Mr Otto’s Lasting Legacy

Word by Mike Holland

It seems incredulous in this day and age that anyone would dare knock up a larger than life size statue of our current monarch and stick it in their front garden. Yet that is pretty much what happened to our Prince Regent.

In 1807 one Mr Otto a West Indian speculator had just finished constructing Royal Crescent. The project had taken nine years to complete and Mr Otto was rightly pleased with himself. He decided that the time was right to ingratiate himself with the Prince Regent and hopefully be accepted into his circle of friends.

There is no doubt that Mr Otto was a talented man but was obviously lacking in PR skills as, for some reason best known to himself, he decided to commission a statue of the Prince of Wales, as he was then, which was duly erected in front of the crescent.

Our Otto must have had an eye for a bargain because he chose to commission a fairly mediocre sculptor by the name of Rossi. The completed figure stood seven feet high and was perched on a ten-foot pedestal. It showed the Prince in the uniform of a colonel in the 10th Hussars making some sort of gesture.

Far from the erection of this statue leading to poor old Otto receiving an invitation to visit the Prince in his Pavilion it had quite the reverse effect. The Prince absolutely hated the thing, which he described as an abomination and nothing like him at all. To make matters worse, following a few seafront storms, one of the arms fell off and the figure was then often mistaken for Lord Nelson.

Mutilated and decayed, the eyesore remained in front of the Crescent for several years to the intense indignation of the Prince until it was at last removed in 1819.

The Crescent itself was built in stages, with the three houses each end constructed first with the centre being added over the next few years, presumably as funds permitted.

It was, however, the first group of houses to be planned together as one composition. Also quite unusual for its day in Brighton, the houses are of timber façade with mathematical black tiles which certainly, when first built, looked stunning in the changing seafront light.

These tiles were thought of as especially good for use close to the sea because they resisted driving rain and sea spray better than any brick. Originally the enclosure fronting the Crescent was much deeper but was compulsorily reduced when the main road was enlarged in 1825. However, the Crescent still looks stunning and despite having a pretty poor taste in statues Mr Otto has definitely left us a legacy.

Surprisingly, not that many notable people have lived in the Crescent. Our own Lawrence Olivier of course in recent years. However, prior to that, the register shows that in 1823 number two was occupied by Sir Richard Richards Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer who died in November of that year.

Number four was occupied for many years by Sir John Thomas Briggs, Accountant General to the navy from 1832 to 1854. Other than that, despite its Royal Crescent nameplate, it appears to have had no other notable inhabitants. It is likely that the development was shunned by any of the Princes circle as he was extremely scathing about poor old Otto whenever the opportunity arose. That statue will certainly have been a life changing experience for Mr Otto and his Crescent.