Jo Roche has researched and written this introduction to the life and times of Sir Richard Christopher Brooke, 9th Baronet of Norton Priory, Cheshire, who lived at the Elms, Abberley, for many years.
Sir Richard Christopher Brooke, 9th Baronet of Norton Priory, Cheshire was born 8th August 1881, educated at Eton and succeeded to his title on 30th September 1920. He graduated from Christ Church, Oxford University in 1923 with a Master of Arts and gained the rank of Lieutenant whilst serving in the Scots Guards. He was a County Councillor (1928-46) and High Sheriff of Worcestershire, Justice of the Peace and held the office of Deputy Lieutenant (D.L.) between 1931 and 1946.
He married Marian Dorothea Innes-Cross at the beginning of September 1912 and they went on to have two children Audley Marian in 1913 and Richard Neville 1st May 1915.
The family had lived at Norton, Cheshire since 1545 when the then Sir Richard purchased the Manor of Norton and the surviving structures of the Abbey which had suffered as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries nine years previously. Sir Richard had had constructed a fine Tudor mansion on the site incorporating part of the Abbey. This was replaced in 18th Century by a Georgian house.
The Industrial Revolution began to encroach on the estate with canals and railways carving their way through it culminating in the arrival of the Manchester Shipping Canal which divided the estate. Chemical works sprang up nearby and Lady Brooke complained that she could not bear to open the windows and the family sued for damage to plants and trees, general discomfort and loss of rental income.
Richard C Brooke, their only son and heir, was a racehorse breeder and took out a lease on The Elms, Abberley in 1916 and embarked on developing the Abberley Stud. His name littered the racing newspapers of the day and his most famous horse, King Salmon, won the ‘Eclipse Stakes’ at Sandown Park in July 1934 by two and a half lengths and in record time. For additional information about the racing career of Sir Richard’s horse, King Salmon, see Kate’s blog about the 1933 and 1934 Derby.
Sir Richard’s mother had moved out of Norton Priory after the death of her husband in 1920 and he decided to vacate Norton Priory permanently in favour of Abberley. On the 28th September 1927 he purchased ‘The Elms’ for the sum of £6,500 including “shrubberies, gardens and entrance lodge coachman’s cottage outbuildings appurtenances” along with Pool House Farm (green on the map) and a field on the opposite side of the Worcester/Tenbury road which had been part of Home Farm.
He added two wings to the building and incorporated several architectural features including fireplaces and doorways from Norton Abbey into the additions. On the morning of April 25th, 1929 a large part of the building was destroyed by fire; however, the firemen got control before it could spread to the newer additions and Sir Richard implemented the rebuilding of the central block.
Sir Richard Brooke assumed the mantle of local Squire in an attempt to perpetuate the social hierarchy within the rural community. This was supported by the middle classes of Abberley, in particular, the members of the Parish and District Council, who can be seen in photographs from this era alongside Sir Richard and Lady Brookes.
The Brookes remained at ‘The Elms’ until 1946 when it was sold and turned into a country house hotel.