Archive for April, 2007

Brighton Centre

We often hear, perhaps unfairly, that the Brighton Centre is no longer up to the job so why would I be unhappy to hear about the latest redevelopment proposal; this time for a new £250 million conference centre with 300 room hotel and an extension to Churchill Square?

The current Brighton Centre’s ugly façade is straight out of Siberia – acres of concrete, columns between the strip of windows like prison cell bars and a topping of imposing brown bricks. A pretty Brighton Council motif on the wall does little to help. What was the architect, Russell Diplock, thinking? Despite this, many passionate political conferences, sporting events and live shows, including Bing Crosby’s last performance, have taken place there. Funnily enough, I met Latest Homes’ Angi at a Deep Purple concert and made the deal to write this column whilst Smoke on the Water was being thrashed out! But, it needs to be bigger, better equipped and visually spectacular if Brighton & Hove is to compete for conferences at world level.

Between the 1930s and 1960s, fifteen acres of buildings, similar in style to both the Lanes and North Laine, were demolished to make way for a grand project that led to the construction of the Kingswest Building (1965), Churchill Square (1968), Chartwell Court (1971) and the Brighton Centre (1977). In 1966, the Metropole Hotel’s stunning ornamental garden, some decent houses and the beautiful St. Margaret’s Chapel were flattened to make way for Sussex Heights (the tallest building in Sussex) and the Metropole’s conference centre. The near demolition of the Grand Hotel sums up this architecturally disastrous period well.

A hotel is to be included in the new scheme so why not allow the well-run Grand Hotel to extend to the east to restore its symmetry? I am particularly unhappy that the proposal includes an extension to Churchill Square. Adding value to the shopping centre significantly pushes back the time when it can be redeveloped. Although it’s not too bad internally, many of the exterior areas are appalling including anything to do with its car parks, which should be buried underneath, and most external areas; especially to the west along Canon Place and by Russell Square.

Decisions will soon need to be made soon about the Brighton Centre which will be key to the City’s prosperity over the next few decades – the lessons of the past must not be forgotten.

Hangleton Manor Dovecote

I promised to write about the Hangleton Manor Dovecote in my second ever column over two years ago…and for those of you who have been waiting all that time, I have finally done what I said that I would do!

Although some did actually use their dovecotes for storing doves, the gentry generally used them as a place to store pigeons as a source of food, especially during the winter. The Hangleton Manor Dovecote is situated behind Hangleton Manor and was probably built during the 1680s. As dovecotes go, it is relatively small with 526 nesting chambers. Some have 1,000 to 2,000 spaces! It has a flint exterior wall which provides an interesting contrast to the fragile chalk blocks on the inside which form the pigeon holes.

The Dovecote was massively damaged in 1972 when a mulberry tree fell through its roof during a storm. In 1983, the great Antony Dale, founder of the Regency Society, began overseeing a restoration project which included several interesting setbacks. For example, the first new batch of large chalk blocks for the nesting boxes was ruined when left exposed to bad weather. Later, when the new roof timbers were being fitted, it was discovered that the Dovecote is not a truly circular structure which understandably complicated the job further. Finally, 4,500 old tiles were required to top the project. When they arrived though, they were covered with lime mortar. This meant that the project helpers had to soak each tile and then carefully chip off the mortar – not fun! It was worth it though!

Hangleton Manor itself was built during the 1540s for Richard Bellingham, soon after he had acquired the Lordship of the Manor making it the oldest surviving domestic building in Brighton & Hove. In 1597, the Bellinghams sold the Manor to Thomas Sackville whose family owned it for the next 370 years! After breaking with its original use as a farm in 1930, it became, in no particular order, a house, a hotel, a country club, a restaurant and, during the Second World War, a military establishment. Despite receiving Grade II* Listed status in 1956, it came awfully close to being demolished following a period of neglect.

Although the Dovecote is generally not open to the public, it is possible to see inside -if you ask nicely! Call 01273 413266 to make enquiries; including those about the Manor’s fantastic Sunday lunches.  

Royal Alexandra Hospital

When Princess Alexandra opened the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Sick Children, I very much doubt that she was thinking about its demolition. Admittedly, buildings must be adapted to stay useful but, all too often, developers’ profits are is still being put long before the aesthetic pleasure that a good building brings to its surrounding community.

Two communities actually spring to mind when I think about the Hospital, known as the ‘Alex’, and both of them are particularly special. The two areas – the Montpelier & Clifton Hill Conservation Area to the west of Dyke Road and the West Hill Conservation Area to the east – contain mainly early Victorian villas with rendered facades. The Alex, however, was built in a late Victorian style which, in this case, means intricately-arranged red bricks, terracotta panels and gables. Despite the contrasting styles, the Alex is a point of great affection for those living nearby.

The Brighton Hospital for Sick Children, originally based at 178 Western Road, was founded by Dr R. P. B. Taafe in 1868. The Hospital expanded into an adjacent building and then relocated to a disused school on Dyke Road. Construction of a new £10,500 three-storey building designed by Thomas Lainson began on that site in 1880. An elegant stone plaque by the entrance commemorates the building’s 1881 opening ceremony. The contrasting stone extension with both Ionic and Doric pilasters was added in 1906 to provide balconies for the patients. Interestingly, the bulge in the lawn is an air raid shelter. Lainson, one of my favourite architects, also designed Middle Street Synagogue, Norfolk Terrace, Adelaide Mansions and the Hove Museum (originally Brooker Hall).

Regular readers may remember last week’s piece on Hove Hospital. There are many parallels between Hove Hospital and the Alex including their age and architectural style. Most importantly though, both became unsuitable for modern use. Hove Hospital closed in 1997 and facilities were moved to modern premises. Fortunately, it was not demolished and instead became the Tennyson Court block of flats. The Alex is unlikely to be demolished by its new owner, the builder Wimpey, like some fear but those who care should stay vigilant as it is not Listed.

The new Royal Alexandra will be opening in the large multi-coloured building that has been gradually rising from the Royal Sussex County site in Kemp Town in June. Long live the Alex – and also its grand old home!