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In your street: Premier square with a touch of Wonderland
With its grand architecture and beautiful private gardens, it’s no surprise to hear this flamboyant square has been home to rich, powerful and creative types.
Plush Sussex Square, situated opposite Lewes Crescent in Brighton, has hosted Prime Ministers, famous architects and lauded authors since its first house was built in 1827.
The square’s houses all have four storeys with Doric or Ionic porches and ironwork balconies that give them an abundance of character and charm.
In the centre of the square is a beautiful, luscious green garden that is accessible only to residents.
Thomas Read Kemp, the brains behind the architecture in Sussex Square, himself served a ten-year residency in the street from 1827 and set the trend for a string of fellow rich and famous homeowners.
But one of the square’s most iconic residents was the Rev Charles Dodgson – better known to you and I as Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, Carroll lived at number 11 Sussex Square from 1874 and reportedly left the property in the hands of his sister while he was away.
It’s thought his time in the square provided the inspiration for the notorious rabbit hole in the Alice in Wonderland books, thanks to a tunnel in the Sussex Square gardens that runs all the way to the beach.
Carroll left the road in 1887 – but he wasn’t the only creative spark to grace the square’s famous Regency-style houses.
Fast forward to today and you’ll find another crafty resident in 24-year-old Sofie Kay.
Sofie, who came to Brighton to study physics at university, runs a successful online business selling handmade and ecofriendly crocheted kits and items.
She said: “I was born in Bath but we moved around a lot before landing in London.
“I came to Brighton to study at university but couldn’t do it and dropped out. I did physics but it was so full-on I quit after a year-and-a-half.
“It was very surreal quitting and terrifying. I was sat in the library square and thought to myself ‘I’ve just quit my course, what are you doing?’ “But the risk paid off. My business selling ‘learn to crochet’ kits has been a major success online and I’m about to launch another kit.
“Brighton’s full of creativity and inspiration so I’d definitely say I’m in one of the best places to develop my ideas right now.”
Sofie was sitting with her frantic but adorable fourmonth- old kitten Ponyo.
She said: “I think she should be a lot bigger for four months but she just doesn’t grow.
Maybe she’s just a small cat.
“Like me, she loves it round here – especially in the gardens.”
Before Sussex Square’s gardens were being occupied by over-energetic cats like Ponyo, the flowers and shrubbery were favoured by no less than a British Prime Minister.
Lord John Russell, twice the PM of Britain and a famous Whig and Liberal politician, lived at number 14 in 1838.
He came to attention in Parliament after helping to write the 1832 Reform Bill, which increased the number of people eligible to vote.
He served as PM from 1846 to 1852 and 1865 to 1866 and, when in office, managed to liberalise trade and limited women’s working hours, plus passed the Education Act of 1847, meaning improved pay for teachers and more money to non-conformist schools. He also oversawthe Public Health Act 1848, which meant improvement of sanitary conditions of towns and populous places.
He was the last Whig Prime Minister and even had the Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities dedicated to him for “remembrance of many public services and private kindnesses”.
But before his relatively successful spell in the halls of Westminster, his period in Sussex Square was marred by tragedy.
After marrying his beloved partner Lady Ribbelsdale in 1835, with whom he had two daughters, the couple stayed in Sussex Square for an intended short period during 1838.
But Lady Ribbelsdale, otherwise knownas Adelaide, passed away from a mysterious illness after just three years of marriage.
Elsewhere in the square’s history books, a glance back to 1878 reveals number 30 was once a ladies’ school.
The principal, Miss Charlotte Duncan, looked after 14 pupils and three other teachers.
“I used to live in Hove but had spent time in Sussex Square before as my grandfather lived here.
“I remember playing hide and seek in the gardens as a child, and we found the tunnel in the south gardens.
It was so magical at the time. I moved to Sussex Square about 10 years ago to the flat underneath my grandfather and step-grandmother to help look after them.
“Anthony runs a cleaning business called Carpet Doctors and also does hands-on-healing work.
“I do support work with vulnerable adults and teenagers. I am also a massage therapist. The best thing about my work is watching people relax and letting go of the tensions and stresses of the day.
“The best thing about Sussex Square is the beautiful buildings and the gorgeous gardens. The worst thing is the parking and the costs to keep the buildings looking so great.
“I think a lot of famous people have lived in the Square and Lewes Crescent by the number of blue plaques around. My building gets a mention in David Knowles book The Tree Climbers – A Childhood in Wartime Brighton.
Anthony said: “I love meeting and helping people through my work and I’m passionate about my family’s wellbeing. I also love to play music when I can.”
“I’ve lived here since 1994 and it’s changed quite a bit, mainly down to the people who live here.
“When I came it was all retired people with very few children. There were older people sitting in the gardens reading books, that kind of thing.
“Now the retired people have gone to Marine Gate or elsewhere, and on the whole it’s now young families with new babies and toddlers. In fact, toddlers seem to rule the roost around here now. There’s a lot more energy here these days.
“The gardens, which are better kept now than ever, are a really good thing to have.
“When I came here we had a group of people called the Park Benchers. People would come down from London in the summer and we’d gather in the gardens for a drink and a bit of a party on a Friday or Saturday night. It was years ago though and it all ended, of course.
“I was a professor of Japanese history. I was working in Australia and Japan and it all sparked from there. Now I like pottery in my spare time.”
“I run a business called Sewfie which is all online, mainly selling through Facebook, craft kits, ‘learn to crochet’ kits and hand-made purses and things.
“It’s mainly 25 to 35-year-old women who buy my stuff, who perhaps haven’t had the experience of making things like that before.
“So it’s really good and it’s really nice teaching. I was brought up in Northumberland and I think probably it’s got something to do with the wild freedom you get in the moors and the ferns and things. You get to run around a lot and explore so maybe it’s got something to do with that.
“I’ve been in Brighton for about three years and it’s just brilliant. I was in university accommodation, then moved to Queens Park Road, and then moved here.
“I live with my boyfriend who is doing a PhD in physics.
We met at the physics ball, which is really funny.
“What’s also quite funny is that there’s been a lost cat in the square and because everyone’s seen Ponyo in the gardens, I’ve been asked whether I’ve been pinching the lost one, because apparently that’s ginger like Ponyo.
“But it’s all in good heart though. It’s got me talking to my neighbours, which is good.
“As for my business, I see it in five years as very solid and still successful, maybe getting a couple more people working for me and perhaps a shop somewhere.
“I also teach piano.”
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