The tour of Regency Town House began outside with Nick Tyson, the curator of the town house, showing us a range of slides showing Brighton’s development from fishing village to bustling and fashionable sea side resort. Using maps Nick showed us how the town expanded drastically in the early part of the 19th Century and he explained that it was in part down to Dr Russell and his sea water cures and the Prince Regent. We looked at the development of Hove which was still a small village and then began to discuss the development of Brunswick Town which was designed to be a self contained town between Brighton and Hove. We also briefly discussed the biography of Charles Busby, the architect, of Brunswick Town.
Nick showed us copies of the original plans which showed how the town was designed to be totally self sufficient and was designed for all of the different social groups that would be needed to make the town sustainable. This was a very new idea for many of us who did not realise that some neighbouring streets were built as part of the Brunswick Town project. Brunswick Square and Terrace were to be the focal point of the town, providing elegant, luxury houses with mews to the rear. Middle class housing was located in Waterloo Street and the Wick Road, while the service streets, such as Brunswick Streets East and West provided working class accommodation. Shops were built in Market Street and Western Road, together with a substantial market building. Social amenities were not overlooked either; public baths, a chapel, the Star of Brunswick public house for the working class and the Kerrison Arms Inn for the better-off were all part of the grand design.
We then looked at plans for one of the houses bought by a speculator Charles Elliot who bought 16, 17 and 19 Brunswick Square. The plans were heavily annotated and from this we could see that a builder called George Sawyer had agreed to build the house for him at a cost of £3000. Mr Elliot would be responsible for purchasing all the fixtures and fittings at his own cost. Nick explained that this would probably double the cost. It would have cost an additional £1000 a year to run the house.
As we were standing in the dining room we discussed the use of this room first. It featured incredibly ornate cornicing, pillars and a centre piece all of which have been painstakingly restored. The room was painted a mauve purple colour which using heritage techniques had been matched perfectly with the original colour. Nick showed us how this had been uncovered using rubbing techniques to rub through the layers of paint. He also explained how using microscopes and various tests, the paint colour can be recreated. We were told how dining rooms were often painted purple as colour theory at the time believed that it was good for digestion. We discussed how the room would have been furnished and what kind of entertainment would have take place.
The hallway was painted a muted red and green and featured a stained glass panel. We stopped here to talk about what materials the building was made of. The bulk of the building is made from bungaroush, with lime plaster to smooth the walls. The bungaroush was made using local chalk which was in plentiful supply and flint taken from the surrounding agricultural fields. Some parts are made of brick, particularly the corners and around the windows. These bricks were made in Brunswick Square from local clay which covers the ground in this area of Hove. The floor boards were made from Baltic wood shipped in through the nearby Shoreham Harbour. The banisters were made from wrought iron which was made locally, as this was a thriving industry locally.
We then went up to the first floor living room. Again it was very ornate with cornicing and centre pieces but perhaps slightly less so than the dining room. Nick explained that the further up a house you go the less ornate it becomes because the rooms were mainly used for family and servants. The walls had been stripped back to the original paint work but this room had not been repainted like the dining room. We looked at the archaeological evidence on the walls of what the room had looked like we could see where frames and mirrors had been hung and where gilded panelling had been.
The discussed the kinds of parties and functions that would have taken place here for up to 200 people at a time, how they would have eaten and drank and how people arrived and were announced. We talked about the huge costs of these parties.
Finally we visited the Basement at No.10 Brunswick Square a few doors down. This flat is in a dilapidated state and retains many of the original features including a specially designed, vaulted and double doored wine cellar, a meat drying room, housekeeper’s room, servants’ hall, privy and yard.
We started outside looking at the beer cellar, coal cupboard and dust cupboard. We then ventured inside the house and started in the housekeeper’s room which would have been decorated like a middle class living room and if the main house was overcrowded with guests then the housekeeper may be expected to sleep there some times. The rest of the time it was where linen and other stock may be kept and where the housekeeper gave out instructions to other servants.
We then looked at the vaulted, secure wine cellar and Nick explained that this is because a well stocked wine cellar at an upper class house could contain a wine collection worth more than the house!
We then went to the servant’s room where we really got a feel for how dark, cramped and poorly ventilated it would have been. When the house was busy servants may have slept in this room which had been designed with a storage come bed area with a wooden floor in contrast to the rest of the room which was stone flagged floored. We talked about however rough the servant life was, the alternative was unemployment and that was far worse, so people rarely if ever left these jobs by choice. Regular meals and shelter was seen as enough.
We moved down to the kitchen area which had a meat drying room which was well ventilated just outside. The kitchen was a mini version of the one at the Royal Pavilion with a huge hearth, a sophisticated ventilation system to keep the room cool enough to work in as it would have been stifling hot all the time and staff would have fainted.
This was a fascinating tour and everyone was really engaged.