12 January 2016

Brunswick Lawns, Hove

Judy Middleton (2001 revised 2012)

copyright © J.Middleton
Edwardian postcard of Brunswick Lawns looking eastwards
The area of grass stretching from the Brighton boundary to St John’s Road is known as the Brunswick Lawns and has been described as one of the most famous swathes of turf in the country. The 1830 Act laid down that no building should be erected south of Brunswick Terrace; the only items allowed were fencing and street lights. The Lawns were looked after by whoever was in charge; first by the Brunswick Square Commissioners, then by the Hove Commissioners, followed by Hove Council and from 1997 by Brighton & Hove Council.
It was always a battle to keep the Lawns in top condition so close to the sea. When gales strike the coast, salt spray often damages areas of grass, which then have to be replaced.
Unauthorised games of football have also been a major problem and in May 2005 it was said they had been going on for over five years. It was not local people so much as men from all over Sussex who arranged privately to meet at the Lawns and arrived fully equipped. The council tried leaving the grass to grow longer as a deterrent. But stray footballs were a danger to the general public and in August 2005 Jamie Filan, 24, was thrown head first onto the Kingsway after a football hit his scooter and left him with an arm broken in two places.  
copyright © J.Middleton
Edwardian postcard of Brunswick Lawns looking westwards
A more recent worry has been the thoughtless way people set up portable barbecues on the Lawns in the summer, leaving behind a rectangle of scorched grass. In July 2010 a residents’ association counted 200 separate scorch marks from disposable barbecues on Hove Lawns (including Brunswick Lawns). The association launched an e-petition urging council officials and police to enforce bylaws banning barbecues.
Dogs have been a problem too although hopefully today people are taking a more responsible attitude. As far back as 1893 a notice was erected ‘Persons and requested not to bring their dogs on the Brunswick Lawns on Sundays between 11 and 3’. This was because of the famous Sunday Morning Church Parade when ladies in their finery and their men-folk in their best attire promenaded the lawns after attending morning service. After their return home, many ladies liked to revive themselves with a slice of Madeira cake and a glass of sherry. Newspaper reporters hurried to the Lawns to describe the latest fashions on display to their readers. But it must be admitted it was a snobbish occasion. Dick Hunt, a job-master in Hove since 1898, hired out smart landaus and expensive horses, but if by chance he encountered any of his customers on the Lawns and raised his hat, he received no recognition.
copyright © J.Middleton
Brunswick Lawns with bandstand
In Victorian and Edwardian times a top military band was often engaged to play on the lawns under the shade of a portable bandstand. For example, in 1880 the 5th Dragoon Guards gave concerts. In 1892 a Lawns Band Committee was formed to regularise the arrangements for various bands to perform on the Lawns. In 1895 the band of the 1st Royal Irish Rifles gave 32 concerts. The cost of hiring them came to £289-6-7d but the money from subscriptions and receipts for chairs amply covered this amount. Indeed the Band Committee was in the happy position of having £13 in hand.
In 1894 the surveyor was requested to draw up plans to enclose the Lawns. In 1901 there was apparently a 10-foot strip of gravel between the Lawns and the sea wall. The surveyor suggested it was time to plant shrubs instead and to build a dwarf wall on the south side. The wall would be 18 inches high, built of red brick with terracotta coping and surmounted by a light iron fence 2 feet 6 inches in height. The wall would be recessed at intervals so that seats with glazed backs might be placed there. Hove Council agreed to the plans. In 1903 the surveyor was back again with more suggestions for improvements. He stated the movable hurdles were old and dilapidated and moreover they had turned-out feet, which had to be driven into the grass every time they were used. This resulted in holes in the turf. His suggestion was new hurdles that could be made to fit into sockets let into the ground – such a system was already in use on Western Lawns. The cost of new hurdles for the five lawns was estimated at £210. Again the Council agreed.
 Graham Gilmore landing on Brunswick Lawns
as reported in the
Brighton Season Magazine 1910-1911
The hurdles were thus in place during the week but they could be removed for special events. One such occasion occurred on 7thMay 1911 when Graham Gilmore landed his Bristol biplane there before an admiring crowd and afterwards complimented the Mayor of Hove on the smoothness of the Lawns.
In December 1911 it was decided to replace the galvanised iron fence on the north side, which was worn and defective, with a new one costing £140. The council did think about a cast iron fence with granite kerb but that would have cost £1,420.
In 1913 the Committee of the British Medical Association was given permission to hold a first-class display of fireworks on 24thJuly 1913.  The honorary secretary of the local entertainment committee wrote ‘I have consulted with Messrs Brock’s manager in the matter, and we have agreed that the best possible site for such a display would be the western end of Brunswick Lawns, using the breadth of the Lawns so that the set-pieces would face east and afford a splendid spectacle for the whole of the Front, and having the beach for the safe discharge of heavy bombs and the sea to receive falling debris from the rockets’.
copyright © J.Middleton
'Egbert' the tank on Brunswick Lawns
In July 1918 a tank nicknamed ‘Egbert’ by local newspapers arrived on the Lawns as part of the publicity for War Weapons Week. The Mayor of Hove AR Sargeant climbed on top of the tank to deliver an eloquent speech about the importance of buying war bonds. He must have been preaching to the converted because Hove managed to raise £289,620 and thus had a tank named after the town.  
In January 1919 there was a temporary exhibition of three captured German guns at the west end of the Lawns and on 19th July 1919 there was a muster of Hove men, discharged from the Forces, on the Lawns as part of the Peace Celebrations.
On 7th April 1928 Brighton Students Association held their Carnival and Rag in aid of the Alexandra Children’s Hospital. They had wanted to use the Lawns to stage a mock greyhound race with students dressed as dogs. But it was rather a sensitive issue at the time since Hove Council was opposed to the building of a Greyhound Stadium in the town, thinking it bad for their image. The students were not allowed to use Brunswick Lawns but were offered No. 1 Western Lawn instead.
'Regency Cricket Match'  on Brunswick Lawn in 1946
Field guns have been wheeled out on the Lawns to commemorate special occasions. On 23rd December 1861 Brunswick Lawns were the setting for a solemn salute because it was the day of Prince Albert, the Prince Consort’s funeral. At 11am Batteries 1 & 2 of the 1st Sussex Artillery paraded outside Brighton Town Hall before marching to the Lawns. Henry Catt lent matched pairs of black horses to pull the field guns and from 11.45pm to 4pm the cannon were fired at 4-minute intervals while the rest of the time the bands of the Royal Artillery Corps and the 1st Sussex Rifles played the Dead March and other music of a solemn character. Soon after 1pm Batteries 1 & 2 were relieved by Batteries 3 & 4. Captain Hannington and Lieutenant Hannington were among the officers on duty. Incidentally, it is fascinating to note the Brighton Gazette mentioned the slopes in front of Brunswick Terrace, which leads one to suppose that perhaps the lawns have not always been as level as they are today.
On a more cheerful note, the Lawns were used as a setting for a 21-gun salute on 6th May 1935 for the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary; on 2nd June 1953 for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and on 7th June 1977 to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

Copyright © J.Middleton 2012
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