Archive for May, 2006

Montpellier Hall

‘All tradesmen and deliveries to the basement’, says a small sign by the large front door. I wasn’t quite sure if it applied to me as I pulled the doorbell to meet the building’s current and eighth owner, Roger Amerena. One of a set of several bells rang loudly. Each bell would have signalled to a particular member of staff that they had to be in a particular place – sharpish. This is just one of the meticulously maintained features of Brighton’s finest late Regency detached villa.

Montpellier Hall, on the south side of Montpelier Terrace was constructed in 1846 for Henry Smithers, the sixth Mayor of Brighton and owner of the North Street Brewery. The name of the area changed from Montpellier to Montpelier but, perhaps because it was set into the entrance pillars, Montpellier Hall kept its original name; hence the difference in spelling. It was designed by Amon Henry Wilds in the Tuscan style and built on land that once belonged to Thomas Kemp whose house, the Temple (now Brighton & Hove High School), is on Montpelier Road.

There are 4 floors, 5 bays, 22 rooms, 17 fireplaces and 16 chimneys. A late Victorian dumb waiter runs from the basement to the dining room on the ground floor. It has several electroliers – gasoliers that have been converted to run on electricity. The drawing room contains a large portrait of Sir Joseph Ewart, the building’s third owner. I was particularly fascinated by the intricate espagnolette lock mechanisms on the large doors that lead onto the Portland stone balcony. From there, as the plot slopes, it is possible to enjoy a fine view of the rear garden which is a 250ft oasis, despite backing onto Waitrose.

Montpellier Hall must have been one of the first buildings in Brighton to use sheet glass which was expensive but available in large panes. However, smaller panes of the cheaper spun glass were installed in the basement windows for the staff. Glass was still very fragile though so storm shutters were a necessity. There is a dormer window on the second floor at the front but not the rear – would you want your servants peering at you in your garden?

The Reverend Thornhill, the sixth owner bought for £4750 in 1910 and sold for just £4350 in 1953. The building is, of course, worth significantly more now – in terms of history, it’s priceless.

Vallance Gardens

Without doubt, the lives of the residents of Vallance Gardens will soon be massively affected by the gigantic King Alfred development on its seafront end. A new sports centre with plenty of affordable housing…the King Alfred’s good news for everyone, isn’t it?

The first planning application on Vallance Gardens, running from the seafront parallel with Hove Street, was approved in 1905. The application was for a single house on the east side of the road, which was developed faster than the west side. The wide road was declared a public highway in 1928; one year after the nearby Vallance Road was adopted. The houses are mainly red-brick with sash windows and generous gables. I in fact lived with my grandmother, Annie, for a while near the top of the road when I was waiting for a place on campus at Sussex University. Both Vallance Gardens and Road were built on the grounds of a building that was once known as Hove House. Hove House became Hove Manor when John Vallance bought the rights to the Lordship of the Manor in the 1780s. It was demolished in 1936 and a block of flats, also called Hove Manor, today stands on the site.

Aymer de Valance was a close relation to Henry III and the most famous of the Earls of Pembroke. He was buried in Westminster Abbey after suddenly dying in 1324 and Pembroke College, Cambridge, was named in his honour. The Vallances of Hove claimed to be related to this great character and named Aymer Road and Pembroke Gardens, Crescent and Avenue in his honour. The Vallances, a family of brewers, were responsible for much of the development in the area of which much was designed by Thomas Lainson. Lainson was also responsible for the Middle Street Synagogue, Norfolk Terrace, Adelaide Mansions and the Royal Alexandra Hospital

Despite the obvious benefits that the King Alfred project could bring, like many, I simply feel that the site is the wrong location for something of that scale and design. I would be livid if they wanted to put something like that next to my house. I really don’t think that we should accept any more towers until plans are in place to remove the bad ones of the past. Chartwell Court, Sussex Heights, Theobald House & co will simply have to come down if the city is to regain its architectural integrity

Thomas Read Kemp

Thomas Read Kemp, was born on 23rd December 1782 and will always be remembered as the speculator behind Kemp Town. But there was much more to him than just that.

Kemp began realising his idea of an independent estate to the east of Brighton in 1823 with local builders and architects, Amon Wilds and Charles Augustin Busby. The original development was self-contained and included Chichester Terrace, Arundel Terrace, Lewes Crescent, Sussex Square and the surrounding streets. Only 106 of the envisaged 250 houses were built and, of these, many were completed by Thomas Cubitt, the builder of much of Belgravia, who was owed money by Kemp. The project was a huge influence on Brunswick Town, to the west of Brighton, which was also built by Wilds and Busby.

There are many buildings around the city today to which Kemp has connections. His farmhouse was rented by the Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent and King George IV) and was later demolished to make way for the Royal Pavilion. For a brief period in 1788, Kemp resided at Preston Manor. He lived at Herstmonceux Place in East Susex from 1807 until 1819 and then moved into his newly-built house, the Temple, on Montpelier Road. In 1825, he bought the land that was to become Adelaide Crescent and Palmeira Square from Isaac Goldmid and then sold it back to him in 1830. In 1827, he moved into 22 Sussex Square and in 1834 a new house was completed for him at 24 Belgrave Square in London, by which time he was seriously broke.

On top of his property dealings, Kemp found time to gain a degree in theology at Cambridge, marry, have six children, succeed to his father’s moiety of the manor, become Member of Parliament for Lewes, leave Parliament and found a dissenting religious sect, return to the established church, become Member for Arundel and then return again as Member for Lewes!

Kemp left England in 1837 to escape his creditors and only returned once afterwards. He died on 20th December 1844 in Paris and I did actually try (unsuccessfully) to find his grave in the Père-la-Chaise cemetery when I was last there. In Brighton, there is a tablet dedicated to him at St Nicholas’s Church, a plaque on 22 Sussex Square and a No. 7 bus named in his honour. Thomas Read Kemp was without doubt one of Brighton’s greatest.

Stanford Estate

Imagine what the land stretching from Preston Park in Brighton to Grand Avenue in Hove would cost. When Brighton was a small fishing village and Hove a sleepy parish, it is amazing to think that this enormous plot of land belonged to just one family.

The original manor house of Preston was set on a vast estate owned by the Bishopric of Chichester since before the Domesday Book was compiled. The Elrington family, the Shirleys and then the Westerns controlled the Manor before it was purchased by William Stanford in 1794 for £17,600 from the proceeds of his father’s will. The Manor itself has been massively modified over the years and the Preston Manor of today arose from the substantial 1905 remodelling.

William Stanford was said to be the richest private individual in Sussex at his death in 1841. He left the bulk of the estate to his eldest son, also William, who, like his father, resisted the temptation to develop the land. William Stanford the younger left the land to his daughter, Ellen Stanford who then married an army officer and politician, Vere Fane-Benett, It was Ellen who began selling sections of the 1000 acre estate after the Stanford Estate Act was passed by Parliament in 1871 which allowed her to override the will.

Brighton Council purchased 67 acres for £50,000 and formally opened Preston Park, Brighton’s first public park, in 1884. A number of the fine villas surrounding the park had been constructed by 1885. Hove Council bought 40 acres for £14,600 and opened Hove Park, originally known as Goldstone Bottom, in 1906 after fierce opposition on the grounds of cost. The surrounding houses were slower to develop. The Stanford Estate’s only seafront land was developed as First, Second, Grand, Third and Fourth Avenues from the 1870s as a fantastic yellow brick set-piece.

The Stanford Estate is obviously no longer intact but many reminders remain scattered around the city. The most obvious is the name of the council ward around Hove Park – Stanford Ward. Elrington Road, Shirley Drive, Shirley Street, Western Road, Western Street, Stanford Avenue Stanford Road, Ellen Street, Vere Road, Benett Avenue and Benett Drive all take their names from those mentioned above.

I should mention that after the sale, the Stanford-Benetts were left substantially worse off. Most of the income went to lawyers and the state – a bit like selling a house today!

Mile Oak Henge

Work on the A27 began in 1989 when Julian Amery MP cut the first turf in Waterhall Valley. The 8.5 mile project connects the Shoreham bypass in the west to the Lewes Road in the east and consumed around 500 acres of land in its construction. Prior to the Mile Oak section being built and following a field walk survey conducted by the Brighton & Hove and Worthing Archaelogical Societies in1986/7, an archaeological team began to sample and date a series of vaguely defined field lynchets (low banks which mark the outline of fields) on the land that was soon to be covered with tarmac. A large bivallate (hilltop) enclosure was spotted during an aerial reconnaissance survey and it was this that convinced the team that they were onto something special.

The London-based Field Archaeological Unit excavated by hand from August 1989 to August 1990 an oval ditched enclosure with a diameter of 35m with opposite entrances in the north-west and south-east. A female human skeleton in the foetal position and a faced upright sandstone block were found just inside the north-west entrance. Various pieces of stone, pottery, metal and animal bone were also unearthed. Mile Oak Henge is of the Neolithic/Early Bronze Age and dates back to around 2000BC. It was also discovered that following a period of disuse, three huts of the Later Bronze Age were constructed over the remains of the enclosure.

In their simplest form, henges are earthworks. Their purpose is not entirely certain though a religious or ritualistic function is generally assumed. Mile Oak Henge was the first positively identified henge monument in the south-east which certainly puts Mile Oak on the archaeological map.

Stonehenge is a megalithic monument also dating from about 2000BC on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. When it was in use, it consisted of a circle of 30 upright stones. Their tops were linked by lintelstones to form a continuous circle about 30m across. Within the circle was a horseshoe arrangement of trilithons (two uprights plus a lintel, set as five separate entites), and a so-called ‘altar stone’ – an upright pillar – on the axis of the horseshoe at the open, north-east end, which faces in the direction of the rising sun.

For a while it was possible to see Mile Oak Henge from nearby Foredown Tower but due to the completion of the bypass, it is today only possible to drive over it.