 500 acre site on undulating hills near Brentwood. There are streams and lakes; areas of woodland with dappled sunlight dancing through the tree canopy in summer; dark, mysterious forested regions; and plenty of open grassland dotted with individual trees and small coppices. The deer park contains a friendly herd of fallow deer - you can buy deer food as well as duck food in the Visitor Centre shop – and a herd of wild deer can often be seen in the areas farther away from the car parks. The lakes attract water birds such as mallards, grebes, Canada geese, kingfishers and terns, and the woods and open areas are full of butterflies, bees, squirrels and other wildlife. There are wildflower meadows, and a huge variety of trees and fungi in the park.
Weald Park has been parkland since at least 1062 when it belonged to Waltham Abbey. A deer park was formed here during the 12th century. Following the dissolution of Waltham Abbey the estate was sold to Sir Brian Tuke, who built a large house in the south west corner of the park near the church. The house was constructed around 1540-50 with additions around 1560-70.
Within a few years the park was purchased by Sir Anthony Browne, a judge and politician. He lived in Weald Park in the mid-16th century, and was the founder of Brentwood School. He also provided funds to build alms houses for the poor. Those were times of great religious turmoil. Henry VIII had broken away from Catholicism and made England a Protestant country. His son Edward and daughter Elizabeth both ruled as Protestants, but in between came Mary, who restored Catholicism and in her short, 5 year reign, had over 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake. Sir Anthony was a Catholic and friend of Queen Mary I and as a judge he prosecuted Protestants during Mary's reign. In particular he was responsible for the martyrdom of a young apprentice, William Hunter, who was burned to death in Brentwood for the crime of reading the Bible for himself rather than accepting the interpretation of the priests. He was 19 years old. A memorial to Hunter stands in the town.
Over the centuries Weald Hall was developed and improved. Likewise, the park was remodelled and changed, from a medieval deer park to a very much more formal design. In the early 18th century the park had walled gardens, rectangular lakes and straight north-south paths, and an elaborate octagonal Belvedere tower was built on top of a specially constructed mound near Weald Hall, so that visitors could admire the view.
The Tower family bought the estate in 1752 and owned it for nearly 200 years. They commissioned Robert Adam to improve the house, and set about 'deformalising' the grounds in the style of Capability Brown, leaving the land and lakes very much as they are today. The mound and belvedere were kept. By 1800 the mansion had 40 bedrooms and employed over 50 people.
Old pictures of Weald Hall show a vast, elegant mansion with a sweeping drive: sheep graze in the meadows while well-dressed people stroll through the grounds. The Hall was passed from father to son across many generations until it was handed to Christopher Tower on his engagement in 1913. But when Christopher was killed in action in 1915, the Hall was placed in the hands of caretakers and was never a home again.
During WWII up to 30,000 soldiers were stationed in Weald Park. The remains of the huts most of them lived in can be seen in the woods in the south east corner of the park. Some Canadian troops were housed in Weald Hall and sadly, wrecked the place. At some point the Hall caught fire and the damage was such that after the war the Hall was demolished, along with the Belvedere Tower in 1951. Military vehicles also smashed down the fences surrounding the parkland and many of the deer, descendants of those medieval herds, escaped.
These days the park is managed by Essex County Council. In 1987 a new deer park was created within the overall park area and a small herd of fallow deer moved in, where they can be seen up close and sometimes, hand-fed. Belvedere Hill is still there, with a graceful set of steps sweeping up either side, and from the top you can get a real sense of the extent and grandeur of this ancient estate.