Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Preston Barracks site


That part of the original barracks site still remaining undeveloped contains two buildings of interest; the Crimean War building to the left, constructed in 1793 as a canteen but converted to a hospital and mortuary c.1820, and the "Mannock" building to the right constructed in the early 1900's as officers' quarters. The Crimean War building has been converted  to residential accommodation and remains in use. The "Mannock", now unused and boarded-up, was  named in memory of WW1 flying ace Major Mick Mannock when it became the home of the Air Cadets. Mannock's father, a Scottish corporal, may have been billeted at the Barracks in the 1880's. 

The Mannock building was built to last, to a design and quality deemed fitting for officers (and gentlemen) at a time when class still ruled, skilled labour was cheap and the nation's coffers were still inflated with the plunder of empire. This is reflected in its present external appearance which even after 100+ years appears hardly touched by time. It has stone-edged gables and mullioned windows. Inside it has a large stone fireplace still intact but elsewhere much damaged wood-panelling and once impressive staircases. 

In their draft planning brief for the site the city council says, "Both the 'Crimean War' and Mannock buildings are undesignated (but potential) heritage assets, the qualities of which should be fully assessed and their retention considered in development proposals."

In this planning brief which covers the neighbouring University site to the north and the Mithras site on the east side of the Lewes Road, the Council proposes 3 different scenarios all pivotting around a central public square, and it is on the positioning of this square that the survival of the Crimean and Mannock buildings seems to depend. It would of course be pointless to retain the buildings hemmed in and dominated by multi-storey modern blocks but, disposed as they are, with the green background of the Watts Bank (an SNCI), the north-west corner of a public square would provide an excellent setting.

Quality modern developments can be attractive but need some anchor in the past to give them meaning and soul. Brighton is fortunate that the Preston Barracks site still has these survivors and, in an area encompassing something like 15 acres, surely large enough to provide for all needs,  any scenario requiring these buildings to be demolished seems quite perverse. Scenario A does, in fact, provide for their retention.

The Planning Brief can be examined on line and comments added here.
An exhibition of the proposals can also be seen at Hove Town Hall from 9-11 May.


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