Brook Hill House

Brook Hill

In his later years Sir Charles Seely conceived the idea of building Brook Hill, both for the magnificent views and because he had bronchial trouble and his doctor advised him to live higher up. 

The house was begun in 1910, designed by architect Sir Aston Webb and follows many of the features of Dartmouth College. Sir Charles Seely died in April 1915, aged 84, just after Brook Hill was completed. 

Susan Mears remembers Brook Hill being nicknamed the Treacle Mine by the locals but the reason for this has always been shrouded in mystery...

 David Seely (3rd Lord Mottistone) related how:

My Grandfather, Sir Charles Seely, was told by his doctor, when approaching 80, that it wasn`t doing him much good to live down in the valley at Brook and he ought to build himself a house which was up above the mists which tended to form over the stream which runs down there. And so he built Brook Hill which was completed just about the time he died in 1915, so he never lived in it. He was so keen to have the view of the sea and Brook Hill has the best view of the sea around here. 

 

            

 

The above pictures are of the stunning views from the terrace of Brook Hill.

The windows famously reflect the setting sun and Erica Browitt (Newbery) remembers that in wartime: It was said that the Germans would never bomb Brook because they used Brook Hill House as a landmark for their aircraft. 

Sir Charles' grandson, Hugh Seely, 1st Baron Sherwood, inherited the Brook Estate from his father, the second Sir Charles Seely, who had in turn bought it from his brother Jack when he moved to Mottistone Manor in the first half of the 1920s.

Hugh Seely was a colourful character, who lived variously at Brook Hill, the Red House and Gardener’s Cottage (which he renamed Sherwood Lodge). He is remembered mostly for his eccentricities and social life.  David Hollis remembers tales of Edward, Prince of Wales, partying at Brook Hill during Cowes Week; although he tells us that the village girls who worked at the house would never speak about it. 

Shooting was Hugh's passion (in 1946 he bought James Purdey, the famous London gunmaker) and he had many shooting parties which local remember often included Lord Boothby. The rhodedendrons on Brook Hill were planted to provide good ground cover.  

William Long remembers Brook Hill in the 1950s:

Brook Hill was quite a house with the most wonderful views. I went there several times after J B Priestley had left it and Kate Ranger bought it, giving herself and Hughie a base on the Island once more.

They had quite a lot of Seely furniture in it, among which I was amused to identify a stuffed bear that my Grandmother Charrington (nee D’Albiac) used to tell us always terrified her on her way to bed when staying at Sherwood!

Tom Priestley remembers when his father lived at Brook Hill in the late 1940s and early 1950s:

Brook Hill was said to be the highest house on the Island. We didn’t often walk down to the village, JBP did not drive and so we were quite isolated.

He was community-minded in spirit and had local friends but we ‘stubbed our toes’ on class in the Island. My father, not being ‘County’ meant he was not much liked. We were friendly with the Mew family, he was the Master of Foxhounds and Alfred Noyes was another IOW friend. Sometime during our residence in Brook my father took up painting – this may have been with the local vicar, Robert Bowyer and his wife and their friends Jack and Johanna Jones who also painted (later setting up the Quay Arts Centre).

There used to be these mystery coach tours of the Island and the story went that the tourists were told ‘That’s where J.B. Priestley, the socialist millionaire lives, there are 300 windows...’ When I got older I used to pinch the car (a black Ford) and go down to the beach – I had no licence or anything... The weather on the top of the hill could be quite different to down below, we would come out of the mist into bright sunshine. 

As a Yorkshireman, my father loved walking, we often walked over the Downs to Freshwater Bay for a ‘Dog’s Nose’; a pint of beer with gin in it. There was a tennis court at Brook Hill and my father was very keen. He used to play tennis in the afternoon. A story my sister tells is of a day when I played and beat him. She says he never wanted to play again...he was quite competitive.

My father loved music and for several years ran a chamber orchestra festival at Brook Hill. I remember being at one because it was about the time I started smoking. The place was so full and busy no-one noticed me smoking that time.