Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Devonshire Arms, Brighton – Once a House of Repute in Sussex

Although converted to housing at some point since 2006, the building that was the Devonshire Arms survives at 52 Carlton Hill in an area where much was swept away by post-war ‘slum clearance’ schemes. The other Kemp Town Brewery pub, the Sack of Shavings, at 29 Carlton Hill is long since vanished. The KTB publication of the early 1930s, “Houses” of Repute in Sussex, states that the Devonshire Arms “formerly covered with plaster, now appears as a very neat brick house with modelled panels in the wall at one side.” While an accurate description of the improved neo-Georgian exterior (see the black and white photograph), this single sentence vastly understates the extensive work required for what was really a rebuilding of the pub.

The architect’s plans for August 1928, drawn up by J. L. Denman and Son, show the existing licensed premises to have been confined to the narrow, south facing end of the building, with a Club Room on the corner of Marine View and Carlton Hill, and the Public Bar adjacent. Behind this was a series of private quarters, including at the north end a couple of old cottages, 24 and 25 Marine View, previously unlicensed and used by a former tenant for storage. In a letter to the Licensing Justices, dated 24th April 1929, the Chief Constable of Brighton, Charles Griffin, stated of the old Devonshire Arms that “as existing, the premises are badly constructed and very unhealthy.”

The proposed alterations to the licensed areas were as follows: the position of the Public Bar and Club Room to be reversed with the latter to also take up space formerly occupied by the tenant’s Sitting Room and Scullery; a Bottle and Jug Department to be constructed north of the Public Bar, having an entrance mid-way along the Marine View side; and north of this a Private Bar will be made on the site of the old cottage that was 25 Marine View; the front of the premises in Carlton Hill will be modernised, with a lobby entrance to the Public Bar on the left and Club Room on the right and the existing front windows to be replaced by large bow windows.
In summarising the reasons for the proposed alterations, the same themes arise as previously noted in plans for improved public houses of the interwar period: (i) the complete separation of the tenant’s private accommodation from the licensed premises, in this case transferring the whole of the living apartments to the first floor making a self-contained flat with a separate entrance at the far north side along Marine View; (ii) the provision of modern lavatories for both men and women, in this case on the site of cottage and yard that was 24 Marine View; (iii) increased supervision of the licensed premises, in this case to place in the middle of the pub an almost octagonal counter so that the licensee can survey all of the bars from a central vantage point.

Once again the Chief Constable sounds a rueful note that “the floor space of the bar will be increased approximately from 320 to 500 square feet. This does not include the new Bottle and Jug Department, which will have an area of 27 square feet.” But he concludes that “the alterations if allowed will permit of better supervision on the part of the licensee and the police.” Despite this, there seems to have been some problem in getting the approval from the Licensing Justices at the Special Sessions of 11th September 1928. One of the ‘approved’ stamps on the plans has an ink cross drawn through it; the other has the word ‘Not’ added in ink before the ‘approved’.

If there was a sticking point it may have been the difficulty of having a door leading directly from the Private Bar into the street. Owing to the steep gradient of Marine View this would have necessitated a flight of some six steps on the inside, with all the obvious trip hazards this would imply.

In the end, admission to the Private Bar from Marine View was to be via the door to the tenant’s first floor apartments. A landing was to be made here at ground floor level with the left side door leading upstairs to the first floor and the right side door leading down a flight of steps to the Private Bar. Although this was obviously not ideal given the desirability of completely separating the entrances to private and licensed areas, what appear to be an otherwise identical set of plans were given the required approval at the Special Sessions of 24th April 1929. Harry Dutton became the tenant around 1934, from which year the above local newspaper advert dates. From the way it reads, Dutton may have been a retired Brighton and Hove Albion FC player.

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