Archive for October, 2005

Western Pavilion

If you happen to glance past Loch Fyne (now Pintxo People) Restaurant on Western Road, you’ll spot a building that looks remarkably like Brighton’s most famous landmark. No, your eyes are not deceiving you. This is the Pavilion’s baby brother and was built in 1831, several years after its big brother was born.

As we all know (don’t we?!), the Royal Pavilion was completed in 1823 for King George IV (formerly Prince Regent) to the designs of John Nash, one of the country’s top architects. It was Nash who, in London, enlarged and renovated Buckingham Palace, laid out Regent’s Park and designed Marble Arch. However, it was eccentric local architect, Amon Henry Wilds, who built the smaller Pavilion, the Western Pavilion, for himself. Probably my favourite architect, Wilds was the man responsible for Montpelier, Hanover and Park Crescents. He often worked with his father, also called Amon, and Charles Augustin Busby, who were the team responsible for the magnificent Grade I Listed developments of Brunswick Square and Lewes Crescent.

The Grade II Listed Western Pavilion is situated on the east side of Western Terrace, a short cul-de-sac off the south side of Western Road, not far from Churchill Square. Amon Henry Wilds later moved around the corner to Gothic House (a future column topic), a Wilds/Busby building that later became Debenhams, and is now Blockbuster Video. Loch Fyne is also in Gothic House, but in the 1920s extension as opposed to the main building. Interestingly, at one point, the Western Pavilion became a storeroom for Debenhams! The unusual exterior, with beautiful stained glass windows, brings about some rather interesting interior room shapes. The house is currently being refurbished though prior to this, there was a bow-fronted kitchen, an oval bedroom and an igloo-shaped bathroom with a sunken bath. The bathroom is up in the onion dome and is reached via a narrow spiral staircase. Just like its big brother, this architectural fantasy boasts arched windows, ornate minarets and other Hindu details. Check out Wilds’ plaque on the wall if you are passing.

I originally wrote this column long before my first Hot Heritage was even printed but held off from submitting the piece as major works were in progress on the building. Unfortunately, the windows are still boarded up and the paint still flaking. The good news is that the owner is working hard to get the job done properly, albeit quite slowly.

Tide Mills

Never was anyone so excited by a battered old boat like my godfather, Jan Paseka, a real maritime anorak. Jan often tracks down then shows me the most obscure and hidden historic places around Sussex that nobody else ever seems to have heard of. This time our adventures took us to Newhaven. Now, unless I’m on my way to Dieppe, I generally avoid Newhaven like an MP avoids the House of Commons during summer recess but on this occasion, the visit was well worth the Sunday traffic.

In 2004, various organisations, including Sussex Probation, collaborated on a project to uncover the remaining foundations and walls of the forgotten village of Tide Mills. The River Ouse once emerged near Seaford until a large storm resulted in a permanent change of path to Newhaven, where it emerges today. Shingle built up on the old bed, closing off the old Seaford mouth, leaving a creek that filled and emptied with the tide.

In 1761, the Duke of Newcastle granted three Sussex merchants permission to build a damn and mill on the creek. The mill, in order to grind corn into flour, was spun by the water rushing in and out of the pond as the tide rose and fell. William Catt took over in 1808 and expanded the operation dramatically, becoming the most famous of the mill’s owners. The buildings were generally of Sussex flint construction which can still be seen today in the ruins. The arrival of the railway gave local farmers the ability to send their corn elsewhere for grinding cheaply which was the beginning of the end for the mill. The business closed in 1884 though the last residents left in 1940 when they were re-housed due to poor sanitation. The army then flattened the buildings as part of the Coastal Defence Strategy in order to remove possible enemy hiding places.

I was hoping to gather enough material on that trip to write one column on Newhaven but was pleasantly surprised to discover five or so places that are each deserved of their own column. One thing that was impressed upon me was quite how important Newhaven once was. With various regeneration programmes in place, I believe that Newhaven really is now on the way to recovery. Property investors – maybe you’ve already missed the boat on this one as my guess is that this old wreck’ll soon be afloat again.

Embassy Court

Since opening in 1936, it has been Brighton’s most inharmonious building and like many famous controversial characters, it has just had a facelift. The gleaming white façade of Grade II* Listed Embassy Court was recently unveiled after decades of neglect, years of legal battles, months of work, and days of nail-biting. Boy, was it worth the wait.
Embassy Court, like a gleaming cruise liner moored beside ancient galleons, was built just on the Brighton side of the border with Hove on the site of a detached property called Western House. It was one of the first blocks in England to offer lock-up garages and purpose-built penthouses. The original brochures boasted of sun-admitting Vista-Glass sun parlours, open balconies and unlimited hot water. In its heyday there was even a bank and restaurant. Famous former residents include comedian Max Miller, novelist Keith Waterhouse, actor Rex Harrison and property tycoon Nicholas van Hoogstraten, to name but a few. The front doors were originally bronze and I would love to see the current doors replaced as such.
Wells Coates was the architect and local politician and benefactor, Sir Herbert Carden, loved the design so much that he wanted to replace the entire historic seafront with similar buildings. The Regency Society was formed in 1945 to counter the proposed offensive. Often dubbed Art Deco, Embassy Court should really be described as Modernist. Unsurprisingly, Coates, who was born and raised in Japan, was at the forefront of the Modern Movement in architecture and design in Britain and lived by the motto, “form follows function”.
A 1980s freeholder of the building told me that “the trouble started when absent leaseholders who were renting out their flats were unwilling to put money into the building”. It is generally assumed that Hoogstraten was the behind the scenes owner but this is simply not true. The leaseholders’ company, Bluestorm Ltd, bought the freehold in 1998 after prolonged legal battles with Portvale Holdings Ltd, who had been the owner since 1994. The restoration commenced in 2004 with assistance from Sir Terence Conran and the hard work of a dedicated has certainly paid off.
This story has a happy ending as the building now looks great after several million pounds of work. This 1930s cruise liner has ridden the storms of time to arrive safely into the 21st century, completely unaware that Regency Brighton may have been the wrong destination all along!

King’s House

A grand plan was drawn up by Sir James Knowles in 1871 for farming land to the west of Adelaide Crescent. The roads were laid out to his designs and named in the American style; First, Second, Grand, Third and Fourth Avenues (from east to west). Of the many buildings in his original drawings, just one has survived to this day.
The Stanfords were a rich farming family who bought nearly 1000 acres of land, including Preston Manor, from their landlords, the Western family (as in Western Road), in 1794 for £17,600. An Act of Parliament, known as the Stanford Estate Act, allowed Ellen Stanford to break the conditions of her father’s will and sell off more land for building. Knowles, who was also responsible for the Grosvenor Hotel in London, proposed a great estate built in a distinctive yellow brick. First, Second and Grand Avenues were built in a similar style to what he had planned, but Third and Fourth Avenues ended up a real mix of colours and styles. Two enormous mansion blocks were built on the seafront ends of the avenues just like he had originally planned. The one built between First and Second Avenues was bombed in the Second World War and Kingsway Court now stands in its place. However, King’s House, between Grand and Second Avenues on Queen’s Gardens, did survive and is looking as great as ever.
King’s House was constructed as seven large terraced mansion blocks in 1872 in the Italianate style and later became the Prince’s Hotel, owned by a Mr Prince. There was central heating in every bedroom and it was known to be one of the best hotels around. Giant tanks underneath the nearby lawns provided seawater for the baths. It was commandeered by the Royal Navy in 1942 and became H.M.S. Lizard until Seeboard made the building its headquarters in 1947. It became Grade II Listed in 1974 and was then sympathetically extended to the north in 1981 to the designs of architect Fitzroy Robinson Miller Bourne. Brighton & Hove City Council took up residence in 1996 and named the building King’s House.
The building is now meticulously maintained which is an excellent illustration of how a responsible council should act in setting an example. So, why was a building, built on Queen’s Gardens and used by a Mr Prince, named King’s House? That, I’m afraid, remains a mystery.