Archive for August, 2005

ABC Cinema

The 2,600-seat Savoy Cinema-Theatre, designed by F. C. Mitchell (Savoy Cinemas’ architect), opened in 1930 on the oddly shaped plot left by Brill’s Baths. The largest cinema ever built in Brighton is now home to five different nightlife venues. So what’s the story?
 
Lamprell’s, the first communal swimming-bath in Brighton opened in 1823 on East Street by a Mr Lamprell in a circular domed building nicknamed ‘the bunion’. In the 1840s, Charles Brill (Lamprell’s nephew) inherited the baths and in 1961 he opened a new ladies’ seawater bath in a nearby Gothic building on the west side of Pool Valley. In 1869, he built a new gentlemen’s bath, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, in a red-brick building between East Street and Pool Valley. The circular pool was the largest in Europe at that time and its seawater was brought in from Hove – which, as Hove residents know is far cleaner! Brill’s baths were demolished 1929 but look out for the tiny Brill’s Lane between East Street and Grand Junction Road.
 
The Savoy sprung up on the site with a main entrance on East Street but also a prominent seafront entrance on Grand Junction Road. Each had a restaurant and café above, with a manager’s flat above the seafront entrance. When Savoy Cinemas became part of the Associated British Cinemas (ABC) chain during 1930, the scheme was redesigned by William R. Glen (ABC’s architect), who fitted out the interior in a Japanese style. The building has various Art Deco elements and its principle features are the glazed cream terracotta tiles and decorative Corinthian pilasters. Also worth mentioning is its car park for three hundred cars. The cinema was renamed the ABC during the 1960s and its windows were famously smashed during the seafront clashes between the Mods and Rockers. The ABC chain was purchased by Cannon Cinemas Ltd and the cinema was renamed the Cannon in 1986, by which time the building had been divided into four smaller auditoria. Unfortunately, little remains of the original internal features.
 
Today, the seafront entrance and upper parts are used by the Grosvenor Casino and the grand East Street entrance is now the doorway to a bar called ‘Toad’. Three other bars occupy the rest of the building, namely KooKlub, Santa Fe and Po Na Na. Call me old fashioned, but I’d have the 1930s atmosphere back at the drop of a hat.
 


Gothenburg

I was tired, I needed some rest, I fancied a quite break – a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of living and working in Hove and Westminster. So why on Earth did I then go to see Iron Maiden with 56,000 lager-fuelled Vikings in Gothenburg, Sweden?
 
Well, firstly I love the band, secondly I wanted to see Sweden and thirdly I had a free backstage concert ticket! The flights (return) cost £77 and the excellent twin room cost £58 per night. We flew from Gatwick to Gothenburg’s City airport which misleadingly turned out to be quite far from the actual city. Gothenburg, or Gotenborg as the Vikings say, is completely surrounded by miles of unbroken pine forests as I saw from the plane window. The lack of a need to develop such land is easily explained by the area of  Sweden compared to the population (twice the area of the UK with one sixth of the population).
 
The tall and ugly but useful ‘Lipstick Tower’ (nickname) is a great place from which to take aerial photos of the city. I was expecting to find lots of cobbled and quaint Amsterdam-style narrow lanes but in fact found quite the opposite. The main roads are massively wide which I imagine ties in with the lack of demand for development generally. The average avenue has wide pavements, cycle lanes, four car lanes, tram lanes and a canal! This means that the buildings are often quite far apart which was easy to notice from the top of the city’s tallest building.
 
The centre of Gothenburg is made up of poorly designed 80’s terraces and decent old buildings are certainly rare. Strangely, most of the older terraced buildings that I looked at had an interesting structural problem in common – large vertical cracks running down the attached sides. My favourite building is certainly the imposing art museum with modern art fountain (pictured) which resembles the base of a New York skyscraper.
 
Iron Maiden (or Maiden Voyage as my nan calls them), were amazing and the friendly Swedes were impressively dedicated fans, knowing all of the words to even the oldest and most obscure songs. Overall, I was not impressed by the buildings though. There was too much concrete and not enough heritage. Gothenburg’s central station is Sweden’s oldest so there is some history but, on the whole, utilitarian development has triumphed.
 


Hove Commemorative Plaques

The Regency Society has produced a set of three pamphlets on the subject of commemorative plaques, each of which I hope to summarise over the next few months. ‘Plaque Trails’ for Hove, central Brighton and Kemp Town have been drawn up and this week I look specifically at the suggested route through Hove.

There are said to be a total of 103 plaques around Brighton & Hove; 71 in Brighton and 32 in Hove. Commemorative plaques are often called ‘blue plaques’ but this can be misleading. Official English Heritage plaques around London, and more recently Liverpool, Birmingham and other cities, certainly are blue but Brighton & Hove has many different shapes, materials and colours from a variety of organisations including the Rotary Club, the British Film Institute and the Regency Society, dedicated to both people and buildings. We are even fortunate enough to have two pronunciations of the word plaque – both ‘plack’ and ‘plark’ seem to work fine in all social circles here!

The Hove trail consists of fourteen plaques and starts at 12 First Avenue where novelist and playwright Patrick Hamilton (1904-1962) lived as a child. Along the seafront, 42 Brunswick Terrace commemorates Prince Clemens Metternich (1773-1859), the Chancellor of Austria. The third stop, 16 Lansdowne Place is dedicated to John Leech (1817-1864), the humorous friend of Charles Dickens. Back to the seafront for plaques at 53, 45, 33, 17, 4 and 2 Brunswick Square that are for the Dunbar Nasmith Home, Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), Sir Hamilton Harty (1870-1941), Robert Bevan (1865-1925), Sir Roger Quilter (1877-1953) and Sir George Augustus Westphal (1785-1875) respectively. 15 Brunswick Terrace has a plaque dedicated to J. H. Round (1854-1928), the distinguished historian. My idol, Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), has two plaques on 29/30 Brunswick Road, his prep school. Interestingly, the names of the owners of the school are wrong as are the dates that he attended. Finally, 14 & 13 Palmeira Avenue commemorate Victoria Lidiard (1889-1992), the women’s rights campaigner and Sir Jack Hobbs (1882-1963), the cricketer, respectively.

I should point out that most of the research for this piece comes from the Plaque Trail pamphlets by Duncan McNeill and a comprehensive report on the City’s plaques by Eileen Hollingdale, both from the Regency Society. I am very grateful to the two of you. Whether you say ‘plack’ or ‘plark’, you’d be absolutely insane not to check out one of these short tours!


Pepper Pot

Bearing in mind that architecture is a form of art, whoever heard of a Picasso or Monet being destroyed to make more space in an art gallery?

Brighton Park, a subscription pleasure garden, was laid out for a Mr Armstrong in 1824. Thomas Attree, the son of William Attree, a prominent local solicitor, purchased the park soon after. Attree employed Charles Barry (later Sir Charles, after designing the Houses of Parliament) to plan a series of detached villas in their own grounds around the park. Brighton Park became Queen’s Park in 1836 after William IV and Queen Adelaide patronised the park’s spa and finally opened to the public in 1892 after being donated to the corporation.

Only one of the proposed villas ever materialised which was built just north of the park in large grounds. The Attree Villa, completed in 1830, was built in the Italian Quattrocento style with a central loggia of three round-headed glass doors and arches supported by slender columns. It had a shallow roof, broad eaves, plain walls and a balustered terrace. In 1863, the Attree estate, including the park, was purchased by George Duddell. The villa remained vacant for twenty years after Duddell’s death until opening as an Xaverian college for Catholic boys in 1909. The college closed in 1966 and the building became dilapidated. The villa was one of the earliest of its style and was unbelievably demolished in 1972 despite being Grade II* Listed and classed as outstanding by the Historic Buildings Council. Carn Court, now standing in its place, adds insult to injury.

Few relics remain, though it is still possible to see the villa’s old walls, gateposts and gazebo. The ten-sided tower on the junction of Tower Road and Queen’s Park Road, is thought to have been the villa’s water tower though some theories suggest that it was a sewer vent or simply a viewing tower. The Grade II Listed structure, with magnificent Corinthian pillars and cupola, is known as the Pepper Pot or Pepper Box due to its shape. Duddell used it for printing the Brighton Daily Mail and it was certainly used an observation point during WWII. It is now council-owned and has since been used as a scout headquarters, artist’s studio and public toilet.

I can only guess at future uses of the Pepper Pot. A community centre, an observation tower for tourists, a restaurant perhaps? Pepper anyone?


Portslade Lodge

“You’ll get into trouble, going up there”, said Kerry, my beautiful chauffeur. But, as you all know, “PRIVATE – TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED” to me reads as, “WELCOME – TAKE YOUR TIME, HAVE A LOOK AT OUR BEAUTIFUL BUILDING AT YOUR LEISURE – FANCY A CUP OF TEA SIR?”.
 
What a location! With Manor Road and St. Nicolas’ Church to the north, Loxdale to the south, an animal sanctuary (I counted eight horses and two llamas) and Easthill Park to the east, and Lock’s Hill and the village green to the west, its situation is unrivalled. Portslade Lodge sits in the heart of the Old Village of Portslade. The main body of the building was built around 1785 in brick and then stuccoed in the common Regency style that we all know and love. It has two storeys with attics and a basement. My favourite feature has to be the veranda that runs right across the front or perhaps the southern circular tower section that seems to have been added later on.
 
In 1841, the property was sold to John Borrer for £740, who you may remember from a previous piece as being Lord of Portslade Manor. During the 1960s, it became Manor Lodge, presumably as a reference to the nearby Manor. Interestingly, the owners of Portslade Manor at the time, the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, later came to own Portslade Lodge as well. Portslade Manor was sold to Emmaus (the homeless community project) but they still seem to own Portslade Lodge. By 1970, the building had been turned into two flats and today is four flats. The main building and the boundary walls became Grade II Listed in July 1950 and September 1971 respectively. Why on earth wasn’t the varied architectural style of the Old Village continued in the post-war surrounding developments?
 
The mature trees are wonderful, and once inside this small estate, it really feels like a trip to the countryside. The patchwork set of front walls are a mix of various pebbles, red bricks, flints and yellow brick with an unwanted archway now filled in. This adds what we call ‘character’. The driveway is muddy and overgrown, the conversion into flats a disgrace, the paintwork is peeling and the corrugated iron additions are rusting. This is what we call – sorry, it’s unprintable. A new owner is needed, which is why I am now saving like crazy!