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In Your Street: All of life has passed through Wykeham Terrace walls
2:50pm Saturday 9th February 2013 in News
It has been home to prostitutes, soldiers and squatters and has even produced a Leo Sayer hit or two.
The alluring Wykeham Terrace, with its gothic-inspired houses and protective stone wall, is a calming retreat that’s rich with an absorbing history – and it’s all on the doorstep of Brighton’s busy centre.
As you step into the terrace the row of early 19th century Tudor-style houses offers a refreshing change from the city’s mostly Regency style architecture.
The grade II listed buildings were the brainchild of Amon Wilds, the architect responsible for the work at Park Crescent in Worthing and Brighton, the Western Pavilion and the Brighton Unitarian Church.
The terrace has had its fair share of news coverage over the years, including when some of the houses were used as a refuge for fallen women in the 1800s and when there was a police siege involving squatters in the 1960s.
It’s also been home to famous faces of past and present, including actress Dame Flora Robson, historian Sir Roy Strong and singer Adam Faith.
Pop star Leo Sayer also spent time in the terrace – although he never actually took up residency there.
But his record producer and manager, David Courtney, did own a flat at Wykeham Terrace and it was here that some of the entertainer’s most famous hits were penned.
One of his songs, Moonlighting, would have been an appropriate theme tune to coincide with the activities of Wykeham Terrace in the 1850s.
The site played host to the St Mary’s Home for Female Penitent’s – a refuge for 'fallen women,’ otherwise known as prostitutes.
Established in 1855 the home was spearheaded by Reverend Arthur Wagner from the St Paul’s Church in neighbouring West Street so that women of the night could be sent in by police and doctors for rehabilitation.
Brighton was known for being home to large numbers of prostitutes in that era and the prevailing Victorian values of the time led to a pro-active street clearing effort.
Wagner, with the help of nuns, set up St Mary’s in a bid to rid the streets of depravity and to help the women get back on their feet.
His work proved a success as around 40 women at any one time were given access to healthcare, education and training for domestic services.
St Mary’s was even home to a certain Constance Kent, a woman convicted of an infamous child murder in 1865 when she was just sixteen years old.
Resident Louise Ineson is a newcomer to the terrace having only moved in this year, but she’s already been briefed on some of the historic stories.
She said: “My housemates and I have only just got here but we were quick to find out about some of the history.
“I know a bit about the homes for fallen women and think it’s fascinating. It’s crazy to think all that went on all those years ago and compare it to how it is today.
“I think our house was used as a squat at one point and was possibly owned by the army.”
She could be right.
From around 1915 the terrace used to provide accommodation quarters for married Army soldiers and was also used by the Territorial Army to billet their officers.
By the 1960s the Army no longer had a desire to remain in the area and put the houses up for sale, but their plans were soon cut short after the arrival of a different kind of enemy.
A Brighton-based squatter group called the Brighton Rents Project occupied the houses owned by the Army and unsurprisingly, weren’t too keen on vacating.
The Rents Project was normally a peaceful and passive group, but unfortunately the squats were infiltrated by a small group of anarchists and opportunists, eager to seize the chance to create civil unrest and launch an attack on the police.
Angry and venomous scenes ensued that would have had Rev Wagner turning in his grave, including three people from the squat arrested for putting a firebomb through the letterbox of the Army recruitment offices in Queen’s Road.
By 1970 the squatters had left and the Army sold the properties to developers.
Michael Fisher, 68, has lived on Wykeham Terrace for 24 years. When he moved in he found clues of the Territorial Army’s presence when he was decorating.
He said: “I remember finding Territorial Army colours on the walls when I peeled back the wallpaper. At one time there were people standing outside the gate looking at the house. I asked them if they had a particular interest in the terrace and they told me they used to live here on the top floor of my house.”
Post-prostitutes, squatters and military men, Wykeham Terrace quietly carries on, with its residents forever appreciative of its illustrious past.
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