Archive for April, 2005

Shoreham Cement Works

I honestly think that Shoreham Cement Works, straight off the set of the film Aliens, is the scariest building that I have ever set eyes upon. Anyone who has seen the derelict Blue Circle buildings’ ghostly silhouette on the way to Upper Beeding from Shoreham on a cloudy night will agree.

The present buildings were erected in 1949 and production ceased in 1991. The quarry actually dates back to 1851 and cement was manufactured on the site since at least 1898. A tunnel under the road separates the distribution plant and administrative blocks (west) and the industrial site and chalk quarry (east). Clay was obtained from pits a short distance up the River Adur and coal was brought in by rail. The cement was fired in two enormous 350ft kilns. The works is considered a fine example of the technology of the post war period and is still largely intact.

I remember taking a trip to the building in the dead of night quite a few years ago with my brother, Matt. The main building was completely secure but an isolated outbuilding was open from which a covered conveyor belt led right up to the roof of the main building. Standing up on that roof with no guard rails was one experience that I won’t forget in a hurry. It was possible to negotiate the various broken gangways and holes in the floor all the way down to the flooded ground floor. We were even able to stand directly under the monstrous chimney that can be seen from miles away. Dangerous but fun!

A planning application to demolish the derelict buildings and develop the site was turned down in 2003 on the grounds of overdevelopment after a public inquiry. The proposed scheme included 84 homes, offices, a hotel, a restaurant and a pub. Local councillors want the development to be no bigger than what is necessary to return the area of outstanding natural beauty to its former splendour. The site is currently being looked at a as a possible ground for Brighton & Hove Albion as an alternative to the Falmer site. Also, Channel 4 bosses are hoping to blow up the works on a new show called “Demolition”.

It is worth taking a look at the site because it probably won’t be there for much longer. I’ll certainly be sad on the day that the giant chimney is toppled.


Aquarium

The Aquarium was designed by Eugenius Birch, who also dreamt up the West Pier, and construction started in 1869 at a final cost of £130,000. The recent launch of the excellent new Tropical Reef feature at Brighton’s Sea Life Centre provided a good opportunity to look around the Grade II Listed subterranean structure.
 
The opening of the Aquarium on 10th August 1872 appropriately coincided with a meeting of the British Association of the Advancement of Science. It was built along the new sea wall between Marine Parade and the newly formed Madeira Road (now Madeira Drive) and lay below the upper promenade, so as not to spoil sea views, as insisted by Brighton Council. The entrance, on the west, was reached by a flight of steps down to a courtyard built in a Pompeian style with five brick arches and terracotta columns. An impressive entrance hall led to a 224ft corridor with vaulted ceilings and bath stone columns. The corridor, lined with large back-lit tanks, and most of the rest of the 700ft development, were built in a romantic Gothic style. Along with the largest fish tank in the world, big enough to house the largest whale, there was also a conservatory, restaurant and reading rooms. A roof terrace was completed in 1874 along with a clock tower, gateway and toll-houses in front of the courtyard.
 
By the early 20th century, the Aquarium was no longer a popular tourist attraction and was in financial difficulty. As a result, Brighton Corporation purchased the building and business in 1901 for a mere £30,000. From 1927-29, the exterior was rebuilt in the neo-classical form that it takes today. Twin kiosks replaced the clock tower and a new entrance hall, restaurant and concert hall were built. The redesigned roof terrace had a bandstand and ballroom. Interestingly, the clock itself was reinstalled in a simple tower on the Palace Pier.
 
Today, the Gothic corridor still survives and is as impressive as ever and the top attraction is the glazed walkway through the shark pool. The terraces above the building have been turned into a massive venue, suitable for a nightclub, but an operator has yet to be found. What would Eugenius Birch think if he was alive today? His West Pier is gone and his Aquarium has been greatly modified, though he does have a Brighton bus named after him. So that’s Advancement of Science!
 


Jubilee Library

Unless you have had your head buried in the pebbles for the last few weeks, you will know that the Jubilee Library has finally opened in the North Laine area of Brighton after a wait of over 30 years. Builders Rok began construction in May 2003 and completed on schedule in November 2004. The £14.5 million library opened on 3rd March 2005: World Book Day.

Brighton Library began as a reference library in the Royal Pavilion in 1866 and opened to the public in 1873 after a donation of 12,000 volumes from the Royal Literary and Scientific Institute. The Rare Books and Special Collections section in the new library houses 45,000 items alone at a value of over £5 million! In December 2000, Brighton & Hove City Council appointed Mill Group Ltd to regenerate the derelict 1.75 hectare city centre plot between Church Street and North Road under a £60 million PFI (Public Finance Initiative) scheme. Basically, the cost of the library was subsidised by the hotel, flats, shops and offices that are soon to follow.

Architects Bennetts Associates and Lomax, Cassidy & Edwards designed the 5000m2 building around an extraordinarily spacious two storey hall with double height ceilings. The 256 tonne steel shell is surrounded by a tinted glass exterior. Greens will love the many great environmental features such as the toilets that are flushed with rainwater. Natural ventilation is used instead of air conditioning, linking in with the prominent wind tower features on the roof.

I found it rather hard to concentrate on the official talks at the launch so I sneaked away to carry out my own investigations. I am particularly fond of the 6,346 hand-made external tiles that are a modern take on the ‘mathematical tiles’ of Brighton buildings such as Royal Crescent in Kemp Town. My only criticism is that the building is not physically detached from the surrounding development. The re-establishment of Jubilee Street and a new courtyard probably make up for this. Unsurprisingly, various teething problems with the projection screens, lighting, opening hours and computers have been reported. Minor niggles are easily fixed though. However, they do stock my column, so naturally I’m won over!

Around 14,500 man days were devoted to the actual building process. This means that if just one man had been employed when the project was first conceived over 30 years ago, he would be finishing sometime around now!


Palmeira House

The peeling paint on Palmeira House had been a depressing sight for many years so I was pleasantly surprised when work began on the building that had once been home to the emporium known as the Harrods of Hove.

The scaffolding came down to reveal the beautifully painted upper parts that had been turned into fourteen luxury flats, but, I wondered, who would be moving into the ground floor retail unit? I, like many others, had hoped for an appropriate tenant for such a fine building. Another business like Michael Norman Antiques who had just left the building to relocate to Brighton, would certainly have been suitable.

Unbeknown to me, there were problems on the way for this Grade II Listed Building, originally owned by the Brighton and Hove Co-operative Supply Association, where it was once said that almost anything could be bought. Built in 1873, the building is situated on the Holland Road – Western Road junction, overlooking Palmeira Square and the floral clock. Tesco, or Attila the Hun as we call them in Hove, moved in and quickly got to work on “renovating” the premises. The very same firm that mistakenly destroyed some important flint walls on their new Church Road spaceship superstore soon managed to ‘lose’ some beautiful brass window frames that had been installed in the 1920s. They were replaced with the dull blue frames that can be found in every other Tesco in the country.

Local councillors asked Tesco to replace the windows, raise the artificial ceiling, ban advertising posters from the windows and reintroduce the grooves back in to the front of the building, now known as “Palmeira Grande”. Tesco, the richest supermarket in the country, were hoping to ride roughshod over the city’s planning laws and have so far managed to avoid carrying out the remedial work. The latest news is that Tesco wouldn’t agree to replace the lines but have finally agreed to replace the frames with a coated aluminium alternative, giving a similar bronze sheen to the originals. To me, this is still totally unacceptable. They should have been forced to fix the damage that they caused, whatever the cost, by commissioning some new brass frames. They can afford it after all.

Local conservationist Christopher Hawtree recently said, “They thought they could get away with Tesco value instead of Tesco finest”, which I think sums it up better than I could!