The first time I met Charles Brooking was on an organized walk through the Surrey countryside. In no time at all I was being ushered into a series of nondescript sheds in the garden of his parent’s house below St Martha’s Hill, near Guildford. These were no ordinary sheds full of garden accoutrements. Instead, they housed his ‘Collection’: windows, doors, fanlights, rainwater goods, ironmongery and a myriad other items from buildings of all ages and types.
Charles started collecting architectural detailing in 1958 when he became fascinated by Bakelite door numbers. He was 4 years old. Soon he had turned the attentions of his enquiring mind to the workings of windows, having seen a diagram of a box sash in a children’s book. At the age of six he requested a window for his birthday. More windows followed and, with his bedroom full, his parents gave him a shed. This he opened as a museum.
In the 1960s it was not difficult to find what is nowadays highly prized architectural salvage. He explained to me how “old houses were being demolished everywhere and fireplaces, doors, windows and staircases were there for the taking”. Charles became dedicated to rescuing important items of architectural detail before they were consigned to the skip, sold to the highest bidder or, worse still, destroyed.
By 1986, it became clear that there was a ‘need to safeguard the future of ‘The Collection’ and The Brooking Architectural Museum Trust was formed to guide its development. The following October disaster struck when the ‘Great Storm’ wrought havoc to the by now numerous sheds that housed the Collection in the garden at Guildford. With them reduced to ramshackle shanties, hastily shrouded in plastic to protect their valuable contents, the quest for a permanent home for the Collection had become a priority.
The University of Greenwich stepped in and, for over 20 years, has housed the major part of The Brooking Collection in 6,600 sq ft of warehousing at Woolwich. At the same time, Charles has been able to offer education through access to selected displayed items. Now the University is unable to renew the leases on the present warehouses and the Collection must be loaded into containers and moved to a secure site.
Funding permitting, this upheaval is in preparation for the opportunity to establish a new facility which is being planning with the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum near Chichester, in West Sussex. At the same time, Charles has offered to pass the major part of the Collection to the permanent care of the Trustees.
But none of this can happen unless, as a matter of urgency, the Trustees can raise an initial £20,000 to fund the costs of moving the first phase of the Collection to a safe place pending the move to its new home.
Charles has amassed Europe’s definitive collection of windows and doors which, with many other artifacts, represent an unparalleled history of the architectural detail of the United Kingdom. I urge you to help. Donations can be made via the Brooking Architectural Museum Trust page of the Charities Aid Foundation website.
Image credit: The Brooking Collection