Archaeological evidence below ground: Phase I

Pages 27-34

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

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Table of contents

Phase I

Fig. 10. Plan of buildings in Phase I

Architecturally, the main fabric of Brooke House appears to have come into existence as an entity, consisting of a courtyard (I, above) completely enclosed by ranges of rooms and without independent structural access from outside. The chief apartments were on the east side: here the overall width of the range was 31 feet as compared with 17 to 19 feet on the other three sides. The southern part of this range, rather less than half its original length, was taken up with the hall, the identification of which, hitherto quite uncertain (page 10) was one of the first results of the excavation. The south-east angle of the court, shared between the south and east ranges, was taken up with the chapel (page 19); the north-east angle, in this and in later periods, was the most difficult part of the whole complex to interpret, partly because of the complicated nature of the changes that had taken place there, but especially because of the reduction of the site (page 49) and of impediments to its complete examination in the form of more recent foundations.

The extreme end of the range appeared to extend about 8 feet beyond the limit of the north range (later middle range: see above, page 5) aligning with the back wall of the kitchen oven: it was marked by a fragmentary transverse wall rather more than 18 inches thick, carried on a very wide brick foundation with an offset of 14 inches on the north side (Plans, figs. 11, 15; and Plate 41c). The western portion only of this wall had survived: to the east it had been destroyed by later structures which had been part of the Georgian buildings on this part of the site (page 2). The related foundation survived to the point at which it met a massive brick-lined eighteenth- or early nineteenth-century pit or vat, and there was no trace of it either under or beyond this structure. It is possible in fact that the wall turned southward after about 23 feet, to form part of a brick foundation which ran in this direction for about 9 feet before coming to an irregular end. Beyond this again was another isolated piece of brickwork (partly cut into by a late well) which lay roughly east to west. But none of these fragments linked up: nor did they align with the well-preserved eastern wall of the hall which stopped short with a broken end 16 feet further south again. Further east again, beyond the east wall of the Georgian block, a fragmentary brick foundation appears to fulfil the latter condition, suggesting that the existing east wall was prolonged northwards to meet the north wall in a right angle. This arrangement has been adopted in the period plans (figs. 10, 11); but in the restricted conditions it is impossible to be certain that this was what actually happened. (fn. 1)

The east range was provided with an entrance porch set at about the middle of its length (fig. 16, Plate 34c; cf. 37c). Just over 12 feet wide by about 11 feet deep, with diagonal buttresses and a polygonal turret in the re-entrant angle on the north side, it was carried on a massive plinth of brick which was lavishly equipped with offsets and expanded at the outer angles into large square bases for the support of the buttresses. The porch was paved with tiles laid diagonally on a sandy mortar make-up; the outer doorway was chamfered on both sides, the inner chamfered, externally, but apparently moulded on the inside: here only the north jamb had survived, in damaged condition. The turret (Plate 34b) had been masked by later additions (see below). Its outline was clear and sufficient remained to leave no doubt that it was of one build with the porch. There were doubtful indications that its walls were at least 16 inches thick. There were no signs of stair-newel or treads and the turret is probably to be explained as a door-keeper's or porter's lodge, though it may also have provided access to a room over the porch, if the latter was of two storeys.

Opposite the porch-entrance, across the hall, a correspondingly wide doorway opened into the court (Plate 35a). Its jambs were rebated on the inner side, chamfered on the outer. At some later stage the doorway had been completely blocked with a brick filling (Plate 38a). The blocking of this opening must have had the effect of cutting access to the court from the east side. It pre-supposes the existence—or the construction—of some other doorway communicating with the court and with the rest of the building (see below, page 37). Flanking the doorway to the court on each side were two low oblong pier-like projections; they were of unequal size, that on the north being the larger (50 by 34 inches as compared with 32 by 33 inches) and standing higher on a series of offsets corresponding with those of the main wall. The projections were of one build with the wall in the lower parts, but the topmost course of the northern one, at the level of the door-sill, made a straight joint with the wall-face; that on the south was five courses lower and appeared to be continuous with a brick-paved narrow area extending southwards towards the angle of the court. The northern projection was curiously placed in relation to the door-opening, overlapping the splayed jamb so that if carried any higher it must have impeded the entrance.

The division of the hall-block into two approximately equal halves by the cross passage was emphasized by the presence of projecting piers immediately to the north of the doorways: beyond the piers also the walls were narrower (30 inches) than those to the south (40 inches). The foundations of these piers were unequal in size. Their outer ends were ragged, but intentionally so: that on the west carried a wall 23 inches wide which finished in a squared end 30 inches out from the main wall; on the east side the corresponding feature had been cut away, and only the broken edges of the bricks projecting from the east wall remained. Between the piers, with a narrow gap at each end was an irregular brick foundation which must have carried the middle portion of the wall dividing the block into two. The surviving features suggest a single wall with openings towards the sides, if not also in the middle; but not enough remained for certainty on the point. There was no indication of a parallel wall to form a structural passage: a partition, subsequently removed, must be assumed. The existing early foundations had been pressed into service to take an eighteenth-century partition-wall which had been carried across the original gaps.

A large rectangular oriel window projected into the court towards the south end of the range (Plate 35b). Though much damaged by drains and other disturbance its complete outline remained. The opening of the oriel into the hall had been provided with moulded brick jambs: these, surviving to a height of nearly 18 feet, were the feature which had prompted speculation during the demolition of the later building (pages 7, 10). The north side of the opening retained signs of subsequent changes of which there was no indication on the south (Plate 36a). When the oriel was given up as such a two-foot thick wall was built behind the moulded jambs to close the opening and serve as backing for a semi-circular niche, burying the earlier brick-mouldings. The niche was of brick, plastered on the face; it appeared to be pre-Georgian in date. In its turn it had been masked by a later filling which on the ground and first floors had carried windows belonging to the Georgian alterations.

Summing up so far, therefore, the evidence, though not complete, is sufficient to confirm early impressions that the eastern side of Court I was taken up with the hall block, the hall itself being to the south, the offices to the north, of a cross passage which had a structural wall on its north side. The thickness of the walls indicated that this part of Brooke House was of brick throughout; the height of the brick jambs of the bay must mean that the height of the hall equalled at least two storeys, with open roof. In the absence of a structural fireplace a central hearth must be assumed. Of this no trace had survived, for the existing flagged surface within the building (which was that of the basement of the subsequent Georgian block) was 12–18 inches lower than the original as determined approximately by surviving door-sills.

Before turning to the comparative simplicity of the remainder of the main building a stair turret at the external south-east corner (Plate 36b) calls for comment. Of this there had been no trace before excavation: it had been razed and the wall of the Edwardian extension to the Georgian block had been carried over the Tudor walls to which it was attached.

As part of the original plan the external wall of the south range had been prolonged eastwards: the turret had been built in the angle formed by this wall with the outer wall of the east range. Though there had been much alteration by drains and other disturbance, all these features were clearly of one build, including the large base on which the turret rested, except that on the north side the base was not bonded in, but butted against the east wall, overlying its foundation offsets. The solid appearance of the base was deceptive: it was in fact a massive wall-foundation and the staircase had been carried over its earthfilled centre on a solid raft of brick. Practically parallel with its outer edge, a well-built arched drain or culvert resembling that incorporated in the main porch passed through the turret foundation and was of one build with it. The disturbance already referred to had unfortunately destroyed the turret on the north-west side; and since in addition much of the east wall had been extensively reconstructed in Georgian times it was impossible to arrive at a definite conclusion as to the original arrangements. Slight traces of the brick newel and of two brick risers had survived on the north-east side to show that the stairs rose clockwise from this side, while the brick-paved floor of the turret (the upper surface of the raft above referred to) extended westwards towards the main building. The remains suggest that the turret had no external door, but provided communication between floors on the inside, probably serving as a private staircase between the chapel and the great chamber above (page 69). Extensive later alterations had removed all signs of doorways at all levels.

The remaining three ranges enclosing Court I in this first phase appear to have been comparatively simple in plan. They were of two storeys, and the south and west ranges were more massively constructed than that on the north, their outer walls being 24 inches thick, their inner 18–22 inches, as compared with 16 and 22 inches respectively on the remaining side. The external wall was provided with a simple chamfered plinth about 3 feet up from the original footing-offset (approximately at modern ground-level). This plinth was present on south and west, not on the north. On the other hand, the inner walls had a bull-nosed plinth at about the same level on west and north; this was absent on the south. The reasons for these variations were not apparent. Except in the northeastern angle, where the wall of the north range met that of the east in a straight joint, the construction was continuous, with no suggestion that the differences might be due to some variation in date.

The internal divisions between rooms consisted mainly of timber-framed lath-andplaster partitions which left no trace below ground. The only exceptions were those between ranges, which were of brick, that on the south-west (Room 27) containing the small niches with four-centred heads already described (page 12; Plate 25e). There was one external door, also with a four-centred head, subsequently blocked, in the west wall some 35 feet from the south-west angle.

The presence of a large fire-place, subsequently much reconstructed (Plate 38c, fig. 13: see below) in the north-east angle of the north range suggests that this would have been the kitchen block. Below the latest surface the ground was burnt bright red to a considerable depth, the burning also extending backwards behind the existing structure; and nothing comparable was met with elsewhere. Conversely, original fire-places in the south and west ranges with massive external chimney stacks (often drastically modified in later times) indicate that here were the main living apartments.

In the early stages—that is, down to the building or extension of the gallery on the west side—the buildings to the north of Court I appear to have been small isolated structures ranged on varying alignments around an open space. They were contained by a continuation of the ditch, which may or may not have been accompanied by a boundary wall. Such a wall certainly existed on the east side of the site from quite an early period: it was very partially seen in more than one place.

It is impossible either to establish the individual dates of these buildings or to arrive at a constructional sequence for those which do not actually make contact with one another. There was no significant stratification; no 'levels' that were capable of definition: and in any event finds were lacking in the areas dug. In all cases the foundations penetrated well below the present surface, the offsets being about 30 inches down; and the character of the brickwork showed no variations from one wall to the next. The two-period constructional succession shown in the plans (figs. 10, 12) is based on the evidence of a number of straight joints, but the different elements in each 'period' are not to be regarded as necessarily contemporary.

Taking the buildings in order from the west, Building A was a small roughly square structure (10 feet by 11 feet) built against the north-west angle of the main court. Its west wall would presumably have aligned with the outer wall of the west range, but had been replaced in the later large-scale alterations. Nine feet to the north, and in line with it, Building B was 16 feet by 11 feet. Here too the west wall had been eliminated by the later west wall—or rather, had been incorporated in it. The north-west angle of the earlier wall projected at a low level beyond the face of the later wall (Plate 36c), and with similar features elsewhere (below, page 33) was conclusive evidence that these walls were not later divisions in the main block as shown by straight joints between the two 'periods', but represented separate buildings which had been cut down and incorporated in later walls and foundations where necessary.

On the north side in the first phase there was a single building (C) larger than those already described (23 feet by 40 feet), set at rather more than a right-angle to them and with a gap of 9 feet between it and the nearest corner of B. In the final reconstruction the north wall of this building was replaced by the outer wall of the north range of Court II. The alignment of the new wall was not identical with that of the old: in consequence the north-west angle of Building C appeared inside the later wall while its north-east angle was outside it (Plate 37a). The top of the unfaced brickwork forming the foundation was in each place about 40 inches below the modern surface.

The position on the east side is more difficult, because of the obstructions which at all times impeded this part of the investigation. There was certainly one detached building (D) here: its length was about 21 feet; its width was uncertain, but if, as seems likely, the boundary wall on this frontage was incorporated, it would have been about 16 feet. The problems lie between Building D and the north-east end of the main building, and discussion of the complicated remains in this neighbourhood is better left to a later stage.

Minor changes between Phases I & II (Phase Ia Fig. II)

Between the phase above described and the second phase of large-scale alterations and additions to Brooke House was interposed on the north side a series of operations which had the effect of uniting the isolated buildings around a somewhat irregular second courtyard. It must be assumed that the small gap between Buildings A and B was spanned by a wall in the same plane as their western faces: such a wall would have been eliminated by the west wall of the later range. The inner angles of B and C had been united by a wall which ended tidily on the north side of B but was joined in a very curious manner with the southwestern angle of C. The western wall of C was thickened by an extra 'skin' of brick which ended suddenly 4 feet north of the corner and showed no sign of ever having continued beyond. The new wall abutted on this composite structure, its western face projecting a few inches westwards beyond the angle. It may be that this wall was part of a narrow building between the west end of Building C and the ditch, a northern extension of Building B. If, however, this was the case the north and west walls of this building had been destroyed by the final reconstruction of Court II.

On the north-eastern side the wide gap between Buildings C and D was certainly closed, not by a wall but by a comparatively narrow building (E), about 19 feet wide by something over 45 feet long. Its main axis was set askew to that of Building D: its wall made a straight joint with the east wall of D about 5 feet in from the latter's north-east angle. In spite of destruction and disturbance it was possible to determine that the north wall of E ended on the eastern boundary wall of the site, and this was presumably the gable end of the building. The south wall, on the other hand, turned through a right-angle to end squarely on the north-west corner of Building D. There is no definite date for these alterations.

Entrance to Court II must always have been from the east side along the south wall of Building D, between which and the buildings to the south there had always been a gap, which had varied in width at different times. A sequence of changes will presently be suggested for this side which, in spite of all the uncertainties, may be thought to yield a coherent pattern.

Fig. II. Plan of buildings in intermediate phase showing first version of Court II


  • 1. It is possible that the above is an over-simplified interpretation of the evidence. A few feet south of the northwest corner as there defined a slightly projecting stump about 2 feet wide might be the butt of another transverse wall which would have shortened the hall block by about 11 feet. The east range would then have been if anything rather less than the overall width of Court I though there must also have been a narrow chamber beyond it. There are various difficulties about this second wall, however: it is awkwardly placed for the original door communicating with the north range; and no trace of it had survived elsewhere. It is tentatively indicated on the plan (fig. 10).