12 January 2016

Brunswick Square Gardens, Hove

Judy Middleton (2001 revised 2012)

Under an agreement with the Revd Thomas Scutt, the freeholder, the proprietors were allowed to use the central garden enclosure from the time houses were built. The Brunswick Square Act 1830 placed the arrangement on a more formal footing and in that year a garden rate was levied for the first time. It was quite distinct from the general rate. It was fixed at three pence in the pound and covered the six months from 9th April to 9th October 1830, the amount being determined by George Philcox Hill, clerk to the Brunswick Square Commissioners. At first only the occupants of Brunswick Square and Brunswick Place (south of Western Road) were allowed access but at one of the earliest meetings of the Commissioners it was decided to allow the residents of Brunswick Terrace to use the gardens for an annual fee of one guinea.
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Brunswick Square Gardens 

A gardener was employed at a wage of 18/- a week but the day constable assisted him with the weeding and rolling of the lawns. The latter was one of the three watchmen previously mentioned but they earned the same wage as the gardener in any case. The wages did not rise very fast. The Sussex Daily News (24th January 1895) carried an advertisement ‘Wanted an active Man to act as a Gardener and take care of the Brunswick Square Enclosure. Wages 24/- a week’.

There were strict rules governing the use of the gardens. One forbade the use of pattens, which were wooden shoes mounted on an iron ring. They were much favoured by ladies wishing to keep their feet dry and the hems of their dresses free from mud in the days before there were proper pavements. On manicured lawns a pair of pattens would probably have caused as much damage as stiletto heels on a parquet floor. Another rule prevented horses from being tied up to the railings, Wild West style, in case they popped their heads over the railings and ate the shrubs. There was once a lovely magnolia tree and in April 1849 Prince Metternich particularly admired it. A novel experiment occurred on 28th August 1840 when the band of Prince Albert’s Hussars gave a concert in the gardens. The fashionable throng enjoyed it but strangely enough no other band played there until July 1856 when the Commissioners resolved to allow the Royal Pavilion Band to give a performance every third Wednesday evening.

Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) poet and social reformer, whose family home was at number 45, remembered with fondness the large garden overrun by all the children of the surrounding houses despite the efforts of the gardener and the authorities. Dr Rex Binning, who lived in the square in the 1930s, recalled the sedate tea parties held in the gardens in the summer months.

The gardens continued to be private until World War II altered the situation. The Government removed the iron railings for use as scrap metal but only allowed Hove Council compensation of 25/- a ton. This was nowhere near the cost of replacement, which in 1945 was estimated at £768. Meanwhile, privacy had vanished and anybody was at liberty to walk in the gardens although the furious residents were still required to pay a special garden rate. Hove Council asked property owners and residents in the square for their opinion as to the best course of action and the majority were in favour of making the enclosure a public garden. It was estimated it would cost £213 to restore the gardens with the annual cost of maintenance put at £328. In 1946 by a special Act of Parliament, Hove Council took over control of Brunswick Square Gardens together with other private enclosures and gardens in Hove.

On 10th January 1946 the Watch Committee proposed establishing parking spaces in Brunswick Square and Brunswick Place, principally to relieve congestion in Western Road. Alderman EJJ Thompson remarked there had been tanks parked in the square during the war and anyway he would like opponents to name a more suitable place. The proposed parking would extend down and along three sides of the gardens. On 22nd July 1946 a protest meeting was held at Diocesan Church House at 9 Brunswick Square and residents decided to appeal against the car parking plans. Lieutenant Colonel Sir Cecil Levita, a long time resident of the square presided over the meeting and one of the committee members was Dr Rex Binning, later to be chairman of Hove Civic Society. Eric Gillett, broadcaster and journalist, also lived in the square and was another vigorous opponent. Twenty-four owners and occupiers in Brunswick Place and 213 owners and occupiers in Brunswick Ssquare objected to the proposals, which were finally defeated by a large majority.

A notorious problem in the gardens, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, was dog fouling, which aroused heated feelings on both sides. In the days before poop scoops, the social attitude of dog owners was quite relaxed – in other words most dogs were allowed to do what they liked where they liked. Hove Council hit on a peculiar solution to the problem; this was the infamous dog toilet, a specially designed space complete with model lamp-post, which it was hoped (somewhat optimistically) dogs would use. John Slater complained that such an innovation contravened section 113 of the Brunswick Square Act (1830). Be that as it may, the dog toilet was not a roaring success and was soon removed. The dog issue was not resolved satisfactorily until 1993 when new railings were installed and dogs were banned altogether.

copyright © J.Middleton
 Brunswick Square Gardens looking west 
Besides the dog fouling issue, the garden had become quite run down by the 1980s. In fact there was not much to look at. A photograph dating from the 1950s shows a number of healthy trees and bushes in the central lawn with plants and small shrubs on the sides bordering the road. In July 1981 Jack Humphreys, Hove’s director of parks and gardens, explained why trees did not fare well in the gardens. He stated when trees were planted around 80 years ago, the beach was long and shelving, which meant salt spray did not travel so far. But today in a storm, spray could rise to a height of 70 feet and be flung into the square. This was why trees only survived on the western side where buildings provided some protection against the prevailing south-westerly winds.

In February 1991 an appeal was launched to restore the gardens. The £160,000 project included new shrubs and hedges and the replacement of iron railings. Hove Council and East Sussex County Council had already contributed sizeable amounts and it was hoped English Heritage would give £40,000. That left a shortfall of £25,000, which Hove planners hoped might be donated from local firms and businesses. Later some money also came from the Hove & Brighton Urban Conservation Award. Railings were installed in 1992 but not to the entire satisfaction of the Council who, in October of that year, recalled the contractors to repair faults and eliminate rust. Finally, by August 1993 the project was completed and Peter Martin, Mayor of Hove, and Councillor Bob Allan, chairman of the Conservation Board, marked the event by sitting in a 1914 model-T Ford at the south end of the square’s gardens.

During the 1990s the gardens played host to a series of Heritage Open Days, organised by Nick Tyson of the Regency Town House. In September 1995 more than 6,000 people visited the gardens to see more than 50 craftsmen demonstrating their skills. In September 1996 the number of craftspeople taking part rose by 50% and the number of visitors shot up to 15,000. In 1998 the event was staged over two days in September (15th and 16th) and there was over 14,000 square feet of marquees. The idea was that visitors had the opportunity to see the type of skills used to build Regency homes. There were demonstrations of stone carving, slate cutting, brick making, glazing, carving, gilding and plastering. In 1999 visitors were able to view the delicate art of wallpaper conservation as well as more heavy-duty skills such as iron forging and lead casting.

Brunswick Square Fountain

In 1860 George Ballard presented this public drinking fountain to Brunswick Square. Ballard was a merchant who came originally from Slough and lived at 37 Lansdowne Place from around 1849 to around 1866. 
copyright © J.Middleton 
Brunswick Square Fountain

The fountain was constructed of Portland stone with a panel and basin of rose marble. Metal rings on either side of the basin used to hold chains securing metal cups but vandals have long since ripped these out. The fountain was unusual in having two little basins for the use of animals on either side at the base but all that can be seen today are two pedestal-like structures.

The fountain used to stand south of the square overlooking Kingsway. In March 1979 a small paragraph in the local Press was headed ‘No coins for this Fountain’ with the news that Hove Council was prepared to let it rot where it was. It was estimated it would only cost £1,500 to restore and three-quarters of the cost would be covered by conservation grants. By the early 1980s it was claimed the fountain had been damaged by traffic vibration, frost and vandalism. Hove Council had a change of heart saying the fountain would be re-sited and restored but nothing much happened. In 1987 moves for the restoration finally got under way with Hove Civic Society providing publicity leaflets, which recorded that Messrs Tilley’s, the old established stonemasons, were prepared to do the work for a reasonable amount. The cost was put at £2,000 but probably the final bill was higher because the fountain was not restored until 1992 when it was also removed to stand within the Brunswick Square gardens. The gold-lettered inscription on the south side was restored to its former glory and reads Public Drinking Fountain presented by Geo. Ballard 1860. There is also a plaque on the north side that reads This drinking fountain was restored in 1992 by public donations, Hove Council and a grant from the Department of the Environment.

In September 2010 Laurie Keen in his Saturday column in the Argus pointed out that the Ballard fountain has a ‘twin’ in Brighton. It has the same shape, the same rose pink marble, the same basin and gilt lettering too. Most probably, one stonemason was responsible for both of them but his name is unknown at present. William Blaber paid for the Brighton fountain and it was erected in 1859, being placed on the wall of the North Gate of the Royal Pavilion. 

Copyright © J.Middleton 2012
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