YMCA

Steine House, known as the Y.M.C.A., is situated in-between two of Brighton’s greatest buildings – Marlborough House and the Royal Pavilion. It’s not surprising then that it has an important history of its own.

William Porden built the fantastic Dome and Corn Exchange from 1803-8 for the Prince of Wales before the Prince became Regent. The Dome was built as stables and the Corn Exchange as a riding school. This was before plans had even been drawn up for the transformation of the Prince’s Marine Pavilion into the Royal Pavilion of today. Porden also laid out New Road in 1805 for the Prince for which I am very grateful – New Road’s Valentino is the best bar in Brighton by far!

The Prince of Wales married Maria Fitzherbert in 1785 but the wedding was illegal due to the Royal Marriage Act of 1772 which forbade unapproved royal marriages. This wedding would never have been given approval due to Mrs Fitzherbert’s Catholic faith. Sadly, the Prince went on to marry Princess Caroline of Brunswick (after whom Hove’s Brunswick Town is named) but his love for Maria remained.

The original Steine House that Porden built for Mrs Fitzherbert in 1804 was very different to today’s Y.M.C.A.. An Egyptian-style colonnade ran across the front but blew down after just one year! The façade was then rebuilt in and Italian style with a pillared balcony and trellised verandah. The house was substantially remodelled in 1864 when the Civil & United Services Club moved in which included major internal alterations. The Y.M.C.A. took over Steine House in 1884 and added a new floor of bedrooms. An imitation bamboo staircase remains, however, and Lord Barrymore is said to have ridden up it on a horse to win a bet. Steine House was Grade II Listed in 1952

There are certainly many rumours of the existence of a secret tunnel between the Pavilion and Steine House but these remain unconfirmed. It is definitely true though that a passage, which still exists, was constructed between the Royal Pavilion and the Dome in 1822 but that’s another story.

Maria Fitzerbert died at Steine House aged eighty in 1837 as a rather home-made plaque on the front of the house declares. Those seeking a more fitting memorial to Mrs Fitzherbert should see her plaque on the outer wall of St. John the Baptist RC Church on Bedford Street where she is buried.