Kemp Town Enclosures is a communal garden, owned collectively by the freeholders of the 100 houses that make up the Kemp Town Estate. Developed in the 1820’s by Thomas Kemp, the Estate consists of Sussex Square, Lewes Crescent, Chichester Terrace and Arundel Terrace.
The gardens were landscaped in 1828 at about the time that the Kemp Town Estate was being constructed, and each freeholder paid a sum fixed to the Garden Management Committee towards their upkeep.
A Board of Management for Kemp Town Enclosures is voted in and an AGM is held every year, usually in February.
The local historian Anthony Dale lived on the Estate and wrote a pocket-sized ‘History’ which has since been updated to the early 1990s. This can be purchased, price £3 from the office of Jonathan Rolls, agents for the company Kemp Town Enclosures Limited and a leading local managing agent.
What follows is just a short summary:
Thomas Kemp owned the land on which the Estate was built and started what was, for its time, an enormously ambitious plan to build houses that could accommodate all the servants and paraphernalia of wealthy families who came to Brighton for the fashionable summer season. The whole Garden, amounting to about seven and a half acres, was fenced and railed by Kemp in 1823. Arundel Terrace was built first and was a success, but Kemp lacked the funds to do more than build the facades of Lewes Crescent, Sussex Square and Chichester Terrace.
Buyers would build as they pleased behind the uniform facades (so every house is differently laid out). By the time Kemp was out of money (and fled to France to escape his creditors) there was a significant number of wealthy owners already in place, and they made plans for the Gardens, sharing equally the expense, as early as 1828.
The Gardens were laid out by Henry Phillips, who also put in place the tunnel under what is now Marine Parade. Two cottages were built, The Gardener’s Cottage (for the gardener) and The Garden’s Policeman’s Cottage (for the Garden Constable). A plaque can be found mounted on the wall of the tunnel with the inscription:
DUTY OF THE CONSTABLE
to be constantly on the premises, and to keep the whole of the place free from intrusion of all persons whose conduct or appearance seem to justify their exclusion, and if any of the company require his assistance and protection he will attend immediately on the ringing of the BELL.
The Gardens extended down to the beach and from here the Constable was allowed to admit non-residents if they were respectably dressed.
Throughout the nineteenth century the Gardens were well used, with summer picnics on the Slopes (south of Marine Parade), tennis courts and space for croquet in the South Garden, and the more formal North Garden resembling a London square. The enormous amount of grass soon required a primitive mowing machine, which was pulled by a donkey; the proprietors bought one each spring and sold it in the late autumn.
The 1914-18 war hugely damaged the endowments and spending power of the leisured classes, and houses began to be divided into flats. The maintenance was high and Brighton was no longer the fashionable place to come for the summer season. Nonetheless, reports of the interwar period tell of carefree picnics, lots of tennis and a largely unchanged social structure.
The real horror, so far as the Estate was concerned, was World War Two. Invasion was expected anywhere on the coast between Dover and Brighton. The Slopes and the southern half of the South Garden were requisitioned by the Army, the North Garden by the Fire Service and Arundel Terrace Garden by the Admiralty. The Garden railings were taken down for ‘the war effort’ but were never used. The redoubtable Mrs Dorothy Dale, Anthony Dale’s mother, used her money and energy to organise a chestnut paling fence round the much diminished South Garden.
After the war the estate and Gardens were in sorry shape. It took a long time to arrange the cleaning-up of the wartime military installations and even longer to collect the damages from the authorities to enable the Gardens to be put back into use.
The Estate was practically valueless – whole houses in Lewes Crescent could be bought for £2000 – and the incomes from investments of the former leisured classes were devastated by inflation. The whole Estate, valued in 1894 at £500,000, was probably worth less than £250,000 in the late 1940s. Today the value of the Estate is between £150 and £200 million. These numbers are unadjusted for inflation but show the huge recovery in values over the past half-century.
Gradually the Gardens were cleaned up, and new railings (steel rather than cast iron, because of cost) were installed in the 1960s. The resident population diversified, with students renting rooms and almost all houses being converted into flats, but the burden of maintenance was heavy and houses remained generally undermaintained.
As the UK economy grew in the 1980s and 1990s and Brighton became newly fashionable for young people and commuters, the standard of maintenance rose and the Estate and Gardens began, for the first time since the 1930s, to look worthy of the Grade One listing. Many families with children moved in. New railings for Arundel and Chichester Terraces, and some fine gateposts, were funded by residents with contributions from Brighton Council and English Heritage. The Gardens returned to their original status. The Estate was again wealthy enough to pay for really first-class Gardens by subscriptions from virtually all the freeholders.
The Gardens have used their new prosperity to catch up on maintenance and to plant bulbs and plants appropriate to the seaside location. A big windbreak planted in the 1980s in the south-west corner has greatly helped the Garden surmount the perennial problem of gale-force south-west winds. The shape of trees in the South Garden, all bent from the wind, testifies to the force of the gales.
Other improvements include a section designed for small children, and new and repaired seats and tables. The Garden is now a big contributor to the value of the estate.