The story of the Manor of Hever Brocas starts about 1350 when the younger daughter of Thomas de Hevre, of Hever Castle, married Sir Oliver Brocas whose family had originally come from Gascony. Oliver’s brother Bernard fought alongside the Black Prince at Poitiers and Creçy. He was Master of the Royal Buckhounds and Controller of Calais, and his monument is in Westminster Abbey, against the wall of St Edmund’s Chapel. His son, also Bernard, was executed by Henry IV in 1400, and is mentioned in Shakespeare’s King Richard II where Lord Fitzwafter says to King Henry:
My Lord, I have from Oxford sent to London, the heads of Brocos and Sir Rennet Seely, two of the dangerous consorted traitors that sought at Oxford thy dire overthrow.
Sir Oliver and his wife Margaret both died of the Black Death in 1363, a plague which is said to have killed a third of the population. They left a son, John, who became head of the Hever branch of the family, and inherited the estate which included Broxham. John died, unmarried, at the age of 27, as told in the following story from Family of Brocas and Beaurepaire by Burrows:
The tactics of the French were to make petty descents on this place and that, then rapidly depart One day in September 1377, pursuing this policy, some French ships landed their mercenaries at Rottingdean, who proceeded to burn the defenceless homesteads. No troops were at hand, probably because there was no money in the exchequer to pay them. However, a little inland at Lewes is the Priory. The Prior is the man for the occasion and rushes down to the coast. He is accompanied by his servants, brave fellows picked up on the way, two knights, Sir John Falislee and Sir Thomas Cheyne of Syliards, and by John Brocas, who is only arminger or esquire. One hundred men are lost in the fighting and the rest are made captive on board the French ships. Of John Brocas we hear no more than that, soon afterwards, the King’s escheators find that he is dead perhaps of his wounds, perhaps of the stench of some noisome dungeon.
Upon the death of John in 1377, Brocas and Broxham passed to Sir Bernard Brocas and then to his son, Bernard. This Bernard is the one mentioned by Shakespeare who supported Richard II’s claim to the throne. However, he was not beheaded at Oxford but at Tyburn when he returned to London in 1400.
From this date Hever Brocas was in the possession of the Lords of the Manor of Hever Cobham (Hever Castle), later owned by Sir Thomas Bulleyn, c1500 and then by Henry VIII after Anne Bulleyn’s death, and then gifted to Lady Anne Cleve in 1540. Sir Edward Waldegrave followed in 1557 and Sir Timothy Waldo in 1745.
Brocas Manor probably became independent of Hever Castle around 1900 when the first Lord Astor bought the castle. Brocas came into the ownership of the Kents who named the property, with its 100 acres, Brocas Farm.
Our Voyage of discovery commenced in Hever Church via a booklet by Robert Gunnis and another by John Eastman:- Historic Hever. From there to Sevenoaks Library where we found a Rental for the manor of Hever Brocas, dated 1420, being a court record of tenant’s rents paid in the form of eggs, chickens and so on. Also in the library was Hampshire and the Isle of Wight by Fitzgerald, which led us to the family seat at Beaurepaire, near Basingstoke and the family church at Sherborne St John, with its Brocas Chapel. A visit to the County Archives at Maidstone where they have a copy of Hasted’s The History of Kent (1778) confirmed our historical notes of the Brocas family.
At this point a friend obtained, on our behalf, The Family of Brocas of Beaurepaire and Roche Court by Burrows dated 1886 at a Tunbridge Wells bookshop. We learned of the family’s origin in what is now the Landes district of France, but our limited French in 1969 made it impossible to pursue our enquiries in the village of Brocas.
The Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England, in a recent book, confirms that Brocas has two medieval phases of building, the first, circa 1390, is a three-bay, two-storey cross wing, jettied at the front, with the rear half originally open to the roof and containing smoke-blackened timbers. The front half has a flared crown post over an upper room. The second phase, circa 1524, was formerly an open two-bay hall with smoke bay, crown post and blackened timbers. Further building was carried out to the north-west, possibly in the nineteenth century, and major alterations were made around 1900.
After the Kents who appear to have been living at The Bower in 1891, we have little information on the owners. In 1891 the head of the household was Avis Williams, widow, followed later by Col Willoughby and Mr Shepherd.
During the last war, Brocas was farmed by a Mr Reid who sold the property to Mr Moxham, a Sundridge cattle dealer. He left the house empty and in 1946 it was requisitioned by Sevenoaks-Council who divided it into three flats, one of which was occupied by Doug and Hazel Thompson. It was again left empty in 1955, and in 1956 Douglas noticed its dilapidated state and the fact that it was for sale. In 1957, to his amazement, Una expressed a desire to make Brocas their home, largely because the garden offered such a challenge. Thirty-years later they were still there with the renovations still going on.
Douglas and Una Higgs