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He was born at Field Head on 27 Aug 1748, the son of Dr William Brooke and Alice Mawhood. Coincidentally, he was christened at Silkstone Church on the same day as another Silkstone notable, Joseph Bramah.

His father died in a riding accident, and he moved to Wakefield with his mother at age 6, and was educated at Wakefield Grammar School. In 1768 he moved to Holborn, London, to study as a chemist, under Mr James Kirkby, who had been Master of the Ironmongers’ Company in 1763. John Charles qualified and gained the freedom of The Ironmongers’ Company in April 1772, but then joined the Heralds’ College to pursue a very successful career as an antiquary and genealogist. He was appointed Rouge Croix Pursuivant in 1773, and promoted to Somerset Herald in 1777.

He accumulated a considerable fortune, and owned substantial lands in Dodworth. In 1780 he donated a sum of money to have the Silkstone Parish registers rebound. At this time they were in a poor state and much affected by damp. Unfortunately, some of the early registers could not be saved, which accounts for the gaps in the records of Silkstone in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

He was quite an important figure in late 18th Century London society. At a time when fortunes were being made from rapidly growing overseas trade, men from quite ordinary families became rich very quickly. In order to gain acceptance amongst the smart set, it was fashionable for the nouveau riche to demonstrate descent from the old-established gentry. Nowadays this is quite hard to understand, but John Charles Brooke made a very successful business out of charting the pedigrees of the rich and famous, for which he charged considerable sums of money. He had inherited a strong and serious interest in genealogy from his great uncle, the Rev. John Brooke, whose collection of Yorkshire manuscripts at Field Head had come into his hands. He made a lifetime study of church inscriptions and parish records, and wrote extensively on the subject.

John Charles Brooke’s patron was Charles Howard, 10th Duke of Norfolk. The seat of the Dukes of Norfolk is at Arundel Castle. Quite early in his career, Brooke produced in his own hand a large and impressive pedigree chart of the Howard family, which included Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. This chart is still on display today at Arundel. Such was the esteem in which he was held that, upon Brooke’s death in 1794, the 11th Duke of Norfolk commissioned a stained glass window in his memory. This window (Fig 8.4) incorporated a copy of Maynard’s portrait (Fig 8.5), and was decorated with the Yorkshire rose and the arms of the Somerset Herald. This window remained in the Second Gallery at Arundel until about 1900 when it was donated by the 15th Duke to the College of Arms in London, where it is displayed in the Earl Marshal’s Court.

In addition to his commercial genealogical practice, and his ceremonial work for the Herald’s College, he made an extensive study of ancient inscriptions he found in churches and country houses, and was a frequent contributor to journals and magazines. Many hundreds of pages of his writings and correspondence still exist, and many have recently become available to read on the internet. The largest collections of John Charles Brooke’s written works are at The Bodleian Library, Oxford, and at The College of Arms, London. At the time of his death, he was in the process of writing a History of Yorkshire and a volume to accompany The Domesday Book for Yorkshire, a copy of which he had inherited from his great uncle, Rev. John Brooke, Rector of High Hoyland.

The Brooke family line at Pond Farm, Dodworth, died out, and John Charles inherited the estate in 1779, from a distant cousin. In an acrimonious episode, John Charles purchased the Lane Head farm on Higham Lane from elder brother William in 1789 for £1350. He also purchased, around this time, various other minor lands and properties in Dodworth, mainly from his brother, together with some fields from the Spencer Stanhopes of Cannon Hall. Although a typical absentee landlord, he appears to have managed his estates well, taking care over proper maintenance, unlike his brother. His trusty lieutenant in Dodworth was Richard Rhodes, the tenant at Pond farm. Bundles of correspondence between the two survive, and Brooke appears to have followed Rhodes’ advice on practical matters regarding the various farms and buildings.

He died in a most unfortunate accident at the Haymarket Theatre, London, when a stampede was triggered by the arrival of King George III and Queen Charlotte.

The account in Wilkinson’s “Worthies of Barnsley” (1883) reads as follows :-

“Unhappily, Mr. Brooke’s life was brought to a premature close; he fell a victim in the melancholy accident which occurred at the Haymarket Theatre, on the evening of Feb. 3rd, 1794, at which their Majesties had signified their intention of being present at the performance. The fatal catastrophe, by which Mr. Brooke and fifteen other persons lost their lives, was brought about in the following manner: ­In the crush which took place, some persons were thrown down and trampled upon by the crowd, who passed over their bodies into the house. The pit to which they were going was lower than the threshold of the door leading into it. Here it was that the mischief happened, for the people who were the unfortunate sufferers either not knowing any­thing of the steps, or being hurried on by the pressure of the crowd behind, fell down, while those who followed immediately after were, by the same irresistible force, hurried over them. The scene that ensued may be more easily conceived than described ; the shouts and screams of the dying and the injured were reported to be fearful, while those who were literally trampling their fellow creatures to death had it not in their power to avoid the mischief they were doing. Seven bodies completely lifeless were carried into the shop of Mr. Wynch, druggist, next door to the theatre, while others were carried to other places, and the remainder to St. Martin’s bone house, to be owned. The gentlemen sent to own the bodies of Mr. Brooke and his friend Mr. Pingo, of York, who was with him at the time, said it was the most melancholy office they were ever called upon to perform. The countenance of Mr. Brooke had the appearance of sleep, and it was evident that he had been suffocated as he stood, as were many others. The colour on his cheeks remained. Mr. Pingo, who was a more corpulent man, had apparently been thrown down, trampled upon, and much disfigured.

The remains of Mr. Brooke were removed to his apart­ments in the College, and on February 6th, buried in a vault under the Heralds’ pew in the Church of St. Benet, Paul’s Wharf, attended not only by the Heralds and his relations, but by the Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal of England ; George, Earl of Leicester, President of the Society of Antiquaxies ; Sir Joseph Banks, Bart., President of the Royal Society ; John Topham, Esq., F.R.S. and F.S.A. ; Craven Ord, Esq., F.R.S. and F.S.A. ; Edmund Turner, F.R.S. and F.S.A.; the Rev. John Brand, Secretary of the~ Society of Antiquaries ; John Cayley, Esq., F.A.S. ; James Moore, Esq., F.A.S. ; and John Lambert, Esq., F.A.S., who paid this last tribute of regard to this accom­plished man. Edmund Lodge, Esq., to honour the memory of him whom living he loved, placed a mural monument by Ashton over his remains, with the arms of his family..”

In the burial register of the Parish Church of St. Benet is the following entry:­

“John Charles Brooke Esq : in the vault under the Heralds’ Pew, buried Feb. 6, I794”

Mr. Brooke’s extensive knowledge in heraldry and antiquity, the kind and ready communication of that knowledge to his friends, and the uniform mildness of his manners, made his death not only sincerely lamented by his numerous acquaintance, but a great loss to those sciences to the cultivation of which his natural genius was peculiarly adapted.

At the time of his death, his fortune amounted to £14,000, including Pond Farm and Lane Head Farm in Dodworth, and Little Pepper Farm in Sussex. As a major snub to his elder brother William, he appointed sisters Jane and Margaret as executrices. William’s children did benefit to the tune of £2000, which was to be held in trust by Jane and Margaret until they attained the age of 21, but only £10 for William for the purchase of a mourning ring. Lesser sums were left to other nephews and nieces. £50 was left to be invested for the poor of Dodworth, and various sums bequeathed to The College of Heralds to house, bind and catalogue his manuscript collection. Brooke’s collection is still The major beneficiaries were sisters Jane and Margaret, who John Charles believed had suffered as a result of William’s mismanagement of their late father’s estate. His intention was for the trustees to sell the two farms in Dodworth and Little Pepper Farm in Sussex, using the proceeds to pay the other beneficiaries, the residue to provide investment income for Jane and Margaret. As Jane and Margaret had no children and were beyond the age of childbirth, they were to bequeath their inheritance to Thomas, eldest son of William. In the event, only William’s daughter Margaret (Langford) outlived Jane and Margaret, and became the residuary legatee.

The pews in Silkstone Church held by sisters Jane and Margaret are still marked with their names, and can be seen in the south aisle. 

(These notes reproduced from “A Yorkshire Yeoman’s House”, by Paul Davies CreateSpace Publishing 2015)

Stained Glass window commemorating John Charles Brooke by Eggington. Originally at Arundel Castle, now in the College of Arms, London.

Portrait of John Charles Brooke by Edward Bell, after Thomas Maynard
mezzotint, published 20 March 1794 (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery NPG D822)

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