Le Confinement Est Fini
Joseph Kay (1775 to 1847) may not be an educated household name these days, but he hung out with some better known architects. He was a pupil of Samuel Pepys Cockerell (1753 to 1827), travelled the Continent with architect Robert Smirke (1780 to 1867) and married Sarah Henrietta, daughter of architect William Porden (1755 to 1822). His pièce de résistance is undoubtedly one of the architectural highlights of East Sussex.
Pelham Crescent is extraordinary in lots of ways, from its setting (carved out of a cliff) to its complexity (it includes a rabbit warren of cellars and areas as well as a lower street level shopping arcade) to its arrangement (St Mary in the Castle Church is plonked in the middle of the arc of townhouses). Joseph Kay owned one of the townhouses as well as a villa in the Belmont area of Hastings. An architect’s salary of £150 a year clearly stretched far in those days. A blue plaque on one of the townhouses records ‘George Devey (1820 to 1886) Architect and Pioneer of the Arts + Crafts Movement lived in this house 1870 to 1886’. He clearly didn’t practice what he preached for Pelham Crescent is as far removed as is possible from Arts + Crafts. High above Pelham Crescent are the remains of the Norman Hastings Castle just to add further drama to the setting. Heritage architect John O’Connell calls the castle “The Ostia Antica of the South Coast”.
The terrace and church were completed in the 1820s for landowner Thomas Pelham 1st Earl of Chichester (1728 to 1805). Each of the stuccoed houses is only one bay wide – but what a bay! The ground floor boasts a tripartite Wyatt window; the first floor, a balconied and hooded bow window; the second floor, a balconied and hooded French door; and the top floor brags a half moon Diocletian window. It’s as if Mr Pelham swallowed the architectural dictionary or at least the fenestration chapter. The four end houses have charming scrolled pediments topped by acroteria. Inland to the northwest of Hastings Castle is Wellington Square, started just before and finished just after Pelham Crescent. Developed by speculative bankers, it is less coherent yet of a similar ilk to Joseph Kay’s work with at least as many idiosyncratic details. “The Nash Class of ‘99” says John O’Connell. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.