is spearheading Brighton's high-tech digital
renaissance. Only a few years ago, you might hear
Kemptown variously described as
"run-down", "seedy" and
"decadent". Less than flattering
nick-names included "Camptown",
"Tramp town", or
"Soho-on-Sea". History tells us another
tale. Few residents would dream of moving away
from what has become a physical, mental and
spiritual centre for activists, artists, writers,
performers, musicians, film-makers, web-designers
and numerous other professions fascinated by the
towns, like most people, become more
interesting as you learn something of their
sign of habitation is a flint dagger discovered
in the chalk cliffs. It is believed to date back
about 250,000 years. Located on Whitehawk hill
overlooking Brighton racetrack is the remains of
a Neolithic "causeway camp" of the New
Stone Age. The Romans came, saw, conquered, built
roads and villas; and then departed. In 447 or
457 (nobody is certain), Saxons following a
chieftain called Aella secured the area and made
it theirs (Sussex, land of the South Saxons).
Brighton is first mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon
Chronicles of the seventh century as
"Beorthelm's-tun" and means "the
town of Beorthelm".
by now "Brighthelmstone", remained a
small fishing village (population circa two
thousand) until the 1780s. The population then
grew rapidly due to Dr Russell's "sea water
cure" (the belief that a dip in the cold sea
has very therapeutic qualities). Several nobles
took the cure and became enamoured enough of the
area to build houses. In 1783 George Prince of
Wales visited the Duke of Cumberland, in 1785 he
married Miss Fitzherbert. By 1806 his ultimate
indulgence, the transformation of a rural
farmhouse into the ornate Royal Pavilion was
complete. Brighton flourished.
THE KEMP TOWN
In 1808 a West
Indian speculator called J.B.Otto had the
black-tiled Royal Crescent built in isolation to
the East of Brighton. It proved unpopular, no
doubt in part because of the rather unflattering
statue of King George III erected in its gardens.
This has since been lost.
later, Thomas Reed Kemp formulated a more
promising scheme. Houses in Brighton were not big
or elegant enough for the truly affluent. Kemp
financed architects Charles Busby and Amon Wilde
to design the original "Kemp Town"
estate in open country to the east of Brighton.
The original plan called for two hundred and
fifty houses. Financial constraints, however,
necessitated the elimination of two of the
squares as originally conceived. Arundel Terrace,
Chichester Terrace, Lewes Crescent and Sussex
Square were included in the final estate plan.
They consisted of 106 houses. In 1823, Kemp
approached Thomas Cubitt to commence building
works. Houses sold slowly. Kemp had to convey ten
thousand pounds of land to Cubitt to cover his
debts. By 1828, eleven houses had been occupied;
by 1834, occupancy numbered thirty six. In 1837,
Thomas Kemp was forced to flee the country to
escape his creditors. His grand project, however,
continued under the aegis of Cubitt and the Fifth
Earl of Bristol.
Bad roads and
slow transportation had helped Brighton remain
exclusive. French tourist Le Garde describes his
carriage overturning no less than seven times
from London to Brighton (Le Garde also provided a
fabulous account of the pomp and splendour of a
society dinner-party at number twenty-two Sussex
Square). In 1844, the opening of the London to
Brighton railway made the journey cheap and easy.
It also brought a massive influx of tourists from
a very different social background from
traditional high society. The new tourists were
middle- or lower-class trippers from the South of
London. In 1845, Princess Victoria left the Royal
Pavilion, disgusted with the dissipation and
debauchery of her surroundings. Half a century of
royal patronage in the area ceased. Victoria did
not return for twenty years. The massive building
boom continued into the 1860s. It was during this
time that the space between the Stein and the
original Kemptown estate became entirely
brainchild itself was completed in 1855. Sussex
Square is larger than Grosvenor Square in London.
It is the biggest crescent in Britain with a
diameter two hundred feet greater than Bath Royal
Crescent. Kemp's original estate remains probably
the finest example of Regency architecture in the
country, although Busby and Wilde produced a
similarly grand seafront development with the
Brunswick Estate in Hove. It displays an abundance of
stuccoed facades and classical inflection.
Ironically, the completion of such a grand
project coincided with the beginning of a general
decline of the entire Brighton area throughout
the late nineteenth century. Sloth, drunkenness
and Brighton became synonymous. Many of the
larger houses on the Kemptown estate
progressively emptied because of huge overheads
and a dwindling economy. In 1903, Lord Rendell
pioneered the trend of buying large houses and
converting them into flats. He purchased twenty
houses in Sussex Square.
Princess Louise, daughter of Edward VII, and her
husband, the Duke of Fife, lived in number one
Lewes Crescent. In 1908, George VII stayed with
his daughter to recover from a period of
infirmity. The gardens were closed so that George
could stroll in uninterrupted seclusion. At the
time Brighton Corporation were desperate to have
people know the area as "King's Cliff"
but this name never stuck. Sir Albert Sassoon, a
friend of George's, embarked on a last wild
building flurry. He erected the Preston Place
Mausoleum for his family in the north-east corner
of Preston Place. The mausoleum is now a bar.
Wholesale conversion to flats continued.
over Brighton during WW1, but the town suffered
no damage. The Royal Pavilion was converted into
a hospital for Indian soldiers with multiple
kitchens catering for various religious
THE GROWTH OF
Amidst the rapid
development of rail travel in the 19th century, a
railway was built at great expense and with huge
engineering effort from Brighton Station to
Kemptown, via two viaducts and a tunnel through
the Race Hill. Sadly the railway was never a
success; it was cynically motivated, the
intention being that if a line were in place from
Brighton across to the East, no other railway
company could build a line from London! The train
journey was twice as long as the direct route by
road! In the 1930s the station was closed to
passengers, and in the 1960s cuts, the line
vanished altogether, even for useful freight
traffic. Sadly the viaducts did not survive the
architectural transgressions of the 1970s and are
now remembered only by the curvaceous rendering
on the sides of Brighton's main Sainsbury
supermarket. The tunnel remains, open at one end,
and serves as a mushroom farm.
twenties and thirties, Kemptown continued to
attract artists, writers and performers and
white-socked males (a secret sign of the outlawed
outbreak of WWII, Brighton became a no-go area.
The beach was covered in mines and barbed wire
and guns were sited in the parks. Children where
evacuated as a precaution against bombing raids
and possible invasion. Britain fought off the
Luftwaffe, sunk the Bismarck, and thwarted
operation Sealion (German Code-name for the
planned invasion of Brighton's beaches). In the
event, only twenty bombs fell on Kemptown. They
caused no significant damage.
Kemptown has witnessed the development of modern
estates and wholesale conversion of it's Regency
buildings into flats. The fashion - and economy!
- driven influx of political groups has served to
broaden horizons and add to the cultural melting
pot that is the Kemptown of today.
Street, the main thoroughfare from Brighton to
Kemptown proper, boasts Brighton's first gay
coffee shop. Deeper within Kemptown are hidden
away music studios (for example those of The Levellers). Kemptown houses the UK headquarters of the visionary paradise-engineers at BLTC Research. Here too are the offices of a
number of direct-action campaign groups, notably Justice?. Justice is a collective formed in
the mid 1990s in opposition to the Criminal
Justice Bill. They are famous for squatting a
number of municipal buildings in the town to
highlight the scandal of empty buildings not
being used to house homeless people, or for
socially beneficial community functions.
INHABITANTS OF KEMP TOWN ESTATE AND THE WIDER
Novelist William Harrison Ainsworth.
finished by Thomas Cubitt.
House. Novelist D.L. Murray.
Thomas Cubitt 1846-1855
Sixth Duke of Devonshire 1828-1858
Princess Louise (daughter of Edward VII),
Duke of Fife 1896-1924 visited by George
Actress Anna Neagle and Producer Herbert
Lord Frederick Elwyn Jones. Labour MP
prosecutor at Nuremberg, Lord chancellor
Thomas Reed Kemp 1827-1837
Rev. Charles Dogran (Lewis Carol)
First Marquis and Fifth Earl of Bristol.
Studied theology at Cambridge. Married
the year following graduation. (a
marriage that was to produce four sons
and six daughters.)
Inherited estates and became M.P for
Resigned seat and founded a dissenting
religious sect at St. James chapel.
Built trinity chapel, moved sect to new
Returned to orthodoxy. Re-elected M.P for
Lewes. Idea for Kemptown estate.
Approached architects Charles Busby and
Amon Wilde. Thomas Cubitt to build. Town
commissioner until 1825. £10,000 of land
to Cubitt to repay debts.
Moved to 22 Sussex Square.
Built house in London.
Kemp flees to Paris to escape creditors.
Death in Paris. Buried in Piere-la-chaise
graveyard. Estate conveyed to eldest son.
Charles Edward Lamb, with subsequent additions
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