ROSL is situated over two houses; Vernon House and Rutland House. Vernon House is the property in which the Brabourne Room is located. The building is named after Admiral Edward Vernon whose family lived here.
He was the Admiral nicknamed ‘Old Grog’, after the shabby Gogram coat he wore, and his prescription of a daily ration of 80% water and 20% rum per man was adopted by the Navy to contain and reduce the terrible drunkenness prevalent at the time. (Grog is now used as a slang term for alcohol).
The house was entirely rebuilt in 1835 and again after a fire in 1905 by Lord Hillingdon, who gutted the interior, refurbishing the rooms in a lavish Edwardian style that was fashionable at the time. The panelled interiors and decorative plasterwork of the staircase, Drawing Room and Mountbatten Room demonstrate this interior decoration style.
Lord Hillingdon (Charles William Mills 2nd Baron Hillingdon), was born in 1855. He was Conservative Member of Parliament for Sevenoaks Kent from 1885 to 1892. He also served as a Deputy Lieutenant of Kent and was Commander of the Lieutenancy for the City of London.
Charles joined the family banking partnership of Glyn, Mills, Currie & Co in 1879 - one of the founding constituents of the Royal Bank of Scotland.
He devoted much time to improving his three principal residences: Vernon House in London; Hillingdon Court (the Mills family home since 1858); and Overstrand Hall.
Money was obviously no object to the Hillingdon’s and they made sure that the decoration of their home demonstrated this. The Brabourne room contains some interesting stucco decoration including the Hillingdon motif above the doorway (this motif can also be seen in the D-G’s office) and the vast ornate fireplace bearing the coat of arms of the Hillingdon Family. This includes a Latin inscription from Horace’s Epistle.
‘NIL CONSCRIRE SIB’ meaning ‘to have nothing on your conscience’
Lord Hillingdon died at home in London on 6 April 1919, aged 64. Sir Evelyn Wrench – ROSL’s founder subsequently purchased the property in for £45,000 from Lady Hillingdon in 1921, as a permanent War Memorial for Commonwealth soldiers. You’ll notice the memorial to the left of the main entrance to Vernon House.
Since ROSL purchased this property – the Brabourne Room has had a number of uses, originally it was the Restaurant, and then the main office until the 1980s dealing with members’ enquiries and travel requests. In the 1980’s after ROSL sold off property in Park Place, the membership office was transformed into the Buttery.
The Brabourne Room is named after Lady Brabourne CI, who was a long standing member of Central Council of the Over-Seas League: from 1943 until her untimely death in 1979.
Lady Brabourne was born The Lady Doreen Geraldine Browne, the daughter Marquess of Sligo. On 22 January 1919, she married Hon. Michael Knatchbull, who succeed his father as 5th Baron Brabourne on 15 February 1933. Doreen became The Lady Brabourne.
Lady Brabourne was related to Lord Mountbatten through her son’s marriage to his daughter the Countess Mountbatten of Burma.
Sadly on 27 August 1979, the dowager Lady Brabourne was seriously injured in an explosion which killed Lord Mountbatten (the father of her younger son's wife), their grandson Nicholas, and a local fishing boy Paul Maxwell, on Donegal Bay, County Sligo. A bomb had been planted in Lord Mountbatten's fishing boat by a member of the Provisional IRA. Lady Brabourne died the next day.
Her name is commemorated not only by this room, but by the eponymous Lady Brabourne College, which was established in 1939 as the first women's college for Muslim women in Calcutta, India.