Joe Hulse - memories

 Joe Hulse who was born at Brook Coastguard Station has looked into the origins of the building and the service:

Until the late 1800s the vast majority of ships still used sail as their main power. The ‘back of the Wight’ proved to be the final resting place for a large number of ships together with their crews and passengers. Brook Bay was no exception and the strong prevailing south-westerlies meant that the bay acted as a trap for ships under sail (and later those with engines but no radar, in times of fog).

Once there, they had no sea room and were trapped against a lee shore. In the 1850s local clergymen realised that something needed to be done to save lives. Even after 1860, when both Brook and Brighstone lifeboats came into service, the problem was who would keep a lookout? Until this time the coastguard had been an armed, quasi-military force, whose principal job had been to assist and back up customs and excise in the campaign against smuggling.

It was soon realised that while patrolling the coast on the lookout for smugglers, they could also provide the lifeboat crews with a lookout for ships in distress. The Station comprised of six terraced cottages for the coastguard team, together with a ‘watch room’ at the western end of the building and an equipment store room underneath. A separate washhouse, containing two wood fired coppers, completed the station. The watch room view to the east was partially obscured by Brook point (erosion of the cliff since then has modified the view somewhat) and a wooden lookout hut was built on the cliff near Sudmore point to extend the lookout range of the station. A telephone linked the two sites in later years, and the Sudmore lookout became the principal watch site.

Joe Hulse describes the coastguard station as it was when he was growing up in the 1950s:

Cottages numbered 1, 2 and 3 are the smallest and were for the junior members of the team. There was an entrance door at the rear of each building, a hall with the pantry and stairwell forming part of it. The kitchen with its coal-fired cooking range and the front room completed the downstairs with three bedrooms upstairs. Each cottage had a coal shed at the top of the garden, behind which, was hidden the toilet.

Numbers 4 and 5 are larger and were used by the senior team members with number 6 for the Head Coastguard.

Extra garden plots between the western walled garden and the boundary with ‘Flaxtead’ were allocated to each cottage for growing vegetables.

There was no electricity, mains water or drainage for many years. Water was obtained from a hand pump located on the western garden wall, between the watch room and number one. The station also had a well and all the cottages had rain water tanks fitted to their fronts, including the wash house.

Finally a flag pole was erected onto the front garden between numbers 3 and 4.

My life started in number 3 where Mum and Dad, Edie (Morris) and Joe Hulse lived in 1945. The coastguards were Mr Johnson, Mr Timothy and Mr Hanlon.

In the mid-1950s numbers 1 to 4 were sold off. Gran and Grandad were unable to afford the £100 for their house as farm wages in those days did not allow people to have savings. Number 2 was never changed all the time Gran lived there. Right up until 1965 cooking was done on a range supplemented by primus stoves and lighting was via candles, torches and oil lamps. All water came from an outside tap and washing was done in a bowl in the kitchen and emptied into the drain outside the back door. The house had no bathroom. The benefits of living there were a warm kitchen in the cold winter and a regular supply of fresh vegetables from the garden. Of the later coastguards I remember there was Mr Hoyles, Mr Mashiter, Mr Cooper, Mr Stokes, Mr Bastable and Mr Bevan. Mr Bastable was the last Head Coastguard with Mr Bevan as his deputy. The Station finally closed around 1969.