Lewes Crescent Tunnel Cottages

At the end of the tunnel that is said to have inspired Lewis Carrol’s rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland sit two of Brighton’s most curious properties. I was lucky enough to have seen them both before and after their amazing transformation.

I first saw the properties as a prospective purchaser several years ago. I knew that a builder had already put in an offer and although I was certainly tempted, I knew straight away that it would have been too big a project for me. Not only had the properties been left derelict since the Second World War, they also sit beneath the road in front of Lewes Cresent, directly in the path of the strongest sea winds. To sum up, they were two damp and gloomy – albeit interesting – Grade II Listed shells.

The properties in question are the seafront cottages that served the original Kemp Town estate. Back then, Kemp Town included just Lewes Crescent, Sussex Square, Arundel Terrace, Chichester Terrace and their various service roads. It was not the large area that is known as Kemp Town today. The cottages flank the private tunnel that leads from the central Lewes Cresent gardens down to the seafront. It is in fact possible to see their chimneys as raised sections of the sea wall. Although the facades of the houses of Lewes Crescent were completed by 1827, the rear sections of many of the buildings remained as shells for many years after. The crescent itself has a span of 840 ft and is undoubtedly one of the country’s finest. The passageway was excavated in approximately 1830.

When I first saw the cottages, the first floors were completely missing so that it was possible to actually see the steel supports that hold in place the pavements of Marine Parade. The windows and doors were bricked-up. I predicted in my first column on the cottages that they would become two of the most unusual dwellings in the city. I was right.

The latest great news concerning these fine pieces of local history is that the reading rooms below, which have been a disgraceful mess for years, are now available to let. When a tenant is found, the cottages will be an even more attractive place to live. One cottage has already been snapped up. Call Michael Totman at Fox & Sons in Kemp Town for information on the other.