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Home » Editor's Pick, Features

Thomas Read Kemp – a Regency ‘Credit Crunch’?

Published by on Friday, 13 February 2009One Comment



Thomas Read Kemp's "Kemptown"

Thomas Read Kemp's "Kemptown"

In November 1822, the Sussex Weekly Advertiser reported that; ‘Two elegant new squares are talked of to skirt the East and the West of the town’. One was Kemp Town and the other, Brunswick Town in Hove. 

Thomas Read Kemp developed Kemp Town. He inherited this land from his father. By 1820 Thomas Read and Frances  Kemp (nee Baring – of the banking family) had sold their country house in Herstmonceaux and were living at The Temple, now the High School for Girls in Montpelier Road.

Thomas must have been planning his huge project for some time. Between c1818 and 1824, he bought land in East Laine, a large arable field between Brighton and Kemp Town to extend what we now call Eastern Road directly into Sussex Square.  This road enabled Kemp not only to give an inland route into Sussex Square and the Crescent but also to develop land that he owned along it. 

Kemp chose Busby and Wilds as his architects for the design of his grand project for Sussex Square and Lewes Crescent. That part of Kemp Town was originally to have 250 houses and, mews (see picture). Kemp decided to act as the developer without a surveyor in charge and without following the usual practice (employed so successfully over in Brunswick Town) of expecting the builders to find their own funding. 

In 1822, Kemp was paying the wages of at least 200 workmen to level the site and to begin the construction of the carcasses of the houses.  He bore the costs of not only the building work but also the landscaping and the esplanade to the south of the main road along the seafront.

By 1824 there were carcasses awaiting buyers and no evidence of interest in them, so Kemp borrowed £42,000 secured on the land in his marriage settlement with Frances (nee Baring, his first wife) and on land in Kemp Town. Early in 1826 Kemp did have most of the carcasses of the square and crescents standing. Due to the lack of sales, Kemp was short of capital and borrowed more in 1826. 

In 1827, Kemp decided to move to Kemp Town and to sell The Temple. He could not find a buyer and let it as a school. A French visitor described his opulent lifestyle at Kemp Town: “The impression is of a man who is hoping that his lifestyle there would attract buyers who might emulate it.” Slowly houses sold. In 1828, Matthias Wilks of Tandridge bought a house in Sussex Square on the south east corner. The same year Kemp’s sister, Mrs Sober contracted to buy 23 Sussex Square for £3,150. By May he had sold 17 carcasses on to Cubitt, 15 to Joseph and Matthias Wilks and 11 to Nehemiah Wimble (of Lewes) but remained the largest proprietor with 47 houses and sites. The Earl of Bristol bought two houses in the north-west corner of Sussex Square in 1829 and then large plots of land from Kemp, including all of the pasture between his  house and the old parish boundary at Bear Road.

In 1828 the 6th Duke of Devonshire bought the carcass of No. 14 Chichester Terrace from Kemp and in March 1829, No. 1 Lewes Crescent from Thomas Cubitt ( a well known builder). The two houses were on a wedge shaped plot and although he used them both, they were laid out as two separate houses with, the accounts suggest, a connecting door and a large detached kitchen to keep the smell of cooking out of the houses. Cubitt completed No.1 and did all the interior work within it for £9,293. The Duke spent over £1000 a year on running costs alone. Could the sheer size of these houses deterred people from buying? 

To show that he wished to sell land west of the core of his main project, Kemp built St. George’s chapel, designed by C A Busby. The Chapel cost Kemp £11,000 and the additional cost of the private Act of Parliament. Such a chapel was often built by a developer starting a large and prestigious project. Pews were let to pay for the curate and for the running costs. 

Kemp never finished his scheme. He was faced with three issues by 1828s, first that Brunswick Town was closer to the town centre, second that this rival was better managed, third – in 1827, the economy was starting to enter a recession which lasted for Brighton into the early 1840s. Having chosen to finance the whole project, he slowed down the rate of construction and the project got caught in the credit crunch which made wealth buyers unwilling to commit to holidays homes beside the sea.

Sue Berry wrote Georgian Brighton (Phillimore,2005) and has published many articles on the history of the area now within the City. She is now writing The City of Brighton and Hove, to be published by the Victoria County History series in 2011. She teaches for the Centre for Continuing Education at the University of Sussex and can be reached via her email which is on the University’s web site. 

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