The Cheesman family were prominent in building and allied trades in Brighton in Sussex (known as 'Brighthelmstone' or 'Brighthelmston' until the name Brighton gradually took over from about 1800) and the surrounding part of Sussex for a hundred years from the early 1800s. The best recorded are George Cheesman and Sons and later Cheesman and company, prominent in Victorian times, but John and Cornelius were possibly more important at the beginning. I first found out about them
when I was
researching my family history - I am descended from George's younger brother Cornelius on my mother's side. The family also sometimes incorporated Childens, Childrens, or Children into their name.
I have recently established that although two generations of Georges were builders, 'George Cheesman' and sons' did not consist of George senior and George Junior, but George senior and his son Charles. This business seems to have evolved into 'Cheesman and co.' around 1850, when George senior was no longer active, but Charles and Frank, sons of the first Charles, joined the business.
I believe I have traced the builders in my family with some certainty. However, there remains a small but worrying number of references to names which don't quite fit. I have included their entries in the story, but I hope that eventually they will all prove to be related!
In this sort of project there is always some shadow of doubt, and a chance piece of information can dramatically change the story. However, in the body of the text I will try to only record facts which are well backed up by my research. This is particularly frustrating in this case, because I am building up a hazy picture of a family who never missed a chance to do business - I'm not sure that I would have liked them!
Members of the Cheesman family were also custodians of the 1822 workhouse, which John had built. The family were active in the business of the town from the early 1800s, but the rise to prominence as builders seems to have started when George built a new vicarage for Henry Wagner in 1834. The coal cellar was enormous enough to raise eyebrows - but who were the local coal merchants? The Cheesmans. Anyway, the Cheesmans built a large number of Churches for the Wagners in the
next few years.
There was a scandal in 1837 - the inmates of the workhouse were being made to pull carts of shingle up to the town, and one died of a heart attack. The Cheesmans ran a cement manufactury in the town. Another scandal involving the Directors and Guardians of the poor took place in 1838 when they were found to be eating rather too well at Board meetings. Some of this is conjecture, of course - from now on, this page will only carry recorded facts!
One important souce of local information is the 1862
''History of Brighthelmston' by Thomas Ackerson Erredge. This includes
eleven references to the family's building work amongst a wealth
of information about the town and its inhabitants through history.
The 31 chapters were originally written as newspaper articles, and
are very readable in their own right. I am very lucky in that my
wife found a copy of 'Erredge' in an antique/junk shop some time
ago, and bought it for me. There are various versions, some illustrated,
but the text is apparently the same. There is a copy in the East
Sussex Records Office at Lewes
I will welcome any information, no matter what, about this extraordinary family. Please e-mail me.
Civic Affairs in Brighton
Until the 1850's Brighton was run by the Commissioners. They worked under a fairly strict constitution and had to own substantial property in the area.
Until 1810 the Commissioners were directly responsible for the workhouse, but after the Brighton improvement act of that year the workhouse was run by a body of Directors and Guardians. For the first few years the Directors and Guardians were elected by the Commissioners, but from1825 they were elected by the Vestry. The Cheesman family appear from time to time in the records of all three organisations.
In 1854 the town was incorporated by act of Parliament, and power passed to the Town Council. Needless to say, this act was passed in the face of strong lobbying by the commissioners.
The Early Days
There are references to an Edward Cheesman with property in West Street in the 1700s, and a reference to a John Cheesman, calico glazer, in the 1799 Brighton street directory, but the first building references are in Brighton Street Directory for 1822, when a John and a Cornelius are mentioned as builders, and George as bricklayer. This was the year the new workhouse was opened. William Mackie of London was the architect, and John Cheesman was
The land cost £1400, and the building £10,000. The design was chosen from forty proposals by the Directors and Guardians of the Poor (also known as the Vestry), who apparently made many recommendations, and it was considered quite advanced. I know that John Cheesman was one of the guardians in 1833, and a Henry Cheesman had been a member in 1794, so there must be at least a possibility of a cosy arrangement. (However, there were no Cheesmans in the Vestry in 1824, so this comment may be unfair)
The workhouse was 191' long, set in 9 acres of land, and located on the East side of Church Hill, Brighton above the extension of St. Nicholas Churchyard. When it was built this was on the Northern edge of the town, at the start of downland. The site was described as affording magnificent views of the sea, but in reality it was a desolate location, and the inmates of the old workhouse weren't keen to move. There is a more detailed description on my workhouse
By 1850 an infirmary for the poor had been built in the grounds, and with the arrival of the railway the town had spread around the site. By1862 a new workhouse had been built on Race Hill outside the town. In an 1866 map the site of the 1822 workhouse is unchanged, but in 1867 the site has been cleared completely. As far as I know nothing remains, although there is still a hospital in about the same place as the old infirmary.
There is a large amount of information about workhouses around the country, as well as the Brighton workhouses in an excellent website - 'The Workhouse'.
The Wagner Connection
There seems to be a clear connection between the Cheesmans and Henry Wagner, Vicar of Brighton. This started when they built him the new Vicarage. As Brighton was growing at an enormous rate there was a need for new Churches, which Wagner masterminded and the Cheesmans designed and built for him. However, Wagner's son Arthur Douglas seems to have rejected George junior as architect in favour of Richard Cromwell Carpenter for the building of Saint
Royalty and the Royal Pavilion, Brighton
The growth of Brighton in the early 1800's was in no small amount due to the presence of the Prince of Wales. When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 the town was desperate to continue Royal patronage, and made elaborate efforts to welcome her whenever she came. The picture at the top of this page shows the Ceremonial Arch built for her first visit, designed and built by George Cheesman. Unfortunately, she never took to the town. However, as the upper classes became
the London to Brighton Railway brought a huge influx of more working class visitors, and the town continued to prosper.
The Prince of Wales first moved into what is now The royal Pavilion in 1786 following his secret marriage to Mrs. Fitzherbert. He immediately started extending it, but in its present form it dates from adaptation by John Nash from 1815-1822. In fact, the Prince did not live there after that time. Victoria's rare visits to the town ceased in 1845. By 1847 fittings were being removed for use in other Royal buildings, and the fate of the Royal Pavilion looked bleak. In fact, the
site was put
up for sale by the Crown for redevelopment as housing in 1849. After some heated discussion, and by a small majority in a poll of Brighton voters, the decision was taken to buy the site on behalf of the town. The bill authorising the sale received Royal Assent on 17 May 1850, and the Pavilion almost immediately started its new life as the centre of cultural life for Brighton.
The Cheesman family were what would now be known as 'preferred contractors' from about 1864 to 1873, and in one recorded case, when they did not bid for a job it was put out to tender again, and they then won the contract.
The Strange Story of the Nine Sculls (or skulls)
The Cheesman family builders are part of the mysterious story of the House of Nine Sculls, which now has its own page on this site. The story and picture form
part of a collection of photographs
by James Gray in the ownership of the Brighton and Hove Regency Society. The picture is of a flint wall in Robert Street, which is actually part of the rear wall of the Cheesman builder's workshop in adjoining Kensington Street. The building in question was demolished in 1934.
There is more about Robert Street and this macabre story on the 'My House my street' website. This page mentions that the Cheesman builders were involved in building several of the houses and refers to the existence of deeds at ESRO (The East Sussex Records Office)
Click here to go to my page for The House of Nine Sculls
References to the family
There are quite a few references to the business in various reference works. In particular, Pevsner's 'Sussex' has several occurrences - he seems to be reasonably generous by his standards, although 'ignorant tracery' seems to be a recurring theme. Allegedly the Church of St. John's Carlton Hill was described by the incumbent, the Rev. H. H. Jones as 'the ugliest in Brighton'. I wouldn't be inclined to disagree!
As I find out more about the business I will be updating this site regularly. so, at risk of repeating myself, I would be most grateful to receive any corrections or extra information, no matter how small they may seem.(e-mail me)
It is difficult if not impossible to be sure which member of the family was responsible for a specific building - often the original source refers to 'Cheesman' or 'Mr. Cheesman', and even contemporary records disagree in detail - JH
Cornelius Cheesman born 1801, died 1841. My great-great-great grandfather. Appears in Brighton directories as builder around 1832. He passed the Christian name on to his son and grandson, both joiners and carpenters.
Official records and newspaper reports show that Cornelius was declared bankrupt in November 1825, and that bankruptcy was superceded in January 1826 when a brother settled with the creditors.
John Cheesman born about 1766, died August 1823, baseborn, also known as John Cheesman Childens, described in his will as 'gentleman' - owned substantial amounts of property in Brighton, but I have found no references to working as a builder.
John Cheesman born before May 1789, died after 10 Nov 1858. 1832-3 coal merchant, 1833 member of director and guardians of the poor, proprioter(sic) of houses, apparently a freemason in 1858, died 1858, also known as John Cheesman senior. This is probably the builder.
John Cheesman born before 20 March 1814, died 19 April 1852 also known as John Cheesman Childens the younger. His will names him as 'proprietor of houses', and suggests considerable affluence.
John Cheesman born before 19 May, 1843. I haven't found any definite references beyond his Christening.
John Stubbs Cheeseman (apparently no connection to the family) son of William Cheeseman of Brighton, was apprenticed to Amon Henry Wilds (an important Brighton architect of the time) in 1818. I think I have located him and his family. He would have been born about 1802 and apparently died before 1833.
George Cheesman senior (sometimes referred to as 'George Cheesman the elder', or 'George Cheesman Childrens') born 1789, the elder brother of my great-great-great grandfather. He was responsible for the first hotel on the Devil's Dyke (1831). it is generally accepted that he built several buildings in Brunswick Square (1825),although accepted wisdom is that it is unclear who built individual houses. however, according to his obituary
19, Brunswick Terrace, on the South-East corner of Brunswick Terrace, a building of considerable architectural importance. From about 1833 George was working with his son Charles as 'George Cheesman and son'. George's business partner was Vincent Paine Freeman.George died in 1866.As I have found more information about George I have set up his own dedicated page.
George Cheesman and son By 1833 George the elder had formed a business with his son Charles, born about 1817, as George Cheesman and son. They built a new vicarage for Henry Wagner (1834), most of the Churches built as Victorian Brighton continued to grow (1837-1862).
One of their more bizarre projects was this triumphal arch built in 1837 to commemorate Queen Victoria's first visit to Brighton on October 4th. The cost is recorded as £90, and it came in under budget!
The last definite reference that I have found to 'George & sons' as builders is 1865, when George the elder would have been well over seventy - so far, I haven't found when he died, or in what circumstances.
Almost certainly the business continued as 'Cheesman and Co.' (q.v.)
George Cheesman the younger Born 1814, son of George the elder and brother of Charles. He was listed as a builder in trade directories, apparently separate to his father. He was often responsible for the design of his father's buildings, although this job wasn't always dignified with the title architect. Between 1838 and 1853 George the Elder and George the younger worked together on Civic projects.
George eloped to Gretna Green in 1835 to marry Emma Chandler, a local girl,when he was twenty one but she was only seventeen. They regularised the marriage under English law a few weeks later. (more on my 'George Cheesman the younger' page) They had three daughters - Emma who married Henry Turner, Isabella Maria who never married and stayed close to her father, and Alice, who married Samuel Diprose
Emma died in 1855 at the age of 37.
In 1859 George re-married to Amelia Caroline Davies, twenty one years his junior. and started a new family - Edmund George, Alfred Addison, Jessie Amelia, and Edith May. He seems to have settled in Tunbridge Wells, but his address was still given as Brighton for business purposes. George retired from building about 1865. Edmund George settled in America, and I have recently made contact with his descendants. This story is now told in 'The
Cheesman Family in America'
George died in Pembroke in 1882 in Pembroke, leaving £28,652-13-8 - Isabella Maria from his first marriage was still with him, and was executor and beneficiary in his will.
Thomas Cheesman Fifth son of George the elder. his name appears on contracts between 1850 and 1889, firstly in conjunction with his father, and later with his brother Charles
Cheesman and Co.
After the conversion of the stables of the Dome into a concert hall in 1864-7, the records relate to a wide range of projects. From about 1865 most references are to 'Cheesman & Co.' or 'G. Cheesman & Co.' At some stage George ceased to be active and Charles in turn brought his sons Charles (born 1843) and Frank (born 1848) into the business. The younger Charles seems to have relocated to Uckfield, Sussex (seventeen miles to the Northeast), by 1881. The last reference is to carpenter's work by 'Cheesman
& Co.' in 1890.
BUILDINGS ASSOCIATED WITH THE CHEESMAN FAMILY
This is a list of references to buildings by the Cheesman family. Sources often disagree in detail, and it can be difficult to work out which members of the family were involved in any given project, so I have done my best to transcribe exactly the original builder's name.
There is a list of useful sources, both internet and print at the bottom of this page
(2013) I have added links to interesting pctures in the James Gray collection held by the Brighton and Hove Regency Society
Replacement of fence along the West Cliff, Brighton, March 1819 by John Cheeseman junior
Workhouse built 1822 by John Cheesman
East side of Church Hill above the extension of St. Nicholas Churchyard
Houses in Brunswick Square built from 1825 Conventional wisdom is that records are incomplete and it is not possible to establish who built the first houses, but George Cheesman definitely built some and my research points pretty precisely to George Cheesman senior having built the first house - see my special page.
First Devil's Dyke Hotel Built 1831 (replaced 1871) Designed by George Cheeeman
(Devil's Dyke is a beauty spot North of Brighton, which first became popular in Victorian times.)
St. Nicholas Vicarage, Montpelier Road, Brighton Built 1834 designed and built by George Cheesman and sons
Later used as the Junior School of Brighton & Hove High School. reportedly still exists but much modified. Picture and text from the James Gray collection
Christ Church, Montpelier Road, Brighton Built 1837-8 Built by George Cheesman Junior (one reference says built by George Cheesman & son, architect George cheesman junior) (one reference says designed by John Cheesman) (one reference suggests designed by John)
plans available on the 'Church Plans Online' website
(demolished following arson 1982)
St. Paul's Church, West Street Built 1846-8 built by Cheesman and son for Henry Wagner. Arthur Douglas Wagner rejected their junior partner George Cheesman as architect in favour of Richard Cromwell Carpenter
Brighton Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, Eastern road, Brighton built 1848 built and designed by Cheesemans (demolished 1971)
Brighton & Hove Dispensary built 1849 built by Messrs Cheesman
St. Mark's, Kemp Town Consecrated 1849 Architect not known, but probably George Cheesman Junior
All Saints Church, Compton Ave.
Built 1850-52 (demolished 1957)
'erected by George Cheeseman'/built by George Cheesman/ built by Messrs Cheesman
plans available on the 'Church Plans Online' website Picture and (damning!) comments from the James Gray Collection
St. Stephen's Church, Montpelier Place, Brighton reconstructed from the Chapel Royal 1851 built by Cheesemans
St. Mary Magdalen Church, 51, Upper North Street, Brighton built 1861
built by Messrs. Cheesman
St. Ann's Church, Burlington Street, Brighton 1862 built by Messrs. Cheesman
Concert Hall, The Brighton Dome Converted from stables, 1864 'by Cheesman Ltd'
Turkish Bath, 59 West St, Brighton
built by G Cheesman & Co., architect Goulty & Gibbins
I have been sent this information by Barbara Reader -
'My great great grandfather, Henry Parker, was Clerk of Works
for the architect Goulty & Gibbins when the Turkish Bath was built at 59
West St, Brighton, in 1868. I have the testimonial that he was given by
Goulty& Gibbins on its completion which gives the contractor as G Cheesman
& Co. You can see pictures of the baths at www.victorianturkishbath.org'
More HERE A picture from the James Gray collection And another!
Brighton Pavilion new Museum and Library 1871 built by G. Cheesman & Co.
Work valued at £6298
Groyne on Hove seafront 1880
Cheesman & Co.
Houses in Seafield Road, Denmark Villas, and Wilbury Road, Hove built 1881 Cheesman & Co.
ARCHIVE REFERENCES TO THE CHEESMAN FAMILY BUILDING BUSINESSES
This is a list of archive references to the Cheesman family building businesses. It can be difficult to work out which members of the family were involved in any given project, so I have done my best to transcribe exactly the original builder's name.
NOTE THAT SOME OF THESE REFERENCES RELATE TO UNSUCCESSFUL BIDS.
Main sewer, Hare & Hounds to Albion Hotel
G.C. Cheesman, G. Cheesman
Main sewer, Western Street to North Street
G. Cheesman, sen & jun
Widening Kings Road and concrete wall
G. Cheesman, sen & jun
G. Cheesman, sen & T. Cheesman
G. Cheesman sen & T. Cheesman
G. Cheesman, sen & jun
Gateway & lodges to pavilion at northern end of East Street
G. Cheesman, sen & jun
Church, Burlington Street 1862
Goods who [warehouse?] Station Street
Corn store, Gloster Lane
House, Kents Court, West Street
2 houses, Albion Hill
Workshops, Kensington Street
Cheesman & Co.
Elm Grove Church
Builders work valued at £3710 related to converting the Dome, Brighton into an assembly room 1868
Messrs G. Cheesman & Co.
Milton road School
Cheesman & Co.
Workhouse, Race Hill enlargement of the lunatic wards
VP Freeman for G. Cheesman & Co.
Supplying and fixing bookcases, etc. in the new public library and museum 1872 Messrs Cheesman & Co.
Carpenter's work for the Pavilion, Brighton 1873 Cheesmans' builders
Bristol Road New wing
Brewers Arms, Carlton Hill Addition,
Black Lion Inn, Preston Road Rebuilding
Warleigh Road New houses,
'Dog Tray' 8, Edward Street rebuilding,
Regent Foundry Gloster Road engine House
Gloster Road & Roberts Street Public House
'Carpenter's work' for Brighton Pavilion, to the value of £181.16.3 1888 Cheesman and Co.
Tender for supplying and fixing new seating in the balcony of the Dome Assembly Room (not accepted)
13 May, 1889
The tender of £148 was not successful, and the work went to James Longley & Co. who tendered for £115
C & T Cheesman, Brighton
'Carpenter work' for Pavilion 1890
Cheesman & Co.
3, Gloster Passage, 1 Court Lodge House addition
This page was first published when I started researching the family, and grew over the years. Unfortunately, in the early days I was careless about quoting my sources. Life isn't long enough to go back now, but I am probably able to dig out my sources on request. One source that has been around for a while, but is now infinitely better than it was, is the National Records Office at Kew. Their new search
facility is giving me plenty of food for thought.
Brighton Town and Brighton People by Antony Dale ISBN 0 85033 219 2
Encyclopedia of Brighton ISBN 086 147 3159
Fashionable Brighton by Antony Dale
History of Brighton by John Ackerson Erredge, published 1862 (available at East Sussex Register Office, Lewes)
Sussex by Ian Nairn and Nikolaus Pevsner ISBN 0 14 071028 0
The Wagners of Brighton
Encyclopedia of Hove and Portslade (currently unpublished), by Judy Middleton, c/o Hove Reference Library
Brighton and Hove a Second Selection ISBN 0 7509 0651 0
02 January 1826 - Sussex Advertiser - Lewes, East Sussex, England
A valuable resource now available is 'Church Plans Online', a website of the Lambeth Palace Library, the record office for the history of the Church of England.
There are also interesting pictures in the James Gray collection held by the Brighton and Hove Regency Society
There is a large amount of information which brings home the deep involvement of the Cheesman family building business in the expansion of Brighton on the myhousemystreet history of Robert street web page.