12 January 2016

Brunswick Square, Hove

Judy Middleton (2001 revised 2012)

The land on which Brunswick Square was built once formed part of Wick Farm (later known as the Wick Estate) and it belonged to the Revd Thomas Scutt. But in 1825 (the same year in which building operations began) a portion was sold to Thomas Read Kemp. It would be wrong to visualize the Brunswick site as a pastoral idyll because it was in fact a brickyard covered with heaps of clay and ashes and ruined sheds – all in all the land presented a dreary and dismal aspect. To the nearby inhabitants the most annoying part was the fumes arising from brick kilns. An 1824 print depicting the Hove area as seen from the sea with sailing ships in the foreground, shows four kilns with smoke billowing from three of the four large chimneys, not far from the Brighton boundary. The rest of Hove is shown as fields. The brickyard was an advantage for the builders of course because the bricks to be used were right on site. The earth removed when the foundations were being dug replaced the depleted brick earth in the centre.
copyright © J.Middleton 
Brunswick Square 

On 11th November 1824 an agreement was drawn up between the Revd Thomas Scutt and Charles Augustin Busby to the effect that the latter was authorised to design and build the houses in Brunswick Square and Terrace. It was previously thought Brunswick Town was the joint effort of Busby and Amon Henry Wilds – a logical conclusion since they were business partners. In fact Wilds’ name did appear on the agreement but it was heavily crossed out and on the back Wilds signed a statement that the work was to be Busby’s alone. Busby must have thought he was about to make his fortune. On paper the terms were generous and when the houses were built Busby was to have numbers 19 to 44 for himself. However, by the close of 1825 the economic climate had changed and the local building boom started to lose impetus.

Busby’s first important commission at the age of only 23 was to design the Commercial Coffee Rooms at Bristol. In 1811 he married Louise Mary Williams; a son was born in 1814 and a daughter arrived in 1817. Also in 1817 Busby found it advisable to travel to the United States after the roof of one of the buildings he designed, collapsed. In America he developed an interest in steam-boats, inventing a new paddle-wheel; he also studied bridge construction and drew up plans for state penitentiaries. In 1819 he returned to England and in 1823 Thomas Read Kemp persuaded him to move to Brighton where he set up an architectural practice with Amon Henry Wilds in 1823.

The partnership was short-lived, being dissolved in 1825, but not before they had designed Lewes Crescent and Sussex Square in Brighton and the Masonic Temple in Queen’s Road. It was a huge disappointment to them when they were placed second in a competition to design St Peter’s Church in Brighton – the award went to a young Charles Barry instead. Even more of an affront to Busby’s feelings was when Charles Barry was chosen to design St Andrew’s Church, Waterloo Street, adjacent to the estate with which he was so closely associated. Busby did design other churches in the area, notably St George’s in Kemp Town, and St Margaret’s Chapel, Brighton, both of them in a Greek revival style.

copyright © J.Middleton 
C.A.Busby Blue Plaque
As for Brunswick Town, which remains his greatest achievement, his work involved the design of Brunswick Square, Brunswick Terrace, Brunswick Street East, Brunswick Street West and Lansdowne Place. His large market house, however, was not a success.

In 1829 Busby moved with his family to a house in Stanhope Place, which later became 2 Lansdowne Place. A blue plaque now marks the house. At the back of the house a passage led to his drawing office, a lofty, arched chamber with large windows. The true nature of this small building has only recently come to light; it is now called Brunswick Cottage and is situated in Brunswick Street West.

Busby was one of the original Brunswick Square Commissioners when that body was established in 1830. He was honoured by being given the title of High Commissioner of Hove. His efforts in Brunswick Town should have been a financial advantage to him and his family but instead he overstretched himself. Finally in 1833 bankruptcy proceedings were instigated against him. He owed £12,600 – mostly to friends who had backed his venture and even the wages of two female servants went unpaid. His friends rallied around and saved the situation although the family was virtually penniless. When Busby died on 18th September 1834 his entire estate was worth less than £200. His funeral was held at St Andrew’s Old Church, Hove, and he was buried in the churchyard there. As a final ignominy, while the tomb of Amon Henry Wilds is splendidly preserved in St Nicolas’s Churchyard, Brighton, poor Busby’s tombstone was obliterated and his body lies somewhere beneath the playing field of St Andrew’s Church of England School.

The foundations of Brunswick Square were laid in 1825 although the Brighton Gazette had mentioned the existence of plans two years earlier. Work on Brunswick Terrace started in 1824. It is difficult to state definitely which part of Brunswick Square was finished first; Porter states it was the house on the south-west corner while Bishop favours the house on the south-east corner. The square consists of 58 houses but number 58 was not built until around 1875 so perhaps Porter means number 57. Antony Dale was of the opinion that numbers 7, 2, 47 and 52, which have narrower and more bulging fronts, were later infillings and that the original plan was to leave their sites vacant to act as passages.

Neil Bingham does not agree and believes the four houses in question were in fact contemporary with their neighbours. However, there is a difficulty. According to the declaration of George Lynn (whose uncle Charles built some of the houses) Brunswick Square was re-numbered in 1831. Why should it need to be re-numbered unless extra houses were added? For instance number 8 became number 10 and number 16 became number 17.

copyright © J.Middleton 
The east side of Brunswick Square 
Busby designed the square not as identical units but as a unified series with some individual variations. For example when the roof level changed (the square is set out on a slope) the fa├žade details often changed too. Some houses have Ionic columns, others do not while the houses on the north side (numbers 26-29 and 30-33) have flat fronts and Corinthian pilasters. The houses in the main part of the square have either small porches with fluted Doric columns or larger porches with Ionic columns.

House building was not without incident. The foundations of the house on the south-east were suddenly overcome by an influx of seawater while on 12th November 1825 a house in the north-east angle collapsed with a crash – fortunately the workmen were at lunch and nobody was hurt. But on 6th September 1826 Mr Cooper was killed when he fell from the first floor of a house, striking his head on a window frame. Apparently, he was trying to climb up further by catching hold of some projecting bricks but one broke. It was a risky procedure particularly since Mr Cooper was 70 years old.

Brunswick Square was completed by 1842 and in order to ensure its up-market status, it was stipulated that no trade or business might be carried on there. In 1848 there were twelve furnished houses to let out of a total stock of 57 properties. This differed markedly from Brunswick Terrace where half the houses were let. At first the houses in the square were slow to sell but some of them became family homes for many years, like the Westphals at number 2, the Polhills at number 17, the Beaumonts at number 19, the Gores at number 26, the Elliotts at number 31, the Newberrys at number 36 and the Carpenters at number 45.

  copyright © J.Middleton
Brunswick Square
Police Force
In addition to the gardens, Brunswick Square residents were provided with their own watchmen who were the forerunners of a police force. At first there were just three men but another was added later on. The men wore a uniform composed of a black top hat with a white band, a black tailcoat with contrasting red collar and a pair of white trousers. They were also provided with a wooden truncheon with hand-painted decoration and at least two of them survive to this day. One is to be found in Hove Museum and is dated to around 1858, while another also dating from the 1850s fetched £423 at auction in 2010. The Trustees of the Sussex Police Museum purchased the truncheon and were very pleased with their acquisition.

Another uniform seen about the square was the livery worn by the sedan chair bearers; residents subscribed to purchase a handsome sedan chair for their use. At around the same time the enterprising residents formed their own book club called Brunswick Book Club. Their spiritual needs were met by the building of St Andrew’s Church in Waterloo Street and their material needs were catered for in the covered market house. The Commissioners also thoughtfully provided a fire engine, plus two water carts for road-watering purposes to damp down dust in summer months.

In 1836 the Brunswick Square Commissioners were seriously concerned when there was a real possibility the terminus of the proposed London to Brighton railway might be situated nearly opposite the top of Waterloo Street. This was the scheme as proposed by Stephenson and the Commissioners immediately set to work preparing a petition to the House of Commons against Stephenson’s Bill and in favour of Sir John Rennie’s Bill, which placed the terminus firmly at the north end of Brighton. If Stephenson’s Bill had been adopted, the Commissioners feared the value of first-class houses in Brunswick Town would plummet. The Commissioners must have heaved a sigh of relief when Stephenson’s Bill failed.

A glimpse of the sort of people who inhabited the square can be gauged from the census records. For example on census night 1861 four houses were unoccupied (numbers 12, 21, 29 and 52) while families were away from five others (numbers 3, 9, 13, 30 and 38). The largest group (as at Brunswick Terrace) were widows and there were eleven of them. One of them, Lady Grace Gore, was an Earl’s daughter and she lived in considerable style with her two daughters, a butler, two footmen and seven female servants. There were also two widowers. Next highest on the list were those of independent means such a fund-holders (there were five) two landed proprietors and one landowner. Some described themselves simply as gentleman or esquire – old money obviously. There were also two baronets and a scattering of professional men such as three clergymen, three magistrates, two retired ex-India hands (one from the Bengal Civil Service, the other from the Bombay Civil Service) a solicitor, a Clerk of the Peace, a retired Vice-Admiral and a Major in the Militia.

It is interesting to note that there were three schools for young ladies (numbers 33, 34 and 41) despite the injunction on business enterprises. There was also an incursion of new money including a merchant, a trader and a chemist. The latter was Mr Arnold who lived at number 6 with his wife, his son Benjamin (also a chemist) four female servants and one male servant. Mr Arnold, senior, was the employer of nineteen men and four boys. Frederick Cleaver occupied number 15 and lived with his wife, four sons, two daughters, his sister-in-law, four female servants and a resident groom and his family – a total of eighteen household members. Mr Cleaver ran a wholesale business employing 30 men, eighteen boys and ten girls. At number 40 Robert Henty lorded it over an all-female household consisting of his wife, eight daughters and four female servants.

Many of the households contained children and grandchildren. Of course not all of them were youngsters as it was customary for unmarried daughters to remain in the family home and sometimes bachelor sons as well. There were also the 42 young girls resident at the three schools. As for the number of servants employed in 38 houses – there were 196 female servants and 67 male servants.

At night Brunswick Square was dimly lit by eighteen lamps. The original lamps were situated inside the enclosure fence of the gardens with eight at either side and two at the north end. The Borough Surveyor considered they were badly placed and in 1902 it was decided to get rid of them and install sixteen new lamp-stands on the edge of the kerb. The lamps contained incandescent burners and the well-known firm of Every of Lewes made the cast-iron standards with ribbed bases and swan necks; the total cost came to £118. On 2nd November 1992 these cast-iron standards received a Grade II listed building status.  In November 2000 Brighton & Hove Council proposed to install new box lanterns, which would give a better light but be modelled on traditional lines.

Brunswick Town was the first major development at Hove and attracted a good clientele. But tastes and fashion change and during the 19th century there were two other major developments at Hove – the Cliftonville area and then the West Brighton Estate. Polite society came to prefer these more modern houses and Brunswick was viewed as old fashioned. Besides, Brunswick Town was supposed to be run by an army of servants and by World War I they were no longer available. The grand houses with their lovely double drawing rooms for social events became divided up into flats or even smaller units.
copyright © J.Middleton
 The north west corner of Brunswick Square 

In 1971 it was stated that 92% of the accommodation in the square was rented; by 1981 the figure had fallen to 76% and in 1985 it was estimated to be in the region of 65%. It was recognised that the square was going through a period of transition with owner/occupiers replacing the old image of the square as a warren of bed-sits inhabited by old ladies and students. In the 1980s it was estimated that there were between 350 to 500 flats in the square but the introduction of stringent new fire regulations accelerated the changes because landlords decided to sell up rather than splash out on meeting the requirements. On the other hand property developers bought up single-room bed-sits to convert them into spacious, modern flats. Probably the last house in the square not to be divided up was number 1 while Nick Tyson has re-converted number 13 into a single unit.

In October 2008 Councillor Paul Elgood talking about poverty in the Brunswick area said ‘There is a huge mix of families and social issues as you would expect in a city centre area. Some of the accommodation is really quite poor. We also have a sizeable Polish and Middle Eastern population and it is a transient population’.

In September 2009 Tom Chavasse, chairman of Friends of Brunswick Square and Terrace, said 53 Brunswick Square looked fine when viewed from the square but seen from the back it is in a bad state of repair and the roof leaks. Apparently, the owner sought permission to turn back the clock and restore the house into a single unit, whereas the council policy was to refuse permission because it would lead to the loss of affordable accommodation.

See also Brunswick Square's Famous Residents page

Copyright © J.Middleton 2012
page layout by D.Sharp