Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Shakespeares Head, Brighton – Once a House of Repute in Sussex

Another former Kemp Town Brewery pub, improved in the interwar period and currently closed, the Shakespeare’s Head stands on the corner of Spring Street and Hampton Street, just north of Western Road. 

(The other Brighton pub of the same name, in Chatham Place, was a Tamplins House). Hard to believe it may be but the above two views are photographed from virtually the same angle. That from the James Gray collection of the Regency Society is dated c. 1935 just after much of the surrounding area was cleared but with the pub awaiting a rebuild. My recent shot of the same spot shows just how extensive a transformation of the premises took place. The landlord at the time of the improvements was either a George W. Beall or (by 1939) Stanley Howard Parker.

I’m guessing slightly at the exact year of the rebuild and the architect responsible because the licensing plans with such details are, unusually, not listed in the Brighton Borough Petty Sessional Division catalogue held at the East Sussex Record Office. Nonetheless, I can assert with some confidence that this is another J. L. Denman building. John Leopold Denman was not the only in-house architect for the Kemp Town Brewery (J. T. & F. J. Cawthorn and Frank W. Pearcy were also employed by KTB - or Abbey & Sons as the brewery was previously known) but Denman does appear to be responsible for most if not all the ‘improved public houses’ in so far as we define this term in an ideological way, that is, a house designed to effect a desired change towards ‘respectability’ in the type and habits of its clientele.

What are the architectural clues to this being a Denman building? The interesting use made of brickwork, polychromatic in this instance. Restraint and elegance in design, neo-Georgian with rounded ground floor windows.

Mostly though, and this is perhaps a leap of faith but one forgivable enough for its plausibility, the granite plinth and door surrounds, particularly in the effect provided to the corner entrance which strikes me as a plain and honest pub version of the doorway to Regent House, in Princes Place, Brighton, designed by Denman in 1933/4.
Did Denman have his Regent House doorway as a model in his head as he drafted the plans for the new pub? Compare both doorways in the composite photograph. That is, of course, assuming that Denman was the architect of the Shakespeares Head.


Kemp Town Brewery (n.d. but c. 1932), In and Around Brighton: “Houses” of Repute in Sussex, Cheltenham: Ed J. Burrow & Co.

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