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Marlborough House, Brighton, Sussex, designs for a house and its interior, for W.G. Hamilton, as executed, c1786 (11)

Signed and dated

  • c1786


William Hamilton, often referred to as ‘Single-speech’, was born on 28th January 1729, the son of William Hamilton, barrister of Lincoln’s Inn, and his wife Helen, daughter of David Hay of Woodcockdale, Linlithgowshire.

Educated at Harrow, Hamilton later attended Oriel College, Oxford from 1745, and went on to study law at Lincoln’s Inn. However, upon the death of his father in 1754 Hamilton turned his attentions to politics. He was subsequently elected MP for Petersfield, making his famed maiden speech on 13th November 1755. Despite this promising start, where Horace Walpole admired his ‘ease of an established speaker’, (Letters, 2.484), Hamilton’s perceived lack of later distinction led to the unfortunate name ‘single-speech’. In the April of 1756, Charles Fox, of whom Hamilton was a sometime supporter, secured him a post with the Board of Trade, working for Lord Halifax. Upon Halifax’s appointment as Viceroy to Ireland in 1761, Hamilton was appointed his Chief Secretary, and he subsequently secured the post of Chancellor to the Exchequer for Ireland, with an Irish pension. Initially a supporter of Charles Fox, Hamilton was deeply opposed to government policy relating to America. In 1784, however, he was shown to support Pitt’s government, re-joining the opposition again in 1788, siding with Fox and the Prince of Wales during the Regency crisis.

Hamilton was an apparent supporter of the Prince of Wales, and indeed a friend, although widely accused by his contemporaries of misleading the Prince for his own gains. Significantly, the Prince would stay with Hamilton at his Brighton residence, following Adam’s substantial reconstruction, first in April 1789 and then again for three weeks in June 1795, shortly after his marriage to Princess Caroline of Brunswick. Hamilton was also a good friend and associate of Samuel Johnson, with whom he co-wrote a pamphlet addressing the Corn Laws. Indeed, it has been proposed that Johnson may also have been the author of Hamilton’s famed speech.

In early 1792 Hamilton suffered a severe stroke, and the following year he took a prolonged leave of absence from the House of Commons due to his continuing poor health. He died 16th July 1796 at his home in Upper Brook Street, London and was buried at St Martin-in-the-Fields.

The property now known as Marlborough House, The Steine, Brighton, is confusingly one of two Brighton houses associated with George Spencer Churchill, 4th Duke of Marlborough (the second a property purchased by Marlborough in 1790 and later demolished to make way for the expanding Pavilion). The house to which we here refer is the property originally built by Samuel Shergold, c1765. Shergold, a wine merchant and innkeeper of The Castle Inn, built his three-storey red brick house with a view to meeting an increasing demand for high-end accommodation in the Brighton area. The second half of the eighteenth century saw steady growth in the local economy, greatly aided by an increased fashion for sea bathing and the village’s growing association with the Royal family, beginning in 1765 with the arrival of the Duke of Gloucester, followed by visits from his brother the Duke of Cumberland, and from 1783, their nephew the Prince of Wales. The area would also attract the attentions of George Spencer Churchill, 4th Duke of Marlborough, and in 1771 he purchased Shergold’s house. Positioned facing on to the Steine, the town common overlooking the sea, it fast became a popular site with its naturally formed promenade.

In 1786 Marlborough sold the house to William Hamilton, who promptly commissioned Adam to alter the property, constructing a sea-facing villa. Adam’s scheme made significant alterations to the house, demolishing the eastern end to construct a new suite of rooms, comprising of an entrance hall, dining room and drawing room. These new rooms were given improved proportions, with higher ceilings (the rooms to the rear of the house maintain their original levels c1765), and new interiors with plaster work attributed to Joseph Rose. The elevation facing the Steine was reconstructed and the house given a new roof of Westmoorland slate, and stables and offices were designed for the rear of the house, alongside a new rear porch. The end result was a building of elegant proportions, Adam’s interpretation of the Palladian style, and ultimately one of the most impressive constructions in Brighton, with only Henry Holland’s Marine Pavilion to rival it.

The surviving Hamilton correspondence has proved significant in providing a clearer understanding of this scheme. Although none of the designs are dated, a letter from Hamilton for 31st December 1786 records his residence in ‘Brighthelmstone… under pretence of seeing the progress of a house which I am now rebuilding’. Further to this a surviving letter from Hamilton to Robert Adam dated 16th January 1787 provides us with his thoughts on the proposed scheme:

I have given directions that your plans should in evry (sic) respect be follow’d minutely, & that there might be no delay whatsoever'.

Hamilton goes on to enquire if small alterations to the scheme may be made, and ‘if a Door or two could be dispens’d with in the Hall’, citing comfort requirements, but possibly with the view to reducing overall costs. Significantly the letter also records a degree of local opposition to the project, following a grant to Hamilton for an extended plot of surrounding land measuring 84’ 6’’ north to south and 78’ 1’’ east to west. The dispute was promptly resolved, and Adam’s designs for the house and its interiors were completed by 1788.

Following Hamilton’s death in 1796, the house was sold at auction. In 1870 it was leased to the Brighton School Board, who subsequently purchased it in 1891 for the use of their offices. The property remained in their care until 1974, and was eventually sold by Brighton and Hove Council to a private owner in 1999. In 2015 planning permission was granted to convert the building into a single dwelling, but currently the building is still vacant. As of 1990 a considerable portion of the original Adam features survived intact but within the last thirty years the building has suffered deterioration, leading to the collapse of one of the Adam ceilings. More recently a number of surviving Adam features; including fireplaces and the rear porch, have been removed.

See also: The Steine, Brighton, Mrs Fitzherbert

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam , 1922, volume II, Index pp. 5, 55; T. Carder, Encyclopaedia of Brighton, 1990; C. Miele, ‘‘The First Architect of the World’ in Brighton: Robert Adam, Marlborough House and Mrs Fitzherbert’, Sussex Archaeological Collections, Volume 136, 1998, pp. 149-75; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 135-136; I. Nairn and N. Pevsner, The buildings of England, Sussex: East with Brighton and Hove, 2012, p. 208; J. Keenan, ‘Brighton’s Marlborough House’, The Guardian, 5th August 2015; J. McKean (ed.), 'Georgian Brighton's best? Marlborough House: A model for an ambitious city?', Regency Society Journal, Issue 4, Winter 2017-18; Walpole, Letters, vol. II; M.J. Powell, 'Hamilton, William Gerard [called Single-Speech Hamilton], (1729-1796), politician', oxforddnb.com; ‘Marlborough House and attached railings’, historicengland.org.uk; 'HAMILTON, William Gerard, (1729-96), of Hampton Court, Mdx.', historyofparliamentonline.org, (accessed March 2018);

Anna McAlaney, 2018



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Contents of Marlborough House, Brighton, Sussex, designs for a house and its interior, for W.G. Hamilton, as executed, c1786 (11)