Archive for February, 2005

Lewes Crescent Tunnel and Lodges

If it was good enough for Lewis Carroll to write about then it’s good enough for me; for legend has it that the Lewes Crescent tunnel inspired the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.

Around 1830, a passageway was excavated under the road from the private gardens of the bright white crescent to the esplanade below. A pair of absolutely intriguing two storey Grade II Listed cottages nestle below the pavement on the seafront end of the tunnel. It is in fact possible to see their chimneys as raised sections on the sea wall dead centre of the crescent. The original occupants of the buildings were the estate gardener and the local bobby. A surviving sign on the passageway wall reads, “…it is the duty of the constable to keep the place free from the intrusion of all persons whose appearance seems to justify their exclusion…”. If you’re thinking of having a peek yourself you’re best advised to dress smart!

Two years ago, I was offered the cottages at a fantastic price but was half-way through another project so not able to do anything about it; a typical example of being in the right place at the wrong time and something that I’ll regret for years to come no doubt. The first floors were missing on each one though and from the ground floor it was possible to see the steel supports that hold in place the overhead busy road, Marine Parade. The windows are currently bricked-up but soon won’t be. Planning permission was won in July last year and building work is due to commence – his’n’hers houses perhaps?

The lodges will undoubtedly become the most unusual dwellings in the city. Through the looking-glass, it is hard to imagine what they’ll be like. I’ll see what Alice has to say!

Hangleton Manor 1

Ghost gossip and murder myths led me to investigate the oldest domestic building surviving in Brighton and Hove.

Hangleton was known as Hangetone in the Domesday Book which comes from the Anglo-Saxon “Hangra-tun” meaning “farmstead by the sloping wood”. A population of 200-250 was recorded in 1086 which had dropped to 2 by 1428 after the Black Death.

Back in 1967, one of my Regency Society colleagues described this Grade II* Listed Building as, “Not only the most distinguished secular building in Hove, but probably in the whole Brighton area, with the exception of the Royal Pavilion”. It was built in 1540-50, probably for Richard Bellingham, who had acquired the Lordship of the Manor in 1538. For the next five centuries, the only inhabitants of the area were the occupiers of the manor houses of Hangleton and Benfield and the population had only returned to 100 by 1911. An earlier medieval manor has eerily vanished without trace.

The principle features of this flint pile are 16th century panelling and floor tiles, Jacobean fireplaces and a heraldic Tudor ceiling. The nearby dovecote will get a future column of its own. The families of Bellingham, Pollard, Middleton, Norton and Hardwick all lived there at some point and various roads around Hove have been named in their honour.

It closed as a hotel in 1965 after surrounding farm buildings were demolished to make way for housing. After years of dereliction it was sold and turned into a public house. Jenny Saunders, the owner since 1982, won’t admit to having seen the resident ghost. However, some of the pub regulars assure me that they sometimes see things after a few pints!

Marlborough House

Historically speaking, Marlborough House is Brighton’s second most important building, only rivalled by the Royal Pavilion in its exciting past, and is currently halfway through a much needed makeover.

It was built in 1765 on the Old Steine for Samuel Shergold, a local hotelier. The Duke of Marlborough bought it 1771 but it wasn’t until after he sold up that it took his name. Originally the facade was red-brick with five bay windows. It was sold in 1786 to William “Single Speech” Hamilton MP who employed the famous Scottish architect, Robert Adam. His nickname came from it being generally thought that he only ever spoke once in the House of Commons. Adam transformed the then much smaller building into a mansion in which the Tara Palmer-Tomkinsons of yesteryear would have been proud to party.

Everything to the left of the middle chimney was added in an extension by Adam. He removed the whole first floor across the front of the building (but not the back) to give double height rooms downstairs – ideal for entertaining. The interior layout is far more complicated than it looks from the outside. External windows and doors were moved to retain symmetry which was expensive but cheaper than building from scratch.

This Georgian masterpiece fell into an appalling state but was recently bought from the Council by Brighton-based businessman, Tony Antoniades, who is planning to spend around £1 million on the project. The fireplaces were removed for safety but ironically were destroyed in a warehouse fire last year. This set-back was extremely upsetting for many but the team fights on still unsure of it future usage. With international museum man, Nick Tyson, overseeing the project, you can be sure that the job will be done properly.