Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Housing Land in Brighton

The City Council is updating its Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) in order to  identify sites with potential for housing development, assess their housing potential and estimate when development is likely. The study is intended to provide important information that will help inform the council’s planning documents - the Local Development Framework.

The Council is asking for suggestions for any sites, able to accommodate 6+ residential units, either as solely residential or as part of a mixed use scheme, that could be considered by the study. Suggestions can be made on an SHLAA form which can be found on the Council's website here.

The site that immediately jumps to mind of course, is the prime vacant lot on the corner of Portland and Church Streets which has remained undeveloped for decades and is now being advertised for car-parking. I believe some plans, which included housing along Portland Street, were submitted a few years ago but came to nothing. I am sure this hasn't escaped the Council's attention but do not know what they can do about it if the owner of a plot has, for reasons of their own, just decided to sit on it.

"Why I am not a Christian"

Brighton & Hove Humanists first meeting after the summer break is on Wednesday, 1st  Sept. at 8pm at the Lord Nelson, Trafalgar St.

Speaker: Denis Cobell (Former president, National Secular Society) on 
"Why I Am Not a Christian. "

Martha Gunn's house

As well as being a well-known local name, Martha Gunn's fame has obviously spread,  no doubt because of the royal connection, to the extent that a visitor stopped me in East Street the other day to enquire the whereabouts of Martha Gunn's house. It is, of course, no. 36 tucked away in the north-east  corner of the "wide-bit" of the street. The house does have a plaque but, because this is Brighton, it is well hidden away in a modern conservatory and behind a hanging basket. The conservatory is part of a fish restaurant. At least that is appropriate, bearing in mind the Gunn family's main profession then and since.  

A fine portrait of Martha in later life has recently returned from the Antipodes courtesy of family descendants and now has a permanent pride of place in the museum, adjacent to the bottom of the staircase. She died in 1815 at the good old age (in those days) of 88, predeceased by 4 of her many children but not her husband Stephen who lived just a few months longer and died aged 79.

The family grave has a conspicuous position in St. Nicholas churchyard close to the path and the main entrance to the church. There is also some related material at the Fishing Museum in Kings Road Arches.

Martha has many widespread descendants. 

Monday, 30 August 2010

Sussex Uni Film Show

Facing Faith by Daisy Whicheloe  is one of the films being premiered on Wednesday 8th September by students on the MA in Digital Documentary degree. It follows a born-again Christian rapper on a 21st-century evangelising mission in Brighton. (Photo above)
Daisy said: "MC Tempo's Christian beliefs are very extreme... born again in his early twenties, he now raps strictly for God.

"The documentary explores 21st-century evangelism in Brighton, its boundaries, obstacles and disciples."

It is one of two films exploring religion in Brighton and Hove, which, according to national census data, is statistically the 'UK's most Godless city'. The other Chinese Missionary in UK, by Cheng Wang, tells the story of a Chinese missionary who preaches in Brighton. Cheng said: "After watching the documentary you will know more about young Chinese Christians in the UK."

There are nine films in all covering an eclectic mix of topics which capture the stories of real people and communities in Brighton and locations around the world. A full list of films can be seen on the University of Sussex Student News. The Film Show is free and open to the public.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Thoughts while pondering Steve Ovett's foot . . .

One of the last acts of plunder in Preston Park, the removal in 2007 of the bronze statue of Olympic 800m champion Steve Ovett by sawing it off at the foot. It was well reported at the time, but has an interesting link with an earlier act of vandalism, namely the illegal felling of mature trees just across the London Road on the vacant Anston House site. The unnecessary loss of these trees caused much indignation among local residents, but certain denizens of the alternative, unwaged society took it upon themselves to move in and set up a "Protest the Trees" camp. This involved decrepit caravans, makeshift tents, bonfires and much miscellaneous rubbish.

After the statue disappeared,  the police visited the Anston House site, recovered most of the statue in pieces, and charged a 44 year-old female person, of no fixed address, with possession.  One of the pieces nestled in the remains of  a bonfire, where attempts had apparently been made to melt it down, this neatly demonstrating perhaps why the miscreant was unwaged.

The pieces of the statue were returned to local sculptor Tim Webster whose work it was. Mr Webster  estimated it would cost £30,000 to recreate it. The illegal felling eventually came to court and the owners were fined £30,000 (+£4,000 costs). The female miscreant was simply cautioned.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Remains of the Patcham Elms

I realise now that I should have saved my earlier title, "The Last of the Elms" for this photograph. Or, even a later one if I manage to record the planned chipping operation to remove what is left of the trunk and the roots.

The nearest, slightly largest, trunk is 5 ft. across at its widest point and must average at least 4 ft. in diameter.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Kite-jumping on Brighton beach

One wonders how long it will be before the calls for safety regulations or outright banning come rolling in.  . . .

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Preston Park 5

This pylon at the southern entrance provides yet another example of urban plunder. As it has the Brighton Coat-of-Arms on the south face which were not granted until 1897, the pylon presumably dates from the 1928, or later remodelling of the entrance. On the east side of the plinth there is a brass plate commemorating the Manor of Radynden. 

On the west side there was once a matching brass plate commemorating the nearby Roman Villa (where Wellend House now stands).  I have no idea how long it has been gone. I first noticed it missing about 2 years ago.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Disappearing street lamps

I try to keep up with the local news but have only recently come across this BBC report from back in May.

It probably explains what happened to the lamps outside Marlborough House.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The Royal Alexandra site proposals

If Taylor Wimpey are given permission to demolish the abandoned hospital building this is what they would put up in its place. It is certainly more attractive than the original proposals which they displayed several years ago in the St. Mary Magdalene Hall. Perhaps from their point-of-view it is a shame they did not give the project a great deal more research and care at that time. As it was, the slab-sided barracks they proposed then, started a storm of protests and campaigning which they have yet to defuse.

I can imagine quite liking this design in another situation but TW, in proposing it as a substitute for the Victorian confection that still clings to existence on this landmark site, are faced with more than simple nostalgia for a much-loved building. As others have pointed out, its red-brick defines, with two other red-brick buildings, St. Mary Magdalene and St. Michaels, a triangular conservation area of virtually unspoilt Victorian stucco, and its replacement with a modern development would therefore mark a deplorable incursion into the architectural integrity of the area.
TW has also exhibited an alternative scheme that retains the hospital building and converts it to flats but it is remarkable that neither scheme, because of economic constraints, will be able to satisfy the Council's Planning Brief. If, in September, TW submits a planning application along the lines it has shown it will in fact be challenging the Council. If the City wants to keep the RA building it can't also have a proportion of affordable housing and a doctors' surgery. Affordable housing of course, means higher density housing, and with so many properties all over Brighton not fully occupied, one has to wonder how such a requirement can be justified in an area such as this.

Brunswick Festival 2010

At least Saturday was good. After a dampish start it dried up in the afternoon. It was warm and windless and the Square was packed. Great food, great music and great company. The Brighton Society stall did very well and thanks everyone for their interest.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Brunswick Festival

The weather forecast looks good for the weekend. -  Brunswick Square will be the place to be!
Look out for the Brighton Society stall for lots of interesting literature and quality bric-a-brac.

Preston Park 4

This plastic monstrosity may look passable to those who don't recall the original. It replaced a fine lion mask bronze casting which just disappeared overnight about 10 years ago. It was during a period when the rose garden and formal pool were suffering a period of neglect and travellers' vans parked along Preston Park Avenue. The rose garden was subsequently very beautifully  restored with the aid of the Heritage Lottery Fund but money obviously did not stretch to bronze castings. Indeed, what is the point if it is liable to be simply plundered again?

The fountain appears to be plumbed in but I have not seen it working since before the restoration work. Perhaps it needs a new pump.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Preston Park 3

In the north-eastern corner of the park the original gate pillars still stand together with a small section of the original railings. They are looking rather knobbly on the southern side (see "The South West Wind") but considering they have been standing there for 126+ years their condition says a lot for the quality of Victorian wrought ironwork.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Last of the Patcham Elms.

 For more photos see this Page.

The timber produced has to be burnt to control spread of disease but at least it is going to be used as fuel in an energy generating plant. It will thus save on non-renewable resources and not add to the net carbon load on our atmosphere.

Hire of this crane is said to cost £2000 per day.

See also "The Patcham Elms"

Preston Park 2

The entrance stonework shown in the 1915 postcard dates from the early days of the park which was officially opened in 1884. A surviving pillar from that time, shown above, still stands at the bottom of  Preston Park Avenue.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Updating of Holland Road traffic-lights

Dangerous Hove junction to be made safer
There have, of course, been traffic lights at the junction of Western Road & Holland Road for many years. When traffic was much lighter, traffic signals were controlled by pneumatic pads across the carriage way. As traffic increased these were replaced with pre-programmed controls which simply favoured different directions of traffic according to the time of day. 

The proposed work is expected to cause some traffic disruptions. This suggests some road works are needed such as installation of  inductive-loop traffic sensors in the carriageway. This will allow adaptive control systems responsive to real-time traffic conditions to be employed. They are also capable of prioritising buses movements.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Preston Park

The southern entrance gates from a postcard dated 1915.  The carriage "in" was to the extreme left and the pedestrian entrance to the right. On the extreme right the start of the six foot high iron railings which surrounded the park can just be made out. These were removed as a matter of policy in the 1928 the idea being to 'integrate' parks more into the surrounding area. (Nothing to do with the war effort). The gates would have been locked at night by a park-keeper who lived on site and I can't help thinking that in today's world such an arrangement would be welcomed by most people. It would certainly have helped to prevent the urban plunder and vandalism the Park has suffered in the late 20th Century.

Below is a photo taken from the same viewpoint today. The tree to the extreme left is still there (as I expect are some others) and the curving entrance to the driveway seems to have been preserved. This remodelled entrance dates from the 1930's and contrary to The Encyclopaedia of Brighton article it is clear that the entwined dolphin lamp standards have simply been transferred to the new shorter pillars, not newly designed. However, in the associated  balustrade, the dolphin theme has been attractively reworked.

Brighton lip-syncs "Baby"

Filmed next to the Meeting Place Cafe.
Thanks to Dartbird and Cover Me.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Brighton's Glottal Stop

Has Brighton got the most skilled practitioners of the "glottal stop" in the country?

Some years ago, perhaps before the ideal of BBC pronounciation had begun to lose favour with the middle classes, an English teacher told me that he thought the worse spoken English in the country was to be heard in Brighton. He had a theory that this might have its roots back in 1841 with the opening of the London to Brighton railway; the consequent interchange of population between London and the South Coast leading to a gradual melding of the Sussex & Cockney dialects, not to the benefit of either.

The above  conversation sprung to mind recently in the vegetable aisle of ASDA when I overheard the question (which long familiarity enabled me to interpret): "Do we need any potatoes?".

Without resorting to the phonetic alphabet what I actually heard for the word "potatoes" was something like:  "per?ay?ers"; where I have inserted "?'s" for the glottal stops.

This must have taken years of dedicated practice. Just try pronouncing "potatoes" without the "t's"!

Saturday, 14 August 2010


The corner of Church Street and Portland Street 6 years ago. In the notes to his 1967 photograph James Gray the Brighton historian suggested the building dated from at least 1822 and bemourned that it was "unlikely to be with us much longer". Seeing its sorry state in 2004 prompted the taking of this photo. Happily in the last few years this fine example of early 19th.C vernacular has been handsomely restored. So JG's forebodings, although perhaps justified in the light of all the demolitions that were taking place in the 60's, were unfulfilled. The property now has about 200 years under its belt and looks good for another 100 or so.

The little cobbled cottage next door is also original, although all the others in the street have been rebuilt in modern pastiche style.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Royal Alexandra Site again . . .

  • October 2009: Taylor Wimpey's plans for the site involving complete clearance of existing buildings rejected by Public Inquiry.
  • March 2010: A Planning Brief requiring retention of the main building adopted by the City Council.
  • August 2010: Tayor Wimpey in advance of submitting a new planning application for the site are holding a Public Exhibition of their proposals.
The exhibition is at Hove Town Hall from Monday 16th August  to Saturday 21st August. The Brighton Society website has an informative preview on the two alternative proposals being exhibited neither of which is said to satisfy the Planning Brief.

The photo was taken in January 2004, long before any serious deterioration had set in. After the Public Inquiry the site was made secure so that this view is now partly hidden by hoardings.  The buildings themselves are increasingly looking sad and neglected.  I have a nostalgic affection for nearly all of the site. Its collection of quirky buildings of different periods was attractive from almost any viewpoint, not the least this one. It will, of course, never be the same again.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Down Terrace

"Down Terrace" is the name of a low-budget, prize-winning, debut feature film from Brighton Director Ben Wheatley who has previously been known for animated shorts. The film, a darkly humorous crime drama, has been variously referred to as: "Brighton Rock reworked in the style of The Royle Family"; "Shallow Grave as if written by Ricky Gervais"; "Ken Loach meets the Sopranos",  and "A crime thriller directed by Mike Leigh". What more can one ask? It is being screened at the Duke of Yorks on the 15th & 16th August.

The film, starring a host of British comedy talent is set almost entirely in a property in Down Terrace, Brighton which is an otherwise unremarkable street, council-built between the wars, that runs from Queens Park Road to Freshfield Road.

However, it was once before in the news for grimmer reasons.  In 1943, one of the houses received a direct hit from a German bomb:-

Prinny's Birthday Today

George Augustus Frederick, eldest son of George III, was born on this summer day in 1762. I feel someone should mention it. It seems a shame that Brighton doesn't regularly mark the occasion in some simple way. Something like running up a special  flag on the Pavilion. Perhaps Prinny had some personal pennant that no longer has the Royal prerogative attached to it.

Although he didn't invent Brighton the modern City surely owes a lot in both its architecture and atmosphere to Prinny's life & eclectic tastes.   Travelling down the Old Steine, or strolling through the Pavilion gardens, it is impossible to imagine Brighton without the Royal Pavilion, or even to think of some alternative use of the site that would have, or be likely to acquire, the same iconic appeal.  

From 1811 until his accession, he served as Prince Regent during his father's relapse into insanity. He was the King of Hanover and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from the death of his father, George III, on 29 January 1820 until his own death ten years later in 1830.

The year of the Olympics, 2012, will see the quarter-millenial of his birth. Excuse for a party maybe? 

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Anston House

Anston House on the Preston Road and the vacant adjacent site has been an eyesore on the City's main gateway for decades. A few years ago, following a change of ownership which briefly gave everyone hope that things were about to change, the situation was actually made much worse by the unauthorised and completely wanton felling of mature trees that still remained on the site. The owner was taken to court over this and fined £34,000 but promptly went bankrupt. The vacant site then began to be used as a builder's dumping yard and this has has only recently been cleared. No doubt vegetation will slowly begin to conceal some of the worst remaining scars but the prospect of anything happening to the derelict office building seems remote indeed if it is to be left to private enterprise.

There is now an epetition on the Council's website asking it to use its compulsory purchase powers. It will be presented at the General Council Meeting on 16 December. Whether or not one considers that Councils should get involved in the property development business the petition seems worth signing simply to draw attention to the level of concern that exists about this long-standing blot on Brighton's landscape.

The Fretful Federation Mandolin Orchestra

Brighton's Fretful Federation Orchestra play 'Song of Japanese Autumn' by Yasuo Kuwahara. They are seeking venues for next year, especially local Festivals.  Leave contact details and I will put you in touch.


At the time of posting, I wondered if an ironic reminder about past flooding might just do the trick . . . It has. Over the last 24 hours the ground seems to have had a good soaking and hints of green are already reappearing in the grass.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Duke Street

Duke Street was always an attractive street. It has some Georgian properties on the south side (photo left) and, because of road-widening in the 1860's,  mainly Victorian on the north: the consequent variations in frontages and roof-line providing plenty of visual stimulation and interest. Look out also for the nice period lamp posts. But the street is now graced with an additional eye-catching feature.  With the partial pedestrianisation of the street in 1983 several trees were planted down the centre and this situation seems to have especially agreed with the acacia. It seems almost overnight to have attained splendid proportions, and now has a trunk at least 12" across. 

Monday, 9 August 2010

Memory of Wetness

An unseasonal, untopical picture; Patcham Place in November 2000. After weeks of heavy rain the Sweet Hill aquifer broke out near the bottom of Mill Road and Patcham Village was flooded for a week. It was nearly knee deep in places and many of the cellars of the cottages along Old London Road had to be pumped out. It happened again in February of the following year.

Since then improvements have been made to the main sewer which follows the path of the main London Road and the flooding has not recurred. But I cannot recall that, in the intervening period, it has even been seriously tested.  . . . . .

Sunday, 8 August 2010

The South West Wind

Situated on the south coast Brighton is well-placed to experience all the effects of the prevailing south-west wind and it shows up in different ways. 
This row of trees in Gloucester Place planted about 10 years ago gradually increase in height as they gain more and more shelter from the salt-laden gales.  The second tree from the right appears to spoil this theory but this may be due to it getting an extra blast from wind funnelled down Blenheim Place.

At the Museum entrance in the Pavilion Grounds, the south-east and therefore most exposed column is badly eroded while the detailing on the more sheltered columns remains intact.  
I do not know to what extent this is due to salt or other pollutants carried on the wind. The English Channel is the busiest shipping lanes in the world and commercial shipping is one of the greatest polluters. A doctor friend told me some years ago that he thought Brighton a particularly bad place for asthma sufferers because of air-borne pollutants.

Brighton Bits

Thanks to all my readers.
Brighton Bits is now getting about 3500 page views per month and I thought the time had come for a face-lift. Hope you like it. I've stayed with a dark background because I think this best shows-off photos, although I am aware some people may find light-on-dark text difficult to read . . .
Any comments very welcome.

The missing Play Area.

The Council has now issued enforcement notices on the developers of the station site requiring them to provide a children's play area as they originally agreed.  Full report here.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Mazda Fountain

According to the "The Encyclopaedia of Brighton" this fountain was donated to Brighton in 1930 by the Thompson-Houston company following an exhibition. Presumably  this might have been the British Empire Exhibition in 1925.  'Mazda' was first used as a trade name in 1909, in the US, by the Shelby Electric Co. to promote its tungsten-filament electric light bulbs. The British Thompson Houston Co. was a subsidiary of General Electric which purchased Shelby Electric and so inherited the name Mazda.

The fountain was clearly designed to impress with its technical virtuosity rather than the beauty of its construction. The basin itself is quite ugly but it originally incorporated two working mechanisms; one producing the leaping jets and one producing ever-changing coloured lighting which illuminated the jets from below.

The fountain action is pleasing to watch even without the lighting but when in full operation after dusk the effect was quite stunning. The fountain survived the war but after a few years fell into disrepair and was not reactivated until October 1987. Eventually however it failed again and the latest reactivation is due, apparently, to the voluntary efforts of a private citizen. It would be good if he could be given due credit for his achievement. The basin and surrounding area is now looking cared-for.

Electricity and water do not make easy bed-fellows and it is perhaps surprisng that a device designed for use in an exhibition 80 years ago is still operating at all. But it would still be nice to hope that one day the lighting will be restored . . .

Monday, 2 August 2010

New Road

It was termed "New" in 1805 when the Prince Regent had it created to divert traffic from that portion of Great East Street that ran right past his Marine Pavilion's front door.

Two years ago, in pursuit of the new concept in traffic management known as "shared space" the entire street was attractively resurfaced with granite blocks and provided with extensive seating. It is generally agreed that this has been a considerable success. Overall it is said to have achieved a 93% reduction in motor vehicle trips, alongside a 93% increase in cyclist, and 162% increase in pedestrian usage. When it is full of pedestrians the few cars that venture along it do so at a patient crawl.

It is unfortunate that it comes to an abrupt end at the Church Street crossover to Jubilee Street, where the pedestrian, perhaps lulled into something of a false sense of security, has to immediately be aware of the fast traffic in Church Street. It is to be hoped that a better crossing arrangement will eventually be provided.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Pride Saturday

One of the best things about the annual Pride Festival is the way, for a few, all too brief hours, the pedestrian is king of the streets.  The relative quietness, the clean air and the relaxed, friendly atmosphere that quickly spreads abroad, is wonderful to experience.

Next Pride - Saturday, August 7th.