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!