Archive for June, 2007

Seaford Martello Tower

103 Martello Towers were built on the coast from Suffolk to Sussex to defend Britain against invasion from Napoleon Bonaparte. Tower 74 in Seaford was the final link in the chain.

The inspiration for Martello Towers came from a round fortress at Mortella Point in Corsica. Their shape and thick walls made them particularly resistant to cannon fire. They stand up to 12m high which made them an ideal platform for a single piece of heavy artillery that stood mounted on the flat roof, able to spin full-circle. They weren’t only built in Britain though. In fact, they were built all around the British Empire. A garrison of one officer and 25 men generally manned them. Many Martello Towers have perished and a few sit derelict, awaiting a modern use. However, many have become residences and others, like Tower 74 in Seaford, have been put to good community use.

Coastal land in Seaford was purchased in 1806 and Tower 74 was completed by 1810. The structure cost £18,000 and used half a million bricks. A further two were planned but were never constructed. Within the Tower, there was a storage area and gunpowder magazine at moat level. It was surrounded by a dry moat with a drawbridge that was destroyed by a falling cannon in 1880. That year, the War Office sold Tower 74 and by 1910 it had become tearooms with a roller-skating rink in the moat. By the late 1930s, part of the moat was filled in which explains the Tardis-like properties of the Seaford Museum of Local History, the building’s current occupier. A great variety of treasures now reside within the original Tower and under the roof of the covered moat area. These include everything from ships’ figureheads to Victorian kitchens to early computers.

The building of the greatest works of fortification ever undertaken in this country during peacetime was carried out by Lord Palmerston following the Royal Commission of 1860. Like the Martello Towers they were built to defend Britain against invasion from a Napoleon – this time Napoleon III, Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew. Like the Martello Towers, they were never put to the test. This is why the episode became known as “Palmerston’s Folly”.

Fort Nelson, which I wrote about last year was one of Palmerston’s Follies. Newhaven Fort, the largest work of defence ever constructed in Sussex, is another and I hope to visit it shortly.


Architecture Week 2007

Readers often ask me how they might view the often private interiors of the buildings that I write about. I usually reply quite vaguely that the doors are open now and then but I can never really remember the events’ names or their dates.

Without any hint of vagueness whatsoever, I should point out quickly that Architecture Week 2007 offers such opportunities and many more. The need for speed is the fact that it finishes on Sunday 24th June which means that there is not much time to plan a visit! This year’s theme for Architecture Week South East is ‘Different Perspectives’. I have no idea what it means but it sounds exciting! The Week is run by the Solent Centre for Architecture & Design in collaboration with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Three particular events involve buildings that I’ve already written about.

Firstly, Brighton’s most controversial building, Embassy Court, is opening its doors for guided tours. It’s looking the best that it has looked since it was built so now’s certainly the time to visit. Secondly, just around the corner in Hove, the ‘Regency Town House’ is hosting a discussion on local architecture. The inspirational Town House is a Grade I Listed former residence on Brunswick Square that is being painstakingly restored. Thirdly, photographs of Shoreham Cement Works, Sussex’s most frightening building, are being exhibited in Shoreham. Logically, it should be demolished as it has no use or architectural merit. However, I for one am not looking forward to the toppling of its massive tower.

Several other events particularly take my fancy. ‘In the Steps of the Stars’ is a guided walk around Brighton by the respected local historian, Geoff Mead. I’d also like to see Earthship Brighton, the green building at Stanmer Park that has been made from old car tyres! Slightly further afield are, to the west, various tours in Portsmouth and, to the east, the stunning De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill.

The success of television shows like Grand Designs shows that there is a genuine desire amongst the public to both see and create fantastic buildings. Architecture Week is a great way to get involved. See www.architectureweek.org.uk for a complete list of the numerous events taking place locally and all around the country. Hopefully this copy of Latest has found you before it’s too late to book your place on one of them!

Photos by Rick Parkin


Preston Park

Brighton’s largest park certainly could never be described as under-utilised. From lightshows and circuses to Party in the Park and Pride, there’s normally something going on in the 63 acre Preston Park.

Before the Domesday Book was compiled, the Bishopric of Chichester owned the original Preston Manor which was set on a vast estate. William Stanford used his inherited fortune to buy it in 1794. His estate included everything between the Manor and what is now Grand Avenue on the Hove seafront. At his death in 1841, he was said to be the richest private individual in Sussex which is not surprising bearing in mind the potential of his land. The bulk of the estate was left to his eldest son, also William, who, like his father, did not develop it. The land was then left to the younger William Stanford the younger’s daughter, Ellen. The Stanford Estate Act was passed by Parliament in 1871 which allowed her to sell off portions of the 1,000 acre estate.

Brighton Council purchased Stanford land in 1883 to create a park using £50,000 from a bequest from bookmaker William Davies. This was considerably more than the 1876 asking price of £30,000. £22,900 was then spent on the transformation of the meadow land which included landscaping, tree-planting and building paths, tennis courts and bowling greens. Preston Park, Brighton’s first public park, opened in 1884. Interestingly, Hove Council followed the lead and bought 40 acres for £14,600 and opened Hove Park, originally known as Goldstone Bottom, in 1906.

In 1928, there was a substantial remodelling of Preston Park and its perimeter railings were removed. I’m particularly fond of the Clock Tower which was built 1891 and paid for by Edward White. Francis May’s intriguing design using lots of different materials arranged in a variety of styles invites discussion and deserves a column of its own. Opposite Preston Park is the Rockery, sometimes called the Rookery, which is a stunning ornamental garden with great views. A number of fine villas around Preston Park had been constructed by 1885 and many stunning examples still exist though there are at present some pretty awful buildings on the Preston Road side.

Brighton & Hove is blessed with some wonderful parks and Preston Park is arguably the finest. However, I will only be truly happy once I have managed to demolish the awful buildings on its west side. One day!


Hove Lagoon

Amazingly, a large river once flowed through what is today Hove. The River Adur, which now flows out at Shoreham, once flowed through the spot now occupied by Hove Lagoon and met the sea at a place called ‘The Wish’.

A large cut was made in the River Adur in 1760 by the Shoreham Harbour Commissioners. From above, as demonstrated by a good aerial map (such as local.live.com), the original route is quite clear. The old mouth by The Wish filled with silt leaving Shoreham Harbour. The change in natural dividing line between the two local communities along with the joining of the two old banks with silt led to an interesting legal situation which wasn’t tested until the early 1900s. For many years, Hove Lagoon was simply a tidal pond and it wasn’t until 1900 when Cllr A. Nye suggested that it should be used for model yacht racing that anything started to happen.

What was previously the west bank of the River Adur was subject to the rights of the Lord of Lancing Manor. The changes left a portion of land on the Hove side to which these rights applied. The ownership of the silted river-bed was also a grey area which wasn’t resolved until 1927 when Hove Council had to acquire the rights from the then Lord of Lancing Manor, Paget Baxter. After the legal wrangles had ended, serious work began in 1930 on two boating lakes; one fairly large, one fairly small. During the Second World War, like the rest of the seafront, it was out of bounds and was in fact used as a pool to check that the army’s tanks had been made properly watertight before D-Day. In 1947, it froze and was used by ice-skaters instead of the usual model boat owners.

Interestingly, Western Esplanade, or “Millionaires’ Row” as it is known locally, was built by Baxter and sits to the west of the Lagoon. Its famous residents include Heather Mills-McCartney, Zoe Ball, Fatboy Slim and Nick Berry. It’s fascinating to think that the land which is currently occupied by Hove Lagoon, Millionaires’ Row, the Western Lawns and even Shoreham Power Station was once on the other side of the River Adur.

Many a time have I stopped by Hove Lagoon to watch the windsurfing but must admit that it’s normally to meet the friendly swans which visit regularly! See www.hovelagoon.co.uk for details.