Archive for June, 2006

Clifton Hill Coach House

When local conservationist Roger Amerena heard that the various buildings of the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Sick Children were being sold off, he knew that he would have to act quickly to save the fabulous Coach House.

The Royal Alexandra was founded at 178 Western Road in 1868 and moved into the disused Church Hill School on Dyke Road in 1870. The present red-brick building with terracotta mouldings was built on the site in 1880-81. The Coach House, across the street on Clifton Hill, was purchased by the hospital in 1937 for storage. All of the buildings, including the Coach House, are currently being sold by Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust in order to consolidate services onto the Sussex County site.

The Coach House was built in 1852 to serve No. 5 Powis Villas, known as Aberdeen Lodge, by Joseph Rogers Browne. Stone ornaments, including models of Hercules, a lion and the four seasons, adorn the building which is thought to be the finest example of equestrian architect in its original form in the city. Its imposing doors, with bronze heads of dogs, open into a cavernous expanse of untouched features. The Grade II Listed building has only changed hands twice before now.

The site of the Coach House is particularly historic as a windmill once stood close-by which was painted by Constable in 1824. The Duke and Duchess of York were photographed in 1928 at the hospital featuring the Coach House in the background. At the time, nobody knew that they would become King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

Fortunately, Roger Amerena and his historically-minded friends did move swiftly and were successful in acquiring the Coach House for The City of Brighton & Hove Historic Buildings Conservation Ltd. The intention is to raise funds so that it may be sold to a new trust – The City of Brighton & Hove Historic Buildings Conservation Trust. This will pave the way for city-wide involvement at all levels on the project. The purchase, restoration and opening will only be achieved by a team effort. Roger would be delighted to hear from anyone who can help on or 01273 729998.

It’ll be a long time before the long war between those after quick profits and those who care about Brighton is decided. This battle, however, is a clear victory for those who have the city’s best interests at heart.

Worthing Pier

The Chain Pier, West Pier and Palace Pier opened in 1823, 1866 and 1899 respectively. With three piers having been built in Brighton, it is very easy to forget that Worthing also has a pier – a very good one in fact. The 960ft Worthing Pier opened in April 1862 to the designs of Robert Rawlinson (later Sir Robert) for the Worthing Pier Company. It cost £6,500 and was the thirteenth pier to be built in England.

Worthing Pier was successful from the beginning. In 1884, two kiosks were added on the northern end and, in 1889, a pavilion was erected on the southern end (where there was also a landing stage). There was also a scheme to build a second pier in Worthing during the 1880s but it never saw fruition. In 1921, Worthing Borough Council purchased the Pier for £18,978. 15s. In1926, the kiosks were demolished and replaced with the new 1,000 seat ‘Shoreward’ or ‘Pierfoot’ Pavilion designed by Adshead & Ramsey. This pavilion, which is still very much in use, consists of a polygonal hall with an entrance vestibule and two square side pavilions. Its most striking feature is the oval domed vestibule with Corinthian columns and round dormer windows. In 1937, an amusement pavilion was built in the middle of the Pier along with a windshield along the Pier’s spine.

Like the piers of Brighton, Worthing’s has had its fair share of disasters. On Easter Monday 1913, the Pier was smashed in a storm and cut off from the land. It was temporarily nicknamed ‘Easter Island’ by the newspapers. In 1933, a fire which could be seen from Beachy Head, destroyed the South Pavilion. It was replaced with the Art Deco Nautical-style ‘Pierhead’ Pavilion, designed by the Borough Architect, in 1935. This pavilion is rectangular with rounded ends and a low roof. Its smooth lines are its greatest feature; emphasised by the sweeping balconies and many large windows. It is today a nightclub called Lush.

In 1940, a 120ft hole was blown in the Pier’s decking. However, this was deliberate – it was to make difficult potential enemy invasion landings. In 1942, troops used the Pier’s facilities for recreation by which time invasion fears had subsided. After the war, the Government paid for repairs and refurbishment.

With the current shortage of piers in Brighton, Worthing is very close to outpiering us Brightonians. And we can’t have that now!

SS Brighton

In 1651, the future King Charles II hid in an oak tree after defeat at the Battle of Worcester. It is said that he negotiated his escape to France at the George Inn with a local boat owner on the site of what is today a hotel on West Street. The George Inn later became the King’s Head which was demolished as part of a road widening project that took place from 1928 to 1938. In 1934, the Sports Stadium, or SS Brighton, sprung from the rubble.

The SS opened as a swimming pool and was said to be the largest covered seawater pool in the world at 165 by 60 feet. The building cost £80,000 and had an imposing symmetrical façade which was faced with cream tiles. Many elements of the SS, such as its ocean liner style interior, were nautically themed. There were in fact a series of ships named SS Brighton; the most famous being the SS Brighton IV which sailed from 1903 to 1930 on the Newhaven-Dieppe service. It was one of the first steam-turbine ferries and was responsible for the loss of the five-masted Preussen, the world’s largest sailing ship, by collision in 1910.

The swimming pool couldn’t have been a great success as after just fifteen months it was converted into an ice rink. A hugely successful ice hockey team, the Brighton Tigers, was formed in 1935 and the SS was naturally their home. Many non ice-based events were also staged at the Sports Stadium including judo, wrestling, basketball, tennis and even political conferences.

The SS closed in 1965 and was tragically demolished in 1966. The Tigers sadly disbanded in 1967. The neighbouring Odeon cinema, which was built between the SS and St. Paul’s Church in 1937, closed in 1973 though the building did survive until 1990. An ice rink and cinema were then incorporated into the then newly-built (yet still horrific) Kingswest building to the south. The sites of the SS and Odeon were then subjected to a multi-million pound development during the 1990s and are today home to the Quality Hotel and Family Assurance Friendly Society.

With plans in the pipeline for a new ice rink at Black Rock, the revival of the Brighton Tigers seems inevitable. The construction of a new Brighton Centre should see off Kingswest once and for all. Churchill Square, Chartwell Court and Sussex Heights must surely follow.

Albany Villas

I was recently asked by a reader to write a column on the fabulous seafront area of historic Hove known as Cliftonville which is said to have taken its name from Clifton Cottage that was situated on land that became the foot of Albany Villas.

Lower Cliftonville includes Osborne Villas, Medina Villas and Albany Villas whilst Ventnor Villas, Hova Villas and George Street are all within Upper Cliftonville. Most of the development, as the road names suggest, contain grand, Italianesque houses. The working-class George Street, which took its name from its developer, George Gallard, is, of course, the exception. Cliftonville was the brainchild of Gallard along with William Kirkpatrick, George Hall and Richard Webb Mighell. Although the partnership fell apart in 1852, the general plans for the estate went ahead soon afterwards.

Cliftonville was built on part of the space between the old village of Hove and the then recently developed Adelaide Crescent and Palmeira Square. The general architectural style can be compared to Osborne House in the Isle of Wight which had just replaced our Royal Pavilion as Queen Victoria’s official residence. Arched windows and pitched roofs with corbelled eaves and belvederes (squat towers), feature throughout. Interestingly, Cliftonville Station was built in 1865 and stands approximately on the site of the Hove Station of today. The gap between Cliftonville and Adelaide Crescent began to be filled by the West Brighton Estate of First, Second, Grand, Third and Fourth Avenues in 1871.

There are several great houses along Albany Villas which particularly stand out including several which are Grade II Listed. The several strange extensions by greedy developers are certainly overshadowed by the many great details which have survived. The best building is without doubt No.1 – White Knights. Most of the houses on the street are semi-detached but White Knights, on the east side, is a beautiful detached residence with proportions that are amongst the Brighton & Hove’s finest. Dresden House (a future column topic), on the west side, was, until recently, a large nursing home which also encompassed the buildings behind on Medina Villas. A beautiful memorial garden sits in-between the nine originally separate houses which make up the complex. Many of the furnishings have been auctioned already and Oakleys are currently marketing the lot for a price far beyond my means.

“What on earth is happening to Dresden House?” ask the concerned residents of Albany and Medina Villas.