Sunday 9 September 2018

Ovingdean Hall, the Georgian mathematical tiled birth place of Charles Eamer Kempe

Ovingdean Hall is the only country house now within the boundary of the City of Brighton and Hove built after 1700. The rest have sections built before then. It is special for three reasons.  It has a facade of cream mathematical (also called brick) tiles, the owner was a major supporter of the Anglican church in Brighton and of Ovingdean church and, he was the father of Charles Eamer Kempe (who added the e to the end of Kemp). Nathaniel an uncle of Thomas Read Kemp of Kemp Town.

By 1785, Nathaniel (1760-1843) was renting Preston Place (it wasn't Preston Manor then) from the Western family and when he married Martha Fielde, his first wife, they stayed there.  When Charles Callis Western decided to sell the Preston Estate, Nathaniel and Martha moved.  They knew by 1792 that they would have to go and they decided to build a small country house on land in Ovingdean which Nathaniel had bought in by 1783.

Ovingdean Hall c 1900 from a postcard. A better copyright OK image would be much appreciated.

The house was built by William Tuppen to a plan which has not survived and which he may have drawn. Tuppen was a well known local builder who, like many of this period would have been capable of working out the facade design and plan for a simple small country house. He estimated that the work would cost £2,653.10 shillings. The house he said was 60 feet long and 39 feet deep. Behind it, Tuppen built a stable and coach house.  The house has been enlarged since then but the inventory of it in 1852 which survives describes it in some detail when the Kemp family left and so before successive owners altered it.

Martha died in 1821 and the childless Nathaniel (aged 63) married Augusta Caroline Eamer who bore eight children, one of whom was Charles Eamer who became famous for his stained glass and other decorative work as we can see in St Nicholas of Myra in Brighton and in Ovingdean Church.

Nathaniel cared for Ovingdean Church, the archives show that he spent a significant amount on its upkeep, he also donated with Augusta, plate to St Nicholas of Myra and, built a private chapel just off St James Street which will be part of story of another blog.  Nathaniel was also interested in the education of poor children in Brighton.

Ovingdean Church as Nathaniel Kemp would have known it. This water-colour by Petrie is c1800 

In 1852, the widowed Augusta and the large family left Ovingdean Hall, hence the inventory noted above. The trustees of Nathaniel's will could not sell the house and estate and so let the house and farm separately until they sold it to Elliott MacNaughton a wealthy employee of the East India Company.

The Kemp family link with Ovingdean therefore ended a long time before Ovingdean Church was restored in 1866-7 by Macdonald Hills. By then Kempe was establishing himself as a designer of stained glass and interior walls of churches.  It is the work of the young Kempe that we see in St Wulfran. He was paid for painting the ceiling of the chancel and installing the stained glass that he also designed.   Compare this with his much later work - of the late 1870s onwards at St Nicholas of Myra in Brighton.

Meanwhile, Ovingdean became a school in the 1890s.  It was occupied by Canadian troops during the second world war and became a well known school in 1948. It is now a language school.

For more information and detail see Sussex Archaeological Collections (2013) in any reference library in Sussex and in the archive centre (The Keep) pages 193-7 with the list of sources.

First version 9th Sept 2018