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In Your Street: Montpelier Crescent's colourful history
11:40am Saturday 16th February 2013 in News
By Oran Burke
Montpelier Crescent’s sweep of Regency homes suggests a golden past.
But few are aware the prestigious address was also home to Olympic gold winning athlete Steve Ovett.
Resident David Harrison said: “I also remember the runner Steve Ovett lived here for a while.
“I would see him in the mornings when he was getting ready to go out running and training.”
Singer-songwriter Inga Lawson has only been living in the crescent for around a year, but she has already fallen in love with the crescent’s striking windows.
She said: “On days when the sun reaches high in the sky and delicate rays start to illuminate the majestic curve of the crescent, I feel I'm on the set of Oliver.
“Nothing can stop me from flinging back the curtains, opening the window and bursting into song.
"Who will buy this wonderful morning?"
It’s easy to see where she finds the inspiration.
The houses, rich with character, overlook a central park area which was once used as a cricket pitch called Lillywhite's and later the Temple Fields Ground.
The park’s claim to fame stretches back to August 1842 when Sussex beat an All-England XI by six runs in one of the last games played there before development started.
Later on, an air-raid shelter was built and used underneath the park during the Second World War, the remains of which are today buried under the vast blanket of grass.
As with most enclosed areas at the time, the Second World War also saw the park’s iron railings removed and apparently melted down to help with the war effort.
Today though the area plays host to a number of mature Evergreen trees, including a particularly towering Holm Oak, which contributes to the crescent’s tranquil atmosphere.
Ms Lawson added: “The area is relatively calm and delightfully green thanks to the trees. They’re important, I do need my trees.”
Montpelier Crescent’s buildings were designed by famous architect Amon Henry Wilds, the brains behind other Brighton projects including Park Crescent and Wykeham Terrace.
Most of the construction work was completed in 1847 with numbers one to six and 32 to 38 added in the mid-1850s.
Originally the views from the terrace stretched across the South Downs to the west, allowing the setting sun to stream into the grand windows.
But within ten years all views to the Downs were blocked following the construction of the imposing Vernon Terrace in the adjacent Montpelier Road.
Over the years the crescent has welcomed a colourful collection of characters, including surgeons, suffragettes, school folk and squatters.
AA. Ruxton, the first secretary of the Brighton Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, the movement that eventually went on to win the vote for women, lived at number 5 in the 1870s.
In 1923, a doctor’s surgery was opened at number 24 by Octavia Wilberforce, an important figure in the women’s rights movement and great-granddaughter of William Wilberforce, the Yorkshire MP who helped bring about an end to Britain’s involvement in the slave trade.
She had been forced to pursue her medical studies against her family’s wishes after being written out of her father’s will for refusing to enter into an arranged marriage and later became involved in setting up the New Sussex Hospital for Women where she eventually became head physician.
A reminder of Wilberforce’s work is still visible at number 24 in the form of an NHS doctor’s practice.
The crescent’s medically linked past is highlighted in Kelly’s Directory 1934, a reliable and popular business reference of the time.
The directory listed even more physicians, a dentist and a “certified masseuse with radiant heat and light baths, diathermy, ultra-violet light and infrared rays” by the name of Miss Pond.
The crescent is part of the Montpelier and Clifton Hill Conservation Area which has two community organisations working on its behalf.
The Clifton Montpelier Powis Community Alliance (CMPCA), which organises an arts festival and other community events, and the Montpelier and Clifton Hill Association, which keeps track of planning and conservation issues.
Speaking about the effect of these associations, resident Richard Hall said: “As far as the crescent is concerned we have a good community. It’s held together by the good work of the CMPCA.”
His wife Kate also mentioned that in recent years more families with young children have moved in, adding life to the crescent.
During the recent snow the crescent was full of children playing until late in the evening.
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