The current Turner in Brighton exhibition in the Royal Pavilion reveals some of the views of Brighton produced by J M W Turner when he stayed in the town, such as his 1824 watercolour, Brighthelmston, Sussex. But where did Turner stay during his time in Brighton?
Turner’s main patron was the Earl of Egremont of Petworth House who generously let him have a studio there which survives and can be visited.
In 1807 the Earl bought East Lodge in Brighton, and the two acre plot the house stood in, from the Neville family of Oxfordshire. This villa stood in a large field called East Laine before 1800 and its isolated site is shown on the Map of 1808 by Marchant. By the early 1820s, Rock Gardens ran along the west side of the grounds, Eastern Road along its north side and St James’s Street (named after a local chapel) along the south. Lord Egremont extended the house on its east side and added more outbuildings north of the house. A rare image in the form of a watercolour painted by W.A. Delamotte is in the collection of the Royal Pavilion and Museums.
Lord Egremont entertained lavishly here when meeting friends and relatives during the fashionable season in Brighton but also did a lot of work for local charities. During the 1820s this included helping to establish the Royal Sussex Hospital not far away, where a bust of him remains. He also chaired the building committee for the construction of St. Peter’s Church.
The villa, built of local cream bricks from Hove, had a very good view of the sea for many years until urban development surrounded it from the 1820s. The family retained the house well into the 1850s for entertaining but by then its sea view was long lost and the house seems to have been sold in the 1860s, and it became a mix of houses and mews. Today the site is largely below the large Victorian houses along the east side of Upper Rock Gardens, St Mary’s Church and St Mary’s Place to the north of St Mary’s Church.
The Earl was a generous host. So did he allow Turner the use of rooms in this house as he had done at Petworth? So far no references have been found but research continues, for it seems probable that he did.
If anyone can help with this, please get in touch by leaving a comment below.
Dr. Sue Berry, Historical researcher