Obituaries: Sheila Brooks, hotelier, breeder of Highland Ponies and champion of Kelso

Helen Sheila Drysdale Brooks, hotelier and Highland Pony breeder. Born: 29 March, 1938 in Dunfermline. Died: 4 April, 2024 in Kelso, aged 86

A chance encounter at Sheila Brooks’ 18th birthday party completely changed the course of her future.

A young agricultural student, she was training for a career as a farmer and planning some overseas experience on a Canadian ranch when hotelier and decorated war hero Alastair Brooks walked into her life during the celebrations.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

They married two years later and she soon realised that if she wanted to see her husband, who was putting in long hours at the family hotel Ednam House in Kelso, she would have to join him. From then on they made an exceptional team as she multi-tasked as office manager and receptionist, relief housekeeper, produce buyer, store keeper and launderer – much of the time while also bringing up a family of three.

Sheila Brooks served as president of the Highland Pony Society in 2001-02Sheila Brooks served as president of the Highland Pony Society in 2001-02
Sheila Brooks served as president of the Highland Pony Society in 2001-02

She would also establish a highly successful Highland Pony stud, become a respected pony judge and champion of her local community, all achieved with modesty and without fanfare.

Born in Fife, to farmer David Thomson and his wife Helen, she shared her mother’s Christian name but was always known as Sheila. Growing up during the Second World War, she recalled prisoners of war working on the farm and fruit canned on their own premises being returned as part of a ration package from Canada.

Educated at Dollar Academy and St Leonards School, she was a horse-mad youngster and when the family moved to Cessford in the Scottish Borders in 1948 her love of ponies continued with the Pony Club and the College Valley Hunt. She was also involved in the Young Farmers and was once a terrified passenger in a car driven by a young Jim Clark, the legendary racing driver, during a Young Farmers’ treasure hunt.

She worked as a dairy hand in Berwickshire and studied agriculture in Edinburgh, heading on a seemingly inexorable path to becoming a farmer – until that meeting with her future husband, a Korean War Veteran who, as a National Serviceman with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, had been awarded the Military Cross for gallantry under fire.

Alastair had been born in Ednam House, the hotel bought by his grandfather, run by his parents and then subsequently by him. He and Sheila married in 1958 and she was involved in a multitude of aspects of hotel life until the arrival of their three children, Lesley, Charles and Ralph, when she devoted herself to motherhood full-time.

By the early 1970s, as the children were growing up, she became fully involved once more, keeping the wheels turning behind the scenes as her husband fulfilled the role of front-of-house host. Both enormously capable hoteliers, guests nevertheless realised that she was the one to go to when something needed done: she memorably closed the purchase of a flat at The Dorchester for an American grouse shooter while the guest enjoyed a day out on a remote moor.

Together, the couple revamped the entire property, buying antique furniture and other items for the bedrooms and visiting sale rooms, junk and antique shops during their time off, resulting in Sheila becoming an avid collector. They also steered it through some difficult times but it was always Sheila who was always the business brains keeping things going.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Meanwhile, never one to sit still and despite being an intensely private individual, she was also public spirited and a dedicated, key figure in the local community. She was a founding member of the organisation Charity Begins At Home Kelso and of Kelso and District Amenity Society, in which she was instrumental in preventing proposed changes to the town centre in the 1970s which would have drastically altered the face of Kelso. She was a member of the Citizens Advice Bureau specialising in debt counselling, a Deputy Lieutenant of Roxburghshire, Ettrick and Lauderdale and a Justice of the Peace in Jedburgh for more than a decade, involved in training Scottish JPS.

However, her lifelong passion was ponies and in 1972 she established Corriegarth Stud, later known as Ednam House Stud, developing a Highland Pony bloodline. She enjoyed great success, particularly in the breeding of riding ponies and was first elected to the Highland Pony Society council in 1978. She served as president in 2001-02, during which time Highland Ponies were recognised as rare by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, chaired the Scottish Equine Breeders’ Association and sat on the Highland Pony Society’s judges’ panel for many years. She was also a significant influence on the future of the National Pony Society, serving several terms on its council and as chairman in 2008. She was on its Mixed Mountain and Moorland judges’ panel at Star level and played a key role in leading the native pony industry through the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) 2006 Act, the Horse Passport legislation and equine ID regulations. In 2017 the British Horse Society presented her with an award in recognition of her lifetime’s work.

Her loss to the pony and horse world is keenly felt and has elicited countless heartfelt tributes to a kind, knowledgeable, influential and inspirational woman.

Predeceased by her husband, she is survived by her children and eight grandchildren.


If you would like to submit an obituary (800-1000 words preferred, with jpeg image), contact [email protected]

Related topics:



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.