Coastguard introduction

Coastguards were stationed at Brook from 1817, mainly to combat brandy smuggling from the Channel Islands, Cherbourg and Barfleur.

The Preventative Water Guard, as the Coastguard Service was called before 1822, was established in Brook as early as 1817. Maps of the time show a couple of customs and coastguard buildings on the cliffs to the west of Brook Chine. The station was called Freshwater in those days with the name changing to Brook in 1838.

By 1841 the census shows four coastguards living in Brook and in October 1861 the Lords of the Admiralty purchased land from Charles Seely for £300 to build a more substantial coastguard station. Between Hanover Point and Chilton Chine a permanent two-man coastguard watch was maintained and the number of coastguards rose to six in 1861 and settled at five from 1881 to 1901.The census shows families with as many as eight members living in the individual cottages.

Before Brook had its lifeboat station, the coastguards took part, with the villagers, in rescuing men from shipwreck. In 1838 Lieutenant Symons and the Brook coastguard rescued the crew of the brig Claire wrecked at Brook. By that time all coastguards belonged to the Navy.

During the smuggling years, their work could be dangerous. Two Brook coastguards beaten up at Freshwater Gate in 1835 were in bed for five weeks afterwards. But there was prize money for a capture and in any case it was usual for the smugglers to leave a little of their ‘crop’ with the coastguards.

The Brook census returns show that many of the coastguards came from Cornwall, also a busy smuggling area – it takes one to know one…

 In his book Coastguard!, William Webb describes how:

The men were forbidden to leave their posts on the shore even when wet through. There was a high level of sickness as a result but when a man reported sick he was stopped one-third of his pay. Coastguards frequently worked a 16 hour day, or rather, night. Every night they were assembled in the watchroom and armed with a musket and bayonet. No man was given his instructions and position before he reported for duty and he was forbidden to communicate with his family after he had received them. One of the most unpopular duties, because it took place in the daytime rest hours, was ‘creeping.’ This involved rowing out and dragging an iron grapnel or ‘creep’ along the bottom to hook up sunken goods.


The Later Years...

At the start of World War II most regular coastguards went back to sea and local volunteer auxiliaries took over under the control of two or three older regulars.

The old stations remained at Freshwater, Brook , Brighstone, Atherfield and Blackgang – the 19th century pattern of stations every three miles had been able to keep in touch by semaphore.

 The local men kept watch whenever the weather threatened. They did good work, for example in 1955 getting the stranded yacht Pintail to safety and looking after the three crew at Hanover House and Chine Cottage. In 1964 they got prompt aid to the cargo ship Brother George aground in Brook Bay.

 Robert (Bob) Cassell, lived all his life in Hulverstone and Brook and describes work as an auxiliary coastguard over 25 years in the 1950s and 60s:

At first I was Watch Keeper. There is a hut just up the road on the cliff where we did a constant lookout watch - day and night. There would have been three of us in the day and two at night. If I started at 8 o’clock at night I came off at 2 o’clock in the morning.

We used to be watching for any boats in distress or shipwrecks. If the wind came up and the weather was rough, you had to ring through to Freshwater and put them on watch too, and Ventnor. I never seemed to have any time for myself and came off Watch Duty and went on the Coast Rescue Service up until 1977. In this I was not on duty all night but could be called out by the watcher. I had the long service medal for that.

 If a boat was in distress and was near enough we used to fire a rocket over to it.

By the 1960s radar and helicopters took over and only two regular coastguards remained at Brook.

The station closed in 1971. The Brook men were then controlled from Atherfield; but that station closed in 1988 and with a retirement party at the Sun Inn for Mr Ken Newnham at Shorwell (the last local coastguard in charge) the story of the coastguard at Brook came to an end.

 

 

Back row left to right: Bill Cook, Walter Stone, PC Hunt (Calbourne), Bert Morris, Tony West, Ralph Cook. Front row (left to right): Ted Bastable, Haifa Strickley, Robert Cassell, District Officer Shields, R. Rodgers, Alan Ellerman, Frank Bevan. Above: Brook coastguard cap and button.