HOOK COTTAGE

On the 17th. October 1854 Frederick Messenger, Yeoman; Grace Bray, widow, of Little Kimble, and George Orchard, labourer, of Little Winchendon, borrowed £60 at 5% interest, to lease a newly erected messuage at the Hooks, on land owned by Richard Reading.

After he died in 1887, Elizabeth Reading was described as 'farmer' in local directories, but she continued to live in one of the old manor cottages. Their son Francis married Ann, and after he died quite young she went to live at Hook Cottage with her young daughter, Ann. Mrs Reading married John Stevens and Ann learned to be a dressmaker.

John Stevens kept ducks in Kettles Meadow, but ended his life in 1913. In the 1920's a Mr Powell lived at the Hook with his housekeeper and had a pony and cart to travel the lanes.

By 1935 Mr Davis, who had lost a leg in the 1914-18 war lived there and acquired a black pony to use with the trap.

Stephen Brockman lived here from a very early age (about 18 months). His parents bought the property in c1934/5 but lived in London, North of Regents Park for most of the week. His father, who practiced in London, was a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, practiced at Westminster Hospital and was a specialist in “clubbed feet”; he served in the navy in 1 st world war as RNVR officer.

They moved here full time in about 1939 with the outbreak of war. The only recollection of the war having any particular impact was in about 1941 when the family hid in the cellar when German bombers returned from a bombing raid on Coventry, flying over the area.

He grew up in the house with 2 brothers and 2 sisters and Norland nannies (2), 2 “dailies” came in for cooking, cleaning etc. He recalls that the brass door handles were always gleaming. His father died whilst they were living in the house and 18 months later (1957 ?) his mother moved out, moving to Princes Risborough and then Gerrards Cross. Stephen moved out soon after he finished his national service in the early/mid 1950's.

He is unclear on the previous owner but it may have been Brown; not surprisingly there is no Brown in the latest available census of 1901. The Brockmans bought the house through estate agents Gosling and Redway, estate agents of Princes Risborough. Mrs Brockman sold Hook Cottage to Mr and Mrs Smith.

SB thought that the house was built c 1820 but no real evidence. The stone taken out of the dummy window above the front porch may indicate that it was bricked up as action to reduce window tax liability. Window Tax was introduced in 1696 as a replacement for the Hearth Tax and was often levied with the House Tax. It was repealed in 1851 when it was replaced by House Duty. The tax was worked out from a scale of bands based on the number of windows in the house. In 1696 all house were charged at 2shillings, properties with 10-20 windows paid 4shillings and those with more than 20 windows paid 8shillings. In 1747 the charges were: 10-14 windows at 6d per window, 15-19 windows at 9d, and 20 or more windows at 1shilling. By 1825 houses with less than 8 windows became exempt. The taxpayer was usually the occupier rather than the owner and they often attempted to camouflage or block up the windows to avoid payment.

There were 2 oak gates at the bottom of the drive

The drive was lined on the right (going towards the house) by apple trees; the box hedge extended further up the drive, to a very large yew tree (cut down by the Pearls according to Barbara Smith who moved in after the Brockmans), and then went left towards the house. The path from the front door was as now and led to a gate in the hedge. (He was not surprised at the holes in the hedge since he threw his sisters in it more than once!!)

The barns were used as general storage, as was the garage and attached lean to. He thinks that the garage may have been open at the far end and the existing one was probably built after his mother moved out. The ladder found in the old barn was familiar to him as is the wooden box (tin lined) which was in one of the barns. There was also a very tall ladder for pruning the apple trees and picking apples, but this has disappeared. The granary was used for storage as were the barns although occasionally the staff had to sleep there!!

The well outside of the kitchen was in regular use and the water was very pure. It looks as though it may have been deeper than it is presently and needs to be cleaned out. The pipe which can be seen coming from below the water level was joined to an eternal hand pump attached to the kitchen wall.

Between the granary and where the right hand side extension is now, there was a large haywain barn.

The grounds were very much of a small holding, particularly in war time, with sheep, pigs and chicken and vegetable gardens.

The pigs were killed by a local farmer visiting and using a metal half collar with a big spike which was put on the pigs neck and then the spike hit very hard; the pig just fell on the spot and they then helped to scald the skin to get rid of the bristles. It was then butchered

There were many more trees, especially apple trees. The only significant lawn area was outside of what is now the garden room. The apple orchard extended from the present line of trees to the left towards the driveway box hedge. There was a large gooseberry bed in the area towards the 3 Crowns.

He recalls using the scythes now attached to one of the stables and said that the hand pegs could be moved to suit the user.

He also recalls that they were paid about £1 something each year for the electricity wayleave.

They used to pollard the poplars (?) on the Northern boundary every 2 year. The ditch beneath was cleaned out every couple of years and the ditch on the Eastern boundary every c 5 years. There were elm trees also but these all came down with Dutch elm disease (1960's)

Upstairs is significantly different mainly as a result of the work which the current owners had carried out. There was a bathroom upstairs with a very large Victorian toilet which has long gone. The upstairs windows (at the back) were metal with small leaded lights which let drafts through. (These were subsequently changed to upvc windows, probably by the Pearls). The loft did not have the present Velux windows which again were probably put in by the Pearls.

Stephen slept in the right hand bedroom, from the front, with his brother. The house keepers and nannies either slept in the house on in the barns!! In this bedroom there was a fire place, similar to the one in the left hand bedroom. They were lit on cold nights. The stair rails were as today and he remembers without counting 13 steps; the reason was that he regularly remembers his sister storming out of the dining room (the family were encouraged to discuss everything) climbing the stairs before slamming the door to her bedroom during which time Stephen would aggravate the situation by loudly counting 1, 2, 3…. as she stamped up the stairs

Downstairs the (now) kitchen/breakfast room was 2 rooms with the interconnecting door on the right looking towards the back of the house. The front of these 2 rooms was the dining room, the back the kitchen. The back kitchen door was replaced by them to the present although the lock and key were from the previous (original?) door. Within a short time it warped as it is today. The panelling which we see in part of the kitchen now was more extensive in his day. The fireplace in the present breakfast room area was as present and the wood surround was then considered old, so may have been original.

The room presently used as a dining room was then a sitting room and was a single room as now. The small glass cupboard on the right hand (N side) was not there, and there was no external door in the room. The fireplace was in the same position as present.

The cellar was the dairy and similar in size to now, before the present owners had it painted and re-floored. The fuse boxes were there (as they were when we moved in) but in a poor state and he remembers power cuts and sparking fuses. The hooks, hand rail and steps down were as today although he thinks that reason why the steps are so warn is that in earlier days people wore boots with studs/nails, even in the house, and this would have caused the wear which we see today. The cellar window was there and he thinks that it was mainly for ventilation; coal was stored in the barns in his day. The grill above the cavity outside this window was installed at this time to stop the children falling down.

Footnote: Mrs Brockman moved out much later than 1970. Mrs Barbara Smith and her husband Alan bought Hook Cottage from Mrs Brockman and moved in in October 1977.

 

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