HERCULES BRABAZON BRABAZON
The name Hercules Brabazon Brabazon would have been well known to all living in the village of Sedlescombe towards the end of the nineteenth century. He was the Squire and lived in the “big house" on the Oaklands Estate. Many cottagers would have looked to him, as to his father before him, for their employment. Hercules was born a “Sharpe" in 1821 in Paris, his parents being Hercules Sharpe and Anne Mary Brabazon. Hercules was given his mother’s maiden name as his second Christian name. His father’s family had lived for generations at Domons, Northiam but his mother’s family held estates in Co.Mayo in Ireland. In 1830, when Hercules was 9, they bought Hole Farm on the slopes of the Brede Valley in the Westfield/Sedlescombe area. Soon they demolished the house, built a new one to a design by the famous architect, Decimus Burton, and landscaped the park. Only the great chimney and part of the kitchen range remained from the old house. Hercules had a slightly older brother and a younger sister (another brother died in infancy). The older brother, William, was left the Brabazon estates in Co.Mayo on the death of an uncle but, when he himself died tragically young in his twenties, the estates passed to Hercules. One of the stipulations of their uncle’s will had been that both boys should assume the name of “Brabazon" as their surname in place of “Sharpe". And so Hercules Brabazon Sharpe changed his name to Hercules Brabazon Brabazon, or HBB, and became a man of independent means.
Hercules was gentle with a great love of music and art. He was a gifted pianist and, even as a boy, he loved to draw and study the beauty of colour in nature and to record in water colour scenes from his travels. As with many of the well-to-do of the day, Hercules spent much time travelling away from home and he painted scenes of Athens, Capri, Delhi, Cairo, Algiers, Geneva, Amiens and , particularly, Venice. At home, he continued to paint the scenes around him, for example “A Cottage in Sedlescombe", “A Stormy Sunset in Sussex " , “View at Oaklands" etc. One of his paintings of his favourite roses from his garden at Oaklands is in the Tate Gallery, along with 27 other paintings of his from around the world. HBB paintings are also listed at the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge, the National Gallery of Art, USA and the San Francisco Museum. As a wealthy man, he had no need to paint in order to live and appeared to have no desire to sell his works. Painting was a sheer joy to him. It was not until Hercules was 70 that he was persuaded to hold an Exhibition of his work at the Goupil Galleries after which his work was exhibited at the National Galleries of London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Paris and New York . After his death, he was described as “the best water colour painter since Turner".
He counted amongst his friends Gertrude Jekyll, who provided the decorations in his study at Oaklands, Lord Brassey, writers Henry James of Rye and Rudyard Kipling of Burwash. Also, skilful painter Marianne North from Hastings , who shared with him a love of the beauty of nature, travel and music. Back at home, despite much time spent away, he looked after the Oaklands Estate very well for almost fifty years. The Estate continued to expand so that, by the time of Hercules’s death in 1906, he was the owner of most of the houses in The Street, Sedlescombe, as well as the major farms at Hurst and Mabbs. He did not only buy the houses, but altered and expanded them, creating work for the men of the Village. HBB’s death at the age of 84 in 1906 was mourned by the entire Village. The Hastings & St Leonards Observer reported the most impressive funeral held in May of that year. The scene is described in “Twenty Centuries in Sedlescombe" with glass car, black-plumed horses, men in “round frocks" and gentry from neighbouring large houses, as well as the ordinary people from the Village. HBB had never married and his estate was left to his nephew Harvey Trewythen Brabazon Combe (1852-1923), with his large and carefully-catalogued collection of paintings going to his nephew’s wife, Amy Florence Combe. The same year as he died, 1906, in November and December, a memorial exhibition was held in the Goupil Gallery in London and the art critic Frederick Wedmore wrote a detailed preface about HBB. In Hastings Museum in 1907, under the auspices of the Hastings & St Leonards Museum Association, there was an exhibition of some one hundred of HBB’s painting, most lent by Amy Combe, but some also by John Sargent, the painter. Around 1909, Amy Combe opened “Ye Olde Oak and Iron Curiosity Shop" in memory of HBB. This sold old oak and iron work as well as woodcarving and embroidery by local people. In 1910, after, as she said, receiving daily demands for a place to see the work of Hercules Brabazon, Amy Combe in conjunction with the Committee of the Hastings Museum (HBB had been its Vice-President for 15 years) opened the Brabazon Gallery in the Tithe Barn, one of the family’s properties in The Street, Sedlescombe. As well as HBB’s paintings, there was an interesting collection of old iron, including man-traps. A large gathering including representatives of all the wealthy local families attended the Opening Ceremony and newspaper reports of the day were generous in their praise of Sedlescombe Village, HBB and the new Gallery.
After the war, things were just not the same for the gentry at Oaklands. Financial problems loomed large and, in the mid-1920s, keeping about one hundred in the Gallery, Amy Combe decided to sell most of the collection of paintings to raise funds. Three huge sales of paintings were held within 27 months and 3,200 of HBB’s watercolours, pastels and pencil sketches were sold. This glut of his work had a disastrous effect on his reputation. Many looked to the price of art as a measure of quality and HBB became worthless, for in the Bond Street Galleries, prices were as low as £1 per drawing. About the same time, the splitting up of the Oaklands Estate began with two large auctions of more than 50 lots. A study of the auction catalogues shows just how extensive the ownership of Village land and property had been in the days of HBB.
Lot 1 – The Cottage
Lot 2 – Brickwall House
Lot 3 – The Queen’s Head Meadow
Lot 4 – The New Manor House
Lot 5 – The Interesting Picturesque Black & White Manor House
Lot 6 – Battle View Cottage
Lot 7 – Brede Lane Cottages
Lot 8 – A freehold strip of garden ground in Brede Lane, Sedlescombe (Queen’s Head Meadow)
Lot 9 – The valuable freehold market garden ground
Lot 9a – Balcombe Green Cottages
Lot 10 – Three Post Office Cottages
Lot 11 – Asselton House
Lot 12 – The Smithy’s Holding
Lot 13 – A Plot of Garden Ground
Lot 14 – The pair of Old Plaster and Thatch Cottages
Lot 15 – Battle Barn Farm
Lot 16 – Waydown Cottages
Lot 17 – A capital block of Freehold Accommodation Land.
Herst (sic) House & 18 acres. A very attractive residence possessing considerable character, 3 Reception Rooms, 8 Bedrooms, Stables, Farm Buildings and very attractive garden. Brickwall House & 2 ½ acres. Upset price £2,900 – with Possession. 7 Bedrooms, 3 Reception Rooms, Several Outbuildings. The Old Manor House. Upset price £950. Early Seventeenth-Century Architecture, worthy of conversion as a private house. In good repair and pleasantly situated. Asselton House. Upset price £850 – with Possession. 6 Bedrooms, 2 Reception Rooms, Good Garden. Mabbs Farm, 84 acres. Small Holdings, Accommodation Lands, Building Sites, Cottages, and valuable Meadows. Total area 444 acres
Lot 1 – Brickwall House
Lot 2 – Pair of cottages adjoining Brickwall House
Lot 3 – Paddock adjoining Brickwall House
Lot 4 – Allotments
Lot 5 - The Manor House
Lot 6 – Accommodation land adjoining The Manor House
Lot 7 – Garden Ground
Lot 8 – Queen’s Head Meadow
Lot 9 – Asselton House
Lot 10 – Street Farm
Lot 11 – Four Cottages at Sedlescombe Bridge
Lots 12 and 13 – accommodation land at Brede Lane
Lot 14 – Mabbs Farm, Sedlescombe
Lot 15 – Six enclosures of land adjoining Mabbs Farm
Lot 16 – Pair of cottages adjoining Mabbs Farm
Lot 17 – Buildings and land by Mabbs Farm
Lot 18 – Tolhurst Wood
Lot 19 – Herst House, Sedlescombe
Lot 20 – Bungalow Cottage adjoining Herst House
Lot 21 – Woodlands and Lands by Herst House
Lot 22 – Pair of Cottages in Herst Lane
Lots 23 and 24 – Woodlands and Pasture by Herst House
Lot 25 – Ditto with frontage to Brede Lane
Lot 26 – Accommodation Lane in Brede Lane
Lots 27 and 28 – Accommodation Lane adjoining Brede Lane
Lot 29 – Valuable Meadows at Sedlescombe Bridge
Lot 30 – Pair of Cottages on the main road
Lot 31 – Important Building Land
Lot 32 – Waydown Wood
Lot 33 – Accommodation Land adjoining Waydown Wood
Lot 34 – Valuable Corner Site
Lot 35 – Building Land.
The following year, in 1926, there was another large auction of The Brickwall and Hurst House Estates. Over a hundred years later, HBB’s initials can still be seen etched into the front of houses in the Village, which he altered and extended. These serve as a lasting reminder of a man who was so much part of Sedlescombe Village life.
See also other websites eg Chris Beetles website and the Brabazon Archive