QueensPark by Allom
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Thomas Allom's view of Queen's Park by kind permission of Howlett Clarke, Solicitors.

Queens Park and Thomas Attree

Lavender Jones explores the background to one of Brighton's residential areas.

Thomas Attree was born in 1778 at No 8 Ship Street, Brighton. With his younger brother John, he worked in his father's solicitor's office under the name of Attree and Son. The firm of solicitors is not only the oldest firm in Brighton but also the only one that can be traced back to the 18th century although it now practises under the name of Howlett Clarke.

Attree became one of the most prominent men in Brighton. When his father died in 1810, he was appointed Clerk to the Vestry and Solicitor to the directors and guardians of the parish. He was also employed by the Royal family to do legal work on the estate of the Royal Pavilion and subsequently became known as the "King of Brighton".

Attree had outgrown the family house in Ship Street and needed something grander to suit his position in the town. He purchased the parkland on the edge of the town on which to build himself a grand villa, commissioning Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860) to design it. Barry is best known for the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament, he also designed the Church of St Peter, Brighton, and St Andrew's, Waterloo Street, Hove. Attree's idea was for a speculative development where the open space would raise the value of the properties. He had already acquired the lordship of the manor of Atlingworth, where he had built Marine Square on Brighton's seafront in 1824/5.

It may have been Barry who suggested that Thomas Allom prepare the grand design for the whole proposed layout, shown in the watercolour above, which would embody Barry's design for Attree's own villa. Allom (1804-1872), who painted the watercolour in 1835, worked with Barry on several projects including the Houses of Parliament and the remodelling of Highclere Castle in Hampshire. He studied at the Royal Academy of Art and was articled to the architect Francis Goodwin, designing many churches and other buildings in this country. However, it may well have been Barry himself who decided on the design of all the villas illustrated in the watercolour.

"This view is intended to show the general effect of villas which are proposed to be erected within the park in addition to those that already exist. The building plots are confined to the space between the Upper Drive and the Boundary Wall; they contain an average depth of 250 feet, and may have any amount of frontage that may be desired. The owner of each plot is to be at liberty to build according to his Design subject to the approval of the Proprietor of the park. The interior of the park within the drive is not to be built upon but to be left free and forever appropriated as at present for lawn and Plantations. The trees of the latter are of ten years growth and average from fifteen to twenty feet high..."

Although a grand scheme, its layout was typical of other speculative developments of the period such as James and Decimus Burton's villa landscape of c.1828 at St Leonards-on-Sea. The houses are arranged around central gardens (with private access), carriageways and gatehouses (it predated Joseph Paxton's great scheme for Birkenhead Park in Liverpool however by 8 years). In the end, the only buildings to be built in Attree's lifetime were the Spa, W.S. Cowell's Villa (erected before Attree's Villa) and the water tower now known as the Pepperbox or pot, the gateways and the gazebo. It is thought Attree ran out of money before his grand scheme could be realised and after his death in 1863 aged 85, the estate came onto the market. George Duddell bought the estate for a mere £28,000 and lived in the villa until his death in 1887. Duddell was unmarried but brought his niece Kate to live in the villa with her children. She was known as his wife and was 32 years his junior. After her husband's death the town tried to secure the area as a public park before the auction in 1888 but Mrs Duddell was reluctant to name a price on the basis that if the council rejected it no one else would be prepared to meet it.

The whole estate was divided into lots with a building line allowing for houses to be erected on both sides of the Drives, as they were to become, and a minimum value fixed for the houses to be erected. Kate Duddell could only build houses of the description authorised. By the same token no structures could be raised on the top of the bank that might obstruct views from the houses round the park. However much Mrs Duddell wished to ensure the people of Brighton should benefit from her park, she, like Attree before her, was keen that it should also enhance the value of the surrounding land. The final area agreed upon came to 17 acres, including the Spa's one acre. The Pepperbox also became part of the Race Stand Trustee's gift. The trustees spent £13,500: £9,500 was paid to Mrs Duddell and £4,000 to the town for the work done by the council on her behalf.

The park was actually bought by the Corporation in the last days of December 1890 and the covenants transferred to Mayor Soper at a banquet thrown by the trustees. From that moment on, the property became the freehold of the Corporation on behalf of the inhabitants of Brighton. At the banquet a souvenir presentation was made to each of the trustees of a silver salver, silver tea tray and clock costing £210. Weeks before the official opening ceremony it was also decided to erect a drinking fountain in the park in memory of the gift.

The Villa

In 1891 Edward Henry Howard (1829 -1892) was living in Attree's villa. He was born in London and became a catholic priest and archbishop and was made a Cardinal in 1877. After a short time in the British Army, he resigned his commission to enter the English College at Rome, where he was ordained. He was made Cardinal in 1877 as part of his promotion to become the Protector of the English College as well as an Arch priest at St Peter's Basilica. He retired to Duddell's villa in 1891 and died not long after; he is buried at the Fitzalan Chapel in Arundel, West Sussex. Whilst at Brighton he had an entourage of six servants including an Italian valet, Gaetano Dele Donne, whose wife and daughter lived in a cottage over the coach houses. On the 1891 census the Cardinal is described as a Lunatic. The villa lay empty for several years and became the Xaverian college for boys. After its closure the villa fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1972 despite it being a Grade II* listed building.

 

Photographs of the villa from the James Gray Collection may be seen here.

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The full history of Queen's Park is explored in a new book by Brighton Town Press.

The Story of Queen's Park

ISBN 1-901454-12-3 £9.99
From a number of local Brighton bookshops, or direct from the publishers.