A Lifetimes Work – The Brooking – breathing life into architecture

By Rosemary Hurtley

The long-term future of Charles Brooking’s lifetime’s work preserving historic architectural details, numbering many thousands of items, has now been secured with a generous grant from the VILLUM Fonden, one of two philanthropic foundations established by the founder of the VELUX window in Denmark.  Following his invitation by the internationally-renowned architect, Rem Koolhaas, to participate in his centre piece ‘Elements of Architecture’ exhibition  at the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale 2014, Charles provided 68 historic windows from  the collection to be featured in an impressive display that continues to be referenced to this  very day. It was here that the windows first caught the attention of visiting representatives from the VILLUM Window Collection museum. The exhibition received much global media coverage.

The Brooking display at the Villum exhibition
The 68 historic windows were of great interest

Charles, his family and friends, are delighted that The Brooking charity’s Trustees have successfully made a herculean effort to secure the funding.  This has enabled the collections to be relocated from a dilapidated barn near Ellens Green to a permanent home in Whitchurch, Hampshire.  The majority of the collections having been housed in inaccessible storage since the move from the University of Greenwich to Cranleigh in 2012, they are now in the early stages of being organised prior to formal cataloguing.  Owing to the process involved, the new museum building will not be open to the public for quite some time.

The new home for the Brooking in Hampshire

The Project Management team are now capturing Charles’s knowledge, which will prove vital to the aspiring museum being able to provide a unique record of historic building detail in the U.K. for the benefit of historic building professionals, students, apprentices, home-owners, designers, artists, sculptors, and the general public.  

The collection includes register grates and baskets

As a new trustee of The Brooking, I am proud to be part of a  unique heritage resource ‘housing the largest collection of British architectural details in the world, each piece offering a small but telling glimpse into the past.’  The new charity aims to ‘breathe life into architecture and to bring architecture to life’, and to attract a wider audience.

Creative craftmanship and artistry in a fireplace

As Charles’s sister, I have watched the collections develop through his single-minded crusade.  With his ‘mega-savant’ memory skills he can instantly recall where each item originated from, their unique histories, and when and where he acquired them.  Iconic pieces include those from Historic Royal Palaces, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Wembley Stadium, Downing Street, Holkham Hall, Norfolk, Bowood House, Wiltshire, and from houses of the famous, including those of Elizabeth Barratt Browning and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Some of the many staircases saved from the skip

Charles acts as a collections consultant to The Brooking and retains a loan collection for his own professional use as an Architectural Historian within his Teaching Gallery and research library at Cranleigh, open by appointment.  It is currently visited by conservation professionals, students, designers, and local groups.  Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses are also on offer, covering the history and development of the English Window, Door, Fanlight, Shutters, Staircase, Coal-burning Fire-grate, Joinery Profiles and Rainwater Goods  (See website:  www.cbah.uk)  The gallery contains a number of objects from the local area, including pieces from Cranleigh School and Knowle Park.

Charles would like to thank the many local people who have kindly donated items to the collections over the years.

Charles Brooking

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Cranleigh Magazine