St Aubyn’s Mansions Plaques

The Seaside Smile, as performed by music hall artiste Vesta Tilley, would have been an appropriate accompaniment to the recent grand unveiling of two commemorative plaques at St Aubyn’s Mansions in Hove.

Vesta Tilley was once a resident of St Aubyn’s Mansions as was Dame Clara Butt. The unveiling ceremony in August to show off the two new blue plaques to commemorate the ladies’ respective stays at the building was carried out by the Deputy Mayor, Cllr Geoff Wells, and was, indeed, a fun occasion. It was not until afterwards though that it was discovered that Vesta’s plaque featured an incorrect date.

St Aubyn’s Mansions is the mustard-coloured mansion block on the Hove seafront adjacent to the King Alfred site. It was built in 1899 to the designs of Lainson & Sons as part of an ambitious scheme that was never completed. It consists of four principal floors with two flats per floor; eight in total.

“Vesta Tilley (Lady de Frece) 1864 – 1952 Music Hall Artiste Lived Here” is the inscription on the plaque to the right of the building’s front door. Vesta bought 8 St Aubyn’s Mansions, on the top floor, in 1947, aged 83, as a holiday home. She became ‘Lady de Frece’ when her husband, the music hall owner Walter de Frece, was knighted in 1919 for services to the war effort. The couple’s honeymoon after their marriage in 1890 was spent at the Grand Hotel in Brighton and Clara regularly performed at the Hippodrome on Middle Street.

“Dame Clara Butt (1872-1936) Recitalist and Concert Singer Lived Here” reads the inscription on the plaque to the left. Dame Clara lived in 4 St Aubyn’s Mansions, on the first floor, from 1903 to around 1906 with her husband, Kennerly Rumford. Her grand piano was kept in their large hallway.

The plaques were paid for by both the residents of St Aubyn’s Mansion and Brighton & Hove City Council. Thankfully, the type of commemorative plaque favoured by the council weathers well. The two St Aubyn’s plaques need to be extremely durable. After all, St Aubyn’s Mansions is one of the closest buildings to the sea in the whole of the city.

November saw the replacement of Dama Clara’s first plaque with a second which states her correct birth date of ‘1872’ instead of ‘1848’. I certainly smiled. Perhaps Vesta was looking on with a smile too – a ‘Seaside Smile’.