Montpelier Crescent

History

By Steve Myall

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Montpelier Crescent' page

This aquatint engraving by C & R. Sickelmore of 1827 is entitled ‘The Temple, the seat of T.R.Kemp Esq’ and shows the open down-land landscape of part of the Montpelier and Clifton estate.  On the left is the northern slope of Church Hill, today Compton Avenue is where the sheep and cattle are seen grazing, and Buckingham Place now runs close to the fence in the foreground. The artist was standing on the hill that is now Howard Place, before the railway cutting was dug. In the distance to the right is the line of fir trees that encircled the chalybeate spring of St. Ann’s Well, and the flat plain of grassland in front of the Temple is where Montpelier Crescent and Vernon Terrace now stand. Within thirty years of this engraving being published all this open countryside was covered with houses, and the view no longer existed.

The following print of Montpelier Crescent represents one of the most important C19th images of our area. It is a steel engraving by the London company of Newman & Co, published by William Grant of 5 Castle Square, c1845. Two particular features are of note, the sheep in the foreground, harking back to the original use of the land, and how today the injudicious planting of trees now completely obscures one of only two Victorian crescents in Brighton. It was designed by A.H. Wilds, built between 1843 and 1847, and holds a very important place in the architectural history of our city. Robson & Macdonald, in their book ‘A Guide to the Buildings of Brighton’. 1987, describe A.H. Wilds as producing ‘powerful and attractive Regency buildings well into the Victorian period’, and that working with Busby, the Wilds father and son partnership ‘played a significant part in the final stages of the last great period of architectural consensus in this country’.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Montpelier Crescent' page
 

Copying some earlier London developments, Wilds has put the entrances well back at the sides of each block. The result is that each block of two or three homes has the appearance of one large detached mansion, a look which appealed to the rising middle class buyer from London, for whom this development was intended. When finished it formed the western limit to this Victorian part of Brighton, overlooking the chalybeate spring, Wick, Hove and Shoreham harbour, until Vernon Terrace was built some ten years later on the site of the market garden business of George Parsons, ‘Florist and Seedsman to The Queen’. The print shows that the crescent originally had a boundary wall in front of its gardens, rather like Hanover Crescent today. As in Hanover, the front rooms generally face north-west, and for a good reason. Many of the seafront homes, particularly in Kemp Town, after several hot summers, had to put canopies over their front living room windows. With the fashion and dress code of the period this was the only way to reduce the insufferable heat of the summer, but with a north-west orientation Wilds cleverly reduced the effect of long hot summer days on these Montpelier living rooms, as he had done in Hanover Crescent, possibly more by accident than design, some twenty years earlier.

 

This page was added on 15/04/2011.

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