12 January 2016

Brunswick Town, Hove

Judy Middleton (2001 revised 2012)


When the sea-cure treatment at Brighthelmstone became popular in fashionable circles, and royalty patronised the town, it provided the impetus for a building boom. The result was Kemp Town constructed on the east side of Brighton and it was a logical progression that a similar area of high-class houses should be built on the west side. Thus Brunswick Town came into being and although technically it was within the parish boundary of Hove, residents of the fine houses always thought of themselves as living in Brighton and headed their notepaper accordingly.

In those days there was nothing to recommend Hove in elegant society since it was only a small village of flint cottages clustered around Hove Street and far away from the Brunswick development. In 1836 the historian TW Horsfield memorably described Hove as ‘a mean and insignificant assemblage of huts’. Moreover, the inhabitants were so caught up in the trade of smuggling that a Coastguard Station had to be built especially to keep an eye on their illegal activities.   

However, because Brunswick Town was outside the jurisdiction of Brighton, a special Act of Parliament was necessary in order that the Brunswick Commissioners had the legal status to run the estate properly. Charles Augustin Busby was the architect of Brunswick Town. He agreed to build first-class houses and the specifications laid down that the walls from the foundation to the joists of the drawing room must be 18 inches thick; the party walls were to be 14 inches thick up to the joists of the attic floor and not less than 9 inches thereafter. The dining room joists were to be 9x2 ¼ inches and the drawing room joists were to be 10x2 ½ inches. All the roof timbers were to be 4x2 ¼ inches.
copyright © J.Middleton  
The east side of Brunswick Square 
But the vexing question remains – were the houses well built? It has been thought that as the houses were a speculative development, they were put up quickly and without too much care. But from the specifications it does seem Busby had undertaken to build high quality houses. Perhaps his reputation is bedevilled by his use of bungaroush in the party walls. This delightful local word signifies lime mortar bonding pieces of flint and broken brick and it was in common use at Brighton. Bungaroush, using good quality lime mortar, can be a very strong building material and cause no problems at all. Of course nails cannot be driven into it to support fixtures but the builder anticipated the requirements of their times by fixing wooden battens into the wall at strategic points. However, when the last western portion of Brunswick Terrace came to be built, the prevailing economics meant there was not such a high standard of building with the result that the defects of the few led to the vilification of the rest.

In the 20th century serious defects came to light after years of neglect and it was perhaps sad but inevitable that the reputation of Brunswick Town as a whole was tarnished. The man who restored 39 Brunswick Terrace in 1983, said that in his opinion the house was diabolically built by a load of jerry-builders.

Giles Worsley, architectural correspondent, had some interesting comments to offer in the Sunday Telegraph (1st November 1998). He thought that when it came to building houses, Georgian and Victorian craftsmen were often astonishingly shoddy. It was assumed houses would be demolished when the lease expired after 60 or 99 years and they built according to this time-scale. No harassed Georgian builder would have dreamt his flighty speculation would end up being protected with the full panoply of listed buildings regulations.

But Nick Tyson of the Regency Town House thinks the Brunswick houses were well built although he does admit the builders filled up the space underneath windows with bungaroush rather than using bricks. It was also the case that when he started to restore 13 Brunswick Square he found the structure so unstable steel rods had to be inserted to prevent imminent collapse. 

The interiors were designed to reflect a typical town house; that is the basement contained the servants’ domain of kitchen, scullery, pantry, servants’ hall, butler’s pantry, housekeeper’s room and there were vaults underneath the pavement for wine cellar and coal cellar. The ground floor contained the hall, dining room and morning room while the first floor contained a double drawing room, which could be separated by folding doors. These doors were usually made of imported wood and grained to give the appearance of some more exotic wood. Bedrooms occupied the next two storeys with the ones designated for the use of servants being right at the top of the house. There was one outdoor privy for the servants accessed from the basement, and a lavatory on the half-landing leading to the drawing room. All the principle rooms were adorned with marble fireplaces and decorated cornices. The staircases sported iron balusters and the balconies were guarded with iron-work; it is amusing to note that the design of the latter had to be approved by the freeholder, the Revd Thomas Scutt. At the back of the houses were stables, harness room, hay-loft and often a carriage house too. The backs of these fine town houses are utilitarian in the extreme with none of the showy exterior reserved for the front.

The decoration of the interior was left to individual taste. It seems probable that George Basevi who occupied number 37 might have asked his architect son of the same name to come up with a scheme of decoration, and Captain Richard Heaviside of number 15 certainly commissioned the well-known interior designer John Gregory Crace to undertake some work.
copyright © J.Middleton  
The west side of Brunswick Square
When the houses were leased, an inventory of the contents was drawn up and a few have survived. For example, on 17th May 1861 the Revd John Oliver Williams Haweis (late of Brunswick Square, now of Slaugham) leased 54 Brunswick Square (once numbered at 52 but by then it was 54) together with coach houses and stables with rooms at the rear to James Martin, junior, of 59 East Street, Brighton, furniture broker, for 21 years at £170 a year. The following schedule enumerated the fixtures.
1)      Top Floor – south front room, a 22-inch register stove; the south back room, a 16-inch register stove; the skylight room, one mahogany side flap small corner bracket; on the landing, two spring bells fixed.
2)      Second Floor  – front bedroom, 30-inch register stove; back bedroom, 30-inch register stove, one rail, four pegs.
3)      First Floor – drawing room, two 36-inch elliptic top register stoves with extra bright fronts, four brass lever bell pulls, white china furniture on doors; half space, a suspension gas burner and globe, a gas bracket and globe and condenser.
4)      Ground Floor – dining room, a 38-inch register stove, two lever bell pulls, white china furniture on door and fourteen brass picture rod brackets; library, a 30-inch elliptic stove, two lever bell pulls, white china furniture on door; entrance hall, an inner cloth door with figured glass panels, white china furniture on door, a gas bracket over the same and brass lever bell pulls; passage, a mahogany rail and pegs, a mahogany flap on the brackets and a gas bracket; school room, a 24-inch stove and covings, a bell pull and a gas pendant with two burners.
5)      Basement – housekeeper’s room, a 30-inch stove and covings, two recess cupboards each side of the fireplace fitted with a shelf enclosed with a door with locks and key, a deal dresser fitted with three drawers with brass handles, a cupboard underneath enclosed by a door, two deal shelves by the window and a gas pendant; butler’s pantry, 30-inch stove with covings, a painted cupboard fitted with sink and flap, two painted cupboards 2 feet 6 inches wide enclosed by a door, and underneath two small cupboards with drawers (on either side of the pantry door) a gas bracket and a towel roller; passage, a 24-inch stove, a deal rail with six pegs, eight bells as fixed and a gas bracket; larder, three tin shelves, a rail and fifteen meat hooks; kitchen, a 12-foot deal dresser with five drawers, locks and key, a saucepan stage underneath, two tin shelves over coffee mill as fixed, a deal shelf and brackets, a painted cupboard fitted into recess each by door, and a 5-foot range with oven.
6)      Outbuildings – stables, harness room, two deal rails and pegs, saddle pegs and a small shelf; there were rooms over the stable with two stoves as fixed, two rails and pegs, one ditto with three pegs and locks and keys to all the doors.
copyright © J.Middleton  
Brunswick Terrace 
On 20th August 1874 Eliza Barnett leased 42 Brunswick Terrace for a period of 21 years at £272 per annum to John Randon Worcester, an East India merchant. (Eliza Barnett also owned the nearby Brunswick Inn). On the top floor there was a veined marble chimney-piece measuring 3 feet 9 inches; on the second floor, in the best bedroom, there was a white veined marble chimney-piece measuring 5 feet in width. On the first floor, the double drawing room had two register stoves measuring 3 feet 6 inches and white statuary marble chimney-pieces, one measuring 60 inches, the other measuring 59 inches. The ground floor room had a 6-foot marble chimney-piece. Green Venetian blinds and shutters were fitted in all the principal rooms and the dining room had in addition two canvas sun-blinds and Venetian sun-blinds outside as well. The water closets situated on the landings had mahogany seats and lids, blue pans, brass risers, and a mahogany candle bracket and a gas bracket. Some rooms had bell pulls with ivory handles. The landing between the first and second floor had a mahogany handrail and there were two large squares of figured ground glass and four slips of coloured glass, and a composition figure with gas bracket and composition fluted pedestal. The basement area consisted of the housekeeper’s room, knife house, butler’s pantry, servants’ hall, storeroom, kitchen, scullery and outer larders. In the kitchen there was a brass jack crane, a charcoal store and two pulleys to the skylight.

Householders were obliged (under an agreement with Scutt) to stucco the façade of their houses with Parker’s cement of a stone colour. The original Brunswick Square Act laid down that doors and window frames should be painted wainscot oak while the ironwork of railings and balconies were to be painted Pilcher’s Antwerp green. But green was soon ousted in favour of a stone colour for railings and balconies. Today they are resplendent in black gloss.

Repainting the exteriors was first enforced in 1832 and continued every three years thereafter with the exception of 1943 during World War II. In 1976 the Hove Borough Act finally gave the Council some legal muscle with which to enforce the painting regulations. This measure had been forced on them by the action of the Slaters, who, in 1970, refused to have their house painted; they had also refused to have the work done in 1967. They read up the old Act of 1830 and discovered it stipulated only the exterior woodwork and ironwork needed to be repainted – the Roman cement façade being left as it was. The new Act insisted the facades be repainted every five years, the colour of the paint being decided upon by the Council.

Finding the right paint has not been an easy matter. For years the paint used was Regency Cream Gloss but unfortunately it was lead-based. Anticipating a ban on such products, Hove Council introduced a new paint in 1990 – Johnstone’s Jonsil Silicone Alkyd Gloss, masonry finish. Many people were unhappy with the colour, finding it far too yellow for their taste. But the real problem in the paint turned out to be its lack of durability. The paint was used in 1990 and there were no problems. But for some unaccountable reason when it was used again in 1995, it performed less well. Some areas of paint blistered or cracked while in other cases it began to peel off in strips.

At first the Council and the manufacturers maintained the problems were caused by poor preparation of the surfaces. But the painters, including some of the finest craftsmen, had no hesitation in blaming the paint. Peter Deeley, who was sub-contracted to paint two Brunswick buildings in 1995, reckoned he lost over £20,000 because work kept on having to be redone and it contributed to the collapse of his company. Mr Deeley asked a scientist to analyse the paint and the scientist pronounced it was the wrong type of paint to use on those buildings because of the amount of moisture stored in the walls.

John Summers, who owned a house in the square, said that if the buildings were covered with unstable paint, it would need to be stripped off before repainting could begin, thus making the costs mount. Hove Council hoped for better results with a different paint, which was a water-based Sandtex classic stone gloss. The Council also claimed the paint had a greener tone and therefore it should not appear quite so yellow as the previous paint. But in Nick Tyson’s view, the paint was still far too yellow. His research showed the paint used in the 19th century was far paler – in fact a stone colour.

The year 2000 was a ‘painting’ year but by the beginning of November only 33 houses (out of 109 to which the regulations apply) had been painted. Work was progressing on another 32 but 44 remained untouched. Naturally, the appalling weather was used as an excuse but the Council (by then Brighton and Hove Council) threatened to serve notices on owners who had done nothing. It remains an on-going battle to ensure owners live up to their responsibilities. In January 2011 it was stated the council would begin proceedings against 28 owners in the Brunswick area who had not repainted their premises.

After World War II there was a chronic lack of building materials and Brunswick Town had become somewhat run down. Indeed Hove councillors regarded the area with such a jaundiced eye that they wondered if it might not be better to flatten the lot. On 10th February 1945 the Brighton & Hove Herald carried an article about the re-development of the Brunswick area, which had been approved by Hove Council on 8th February. Mr TR Humble, borough surveyor, prepared the report, and Councillor EA Hayler, chairman of the General Purposes Committee, recommended approval of the scheme. A model was prepared showing Brunswick Square and Brunswick Terrace completely demolished, and replaced with high-rise blocks of flats and hotels. But Mr W Jermyn Harris, town clerk, said the whole scheme would have to be submitted to the Minister of Health who would almost certainly call for a public enquiry. Alderman Dr TC Pocock described the proposals as ridiculous and said it would make the town a perfect eyesore. However, in Mr Humble’s opinion, sooner or later these buildings must decay, become obsolete and ultimately have to be removed.

There was an immediate outcry against the idea of demolition and although Mr Humble said the plans were only a suggestion, the row continued to rumble on. On 11th December 1945 the inaugural meeting of the Regency Society was held and the Duke of Wellington was the speaker. The society was formed precisely because of the threat to the historic architecture of the towns. Antony Dale was one of the founder members and he remained as honorary secretary for 40 years. In 1947 Dale published Fashionable Brighton, an important work for the locality as it contained the first detailed history of Brunswick Town. 

In November 1945 Mr Humble addressed another meeting. He admitted it had been a mistake to set up a model to illustrate his ideas and he thought it would have been less controversial if he had used blocks of wood instead. He had to state at once that Hove Council had no intention of demolishing anything; they were merely making plans for the future. But he did say he saw nothing special about Brunswick architecture and the charm lay in their grouping. The houses might or might not be replaced by flats.

Mr Humble then painted a horrific view of the future. He stated the only way Hove could expand was upwards; taking an area of sixteen acres of which Brunswick Square was the centre, if you erected blocks of flats ten storeys high, you could double the population while increasing the open spaces. The Sussex Daily News (12th December 1945) thought Mr Humble had been misunderstood and he was only speculating on what might be necessary in 50 years. On the other hand, the newspaper felt destroying Hove’s Regency heritage was akin to sacrilege; the majestic squares and terraces of Brighton and Hove were symbols of an age when things were done on a grand scale and that made the boxes regarded as homes fit for heroes a hundred years later unbelievably trivial.
copyright © J.Middleton  
The east side of Brunswick Square 
Hove Council’s views were given another airing on 10th January 1946 when the Watch Committee came up with the bright idea of establishing parking places all around Brunswick Square Gardens. Alderman Dr Pocock stated that with all the houses split up anyhow, the place was almost a slum; the mayor called him to order. The proposals caused another huge rumpus and after a campaign by residents, they were thrown out.

These episodes serve to emphasize just how close Hove came to losing the major part of its architectural heritage. After the war there was a pervasive mood to get rid of old buildings and start afresh. In fact Mr Humble was before his time, as his views were received dogma by the 1960s. Perfectly sound terraces of humble dwellings were torn down and replaced by high-rise flats, which later caused many more problems than their predecessors ever had. Today the high-rise disaster of the 1960s has been judged as high-handed arrogance. It has been frequently pointed out that the fashionable architects who loved to design such edifices, never lived in them.

Fortunately for Brunswick Square and Brunswick Terrace, they were awarded Grade I listed building status on 24th March 1950.

Copyright © J.Middleton 2012
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