Scaffolding surrounds the remains of the home of one of Wiltshire's leading familiesA VITAL part of west Wiltshire's and England's history will be lost if parts of Brook Hall are allowed to collapse.

The once-prominent prominent medieval manor house in Heywood, nestled between Westbury and Trowbridge, was the birthplace of a man whose role in bringing the first Tudor king to the English throne has been largely overlooked.

Baron Robert Willoughby de Broke one of only a handful of men to be installed as a Knight of the Garter and a close confidante of Henry VII was born and raised at Brook Hall.

Arguably one of the most illustrious people to come from west Wiltshire, during his lifetime he was accused of treason, given the task of rescuing a future queen of England and was pivotal in Henry VII's triumph at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

Conservationists are fighting to save the remaining part of his 15th century birthplace from collapse. Only the Early Wing, or Lodgings Range, of Brook Hall remains standing, although other buildings, including Brook Farm, have been added over time.

A Tudor time capsule, Brook Hall's place in history cannot be underestimated, with the Range built to host a whole manner of distinguished guests in the late 1400s.

Robert Willoughby de Broke was born in 1452 into a well-established family whose members considered themselves to have a background steeped in nobility.

His mother Anne Cheyne, a rich Wiltshire heiress, inherited Brook Hall from her wealthy parents, while his father John Willoughby claimed to have links to the Latimer baronetcy, but lost his claim to the title to another family.

After marrying Devon heiress Blanche Champernowne in 1472 he lived in Devon, where he became embroiled in land skirmishes typical of the chaos that existed during the War of the Roses.

His marriage lasted just eight years, with his 27-year-old wife dying from an unrecorded illness.

His links with Henry Tudor, the claimant to the English throne, were first forged in autumn 1483, when after supporting the abortive insurrection of the Duke of Buckingham against Richard III, Willoughby was accused of high treason and fled to France.

The exiles returned to England to fight at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485, where victory over Richard III heralded the Tudor era.

His status as a friend of royalty undoubtedly earned him great wealth, riches and national prominence.

The baron owned property in Devon, Dorset, Cornwall and Wiltshire but it was clear his birthplace remained close to his heart, for he appended the name de Broke to his title.

One of his last coups involved the purchase of Wardour Castle, near Salisbury, from Thomas Earl of Ormond in 1499, for the then princely sum of £500.

West Wiltshire's most famous son died on August 23 1502, and is buried in the Cornish town of Callington.

His son Robert, the 2nd Lord Willoughby de Broke, enjoyed none of his father's royal success and died without heirs, although his granddaughter Elizabeth subsequently became one of the greatest heiresses of her time.

The deeds of Brook Hall remain in the Wiltshire Record Office, while a letter written by the baron's father John Willoughby, from Brook Hall, is part of the Paston Letters collection held at the British Library.

Council may have to pay for rescue

CONSIDERED by English Nature to be one of the highest priority buildings at risk in the south west, the 15th century Early Wing or Lodgings Range is in danger of collapse despite work carried out three years ago.

An urgent works notice was issued in August 2001 and acted upon seven months later, to stop walls moving inwards.

Now a second notice has been issued by West Wiltshire District Council, with repair work estimated at £15,000.

The Hall's registered owners Mrs N Devi and Dr Kishore, are based in Malaysia and can only be reached through an agent, making any progress painfully slow. The rest of the complex, including Brook House Farm, is in split ownership.

The interior features are what make the building so special, with intact original Tudor ironwork and timbers .

Jenny Chesher, of English Heritage, said the building was top of its priority list.

"Category A is the highest risk category. It means we put every effort we can in to trying to find a solution," she said. "If the council is minded to move towards a compulsory purchase order the fragmented ownership issue would not be a problem.

"We are encouraging the council to consider this as a next course of action. Little progress seems to have been made with the owners."