Saturday 28 July 2018

The impact of some Georgian and early Victorian innovations on the landscape of Sussex c1680-1850’

This period of rapid change was sandwiched between the political and related economic instability of the greater part of the seventeenth century and the great changes to our landscape economy which took place when the mid-Victorian economy surged such as major resort development. 

Attree's Picture of the roads 1809 shows Sussex (in gold) and the turnpike routes

Sussex cannot be studied without briefly exploring general influences which helped to shape what people did. From the 1680s the national economy expanded fairly steadily aided by a long period of political and economic stability. The government invested in the Royal Navy which regained mastery of the seas around our country and then began to patrol trade routes farther afield. Trade was boosted, aided by our first multinational companies such as the Russia and the East India Companies which expanded their activities. Our complex trade networks helped to ensure that we were not bankrupted by the many years of warfare in which we were embroiled throughout this period because the number of people and volume of business subject to national taxation increased, smuggling (which declined) notwithstanding. We were also able to borrow at reasonably favourable terms because of the development of trade and industry. Immigrants such as the Huguenots (particularly in the 1680s because of political changes in France) brought new skills and greatly helped to raise the standards of our manufactured goods.

Uppark on the South Downs in West Sussex (owned by the National Trust) - a country house of the later 1600s.  Print  c1700 

In Sussex the fortunes of Georgian Uppark were heftily reinforced by the Huguenot Lethieullier family’s gold and banking business in London.  Profits from the East India Company’s activities gave Barwell the capital to buy Stanstead and revamp the house and grounds and Henry Hotham’s substantial profits from that company helped him to develop Hothampton, now Bognor Regis. By the 1790s, before the anti-slavery movement, plantation owners in the West Indies were shifting capital in to Britain recognising that the sugar trade was in decline and we have part of the development of Royal Crescent, Byam House( a splendid Georgian villa long demolished) and Codrington House as evidence of this in Brighton. The Fullers of Brighton Park also owned plantations but sought to diversify. 

 Royal Crescent Brighton  - recent research by Sue Berry (see Library) on Royal Crescent has revealed the story of Otto Bayer and the issues associated with establishing the history of the earlier seaside houses of Brighton because of the lack of information from that period in The Keep (the record office for East Sussex and Brighton and Hove).

The plunder of war funded Lord Heathfield’s purchase of Heathfield Park where he built the Gibraltar Tower as a reminder of his most famous action as a general. Through marriage, the Gages of Firle (of whom General Gage who fought in the American War of Independence was a member) owned some land in America and, a wealthy pro-British family moved their assets to England and owned houses in Brighton and Patching. 
The wealth from being a younger son sent out to find his own living sent Thomas ‘Turk’ Pelham to Turkey as a factor or trader. His success gave him the capital to finish the transformation of Stanmer House by Nicholas Dubois. Henry his older brother had died without a direct heir. Other families sent their sons abroad using their networks to find placements in the East India Company and other enterprises.

Heathfield Park in Sussex as known to Lord Heathfield. Print of the later C18th in date.

Stanmer House ( front rebuilt in the 1720s)  - postcard dated 1923 showing the older service wing at the back too. That wing is now the site of terraced houses. 

Stanmer House in the 1820s with the old church (the one we see now was built in the 1830s). 
See my article about Stanmer House in the Library for more information 

As the national economy developed so the extractive industries became important. The huge redevelopment of Petworth House in the late C17th and early C18th century was substantially funded by northern coalmines and the very Gothic castellated house for the Abergavenny family at Erredge in the 1780s was funded by Welsh mines.

Urban development also provided opportunities. The development of several ambitious projects in Brighton should have made a hefty fortune for Thomas Read Kemp but although the oft published claim that he was bankrupted is a myth, getting caught by the recession of the later 1820s mean that he didn’t do as well as he had hoped. But Brunswick Town, smaller and built faster and a well-timed sale of his other lands in Hove made the Rev Scutt a debt free country gent. Albeit on a modest scale. The slow development of much of Tunbridge Wells helped the Abergavenny family to prosper.

The over ambitious plan for Kemp Town, Brighton.  Print of the early 1820s.  For more information see my article about Thomas Kemp in the Library section. 

The impact of the more complex economy and especially the trade and legal sides gave a huge boost to the British middle classes – a complex and expanding group, some of whom were wealthier than many landowners which made intermarriage a mutually satisfactory idea.  The combined wealth in the landed and upper middle urban classes helps to explain the development of leisure facilities and posher houses in our towns and the seaside resorts and spas.  Two other cultural influences helped resort development too – our notorious hypochondria and our reputation for being overweight. 

The social spaces made in most Georgian towns such as promenade gardens and, the greater interest in clean streets in town centres were part of the desire to ‘take exercise’ but with others of a similar background. Brighton and our other Sussex resorts developed out of the same desire. 

 The Steine at Brighton, the town's promenade due to the lack of a seafront road until c 1820. Viewed from the west looking towards where St James's Street now emerges. The Downs look far more impressive than they really are. This image, artist unknown, is on the website of Brighton Art Gallery and Museums. 

Today we see in most of our resorts and market towns the wonderful legacy of this period when small towns had their final moments of glory as trading and social centres before the railway concentrated population growth on some but by-passed others and helped to create competitors such as Haywards Heath as a market centre and Eastbourne as a planned resort. The refacing and new building in Chichester, Lewes, Horsham, Brighton and Hastings are especially outstanding.

 The assembly room in Chichester serves as a reminder of this feature of many Georgian towns, some resorts had two.  St John’s Chapel in Chichester still has its original interior, a perfect example of how many private chapels of ease in towns looked. These Anglican chapels were built by promotors who had to secure a private Act of Parliament and the goodwill of the vicar. The pew rents were supposed to pay for the investment and the incumbent’s stipend.  

St John's Chichester, a great example of a Chapel of Ease of the early 1800s  and with its original fitments
Open to the public, cared for by volunteers.  

The county’s landscape was altered by the impact of developments which affected the entire country such as the development of turnpikes from the later 1600s, canals and then from 1840, the railway. The turnpikes attracted local investors generally because they hoped to boost trade or rents and few made a profit. 

Canal building and the canalisation of rivers such as the Ouse from Newhaven into the Weald mainly by landowners and major farmers were usually failed to generate enough business to cover the costs of the engineering. Canals normally worked best where there was plenty of coal and other materials to move.

The very varied rural of the county was influenced by new in agriculture and country house developments in different ways partly because of the variety of soils, complex geology and many microclimates.

John Ellman of Glynde by James Lonsdale.
Well known improver of the Southdown Sheep and the steward of the Trevor Estates as well as a farmer and key player in improving the River Ouse. The Ouse Commissioners hoped to get bigger boats to Lewes and improve the drainage of the floodplain 

The farms of the downs declined in number but increased in size. Most of sales and re-organisations of farms the result of the continuation of many centuries of enclosure by agreement. By the later 1700s some of the blocks of land were large and only landowners with a good credit rating could afford to borrow to buy them to merge with existing holdings. The big sheep-corn farms required fewer workers other than at harvest time. Landowners invested most heavily when grain prices were generally high, particularly towards the end of the 1700s when our population rose sharply and grain imports from abroad were disrupted by the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Grain was exported via Newhaven to Portsmouth for the navy, the Catts of Bishopstone Tidemills played a significant role in this trade.

A photograph of the Tidemill (built in the 1760s) provenance not known. If anyone does recognise it please contact me. For a brief history see the article library. 

During the eighteenth century, landowners began to develop their houses in the pictuesque Sussex Weald where the passion for lakes could be indulged, leaving us with the landscapes by Brown and Repton. The iron industry declined leaving inviting ponds for the new landscape parks of Sheffield Park and other Wealden houses.

The dry and less fashionable smooth South Downs were not fashionable by the end of the century. There several houses such as Michelgrove and Bishopstone were demolished as surplus buildings unsuited for other uses. 

 Sheffield Park House, owned by the Earl of Sheffield, looks down at the lakes.  The house was designed in the later C18th Georgian Gothic style by Wyatt and the grounds landscaped by Capability Brown in the 1770s.  The house is private but the park is owned by the National Trust. 

Michelgrove, in the parish of Clapham was bought with its estate by the Duke of Norfolk (of Arundel Castle) and demolished. This is an early nineteenth century print of the large Tudor house. The Walker family had spent a lot of money of this building, and the house was stripped of its valuable contents by auction before it was knocked down.  

With what is now seen as the first truly international war raging just a few miles away, it is remarkable that the resorts of Sussex and Kent developed so much between the 1790s and 1815.  The French were serious about their intention to invade and Napoleon committed huge resources to the attempt of 1805, with 130,000 men and 2240 vessels, based at Calais and Boulogne and with Sussex believed to be his intended destination. Notwithstanding the Battle of Trafalgar, the decision was taken to build the Martello Towers from Seaford eastwards. Pitt recognised that Napoleon, who went on to win land battles might be able to try again and some form of delaying system had to be installed. 

The Wish Tower, a surviving Martello Tower at Eastbourne by Nibbs in 1859. Note the bathing machines and other activities. The Martello Tower at Seaford was the most western one and that is a museum but not open every day. 

At Eastbourne the Wish Tower is a Martello Tower (closed to the public) and the Redoubt at the east end of the town (open to the public), a centre for soldiers and supplies to reinforce the small garrisons  in the Towers, several of which stood along Pevensey Bay. Most of the many barracks and small gun emplacements which were along the coast have long been lost but a few street names such as Barrack Lane in Brighton survive.  At peak periods of threat, thousands of soldiers were stationed in the county. The officers and their relatives played an important role in the development of the resorts.  

From 1815 to the mid-1820s the county continued to thrive and then it was hit by a national recession. Many of the grand schemes in the resorts were never completed. Leisure trips are the first casualty of having less to spend. It was the length of the depression which helped to persuade many local landowners and investors in resorts to change their attitude to railways, first mooted in the mid-1820s. By the later 1830s encouragement was in the air and the first line, from Brighton to Shoreham opened with much celebration in 1840, followed by the Brighton line.  Not until consumer confidence returned in the mid-1840s did the railway system really have much impact on Brighton, the first resort to have a line. Then, as more line opened so the companies did all they could to generate traffic in a rural county with resorts on its coastal fringe and the world of Victorian urban development along the coast began. And leisure use of places such as Ashdown Forest. And the county’s landscape began to take on a different look and that is another story.

Print of Brighton Station as it was before the many additions changed the look of it. That bridge still is also still present.  It was built as an afterthought and is the theme of a separate blog. The print is of around 1850.