Daphne Brooke-Smith (Denaro)

After our father was demobbed in 1946, our parents spent their honeymoon at Meadow Cottage, the home of Daisy and Walter Newbery.  As children we came to Brook most summers and stayed at various places, Mottistone Manor when free, Pitt Place, run as a hotel by Shirley and Mr Roberts, The Lodge in Brighstone run by Mr and Mrs Lloyd and a cottage on Chilton Farm. Our grandmother had spent her honeymoon in 1917 at her uncle’s home, Brook House.

In 1957 when the Seely Estate was sold by auction, our parents bought the coach house, stables and carpenter’s shed attached to Brook House. After Kensington, where we lived in term time, Brook meant no shoes, no need to dress tidily, freewheeling on old bikes down to the beach and playing in the undergrowth around Brook House (before houses were built in the grounds). The undercarriage and wheels of a large, abandoned cart in the cobbled courtyard became a stagecoach. With Jane Cotton, who lived next door, my sisters Rosy, Iris and I dressed up and become Victorians, cowboys or the ‘French Residistance,’ a game where every adult we spied was an enemy who must never see us.

The ground floor of the Coach House consisted of two large ‘garages’ with earth floors. The cobbled yard had a glass roof over half of it for washing coaches, and later cars, under cover. The stables were just as they had been when Sir Charles Seely’s horse, and latterly, Warrior, were stalled there.

While our parents were busy renovating the Coach House and turning the garages into living rooms, we explored the beach or devised plays in the old carpentry workshop about Mr Honeybun, an accident-prone character. We spent hours on a swing attached to a big oak tree in Stokehole which was put up by Jane’s father, Eli Cotton. We hardly needed to use a road since a path by Gardener’s Cottage took us straight up to Dunsbury and the downs.

Mr Good delivered the newspapers as well as Bunty, School Friend and the Beatles Fan Club magazine. We were puzzled by how he always knew when we were arriving for the holidays; he would sweep his arm up to the skies and say he had seen us ‘in the stars last night.’ As he also communed with our favourite film stars and gave us news of them, we looked forward to him arriving on his motorbike with the newspapers in the sidecar and wearing a leather flying cap, a long coat and motorcycle boots. He was a mysterious person to us and lived alone up at the isolated Longstone Cottage.  

Cyril delivered from Orchard Bros; he was always cheerful and brought the things we could not buy from Mrs Stone at Hanover Stores (probably the drinks for our parents’ parties). Mr French was still working as the Seely Estate gamekeeper, he wore tweed plus-fours and regularly stopped for a chat with his two
immaculately trained Labradors. He was a good friend to our family and later helped my parents with the garden.

In those days, Mr Mellor and family lived in the Red House, the McMasters in Gardener’s Cottage and Major General Calvert-Jones (CJ) and Mrs CJ lived in Little Brook with Betty, their housekeeper. The General was a large figure with a huge white moustache who appeared daunting to us children. Mrs CJ was very friendly and we drank fizzy orange as we watched the adults play croquet.  Miss Thornton ran the walled garden of Brook House as a nursery business. It had the huge glasshouses where the peaches and grapes, sent annually to King George V and Queen Mary, were still growing. In the 1960s the business was taken over by Mr Rowell who grew strawberries and carnations. It was the fashion at the time to dye what were
perfect white carnations and it was fascinating to see the stalks drink up the unnatural colours of pink, blue, orange and green.  

J R Bucketts were converting the East wing of Brook House into three flats and among the craftsmen, were Mr Barnes and Mr Lucky, the painters, and Mr Parry, the stonemason. The blank windows made the history of the house more fascinating and one workman told us about hearing the ghostly chink of glasses and the scent of cigar smoke as they worked on what was once the ballroom.