Archive for July, 2007

Whychcote

Portslade ‘Old Village’ is to Portslade what Southwick Square is to Southwick and Old Shoreham is to, well, Shoreham. It’s tucked away off the main road and is a delight to the eye; but knowing where to look and how to find it is essential.

Leading up from the Old Shoreham Road, substantial properties quickly appear on the right-hand side of Locks Hill starting with Loxdale and Portslade Lodge. Locks Hill becomes South Street where Whychcote and the Brewery (today occupied by Le Carbone) come next. Easthill House, Portslade Manor and St. Nicolas’s Church are all just a stone’s throw away.

Whychcote would never have been built had it not been for the Brewery. The Brewery, covering almost one acre, was built in 1881 (as is clearly stated on its grand chimney) for John Dudney. When Dudney was its proprietor, it was capable of producing one thousand barrels per week. Two brothers, Walter and Herbert Mews (aged 27 and 25 respectively), bought it from him in 1884 for £17,000. Each then built a substantial residence in its close vicinity – Whychcote for Herbert in 1895 and Loxdale for Walter in 1899.

The reason for the choice of the name ‘Whychcote’, meaning ‘the home of the witch’, is uncertain. It is certainly an imposing building but not exactly a witch’s. A woman thought to be a witch, however, did live in the area not long before the Mews brothers arrived. Timbers (both inside and out), gables and chimneys characterise Whychcote though its greatest attribute is perhaps its prime location on the village green. Interestingly, Andrew Melville, the owner of Whychcote during the 1930s, also owned the green and attempted to develop it. Another controversy took place in 1989 when it was discovered that Adur District Council wanted to turn Whychcote into a homeless hostel. Whychcote was bought for £357,000 in 2000 and the then owners carried out substantial works. It subsequently sold for a bargain £465,000 in 2002.

As Brighton & Hove feels the pinch of a national housing shortage, Portslade will one day have to take on a share of new residents. The replacement of dreary 1950s structures should one day provide an excellent opportunity to reintroduce flint, timber and other original materials using modern construction techniques. Let’s just hope that the developers know how to find their way to the Old Village for inspiration when the time inevitable comes!


Western Esplanade

Never before has a private security guard jumped out on me when I’ve been snooping around column material but it was not surprising when it happened on this occasion – the press should be kept away from the homes of the rich and famous!

To be fair, the tattooed and goaty-bearded protector was fascinated when I told him how a man-made cut of 1760 in the River Adur formed Shoreham Harbour. Who wouldn’t be? It’s quite a story. As a result, I wrote a few weeks ago in my Hove Lagoon piece, the bed of the Adur near its old mouth at ‘The Wish’ in Hove silted up and later became the Western Lawns, Hove Lagoon and part of an industrial estate. Plans were approved in 1908-9 for a series of exclusive beach residences on what had once been the west side of the river Adur but is today in Hove (well, Aldrington actually). The developer was Michael Paget Baxter, the Lord of the Manor of Aldrington (and later the Lord of the Manor of Lancing).

The row of what is now eleven houses was originally called Aldrington Beach Bungalows then Seaside Bungalows and then Hove Seaside Villas. Today it is officially called Western Esplanade but locals call it “Millionaires’ Row”. The buildings took ten years to complete and particular attention was paid to their foundations as it was feared that they could be washed away in a storm which also explains the concrete walls that are twelves inches thick. None of the houses are the same but common features include white paint, battlements, walled front gardens and a shared private beach. Private coastline, incidentally, is a source of national contention.

Famous residents include Heather Mills-McCartney, Zoe Ball, Fatboy Slim and Nick Berry. Paget Baxter himself lived at No. 1 which had around twelve bedrooms but was later split in half. Each house obviously has excellent views to the south but to the immediate north there is, somewhat strangely, a thriving industrial estate.

One of the houses (that of Baxter’s grand-daughter, June Penn) has been on the market for a little while now for over £3 million! I’ve tried without success several times to arrange a viewing for myself so that I could write a column; obviously assisting with the sale process. I haven’t heard back as I write. Perhaps they don’t want to sell – I can see why!


Pool Valley

Pool Valley, or ‘the Poole’ as it was known as far back as 1296, is known well as the rather embarrassing rain-swept coach hub of Brighton.

As its name suggests, Pool Valley was once a lot wetter than it is today though try telling that to a National Express customer waiting for a coach on a wind-swept night. Being the natural drainage point of a stream that appeared after heavy rain known as the ‘Wellesbourne’, it was often full of water. In 1792-3, the Wellesbourne was diverted when a sewer to drain the Steine was constructed and Pool Valley was bricked over. However, it continued to flood long after that time.

A great variety of building styles can be found around Pool Valley including Georgian, Regency and Art Deco spread around the five blocks. Correspondingly, there are five points of access – one road in, one road out and three footpaths. On the north-west side is a delightful Grade II* Listed Georgian building of 1794 that today goes by he name of “Havvanuggie’s Café and Traditional Fish & Chips”. It is faced with black mathematical tiles like the stunning Royal Crescent of 1798 on the Kemp Town seafront. Pool Valley though is dominated by the comparatively massive Grade II Listed Royal York Buildings and Grade II* Listed Royal Albion Hotel, both from the Regency period, and the Art Deco 1930s former 2,600 seat Savoy Cinema-Theatre.

The construction of Awsiter’s Baths, the first baths in Brighton, commenced in 1769 to the west of Pool Valley. It was destroyed when Brill’s Baths on East Street was extended in 1861. In turn, Brill’s Baths was demolished in 1929. I knew the Savoy as the ABC Cinema before it was converted into several new venues. One of the bars, Toad, closed and is now being converted into a Rocco Mana lapdancing club. In fact, Rocco Mana was the first to be granted a fully nude licence in Brighton & Hove. A recent proposal to install blue and pink neon lights on the Pool Valley side of the building was met with anger as they were seen as a seedy play on the lapdancing theme. But, I was more concerned about the damage that their installation could do to the faience tile wall behind.

Solving Brighton’s transport problems will not be easy but the Poole certainly should be central to the solution – just bring an umbrella!


Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth

Last week, I wrote about the Crow’s Nest at Tower House on London Road in Brighton. This week’s column features a different Crow’s Nest – this time it’s slightly higher and not so local.

At 170m and 30,000 tonnes, the Portsmouth Millennium Tower was always going to be an ambitious project. In keeping with millenium tradition, it was finished several years late and massively over budget. It opened in October 2005 as the Spinnaker Tower at a cost of over £35.6 million. To top it off, on opening day, its project manager, David Greenhalgh, was stranded in its troublesome external lift (also broken when I visited!) for an hour and a half. It is part of the Gunwharf Quays development on the site of a former Royal Navy shore establishment called HMS Vernon.

Portsmouth itself is an island city with a population of 189,000 making it slightly smaller than Brighton & Hove which has a population of 244,000. The attraction of the place certainly does not arise from its terraced and, quite frankly, boring housing stock. Instead, architectural visitors are principally drawn to its well-engineered naval structures with menacing turrets, indestructible walls and thick doors – most of which can be seen from the Spinnaker Tower. It goes without saying that the views that the Spinnaker provides across and around the historic Portsmouth Harbour are truly breathtaking.

Seafaring readers will know that a spinnaker is a usually triangular sail carried by a yacht as a headsail when running against the wind which is reflected in the Spinnaker Tower’s design. Two white, sweeping steel arcs give the tower its distinctive sail character in a similar fashion to the world’s tallest hotel, the Burj al-Arab in Dubai. However, the Burj al-Arab, which claims to be a 7* hotel (the scale only goes up to 5*!), is almost twice the size at 321m. A lift rises quickly to the first of the Spinnaker’s three viewing floors where Europe’s largest glass floor is situated. The open-topped third floor provides the best views and, at 110m above ground level, is known as the “Crow’s Nest”.

The journey up the Spinnaker has certainly raised my awareness of the benefits that the proposed Brighton i360 could bring to our area. Work is due to start on it shortly and at a planned 172m, the i360 would be just 2m taller than the Spinnaker. This must have been deliberate.

photos by Rick Parkin


Tower House Crow’s Nest

Had Nigel Bartlett contacted me before I first wrote about Tower House in 2005, researching the piece would certainly have been far simpler. Along with him living in the important Edwardian pile, his father was responsible for designing the modern adjoining blocks. And now Nigel’s flat, the “Crow’s Nest” is up for sale.

1902, the year that Tower House was built on London Road, is clearly displayed on an elegant dormer window directly above the building’s front door. Today, the door leads directly into a Brighton & Hove City Council-run day centre instead of into the twelve-bedroomed single house that it once did. In fact, Tower House’s upper floors are now ten whole flats. To be fair though, the exterior has changed little since 1902; its distinctive tower, balcony and gables all remain unchanged. However, its original neighbour, Tivoli, wasn’t so fortunate – it was demolished when Tower House was converted in 1988.

Tower House and Tivoli were built on land that was previously a pleasure garden called Tivoli Gardens that had tree-lined walks, shrubberies and flowerbeds. Tower House was designed by G. Burstow & Sons for James John Savage, a jeweller by royal appointment to Edward VII. The family monogram may still be seen on the front of the house. Mr Savage died in 1922 aged 75 and Mrs Savage in 1933 aged 81. Tower House was then sold at auction for £4,000. Soon afterwards, it was requisitioned by the army, as were many buildings in Brighton, during the Second World War.

A crow’s nest is a structure in the upper part of the mainmast of a ship that is used as a look-out point. Tower House’s Crow’s Nest unsurprisingly provides some serious views across the roofs of one of Brighton’s leafiest areas. It is set across several floors; tipped with a weather vane on a leaded dome surrounded by a balcony and offering panoramic views. Steps wind down to the floor below that also has views on all sides and was once James Savage’s art studio (but is now Nigel Bartlett’s music studio). There is also access (down more steps!) to the large intricate iron balcony at the building’s rear. The Crow’s Nest, one of Brighton’s most unique properties, is being marketed by King & Chasemore.

Next week I shall be writing about another Crow’s Nest that is maritime-themed. Clue: it’s based in Portsmouth but it’s not a boat.