Saturday, 31 July 2010


A view of this extraordinary church before the station development obscured it; and a view therefore that none of us is likely to see again.

It wasn't supposed to be this tall but the Rev.Arthur Douglas Wagner just ignored the protests of the Town Councillors and went on building.  The height of its nave, 42 metres above the floor ended up 1 metre higher than Westminster Abbey's and the highest of any parish church in the country. It is also, because of its cheap brick construction with minimal ornament, said to be the cheapest church per cubic metre of enclosed space of all time. This does not lessen in the slightest the visual impact on entering. The effect of the immense soaring space counterpointed in the distance by the glittering Italian mosaics and stately baldachino is simply awe-inspiring.

It has been Grade I listed since 1952 and therefore rightly enjoys the same regard and protection as the Royal Pavilion.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Finished at last . . .

. . . . but very attractive, so well worth the wait. Congratulations to the designer: and words of praise should also go to the unsung urban heroes, the masons and pavers who lay these heavy blocks of stone and concrete with amazing precison while working under very difficult conditions.

The inclusion of some greenery in this busy area is also very welcome; but I am rather concerned about the vulnerablility of the young unstaked trees to urban tarzans returning from their mating rituals in West Street night clubs.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The Old Music Library

Most people know it as "The Old Music Library", and in its latest reincarnation as a restaurant (what else in Brighton!) the smart dark-grey paint seems to render the Brighton dolphins over the door much more discernible. It was, in fact, built in the 1920's as the showroom for the municipal gas company; those being the days when coal-gas was still manufactured and distributed locally. 

For several years while the Museum complex was undergoing the millenium £10M renovation it also served as the Local History Centre.  The present manifestation may be the first time the building has been out of some kind of municipal use. 

Maybe not a great bit of architecture, the top "slabs" seem over ponderous, but it makes a whimsical pairing with the narrow Victorian facade next door. It is good it is finding a new use. 

David Miliband in Brighton

The Public Meeting at the Brighthelm Centre this evening could have been described as a "sell-out" if they had been charging for entrance. Should be interesting; and encouraging that people are still willing to turn out in numbers for political meetings. Perhaps it is indicative of a new spirit abroad amongst the grass roots of the Labour Party.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Urban plunder at Marlborough House?

Until May this year each of the two entrances to historic Marlborough House were complemented by an elegant period lantern surmounting each pillar . .

They have now disappeared from both . . .

 . . . and from the way the wires have been left one fears the worse.

Security has recently been tightened at the site . . .

Have the conspicuous notices announcing this fact have merely served to alert thieves to an opportunity?

Tunnel Cottages

The old gardener's and constable's cottages, one each side of the Lewes Crescent tunnel, have been nicely refurbished and looking cared-for at last. They have separate solid "front" doors facing each other across the tunnel and the occupants will presumably have use of the private gardens of the Crescent. They were sold by Kemp Town Estates to raise funds to replace the iron railings around Lewes Crescent and Sussex Square. They are said to be intended for holiday letting, although just a few days ago appear not to have been occupied. 

Unfortunately these improvements also serve to emphasize the sorry state of the Reading Room below.  A few years ago this was advertised as being "under offer",  possibly for conversion to a cafe.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Black Rock Swimming Pool

On a fine summer day the pool, built in 1936 on a raised terrace above the sea, was an idyllic spot with the white cliffs in view to the east, Brighton to the west, seagulls overhead. . . . And it was filled with sea-water which was ozonised, not chlorinated, and so did not sting the eyes. The late art deco building itself, with cafe, sun terrace, ochre-coloured walls, formed an elegant architectural landmark, at the start of the Undercliff walk, in the long progression of the seafront.  There seemed to be a wonderful logic to it all . . How could there not be a pool at Black Rock?

By the 1970s the answer came in the combined effects of a series of bad summers and cheap air-travel and it was demolished in 1978. All that remains are two sets of steps (and a still derelict site). A passageway led from Madeira Drive which passed behind the pool to the Undercliff walk. From this passageway these round-nosed glazed steps gave access to the back of the pool building towards the eastern end:-

At the western end these led from the passageway up to the Madeira Drive pavement:-

Friday, 23 July 2010

Caroline Lucas & collective worship in schools

The Early Day Motion 395 proposed by the MP for Cambridge, Julian Huppert has now been signed by 11 MP's including Brighton Pavilion's Caroline Lucas. In the interest of encouraging inclusiveness & integration within our schools  the Bill calls on the Government to repeal the requirement for compulsory worship in schools and to encourage schools to hold educational assemblies that will include all children.

Caroline says:-
Thank you for your email and for telling me about EDM 395. I support scrapping the requirement for a compulsory daily act of worship and also want those schools which continue to hold acts of worship to provide an alternative activity for learners who choose not to take part. Whilst I think it is important to uphold children and young people's right to practise their faith in schools, I think this is best met by for example providing prayer space rather than the current enforcement of daily worship. I also think religious education should be distinct from religious instruction and, like you, I would like assemblies to be inclusive and encourage a sense of community and cohesion. I will, therefore, be adding my name to this Early Day Motion and please do not hesitate to contact me again in future if I can help with anything else.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Royal Sussex County Hospital redevelopment

The original building of 1825 by Regency Architect, Charles Barry, also later responsible, for St. Peter's Church & the Houses of Parliament, has served us well for 185 years, especially when  one considers that modern public buildings are often only good for 25: but the Hospital Trust needs the space and the City needs modern wards and medical facilities.

Should the facade be retained as an important aesthetic element in the local streetscape; as a memorial to Barry, and a reference to the hospital's architectural history: and, if so can it be done without compromising too much on the practical aims of the redevelopment or adding to the cost? Consideration also has to be given to the fate of the attractive Hospital Chapel which stands behind the building and may have special significance for many patients, patients' families & friends.

Interested parties can meet the design team and give their views at a drop-in meeting, details here:-
Have your say on Royal Sussex redevelopment

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Station Site

Apart from a plot at the southern end the station site is now all built up and we have the depressing towers, windy canyons and unfriendly pavements everyone feared from the planning application. Yet the single, people-friendly feature that was promised, the Greenway, is still not fully open. This view below is taken through the barrier less than halfway along the path towards New England Road.

The Greenway, at present running between Stroudley Road and New England Street, is intended to be accessed via steps on the north side of New England Road which it then crosses on the disused goods bridge. It then follows the path of the old goods line to just below the Jury Inn.  It is good that the brick pillars which supported the line have been retained. The last part of the Greenway from Stroudley Avenue to the station is yet to be constructed. 

This goods line originally terminated at Trafalgar Street 30ft below the station platforms. This was in fact the second goods line to be constructed, the first was accessed from the Shoreham line and passed in a tunnel (still there) under the station platforms.

A photograph of part of the site as it used to be may be viewed here.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Brighton Hippodrome

The Grade II* listed Hippodrome, in Middle Street, has been a cause of concern for some time. When a building just sits without being used or properly maintained the effects of the weather are remorseless. I visited it a few years ago while it was still being used as a Bingo Hall and although the stalls were hidden under a false floor most of its florid, glorious decor was still visible and in reasonable condition. It was designed & built in 1897 for an ice-skating rink but converted in 1901 for the type of theatre; variety, pantomime and circus that was so popular before cinema and televison sounded their death knell. Bingo at least kept it in use, but 3 years ago even that fell out of favour, and the building has been shut up while the leaseholders, the Academy Music Group, have been exploring its use as a live music venue.

Today the Argus reports that the Theatres Trust has added the Hippodrome to the 2010 list of buildings that need special attention and that restoring it will cost more than £9 million. Obviously, in the present economic climate this does not augur well, but at least Brighton's Hippodrome is somewhat happier placed than Derby's whose owner wants to turn it into a carpark.

Extract from Theatres Trust Report:-
"The Brighton Hippodrome is an architecturally significant conversion of an 1897 ice rink to a theatre. The conversion retained the restrained stuccoed fa├žade to Middle Street but included an opulently decorated near- circular auditorium. Originally a dual purpose circus/variety theatre, and now possibly the finest surviving example of its type in Britain. The most spectacular feature of the auditorium is the vast ceiling in the form of a panelled tent which covers the whole space and is richly decorated with boldly modelled Baroque plasterwork. At the centre is a balustraded gallery, reminiscent of (but not the same as) the one at the London Hippodrome before it was altered. The ‘Palm Court’, with its false bridge has undergone some alteration but is an impressive room with paintings which appear to date from the original ‘art decorations’. The body of the theatre is intact, with only superficial alterations (the levelling of the auditorium, for example, which ‘submerges’ part of the lower boxes). It could be readily restored to use."

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Marina Inquiry- where does that leave us?

To read a good summing-up of how the plans for future developments at the Marina stand now, go to the Brighton Society website here.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Marina - Inquiry verdict

Brighton Marina still under construction in 1977, and in the distance can be seen what later became the Asda car park. It always seemed somewhat illogical to devote an acre of land, wrested from the sea at great expense, to a superstore car park; and the argument was never against better use being made of the land but rather, what form that use should take. The current developers, Explore Living wanted to cram in 7 blocks of flats containing 1300 residential units which would have unacceptably stressed local services and Kemptown roads.

Following much local campaigning, the Council Planning Committee threw out the developer's proposals against the advice of its officers. The developer appealed and a public enquiry held.  The Inspector's report on that enquiry has now been read by the Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles and Explore Living's appeal has been dismissed.

We must now, as Brian Simpson of the 'Save Brighton' campaign said in his closing statement to the enquiry: ". . look for a developer who will work with the people of this great city to create a unique integrated maritime environment that will be truly exciting for both residents and visitors."

Argus report here

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

If you have tears . . .

. . . prepare to shed them now. (Julius Caesar)

Plan to Save Saltdean Lido

Letter to the Independent 7th July 2010:-

Mr Strawbridge, from the lofty heights of Nottingham, appears to be working with inaccurate information when he claims (letters, 3 July) that Saltdean Lido, on the Sussex coast, has been used by "fewer than a dozen swimmers in total" during three weeks in June. Had he checked the Facebook group mentioned, he would have seen posts by independent visitors detailing user numbers in excess of 400 over the period he specifies.

But many more people would be inclined to use the lido were it not for lack of marketing and erratic opening hours. More often than not, the pool is closed by 4pm, so that when children are out of school and workers have wended their way home, they can't swim even if they want to.

It seems visibly obvious that since Mr Audley took over the site, little has been spent on maintaining this building of great national architectural importance. I am sure our campaign supporters, including those on Facebook to whom Mr Strawbridge refers, would love to know why they should buy a season ticket in advance, with no guarantee that a penny of the price would ever go on maintaining the building and with little confidence that the pool will be open when they want to swim.

Regarding Mr Strawbridge's allegations that we are trying to "wrest the lease from the legitimate owner"; the community is unfortunately not in a position to make any such attempt. However, at the last public meeting, attended by Mr Audley, local Councillors confirmed that a Section 146 notice had been served upon him, based upon some 48 pages of Breaches of Covenant and Wants of Repair, a copy of which the Campaign has acquired under the Freedom of Information Act.

Our business plan will demonstrate how the local community could operate the site successfully at profit, without the need for the 102 flats that Mr Audley claims are required as an Enabling Development.

Saltdean Lido is an architectural gem, a piece of our nation's history and a community amenity. We will fight tooth and claw to preserve its integrity.

Rebecca Crook

Save Saltdean Lido Campaign, Brighton

Monday, 12 July 2010

Hove Lawns, barbecues & pirates

In the period this photo was taken earnest Victorians would have been despatching missionairies to the far corners of the world keen for the 'savage' inhabitants to be introduced to the ways of European civilisation. They would no doubt have frowned on 'sacred fire-pits' or barabicu from which our modern word 'barbecue' is believed to derive. The OED cites the first recorded use of the word in the English language as being in 1697 by the British buccaneer William Dampier, and he presumably learnt it while visiting Caribbean Islands to bury his ill-gotten treasure.

Time has rolled on however and modern users of the Lawns are no longer satisfied with the civilised pleasures of the Sunday parade but prefer to hunker down around a sacred fire-pit and burn and consume compressed patties of animal flesh. Unfortunately this produces unsightly scorch marks on the grass, destroying the roots as well as the visible grass so that the grass takes many months to recover: as the participants would know if they had lawns of their own. 

Although one hestitates to solicit authoritarian action when there is already so much in modern society there seems no alternative if the Lawns are to be retained as reasonably attractive open spaces available to all. Please sign the ePetition on the Council's website asking the Council & police to act against barbecues on the Hove Lawns.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

A plaque to the Wagners

The Wagners, Henry & son Arthur, would no doubt have been mightily pleased with the  religious ceremony attending the unveiling of a commemorative blue plaque on Saturday.  They were both ardent Anglo-Catholics, supporters of the Oxford movement, and possessed of great wealth from a hatters business at a time when everybody wore hats. Great wealth provides the means to indulge eccentricities and in the case of the Wagners this manifested itself in the "London, Brighton & South Coast Religion",  a wry reference to the private railway company which concurrently was doing so much to establish Brighton's popularity as a seaside resort. To support anglo-catholicism, and also, let it be said to bring religion to the poor of the town, the Wagners caused to be built many wonderful churches, some of which are still with us, St. Pauls, by Henry & St Bartholomews by Arthur, are prime examples.

The Wagners are important, colourful, figures in the City's architectural and social history and their commemoration at their home, the Old Vicarage, Temple Gardens, now part of the Girls' High School, is entirely fitting.

The Old Vicarage

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Shoreham Airport - 100 years of flying

A hundred years ago today the first plane took off from the field that, a year later, was to be officially opened as the first airport in the UK. Ken Fines' book "A History of Brighton & Hove" contains a fascinating account of the early days of flying in the area. It was abandoned to grazing after WW1 but reopened in 1936 as the Brighton, Hove & Worthing Joint Municipal Airport, about the same time that this photo was taken.  It is actually in Lancing but has always been popularly referred to as 'Shoreham Airport'. On their website the present owners add "(Brighton City)", which sounds quite grand.

The Art Deco terminal building by Stavers H. Tilman is Grade II* listed and has appeared in "Tenko", as Singapore airport, in "Fortunes of War", (the excellent dramatisation of the Olivia Manning novels which featured Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh), and in "The DaVinci Code". The terminal is situated right alongside the coastal railway line and once had its own station. In 1937, 6000 passengers used the airport but, because of the short runway, which there is no prospect of lengthening, it cannot accomodate the size of aircraft now needed for commercially viable passenger business. Modern use is restricted to private aircraft, flying schools, sight-seeing flights and helicopter and light aircraft maintenance and sales. It is also the headquarters of the Sussex Police helicopter.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Preston Park Parking - an ePetition

There is now an ePetition on the Council's website calling for a review of the parking in Zone J which includes Preston Park Avenue (see earlier post here).

This petition, very reasonably, calls for a survey of:-

(1) the overall level of utilisation of the parking spaces

(2) the utilisation of parking spaces by cars with Resident Parking Permits

and for the results of the survey to be reviewed by the Council in order to “fine tune” the designation of parking spaces (Resident Parking Permit, Pay & Display, free to use etc) with a view to increasing the utilisation of parking spaces to an acceptable level.

The petition closes on 14 July 2010.

(with thanks to Steve Hodgkinson)

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Note to readers . . .

Brighton Bits is now allowing comments to be added by anyone (as opposed to registered users only) but there may be a small delay before your comment is published. Many thanks for all relevant input.

The Patcham Elms

Sad news that the elms that have stood in Patcham Village for 200 to 300 years have been infected with elm disease and will have to be felled. In latter times they have given their name to the parade of shops nearby. Although they appear as one tree from this angle, they are actually twin elms. Last year one showed signs of infection, which was quickly spotted by the City's arboriculture department, and the affected branches promptly removed. Unfortunately the disease spreads through the entangled roots and now the other tree is infected, as can be seen in this photo.

The only consolation is that they were very old trees and, even if they had not succumbed to elm disease, they would no doubt have become increasingly in need of surgery which would have diminished their splendour.

It is planned to plant new trees but it will be many generations before anyone sees anything like this view again.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The Pavilion restoration work

For several years contractors have been steadily working their way around the Royal Pavilion painstakingly restoring and maintaining the fabric. At last they have finished and that part of the gardens they took over for their depot can be returned to the public. What is needed now is a day or two of steady rain to restore the grass.

The contractors haven't gone far though. They have started work on the Dome/Museum complex.

Connaught Centre update.

Following the Public Meeting held on 7th June  Mike Weatherly MP has written to the Secretary of State for Education as follows:-

The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP – Secretary of State for Education
House of Commons

30th June 2010

Dear Michael


I thank you for your interest in Hove in the past and I write now to bring to your attention specifically to the shortage of primary school places in the area.

A recently closed adult education venue in Hove, the Connaught Centre, has been identified as a potential site for a new primary school. The plan makes perfect sense in fact as the building was originally a school when it opened in 1884. Yet there are question marks over whether or not the plan will go ahead and, if it does progress, when the school can actually reopen its gates.

It appears from my discussions with officers at Brighton & Hove City Council that we are up against two particular problems – security of funding and the ownership of the building. These are in addition to the building work which is necessary to turn the Connaught back into a school.

Council officers cite the issue of funding as the greatest obstacle in obtaining the building. It is currently owned by City College and the ability to demonstrate a secure source of funds will be key as matters progress. I should be extremely grateful, therefore, if you would provide me with some clarification on education funding for Hove over the coming year.

Although it is becoming less likely as each day passes, I would be delighted if the school could open this September. I strongly believe that where there’s a will, there’s a way. I fear, however, that health and safety fears related to using the building in its unconverted form will put a stop to that. My personal view and that of many parents is that an unconverted Connaught is infinitely preferable to temporary huts on other schools’ playing fields.

I have also been informed that a competition must be held to decide who will operate the new school and, in this instance, this policy is being cited as a possible reason for delay. Again, I should be extremely grateful if you would provide me with some clarification.

As an aside, the closure of the Connaught Centre as an adult education facility has saddened and angered many. Whilst I appreciate that you have no control over the provision of adult education by City College, I wondered if you could offer any guidance on the use of primary schools as adult education venues during the evenings and weekends.

I am extremely grateful to you for all that you have done for Hove to date and I thank you very much in advance for your assistance on this particular matter.

Yours sincerely

Arguments based on cost and availibity are one thing, but it is to be hoped that the Connaught  solution will not be defeated by the web of rules and regulations in which modern society seems to have become emmeshed.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Brighton's seafront railings

Brighton & Hove News reports that the seafront railings are to be painted by offenders:-

"For the next fortnight, offenders working through Surrey and Sussex Probation Trust’s Community Payback scheme will be working between the piers, going over the area painted last year to touch up rust spots caused by winter weather, and then work eastwards from the Sea Life Centre towards Kemp Town."

Unfortunately, in some places the rust "spots" are of long-standing and caused by more than one winter's weather. More than simple "touching-up" would seem to be necessary if the iron-work is to be saved long-term.

I suspect the problem lying behind the gradual deterioration of the Victorian seafront is that there is no "glory" for the Council in carrying-out unglamourous regular maintenance. They would prefer to simply let things rot until they are beyond simple maintenance, and then, with fanfares, replace with something new. New, but perforce cheap, and therefore usually inferior to the original; as with the paddling pool, and the walled gardens. One wonders what will eventually happen to the Madeira Terraces.

Wagner church damaged by fire

The Argus reports that the former St. John the Evangelist on Carlton Hill, built by Brighton's famous church-building, Vicar the Rev. Henry Wagner, has been seriously damaged by fire. His only other surviving church is the beautiful St. Paul's in West Street.

A Blue Plaque to Henry & his son Arthur is scheduled to be unveiled this month at the Old Vicarage, Temple Gardens.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Cheap & Nasty

Cheap plastic cladding and an ungainly roof extension with no redeeming features.

Nasty zinc-clad boxy dormers with anti-pigeon spikes on top. Grim & forbidding.

If this kind of degradation of the built environment worries you, you should support a local conservation society of which the City has three: The Brighton Society, Hove Civic Society and the Regency society. They all have small planning committees or working groups who examine planning applications as they are published and comment or object as necessary. This helps to balance commercial pressures on the Planning Department and avoid unsympathetic changes to the streetscape.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Positive news from the Saltdean Lido Campaign

The campaign has this week submitted an application to English Heritage for the listing category to be upgraded from Grade II to Grade II*. If granted, and should any planning application for the site be submitted, this would require the Council to give special consideration to the Lido as a "particularly important building of more than special interest".

It is also reported that Sir Terence Conran is supporting the Campaign, and his project architect, Paul Zara, who was also behind the refurbishment of Embassy Court in Hove, is working free of charge to draw up sympathetic plans to save the Lido.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Old Steine cannon (3)

According to the  note to the above photo in the James Gray collection,
" . . . . Russian guns, relics of the Siege of Sebastopol (ended 1855), were placed in the gardens in 1859 and were removed during the 1930s." The photograph itself is a rather distant shot but it is just possible to make out one of the guns at the north end of the southern garden. It seems probable that there were a pair of cannon one each side of the north entrance and the 1930's photo is of the other one.

Interestingly, 1859 is also the year in which Brighton's West Battery, near the bottom of Cannon Place was demolished and the guns used there were 36-pounders*. I'm not an expert but I believe those in the Old Steine could be 36-pounders too. It all seems too much of a coincidence. Perhaps the Sebastopol relics were simply stored at the battery for the few years before it was demolished. . . ?

* "The Encyclopaedia of Brighton" by Timothy Carder