Notes on early illustrations

Pages 22-23

Survey of London: Volume 28, Brooke House, Hackney. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1960.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.


Notes on early illustrations of Brooke House

During the course of the demolition and subsequent excavations constant use was made of early drawings and engravings showing Brooke House as it appeared before the building of the Georgian east front. These must now be described.

There are three eighteenth-century representations of the house, viz.:—a small engraving by Chatelain showing a view of the house from the south-east, and dated 1750; a somewhat larger engraving by J. P. Malcolm, showing the south front and dated 1797; and an anonymous undated drawing in the London Museum, made before the erection of the Georgian block, but apparently after 1750 (Plate 12).

The Chatelain engraving shows, in the foreground, projecting forward to the road boundary, a two-storeyed wing of which no traces remained at the time of the excavations. It had two round-headed windows facing the road on each floor, and, on the south side, a central projection flanked by pilasters over which the entablature, crowned in the centre by a crude pediment, broke forward. Between the pilasters was an arched entrance. On either side of the central feature was a single round-headed window on each storey. The angles of the building seem to have had projecting quoins, but it is not clear whether the walls were crowned with an eaves cornice (which appears to have been the case at the northern end of the side facing the road) or a parapet, as appears on the south elevation. A curious balcony, with a balustrade but no obvious means of support, is shown, half covered in, half open, above the entrance on the south side.

Beyond this projecting building, to the left, it is possible to make out the chimneys of the south range; above the roof, an octagonal turret rises from behind. To the right is what appears to have been a high block with, at the farther end, another wing ending in a double gable projecting out towards the road. The enclave between the two projections is shown occupied by various small single-storeyed blocks, from amongst which rises a second turret or tower, round or octangular in plan.

Malcolm's view of the south front shows the three projecting chimneys at the west end, and the half-gable of the Georgian block rising out of the roof of the south range at its eastern end. The south wall of the projecting wing depicted in the foreground of the Chatelain engraving is here shown as a continuation, remodelled in the 'Gothick' taste, of the south front of the main house, which was not the case. The east wall appears roughly the same as in the Chatelain engraving, except that the windows of the upper storey are shown with square heads. Between the projecting wing (which is roofed separately) and the angle of the south range and the Georgian block the octagonal tower, seen rising above the wing in the Chatelain engraving, is shown with its south face in the plane of the south front below, a point which casts further doubts on Malcolm's accuracy, since, as we shall see, excavation showed the tower to have been in the plane, not of the south front of the projecting block, but of the main south front.

A close examination of Chatelain's representation of the eastern range of buildings occupying the position of the later Georgian block shows that he, too, is not altogether to be trusted. Immediately to the right of the south-east projecting wing is what, at first glance, appears to be a large archway in the wall of the eastern range. Careful inspection, however, reveals that the feature, as shown, is structurally impossible. What appears to be a pitched roof finishes round the edge of the intrados of the supposed arch, on which a chimney stack appears to be balanced precariously. It seems difficult to avoid the conclusion that we have here the engraver's misinterpretation of a picturesque sketch by Chatelain, and that what appears at first to be an arch should, in fact, be some object rounded at the top and standing in front of the eastern range.

The mystery is perhaps partially resolved by reference to the anonymous drawing at the London Museum, in which the feature in question is shown quite clearly as a truncated octagonal tower capped by a dome. Nevertheless the drawing is not entirely above suspicion, since two chimneys shown in the left background of the Chatelain engraving have been turned into gables, which is demonstrably a careless mistake. Even so it is unlikely that the greatest difference between this and the Chatelain engraving—the omission of the high wall and roof of the east range—is due either to carelessness or to the unfinished state of the drawing. A more plausible explanation is that it was made shortly after the east range had been demolished to make way for the Georgian block.