Archive for February, 2006

Brighton General Hospital

‘THIS STONE WAS LAID BY LIEUT. COL. ROBERT MOORSON – CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS AND GUARDIANS OF THE POOR OF THE PARISH OF BRIGHTON’. The Brighton General Hospital started its life, not as a hospital, but as a workhouse for the poor.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, parishes built workhouses to house and look after the needy and in doing so, put them to work. A workhouse in East Street was recorded as early as 1690. Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist is a boy born in a workhouse in 1797 who has no idea of his parents’ identities.

The Brighton General Hospital was built by George Maynard on seven acres of land in 1865-7 and was originally known as the Brighton Workhouse. The work regime was hard and ‘inmates’ were allowed just two outings per year. Professional nurses were first introduced in 1902. In 1914, the establishment was renamed the Brighton Poor Law Institution but in 1915, the 1,050 inmates were housed elsewhere when, the building became the Kitchener Hospital in which wounded Indian and British soldiers were treated. It reopened again in 1920 as the Poor Law Institution and in 1930, the name was again changed when it became the Elm Grove Home. The Brighton Municipal Hospital was established in 1935 which took over most of the buildings and by 1939-40 it occupied the whole site. The remaining dependents were again housed elsewhere. The Ministry of Health took over in 1948 following the National Health Service Act and that same year the building received the name that it has today – the Brighton General Hospital.

The main building on Elm Grove has four storeys and four gables. At a distance it looks like stone but is in fact rendered. It is grandly proportioned at 318 feet wide and 50 feet high. The inscription ‘1866’ may be seen on the building’s principal feature – a central clock tower with a fine cupola and weather-vane. The infirmary was originally at the rear and the chapel was on the top floor. A cesspit was used until the building was connected to the Lewes Road sewer in about 1876 and water was taken from the Warren Farm well until 1878. The large blocks at the rear were added in the 1890s.

When it comes to such symmetrical, grand and imposing architecture, a single phrase springs to mind – ‘Please, sir, I want some more’.


Foredown Tower

Foredown Tower is a great example of an imaginative new role that a building can play once it is no longer needed for its intended purpose and is well worth a visit on a clear day.

Foredown Hospital was built in 1883 up on the Downs on the site that is now occupied by Crest Way in Portslade. The handsome brick and flint building opened as an isolation unit for treating infectious patients with illnesses such as scarlet fever, diphtheria, tuberculosis and typhoid. It was approached by a long country track in the Victorian tradition of placing such patients as far away from any other development as possible. It 1913 it became ‘Hove Borough Sanatorium, Portslade’.

The building luckily escaped serious damage from two bombs that landed close (one a 500-pounder) during the Second World War, suffering just a few smashed windows. Unfortunately, the hospital didn’t have such a luck escape in 1988/9 when it was demolished for ‘development’ due to infectious diseases becoming less prevalent. Three important features were saved, namely some boundary walls, the water tower and a terracotta plaque bearing the date ‘AD 1883’ which is now set in a wall at Benfield Heights nearby.

The tower, now known as Foredown Tower, was built in 1909 by J. Parsons & Sons with a 27,500 gallon tank made by Every’s of Lewes. The immense weight of the water and tank was supported by brick walls which are up to 33 inches thick in places. The original ballcock and water depth gauge have been preserved along with lots of the massive pipes that served the tower nearly one hundred years ago. After financial help from American Express and much deliberating, the tower opened in 1991 as the home of one of England’s only operational camera obscuras. Windows and a pitched roof were added above the tank to facilitate the camera which is built into a tower at the very top. It projects a television-like image onto a dish at floor level and can be pointed in any direction from the sea to Worthing to the Devil’s Dyke to Eastbourne. The view is spectacular. Call (01273) 292092 or go to www.virtualmuseum.info for details of opening hours.

This situation is remarkably similar to the case of the ‘Pepper Pot’, the tower of a demolished building on Queen’s Park Road which currently stands covered in graffiti, awaiting a new use. Ideas anyone?


8 Montpelier Crescent

“It so happened there resided at Brighton a certain family of the name Jones, who feeling that there was not that tone of distinction attached to their surname…added thereunto their exact locality, and they called themselves, and were called by others, the Joneses of Montpelier”, wrote the author of Brighton: The Road, The Place, the People (1862). Montpelier was fashionable from the start.

Montpelier Road, running from the seafront towards Seven Dials, was developed in stages from the 1820s. Much of it was built by Amon Henry Wilds who was responsible for most of the rest of the Montpeliers including Montpelier Villas, Montpelier Terrace and the fabulous Montpelier Crescent.

Montpelier Crescent is a sweeping arc of 38 white stuccoed houses close to Seven Dials. It was built on the site of a cricket ground that was once known as the Temple Fields Ground on which Sussex played All-England in 1842. The centre section of Grade II* Listed linked houses (numbers 7-31) was built in 1843 and is flanked by two Grade II Listed terraces (1-6 and 32-38) which were added in 1850. Interestingly, Park Crescent, next to the Level, was also built as a series of linked houses on a cricket ground by Wilds though Montpelier Crescent is arguably the grandest of his many compositions.

No. 8 is of particular fascination as its owners, Richard and Kate Hall, won the 2005 Montpelier & Clifton Hill Conservation Award. It is a well-proportioned four storey house under a large pediment with three bays, large windows and Corinthian pilasters. 7, 8 and 9 combine to look like a single large mansion which is a running theme along the centre of the crescent. The house’s first owner was Henry Wisden who was related to John Wisden, the cricketer and creator of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. It became a school for boys soon after.

Mrs Hall’s fine choice of colours allows the building’s many surviving original features, including pilasters, ceiling roses and cornicing, to speak for themselves. The first floor drawing room is probably my favourite room due to the excellent views over the green and abundance of light afforded by the tall balcony windows with working internal shutters.

The upkeep of a conservation area is clearly a team effort. The Halls of Montpelier have certainly done their bit to keep the Montpelier & Clifton Hill Conservation area as fashionable as it was in the 1860s.


Cambridge

Following a quick tube ride straight after work, I found the fifty minute journey from King’s Cross a pleasing start to my weekend trip to visit my friend, Roland, in Cambridge. There were no feet on seats or loud mobile phones on this train.

Evidence suggests pre-Roman activity in the area, but it is generally accepted that the Romans built the first town. On my visit I saw some pretty amazing buildings such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is known as the Round Church and is next door to the world famous Cambridge Union Society. It was built by the Knights Templar and is one of only four round Norman churches in England. At this time, the town was known as Grentebrige or Cantebrigge. In 1209 some Oxford students moved to Cambridge, later founding its first college, Peterhouse, in 1284.

Other colleges, such as Gonville, Pembroke and Corpus Christi, were formed until 1352. Colleges were again formed from 1428 to 1594 including King’s, Trinity, Magdalene and Gonville & Caius (of which Stephen Hawking is Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in succession to Isaac Newton). With the exception of Downing College in 1800, there were no new colleges until 1869 from which time a number of philanthropic foundations opened up the University to a broader section of society including women and the middle-classes. There are today 31 colleges.

As the University grew, trouble broke out between Town (local residents) and Gown (the students). I like to think that this compares to the Old Steine battles between the original fishing families of Brighton and the rich Regency outsiders. In both cases, the outsiders came out victorious.

Many have tried to run the 367 metres around the Great Court of Trinity College (pictured) in the 43 seconds that it takes to strike noon which was recreated in the film Chariots of Fire – one of my favourites. The scene was actually filmed in Eton and the athlete in question didn’t actually complete the feat in reality. In fact, only Lord Burghley in 1927 and Sebastian Coe in 1988 (beating Steve Cram in the process) have ever actually finished in time. Students traditionally attempt to complete the ‘Great Court Run’ on the day of the Matriculation Dinner.

No, I’m not leaving to work for the Cambridge Tourist board, but this fascinating town is truly a must-see for all you history and architecture fans!