The John Hooke Tragedy

to Isle of Wight History Centre
The Scientist, The Grocer, The Governor and Grace. Full commentary
Hooke's Diary Extracts from Robert Hooke's diary 1672-1680
Newport Corporation Documents relating to the suicide of John Hooke.
Hooke Family Tree
John Hooke Timeline
Hooke Family Home
Freshwater area in the 17th century
Hooke and Geology
Freshwater Parish
Robert Hooke Timeline
Sir Robert Holmes Timeline
Character Glossary


John Hooke's House
and its Environs

The present street called Hook Hill was named after Robert Hooke's family, who lived in a house on that road. The earliest use of this name is on a 1769 map of the Isle of Wight, where the farm is named as "Hook Hill Farm". The family were reputed to have lived in a dwelling towards the bottom of the hill and this house became known by the name of Hooke's Cottage or Hooke Hill farm.

At a later date, possibly at the end of the 17th century, the house became incorporated into a newly established farm, but continued to stand until demolished in 1908. In that year, stone from the farm buildings and Hooke's cottage, which by now were derelict and overgrown, were used to build St. Agnes Church near Freshwater Bay, a picturesque thatched church. A leaflet on St. Agnes states "The stone used to build the Church came from an old and derelict farm house on Hooke Hill, Freshwater, and the date stone 1622 [sic] was incorporated into the vestry wall, thus rather misleading those who may think the Church belonged to the 17th century" [Leaflet "St. Agnes Church, Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight". Freshwater Series J No. 48]. In fact the datestone in question has carved into it the letters and date "1+Y 1694" and has been used as a quoin stone in the wall of the vestry, which juts out at a right angle to the main church. Possibly this belongs to a farm building that was constructed perpendicularly behind Hooke's house and points to the development of the premises into a farm at the end of the 17th century.

The local newspaper, The Isle of Wight County Press, reported "A large quantity of the stones used were obtained from the old ivy-covered house which for a number of years had stood unoccupied on Hook-hill, just off the Railway-sation" [Aug. 15 1908 (p. 3) Isle of Wight Count Press]. By the late 19th century, the house was in a poor state: "... there was Hooke Hill Farm on Hooke Hill, a long rambling, untidy dwelling, which almost fell down but which was habitable and inhabited up to at least 1897.1" By 1936, it was said that only the "garden and apple trees remain". Eric Toogood mentions that "remnants of the old building existed in the 1950's, when the Aisher family had cow stables there2". The site is now occupied by a modern house called "Heatherstone House".

The house seems to have been a lobby-entry house, consisting of three bays, as described in John Hooke senior's probate inventory. The photo shows evidence of a hipped roof on either end: these may be explained as small extensions to either end of the house to accommodate John Hooke's study and the kitchen at the other end. Judging from the stone in St. Agnes church, it seems that the house was constructed mainly of Upper Greensand stone. Most humbler dwellings in the Freshwater area were built using a mixture of chalk block, limestone and various types of rough sandstone - in fact, anything that came easily to hand. The fact that Hooke's house is almost entirely one type of stone suggests a slightly higher status building.

Hooke Hill Farm by Helen Allingham.
This view is taken from Home Ground, the field directly behind Hook Hill Farm. [map] Hooke Cottage is the building on the left partly obscured by apple trees in blossom. On the right, there is a farm building, covered in ivy. This building can be seen in the photograph on the right.
See The Helen Allingham Society for further information and pictures.

Hook Hill Farm in the late 19th century. This photograph was taken from the road on the north-east side of the farm. Hooke Cottage is the building on the right that is covered in ivy.
By kind permission of the widow of Eric Toogood, author of The West Wight Remembered, Eric Toogood Publications, 1984.]

A photograph of Hook Hill Cottage taken from the road immediately in front of the house. It is heavily covered in ivy, but the mullioned windows can just be seen. From the position of the chimney stack, the hall and the parlour can be identified as the rooms to the left and right of the chimney. In John Hooke's inventory, both the hall and the parlour contained fireplaces. The kitchen and the buttery can therefore be located at the left end of the building. Possibly the two rooms had been sub-divided from an earlier room.
By kind permission of the widow of Eric Toogood, author of The West Wight Remembered, Eric Toogood Publications, 1984.]

[O.S. map 1862]

The area to the south and east sloped down to "Crundell Marsh" [today known as Afton Marshes] and this area of wetland extended up to Bow bridge at the foot of Hook Hill. These fields were called "Crundell" and ran from the Bow bridge along to the causeway. Across the marshes to the south-east, there was Afton Manor house, the home of the Urry family. Further up Hook Hill to the north east was situated the parish church and the small collection of houses that passed as "Freshwater Village". To the south of Bow Bridge, there was a smallholding called Stroud, which by 1839 had developed into a small hamlet. The Parsonage or rectory was situated 200 metres south of Stroud.

Tithe Map 1839

[By kind permission of Steve Holden, creator of Isle of Wight Historic Postcards]
[Left] A detail from a map of the Isle of Wight produced by Isaac Taylor in 1759. The red arrow points out Hooke's Cottage, while the blue arrow highlights the parsonage/rectory. The parish church of All Saints can clearly be seen. The collection of houses in the top left corner, centred round a circular road, is Freshwater Green [today called School Green]. The yellow arrow shows the angle at which the photograph on the right was taken. [Right] A view of the small hamlet of 'Freshwater village', centred on the parish church, in the late 19th century. The settlement was not much smaller in Hooke's day and changed very little until the 20th century.
View of Freshwater village from the Afton House side of the causeway c. 1834. Freshwater parish church can be seen. The stone causeway runs from the right into the middle of the picture. The field called "Crundell" is on the left.(Engraving of Freshwater by T. Barber, Picturesque Illustrations of the Isle of Wight. 1834.)
[Enlargement = 178KB]

A good idea of what the area was like can be got from a couple of accounts by two residents, who lived in Freshwater in the late 19th century, when Hook Hill and Church Place were still very much as they had been for centuries. Miss Emmerton recalled the rough condition of the road up Hook Hill.

"The way up Hooke Hill was long and very broken and the hill had many deep ruts in it filled in with large gravel. For many years we did our own steam rolling - or rather foot rolling with the aid of farm and tradesman's carts and their horses hoofs. Then there was no station and no houses but Hooke Hill Farm. The houses began at Copse Lane, those old ones on the right side up to the church. There was nothing on the other side till you reached the Red Lion. When the church yard was extended and the lych gate built about four homes were pulled down and replaced by one house now standing. ...
Frequent rains washed down Hooke Hill and carried off little by little the stones we had so laboriously trodden in and the process started over again. ... Red gravel dug from the numerous gravel pits was used in almost primitive state
Another resident, Mrs Mary Drewitt, remembered:
"Up around the church just over a hundred years ago, well that was the hub of Freshwater. All the shops were there. There was a draper's shop kept by Jonathan Webb and old Wilfred right near the church. It had a shop front instead of a bay window. It's now been pulled down to make the churchyard bigger. There were four houses just there next to the church, now I think there are only two. ...
Farmer Rice, whose daughter married Marshall and went to live in Rose Bank in Queen's Road, had Hooke Hill farm where the old Rectory was, that was up the hill. You went up the hill and when you got over the brow of the hill, you went over some stone slabs right up to a very old thatched rectory. It was a farm later. Rice had it. When Canon Isaacson came, the other rectory was built. Cannon Isaacson never lived in the old one.

Coming down Hooke Hill, to the left of where the station is now [ Portsea Coop], we used to go through a kissing gate to a path right up over a stile. The stile went over Crundle, over a mound and down the side and you came out at the Causeway.4"

The original rectory or parsonage seems to have been situated in Stroud in what is today called Victoria Road. The present house, a guest house, is a 19th century creation on the original site. A Glebe terrier of 1608 gives a picture of the church's holding in Freshwater at the start of the 17th century.

"A note of the glebe lands as appertayne to the parsonage of Freshwater:
Inprimis a close joyning to the parsonage house called the Grove, by estimation an acre or thereabouts
Item a close called West Close contayning by estimation two acres or thereabouts lying on the west side next the parsonage lands
Item 4 acres of arable land lying in west field (?the one) called stone wyne acres , the other white croft acres
Item 2 paddocks the one joyning to the north side of the churchyard , the other to the north end of the Church (?house) both contayning by estimation 3 (?stiches/perches) of land.
Glebe Terrier, Freshwater, 1608. St. John's Colledge Cambridge Archive.
This matches the glebe outlined in the Tithe Apportionment of 1839, showing that the lands belonging to the parish church remained the same from 1608 into the 19th century. The only difference is that by 1839, the church had lost 'stone wyne acres [Stone Wind acres]'. From both the 1608 glebe terrier and the 1839 tithe map, it can be ascertained that the rectory was situated in Stroud in Victoria Road. A Poor Rate Assessment for Freshwater in 1641 [OG/60/17] listed the tythings as 'Brooke & Compton, Afton, Sutton, Easton, Norton and Weston'. 'Mr Doctor Warburton' is listed as paying £6 - 05s. - 0d. for a property in Easton - the parsonage.

It was the rectors of the parish, who lived in the 'parsonage' near Stroud. This was a substantial building, situated in large grounds, which until the 19th century were predominantly agricultural in nature. In the inventory of John Kemp, rector of Freshwater between 1575 and 1587, the property was described as consisting of "the barne, the maulting howse, the backside, the bruhowse, the kitchen, the boultinge howse, the larder howse, the haule, the servants chamber over the haule, the new chamber, the new loft over the kytchin, the parler, his owne chamber over the parler, the maydens chamber, the Chapell chamber, the loft over the Chapell chamber, the gallerie above the steyres, the buttry"[Inventory of John Kemp 1587B49]. There seems to have been two tithe barns on the property at one time. By 1674, Mr Bullingham, the rector, was taxed for nine hearths. The parsonage was therefore a substantial building set among agricultural buildings (The inventory of John Kemp lists animals, crops and agricultural implements). Curates, such as John Hooke, were housed in rented houses, such as the one on Hook Hill. However, given that George Warburton was mainly non-resident, perhaps John Hooke began his curacy living in the parsonage. In the early 19th century, the rector, Canon Isaacson, had the old parsonage totally rebuilt. It is now a guest house.

1 = A Homely Record by Miss Emmerton. An account written by Miss Emmerton of Sunny Patch, Freshwater, of her memories of her life in Freshwater between the years 1875 - 1898. Written about 1936.
2 = A Homely Record by Miss Emmerton. An account written by Miss Emmerton of Sunny Patch, Freshwater, of her memories of her life in Freshwater between the years 1875 - 1898. Written about 1936.
3 = A Homely Record by Miss Emmerton. An account written by Miss Emmerton of Sunny Patch, Freshwater, of her memories of her life in Freshwater between the years 1875 - 1898. Written about 1936.
4 = Conversation by Eric Toogood with Mrs. Mary Drewitt, 13 April 1961 at Windmill Cottage, Summers Lane, Freshwater.