In search of Captain Hoste

Local author Tom Pocock, the late father of MEHM Trust chairman Laura Pocock Faulks, wrote many books on the life and times of Lord Nelson. Here Laura presents a personal memoir of her father’s quest to write a biography of Nelson’s protégé Captain Sir William Hoste, and how she herself came to settle in Stanhoe.

In 2012 Brendan Hopkins, the then owner of the Hoste Arms in Burnham Market, had the idea of hosting an annual Trafalgar Dinner to commemorate Nelson, Norfolk’s most famous son, and his naval victory in 1805. Brendan had read my father’s book ‘Remember Nelson’, a biography of the Admiral’s protégé Captain Sir William Hoste, and asked me to say a few words. My mother suggested I tell the story of how it the book came about. This is what I said:

My father, Tom Pocock, set about writing this biography of Hoste in 1975 on the suggestion of Lady Margaret Douglas-Home, founder of the Burnham Market Festival. Lady Margaret had just read ‘The Memoirs and Letters of Captain Sir William Hoste’, edited by his widow and published in 1833. She thought an up-to-date book on this lesser-known Norfolk hero was in order. My father had already written biographies of Nelson, so this seemed an interesting idea.

A copy of “Remember Nelson” in front of a framed print of Nelson

A copy of “Remember Nelson”, with its cover picture of William Hoste, and Nelson himself behind. This is Robert Sargent Austin’s patriotic 1943 colour print inspired by the 1797 portrait by Lemuel Francis Abbott.

The postcard

Trawling archives including the Public Record Office, the National Maritime Museum, the Holkham estate and the State Archives of Dubrovnik in Yugoslavia produced a fairly comprehensive picture of Hoste’s career. However, my father still did not have not much on the man himself. For fear of producing a dry, academic tome on naval strategy, he was on the verge of abandoning the whole project, despondent that many months of research had gone to waste. Until, one morning, onto the doormat of our home in Burnham Overy Staithe dropped a postcard.

On it was written, in capitals, by the historian Oliver Warner:


The timing couldn’t have been more extraordinary.

Huge disappointment

My father rushed to London to meet his publisher, Sir William Collins, and the National Maritime Museum with a view to raising the funds to buy Sir William’s papers for the nation. They left a bid – one and a half times the estimate – and waited with bated breath.

Huge disappointment followed when they were outbid significantly. The papers were set to disappear back into private hands, perhaps for another hundred or so years.

The stamp collector

Reluctant to give up on the prize that had been so tantalisingly close, further digging revealed that the collection had been bought by a stamp dealer in Fleet Street – solely because of the rare franking on many of the letters.

My father approached the dealer, whose name rather aptly was Mr Franks. He could not have been more obliging. He generously allowed my dad to take the entire collection to be microfilmed by the National Maritime Museum. He also donated the most important historical letters to the museum. The documents and letters were packed with first-hand accounts and were a wealth of the sort of information invaluable to a biographer.

So you can imagine the relief and excitement my father felt when ‘Remember Nelson: The Life of Captain Sir William Hoste’ was finally published two years later, in 1977.

The very first copy my father received from the publisher raised over £300 as a raffle prize for The Norfolk Hospice, Tapping House. The book is dedicated to me, then aged five and oblivious to the whole drama that led up to its publication.

Laura holding a copy of Tom Pocock’s book about Nelson

Laura with one of her father’s books about Nelson – others are on the bookshelf behind

Back to Norfolk roots

I moved back to Norfolk in 2010 when I opened my gallery in Burnham Market. Some years later when I was looking for somewhere to buy, Stanhoe offered itself as a possibility. It was close to work, but not too close, and still within easy reach of the beaches and Burnham Overy Staithe where I grew up. I came to look round a house on Parsons Lane, and afterwards took a stroll round the village.

When I popped into the church, from the walls emerged monument after monument to the Hoste family. I knew from that moment I was destined to live in Stanhoe. It was only after I’d bought the house and had been living here for some time that I discovered how Parsons Lane got its name.

For a period during the 19th century, the rector of Stanhoe was the Reverend Philip Ward, who was the husband of Lord Nelson’s daughter Horatia. They lived in a house on land up what is now Parsons Lane.

My father, who went on to write a further nine biographies of Nelson, passed away in 2007. He therefore wasn’t party to any of these coincidences – or perhaps he was? Anyway, I feel very at home in Stanhoe and I know he would be really pleased I am settled here.