Brooke House: Descriptive account

Survey of London Monograph 5, Brooke House, Hackney. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1904.

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'Brooke House: Descriptive account', in Survey of London Monograph 5, Brooke House, Hackney, (London, 1904) pp. 26-39. British History Online [accessed 20 April 2024]


The Front of Brooke House

From the Clapton High Road one is neither attracted nor impressed with the comparatively modern front, which gives no sign of the dignity and antiquity of which it is the screen. This front, of quiet but characteristic design, built perhaps 130 years ago, was the last of several considerable alterations, and replaced what was existing at the time of Hollar's drawing dated 1642, and Chatelain's of 1750. (Plates 1 & 2.) It will be seen by comparison that this re-fronting entirely destroyed all vestige of the arrangement then existing with regard to the front portion of the premises, with the exception of the twostoried wing at the south end, which still exists and is now known as "the cottage." Both Hollar's and Chatelain's drawings show an arched entrance of considerable height, which doubtless gave sufficient access for equestrians to the courtyards in the rear, while for those who came on foot a central portico entrance was available. Near to and southward of this last, was an octagonal turret three or four storeys high; and a similar turret, some remains of which may still be found, was attached to the cottage before mentioned. Exception has before now been taken to Hollar's want of accuracy in many of his drawings, but when one compares the position of the southern turret in the three drawings we reproduce which show it, Hollar will not, in our view, be without company in this condemnation.

There is little doubt, too, that the earlier rear structure bore little resemblance either in plan or elevation to the present. Lord Hunsdon, with the usual desire of a courtier to compliment his queen, when making his alterations brought the mansion into the shape of an E, the open side of the letter fronting to the high road ; a later owner closing up the open side by adding the front building, extending from the central to the southern wing. Portions of the original foundations of this later front structure are still to be seen, and, indeed, form the base of the walls to the present front.

The Basement

The basement of the earlier front building appears in a measure to have been utilised to erect the later and existing front buildings upon, and though the bricks are not of the best, the solidity of the structure evidently appealed to the later builders as a means of economising. The front wall rises from the basement level with six flush courses, above which are five sets-off, & on these a wall 2 ft. 6 in. thick. It is noticeable also that considerable alterations must have occurred in the ground level in the course of years, the various alterations having been adapted each to the other. The level of the original front entrance above referred to, and which is now known as the "marble hall," is some 5 ft. 6 in. below the ground floor of the modern front building ; and the old front doorway to the marble hall, still existing, now leads—or would do if it were not sealed—to the basement of the front portion. Near this are some of the old oak timbers used in the construction of the previous building. The basement extends the full length of the front building, and at the northern end consists of vaulting below the old kitchen, and is paved with old red bricks and stone flagging.

A systematic inspection is made comparatively easy, and what, to a stranger, is a maze of odd corners, corridors, & staircases, becomes, under the sympathetic guidance of the matron, a deeply interesting study.

The Entrance; The Main Staircase

The careful unlocking of the front door precedes one's entrance to the hall, open for the height of two storeys. On the left is the drawing-room, in which a marble chimney-piece of good modern design is alone noticeable for our present purpose. From this we go direct to a corridor extending the whole length of the front building, but which, together with the various rooms entered from the same, is jealously kept locked against the intrusion of patients from the rear portion. At the southern end is the principal staircase, the width of which ranges from 6 ft. to 9 ft. round a central well, with oak treads, carved ballusters, and heavy square newels surmounted by ball heads. Heavy beams carry the landings. This staircase starts, as has already been stated, 5 ft. 6 in. below the main ground floor level, and above the first floor becomes much narrower and the ceiling lower as it winds up to the domestics' dormitory on the upper floor of the front building.

At dado-height is an incised moulding of intersecting circles and quadrants, very similar in character to that in the staircase of the Strangers' Hall at Ipswich, added to the building in 1627. A modern replica of this moulding has been fixed in the corridor at the side of the quadrangle. Ascending the main staircase, at the level of the first corridor we enter "the cottage," which, with the servants' hall at the opposite end of the building, are undoubtedly the earliest portions of the structure.

On the upper landing there still exists, close up to the back wall of "the cottage," one of the small circular windows which appear on the print by Malcolm dated 1797; and from the lower half-landing between the two ground floor levels, a small lobby, now enclosed, originally led by stone steps (still in position) to the side garden. These steps with the doorway are shown in the reproduction of Burlison's drawing, dated 1842. (Plate 5.) (fn. 1)

At the foot of the stairs the marble hall (so called because of the black-and-white quarries of marble with which it is paved) is divided from the main staircase by glazed doors; and with a width of 6 ft. 4 in. the stairs rise ten steps up to the level of the first corridor. The old partition which formerly separated the main staircase from the women's quarters was removed many years ago, and is said by the steward, who well remembers the alteration, to have been composed of clay and straw, a common composition for internal partitions in the days of Elizabeth. (fn. 2)

Behind and partly below the stairs is a small, low-ceiled room used as a kitchen, with a borrowed light originally looking out to the cottage garden. The floor is believed to be at the old ground level.

From the foot of the stairs we enter what is now known as the "ladies' drawing-room," a long apartment (originally four separate rooms, as shown on ground plan), with panelled ceiling divided in the centre by an arched rib springing from a plain square pilaster on each side. At the far end a cupboard has been formed in the thickness of the wall.

The Chapel

Beyond this, & entered by folding doors, is a small room used as a chapel; and an attempt has been made, with some success, to impart an ecclesiastical atmosphere. This was an arrangement by Dr. Adams some thirty years ago, and here daily services are held, led at times by the Rector of the parish.

We are more interested, however, in the legends and history of the old chapel. The exact position is now a matter of conjecture only; but, in addition to that suggested later, a room likely to answer to its position is one with a coved and ribbed ceiling, above that which is now used as a chapel. On Plate 6 will be found a reproduction of Hollar's drawing of "ye old chappel of ye Elryngtons at ye Brooke House in Clapton," with the tomb of Ralph de Elryngton. This shows an ante-chamber with an open timber roof, and in the floor two sepulchral tablets; and beyond, a more ornate, unmistakeably gothic, chamber with a groined ceiling, & clustered columns with caps and bases, generally of the fourteenth century or "Decorated" period. The central boss to the groining shows a carved grotesque; immediately below is the tomb of the same period. The recumbent figure would certainly suggest that in life De Elryngton was a member of the fraternity of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, who were in possession of the manor house from the time of Edward III. until the dissolution by Henry VIII. Hollar's note referring to the marriage of the "last" of the Elryngtons in 1465 must have referred to this particular branch, as the family connection with Hackney continues long after this date. Records are extant of many of its members.

The Elryngton Family

The family of Elryngton (often spelled Ellerington, Etherington, or Elderton) is not, so far as we know, traceable in Hackney before the beginning of the fifteenth century; but Hollar's etching goes to prove that some time before that date Ralph de Elryngton was either lessee of Brooke House under the Knights Hospitallers, or of eminent rank in that Order. The small size of the chapel shown seems to favour the former supposition, while the latter would fully account for the facts as we find them; for nothing is more likely, or more in accordance with history, than that a warrior-monk, denied the opportunity of transmitting to his own posterity the fruits of his stout lance & sword, should use his power to further the worldly advancement of a brother or a nephew, either by profitable leases of land, or by promoting a match with some rich heiress. In this way the family may have been transplanted quite suddenly from any part of the country & firmly established in Hackney, or rather near it, for apart from Sir Ralph we cannot trace the family quite so early in Hackney as in Hoxton, which was the family burial-place.

In a Hexham deed of the time of King John we find mention of Adam de Elrington, and soon after that date in a Featherstonhaugh deed, Ranulph of Elrington. There were William de Elrington (temp. Edward I.), Hugh of Elrington (1336), Robert de Elrington, Esquire (1441), John Elrington, Esquire (1454), Simon Elrington (1568), & others, of whom a fairly complete pedigree for a century and a half could be made out. The names Ralph, Simon, John, Robert, Rowland, & Francis, remind us at once of the Hackney family, whose coats of arms bearing the well known "storks and fess dancette" of the southern branch of the family, are not, however, identical with those of the northern, which always bore "three water bougets."

In the Hackney Collection Portfolios appears an illustration of the tomb of Sir John Elrington, 1481, on the north side of the altar in St. Leonard's Church, Shoreditch, 1735, his wife by his side.

No trace of this is now to be seen at St. Leonard's, and Hughson in his "London," published 1807, states of this Church, that "there are no monuments of peculiar notice." It was therefore probably removed at the time of the rebuilding, 1735.

During the latter years of Elizabeth's, or the earlier years of James I. 's, reign, when Brooke House was in the possession of the Vaux family—of whom we shall have more to say hereafter—the chapel was evidently the scene at times of considerable excitement.

The 'priest's hole' in the Chapel.

Mr. Allan Fea in "Secret Hiding Places," (Chap. III.) states that: "At Hackney the Vaux family had another residence with its chapel and 'priest's hole,' the latter having a masked entrance high up in the wall, which led to a space under a gable projection of the roof. For double security this contained yet an inner hiding place. In the existing Brooke House are incorporated the modernised remains of this mansion."

No knowledge of the "masked entrance" however now remains, & the "priest's hole" probably disappeared in the various alterations which have been made in the buildings. Unaccounted-for places such as these, when detected, are readily utilised. Passages are run through the heart of many a secret device with little veneration for the mechanical ingenuity —begotten of a terror of the scaffold or the stake—that has been displayed in their construction. The modern builder, as a rule, knows but little of, and cares less for, such contrivances, and they are swept away without a thought.

The following Confession of Ralph Myller, a prisoner in Bridewell (9 Oct. 1584) gives us an insight into the late Lord Vaux's London house: "This examinant did afterwards meet one Robert Browne, who hath an uncle, a priest with the Lord Vaux, who is a little man with white heade, and a little browne heare on his face; goeth in an ash-colour doblet coat and a gowne faced with conye, and he was made prieste long sithens at Cambray as this examinant thinketh. This examinant spoke with the Lord Vaux and his Lady at Hackney, after that his sonne Mr. George and the said Robert Browne had told him that this examinant was a taylor at Rheymes, and on Sonday was fortnight this examinant did hear Masse, whereat were present about XVIII persons, being my lord's householde, and the Priest last before named said the Mass. The said Priest lieth in a chamber beyonde the hall on the leftehande the stayre that leadeth to the chambers, & the Mass is said in the chappel beinge righte on the porte entringe into the hall; and the way into it is up the staire aforesaid on the left hand at the further end of the gallery: and there is a very faire crucifixe of sylver." (P.R.O. Dom. Eliz. Vol. 173. n. 64).

The topography of the chapel as given in this last note is not of the clearest, and coincides with one of the suggested positions only in the statement that it was at the further end of the gallery; but, if one couples the description in the confession before related, that the chapel was "over the porte entring into the hall" with that of the hiding place "in the space under a gable projection of the roof," one would have ground for believing that the upper floor of "the cottage" is the site of the old "chappel"; and the three-light window as shown on Malcolm's drawing would strengthen this supposition, especially as the gable with roof space below is conveniently adjacent; and this is not, we think, necessarily negatived because the earlier drawing does not so clearly show this arrangement, as the appearance of this cottage-front was considerably altered between the dates of the two drawings.

Father Gerard further states that, "Besides others of less standing whom she (fn. 3) brought me to be reconciled, she had nearly won over a certain great lady, (fn. 4) a neighbour of hers. Tho' this lady was the wife of the richest lord in the whole county & sister to the Earl of Essex (then most powerful with the Queen) and was wholly given to vanities, nevertheless she brought her so far as to be quite willing to speak with a priest if only he could come to her without being known. This the good widow told me. I consequently went to her house openly and addressed her as tho' I had something to tell her from a certain great lady her kinswoman, for so it had been agreed. I dined openly with her & all the gentry in the house and spent three hours at least in private talk with her." (fn. 5) (circa 1594.)

It is noteworthy that religious services of a very different character from those above alluded to, were a century and a half later held under the same roof. In Robert Seymour's "Survey," published 1734, occurs the following in the reference to Hackney: "The remarkable places and things are, three dissenting Meeting houses, one of which is lately set up in Brooke house."

Through what appears to be a cupboard, but is in reality a doorway, in the corner of the present chapel, carefully locked after our egress, we enter the corridor, commanding a good view of the quadrangle prettily arranged with flowers and shrubs. Here we note, at the side of the chapel, a bedroom fitted as a strong room for refractory patients, and opposite to this and adjoining the "ladies' drawing-room" is a sitting-room, a feature of which are the curious high cupboard fronts which have been formed to fill in what at one time were arched openings to the adjacent apartments, and the whole of which fronts—including architraves, dados, and skirtings—open as doors.

Beyond is a passage way from the courtyard to the ladies' drawing-room, the entrance to which from the garden has a doorway with a keel-arched head.

East of this is the surgery, with a high cupboard-fronted door-way similar to those before mentioned, opening to the marble hall. Outside the doorway, leading from the hall to the quad: is laid as a landing half a millstone, the corresponding half being similarly placed in front of the doorway to the servants' hall. Both stones still show the toothing which served for the grinding.

"The Cottage"

From the corridor along the back of "the cottage," the dining-room is reached, the exterior of which, fronting to the cottage garden, is shown on Plate 5; and east of this is a square hall, with a staircase to the upper floor of the cottage. This appears to have been a side entrance of some importance at one time (see Chatelain's view on Plate 1), and though the floor is now rather lower than the level of the garden, it was probably approached earlier by a flight of steps. An old doorway to the left of this entrance, with pointed arch, now bricked up and covered by "rough cast" was, it is said, until a few years ago in evidence, suggesting by its position a lower ground level than is now the case; but we do not find any indication of this on Burlison's drawing of 1842.

Across the hall is a small room with a marble mantel-piece of some merit, but of uncertain date. Retracing our steps we find, on the other side of the corridor, what is now a lumber room, but was originally the bath room. The floor level is several steps below that of the cottage, and is partly stone flagged. It is lighted by a small barred window, and the rather low ceiling is supported by an old oak bresummer. The old bath, said to be six feet deep but now filled up, was a square sinking in the floor, and the descent into it by way of several steps; the sides & bottom were overlaid with tiles with patches of cement and stone. The old well which supplied the bath is below the cottage sitting-room; & the pump, removed from its old position adjacent, is now at the side of the steps leading from the principal staircase to the garden, referred to at page 27. In the upper floor of the cottage is a box room in the internal angle close to where the great arch, shown in the old prints, came. This has a small chimney-opening, and a window overlooking the main front; the ceiling slopes to the pitch of the roof. Opposite this is a lobby, with the second of the small circular windows hung on centres and looking south, as shown on Malcolm's drawing.

Beyond the last is the assistant matron's room, the chimney-piece of which alone claims attention.

The supposed position of the old Chapel

Completing our tour of the women's section, on the upper floor a corridor runs westward the length of the wing, as shown on Plate 4. The doorway entrance to the corridor has heavily wave-moulded jambs, with carved bases. It has been supposed by some that here is to be found the position of the old chapel. The ceiling of the principal room on the south is of vaulted shape, with stout moulded ribs at intervals springing from moulded corbels, below which have been fixed, at a later date, wood pilasters for support. The apartment is about 29 feet long by 11 feet wide. Apart from the roof, however, there is nothing to support the assumption that this was at one time the chapel, and it is, the writer thinks, disproved by other evidence.

Beyond is a bedroom with a similarly coved or vaulted ceiling, & another room with a plaster panelled ceiling with arms and crests thereon. The walls are partly panelled with seven rows of panels, spaced with fluted and reeded pilasters with carved and moulded caps, and a frieze surmounting the panelling. The mouldings are very small and clean, and form, in all probability, part of Lord Hunsdon's work.

The Gallery

Turning northward, we enter the corridor which, together with the separate apartments to which it gives access, formed the great gallery of the old mansion. The length of this gallery, or "long room" as it is now known, has been variously stated at 174 feet and 156 feet, the difference in the latter figure being probably accounted for by the exclusion of one of the end rooms. We believe that the gallery extended originally from end to end of the building, & that the longer dimension is the correct one. The ceiling of this gallery as originally existing, was panelled by intersecting modelled plaster mouldings, and these were filled with the arms and crests, alternating, of Lord and Lady Hunsdon. This panelling still remains, tho' by reason of the alterations which have been made, the work is now neither perfect nor complete.

It is this portion of the house (the long gallery) which mainly shows the lavish expenditure which must have been made by Lord Hunsdon, the walls being richly panelled with oak, elaborately carved, from floor to ceiling.

The very careful drawing of the gallery as restored, made for Lord Tyssen by Mr. Burlison some 62 years ago, and now in the Tyssen Library, gives an excellent idea of the appearance the gallery originally bore. An old writer upon Elizabethan Architecture thus aptly described similar apartments:

"The long and ample galleries of the period referred to, often of very low proportion as to height, which, although frequently placed on the upper floor were intended for exercise, libraries, or for pictures; the state rooms with delicate and rich cabinets, daintily and richly hung, glazed with crystalline glass and all other elegancy that may be thought upon, show clearly enough that these grand rooms, in addition to the hall of Tudor times, and many chambers, small in fact, but much larger and more numerous than the closets of the mediæval dwellings, were the requirements of the day for mansions. At the same time that the plan of the mediæval residence was fitted to receive these results of alterations of manners & customs, it had, especially towards the end of Elizabeth's reign, to find room for the staircases, which became spacious & splendid examples of skill, decorated with carved ballusters and newels."

Modern requirements, however, necessitated the cutting up into ten or eleven separate apartments of this once splendid gallery, with the provision for each of a fireplace; and the row of chimnies from these built up from the ground level, and all on the outside, give a singular appearance to the garden front of the house.

It is said that in the open roof of one of the older parts of the house signs of smoke still mark the fact of its erection before chimneys were much in vogue.

It would appear that the divisional partition is quite modern square framing, while the internal face of the outer wall abutting on the quad: is lined with the original Elizabethan panelling. Several of the windows have been filled up between the mullions, which remain still in position, with lath and plaster (the consequence perhaps of a window tax) & the deep recesses of the old windows have been converted into cupboards enclosed with modern panelling, which—were it in a more exposed position instead of on the dark side of the narrow gangway—would more glaringly exhibit the incongruity of its position—contiguous to the rich old work—than it does. The outer face of the windows where this filling in has been done has, alas ! been cemented and painted to represent sham windows.

The windows, deeply recessed, are flanked by cased carved and fluted pilasters, the base and surbase extending from floor to window-board; the lower third of the shaft is carved with leaf and tongue of quaint pattern, and the upper part divided by a moulded band from the lower, diminishing and fluted. Above is a moulded capping returned round the pilasters, and, as before-mentioned, the mouldings are of very small dimensions.

The pilasters flanking one of the windows have been repaired for a height of 5 ft. 3 in. by portions of carved work, to which there is no respond in the building. It may have formed part of an enrichment somewhere in the portion of the old mansion demolished at the time of Lord Hunsdon's alterations. Its character is certainly of an earlier date than the work it was intended to repair, and has no connection with the adjacent design. (See Plate 8.)

The windows of the long gallery on the garden-front are mostly modern, but those on the quadrangle side are of the original oak, and the panelling removed from the back wall has been utilised in the partitions which now divide the gallery into separate apartments.

The first of these separate apartments is now a bedroom, and has a chimney-piece of oak. The window is modern, one end of the room is panelled with the original wainscotting, and some of the same work, though mutilated, remains by the window.

The second room has also a good stone chimney-piece of the period, with an oak panelled mantel-piece with fluted pilasters over. The ceiling is plain, but traversed by oak beams.

In the angle turret by last is a small room now used as a housemaids' pantry, which was at one time probably a staircase to the lower floor. Two other rooms follow, both with portions of the "Hunsdon" ceiling intact.

Then eastward, on the right of the corridor are other rooms of little import, except that one has one of the curious high cupboard fronts previously noticed.

A "strong room" with a padded room adjoining follow, and here one cares not to linger.

The Servants' Quarters

We have now reached the upper floor of the more modern building, and this is practically within the roof: the king post trusses being 8 feet apart, and filled in to divide up the roof-space into rooms. A portion at the back is parted off with ashlaring to form a corridor the full length of the building. These attic rooms are the domestics' sleeping quarters, and complete the section allotted to the women.

From the entrance hall northwards is a dining-room; and beyond, the kitchen and scullery (stone-flagged).

Present Servants' Hall

Westward of the kitchen, & at a lower level, is what is now the servants' hall—an oblong room, at one time divided by a central partition, as shown on ground plan. This is undoubtedly one of the most ancient parts of the building, as a small, low, stone-mullioned casement, and wide old-fashioned fireplace testify.

One does not need a vivid imagination to picture the dressing here of many a boar's head and baron of beef for consumption by my lords and ladies of a bygone age.

The flight of stone steps leading down from the kitchen level was removed to its present position from the opposite end of the room (as shown on plan, they originally led up to the room over), and reversed within the term of the present occupier about thirty years ago, but the old square newels and carved balusters are still doing duty.

This department forms the central wing of the E plan, and divides the southern or inner quad from that on the north.

The Brew House

To the north of the kitchen is a store room (with a mighty key), once the brew-house, with corner vat, and now used by the steward, who has occupied his present office for some forty or fifty years, and to whose care we are indebted for the preservation of some of the most interesting relics of Lord Hunsdon's work—e.g., the stone corbels dated 1573, of which more presently.

Adjoining the steward's room is a carpenters' shop, now much dilapidated; and, though neither is of modern date, there is nothing calling for remark, except perhaps that where now is the fireplace in the steward's room was once a doorway leading to the gateway entrance to the second quadrange. Opposite this, and at the end of what is the northern limb of the E, another old opening has been bricked up, a fresh entrance being constructed on the return as access to what once were the servants' sleeping rooms. At the other end a door opens on to the high road, and seems to have been the servants' entrance in the old days.

Staircase Turrets

In the internal angle formed by this projecting limb and the main building is the hexagonal staircase turret illustrated on Plate 9. A similar angle turret is at the western end of this wing.

The Old Laundry

The original laundry is now divided into three rooms, and beyond is a passage-way between the second and third quads.

The East Corridor

Turning from this wing into the eastern main building, one enters the men's quarters, the dining room flanking eastward on to a corridor with an outlook to the quadrangle. This corridor is an extension made by the present proprietor, Dr. Adams, and is external to the main wall. The old three-light window was removed from the main wall, and re-fixed in its present position. This corridor is a continuation of that on the women's side, but is separated from it by a door, locked and sealed.

The upper floor of the men's quarters is approached by an angle stairway from the corridor, and to the left, in the central wing, is a billiard room—oak panelled from floor to ceiling, with windows on north and south overlooking the quadrangles. Beyond is a corridor where once a flight of stairs led down to the servants' hall, over which is now a bedroom with steps leading up to a door communicating with a room over the kitchen, part of the women's quarters.

The four and three-bedded rooms

From the corridor on this upper floor are entered further rooms comprising the remainder of the "gallery," the ceilings and panelled walls corresponding with the other parts previously noted. Two of the rooms have good chimney-pieces. Beyond the last, and forming the upper floor of the northern wing, are rooms designated the "four-bedded room" & the "three-bedded room," the latter being panelled with oak on three of its sides and having a narrow mullioned window. In the "four-bedded room" is an over-door with a portrait head in full relief, carved to represent ('tis said) the queen-relative of Lord Hunsdon. If this be so, one cannot but assume that the carver was more complimentary than clever. A small leaded-light in the spiral staircase near this room is noticeable.

Towards the front of the premises is a room, now used by the Assistant Medical Officer; and which has an unusually heavy door and frame, rebated all round, with heavy ledges and chamfered panels on the outer side, close-boarded on the inner side, and hung with cross-garnet hinges. A small angle cupboard of the period, with moulded front and quadrant shelves, also should be noticed.

The Exterior, South Side

The illustrations will show the external appearance of the mansion in its various aspects.

The southern garden front has already been referred to, but one may, in addition, notice the three-centred window in gable.

"The Cottage"

To this front has been quite recently added the projecting wing known as the servants' mess-room, built only about eight years ago. The small garden on to which this front looks is seldom used, the larger garden west of this being the daily exercise ground for the women-patients.

It is "the cottage," with the servants' hall on the north, which claim to be the most ancient portions of the house. The southern front had at one time, according to Chatelain's print of 1750, a projecting central portion, with angle pilasters supporting a frieze and pediment, and on this a further wing addition with balcony, the octagonal turret showing in the rear. All these external features have disappeared, & the south front is now as shown on Plates 5 and 9.

The weather vane which once surmounted the turret now adorns the southern gable.

[Cast lead head of rain-water pipe]

The South Front; The West Side

Below and between the two outside chimneys is a small projecting window, which, local report says, is where the monks of olden time used to hear the confessions of their penitent followers. Some of the old decorated chimney-pots are still doing duty, and there is still in position a lead rain-water pipe and cast lead head with the crest of Lord Brooke—a swan rising from a ducal coronet—and the date, 1650. There is also a shield bearing the arms on the collar of the pipe below this. (See sketch.) The west, or garden, front is shown on Plate 5.

The feature of this frontage is unquestionably the row of external chimneys which break the long western face into many bays.

Mention may here be made of the traditional underground passage, which was said to have had its exit at the end of the lawn far away from the house, and of an old well which has within recent years been located, also on the lawn.

The East Side

At the front of the house are placed several stones, finials and corbels, claimed to have been discovered & since cared for by the steward. Considering the date of their execution and the fact of their having been disinterred from a rubbish-heap, they are in a remarkable state of preservation. This is doubtless due to the properties of the stone, apparently a blue-grey Portland, which has weathered excellently and preserved the very beautiful though grotesque designs to be seen thereon.

The corbels now at each side of the entrance-gate are about 20 x 15 x 7 inches, that on the south side has one face only in good condition, representing a well-designed floral scroll of conventional character entwining an ape chained by the neck to a portion of the design, other portions being grasped by the animal. The reverse to this stone has suffered much and the design is almost obliterated. The lower and outer edges of the corbel show a border of castanet pattern, continued round the volute which fronts the upper portion.

The corbel on the north side of the entrance gates shows on the north face a similar design to that just referred to, with the exception that the figure of an infant is substituted for the ape, the chain being absent, but the position with regard to the design being identical. On the reverse appears the scroll design surrounding the presentment of a parrot rampant regardant, holding aloft a pair of spectacles, of a size nearly its own. These two stones were in all probability the supports to a bay window of slight projection such as may now be seen overlooking the central quad. A pair of stones, now placed at the top of the steps leading from the front to the tradesmen's entrance, measure about 2 feet in height by a projection of only 6 inches, with a width of 7 inches. These exhibit on the side faces a scroll design finishing at the upper and slightly wider end with a flower-calyx, from the centre of which emerges an infant's figure. The fronts are carved.

The remaining two of these most interesting relics of Lord Hunsdon's occupation, are now at the foot of the steps of the principal entrance, and exhibit on the front face of each the date 1573. It seems probable, therefore, that these all formed part of what was in existence when Lord Hunsdon came into possession, & were incorporated in the new works, only to be again disturbed when their surroundings were demolished to make way for the present modern front. They have much of the Italian character of the work of the period.

The Quadrangles

Of the quadrangles every corner seems to have an old-time aspect: the narrow mullioned bays, carried from cill level on carved brackets; the over-hanging eaves; the Tudor and keel-headed doorways; the quaint latticed windows and angle stair-turrets; the huge buttressed chimney, seven feet thick at the base, are some of the features; and one cannot help contrasting the quiet restfulness of the quad with the noisy modernity of the high road beyond: or the goings to and fro' of the mighty dead—of kings and queens, statesmen and warriors, saints and martyrs, philosophers and poets, priests and reformers—whose power and intellect have made English history—with the sad collection of overwrought or undergifted men and women to whose footfall these walls now echo.

The outlying Properties

A terrace of private houses situated to the south of Brooke House, forms part of the estate and is now utilised with the main building for asylum purposes. A corner of the block is to be seen in Malcolm's view of 1797. There are, on the extreme north, other buildings of ancient date, also forming part of the estate, and doubtless in other days the quarters for the retainers of the noble dwellers at the mansion; but now let separately and turned into shops.

The line-of-frontage scare has not yet affected the boundaries, though one hears that a part of the "cottage" is already doomed, to accommodate a tramway scheme ; but whether this be so or no, one quits the building with the hope that Hackney, together with all who are personally connected with Brooke House, may permit no vandalism to rob of one of its long treasured possessions, a district richer, as Sir Walter Besant maintains, in memorials of this kind, than any other suburb of London; and if the publication of this monograph do no more than create an increased interest in this local specimen of Elizabethan architecture, with its romance and tradition, and a determination to save it from destruction, we shall not have laboured in vain.

The writer's thanks are due, and are here gratefully tendered to those who have so willingly assisted in, and afforded facilities for, the compilation of these notes:—to Dr. J. O. Adams the proprietor, and Miss Hobbs the Matron, for free access and conduct to the uttermost parts of the building; to Mr. W. Haskett Smith, a descendant of Sir John Elryngton, for valuable information as to the Elryngton family; to the Hackney Borough Council for permission to reproduce from the Tyssen Library some of the illustrations, and to Mr. F. W. Reader for much expert assistance in the reproduction; to Mrs. Ernest Godman, whose charming frontispiece speaks for itself; to my colleagues of the Survey Committee whose names appear against their work, & to the Secretary to whose initiative the work owes its inception.

The following is a list of the chief books and MSS. consulted for historical and other information:—

J. Thomas, History of Hackney (unpublished MSS. in Tyssen Library); Robinson, History of Hackney; Simpson, History of Hackney; Weever, Funeral Monuments, 1631; Brewer, Beauties of England and Wales; Malcolm, Views of London; Wheatley and Cunningham, London Past and Present; Strype's edition of Stow's Survey of London; Templaria (Knights Templars) 1828; Taylor, Order of S. John of Jerusalem in England, 1864; Morris, The Condition of Catholics under James I., 1871; Public Record Office, Domestic State Papers, Eliz. Vols. 92, 99, and 102, and James I., Vols. 153 & 170; Tyssen Library, Papers relating to Hackney Manors; British Museum, Cottonian MSS.; Holinshed's Chronicles; Hackney Journal, 1842; Kingdon, During the Persecution, 1872; Camden, Historie of Elizabeth, 1675; Nichols, Progresses of Q. Elizabeth, 1788; Dictionary of National Biography; Father Gerard, Autobiography, 1883, and Weeks, Months & Years, 1895; Lysons, Environs of London; Hughson's London, 1805; Thorne, Handbook to the Environs of London, 1876; Seymour, Survey of London, 1734; Magna Brittania, 1724; Walford, Old and New London, and Greater London; Jesse's London; Allan Fea, Secret Chambers, &c., 1901.


  • 1. One of the landings below window is partly constructed of a solid baulk of rough-hewn elm.
  • 2. Alluding to the clay or "cob" walls then still used in the west of England, Holinshead wrote that the Spaniards were especially surprised at the excellent housekeeping which they found within walls of "sticks and dirt."
  • 3. Lady Vaux.
  • 4. Lady Penelope Devereux, wife of Robert Lord Rich.
  • 5. "During the Persecution," Autobiog. of Father Gerard.