So in Part 1 last month we had a good look at exteriors of freestanding and terraced (both palace front and not) town houses. This month it’s time to go inside for a tale of two town houses.
Outside of London you can find terraced Georgian houses in many towns, but three of the most significant cities for them are Bath, Brighton, and Edinburgh. I wrote about Bath’s Number One Royal Crescent a while back, so the two townhouses I’ll be focusing on here are in Brighton and Edinburgh, and they represent two places at very different points in their restoration.
As part of the Heritage Open Days, I had a chance to tour the Regency Town House in Brighton. It’s on, in essence, a slow path of restoration, with lots of the work done by volunteers. The major structural work is done (which can be huge, as I know from being a sucker for British home restoration shows) but there is still a lot of fit and finish to be done on the inside.
What’s very cool about it is the painstaking forensic work they’ve done on the house, to assess what would have been there originally. In the dining room above there was a spot where they had sanded through all of the layers of paint to finally reach this mauveish pink, which was thought to be good for digestion (according to Goethe). While in the hallway, this pink and green color scheme would be passe today, but it was apparently very popular at the time:
Our guide explained that once the sanding was done the last layer paint still needed to be exposed to sunlight for a little while to get to the right color. An alternate technique is to use a scalpel to scrape off the paint and send it for chemical analysis, which allows the original pigment to be recreated.
This was the most detailed description of paint analysis I’d heard so far, but not the first time I’ve encountered the results, as I had a chance to see HMS Victory both before and after her controversial “pink” (it’s really not THAT pink) paint job.
The upstairs entertaining rooms of the town house still need quite a bit of work, but you get a good sense of the space. Our guide pointed out more areas of where based on the paint wear they could see there had been panelling, pictures, and mirrors.
One of the cool things about the Regency Town House was getting to see the intact original features. While many of the finishings were missing, there were elements like this skylight in the entrance hall that you don’t generally get survivors of today (they were replaced with clear glass in later eras, I believe). It’s not necessarily what you’d expect for the Georgian era and so it’s a key detail that I’m glad they have to show visitors.
In addition to the main house, they’ve also purchased the basement service area a few doors down; apparently the layout was largely preserved in that one as opposed to the other house. This has the only finished room, the housekeeper’s room:
There, the housekeeper has been given the extra little luxury (and cost) of faux wood grain on her door and cabinets.
To me the most interesting element was this alcove in the servants’ hall. I hadn’t really thought about this, but there was not nearly as much space to sleep servants in a town house as in a country house. In Edinburgh apparently many servants still lived in the old town while going to work at the houses of the new town. In the Regency Town House, this alcove would have slept some of the female servants (stacked up in bunks if need be). The wood floor made it not quite so harsh to get out of bed in the morning, compared to the flagstones in the rest of the room.
The last room I’ll show from this house is the decidedly non-kitchen-looking kitchen. It’s currently being used as a plaster workshop so I’m guessing it will be one of the last rooms to be restored. But with that great skylight above I’m sure it’s going to be a fantastic space when done. As you can tell by the skylight, we’re behind and below the main portion of the house now, and our guide explained that there would have been a back exit from the kitchen to go further behind the house, to the mews. There, there would have been storage for carriage, harness, hay and horses, and sleeping space for stable staff. The gentleman of the house, if he wished, could cut through these quarters to get on his horse and go out for a ride.
And now we’ll shoot well north, to Edinburgh. I wanted to present these two houses together because Georgian House in Edinburgh shows the culmination of all of the sort of work they’re doing in Brighton. It’s one of the houses in that fantastic palace fronted Robert Adam building.
Sadly, unlike even the Regency Town House, it has very few original features. I went hoping for some Robert Adam ceiling action, like this one at Kenwood in Hampstead (a country house that’s been swallowed by the city of London), but while that wasn’t what I found, I still really enjoyed touring the house.
The house is run by the National Trust of Scotland, and they tell the stories of those who lived in the house, particularly its Georgian-era inhabitants, the Lamonts. They’ve also put in a real effort to gather and display a number of interesting period furniture pieces and accessories, some of which I’ll point out as we go through the photos.
The drawing room is grandest in size, and certainly large enough to hold a ball in.
Here’s a 360 look at the drawing room:
In the parlour they had several tea caddies, including one with the paper artwork that was popular at the time, as well as a table with tea storage built-in.
Another interesting detail: these ringers on either side of the fireplace. Only one actually rings the bell for the servants, but there are two to preserve that all-important Georgian symmetry:
Here’s a 360 of the parlour:
And here’s how it all comes together in a 360 video of this floor of the house:
This lovely cantilevered staircase did somewhat make up for the lack of original features elsewhere:
Downstairs there’s a bedroom with this lovely canopy bed — not quite so enormous and stately as a state bed, but I think pretty indicative of those who would have lived in houses like this.
Here’s a 360 of the bedroom:
Between the bedroom and the dining room was a little space with this early water closet. It wasn’t plumbed – the water just washed down into a copper pan below where it would be emptied by a servant. But for those of you who recall my post on privies, I found it and the placement in a passageway between rooms to be interesting.
The dining room itself was filled with paintings, which isn’t really accurate, as they explained. However the Trust has such a collection of paintings that they’ve opted to display some of them here. If you look closely at the sideboard, you can see another hidden chamberpot!
One of the most interesting pieces in this room – I haven’t seen one before – is the plate warmer that you can see in front of this fireplace. I believe it’s the only original fireplace in the house and has some lovely neoclassical details.
Here’s a 360 view of the dining room:
And here’s a 360 video walkthrough of this floor:
That’s the last of the above stairs spaces, but I still have a fantastic kitchen to show you!
360 of the kitchen:
I wanted to focus on these two houses for this post as I had so much multimedia, particularly for Georgian House. But I think I’ve got more than enough for a third in this little series, so I’ll be back next month with more. For now I’ll leave you with this photo of the wine cellar from Georgian House, and the little tidbit I learned in Brighton (the two wine cellars were extremely similar but I didn’t snag a photo of that one): the wine cellar was vaulted to make it more difficult to break into from above, because the contents could cost more than the entire house!