A personal view

Roofs of Wykeham Terrace
Photo by Julia Powell
Doors of Wykeham Terrace
Photos by Julia Powell

Just up from the clock tower and the bustling heart of Brighton, lies a gothic inspired terrace, an oasis of calm set behind a thick stone wall, sheltering from the city. Wykeham Terrace, built between 1822 and 1830, has been home to soldiers, squatters and even former prostitutes, although it now seems far more genteel. I interviewed a current resident, Michael Fisher to discover what it is really like living in one of Brighton’s most intriguing buildings.

Michael Fisher has lived at no. 9 Wykeham Terrace for the past 14 years. A resident of Brighton since 1969, Michael’s first memory of Wykeham Terrace is of the time when the property was occupied by squatters, during 1969. Although not recalling the exact reasons behind the occupation, Michael points out that this was a time of a great deal of social unrest in the country at large, with housing and other social problems.

After the squatters were evicted from the property, the Territorial Army decided to sell the Terrace to a property developer. Restoring the historic building back to its’ original state meant that the flats which the TA had used for billeting its’ soldiers were once again converted back into individual houses. Interestingly, Michael pointed out that the houses on the western side of the terrace are numbered from 7-12, with a 7a next to no.7. It was considered unlucky to have a number 13 in the row!

Asked what he loved about living in Wykeham Terrace, Mr Fisher enthused about the sense of history and the many stories which the building had to tell. “I love the sense of history here… when I moved in and was redecorating the house, I remember finding Territorial Army colours on the walls when I peeled back the wallpaper. They used to billet their soldiers here; in fact one time a couple were standing outside the gate looking at the house. I asked them if they had a particular interest in the terrace, and they told me that they used to live here, on the top floor of my house in fact!

I love the history of the Reverend Wagner and St Mary’s (Home For Female Penitents), because of course Brighton had a big problem with prostitution at the time. Of course I love the fact that it is so central, and next to the churchyard (St Nicholas‘). It’s also incredibly quiet here, because the walls are so thick.” (There is certainly an air of tranquillity here that you would not expect to find, just yards from Churchill Square.) “I think it’s something to do with the nuns, because you know that they used to run St Mary’s here.”

St Mary’s Home For Female Penitent’s was a home for ‘fallen women’ (prostitutes) and unmarried women situated in Wykeham Terrace. Established in 1855, the home was the idea of Reverend Arthur Wagner, who ran the nearby St Paul’s Church in neighbouring West Street. Brighton was known for being home to a large numbers of prostitutes at the time, and the prevailing Victorian values of the time lead to an attempt to clear the streets of a number of them by setting up St Mary’s, run by the nuns of that order.

Although home to a relatively small number of tenants, Wykeham Terrace has a strong sense of community. “There is definitely a sense of community here; several residents have lived here since the redevelopment, so that’s over 30 years! We have a resident’s association and the place has to be painted very five years, the same colour. This is actually set by building regulations, since the building is covenanted.”

Wykeham Terrace has also been home to a number of more well-known residents. Dame Flora Robson used to live next-door to Mr Fisher’s home at number 8. Number 1 Wykeham Terrace has apparently housed not one but two 1960s pop stars: Leo Sayer and Adam Faith both occupied the property in the past.

Comments about this page

  • Just to correct the information given in the last sentence of my interview with Claire: Dame Flora Robson and her two sisters lived at No 7 and Sir Roy Strong lived at No 8 before moving to his current house in Herefordshire.

    By Michael Fisher (04/08/2004)
  • Interesting stuff about Wykham Terrace. Does anyone know if this is the whole of St. Mary’s Home or just part of it? The reason for asking is because I think my Grandfather was here in the 1881 census (under St. Mary’s Home) and in 1891 when it says ‘Home for Apprentices’. But going back through that census to page one you find al the nuns mentioned in the original comment of Wykeham Terrace. I can’t seem to find my Grandfather’s Mother (yet) so maybe she was one of these prostitues? Interesting – but I would love to know more about this place and if there are any written records which would help.

    By Ivor Williams (09/06/2006)
  • I also have someone in a branch of my family who was in St Mary’s Home in 1901 as a 12 year old and, I suspect, an orphan. His birth does not appear to have been registered and I would love to find some records that might show who his mother was.

    By Tony Peace (02/02/2007)
  • I find this really interesting. This is a brilliant website, I just don’t have time to read it all. Can anyone answer my question? Did these girls have any where else to turn to? I believe many were not prostitutes at all, just young women who had become pregnant. Would there have been instances of individuals ‘taking in’ these young women to save them from this home, especially considering that it had a harsh reputation? I look forward to reading any responses.

    By Rosalind Hersee (14/04/2007)
  • I have my great grandmother listed as a resident on the 1861 census Ellen H Elphick, could this be a name given to her by the people who ran the home? (The reason I ask is that a person with the same name and date of birth is supposed to have married John Hale circa 1868 and moved to America.) The same Ellen is in the 1871census at the address as a housemaid, my great grandmother Ellen Harriet Elphick gave birth to a son in Liverpool 1870. according to his birth certificate. It is so confusing, is there a means of unraveling the mystery?

    By John Hayes (21/07/2007)
  • I live at number 1 Wykeham Terrace and have been looking into getting a plague put up for Adam Faith. I contacted Leo Sayer to find out what dates they lived there and I am sorry to say Leo never did. Leo’s email response follows, I will try and find out more about Adam though.

    ‘Dear Kerry,
    Thanks for your enquiry.
    I’m thrilled to hear about the idea of putting up a plaque to honour Adam’s time at Wykeham Terrace.
    I myself never lived there, but it was in one of the little basement flats owned by David Courtney that most of my early hits: “The Show Must Go On”, “One Man Band”, “Giving It All Away” etc; were composed.
    In those days (1971 – 1973) I lived at St Aubyn’s in Hove, but would get together everyday to write songs with David at his apartment there (No. 2 I think, but he’ll tell you more accurately…).
    Adam moved down from London after our initial success, and took an office round the corner in Kemp Town.
    He stayed with David when in Brighton (they both co-produced my records and co-managed me), but I can’t remember if he had his own address in the terrace. When success came we felt like we were at the centre of the world, as creatively it was such a great place to be based. David, as you may know, is founder of The Walk Of Fame out at the Marina, and he’s really the best one to ask about all this. I suggest you contact him directly. He knows more about Adam and these times than anyone, and was always the “Brighton Boy” in our unique partnership.
    It was a wonderful partnership between three talents in a perfectly inspiring location, and it was David who discovered me and brought us all together. I now live in Sydney, Australia, but David and l have been the firmest of friends since the day we met – remarkably 37 years ago.
    We both miss Adam greatly.
    Please keep in touch and let me know how this project progresses, and if there’s any more I can do to help.
    Very best regards,
    Leo Sayer’

    By Kerry Howard (25/10/2007)
  • The ‘Daily Logs’ or Diary is held in E.Sussex Records Office, Lewes. Although not complete it revealed that my grandfather Alfred Williams arrived at St Mary’s Home in July 1877 and was admitted from the Workhouse (Brighton?).
    Other entries show that on Monday 19th November 1894, Alfred reported ‘Not well’ but on Wednesday 21st November he was ‘better’.
    A further entry shows that on Saturday 3rd July 1897 Alfred, (No 9 boy) was discharged.
    The records are not comprehensive and you will be lucky to find what you want but you won’t know unless you try.

    By Ivor Williams (27/10/2007)
  • My aunt used to live at No. 3 and remembers the racket Leo, Adam and co used to make!  She told me that Leo did live there, so he certainly must have spent a great deal of time at the flat.  Once Adam knocked on her door seemingly under the impression that it was where the others were living. Obviously he didn’t have the best sense of direction! There was also a nightclub opposite the Terrace, the noise from which drove her to distraction! I seem to recall that there was a society photographer living next door at one point, possibly called ‘Baron’. I have a black and white photo somewhere of when the terrace wasn’t painted in its present colourful livery.  I wouldn’t mind living there myself when I leave London, except for the grubby outer wall!

    By Stefan Bremner-Morris (14/11/2008)
  • My grandparents owned and ran ‘Willamy’s’ Guest House at 33 Dyke Road, opposite Wykeham Terrace. My sister and I lived with them for some years and I remember some of the homes being housing for army personel, although I do recall Dame Flora living there then. I’m pretty sure the nightclub was not opposite but sort of at the rear of the Terrace. I can’t recall the name of the Square situated between Dyke Road and Ayrs Lane but there was a taxi cab rank and I believe the club was somewhere within that area. I can remember as a nipper seeing the “teddy-boys” congregating under the lamp post outside the Terrace, smoking and talking up a storm. This was back in the late 50’s, early 60’s, long before Adam and Leo’s time. Memories!! Stefan, my Guru Dad from Hayllars actually worked in one of the houses opposite the Terrace for a gentleman, Mr John Fileman, who ran a business selling beautiful crystal chandeliers. As well as repairing and restoring silverware, Dad repaired and cleaned the crystal drops in his workshop out the back, and originally did some intrument cleaning there for Hayllars, which is how he met Mary in the first place! Dad was a firm friend of Dame Flora’s, having done a lot of work for her and it was she who got him involved with the Scouts and their annual Gang Shows.

    By Patricia Silsby (30/12/2008)
  • It’s a small world in Brighton, Patricia-especially for ‘Gurus’. I am just repeating verbal history regarding the club, but by the 60s, 70s and 80s things may have changed opposite the Terrace. The last time I was there, the Argus seemed to have an outlet opposite. That was some years ago, though. Cheers

    By Stefan Bremner-Morris (24/01/2009)
  • Patricia-having reflected further on the club, I think you are talking about a premises behind the terrace, which had a connection with Nicholas Van Hoogstraten. I believe at one point he was trying to extend it without planning permission, but perhaps we should draw a veil over that. There was another club which drove my aunt bonkers-but, unlike me, she has ears like a bat, so I can’t help with its exact position.

    By Stefan Bremner-Morris (24/01/2009)
  • I have just heard from my aunt that the ‘Disco’ opposite Wykeham Terrace, is still operational. Unsurprisingly, she is pleased to be a few hundred miles away. I gather students occupy number 3 nowadays.

    By Stefan Bremner-Morris (11/08/2009)
  • Having just purchased ‘The Encylopaedia of Brighton’ on the internet (Yes, you can still get it!), I observe from one of the maps that the names of the club/disco opposite Wykeham Terrace were ‘Fozzies’ and ‘Sloopys’.

    By Stefan Bremner-Morris (08/09/2009)
  • I remember ‘Sloopys’ well. It was the first disco my friends and I went to around the age of 15-16. No alcohol was sold, only soft drinks and coffee, so we used to pop out to the pub near Churchill Square for a drink. We were never asked for ID in those days; probably because carefully applied makeup made us look at least 18. At the age of 17-18 we progessed to the Birds Nest where, initially, they had telephones at each table. You could ring another table to ask someone to dance or a drink if you fancied them. I met my husband at the Birds Nest (telephones had long gone then) in January 1974.

    By Jacqui (11/10/2009)
  • Sometime during the late Seventies, between ’77 and ’80, for a short period of time while I was back in Brighton, I used to use a small dingy cafe below Wykeham Terrace. It was a little way up the road from the Clock Tower, almost opposite the Arcade. While there I got to know a quiet but pleasant, elderly well-spoken lady with drastically thinning hair. We would chat about all sorts of things and some days I would actually make a point of going to the cafe simply to see her and chat. One day when I arrived and she was not there, the – possible – owner of the cafe told me she wouldn’t be coming for a while as she was not very well. Disappointed, I sat and drank my coffee and got ready to go. As I reached the door, the owner said, “You do know who she is, don’t you?” When I said I didn’t, she said she wasn’t sure usually whether she should tell other people, as the locals were quite protective of this lady. Then she told me the lady’s name. Flora Robson. Sadly, for me, I never went back to the cafe, or saw her again. As a teenager in the early Sixties, my other minor claims to fame were the dubious pleasure of delivering meat from Chapman’s butchers in St James Street to Roedean School and to Clarges, Dora Bryan’s hotel in Kemp Town. In 1981, Dora Bryan did an enormous personal favour for me. I’m sad that she is no longer active. Brighton is a very, very small world.

    By Den Gaynor (13/06/2011)
  • I wonder if Francis Tonks could be persuaded to comment on Wykeham Terrace. He would not be aware of it, because his wife paid me, but I was his milkman here for a brief period.

    By Joe Reid (06/08/2013)
  • This is really for Leo Sayer who I used to know as Jerry Sayer when we both worked together as paste up artists for The Machinery Publishing Company Brighton.  The last I heard from him was a postcard saying ‘Just on the verge of things’ The postcard had a picture of Blind Lemon Jefferson on the front, and I still have it to this day!  I guess he might have sent this from Wykenham Terrace.

    At the time we spent together I was working with a very good jazz quintet called ‘Group Five’ and Jerry (sorry, Leo) used to come along to listen to us when we played a venue in Shoreham.

    Sad thing is that I missed the knowledge of how talented he was in those days! and would so much like him to know how pleased of the success he has achieved, and the admiration I have for the quality of the songs he put together.

    Many Regards Leo.

    By Tony Stevens (01/12/2015)
  • My Father, Mother, Sister and I lived in Wykeham Terrace in 1938 when my Father was stationed at Preston Barracks. He was the RSM of the Royal Artillery Bofors Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment there. His Regiment was sent with the British Expeditionary Force  to Belgium in 1939.His Regiment was evacuated from Dunkerque in May 1940. They were re-equipped with Bofors Guns and were stationed in Cross-in-Hand , outside Eastbourne , during the “Battle of Britain. Sometime in August he was notified that a “land mine” – a large German bomb of some 1000 Kgs, dropped by parachute, had landed in front of Wykeham Terrace and threatened our house there. We went to see the threat to discover it had been defused and was awaiting the “Steaming Machine” which melted out the explosive “core”.  My Parents decided to crate up our belongings and place them in storage for safe keeping. Unfortunately  the Warehouse in Portsmouth was  destroyed later on together with all our property. Wykeham Terrace never suffered any wartime damage. After the War my Father who subsequently fought with the X1V Army in Burma was never posted back to Brighton. We lived in many places where the Army sent us – the most famous being Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, when the east wing was given over by Lord Salisbury to the Army to serve as a resettlement unit for returning British POW’s from the Far East. 

    By Michael Westlake (16/06/2018)
  • I came to this website to see if there was any info on the ‘fallen women’ or the nuns who lived here. As a small child living at No. 12 I had a recurring nightmare of a line of cloaked women coming to fetch me!

    My family and I lived there from about 1976 until about 1992. As we didn’t have a TV, Dame Flora Robson invited us to pop over and watch it there. She probably wished she’d never suggested it as I can remember going over fairly often, and we all went there to watch Brighton & Hove play in the FA cup final in ’83.

    We – my brother and I, Flora and her sister, Margaret (and maybe her other sister, but I don’t remember her so well) – used to sit in the back room where the TV was. I remember liking her sister as she had a sweet tooth and always kept the sweetie bowl full. Flora had a well kept drinks cabinet and she seemed to like the occasional glass of that bright yellow Advocaat if I remember correctly.

    One day I said I thought she had lovely hair, to which she laughed heartily and said that it was a wig. A pity I was not older and able to quiz her about her fascinating life. She did give me the odd lesson in pronunciation – the word was ‘circumstance’ and whether to say the ‘a’ (either short or long) or leave it out altogether. I think the conclusion was to leave it out. She got quite animated by this! Clearly something she had come across in her professional life.

    On the issue of the nightclub opposite – yes, I remember Fozzies and yes, I could hear it from my bedroom. There was later a small cafe next door to this called The Harlequin, I think, where I used to hang out a bit as a teenager and talk to the owner, Howard.

    By Dee (28/06/2020)
  • My great grandmother was an inmate in the Female Penitents Home in Brighton Sussex in 1881- her occupation was listed as needlewoman- were all the females in this institution pregnant or homeless?
    Assuming she was pregnant would the child be registered in the mothers name? Appreciate if someone could give me some info. Thx Di New Zealand.

    By dianne moulden (01/08/2020)

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