by Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2014)
|copyright © J.Middleton|
Freemasons’ Tavern can boast of having one of the most unusual pub frontages in the district.
It was photographed on 16 May 2014.
This pub has been in existence since at least the 1850s. It is not known why the name was chosen but there has long been a popular notion that Freemasons used to hold meetings upstairs. This was quite possible and belonging to the Freemasons became increasingly popular amongst the influential men of the neighbourhood. For example, Thomas Read Kemp, founder of Kemp Town, was a Freemason and so were mayors, artists, architects, landowners, businessmen, and interestingly enough, stalwarts from local breweries such as Smithers and Mews.
|copyright © J.Middleton|
This close-up shows some of the extraordinary detail on the pub’s façade. The large Masonic sign of set-square and a
pair of compasses is new – the previous one stated there were no funny handshakes here.
Thomas Lindfield was landlord in 1854 and he was still there in 1861 when the census recorded he was aged 45 and his birthplace was Egham, Surrey. He lived with his wife Mary, 49, and their three sons Thomas 21, John 19 and seventeen-year old Edward. A barman and potboy lived on the premises too. It seems the eldest son was not interested in following his father’s footsteps because he was a clerk by trade. But the middle son John took over from his father and by 1871 he was managing the pub. He was then aged 29 and his wife Lucy was 33 while their son John was three years old.
By 1875 George Hounsell was landlord and he continued there until the 1890s.
On 2 March 1881 Police Constable Upfield entered the pub while he was still on duty. But he was found out and the punishment was a fine of ten shillings or a reduction to the rank of second-class constable for a month.
In 1891 George Hounsell, landlord, was described as a widower but there was a housekeeper plus one barmaid and one barman on the premises. It was unusual that in the space of some 40 years there were just three landlords but this changed after Hounsell’s departure.
In 1905 W. Hassell was running things, followed by George Frederick Chapman in 1910. Then Harold Betts arrived in around 1915 and remained until the 1920s. Frank Dickerson was the next landlord and he stayed until at least 1940.
It was during Dickerson’s tenure that the famous face-lift of Freemason’s Tavern took place. The Kemp Town Brewery was incorporated on 18 March 1933. The company was established to take over the going concern previously carried on by William Henry Abbey, Henry Robert Burrows and John Roland Abbey at their Brighton brewery. The alterations took place in the 1930s and Denman & Son were the architects employed on the project.
The entrance and upstairs restaurant were accented by being enclosed in a spectacular frame of mosaic work with blue and gold being the predominant colours. At the top in large letters ran the legend ‘Freemason’s Restaurant Kemp Town Brewery’. On either side appeared a Jewish star, which was also a Masonic symbol. Below each star an extraordinary creature was depicted with a fish-like head and a long body ending in a curved tail like a sea horse. The façade also included curved metal-framed windows and two bronze lamp-holders in the centre.
In September 1981 Brian Kent said he had been landlord of the Freemasons for 28 years and his family had been there for 60 years. He said ‘At the moment we are virtually fighting to keep the English pub alive.’ He objected to proposals to convert the old Brunswick Town Hall into a £2000,000 sporting club called Bretts, if it were to be granted a licence.
In 1984 Edward and Ishbel Daniel took over the pub and they were still there in August 1987. By January 1995 Josephine Ajay and Tony Owen were running the pub and it was stated regulars had raised £1,000 for charity through raffles and collections; the money was donated to Sussex Beacon and Coppercliff Hospice.
In the Evening Argus (15 March 2000) a letter was published complaining about an article in the paper printed on 8 March. Katherina said it did not sound like the same pub she frequented because the information used must be over two years old. For example, the upstairs restaurant had not been open for two years since Xavier, co-owner and sometime manager, took over. There was no food available at the bar, not even at Sunday lunchtime when there was once a roaring trade. There used to be a Happy Hour between 10.30 a.m. until lunchtime, when between fifteen and twenty local people were to be found on a regular basis. Now that had been stopped; Katherina called the move ‘myopic idiocy’. She commented that the pub now relied on a young night-time crowd and music was played at such a volume as to make a normal conversation impossible.
Perhaps the broadside had its effect. At any rate by November 2000 Tanya and Darcy Gander were running the pub and they favoured a gentler approach to revive trade. Moreover they were keen to return the pub to its full Art Deco glory, which meant restoring the mosaics as well as revamping the interior. They enlisted the help of designer Alan Phillips who featured in Grand Designs that aired on Channel 4. It helped that Mr Phillips used the pub as his local. The £150,000 work was due to start in September 2001. It was also hoped planning permission would be forthcoming for a two-storey extension at the back to contain ‘spectacular’ toilets, designed by Mr Phillips. Mr and Mrs Gander planned to create a cocktail bar and Chris Edwards, former manager of the Groucho Club, would be their cocktail adviser.
|copyright © J.Middleton|
The pub stands on a corner site and this photograph shows the Brunswick Street West frontage
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Copyright © J.Middleton 2014