8 Royal Crescent

When it comes to the grand compositions of Brighton & Hove, it is clearly the case that few buildings remain as they were originally intended – as houses.

8 Royal Crescent, one of the City’s greatest remaining houses, is for sale. To reach its grand front door, one must first pass the Crescent’s large yellow brick pillars. Imposing railings to the sides and large stone slabs on the ground suggest grandeur beyond. Each building would originally have had its stone steps on view but some are now tiled. The front doors, some with semi-circular fanlights above, are a bit of a mix and come with a variety of pediments. Grand brass fittings are, however, a common feature.

Royal Crescent, now Grade II* Listed, was commissioned by a West Indian speculator, J. B. Otto, and built between 1798 and 1807 as Brighton’s first composition: a series of 14 bay-fronted timber-framed buildings with five storeys including basements. The parapet is raised above Nos. 7 to 10 (but not above the rest strangely) and ‘Royal Crescent’ is painted above Nos. 7 and 8. The man who was first responsible for painting the two words met a nasty end after leaning back a little too far to admire his work.

The black mathematical tiles which adorn the fronts of the buildings are striking. Such tiles – imagine clever overlapping roof tiles, not bathroom tiles – are not uncommon in Sussex and may also be seen on Patcham Place. The window panes are a variety of sizes but would have once all been small as large panes weren’t in common use until after the 1850s. Interestingly, No. 14 has a bow-front, not a canted bay like the others, and it has been theorised that they were once all like that. No. 1 is missing its bonnet canopy.

Phil from Mishon Mackay kindly showed me around No. 8, the home of the Campbell family, where a huge amount of effort has been put into transforming it from several flats into a unified residence worthy of the name Royal. There are too many impressive features to list here but a dumb-waiter disguised as a bookcase is certainly best.

It’s not until one looks out over Royal Crescent’s communal gardens towards the sea that the composition can be truly appreciated. It’s no wonder that Lord Olivier, that king of the stage and screen, chose Nos. 4 and 5 as his home.