Archive for September, 2006

Dresden House

“What on earth is happening to Dresden House?”, I asked in my piece about Albany Villas several months back. At the time, Dresden House, the beautiful nursing home in the centre of Hove, was for sale and its future was uncertain.

Dresden House was established at 18 and 20 Albany Villas in Cliftonville, Hove, following the death of Miss Mathilde Dresden. Miss Dresden died aged 66 in December 1909 and left a generous donation in her will for establishing ‘an Institution where ladies of not less than 50 years of age, in reduced circumstances, but having some small income, may obtain lodging and food at a reasonable cost’. Her brother, Ernest, added some money of his own and Dresden House opened in December 1910, nearly one year after her death. Miss Dresden is today buried in the Jewish Cemetery at Golders Green in London.

In 1927, 27 Medina Villas was purchased and became part of Dresden House. Today, the cream-coloured complex encompasses several houses on Albany Villas and several more directly behind on Medina Villas – a total of nine originally separate houses. Fairly recently, just before it closed, these was no upper age limit but originally there was an upper age limit of 65. A beautiful memorial garden currently sits unused in the centre of the small estate. Tragically, most of the nursing home’s furnishings have long since been sent to auction.

Cliftonville was built from 1852 on part of the space between the old village of Hove and the then recently developed Adelaide Crescent and Palmeira Square. It was the brainchild of George Gallard along with William Kirkpatrick, George Hall and Richard Webb Mighell. George Street in fact takes its name from Gallard, its developer. Cliftonville is said to have taken its name from Clifton Cottage that was situated on land that became the foot of Albany Villas. The general architectural style, including much of Albany Villas, can be compared to Osborne House in the Isle of Wight. The principle features are arched windows, pitched roofs with corbelled eaves and belvederes (squat towers). Cliftonville once had its own station which became the Hove Station of today.

Dresden House has now been sold but, other than that, not much has changed. It’s a mystery as to what the building will be used for next – perhaps a hotel, perhaps a homeless hostel, perhaps flats or perhaps even another nursing home.

North Laine and The Lanes

For me, the two most fun areas in which to shop or socialise in Brighton today are without doubt North Laine and the Lanes. For those who call them the North & South Lanes (Mike – that’s you!), I’d like to clear up the distinction between the two quite different areas once and for all.

The Old Town of Brighton is the area surrounded by West Street, North Street, East Street and the sea. It is thought that it was developed from the thirteenth century after the fishermen settled above the cliffs. Although the whole town was burnt by the French in 1514, much of the original street layout survived. The heart of the Old Town is known as the Lanes and contains some of Brighton’s oldest and most interesting buildings.

Before the early 1800s, the farming land surrounding the Old Town was divided into five ‘laines’ confusingly. Each laine, meaning ‘loan’ or ‘lease’, was an arable field let in small portions to tenant husbandmen by its freeholders. Each laine, not lane, was divided into furlongs which were then divided into paul-pieces. These divisions were to play a great role in the layout of the town later as landowners invariably developed their land in these discrete sections. The five laines were called West Laine, East Laine, Hilly Laine, Little Laine and North Laine. North Laine was developed from the 1820s and is today considered to be the area surrounded by North Street, Queens Road and Old Steine, though it’s boundary to the north is debatable as much of it (think about the area behind the west side of London Road) has been lost to ugly 1960s and 70s rubbish.

The fantastic new Jubilee Library, with its gleaming black mathematical tiles, now forms the new cultural hub of North Laine. Great architecture! Also, Dukes Lane, between Ship Street and Middle Street is exactly the sort of scheme that I would to see more of. You’d never be able to tell that it was built in 1979 at a cost of £1.25 million – it blends into its surroundings perfectly.

Both the Lanes and North Laine are home to many of Brighton’s antique shops, pubs, restaurants and art shops. The independent retailers in these two areas make Brighton unique though many struggle against bigger chain stores. For me, the identical shop-fronts of the chains are a blot on Brighton’s individuality. Support our local traders!

De La Warr Pavilion

In 1933, the Royal Institute of British Architects ran an open competition for Bexhill Corporation to find a suitable architect for their proposed new seafront entertainment complex – the first such competition to be held in Britain. It attracted 230 entries and was won by Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayoff. The De La Warr Pavilion takes its name from the ninth Earl De La Warr (pronounced Delaware), Bexhill’s socialist mayor from 1932-35, who oversaw the project with great personal interest. Mendelsohn, a German Jew who had come to Britain to escape the Nazis, was already famous for producing strikingly provocative Modernist masterpieces.

The Pavilion’s clean horizontal lines set the scene from the outside but it’s the smaller internal features that do it for me – especially the staircases. The helix staircase on the south side complete with elegant chrome pendant light is without doubt my favourite part of the building though the protruding cantilever north staircase does come close. The orange/gold terrazzo floors make the building feel remarkably solid despite it being very open in places due its soaring expanses of glass. Not only was the Pavilion revolutionary in terms of aesthetics but also in terms of engineering – it was the first major welded steel-framed building in Britain.

The great tragedy of this story is that the Pavilion of today is just part of Mendelsohn and Chermayoff’s original scheme which should have included, amongst other things, a lido and pier on the south side. The missing sections have led to the dullness of the Pavilion’s slab-sided north ‘façade’ which is the first thing that many visitors see. An eight storey hotel and prominent cinema should have flanked the plain wall but were never built due to funding problems.

A second great tragedy was narrowly missed in the 1980s when there was actually talk of demolition following a long period of neglect. The Friends of the De La Warr Pavilion managed to secure Grade I Listed status for the building and also won National Lottery funding to pay for the bulk of a complete restoration by acclaimed architects John McAslan & Partners.

It was John McAslan who told me personally about the project with such passion and vigour that I jumped straight into the car and drove straight to Bexhill to see the De La Warr Pavilion for myself! I can vouch that it is well worth a trip. See for details.

Birdcage Bandstand

Despite several recent victories for lovers of local architecture, several seafront blots serve to remind us that there is much to do before we can relax. The King Alfred, the West Pier and the delightful Birdcage Bandstand have all been allowed to rot over a disgracefully long period by the powers that be despite overwhelming public pressure for action.

The Bandstand was designed by Philip Lockwood and built in 1884 as part of a project to improve the facilities on the seafront which included landscaped enclosures and covered shelters. It sits graciously in front of Bedford Square despite being in need of urgent refurbishment. When it was unveiled, the nearby Grand Hotel had already opened but the Metropole didn’t arrive until several years later. Motorcars would not have drowned out the brass bands as they would do today if the Bandstand wasn’t too dangerous to accommodate human beings.

An octagon of ornate arched poles supports the Bandstand’s oriental dome. It was nicknamed the ‘birdcage’ for obvious reasons. A delicate balcony encloses the performance area which sits on a raised base which originally contained public toilets. The iron, like much of Brighton’s municipal ironwork, came from Lewes. It was Grade II Listed in 1971 and amazingly attempts were made in the past to actually remove the building permanently. That aim has nearly been achieved by inaction as today, the Bandstand rots and large portions of its roof have blown away.

On close inspection of the derelict structure, a sign on the metal fence may be read which states: “Brighton & Hove City Council has applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant to help restore this magnificent bandstand to its former glory. We expect a decision on the grant in early 2006…The aim is to make the Bandstand one of a string of focal points and attractions for residents and visitors to enjoy along the seafront…For more information contact the Environment Department on 01273 292724.” It’s now nearly Autumn. Perhaps a call to the Environment Department will speed up the process.

The Birdcage Bandstand was built for brass bands but, inevitably I believe, imaginative new uses will have to be found – anything to stop it from falling into disuse again. We’re all hoping that we get the grant from the Lottery but if we do not, another source will simply have to be found – it’s just a question of willpower.