Town Houses Part 2

Town Houses Part 2

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.

Dining room at Regency Town House in Brighton

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:

Hallway plaster and paint at Regency Town House in Brighton

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.

HMS Victory before
HMS Victory after

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.

Drawing room at Regency Town House in Brighton

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.

Colored glass skylight at Regency Town House in Brighton

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:

Housekeeper’s room at at Regency Town House in Brighton

There, the housekeeper has been given the extra little luxury (and cost) of faux wood grain on her door and cabinets.

Faux wood grain

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.

Sleeping area in servant’s hall at Regency Town House in Brighton

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.

Kitchen at at Regency Town House in Brighton

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.

Library at Kenwood House, Hampstead

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.

Drawing room at Georgian House in Edinburgh

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.

Parlour at Georgian House in Edinburgh
Tea caddies
Table tea storage

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:

Fireplace with bell ringers

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:

Staircase

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.

Bedroom at Georgian House in Edinburgh

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.

Water closet

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!

Dining room

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.

Plate warmer and original fireplace

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!

Kitchen at Georgian House in Edinburgh
Pots and pans
Griddle
Bread oven
Scullery and storage

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!

Wine cellar at Georgian House in Edinburgh

18 Responses to Town Houses Part 2

  1. Wow! Love the photos! Love the paintings on the walls!!! Thank you so much for pointing out the bell ringers! I always wondered where some of them were located but to know that there were two and only one worked because of Georgian symmetry was really interesting! I did notice the chamber pot in the dining room…just the thought of it there is not conducive to eating in my mind! I would agree that the ‘pink’ on the HMS Victory really isn’t that pink but the work that goes into restoring these magnificent buildings is definitely a worthy cause. I too am a huge fan of British restoration shows! Thank you so much for sharing these photos and all the fascinating history! Love it!!!

    • Thank you, Carole! I’ve seen bell ringers in different spots (in a bedroom in an Edwardian house they were even wired up through the bed, if I remember correctly). I might use that two ringers but only one works sometime if I find opportunity — seems like it would be easy for someone new to a house to keep trying the wrong ringer!

  2. Beautiful photos as always. Thank you for taking me on your trip. I am unable to travel to these places and certainly don’t have the stamina that is required to take the tours. So, I certainly appreciate your sharing this with us. I now see why the larger estates [like Pemberley] allowed tours back in the day. I could almost hear Mrs. Reynolds [superimposed over your dialogue] as you pointed out the fascinating tidbits regarding portraits, plaster-work, and vaulted ceilings. Wow! I look forward to the next post.

    • Thank you, J. W.! Hahaha, I love the idea of Mrs. Reynolds speaking my dialogue in these house tours. 🙂 My favorite house visiting story is from St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. It’s a very unique house on top of a hilly island (there’s a causeway at low tide) that used to be a monastery. Apparently the family were out and Victoria and Albert applied to see the house just like anyone would in those days. Can you imagine being the housekeeper and having to inform the owner that the queen popped by for a visit!?!

  3. This was super interesting! Always wondered about the drawing rooms, fireplaces, etc.
    thank you so much for sharing and taking tome to post with 360’.

  4. So much to process. The ceilings! Oh, the ceilings!

    When did we forget that plaster work is an art form? We may want to analyze, as a society, our obsessions with completely smooth plaster work, because it can be so many other things.

    And yes, I do recall the post about privies. It was a little emotionally scarring! 🙂

    • Ugh, yes, modern ceilings are so dull. And the completely smooth ceilings were preceded by spray texture which was basically just an excuse to be extra lazy in finishing things. It would be so nice if we could take the time to do things nicely again.

      I think we’re all a little emotionally scarred from that privies post, myself included. 😉

      Thanks for your comment, Summer!

  5. Wonderful wonderful post. I’ve been to No 1 Royal Crescent so it’s easy to imagine how it felt to you walking round. God I love history.

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