Archive for July, 2005

Hanover Crescent

Amon Henry Wilds, perhaps Brighton’s greatest architect, was employed by an entrepreneur called Henry Brooker in 1814 to create Hanover Crescent, a series of grand linked houses, built to look like eight large villas. On closer inspection, six of these contain three houses, one contains two, and the last contains four, making a total of twenty-four Grade II listed houses. The buildings do not form a unified composition although they do share features such as shell motifs, bow fronts and Wilds’ characteristic Ammonite pilasters. The crescent was completed around 1822, the year in which the Level was formally laid out to the west.
 
All of the buildings have two storeys with a lower ground floor and some have attic rooms (some added unsympathetically). The two single-storey buildings that flank the crescent (North and South Lodges) are also listed, as is the brick-edged flint garden wall. Interestingly, the Brighton Improvement Act of 1884 led to the garden being taken over by Brighton Corporation. Famous former residents include novelist Horace Smith who lived at No. 10 in 1826-40, and Sir Rowland Hill, the originator of the penny post and chairman of the London and Brighton Railway Company who lived at No. 11 in 1844-6. Wilds also designed Park Crescent, on the north side of the Level, which is another pleasing architectural composition and certainly a future column topic.
 
Hanover ward was first designated in 1894 and covered the area between Lewes Road, Elm Grove, Queen’s Park Road and Southover Street. Fortunately, the very attractive terraces of small rendered properties with rectangular windows have escaped the massive development that has taken place across the city. This densely-populated area was developed from about 1860 although the nearby Percy Almshouses, at the bottom of Elm Grove, were erected in 1795. The ward is now called Hanover & Elm Grove and has expanded to include land up to Bear Road and Brighton General Hospital. Hanover was designated a ‘general improvement area’ in 1969-76 and has become a very fashionable place to live.
 
As the crescent is separated from the road by mature gardens and a wall, it really is possible to imagine being in Regency Brighton, though the traffic noise and parked modern cars do give the game away slightly. One of these exquisite villas was recently put on the market for £675, 000 with Strutt & Parker. It looks like I had better get saving!
 


Sussex Heights

The chicks are back in town, and I don’t mean summer au-pairs from the Czech Republic. In fact, these two particular chicks, when fully grown, will be able to dive on their prey at speeds of up 175mph!

Peregrine falcons are nearly world-wide in distribution and were once common all over Europe. They were particularly common in the Middle Ages when the sport of falconry flourished but by 1945 had become extinct in Sussex. Various breeding programmes and greater pesticide control led to a return in 1990 with more than one thousand pairs in Britain today. Four eggs were laid in a nesting box on the top of Sussex Heights. Of the three that hatched, two survived and when fully grown, should have a wingspan of up to1.2m. Check out www.regencybrighton.com/birds for an update on their progress.

Sussex Heights, the tallest building in Brighton, is 82m in height followed by Chartwell Court then Theobald House at 66m and 63m respectively. It is owned by the freeholders of the Metropole Hotel and is held on a long lease by a company in which each flat-owner has one share. The Sussex Heights Residents Association is in place to keep a check on maintenance, etc. Above the ground and service floors, there are twenty-three residential floors with five flats per floor with a penthouse floor above. I must say that the chicks were quite right to go for the penthouse as it takes up a whole, though slightly smaller, floor to itself – what an amazing view!

Architects R. Seifert and Partners designed the block and accompanying hotel conference centre which was completed in 1966 with the beautiful St. Margaret’s Chapel, several notable houses and an ornamental garden being destroyed in the process. The respected writer, Dr Seldon of Brighton College, said, “Sussex Heights and the Hilton West Pier are bad buildings, not because they are tall, but because they were designed by people of no architectural integrity”. Quite.

So what is my opinion of the building? Bearing in mind that peregrine falcons are known to be one of the most deadly hunters in the world, I shan’t be too critical of their home. Even though these are two ugly ducklings that I wouldn’t want to fall out with (especially at that height), I still must say that this is perhaps one building that shouldn’t have gone up – the height precedent is now irreversible.


1-4 King’s Gardens

As the summer continues to impress – well, it does as I type – it seems appropriate that I look into a set of buildings that occupy one of the best positions for enjoying such beautiful weather. On the seafront overlooking the Hove Lawns with massive balconies – that’s the life!
 
Numbers 1-4 King’s Gardens in particular deserve a piece to themselves as they were built in a distinctly different style to the rest of the street and indeed the rest of what is known as the Stanford Estate (not to be confused with the Stanford council ward around Hove Park). The four detached mansions were built from 1889 in red brick with terracotta dressings which wasn’t quite what was originally planned. The whole area was to be built in the distinctive yellow brick of First and Second Avenues (common around Hove) but by the time the builders reached Third and Fourth Avenues, the uniformity was gone. In fact, a mirror image of King’s House (now the council offices) was to be built where 1-4 sit today.
 
Although this piece is specifically aimed at numbers 1-4, I should point out that King Edward VII visited the Sassoon family in No. 8 in 1907, 1908 and 1910, but more of that another time. Interestingly, there are no numbers 5-7. It was these visits that led to what was once part of Queen’s Gardens being renamed King’s Gardens, part of The Drive renamed Grand Avenue and Shoreham Road being renamed Kingsway. Slightly irrelevant, but whenever I walk along Kingsway, it amazes me that the beach huts were placed directly in the way of the view to the sea – a great spot for their owners I ‘m sure though!
 
Each building has four full storeys with basements and roof rooms. Only No. 4 resembles its original form as 1-3 have been rendered and painted in pinks and white. They have all been divided into flats with some rather bizarre consequences. For example, a window on the side of No. 2 is now a cupboard on the inside! They were Grade II Listed in November 1992 and many of the best features, such as the mosaic-floored hallways, have survived.
 
With flats worth around £550,000 and rents up to £2500 per month, King’s Gardens remains as exclusive as ever. As far as summer accommodation goes, they are unbeatable – I just wouldn’t want to live there in the winter.
 


Clayton Tunnel

Millions of commuters pass through the tunnel at Clayton on the London-Brighton line every year though few actually know about, let alone manage to spot, its grand northern entrance. Many of them read Latest Homes on the train, as perhaps you’re doing now, so railway history is particularly relevant, even if you’re not a train-spotter (like me).

Construction of the London-Brighton line commenced in 1838. The work was undertaken by 6,206 men, 960 horses and 5 locomotives and was completed by 1841. Initially, there were just six trains each way per day so there would have been no excuses for not leaving on time. The original line between the stations at Brighton and London Bridge was 50 miles long with five tunnels; namely Merstham, Balcombe, Haywards Heath, Clayton and Patcham.

I noticed the Clayton Tunnel entrance quite by accident after taking a wrong turn on the way to photographing another building. From the road, I could see the two castellated turrets protruding from the railway cutting. I soon realised that the building was in fact the Grade II Listed entrance to Clayton Tunnel, which I had heard lots about already, but had never actually seen. It is the longest of the five tunnels at 2,266 yards and is up to 270 feet below ground. The entrance (pictured) is on the north end; the other end is actually very plain. The cottage above was originally built as a wage office for the railway workers and is said to be haunted.

Clayton Tunnel was the scene of a horrific rail crash in 1861. Due to earlier complications, three trains left Brighton for London in quick succession. There were signal problems and the second train stopped in the tunnel to avoid catching the first. The third then steamed into the tunnel with disastrous consequences. There was an awful collision and the third train demolished the rear coach of the second train and came to rest on the next coach along. 25 people were killed and 176 injured.

I tried to catch a glimpse of the tunnel entrance on the train from Victoria last week and it was actually possible to spot it. Coming from London, it is after Gatwick as the train approaches the Downs; therefore less than ten minutes away from Brighton Station. You now have no more excuses for staring out of the window aimlessly or falling asleep on your train.