The Bowermans

The Bowermans were lords of Brook from 1450 to 1792, with the Rev. Thomas Bowerman, who had several daughters but no sons, remaining as Rector of Brook until 1833. Although they were here for over 350 years, relatively little is known about the Bowermans. We know from a rent roll dated 1463 that the Bowrmans (sic) owned property on Dorset, Hampshire and throughout the Island.

Brook House had a dovecot, a fishpond, stables, an orchard and a ‘messauge’ or kitchen garden as well as a ‘pleasance’ – a formal garden for pleasure and recreation (often the province of the women of the house who would take their spinning and needlework outside in fine weather).

In 1488 we hear that the Governor of the Island mustered a force of 40 gentlemen and 400 men including those from Brook and Mottistone. Armed with pikes, longbows and arrows, they went to France to support the Duke of Brittany against the King of France. Every man was killed in the battle except for one young boy, Robert Cheke, who made his way alone on foot back to his home in Mottistone.

We can assume that Brook was a house of some importance because in 1499 it was the scene of great festivities on the occasion of Henry VII’s visit to the Island. The King was entertained by Thomas Bowerman and Joan his wife and we are told that: a bountiful repast was placed on the tables, to which ample justice was done by all present.  About 70 sat down to supper, including the gardeners and other servants and friends. On leaving, the King gave Dame Joan Bowerman his drinking horn as a keepsake and granted her a fat buck annually from his forest at Carisbrooke.

There is little recorded history between then and the Civil War, although we know that John Cheke (1514-1557), academic and personal tutor to Edward VI, was from the Cheke family of Mottistone. Less admirably, in Elizabeth 1st’s reign a Spanish ship was wrecked off Brook Bay and the unfortunate sailors were, according to legend, lured ashore, drugged, murdered and buried in a copse next to the churchyard.

In the Civil War Sir Thomas Bowerman supported Cromwell and was MP for a short time. During the Commonwealth William Bowerman ‘an extreme radical’ was variously Captain of the Brook Militia, Deputy Governor of the Island, a magistrate and MP for Newport. We are told he also appointed Cromwell’s personal preacher to the local living.

The hearth tax returns for 1664 show that Brook Manor had fourteen hearths – it was obviously a substantial house. There were a further 23 households recorded in the parish. These records show a relatively prosperous Mottistone in 1664. Mrs Dillington obviously lived at the Manor with its eleven hearths. Nine other houses had between three and four hearths. N.B. ‘Hearth’ could include fireplaces in living rooms, brew houses, etc.  The number of wells shown in old maps is also an indication of a relatively large population in Mottistone in the 16th Century.  

In 1792 William Bowerman sold Brook Manor to Henry Howe. Troops were stationed near here during the Napoleonic Wars – Hanover Point and Hanover House are believed to be named after a German regiment, stationed here to resist an invasion that never came.

It is startling to discover that in 1797 there were 4,500 soldiers on the Island and a further 3,000 Islanders under arms. In the 1860s another threatened French invasion led to the building of the first Military Road.