In 1899 Hove Council approved plans for St. Aubyns Mansions submitted by developer Lainson & Sons.
The plans showed eight luxury residential flats each stretching from the front to the back of the building. It was intended to be but the first stage of a grandiose development of similar blocks disposed around a ‘St. Aubyns Square’, somewhat after the fashion of Brunswick, and taking in what later became the King Alfred site. However the scheme never progressed further than this single block. At the time it was said to be the nearest residential property to the sea along the entire Brighton & Hove coastline. It may still be. During the war it was requisitioned by the Navy as part of the King Alfred training complex and after the war remained semi-derelict for several years until it was restored and converted to modern occupancy standards.
Over the years it has had two famous occupants: Dame Clara Butt, the contralto singer, and Vesta Tilly, the male impersonator and music hall entertainer. Two blue plaques have now been installed commemorating their periods of residence and were unveiled on Friday, 19th August, 2011.
Dame Clara Butt was born at Southwick in 1872, educated at South Bristol High School and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in 1890. She made her professional debut in Sir Arthur Sullivan’s ‘The Golden Legend’ in 1892. Bernard Shaw wrote that “she far surpassed the utmost expectations” and Sir Thomas Beecham famously announced, “On a clear day you could have heard her voice across the English Channel”. She lived at 4 St. Aubyns from 1903 to 1906.
Vesta Tilley, born in 1864 made her first stage appearance as a singer & dancer in 1868 and first donned boy’s clothes in 1870 to parody a Music Hall tenor, Sim Reeves, which was an instant success. She appeared frequently at the Hippodrome in Middle Street, Brighton. She became Lady de Frece when her husband was knighted in 1919 for services to the war effort. She bought flat 4 at age 83 and lived there until shortly before her death in 1952.
Delia Ives, Volunteer Digital Media Team