As well as the Royal Pavilion, yesterday we visited the Regency Town House. The house is a grade I heritage listed building in the heart of Brighton. It is currently being transformed into a heritage centre and museum. The purpose of our visit was to learn not only about the architectural history of Brighton and Hove, but also, the conservation and preservation efforts. Our tour guide was curator Nick Tyson who was an incredibly passionate individual and gave us a wonderful tour of both the upstairs and the downstairs of the house.
We started with a quick introduction to the architectural and social history of Brighton with references to where we were located, Brunswick Square. I am a visual learner so it was great to hear this history accompanied by maps. They showed the development of Brighton and Hove from small towns to lavish holiday destinations. There was also some discussion on why Brighton became so popular. Reasons included the growing idea of seawater being associated with good health and better roads connecting Brighton to London. The talk then went into the work of architect Charles Busby – a largely forgotten contributor to Brighton/Hove architecture. His designs were influenced by his time in the United States. Busby gave very specific instructions on how to build the houses and the specific function of each room. After the talk, we were guided through the house to see the rooms for ourselves.
We started by going through the servants’ quarters on the lower ground of the house. They were lived in until 1998 when the tenant was transferred to a retirement home. The first room we visited was the housekeepers room where we learnt about how the room would have looked. Features such as the use of oak would have signified status and, unfortunately, it is no longer evident today. Following the servants corridor we also stopped to see the wine cellar, servants’ room, and kitchen. The structure of the rooms has been well preserved and it will look amazing when the interiors can be restored. As we walked along, Nick was able to train our eyes to read the archaeological evidence. For example, in the servants’ room there was an indent in the wall that had timber rather than stone floors. Further research indicated that servants would have slept in this area. The timber floors would have been much more pleasant to step on first thing in the morning when compared to cold, hard stone. I really enjoyed seeing this hidden or dark history of England!
We were then led to the upper floors of the house. My absolute favourite part of the tour was hearing about the dining hall on the first floor. The room was painted a pretty soft pink colour in line with the theory of Goethe that this particular colour aided in digestion. How the colour was discovered is the very interesting part. On a small section of the wall it looked as though the surface had been scraped away layer by layer. This had been carefully done with various grains of sandpaper to reveal the coats of paint hidden on the wall. After analysis and exposure to sunlight, the original painted colour of the walls was, therefore, restored. It was really great to see this heritage work on display for visitors as the process as well as the result could be highlighted.
Walking up the staircase to the next level, we learnt the marginalized cast iron industry of Brighton and how the house materials had been locally sourced. In the front and back drawing rooms we were again put to the archaeological test determining where paintings or other wall fixtures may have been located.
We finished the session with a summary of the building and its significance in Brighton’s history. The Regency/Georgian buildings were replaced with those built in a modernist style. At the end of World War II, conservation and preservation efforts began meaning buildings like those in Brunswick Square have survived. The building most certainly has fantastic stories to tell and it is fantastic to see this piece of history being restored.
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