Monday, 31 January 2011


In the large meeting chamber of the Sussex Masonic Centre in Queens Road the ceiling is domed with a central light-fitting. This serves as a sun motif radiating out to signs of the zodiac around the circumference. Men of any religion or none are accepted into Freemasonry so long as they are prepared to affirm their belief in a Supreme Being.

Thomas Paine in his 1818 essay, "The Origins of Freemasonry" says that  "the christian religion and Masonry have one and the same common origin: both are derived from the worship of the Sun. The difference between their origin is, that the christian religion is a parody on the worship of the Sun, in which they put a man whom they call Christ, in the place of the Sun, and pay him the same adoration which was originally paid to the Sun."

Apparently there is no bar on a Muslim becoming a Freemason but I am not sure how they would cope with the big "G" suspended from the ceiling of one of the smaller rooms. . . .

Thursday, 27 January 2011

ASDA Marina car park

Financial considerations aside, proposals to provide Brighton with a yacht harbour on an otherwise unsheltered part of the south coast always had appeal. But whereas boats must have sheltered water, it seems somewhat perverse to have dedicated expensively reclaimed land to car-parking.

This car park for about 250 cars occupies about a 30th of the 127 acres enclosed by the Marina's breakwaters. These 127 acres were provided in 1980 at a cost said to be in the order then of £50M. This equates to £170M today. Each car park space therefore cost about £23,000 at today's prices. 

To make the Marina a viable economic proposition it was always planned to introduce revenue-producing activities additional to yachting, but something less mundane than a superstore and car park might have been hoped for.

Editor's note: Since the date of this post there has been a proposal to build apartment blocks over the car park, even including a roof-top link to the cliffs, but this hasn't so  far come to fruition.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


"Belvedere" on the west side of Montpelier Road (no.66) was a lavish Jacobean style mansion erected in 1840 for the unmarried sister, Mary Ann, of the Rev. Henry Mitchell Wagner, the famous Vicar of Brighton. It was well set back from the road and surrounded by lush mature trees and shrubbery that brought a hint of the country into the heart of Brighton. After the death of Henry's wife, Mary raised his son Arthur Douglas Wagner . Arthur eventually inherited Mary's considerable wealth and carried on his father's work of church building in the poorer areas of Brighton. Arthur became Vicar of St. Paul's in West Street and continued living in Belvedere until his death in 1902.

After Arthur's death it became the "66" hotel, then the Park Royal Hotel until demolition in 1965. A private block of flats, now Council-owned, was erected on the site.

Only the wall and gate-posts (both listed) now remain.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Arnold House Hotel

Arnold House in Montpelier Terrace was built in 1861 on the site of a former farm house and was occupied, until his death in 1903, by Henry Willett the founder of Brighton Museum and friend of the Victorian aesthete John Ruskin. It became a hotel in 1939, and had roof dormers added; but it retained much timeless charm and attractiveness both inside and out until its wanton demolition in 1971. At the rear was a large well-stocked garden the south end of which now forms the east end of Waitrose car park. 

It was replaced with a block of flats of hideous mediocrity the only point in its favour being that the roof line was kept to that of the adjoining buildings:-
It seems as if the wrought-iron lettering on the front couldn't decide if it wanted to be upright or italic so was installed on a slant in the hope no one would notice!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Royal York Hotel Buffet

This quirky, yet attractive building in Pool Valley on the south-west corner of the Royal York Hotel was built as the hotel buffet and never had its own address. It has been sadly neglected for years.  Glass panes on the weather side of the roof lantern are missing and pigeons, and presumably rain, have been getting in  for at least a year. The condition of the upper floor must be dire. 

The moulded plaster crest over the front door shows the three lions passant of the Royal Coat of Arms.

Only two years ago the Royal York Hotel itself was splendidly and sympathetically restored and, more recently, the City Council was successful in negotiating the renovation of the nearby 8  Pool Valley. One hopes they will soon perform a similar exercise for this characterful property.

New Hotel for Queen Square 2

Further to previous post:-
The roof of the old skating rink can be identified by the row of skylights above the foreground tomb. The yellow brick taller building beyond is Queen Square House on the eastern side of the square.

Looking north up Queen Square to the single-storey skating-rink building.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

New Hotel for Queen Square

A recent City Council press release informs that the former ice rink in Queen Square has been sold and the site will be redeveloped as an apartment-style hotel by the Light Boutique Apart Hotel chain. It is to be designed by Conran & Partners to provide 60 apartments and a cafe subject to planning permission which is expected in within 6 months.

It seems a good spot for a hotel. At the end of a cul-de-sac and backing on to the St Nicholas Churchyard it will be a uniquely quiet spot only 150 yards from Brighton's main shopping centre. However the number of apartments planned suggest it will be a substantial building and will be clearly visible from the churchyard.  In the photo below I judge it will be just out of the photo to the left of the tree so probably not too dominant as long as its not too high.

It is surely inevitable that it will cast a near permanent shadow, particularly in winter, over the south- eastern  part of the churchyard.  A period of community consultation is expected to begin shortly. No doubt the height of the hotel and number of parking places to be provided will be high in the list of topics discussed.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Parking at the Odeon Cinema.

Odeon Cinema has an arrangement whereby cinema-goers arriving by car for evening films can, subject to conditions, get some free parking in Churchill Square No.1 car park. This car park is accessed from West Street  via Regency Road and, having taken the timed ticket at the entrance, the driver should descend two floors to the Russell Road level and park as near the exit as possible. From here the Odeon entrance is about 5 minutes walk away.

The rule applied is that customers watching a film with an advertised start time of 17:30hrs or later get three hours of free parking from the time indicated on their parking ticket (which must be validated at the booking office); but, before 5:30pm, customers must pay for their parking.

The duration of most popular films nowadays hovers around the 2 hour mark. On the face of it this leaves about an hour's margin for guaranteeing free parking but this hour is eaten into by: the time  travelling between car park and cinema, say 5 minutes each way; time taken to buy a ticket, this sometimes means queueing for 15 minutes (you  can't use an automatic machine because it won't validate your parking ticket); at least 5 minutes for getting to your  seat, probably more if you are elderly and the screen is at the top of the building; and at least another 20 minutes for the adverts and trailers before the film starts. So out of the hour's latitude you thought you had you are now down to between 5 and 10 minutes; so definitely no time for a post-film coffee and chinwag.

If you are going to one of the longer block-busters, "Titanic" and "Return of the King" spring to mind and were well over 3 hours long, resign yourself to at least a £2 parking charge and if the programme is due to start soon after 5.30pm and consequently you arrive in the car park a few minutes before 5.30 you will be paying £2 for that period, and another £2 if you go over the 3 hours, i.e. £4 in total, as if you had left the car park and come back in again. For £4 you could have got 4 hours parking anyway.

Happy picture-going.

Editor's note: 5 July 2017. The prices quoted above are no longer correct.

Related post:- The North Road Car Park Trap

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The Marina: then & now

As completed in 1977 the Marina, providing 127 acres of sheltered water, could accomodate 1500 boats at moorings, some tidal, some in the locked inner harbour seen here in 1980. The first building to be finished  was the multi-story car park (not in shot). Surely a harbinger of what was to come.

In 1979 the Marina Company went into receivership and the Marina was bought by Brent Walker, who brought in ASDA,  with the result seen above. This kicked off a surge of building which produced, beyond ASDA, Village Square and blocks and blocks of apartment buildings. One wonders if Henry Cohen had this amount of development in mind in his original concept. Even more development is proposed, on the ASDA car park, and to the south of the multi-storey car-park. Thankfully perhaps, this seems to be on hold, either due to failing the planning process, or the current economic climate. Some parts of the Marina are now quite attractive but many improvements are possible. It is a pity these always have to be linked with more housing in an already crowded and unique area.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Black Rock: then & now

At Black Rock the chalk cliffs from the east dive below layers of sandy gravel & coombe rock producing an area susceptible to rapid erosion by sea & weather. By 1897 the coast road had been fenced off and traffic diverted to the purpose-built Roedean Road to the north. Seen at the extreme left is the end wall of Seaview Terrace, beyond which were the Abergavenny Arms and Black Rock House, set slightly farther back. All three properties were purchased by the Council in 1928 and demolished to reinstate the coast road which opened in 1932 as "Grand Crescent" but is now known as Marine Drive. The low building in the left middle distance is the "Bungalow Station" of the Volk's Railway situated somewhat to the east of the present station.

The present day photo is probably taken slightly further inland than the first but some features can still be identified: namely the corner of the sea-wall below the cliff, the curve of the road in the middle distance and the fall of the land beyond  the Marina access ramp. 

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Caroline Lucas & Offshore Drilling

In a letter to today's Times the Green party MP for Brighton Pavilion refers to "the serious weaknesses' in Government policy and the "shocking complacency"of the oil industry exposed by a Select Committee's report on deepwater drilling.  She calls for an immediate moratorium on new deepwater drilling off our coasts, at least until regulations can be strengthened, in order to avoid the kind of environmental catastrophe that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico.

She concludes by calling for more spending on renewable, job-creating technologies, in order to lessen our dangerous dependence on oil.
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Royal Pavilion Tearoom

The lunch menu of the Pavilion Tea Room has recently undergone a thorough overhaul with, apparently, a highly satisfactory outcome. I am working my way through the "Regency" section of the menu and, on separate visits, have so far tried two items: "hodge-podge", a lamb stew, and; devilled mushrooms on toast. Both items were ample and delicious.  It is also good to know that efforts are made to source ingredients locally wherever possible and name local producers on the menu. The 'Bolney' white wine is extremely drinkable.

For readers not familiar with the venue, it is delightfully situated in the Queen Adelaide rooms on the first floor of the Pavilion overlooking the western gardens, with, in summer, the additional benefit of an outside terrace.

One other very significant advantage of this venue should be mentioned: unlike nearly any other restaurant in central Brighton I can think of, it is quiet, and you can hear yourself and your companion's conversation without effort.

All this comes at a price significantly above the cost of the meal, in that, in order to access the restaurant one needs to gain admission to the Royal Pavilion, standard price £9.60. The solution to this is to become  member of the Royal Pavilion Foundation which for £23 per annum (£38 plus guest) gives you free admission  throughout the year and helps support the conservation and enhancement of Brighton' fragile cultural heritage.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Capturing Colour

Last week, in Kansas, USA, the last Kodachrome processing laboratory in the world developed its last roll of Kodachrome film, so ending a 75 year episode in the history of capturing colour on film. Manufacture of the film itself had ceased in 2009.

Kodachrome, although one of the most successful, was only one of the many avenues explored by early inventors in the search for practical colour film, and the whole fascinating story, much of which took place in Brighton & Hove, is explored in depth at the exhibition currently running at the Brighton Museum. It begins with laborious hand-tinting of a film, frame by frame, and ends with a comparison of images produced by modern digital cameras, clearly demonstrating how elusive and subjective is the answer to the question "What is realistic colour?"

The exhibition is full of exciting visual material, e.g. continually running examples of film produced by the early methods, and plenty of examples of the equipment used, one of the most impressive being a massive Technicolor movie camera of the type used to produce so many Hollywood blockbusters; its size clearly demonstrating why hand-held camera techniques, so beloved of modern movie-makers, had to wait until comparatively recently.

Capturing Colour is a collaboration between the Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove and Screen Archive South East. It is funded by Renaissance South East, Screen South and UK Film Council’s Digital Film Archive Fund supported by the National Lottery, University of Brighton and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It runs until 20th March, and shouldn't be missed. Entrance is free. Allow at least 90 minutes or go for more than one visit!

West Street; then & now

Near bottom of West Street c.1900.

Same view today.
It seems it was always something of a hodge-podge of architectural styles and roof-lines; so no change there then. 

A longer view. 
Surely one of the more exposed locations in the country. It is remarkable how well victorian building techniques and materials have withstood more than 100 years of salt-laden gales. 

Monday, 3 January 2011

The Level Enhancement Project

Vandalism, passage of time and simple lack of adequate funds has degraded much of the elegant layout designed, and developed from 1929 onwards by the then Superintendent of the Brighton Parks Department, Captain Bertie Maclaren.

The aim of his design for the 3 acres of the southern section was to provide 4 separate childrens' play areas; infants, toddlers, boys and girls in 4 separate sections and to integrate them into an attractive setting while preserving vistas along the axis of the valley. Infants' and toddlers' play areas were placed at the southern end on either side of the central path and boys' and girls' areas to the north of this and partly screened by pergolas. The pool was intended for model boating. The Captain was at  pains to provide as great a variety of activities as possible to avoid boredom.

As can be seen from old photographs the final result of the Captain's scheme was very attractive and the Council's decision to base its enhancement project on a major re-interpretation of this design, taking account of modern usage and the need for sustainibility, seems worthy of strong support. This will ensure a high probability of a successful application for Heritage Lottery funding which is such an essential component of the project. The aim of the project remains broadly the same as in the Captain's day, to attract to the area the widest possible spectrum of users and so ensure misuse and vandalism is kept to a minimum.

Although the proposal to site the skate park in the north-west corner of the Level has been abandoned, its final location remains in contention among different community groups.
It would certainly not be inconsistent with the original layout to leave it where it is, on the site of the former boys' playground. However one of the options provides for it to be moved to the immediate north of the rose-walk as shown on the right. It would be rendered fairly inconspicuous by being sunk into the ground and the loss of grass would be compensated by the re-grassing of the under-used gravelled triangle on the western side as shown. This would have the advantage of allowing a more spacious and diverse redevelopment of the southern section, so increasing its attractiveness to the general public. It would also provide better separation of skaters from the areas to be specifically provided for young children.

The Council project team aims to hold the widest possible consultation on the scheme in March and has the unenviable task of coming to a final decision based on numbers of supporters rather than the most vociferous. It is inevitable that not everyone can be pleased. Captain Maclaren, of course, did not have this problem. From his spacious office in Moulescoombe Place, where he occupied a large desk overlooking the gardens, one imagines that the phrase "public consultation" would have had him lost for words.

A photomontage showing a possible water feature created on the footprint of the original pools.