Number 33a Brunswick Square is a whole hidden house, not a flat as the letter in its name suggests. It is situated in the north-west corner of the square, tucked out-of-view to the side of No. 33.
I first saw No. 33a when my friend, the late Mike Robins, lived there. When I have written about it before, it has been in the context of both its unique position and also its sheer size. I’ve always been intrigued as to how such an incredible house, with a hidden front door but no front windows, could come into existence. A great pile of historic documents that were recently shown to me by resident Neale Thibaut offered some clues.
When building a large square, in this case in the Regency style, a decision must be taken on how to treat the corner buildings (there is a similar conundrum when it comes to ordering kitchen units). A diagonal façade serves No. 33 whilst a secret door within that building’s porch serves No. 33a behind. No. 33a was certainly not original to the square but I do wonder whether it was built on or split from No. 33.
“There was a school in one or both of the houses from the 1830s until the 1890s”
There was certainly a school in one or both of the houses from the 1830s until the 1890s. The fee was 100 guineas per year (with an extra 6 guineas for laundry). The use had certainly changed by 1898, at which point a complaint was made about a hotel being in operation. Again, it is hard to tell if this applied to one or both. The strange thing is that the deeds suggest that the current No. 33 is smaller and a different shape, and that nothing existed on the spot where No. 33a currently sits. It is strange because street directories of the day give the names of No. 33a’s residents.
John Bacon, a local property developer who bought No. 33a in 2004, remembers it well. He purchased it as four large flats that had each been divided into bedsits from the resident landlady who had owned the building since before the Second World War. After much restoration work, it ended up as seven self-contained flats with three new quite special houses (61-65 Brunswick Street West) in the large garden behind.
Despite Neale’s great efforts in reading the deeds and visiting Brighton Museum’s Local History Centre, we just have more unanswered questions
– so our research continues.