12 January 2016

Palmeira Mansions, Church Road, Hove

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2015)

 copyright © J.Middleton
Palmeira Mansions was photographed on 8 September 2015 from Palmeira Lawn.

These fine mansions in Renaissance style were erected in the years 1883 and 1884. There was a block of six houses between Salisbury Road and Palmeira Avenue and a block of six houses between Palmeira Avenue and Rochester Gardens. The houses had a frontage to Church Road, overlooking Palmeira Lawn but were separated from it by a private carriageway and wall.

  copyright © J.Middleton
Photo left:- Palmeira Mansions between Salisbury Road and Palmeira Avenue
Photo right:-  Palmeira Mansions between Palmeira Avenue and Rochester Gardens.

The Talented Lanchesters

The consulting architect was Henry Jones Lanchester who lived nearby at 1 St John’s Terrace (later renumbered as 49 Church Road). Henry and Octavia Lanchester had a large family of five sons and three daughters. Octavia was an educated woman who taught Latin and mathematics at a school in London. When her sons began to study Euclid she was able to help them. Perhaps it was not surprising that her daughter Mary taught at Roedean besides being an artist and writer. The eldest son followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming an architect while two sons became engineers, inventors and designers.

The most famous of Henry and Octavia’s children was Frederick William Lanchester (1868-1946). The house at Hove left a lasting impression although he was only aged five when they moved in. There was open countryside behind the house, which the children explored at leisure and the sunny nursery on the first floor had commanding views of the English Channel. The children loved to watch ships sailing past. One day in 1875 they were awe-struck when they saw Brunel’s masterpiece the Great Eastern passing by. Just to make sure they were not dreaming they carefully noted the paddle-boxes, five funnels and six masts. (They probably did not know that Brunel was once a pupil at a Hove school). Unfortunately, as that part of Hove became built-up, the sea views were lost.

F.W. Lanchester formed a private syndicate to develop motor vehicles and the Lanchester car was the first English car to be powered by a petrol engine. He was also one of the pioneers of the petrol omnibus. Lanchester was interested in the theory of flight too and in 1895 he delivered a lecture on his vortex theory of flight. But he was ahead of his time and his theory was neither accepted nor properly understood until the 1920s.

Jabez Reynolds

Jabez Reynolds, senior, of Brighton was the owner and builder of Palmeira Mansions. He was baptised in the Wesleyan Chapel, Dorset Gardens on 23 May 1824. He married Caroline Yates on 30 May 1846 at St Nicolas Church, Brighton. In 1877 he purchased a house on the east side of Wilbury Road from Osmond Dash who had bought it from the Stanford Estate the previous year.

Reynolds built seven houses in Lansdowne Street in 1881 and some in Cambridge Road. Two houses he built in Cambridge Road were too close to the boundary wall (contrary to the plans) and had to come down. He built four more houses in 1882 at Cambridge Road.

Palmeira Mansions are his most memorable work and he also erected stabling in connection with these houses in 1880s in St John’s Road, known then as Palmeira Mews Road. The stabling included coach houses and living quarters for the grooms.

His son Jabez Reynolds, junior, built houses in Church Road, Cambridge Road, Wilbury Road and Goldstone Villas.

Opulent Mansions

It seems that no expense was spared in the building and fitting-out of Palmeira Mansions. The entrance was through a porch of rusticated columns supporting entablature, frieze and cornice, leading to a lofty hall. The ground floor contained dining room, morning room, billiard room, boudoir, bachelor’s room, bathroom and lavatories. The floors were of tessellated pavement, there were carved marble chimney-pieces and over-mantels, marble fenders and tiled hearths. Mr A. Granville Greysmith of Ship Street, Brighton, painted frescoes on the walls. Venetian blinds were fitted throughout.

 copyright © J.Middleton
The ‘rusticated columns’ are a typical feature of Palmeira Mansions.

Shanks & Co provided the baths and lavatories. The basement contained kitchen, servants’ hall, manservant’s bedroom, various external cellars and a completely fitted wine cellar. The attics were light and roomy and suitable for servants’ bedrooms. This description of the properties is taken from an article printed in Brighton Gazette (21 February 1885).

Slump

Unfortunately, Palmeira Mansions were erected just as the property market was going through one of its periodic slumps. It was the same story when houses in Palmeria Square were newly built. The 1885 Directory recorded that only four houses in Palmeira Mansions were occupied but by 1887 the number had risen to ten. However, the 1891 census recorded six unoccupied houses.

The slump affected Henry Jones Lanchester badly because he found his work at Hove had all but dried up. He was therefore obliged to leave Hove and remove with his family back to London.

Coffee Stall

In April 1884 Mr Reynolds, owner of Palmeira Mansions, and Messrs Humphrey & Son, owner of Palmeira Terrace, asked Hove Commissioners to remove a nearby coffee stall, probably thinking it lowered the tone of the neighbourhood. This coffee stall was allowed to operate during weekdays on the east side of St John’s Church. When other residents heard about the move, they were horrified and soon a petition bearing 287 signatures asking for the coffee stall to be allowed to remain was presented to Hove Commissioners. That august body then decided it was not necessary to order its removal.

For twelve years the coffee stall happily plied its trade and then abruptly in September 1896 Hove Commissioners withdrew their consent and gave the coffee stall keeper one month’s notice to quit.

Pageboy in Danger

In 1885 a policeman was passing by Palmeira Mansions when he noticed a pageboy standing on an outside ledge in order to clean windows.

In September 1885 Mrs Whitefield of 29 Palmeira Mansions was summoned before the courts for permitting a servant to stand in a dangerous position on a windowsill. The magistrates inflicted the full penalty of a fine of £2.

Trees and Lamps

On 5 July 1894 the surveyor reported that owing to the trees on the north side of Church Road in front of the mansions, the light from the lamps situated on the private wall was considerably obscured. He recommended erecting two new lamps on the kerb of the pavement, one midway between Rochester Gardens and Palmeira Avenue and the other midway between Palmeira Avenue and Salisbury Road; the lighting of the two existing lamps should be discontinued.

This still did not solve the problem and in January 1899 the surveyor suggested four new lamps should be placed on the curb and new lamps should replace the old ones on the wall.

  copyright © J.Middleton
In this 1908 postcard the tree problem in front of Palmeira Mansions is obvious. 
Note the original lamp on the right and the hackney carriage stand on the left.

Private Roadway

In 1914 Mr R. Tilt, property owner, erected two posts in the private roadway, thus preventing through vehicular traffic. Although a private roadway, it had always been open to public use and by May 1914 one post had already been knocked over by a cab. Hove Council ordered the remaining one to be removed.

It is interesting to note that in recent times when renovation of the area was taking place, the vexed question of who actually owned the private roadway had to be looked into before work could begin.

Omnibuses and Excessive Speed

In 1923 some of the owners of Palmeira Mansions complained to Hove Council about the nuisance and damage to property caused by ‘excessive speed of the omnibuses’ especially early in the morning and late at night.

The Chief Constable took it upon himself to time no fewer than 79 omnibuses. He recorded that on one occasion two omnibuses travelled at 13mph and two at 14mph while another notched up 15mph. At the time the maximum legal limit was 12mph.

Renovation

In the late 20th century Palmeira Mansions were something of a sorry sight. Their drab exteriors made them look run down, and this was because there was no legal requirement for the façades to be repainted at regular intervals, as was the case with Brunswick Square and Terrace, and Palmeira Square. There was one house in particular that stuck out like a sore thumb because it was still in its unadorned state of what used to be called Roman cement whilst all its neighbours had succumbed to a pleasing coat of creamy white. At last, this house too joined the club and today Palmeira Mansions have never looked so handsome.

  copyright © J.Middleton
This postcard view dating back to around 1904 shows Palmeira Mansions before the façades were painted and 
still displayed the original Roman cement.

copyright © J.Middleton
One of the lovely new lamps was 
photographed on 6 April 2002.

There has also been a trend to re-convert the mansions from offices to residential use; plans for such conversions were before the council in January 1999 and July 2000.

The upturn in their fortune was no doubt helped along by the restoration of the private wall, which was completed by December 1991. Hove and Brighton Conservation Board were responsible for the work, which cost £60,000, and it was the first scheme they undertook. The walls and piers were renovated and then specialist Robert Cook re-plastered them.

New lamp stands and lanterns were re-created from an original model and they are an impressive sight today.      

The area was further enhanced by the installation of new bus shelters, which instead of being brash and modern, were especially chosen to harmonise with the surrounding architecture.

 copyright © J.Middleton
Palmeira Lawn and Palmeira Mansions look their best in this photograph taken on 22 August 2015. 
Note the discreet bus shelters in the background.

Number 33

This house deserves a special mention because of the impressive interior, fitted up to the specifications of wealthy Arthur William Mason. This was not the first Hove house Mason occupied because his previous rental property was at 11 Palmeira Mansions. Perhaps this house came to have sad associations for him when his first wife died in 1889 of ‘disease of the ovaries’, leaving a five-year old daughter called Christine.

The first occupant of number 33 was Mr R. Gillespie and in 1889 he sold the property to Mason, who was well able to afford it because his father had just handed over his business to his three sons. It was thought that after the business was floated on the stock market, the three brothers, as managing directors, were able to pocket some £55,000 each.

The business in question was an ink manufacturing enterprise that George Holt Mason had founded.

Arthur William Mason

A.W. Mason was obviously proud to have joined the ranks of polite society and he commissioned a coat of arms and adopted the motto Facta Non Verba (Deeds not Words). He made extensive use of his coat of arms and it appeared on his cutlery, dinner service, on the side windows of his cars and in stained glass windows in his house. At first glance the subject of the coat of arms looks like a domino of sorts. In fact it is a try-square, a tool used by masons and others to mark a right angle and check its accuracy. Traditionally, the tool had a steel blade and a wood stock secured by rivets. Mason used this device as an allusion to his surname whilst the five rivet holes signified the five letters in the name.

On 17 December 1891 A.W. Mason purchased a piece of land from the Goldsmid Estate for £720 in Palmeira Mews Road (now called St John’s Road). He had stabling and a coach house plus living quarters erected on it. Later on the stables were converted into a garage to hold his fleet of cars consisting of two Rolls-Royces and a Daimler.

In March 1899 Hove Council approved Mr S.H. Diplock’s plans on behalf of Mr Mason for a new porch at number 33.

The interior of the house in its heyday must have been a wonderful sight. Fortunately, much of it remains to this day.

A.W. Mason was married three times, His second wife was called Grace and they married some two years after his first wife died. They had no children and she died in 1929. Although Mason was by then 72 years old he decided to marry for the third time and his bride’s name was Florence. She was some thirty years younger than he was while his first wife had been five years older than her husband.

Mason died aged 80 in June 1940, the cause of death being lung cancer. In September 1940 there was a two-day sale of the house contents.

Later Occupants

Number 33 became Palmeira Nursing Home and was in operation from 1940 to 1961. In 1953 Ada Marian Jacobs ran the establishment. Her career extended back to the Great War when she started a nursing home at 31 Brunswick Road, which by 1917 had expanded to number 33 Brunswick Road. But the lease on the Brunswick properties expired in 1953.

In 1961 the English Language Centre acquired number 33 and remain the owners to this day. Glen Davie, principal from 1962 to 1987, said he found the interior very shabby when they took over and he personally sanded the floors.

Marble Halls and Staircase

The entrance hall leads into a vestibule lined with white, veined marble with a stained glass window on the right hand side depicting the coat of arms. A startling wall-sconce light features a serpentine dragon of iron rearing over hot coals at the top of the lamp. The dragon has a ring in its mouth, which probably once held decorative chains. Steps lead into the main hall and immediately in front of you there is a huge, oval mirror framed in dark wood and decorated with cherubs, foliage and flowers. The hall is richly embellished with Italian marble in colours of black, green and tan together with alabaster from Derbyshire. The floor has a geometric design of red, grey and white tiles and the pink, flecked pillars are fluted. The walls are panelled in pale alabaster.
The curved staircase is also a marvel in marble. The newel post is pale green on a black base, the balusters are rose while the rail is flecked black. According to researcher Jackie Marsh-Hobbs there are similar marble balusters on the grand staircase in the Foreign Office in London.

 copyright © J.Middleton
The marble staircase inside number 33.

Ascending the staircase, original light fittings can be seen as a spray of three flowers sprouting from the top of the wall. There are stained glass windows on either side of the west wall. The pattern consists of stylised leaves with red poppy-like flowers, bright blue roundels and the coat of arms of course. Jackie Marsh-Hobbs also thinks the wall over the staircase was once home to an important painting by Lord Leighton entitled Dante in Exile. The painting measured an impressive 10 feet by 6 feet and there was not enough space in the rest of the house to accommodate such a large work. The full view from the staircase cannot be appreciated today because of the partition erected on the landing to meet fire precaution requirements. Originally, it was seen from below as an open plan area.

Front Room, ground floor

This room has the most extraordinary ceiling in Moorish style with scalloped roundels. It looks heavy and rich but was actually created from papier-mâché and painted green and gold. There is a marble panelled dado in colours of red, black and green. The marble fireplace has a rose coloured over-mantel with columns on either side and rose and cream insets. The ogee arch in the chimney-piece matches the ogee arch above the door frame. The room was designed as the dining room where guests dined from a 10-foot long mahogany table while seated on mahogany chairs embossed with Moroccan leather. Against the west wall there was a 12-foot long sideboard designed by Grohe of Paris in Empire style. Above it hung a painting by Alma Tadema entitled The Education of the Children of Clovis; the painting once belonged to King Leopold of Belgium. The opulent style of the room is apparently similar to those to be found in the Foreign Office.

  copyright © J.Middleton
The ceiling of the erstwhile dining room must be the most magnificent one in Hove

First Floor

Upstairs the passage has two Moorish horseshoe arches and there is a painted and gilded ceiling that continues into the conservatory. This conservatory, or enclosed balcony, is the only exterior hint at the riches within. The stained glass is a swirling pattern with the colours of green and yellow predominating. There is a wooden fireplace with an over-mantel decorated with engraved mirror insets.

  copyright © J.Middleton
The conservatory / glazed balcony belonging to number 33 
was sketched in 1979.

Conference Room

It is probable that this was once the morning room and the most interesting part is the chimney-piece. The over-mantel is a glorious riot of crystal and glass executed by Osler of Birmingham, the firm who supplied chandeliers to Buckingham Palace. The central part consists of nine small columns with two larger ones on either side plus two more at either end all created from brilliant crystal. A most unusual feature is a row of detachable glass ink-pots. The fireplace is cast iron with some lovely tiles in yellow and brown featuring snowdrops. The wood of the over-mantel is light coloured with pretty graining – perhaps boxwood. There is an ornate door-case and an ink-pot motif elsewhere in the room.

Second Floor

The room A28 has a fireplace with country views painted on five panels in a vertical line, a different view being featured on either side. There is a magnificent door with six panels. The top four depict dancing girls while the bottom two contain stylised flowers.
There is another unusual fireplace in the Teacher’s Room that has a concave decoration at the top of the over-mantel.

 copyright © J.Middleton
The Doulton chimney-piece in the former 
Billiard Room is just one of the elaborate 
fireplaces to be found inside number 33.
Third Floor


Room A31 was once the billiard room and it has a reinforced floor to support the enormous weight of a full-size billiard table by Burroughes & Watts. The room contains a fine patterned parquet floor, which is similar to other floors in the house now covered with carpet to save wear and tear.

There is an elaborate Doulton ceramic chimney-piece with embossed and beaded tiles in colours of predominantly brown and green. On the hearth are tiles depicting sunflowers with the motto ‘Think of Ease but Work On.’ The door contains a central panel of a dancing girl.

Room A34 was once part of the billiard room but has now been partitioned off. It has a rococo-style wood and plaster chimney-piece incorporating a mirror over-mantel; Walter Crane designed the hearth tiles.   

Sources

Argus
Brighton Gazette (21 February 1885)
Directories
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Hove Commissioners. Minutes
Internet searches
Kingsford, P.W. F.W. Lanchester. Life of an Engineer (1960)
Research by Jackie Marsh-Hobbs
Site visit to number 33 on 24 June 2002

Copyright © J.Middleton 2015
page layout by D.Sharp