Church Hill School

By Steve Myall

In 1822 the Rev. Thomas Airey bought the Church Hill candle factory premises from the distressed Mr. Heard, renegotiated the lease from Kemp and in the same building opened a school for children from the Workhouse. The land in question was the triangle of the old Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital, between Clifton Hill and Dyke Road, and it extended behind the later gardens of numbers 20 to 22 Clifton Hill. From the Pigott-Smith map of Brighton of 1824 the school had its own vegetable gardens and its grounds were surrounded by a flint-stone wall.

Richard P.B. Taaffe, M.D., qualified in London and Brighton’s first medical officer of health, was one of the founders of the first children's hospital in 1868, taking over a private house at 178 Western Road, and was one of its first two acting physicians. He was also one of the surgeons to the Sussex and Brighton Eye Infirmary in Queen’s Road. Due to increasing demand the unit in Western Road had to buy the house next door in 1870, then later that year the governing body of the hospital purchased the one and a quarter acres of land referred to as ‘Church Hill School House Estate’ (where the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children stood until 2007).

The naming of the piece of land as "Church Hill School House Estate" in the hospital records is interesting. There are no maps with this piece of land so named, but on the maps available, dating from 1822 onwards, there is always an un-named building on this triangle of land, and May 1822 was the date the school was founded.

The dealings over the larger triangle of land bounded by Clifton Hill, Dyke Road and Clifton Road are not easy to follow, and are further complicated by the separate history of the south-eastern tip that was the school grounds and became the site of the Children’s Hospital.  With present knowledge the time line seems to be as follows:

By 1821 Mr. Heard was leasing the southern tip of the larger triangle of land from T.R. Kemp. Presumably Heard built himself a small premises from which he ran his soap and candle manufacturing business.

In 1822 Heard’s business failed and the Rev. Airey took over the lease for this piece of land, together with Heard’s building, and opened a school for the workhouse children.

In 1823 Airey purchased the freehold of the school house estate from Kemp.

In 1832 Kemp mortgaged the remainder of the larger triangle of land to Budgen. Obviously this did not include the school house site. This larger piece of mortgaged land was the triangle bounded by Clifton Hill, Clifton Road and Dyke Road.

At a date not yet established the Rev. Airey’s school house estate was taken over by the Rev. Butler.

In 1843 Budgen’s executors called in the mortgage to T.R. Kemp and sold the larger triangle of land to Thomas Wisden. Wisden sold on part to the Rev. Butler, who already owned the southern tip with the school house, and Butler sold on part of his purchase to William Watts.

At a date not yet established the Rev. Butler’s school house was taken over by the Rev. Pugh.

In 1870 Pugh sold the school house estate to the governing body of the Children’s Hospital, who then moved up to Church Hill from their two converted houses on Western Road.  

The deeds of 16 Clifton Hill confirm the Rev. William Henry Butler LLD. owned that triangle of land in 1843 and Kelly's 1846 Brighton Directory confirms his involvement with a school on that site - the listing for Church Hill reads "Rev. William Henry Butler D.C.L. - Church hill boarding school". It was a boys school and is still listed in Folthorp's 1850 Directory, together with the Workhouse and Infirmary. It would certainly have only educated children from the Workhouse, bearing in mind the school was established many years before much residential development had taken place in its vicinity. This part of Dyke Road was still called Church Hill in the mid C19th.

The Brighton Herald of 3rd May 1845 reported that in the first quarter of that year the Workhouse was home to 232 children. However, with the 1846 directory referring to the Church Hill ‘boarding’ school, presumably a certain age-range of the boys lived at the school, while still being registered at the Workhouse.

This page was added on 16/04/2011.

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