Thursday, 31 December 2009

History Centre - Support from English Heritage

Thanks to Selma (Hon Sec. Brighton Society)for bringing this to my/our attention.

For information, you can write to David Smith at

He replied to me this morning, saying he would be discussing the decision with officials next week. My local councillor, Paul Elgood, has promised to move a budget amendment on this (if someone else doesn't get there first).

With the council now with no overall control, this deplorable decision can be reversed if we make our feelings clear. Please sign the e-petition- 148 people have already done so.




Howard Spencer
Blue Plaques Historian
English Heritage
1 Waterhouse Square
138-142 Holborn

History Centre Closure - Council response

Reply from Cr. David Smith, Cabinet Member for Culture, Recreation & Tourism:-
"Thank you for your email concerning the Brighton History Centre.

Our proposal to move this service from its existing location at the Brighton Museum to the Jubilee Library will, I believe, have a number of benefits.  The accessibility will be improved with an increase in opening hours for customers from 35 hours a week in Brighton History Centre to 54 hours a week in Jubilee Library.  The majority of use of the Brighton History Centre is for use of online resources or microfilm and fiche resources (family history researchers), and these can be provided in Jubilee Library, together with some of the book stock.

The service as it is currently run is only used by a limited group of people and those figures are in decline.  The History centre is unfortunately not attracting new users or younger users and the number of visits has dropped by nearly 14,000 in last five years.

We are keen to improve services and particularly to improve access.  It is also important to note that we do have additional good local history resources in all of our libraries and also in Brighton and Hove Museums and Galleries.

Once again thank you for your enquiry into the Brighton History Centre."

(I note he has not commented on the issues of security or on the possible move to the Keep.)

Previous posts on this subject are: here, here, and here.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Petition against closure of the Brighton History Centre

The fight goes on. (See earlier postings here and here). Please urgently consider signing the epetition on the City Council's website. You have to register first but it is quick and easy.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A Seasonal Greeting

Best Wishes for a Gladsome Yule
& Very Happy New Year

To all my 
Facebook Friends.
Twitter Followers 
& readers of 
Nuts & Reasons & Brighton Bits.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

North Victoria Garden Scheme

City Parks has fenced off a part of the north Victoria Garden in preparation for creating mixed shrub/flower beds down the centre of the grassed area. However attractive the planting may turn out to be, this shows a lack of imagination and a lack of consideration for the true needs of pedestrians.

The garden is presently surrounded by cracked, uneven, underused paving and redundant shabby railings. This could all be swept away and the area of garden extended up to the trees with extra grass and/or beds and a landscaped  path established along the centreline of the garden thus taking the pedestrian well away from the traffic and making it a much more attractive and healthy route. This surely need be no higher in regular maintenance costs than the proposed scheme and the cost of establishing the new path would surely be no greater that that of repairing the existing  paving and maintaining the railings. The extra area of grass would have the added benefit of reducing water run-off.

I do urge City Parks to reconsider these plans before any further work is done.

The Samaritans Christmas Collections

Every Christmas Waterstones  kindly allow the Brighton, Hove & District Branch of the Samaritans to hold a gift-wrapping weekend at the store in North Street. Volunteers are on hand all day to expertly gift-wrap wrap your purchases and hope you will want to contribute to the charity in exchange. This year it was held on the weekend 19th & 20th December and on the Saturday a further collection was held in Churchill Square supported by carols played by members of the Patcham Silver Band.

The total collected for the weekend was £1108. A resounding success.
Samaritans have been quietly operating 24/7 behind the scenes in Brighton for over 40 years providing emotional support and friendship to those in distress. It is manned entirely by volunteers but operating costs still amount to over £100 per day so the need for funding is continuous and weekends like this make a vital contribution.

Heartfelt thanks are due to Waterstones, The Churchill Square Management, Patcham Silver Band, for braving the cold and playing with freezing fingers, and the generous Brighton public.

Happy Christmas to all.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Brighton History Centre 2

Letter to a Councillor:-

Dear Councillor,

I am extremely upset at the news that the Brighton History Centre may close. I believe this a valuable cultural resource  of which the expertise and knowledge of the small staff form a vital element. Once this knowledge is dissipated there will be little chance of the same level of public access to the records ever being re-established.

The destined repository for the archives, the Keep, seems to be years away from completion and as it will be situated at Falmer it will not provide anything like the City centre access enjoyed at present.  Before the present History Centre was established a few years ago the archives were kept in the Old Music Library in Church Street. During this time many items appear to have gone missing. One  worries that if the archives are to moved yet again into temporary accommodation there will be little left to keep.

Neither does the Jubilee Library offer a solution. Although conveniently sited its staff would not possess the required specialist knowledge and, in any case, already seem to be fully occupied.

The Council is fond of designating this area "The Cultural Quarter". I hope you will feel able to defend one of its facilities. What could be more cultural or appropriate than Brighton's history?

Friday, 18 December 2009

Patcham Dovecote

Patcham dovecote in the snow. It is a scheduled Ancient Monument built in the early 1600s and carefully restored in 2007. This included reinstating the 'potence', a ladder attached to a rotating framework to provide easy access to the 550 nesting holes which line the walls. In full production it will have produced up to 200 young featherless birds (or squabs) a week for the table. It stands at the bottom of the garden of Patcham Court Farmhouse with access off Church Hill.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Plans to close the Brighton History Centre

It is reported in the Argus today that the Council in its quest to save £8M pounds from next year's budget will be considering closing the Brighton History Centre. It is said that this will save what seems the paltry sum of £62,000.

No doubt there will be noises made about moving facilities to the Jubilee Library or even to the East Sussex Record Office which is planning new premises on the Falmer campus. But, irrespective of where the archived material ends up, the only way that money will be saved will be by losing the present staff and therefore their years of accumulated expertise in the local & family history fields. The Council needs to be made aware that the History Centre IS the staff.

There are other questions that might be raised. The £8M required  saving presumably refers to one year's budget. What kind of impact will be made in the first year from losing  staff after redundancy and removal costs are added in?

The History Centre seems to be a popular resource. If you are one of its users it is never too early to let your Councillor know your views.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Brighton - The Anthem

This video is always worth revisiting I think. Terry Garoghan has a show at the Komedia this week 15th and 18th December starting at 8pm.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Sunday morning badminton

A small friendly group meets every Sunday morning at the King Alfred to play mixed doubles. It has been in existence for about 20 years, although there are probably not many of the original players left. Numbers vary from about 5 to 15 and ages 20ish to 70ish.


Subject to availability Court 5 is usually booked from 10.30am to 12.30pm. Pay for day membership at the entrance kiosk (£1.50) and ask for Eva's court. The charge for the hire of the court (to Eva) is £3.00 each player. When the numbers are high we book two courts so there is very little sitting out.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Brighton Marathon - run for the Samaritans

This is promising to be a really exciting event and looks to being  heavily subscribed.  If you wanted to run and have so far been unsuccessful in getting a place you might like to consider running for the local Samaritans who still have a few entry places left.  The requirement is to agree to raise sponsors for the sum of £500. To be considered please phone Roy on 01444 245322.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Van Alen Building

The Van Alen building in Marine Parade, completed in 2001, occupies the site of a former garage & petrol station. Generally agreed to be one of the more successful of the City's modern buildings it harmonises with the seafront architecture without resorting to pastiche,  and pleases the eye from every angle: its roofline from the beach; its building line from Marine Parade.

Because of its location in a historic seafront, the design, by architect PRC Fewster, was the subject of  considerable discussion with both the Council and English Heritage. Plans for the building were also considered by the Royal Fine Arts Commission.  Early plans showed the balcony fronts as solid. The Council's Conservation Advisory Group (staffed by representatives of local amenity societies) felt this gave a much too ponderous effect and, as a result of their comments, the glass-fronted design seen today was adopted.  The building is named after William van Alen, the architect of New York's Chrysler Building.

What a shame the same amount of thought & care did not go into the design of the Bedford Hotel replacement. But that was 40 years ago when brutalism ruled.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

William IV and the Royal York Hotel

Unlike his successor, William IV was a Brighton enthusiast, visiting at least once a year during his reign. He visited the Devil's Dyke, took trips along the cliffs to Rottingdean and liked to walk on the Chain Pier and in the Kemptown enclosures. He worshipped here, had his solicitors in Ship Street and re-developed the Royal Pavilion estate. The original South Gate, now replaced with the Indian Gate, and the North Gate were erected for him.

William succeeded to the crown in June 1830 so it was actually as Duke of Clarence that, in October 1829, he disembarked from Dieppe at the Chain Pier and, greeted by cheering crowds, made his way to the Royal York Hotel. However it seems unnecessary  to quibble at the wording on this plaque which, unveiled in Sept. 2008 on the refurbished hotel, replaced an earlier one with similar wording which had been partly concealed in the portico. What's in a name anyway? For sure, the crowds in 1829 were aware they were greeting their future monarch; and there is precedent in literature for using a title retroactively. There is also the pragmatic consideration that for many people commemorative plaques have only the "one glance chance" to register. "William IV" is succinct and recognisably historic; any extra wording by way of explanation and the whole message might be missed.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Brighton Society

The Brighton Society (BS) now has a new website which is really worth a visit. The Society was launched in April 1973 at a public meeting to oppose British Rail’s plans to demolish Brighton Station and replace it with a 14 storey hotel, moving the station underground. They later succeeded in getting the station listed Grade II.

A  more recent success involved the  refusal on appeal of the  proposed Beethan tower on the station site which would have grossly overtopped the Grade 1 listed St. Batholomews.  In dismissing the appeal the Inspector quoted from the  BS chairman’s expert evidence. BS supported the Council and the North Laine Community Association at the inquiry and the Council subsequently thanked the Society for the support they had given them.

If you would like to help the Society in their  aim to conserve and improve the amenities of Brighton & Hove, membership is £10 per year for individuals, £15 for organisations.  Full details are available here.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

"Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species."

This was the title of the meeting on Wednesday 4th. of the Brighton & Hove Humanists Society. Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society gave a rivetting account of the circumstances and the furore that attended the publication of "Origins" and this was followed by an entertaining re-creation (written by Terry) of the historical debate between T.H. Huxley (“Darwin’s Bulldog”) and “Soapy Sam” Wilberforce (Bishop of Oxford).  Derek Lennard effectively took the part of Huxley and Terry Sanderson, appropriately attired and with appropriate accents played the Bishop. Keith Porteous-Wood, Director of the NSS, acted as the commentator.  There was some heckling from the audience.

These monthly meetings in the back room of the Lord Nelson have of late been very well attended but this particular one really packed them in. Some late-comers may even have been disappointed. It was encouraging to see a good sprinkling of younger people. Although handily placed the venue is not ideal because of "noises-off". It is a pub after all. If attendances keep up they will have to consider alternatives I think.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Pink Floyd star buys Hove Mansion

Pink Floyd star David Gilmour has bought this fine Grade II listed property on the corner of Medina Terrace and Kings Esplanade. Read full report by Andy Giles in the Argus.

Argus Reader Panel

I received this invitation from the Argus by email. At first glance it looks interesting, attractive even, but I wonder how it will work out in practice.

The Argus endeavour to become a vital part of the community is obviously the right commercial choice for them but it is also a considerable advantage to that community to have a local paper that produces relevant, accurate, editorial content.

In pursuit of these ends and notwithstanding the commercial angle, an Argus reader might be happy to freely give of their time and join this panel. The effort required certainly does not appear to be too onerous. Once registered one would  be contacted by email and asked to participate in the first questionnaire online.  A visual image of an editorial feature or advert would be shown, and  a series of related questions, to gather feedback, asked. All subsequent surveys would be carried out in the same way.

No pecuniary advantage accrues to the participant (apart from the chance of winning vouchers and "other prizes" but I suspect not many would be influenced by this). Even so I was sufficiently persuaded of the interest and value of such a survey to go to the final step and register. It was here that things started to go wrong. The survey is carried out by a research company called RAM (which confusingly doesn't recognise one's Argus login) and the entry form is long and intrusive. I am not naive. I realise that this is so that the research results can be classified according to socio-economic group to make them of maximum value, but as my mouse hovered over the buttons, I felt the willpower to complete the form draining away. I wonder how many others will feel like this and what peculiar kind of skewness it will add to the results?

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Royal Alexandra Hospital Site

Following the rejection of developer Wimpey's plans at a public inquiry the City Council has now embarked on a planning brief for this site: the aim being to assist the developer in preparing future planning applications and to avoid another costly failure.

As a first step the Council has put five possible options out for public consultation. These options range from demolition of all existing buildings, option 1, to the retention & refurbishment of all the old buildings, option 5. The number of residential units provided by these 2 options drop from 138 to 70 respectively.

Apart from option 1 all the other options call for retention of the quirky much-loved main building fronting on to Dyke Road but the whole site is of historical/architectural interest as, since its inception in 1880 it has been continually extended and adapted in the style of its time.

I am particularly fond of the 'Arts & Crafts' style, 1896 nurses home pictured above, with its castellated tower, stone mullions and timbered gable ends. Detached examples of this style are becoming increasingly rare in the City. From the conservation viewpoint Option 5 which retains all the old buildings is to be preferred, with Option 4, which retains the main cluster, including the nurses home, a close second.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

"The History of Brighton Suburbs"

a talk by Geoffrey Mead of Sussex University
in aid of the
Alzheimer's Society.
October 30th, 7.30 for 8pm in
Patcham Memorial Hall

Entrance £10 to include welcoming drink and Ploughman's Supper.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The A23 Cycle & Pedestrian Scheme

The A23 Cycle & Pedestrian Scheme is out for consultation and is already being criticised as being somewhat premature. There is an Argus report here. Car traffic in the Centre has to be reduced both to bring air pollution down and to prevent the whole City grinding to a horrendous halt on some sunny weekend in the very near future. Although it has its critics, one suggestion is for a park & ride scheme serving the A23 traffic. This would require the A23 bus lane which at present ends at Withdean Park to be extended out to the Mill Road roundabout. (Who knows where the car park will be now that the City is hemmed in by a National Park!) The critics argue that this would need any cycle lanes in this stretch to be completely revamped.

Moving from the general to the particular, what surprises me is that at Patcham Place and the Black Lion they have made no provision to divert the cycle lanes behind the bus stops. What is the cyclist supposed to do if there is a bus stopped in the cycle lane? Wobble out into the traffic? Wait behind the bus? Or get off and push his bike around on the pavement? Maybe the planners haven't even thought of this or prefer to ignore it. Certainly the stops aren't marked on the plans.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

City Singers sing for the Samaritans

Please support the local branch of the Samaritans whenever possible.
We live in an area that is particularly vulnerable to suicide, and the vibrancy of the City seems to increase for some their feelings of isolation and loneliness. In fact the number of people in distress who contact Brighton Sams increases yearly. They are well supported by the 150 volunteers who freely give of their time but the need for funds to cover the running costs of the Branch is never-ending.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

WEA Day School - "Top Architects"

I've been asked to publicise the following day school:-

"Top Architects from 17th to 20th Century". C3726965.
Tutor: Gerald Harvey.
Venue: Cornerstone Community Centre, Church Rd. Hove
Date: 14 November 09; 10.30am - 3.30pm
Cost: £17

Contact: Joy Wajzner, 433 Ditchling Road, BN1 6XB; Tel. 01273 503090

Friday, 2 October 2009

City Council selling old fingerposts

The ultimate memento of Brighton & Hove is now available. Brighton & Hove City Council is putting up new signs to replace some of the old metal ‘fingerpost’ signs and the council is now offering them for sale.
You can bid on eBay for one of many different sign posts which between them have directed residents & visitors to variety of destinations in the famous city from the Lanes to the Seafront to the Royal Pavilion.

All profits raised from the sales of these signs will be put back into the public purse and used to support on-going investment in Brighton & Hove.

Each sign contains 3 fingers with Museum / North Laine, The Lanes / Seafront, & Royal Pavilion / Theatres. The sign is sold as a complete item only (fingers plus post). They are very heavy and buyer collects.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Brighton's Own Naval Hero

Brighton now has a blue plaque to its own 19th century naval hero. Admiral Codrington commanded the combined British, French & Russian fleets in 1827 for the last fleet action under sail. Our Edward was actually a very naughty boy. He was supposed to enforce a peaceful solution to the Greek War of Independence by blockading the Turkish and Egyptian fleets at Navarino but he interpreted this rather broadly. A drunken or careless sailor in the blockaded ships discharged a single musket shot and our Admiral chose to take this as an act of aggression. The Turks and Egyptians were engaged and their ships destroyed. ( I believe blockading duty could get pretty tedious. Perhaps he just wanted some home leave).

Anyway this put him into pretty bad odour with the British Government but earned the undying gratitude of the Greeks as it became the pivotal action in their long struggle for independence.

The Greek Ambassador unveiled the plaque at Codrington Mansions, 140 Western Road in the presence of the Mayor, members of the City's Commemorative Plaque panel and many local amenity societies. The unveiling was followed by a reception in the garden of Montpellier Hall.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Old Steine Cannon

During the 1940's, possibly earlier, an old iron cannon was parked on the grass at the north side of the south garden of Old Steine adjacent the crossover from Castle Square to St. James's Street. Probably from the Napoleonic era and designed to fire over a low parapet, it was raised high on an iron carriage with two smallish iron wheels at the front and skids at the rear.

I wonder if it was a relic of the seafront battery and what happened to it? Perhaps it went to the war effort and was melted down for armaments.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

When Brighton had three piers . . .

The Chain Pier in the foreground was destroyed by storm in 1896 and the Palace Pier, started in 1891, was a recognizable pier by then even though building progress had been slow. It wasn't opened to the public until 1899. So for a few years Brighton had three piers. On the distant West Pier one can make out the pavilion at the seaward end. This was added in 1893 so this photograph was taken sometime between 1893 and 1896.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Western House

This postcard from the early 1900's provides, on the left,  a glimpse  of Western House, the private villa that once stood, where Embassy Court stands now, on the corner of Western Street and King's Road. It is the house on the extreme left of the picture and was well named, as it is actually the last house in Brighton when one travels west along King's Road. The Brighton-Hove boundary runs behind the houses on the western side of Western Street and so passes between Western House and the first house in Brunswick Terrace. In the 1850's Western House was occupied by Lady Hotham.

Embassy Court also took in the sites of nos.1 to 4 Western Street, no.2 Western Street being the site of H.Buggins's Brunswick Baths. In 1857 the proprietors advertised that they were able to supply families 'with hot or cold sea-water in any part of the town', at a charge of 4d a bucket if hot, and 3d if cold. The sea-water was pumped to the baths by means of a steam engine.*
*'Life in Brighton' by Clifford Musgrave.

The photo below shows the same view as it is today.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Assisted dying - what is legal & what is not?

This was the title of an excellent talk given by Dr Michael Irwin at the Brighton & Hove Humanist Society on Wednesday evening. Dr. Irwin provided an interesting review of the history and the current situation as it exists internationally and in the UK. Other countries, e.g. Netherlands, and Switzerland, have tackled the ethical problems, and the legal frameworks they have established appear to be working satisfactorily.

Dr Irwin is currently under arrest (but bailed until Sept.30th.) for assisting in a suicide at the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland. The total cost of a suicide at Dignitas is estimated to be £4500. Dr Irwin donated £1500 towards this sum and accompanied the terminally-ill patient and his partner to Switzerland. On their return the partner was arrested but Dr Irwin had to challenge the police to arrest him which they eventually did.

The recent legal victory by Debbie Purdy (the MS sufferer) in the House of Lords means that the DPP now has to issue a policy on prosecuting these cases. Whether this policy survives the public consultation period in any helpful form remains to be seen. It is estimated that as many as 34 UK patients are currently waiting to travel to Dignitas. Certainly as long as the present British fudge exists it is only the wealthier Britons that will have any choice in the matter of their ending.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Heritage Open Days 2009

The national launch of Heritage Open Days 2009 took place this afternoon in the Jubilee Library, Brighton. The invitees were welcomed by the Mayor, Cr. Ann Norman. There then followed speeches by the Minister of Culture, Creative Industries & Tourism, Barbara Follett MP ; the Chair of English Heritage, Baroness Andrews, OBE,; the Leader of the City Council, Cr. Mary Mears; and the organiser of the local Open Days, Nick Tyson of the Regency Town House.

After an excellent "Regency tea" the invitees divided into 3 groups to enjoy guided tours of the North Laine, the Rare Books Room of the library and the Old Police cells in the basement of the Town Hall.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Cliff End

The cliffs of Sussex, formed where the South Downs meet the sea, rise abruptly just west of Eastbourne and quickly reach their maximum height of 500 feet at Beachy Head. Seventeen miles further west they taper down to zero at the Brighton/Hove boundary where they meet the Sussex coastal plain.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Ship Street Gardens & Hove Town Hall

An article in today's Argus reports that residents of this lane are clamouring for it to be gated every night between 11pm and 7am say, to reduce the incidents of rowdyism, vandalism and anti-social behaviour. This lane is a very useful shortcut and, while I have every sympathy with the suffering residents, it seems very unfair that the law-abiding public should have a long-established right-of-way barred to them because of a few drunken louts. Surely the answer is more active policing, at least for a while; and I disagree with some commentators that this would necessarily be too expensive. The occasional appearance of a uniformed police officer at random times during the critical hours might do wonders. The frequency of patrols could then be gradually scaled down. It should at least be tried.

Many people might not know, or have forgotten, that when the new Hove Town Hall and multistorey car park opposite were built an under-road tunnel was provided linking the two so that in inclement weather people attending functions at the Town Hall could arrive dry and unruffled. This was rapidly colonised by drug-dealers and rough-sleepers and was promptly closed. A prime example of society's misfits degrading life for the very people whose taxes they depend on for their weekly handouts.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Street Name Plates

Many of Brighton's street nameplates are gradually being replaced by cheap-looking plastic things. I am very incensed about this. The following letter which I am sending off to anyone I can think of, expresses what I think about it.:-

"I am writing in response to an article in the Argus which reports that historic street nameplates in the Hanover area are being replaced with modern plastic versions.

I consider that, even in a weathered state, the original cast nameplates retain their elegance and readability . They suggest solidity, permanence, continuity with the past and, being of a similar period to the Conservation Area, they make a distinct contribution to its historic character. They were also very probably produced in Brighton foundries of the time which adds to their historic interest.

I protest most strongly at their removal unless they are to be replaced with faithful reproductions."

The Argus article which prompted this can be read here.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The Bandstand Restored

Patcham Silver Band led by James Benka-Coker performing during the opening ceremony of the restored bandstand. The restoration procedure which involved the removal of dozens of coats of paint and casting new iron parts, was meticulously researched. It has been finished in the original colours of brunswick green and brunswick cream with details picked out in gilt. The roof has been given a new copper cladding which will gradually weather to the familiar green.
Pre-restoration picture here.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

New Apple Store

At the risk of providing free advertising this is good news for all us Apple fans. Their new store in Churchill Square opens on Saturday 25th July at 10 am. Free T-shirts for early visitors. This is just the kind of "culture" boost that a way-out place like Brighton deserves.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Then & Now - The Clock Tower

The Clock Tower was built in 1888 and this postcard probably dates from the 1890's.

In the 2009 photo below the building in the middle-distance on the eastern corner of West Street is still recognisable but the opposite side was rebuilt with the road widening that took place in the 1920's. The Quadrant pub on the corner of Air Street has survived and now carries a lamp of similar design to that in the earlier photo. Notwithstanding all the enormous changes in traffic that has occurred over 100 years the original line of the pavement seems to have been preserved.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Brighton Bandstand

The 125 year old bandstand pictured a few years ago before the start of restoration. This is costing £850,000, a lot of money, but I presume it includes the landscaping of the surrounding area which was also badly needed.

Local bands will play at the opening celebrations on July 24 between 8pm and 10pm. Patcham Silver Band, Brighton Youth Orchestra and Brighton indie-band Gloria Cycles will perform and the evening will end with the building being lit-up. Hooray!

Monday, 29 June 2009

Peggy Ramsay Blue Plaque

On 29th June 2009 a plaque to Peggy Ramsay was unveiled at her Brighton home at 34 Kensington Place in North Laine. Peggy Ramsay was probably the best known play agent in the United Kingdom during the second half of the Twentieth Century.

During her lifetime she dedicated her principal activity to British theatre and acted for (sometimes found and always nurtured) the majority of the best known writers for the stage in this country; Alan Ayckbourn, Robert Bolt, David Hare and Alan Plater to Eugene Ionesco, Joe Orton, Stephen Poliakoff and J B Priestley to name but a few.

Her estate was left for charitable purposes to help writers and writing for the stage with especial reference to her friends and clients and The Peggy Ramsay Foundation was established in pursuance of this object. The Foundation has financed this plaque and was represented at the unveiling by trustee and long-time friend of Peggy, Simon Callow CBE, and trustee John Tydeman OBE. Simon Callow performed the unveiling

Also present were the Lady Mayor, members of the City's Commemorative Plaque Panel and members of the North Laine Residents Association. The unveiling was followed by an informal reception at the Theatre Royal.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Hay Fever

I seem to have been aware of this title for as long as I can remember but, as we sat back to enjoy the Brighton Little Theatre's production I wondered why, for it quickly became clear that I had not seen Hay Fever, either staged or as either of the 2 televised versions. It seems to be one of those plays that has somehow entered the nation's subconcious as a paradigm for a particular theatrical era. The BLT's 1830's building has recently been lovingly redecorated in Art Deco style and this play, "moderne" throughout, seemed perfectly at home there.

The plot of Hay Fever (by Noel Coward) concerns the arty Bliss family living in Cookham. The Bliss family consists of: father David, an author; mother Judith, a retired actress; son Simon and daughter Sorel. Unbeknown to each other they have each invited an acquaintance down for the weekend.

The script was great, really funny, and apart from one little blip, the timing was perfect.  Patti Griffiths, who played Judith Bliss, was as delightfully theatrical as the part required and I couldn’t wait for her next speech. The whole cast worked well together as an ensemble but I was particularly struck by the stage craft shown by Emma Sayers playing Simon's invitee Myra.

The comic highspot comes in Act II, Saturday evening, when the assembled Bliss family and guests play a form of charades. Daughter Sorell attempts to guess an adverb by asking each of the others in turn to perform as action in the manner of the adverb. Hilarious. Apart from Judith of course they all fail miserably. The family rows over the breakfast table reminded my companion of some of the more farcical episodes of Will and Grace! It was also fun distinguishing the bits where the family were just being themselves, and the bits where they slipped into re-enacting one of Judith’s theatrical performances.  We enjoyed looking at what they were wearing, especially the evening wear in Act II.  It is unusual these days for actors to smoke on stage though it obviously fitted the time and milieu. Some of cast did appear ill-at-ease in handling their cigarettes. Sign of the times I suppose. Perhaps they should have used cigarette holders.
The play concludes with the guests surreptiously escaping on Sunday morning leaving the household in uproar. A device that Coward resorted to in different forms in later plays.

Next BLT production: "As You Like It". 4th - 8th August at the Little Theatre: 19th - 22nd August at Lewes Castle.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Hove Hyperbole


So declares the announcement mounted high on the scaffolding at the corner of Vallance Gardens & Kingsway. And the name of this development? - "The Mirage". How pretentious can you get?

However it does look as if it is going to be an elegant, sympathetically designed building.
It replaces the detached villa shown below:-

Watch this blog for a photo of the finished development.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Alert Call for Brighton Atheists.

The Dawkins Letters by David Robertson

7:00 pm, Tue 30th June 2009

Calvary Evangelical Church in association with Borders Bookstore, Brighton will be hosting a debate at the Jubilee Library, Brighton led by David Robertson, columnist, author, debater and pastor of St. Peter’s Free Church of Scotland in Dundee. Robertson first came to prominence in 2007 when his book ‘The Dawkins Letters’ was first published as a Christian response to renowned Oxford scientist and atheist, Richard Dawkins, following his controversial polemic ‘The God Delusion’. ‘The Dawkins Letters’comprises a series of letters that explain a credible basis for faith counteracting the ‘atheist myths’ that so much popular discussion is based upon. Christians, and non-Christians, need to know where Dawkins is weak – and also how to explain things better – and David Robertson’s book does just that. David Robertson will tackle the question of whether it is really delusional to believe in God or more delusional to think that we can get along without him. You are invited to come and listen, debate and be prepared to have your thinking changed!

Friday, 12 June 2009

A Strange Occurrence

It is a summer’s day on Brighton beach. One of those days that Brighton seems to do so well. A slightly hazy sun, warm pebbles, high tide and a sleek, flat sea which still manages to send in the occasional swell to suck at the steeply shelving pebbles.

A few yards away to one side of where I am sitting a young family is encamped. Father, mother and a toddler. With the arrogance of my teenage years I mentally classify them  as day-trippers. The mother, wearing a sun dress, has been paddling with her daughter and is now sitting on a rug, legs outstretched to the sun. The father looks much less comfortable even though he is seated in a low beach chair. He has removed his suit jacket, tie & collar, rolled up his shirt sleeves, pushed his braces off his shoulders but kept on his highly-polished black shoes. He still looks too hot. Their child plays a few yards away at the waters edge with a small bucket.

All seems right with the world. I sink back on my elbows and squint into the shimmering distance. Suddenly there is a shriek and from the corner of my eye I see the mother's arms fling out and the father jump to his feet. I look down the beach and see nothing but the retreating, sucking surf. The toddler has disappeared. The father is crashing down the pebbles, braces flying, and I simultaneously notice the child floating, face down, a yard or two from the beach making feeble movements with her arms.
                                      * * *
This was over 60 years ago but what happened next cast a lasting impression in my mind. First let me relieve you - the child did not drown. Indeed the father did not even get his shoes and socks wet. He came to a pebble-ploughing halt at the water's edge and shouted and gesticulated to a bather who was standing waist-deep nearby. The bather with two or three strides reached the child, lifted her easily out of the water and conveyed her to her father's arms.

After a few tears, a towelling and dry clothes the child seemed little worse for her experience. Between the parents very few words were spoken and those that were, too quiet to distinguish, but my side-long glimpses of their body-language suggested that relations were very strained. How could it have been otherwise? What demon can have possessed his priorities in those critical seconds such that he put his new shoes and personal comfort before the life-threatening need of his child; or any child?

Soon afterwards the mother gathered up her daughter and pushchair and set off alone up the beach. He hurriedly collected up the remaining possessions and followed. To this day I can see their retreating backs. I know nothing more about them and never will. A small incident and the world kept turning but a day by the seaside had been ruined. . . . Did their life as a family survive?

First published in Issue 11 of 'Regency' magazine June 2009.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Brighton beach

This great bank of shingle stretching from the Peace Statue to the remains of the West Pier and beyond is about 15 feet deep where it meets the lower promenade. It has built up over the last 100 years as a result of the construction of groynes, particularly the large masonry ones during the 19th century.  These groynes intercept the west to east longshore drift and trap the shingle.

An imaginary observer from the early 1900's, standing at the end of the Norfolk groyne where this photo was taken, would hardly recognise this scene. As well as wondering at the changes in the skyline and the missing West Pier, he would be confused by the absence of  the long seawall, now buried in the shingle. The capping of this wall is still visible as a kerb along the southern edge of the lower promenade.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

The Haunting of Hill House

The play of this name is the Festival production by Brighton Little Theatre and what a magnificent job they made of it. It was adapted for the stage by F. Andrew Leslie from the novel by Shirley Jackson. I think it has been filmed at least twice and the 1999 version directed by Jan de Bont used all the techniques of  the  special-effects department to terrorise its audience. How could BLT possibly compete with this? Well they did, and brilliantly. 

To set the scene I can't do better than to quote the programme:" The events depicted here are very frightening and may be disturbing to those of a delicate nature. Hill House stands by itself against the hills, holding darkness within. It has stood for 130 years . . . silence lies steadily against the wood and stone, and whatever walks there walks alone."  

The audience then enters a dimly-lit, mist-filled auditorium and gropes to find their seats which turn out to provide a viewpoint as if from  behind the fireplace of a dark, wood-panelled drawing room. A corner of the fine set  served, with the aid of ingenious lighting,  for the bedroom scenes where Eleanor ( Andrea Jamieson) is spine-chillingly haunted by her mother. All 7 of the  cast gave excellent performances and Harry Atkinson's very convincing  "Dr Montague" should have a special mention. But the whole purpose of the play is to terrorise and top-billing for the evening must go to the sound effects. Sometimes sudden, making one jump out of one's seat, sometimes carefully orchestrated to create a sense of growing menace, sometimes seeming to involve the whole audience as they reverberated around the auditorium and always spot on for timing, these were a real triumph for designer Beverley Grover and operator  Maria Dunn. 

Their next production is Noel Coward's "Hay Fever",  23rd to 27th June.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Anish Kapoor

A view of Mr Kapoor's installation at the old fruit and veg. market in Circus street. (The colour of the child's anorak is purely accidental). The work is called "the Dismemberment of Jeanne d'Arc"  and is made up of 5 items covering almost the entire market floor which seem to vaguely mark out a woman's body. Two enormous tortured cylinders lie behind the camera. The two red heaps in the distance are presumably the spoil from the central excavation which although looking spherical in this shot is actually an extremely elongated ellipse. 

It is very impressive from scale alone and well worth a visit. I have heard from two separate sources that young children are particularly fascinated by it.

The Festival Programme cover which I criticised in an earlier post now begins to make more sense. Anish Kapoor is the Guest Artistic Director for the Festival with several of his works on display throughout the City. It was obviously deemed appropriate  to have his work featured on the programme cover.

On the other hand one wonders if one of the primary functions of the programme has been overlooked. Surely it should be bold, eye-catching and attractive. Brighton is full of talented Graphic Designers. How about a competition next year?

Friday, 8 May 2009

Preston Place

This elegant, Art & Craft style house stood in a large, triangular, tree-girt plot at the junction of Preston Park Avenue and Stanford Avenue. It was built for the Victorian philanthropist Sir John Howard who, in 1898, formed a new company to finish building the Palace Pier. This was  after it had been seriously damaged by the wreckage of the Chain Pier in the storm of 1896 and  the original company  was threatened with bankruptcy.

Sir John went on to build, in 1914, a convalescent home for gentlewomen at the west end of Roedean Road.  After his death in 1917 his trustees funded the building of the John Howard Cottages, Roedean Road in 1922, (now threatened with demolition), the Howard Wards at the Royal Sussex County in 1923, and a new wing at the New Sussex Hospital for Women in Windlesham Road in 1928.

The photo above was taken shortly before the house was demolished in August 2004. The site is now occupied by a block of flats "Preston Mansions".

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Mixed Messages at Hove Station

The old advert on the end wall to the right has " Senior Service Satisfy"; the shop was a "Stop-Smoking Centre".
The grey-roofed & weatherboarded building to the bottom-right is the old ticket-office which has now found a home and preservation at Amberley Working Museum. 
This attractive terrace at the south-end of Hove Park Villas was built in the last decade  of the 19th century and shows the strong influence of the Arts & Crafts movement. 

Monday, 20 April 2009

St. George's Day in Brighton

Taking place on Sunday April 26 between 11am and 5pm in Jubilee Square, “the Book and the Rose” will celebrate England’s literary heritage, and the flower associated with St George.

The event will feature readings from Shakespeare, who died on St. George’s Day, and second hand book stalls and florists will be invited to set up shop in the square outside Brighton’s iconic library. Residents and visitors will be encouraged to exchange books and flowers with loved ones, while music and entertainment with a St. George’s Day theme are also being lined up. Only local traders are being invited to participate, as part of the council’s anti-recession ‘Buy Local’ campaign.

As well as books, red roses will be on sale, commemorating the story of St. George. After slaying the dragon, legend says that a drop of its blood sprouted into a red rose which the saint gave to the princess he had saved.

The event will also acknowledge some of the other countries that will be celebrating Saint George on 23 April. The well-travelled saint is patron of many cities and countries around the world, including Ferrara in Italy and Catalunya in Spain.

Monday, 13 April 2009


I have heard a woodpecker several times from my garden in Patcham Village this afternoon. The sound always carries well and it seemed to be coming, across the A23, from the hangar above Patcham Place. It was probably a Great Spotted as I have seen these in the area in previous years.

By contrast, 20 years ago in rural West Sussex, it seemed to be the Green Woodpecker that was most common..

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Aliens have landed

The pink slab sticking up in the centre-distance is a modern flats development in Connaught Road. When I first saw it from this angle in Kingsway it made me think of the monolith in "2001- A Space Odyssey', a silent sentinel left on the moon by an alien civilisation.

Luckily it is somewhat less obtrusive from nearer viewpoints in Church Road. What is really worrying is the height precedent it has set. If, in the course of time, other building plots become available in the vicinity, how will the Council resist applications for developments of similar heights?

Monday, 6 April 2009

Sussex University Arts Centre

It is good news that the old Gardner Arts Centre is to be refurbished at a cost of £4M and renamed the Attenborough centre after the former Vice-Chancellor. See Argus report.

The puzzle is where is the money coming from. It was closed down due to lack of finance and that was in the days before recession.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

St. Peter's Church

I don't seem to have a photo this time but when you see a building nearly every other day you tend not to bother.

I am puzzled, I will go no stronger because I don't want to appear cynical, by the report that it is to be saved by "Holy Trinity Brompton". Reading between the lines I take it that HTB is of the christian denomination of the loose genre "happy clapper". HTB being not part of the Church of England will require St. Peter to be deconsecrated but relicensed as a place of worship for the"Parish of Brighton, St Peter". The existing congregation (was it 3 at the last count?) will naturally be welcomed back. Gosh! this is all brilliant stuff. Problem solved then.

Well no. That was the easy bit.

I wonder if HTB have had their surveyors take a look at St. Peters. It is crumbling before our eyes and fenced off to protect the unwary from falling masonry. It will take millions of pounds and several years to restore and thousands of pounds per annum to maintain. Does HTB really have the financial resources to carry this restoration through? Will it have the power to fill the church week after week in order to provide income for maintenance. In short can it really succeed where the mighty Church of England has failed?

All Brightonians are fond of St Peter as an impressive landmark in a unique location and cannot bear the thought of it disappearing. But what if the only alternative is to watch it slowly crumble inside a cage of scaffolding? It would not make an attractive folly. Perhaps in the natural order of things there comes a time to say goodbye to a part of our heritage and welcome an extension to the Valley Gardens. There was once a Brighton without St Peter. Why shouldn't there be one again?

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Patcham Place

Patcham Place pictured in the snow. Built in the 16th.C the facade was later modified with the black mathematical tiles that can be seen today. It is said to be haunted by one of its owners Anthony Stapley who was one of the signatories to Charles I's death warrant. On the right of the photo is Patcham Fountain erected in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.
Patcham Place is owned by the City Council and up until a year or two ago it had been used as a Youth Hostel since 1939. This shows in the condition of the interior of which very few original features remain. Situated as it is on the A23 on the outskirts of a famous holiday resort it would make an ideal headquarters for the new South Downs Park Authority, and the listed stables could be restored to provide extra space for a Visitor Centre and/or South Downs Museum.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Gay Pride

When the sun shines there is no better place to be than on the seafront watching the Gay Pride Parade. This stunning vision paused and posed for a photograph in August 2004.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


At the other end of the scale to the cretinous "tagging", which regularly defaces City walls, we have graffiti of this high standard. While not decrying the artistry & effort involved in creating something like this, presumably with the owner's permission,  I still don't like it. It is out of place. Old walls are interesting in their own right. There is something strangely satisfying about observing the effects of time and weathering on apparently inert brick, cement and stone. Old walls have character and lend atmosphere to the streetscape. They are a relief from, and contrast to, brash modernity which would be more the natural home for art like this.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

"Brighton - The Musical"

Terry Garoghan, Brighton's unofficial Mayor is a local gem. At the Dome last night he provided two hours of non-stop stand-up and tuneful mirth with a strictly local flavour covering localities as diverse as Blatchington Road and Bevendean. I'm sure I even heard Coldean get a mention. How does he do it! A great once a year treat, now in its 13th year but you can catch him again at the Komedia in May. I think I shall.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Bedford Towers

The building on the left of this photo replaced the late-Georgian Bedford Hotel after it burnt down in 1964. Closer viewing does not reveal any compensating factors for its unfortunate intrusion into the vista from the top of Victoria Street. (See previous entry). Shortly after it was built some of the tiling of the facing panels fell off and had to be replaced. Apparently they could not find matching ones. Maybe they had used an "end-of-line" bargain lot. This accounts for rather peculiar diseased appearance of the frontage. So, no net gain in visual amenity there then.

In cases like this it would be good if the architect could be asked to revisit his creation and invited to interpret the building, and explain what message the critical observer should try to take from it. Otherwise we are entitled to believe that he cared nothing for the elegant, historic building it replaced, or that he was concerned at all for the intrusion of his design on to a world-famous seafront, or that he took any account of the scale & style of nearby listed Regency Square.

Victoria Street . . .

. . . built in the late 1830's, has several listed properties on both sides; and St. Mary Magdalene, built two decades later, is also listed. I wonder if, at the time, the Victoria Street inhabitants objected to the loss of view? To modern eyes it looks near perfect, only marred by the bulk of the Bedford Hotel replacement looming up on the right.

St. Mary Magdalene has one of those "off the peg" spires, like St. John's in Palmeira Square, which are now suffering badly from weathering.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Violinist on a Rope

Ear-defying feat of balance and strength test on City lamppost. Brighton's answer to "Man on Wire".

Sunday, 15 March 2009

When a Troll comes Calling . .

. . . is the title of a recent article in "The Freethinker", as always, a witty, scathing, sometimes scurrilous read. The magazine was first produced in 1881 for which the publisher, G W Foote, was sentenced to 12 months hard labour. It continues to be published by Brighton's Barry Duke.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Brighton Station Site

The old goods line became a wilderness over the 40 years it stood unused. This building stood at the end of Boston Street and was provided with a bridge to the old Locomotive Works. It looks domestic in scale and perhaps was originally used by an employee of the Locomotive Works.

This site now lies under the "One Brighton" development at the junction of Stroudley Road and Fleet Street.  Stroudley Road runs to the left of this photo, Fleet Street runs behind the building to the right.  
Photo taken in March 2003.

Monday, 9 March 2009

The Seven Stars

This extravagant late-Victorian frontage (Grade II listed) in Ship Street was once complemented by an equally sumptuous interior  -  all polished wood, etched glass and mirrors. This was  all removed in the 1980's when it became the Helsinki Bar, later O'Neill's as shown. Ironically it has now been returned to a vaguely Victorian style but with very little hint of the former opulence.  The name "Seven Stars", first recorded in 1785, has now been readopted. 

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Inside the "Bottle". . .

This is a view through the georgian glass of one of the windows of the"bottle" looking roughly north-east. The "bottle" was the nickname given to the central, onion-shaped dome of the Royal Pavilion. It certainly is very similar in shape to those large glass bottles filled with coloured liquid that one still sees in chemists' windows. These may have been a more familiar sight in the early 19th. century.
The inside of the bottle is divided up into small rooms some even with a small fireplace (don't ask me where the smoke went) that were once used by visitor's servants. Access is via a spiral staircase on the south-west side and on the north-west side there was  a dumb-waiter.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Brighton & Hove Humanists

See:, for a comment on last night's meeting.

Nice staircase . . . .

 . . . shame about the vandals.
This is the central art deco staircase in the Ocean Hotel, Saltdean. It spirals from top to bottom in a graceful swoop and one of its most remarkable features was the continuous handrail in solid brass.   This photo was taken in 2005 but  about 18 months later, shortly before the present developers took the premises over, some "Jack the lads" turned up with a lorry and ripped the handrail out. (Still lets give them the benefit of the doubt - perhaps they wanted to donate the scrap money to "Children in Need"!) Nearby residents saw it happening but assumed they "probably" had permission. The developers are committed to restoring period features but what's the betting the new handrail won't be in solid brass.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Brighton Little Theatre

For their  spring programme the BLT are doing "A Few Good Men", "The Haunting of Hill House" and "Hay Fever". All good, entertaining stuff by a brilliant amateur company.

Brighton Festival 2

For me the high spot of the Festival is usually the "Promenade" event and this year seems likely to be no exception. The theatre company Hydrocracker are performing Joe Orton's "The Erpingham Camp" on the Palace Pier and the ticket price includes a fish & chip supper. 
Several other items appeal including Handel's "Arianna in Creta", and an al fresco "Comedy of Errors" in St. Anns Well gardens; but one musn't book too much, there is  all the free stuff to get round and The Fringe programme is yet to arrive.
Incidentally the free stuff includes several art installations by the Guest  Artistic Director Anish Kapoor who also designed the programme cover I complained about in my earlier post. These installations are at various sites around the City including the Chattri and are definitely on my 'must see' list.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Brighton & Hove Humanist Society

The B&HHS is 50 years old this year. It meets on the first Wednesday of every month at The Lord Nelson in Trafalgar St.  Tomorrow's talk is entitled the "Future of Belief".  
I've never managed to get to it before either due to forgetfulness, indolence or prior engagement but this time a friend is picking me up so I've absolutely no excuse.  I'm looking forward to it.

The Secret Door

This intriguing door is on Madeira Drive at the bottom of Duke's Mound. I have never seen it open. Does anyone know where it leads? Duke's Mound was named after the Duke of Devonshire who occupied Fife House, 1 Lewes Crescent. Perhaps he had a tunnel built to provide easy access to the seafront.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Brighton Festival Programme

Just received the Festival programme for 2009. First reactions ; the new layout inside is very clear and easy to navigate with everything listed in chronological order. But the cover - oh dear! so depressing. It looks as if its intended to represent a tide of gloom creeping over the city. We need cheering up, not reminding that there is a recession (or worse) coming.