As a modern museum with a Wizard’s Attic and galleries of exhibits, it is easy to forget that Hove Museum was once a family home.
The building was constructed in the 1870s as the home of John Olliver Vallance. It was named Brooker Hall in memory of his later father, John Brooker Vallance.
The Vallances were a prominent and wealthy Hove family with its traditional seat at Hove Manor (now demolished) in nearby Hove Street. Vallance seems to have built this house as a personal residence to share with his new wife Emma, and the couple had three children while living there.
As might be expected of the local gentry, Brooker Hall was often used for galas and other social events. Vallance died in in 1893 but his wife and children continued the tradition. By the time of the First World War the family members had all moved away but the building continued to be used for civic events.
On 14 July 1915, Brooker Hall was used as the scene of an elaborate fundraising event. The grounds were transformed into a mock Romany encampment as part of a ‘Gypsy Phantasy’, with the Vallance family and other guests dressed in various forms of folk costume. While we might find the language and cultural appropriation uncomfortable today, it received a rave review in the Brighton Season which considered it a ‘delightfully picturesque idea’.
The house was also used to entertain wounded soldiers, many of whom were patients at the hospital set up in the local grammar school (now BHASVIC). But here the entertainments seem to have turned sour for the family. According to Hove historian Judy Middleton, Emma Vallance’s daughter-in-law began an affair with a convalescing Canadian soldier, leading to the breakup of her son’s marriage.
Brooker Hall’s social life seems to have ended at around this time. By 1918 it was used to house German prisoners of war, who were made to work at the nearby gas works (where the large Tesco stands today).
Following Emma Vallance’s death in 1924, the empty and slightly dilapidated Brooker Hall was sold to Hove Council. It opened as Hove Museum in 1927.
While it may offer a very different sort of entertainment than the social events held by the Vallance family, it has continued to play a role in Hove life for almost a century. We look forward to reopening and welcoming visitors back.
Kevin Bacon & Dan Robertson