The Holbrookes of Stoke House

Stoke House

Stoke House via Google Street View

Barbara Holbrooke sat in her morning room, drew a deep breath and wondered what she should attempt next, apart from the Herculean task of marrying off her three remaining spinster daughters. Gertrude and Constance were both happily married, thank goodness, but Winifred was now 46, Helena 44 and Margaret had just turned 30. They were not unattractive girls -women- but the problem had been finding young men brave enough to propose to the daughters of  the vicar. And Kimpton, with a population of only 300, where they had lived from 1882 until her husband’s death in November 1911, was the very epitome of being a large goldfish in a very small bowl – where on earth was she supposed to have found eligible bachelors for them?

Despite the small size of the parish and congregation, the rectory was positively palatial – 16 rooms in the way counted by the 1911 census. As the living remained in the gift of the local landowner, she presumed that the lord of the manor had financed both church and rectory without input from the diocese, with the idea of putting a succession of second or third sons in this sinecure.

Crockfords 1908

It was not, of course, a surprise that her husband had predeceased her – after all, he was 22 years her senior. But it had been a bitter blow when their youngest son, Lt Dr. Cecil Dacre More Holbrooke, had died while serving in the army in India in 1909. She had hoped that, by steering him into medicine, he would escape the apparently irresistible pull of the scarlet  (none of their children seemed to be drawn to the black of the ecclesiastical world). But it was not to be. In 1905, at the age of 25, he had joined the RAMC and been sent to Poona where he had met his end, four years later, in a chukka of polo hit on the head by the ball.*

Holbrooke tree

Her three remaining sons had also gone into the army. She had had hopes that Gerald Howard, born in 1877, who emigrated to Saskatchewan in 1909, would also escape a military fate. He was indeed just getting himself established when war was declared in Britain so, of course, he duly signed up in Canada on 24 September 2014.*


Gerald had already served 5 years with the 12th Middlesex, eight years with the Natal Police, and two years with the (Canadian) Royal North West Mounted Police.

In 1870, the vast area known as Rupert’s Land was transferred from the Hudson’s Bay Company to the new Dominion of Canada. The sudden shift of authority and resultant uncertainty and unrest among the inhabitants of the region erupted into the Red River Rebellion of 1869-70. Alarming reports of whisky trading and of restlessness and inter-tribal warfare among the Indians of the plains reached the newly formed federal government in Ottawa. It was essential that order be restored and maintained if the Canadian Northwest was to attract settlers. In 1872, Colonel P. Robertson-Ross, Adjutant-General of the Canadian Militia, was dispatched into the Northwest on a fact-finding journey for the Canadian government. He recommended that a regiment of 550 mounted riflemen be organized to preserve order in the territory and to protect the surveyors and railway builders who were working their way to the Pacific coast.

aaTheir eldest son, Bernard Frederick Roper, had joined the Indian army in 1893 at the age of 21 – she remembered that there had been no holding him. It was a good life for a young man, just so long as they weren’t engaged in any war. She dreaded what the future might be for him now.


But the very first to arrive at the front had been, as she might have known, her knight in shining armour, Philip Lancelot. Although he was 41 years old by now, he arrived in France with the Royal Garrison Artillery as part of the British Expeditionary Force on 19 September. He had left behind a wife, Eleanor, whom she would have to keep an eye on, although she was perfectly looked after by the army, living in married quarters in Shoeburyness with a cook and a maid, and plenty of other wives for company.

Her life felt as if all the colour had gone out of it. She knew she must make an effort to keep up the spirits of her daughters, but today her heart was not in it. She already hated this phrase people kept using, ‘for the duration’. How long, oh how long might that be?


*I have seen – but cannot at the moment lay my hands on 😦 the evidence for the polo accident. Apologies, but I did not want to delay this post any further.

I have concluded that my memory may have been playing tricks – Captain Egerton Orme Bellairs Black Hawkins (see elsewhere on this website) is memorialised at the military cemetery in Bloemfontein and St Mary Bourne (Section G Row 10 #406) ‘killed 21 January 1909 in a polo accident’. Grateful thanks to the commenters below.

**The evidence for the Holbrookes having moved to Stoke House is Gerald’s attestation papers in September 1914, when he gives his mother as his next of kin.

9 thoughts on “The Holbrookes of Stoke House

    • Indeed, although Bernard and Philip survived the war, one I think as Lt Colonel, and the other as Brigadier-General. Only Gerald, with the Canadians, and the silly boy playing polo…

  1. Poor Barbara! All those children and all her hopes and dreams for them. Did she manage to marry off the three daughters?

    • I’m afraid they all died spinsters. (Perhaps they really loved being spinsters, but I can’t help adopting what I think must still have been the prevailing feeling that the point of a woman’s life was marriage and children).

  2. I too am interested in the Holbrooke family they came from a long line of military and further are a junior line of the Curzon family. As to the brother who was a doctor and joined the RAMC can you tell me where you found the Polo incident? for I had assumed he died as a result of the 1909 epidemic in Poona

    You may be interested to know that that another line of the family ( Williams master at Felsted School) married to one of the sisters their soon became a brigadier (Austin Williams) in the Indian army and represented India in Polo in 1925 . He retired to South Africa and died in the 1970s daughter Meg married into a family called Hartmann.

    My interest stems from Gerald Holbrooke

    • Many thanks for commenting Tony. The junior line of the Curzon family refers to the Ropers, does it?? I am interested in what you say about the rest of the family.
      I am really sorry but I have still not found the reference to the polo incident. I am pretty sure it was in an obituary from his school or college where he studied medicine, but that hardly helps I know. I don’t think I can have dreamed it up entirely, but that is obviously not good enough. If I do get an answer I will get in touch with you, but am afraid you will have to regard it as ‘not proven’ at present.

  3. Fascinating. I am, by marriage, a great nephew of Maj. Gen. Philip Lancelot Holbrooke (via his second wife), and, despite the existence of descendants of his sister Gertrude (both in South Africa & this country) I have ended up with the Holbrooke family archive (or at least the majority of it). I had not heard of the polo accident, and it appears not to be mentioned among the papers & documents I have.

    As an interesting aside, despite Barbara’s husband’s efforts to connect his family with 15th & 16th century Holbrookes who appear at Cambridge/Oxford or as churchmen (I have his notebook showing his research), I have only demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that Frederick George’s great grandfather (William) was a bit of an entrepreneur, starting out as a carrier, & a farmer, of Manchester in the 1730’s, before moving south to Kent where he died in 1762 as a haberdasher. My Great Uncle assumed this man was a Captain in the Royal Navy, but I have failed to find any such connection- wishful thinking by Frederick George I suspect! Frederick George’s father & grandfather were indeed military men, but it seems that even his grandfather (Bernard) was a shopkeeper in Lambeth for most of his adult life, despite being on army half pay for over 40 years (he served in the army from 1759-63 & wrote a journal of the Siege of Belle Isle, now in the National Army Museum). Of course the Roper connection is well attested, Frederick (father of Frederick George) having made that upwardly mobile marriage in 1803.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Thank-you. As you see, I have rather ground to a halt for the moment. Not everyone is happy about my romancing of the lives of our fellow St Mary Bourne-ites. I am still intending to complete the research into the men who took part in the war, however.

      Yes, I am so sorry about the polo incident – it’s possible it referred to someone else and it’s also possible my brain is addled.

      Incidentally, I have a tree on ancestry for the Holbrookes – I had noted the possible connection to the mathematician Holbrooke at Cambridge in the 16th century, but had only got as far as Bernard, who married Mary Jemmit.

      • The Mary Jemmit marriage in 1771 is the furthest back with certainty I have. Mary Jemmit was the daughter of a grocer/sugar refiner (thus a union of socially mobile shopkeepers). Bernard was on army half pay from 1763 until 1808, he died in Lambeth in 1808 aged 73 (thus born c1735), and in his will he is described as a hat seller. Everything points to this man being the Bernard baptised in Stretford in 1735, son of the shopkeeper William Holbrook, who moved from Manchester to Kent in the 1750’s. There is even a Robert Holbrook, shopkeeper of Sheppey, Kent (baptised 1744 in Stretford) who names his son Bernard Jemmett Holbrook in 1774, and in his will (dated 1777) not only names Bernard as his brother, but also names siblings and nephews & nieces who still lived in Stretford.

        I think the attempt to connect ones ancestors to educated, ennobled or landed individuals was a common fault in aspiring Victorian families, such as the Holbrookes, especially when the records are missing or hard to find, and no one wanted to be associated with shopkeepers! There may be a connection to the mathematician, but I have not yet found it. It will keep me busy for many years yet, I’m sure.

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