Archive for November, 2005

Burger King, North Street

If you are unfortunate enough to be inside North Street’s Burger King it is almost impossible to miss the various film references, such as the large screen at the rear of the restaurant and the models of Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin. The theme is deliberate, for this building was home to a popular cinema for almost seventy years.

Almost all of Brighton and Hove’s old cinemas have closed and unsurprisingly many have been converted or demolished. Currently rotting away in dereliction are the Granada on Portland Road (most recently a Bingo Hall) and the Astoria on Gloucester Place. The demise of Brighton’s cinemas is sad for sure but the story generally is a happy one and it is easy to see why cinema was once so popular. Once inside those four walls, the big screen provided viewers with an exciting, albeit temporary, escape from reality. The only cinema that I remember closing is the ABC (formerly the Savoy) on East Street/Grand Junction Road.

The cinema in the building that now houses Burger King was called the Bijou Electric Empire when it opened in 1911. It was a medium sized cinema of around 450 seats and was formerly the printing works of the Southern Publishing Company. There were to be many subsequent name changes. In 1915, it became Prince’s Electric Theatre, in 1918 the Select Palace, in 1919 Prince’s, in 1949 Prince’s News Theatre, in 1967 the Jacey Film Theatre and in 1969 the Brighton Film Theatre. By 1930 it had fallen behind the times by having not introduced ‘talkies’ – films with sound! It became the Cinescene in 1979 until its closure in June 1983. The final showing was ‘The Ploughman’s Lunch’. The building is today owned by Mrs Silvia Davis, one of Brighton’s biggest landlords, who also owns many of the surrounding buildings, along with lots of Duke Street behind.

Comparing the beauty of our older cinemas, such as the art deco ABC (now the Groscvemor Casino and several late bars), with our new big cinemas, such as the Odeon on the corner of West Street or the Marina’s Cineworld, is a depressing experience. Just one of the older cinemas today survives as a cinema – the Duke of York near Preston Circus. The grand old Duke thrives on local support so check out its programme, especially for quirky and controversial films that the large chains won’t dare show.


St Andrew’s Church, Waterloo Street

I’d already heard that Mike Robins, the custodian of St Andrew’s, does a fantastic job so I jumped at the chance of a private tour of what is the first example of the Italian Quattrocento revival in England.
 
St Andrew’s was built in 1828 adjacent to the original Brunswick Town though it wasn’t designed by the same architect, Charles Augustin Busby. Unsurprisingly, Busby was furious when he heard that the landowner, the Reverend Edward Ederard, had picked Charles Barry instead. At the time, Brunswick Town was surrounded by countryside with Hove and Brighton to the west and east respectively. There was only room for one church in the self-contained community and Busby wanted to design it. Busby had already designed the original Kemp Town (Lewes Crescent, Sussex Square, etc) though Barry, later Sir Charles Barry, did go on to design the Houses of Parliament (which I now get to see close-up every day!).
 
Portland stone and stucco cover the façade whilst the sides are just plain brick. There are three entrances, one for each of the social classes of the day, with a secret tunnel to the pub opposite. In 1882, Barry’s son, Edward Middleton Barry, was employed to add a proper domed chancel which makes a beautiful internal focal point. During the 1920s, stone replaced the wooden floor and the interior was deliberately simplified though fine detailing was left on important features such as the dome, altar and stained glass windows. Tragically, there was a lot of damage caused by squatters in 1995. Today, the church is owned by the Churches Conservation Trust and there is just one service per year – around St Andrew’s Day, of course. It is generally open 11:00am-4:00pm Tuesday-Saturday with plans underway to repair the heating and clock.
 
This weekend, a sponsored walk is being held to help raise funds for the church with Bert Hobden, a 91 year old former choir boy, taking part. Unfortunately, Mike is soon to retire and will be leaving the church in the capable hands of the very local Friends of St Andrew’s. He asked me to mention that he will be continuing his tours of Brunswick Town every Sunday at 2:00pm by the Peace Statue and may be contacted on 07900 844951 or 326491 about this and all other matters. He is also looking for a publisher for his book, aptly named, ‘Six Months in an Empty Church’.
 


Dorset Gardens Methodist Church

It’s not that I’m against modern buildings par se, it’s just that I hate the one size fits all approach. I detest the replacement of the beautiful with the drab. I abhor identikit blocks of flats and I would certainly think long and hard before I gave my support to the destruction of anything with character. The Dorset Gardens Methodist Church is an excellent example of a responsible team running an ambitious project that perfectly balances financial constraints with the upkeep of the quality of a Conservation Area.
 
The closest that John Wesley (1703-91), the founder of Methodism, got to Brighton was Rottingdean in 1758. His sermons are still popular today, though most of us are more familiar with the hymns written by his brother, Charles Wesley (1707-88), such as Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Brighton’s first specifically Methodist church was built on the west side of Dorset Gardens in Kemp Town and was opened in 1808. It was a square red-brick building that was accessed via a passage from St. James’s Street. It was greatly expanded over the years but was demolished to make way for a new church that was completed in 1884. This larger church was again red-brick, but with terracotta dressings and an Italianate tower. Services attracted up to two thousand people, but times changed and the church fell into disrepair. To the horror of many, it was demolished in the year 2000.
 
The current church was completed in April 2003 at a cost of £1.6 million. Saville Jones Architects of Worthing were asked to produce a welcoming and flexible building that would principally serve as a place of worship. It truly is a striking building. The inviting exterior has large areas of glazing and red tiles. The equally impressive interior, spread over four floors, is spacious and versatile. A long staircase leads to the top floor “sanctuary” where light comes in via a tapering tower that protrudes from the front of the building. My favourite internal features are the etched glass and bronze pillars.
 
Planners required a landmark building and they certainly got one. The architects won a Sussex heritage Trust award so I suppose that in this instance I can live with the flats that also had to be built on the site to pay for the project. John Wesley famously said, “The best is yet to come.” I wonder if we’re still waiting.
 


Ocean Hotel

Planning permission was granted during the summer for the conversion of Saltdean’s derelict Ocean Hotel into flats. The exterior may be in a mess at present but don’t let its looks deceive you for this is a Modern building of great significance.
 
For centuries, Saltdean was just a few isolated buildings on a large area of downland. Work on most of the present housing began in 1916 when the land was acquired by the speculator, Charles Neville, who dreamed of developing everywhere between Rottingdean and Newhaven. The Ocean Hotel sits on a diamond shaped plot north of the Saltdean Lido. Both are fine examples of the seaside architecture of the period and both were designed by Richard Jones and constructed by the Saltdean Estate Company, which was formed by Neville in 1924.
 
The hotel opened in 1938 but was soon requisitioned for the war effort by the Auxiliary Territory Service and later by the National Fire Service. In 1953, it was bought by Billy Butlin for £250,000 which he described as the “bargain of my life”. Butlin’s hotels were run along similar lines to his holiday camps, with theatres, cabarets, bars and restaurants. His literature described the hotel, which could accommodate 600 guests, as “A first class hotel with the added attraction of the popular Butlin ‘Redcoats’ and many of the entertainments and novelties of the famous Butlins holidays’. How could one resist?
 
The symmetrical façade is, in my humble opinion, the building’s greatest feature even though the long-distance view was obscured in the 1950s when housing was built close by. The glass brick columns flanking the main entrance and mouldings on the ceiling of the foyer are also particularly impressive. Rank Leisure, the owners of Butlins, sold the Butlins hotels to the Grand Hotel Group in 1998. The Ocean Hotel then became the ‘Grand’ Ocean Hotel by which time the capacity had risen to 750 guests. The hotel quickly closed and local residents were soon forced to fight plans to house asylum seekers there.
 
The Grade II Listed building is to be restored and turned into 279 flats of which 102 will be ‘affordable’. The ugly blocks to the south of the main building which house guest rooms and the swimming pool, amongst other things, are to be demolished and replaced with new residential blocks. The exterior will be revamped and the ornamental gardens restored. Frankly, I can’t wait.
 


Anthaeum

The slow decline of Brighton’s West Pier pales in comparison to the big bang signifying the collapse of what should have been Hove’s greatest monument.

The Anthaeum was the brainchild of Henry Philips, a leading botanist of the day. He wanted to build an indoor tropical utopia, perhaps comparable to the recent Eden Project in Cornwall, under a massive glass and iron structure. The domed structure was to be 70ft high with a diameter of 164ft which made it larger than the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome. In fact, it would have been the largest dome in the world at that time.

Grade II* Listed Oriental Place in Brighton, designed by Amon Henry Wilds, was originally constructed as the seafront approach to the Anthaeum. Financing problems led to the abandonment of this particular site in 1827. Instead, the dome materialised on land that is today occupied by the gardens of Palmeira Square. Work commenced in 1832 on the impressive brick foundations on plans again prepared by Wilds. At this stage, Adelaide Crescent was still to be a closed arc and only the first (and best) ten houses were under construction.

Under the support of scaffolding, the dome grew. The builder, Mr English, believed that the dome did not need any kind of internal bracing. He dismissed ideas from Wilds and the structural engineer, C. Hollis, to build a central column, leading to their departure from the team. On 30th August 1833, the day before the official opening, the metal framework was complete and the internal scaffolding was removed. After an hour or so, an almighty bang led to the entire structure collapsing in seconds. The whole depressing situation led to Henry Philips going blind.

Joseph Paxton, the famous architect, visited the site to get ideas for his most important project – the building that came to be known as the Crystal Palace. Originally, the building housed the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park – an international demonstration of human achievement dreamt up by Prince Albert. It was quickly disassembled and moved to Sydenham in South London but tragically burnt down in 1936. The proceeds of the exhibition went towards the construction of the Science, Natural History and Victory & Albert Museums and the Royal Albert Hall.

For an eyewitness account of these events, most of the charming ladies found on Church Road today will be happy to oblige.