A Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Brentwood School founder Sir Antony Browne was held on 12th May 2021 in the beautiful surroundings of his parish church, St Peter's, South Weald.
Headmaster, Michael Bond, and School Chaplain, Revd Dr Adrian McConnaughie, were joined by the School Choir (a Fourth Year bubble choir) and student Head of School, Beth L, who laid flowers at the commemorative brass plaque dedicated to Sir Antony who acquired the land on which the School was built in 1557.
In his Reflection, the Chaplain said:
“There has been a tradition within the School to gather in this Church of St Peter to remember and give thanks for the life of Sir Antony Browne and, in particular, for his decision to found Brentwood School which continues to thrive today.
There are strong links between us too. We have a House named Weald. Old Big School contains the fireplace from Weald Hall and pupils in years gone by regularly attended services here on Sundays.
Today, in this short service of thanksgiving, we shall take a moment to remember Sir Antony and his contribution to our School and, indeed, this parish where he resided. And as we do, I invite you to take a moment to reflect upon the calling placed upon us to play our part in seeking to strengthen the communities of which we are a part.
The Revd Lewis, a former Chaplain at Brentwood, records in his history of the School that Sir Antony Browne ‘had for a long time thought of founding a School' and, along with others in the area, sought Queen Mary’s assent for such an establishment in Brentwood.
Permission was granted for the foundation of ‘The Grammar School of Antony Browne, Sergeant-at-Law’ and we trace the School’s history from 1557, the year in which the land was acquired for the school.
Sir Antony Browne was, for much of his life, an influential man who held significant positions of responsibility. In 1547 he was appointed a Justice of the Peace in Essex and he was also a member of Parliament for much of the 1550s and it was during this time that he is believed to have lived at Weald Hall.
In addition to founding the School, Sir Antony was responsible for the establishment of almshouses here in the parish of South Weald and these remain occupied to this day.
On 6th May, 1567, after a short illness, Sir Antony died and was buried in this church on June 10th of that year. Both Sir Antony and his wife Joan were buried here but the tomb was destroyed following a fire in the church. Today, we find the slab from the tomb which has been placed here in the Memorial Chapel.
You don’t have to delve far into the history of Sir Antony and the School to come across the name of William Hunter. Sir Antony’s involvement in the death of this young man is not easy to clearly establish but it does seem as though the School may have been founded, at least in part, through Sir Antony’s own remorse at this tragic event.
One thing is clear, however. Sir Antony Browne had a vision to play a part in building the fabric of society. His decision to found a school, and provide for those less fortunate through the establishment of almshouses, reveals a man who was determined to make a difference to the lives of others.
We gather here today to remember the founding of a school by a man who lived, and contributed significantly to, this parish community of South Weald. But we gather, not as mere onlookers, but as members of these communities today. As people who are, in some way connected within the fabric of the place, whether that be the School or the parish.
As we remember Sir Antony today, may I invite us all to see that this invitation to be agents of transformation lies before us today. And in our acceptance we will surely pay a lasting tribute to the man we remember today.”
The Rev’d McConnaughie then led the small, socially-distanced congregation in prayers which included the Lord’s Prayer and the Brentwood School Prayer. The School hopes to re-establish this special service as an annual tradition.