Archive for September, 2007

Royal Pavilion’s Roof

Like the exterior of the stunning Royal Pavilion, the roof was not built with practicality in mind as I discovered when I was given a tour (with my mum!) by Martin Ellis, Senior Marketing Officer, and Gordon Grant, Senior Conservator.

The Pavilion of today was built around an older building, the ‘Marine Pavilion’, so I was not surprised when I saw for myself that its roof is perhaps not the most efficient of designs. It is extremely complicated and seriously leaked when the building was first completed. There are even drainpipes lodged within internal walls which was obviously asking for trouble. Interestingly, it is still possible today to see parts of the earlier building’s guttering inside the Royal Pavilion’s roof voids.

Most of the roof’s surfaces are either leaded or tiled with various sky-lights dotted around just to complicate matters. During the 1960s and 70s, the Pavilion was painted in a distinct turquoise but today the painted areas of render are more in keeping with the exposed areas of Bath stone. The 1980s saw a programme of massive investment yet tragically, in the 1987 storm, a stone ball fell from a minaret through the roof of the nearly refurbished Music Room and dislodged itself deep within the floor. There was a time when many of the roof’s features were fibreglass imitations but they are again all back to Bath stone.

During the tour, we entered the cavity behind the Music Room ceiling’s ornate glass panels where servants would once have lit gas lamps for the pleasure of those below. It was here that I saw part of the intricate array of sensors that monitor damp around the building. Alarm bells ring when a moisture level above 25% is detected. We were also shown an unexpectedly large cavity between the Saloon and the main dome where I saw the fastenings of the Saloon’s great chandelier. It was here that I saw evidence of a much shallower dome that graced the roof of the previous building, the Marine Pavilion.

Now that I have walked the hidden passageways, entered the ‘Saloon Bottle’ and been up on the roof of Brighton’s most famous building in this series of three columns, I can appreciate just how complicated it is to run a building of this magnitude. Sure, it’s an overly-complicated, illogical and inefficient building but I now love it even more than I did before.


Goldstone Villas

After leaving the station, many visitors to Brighton walk south along Queen’s Road. Whilst the twittens running parallel are a real delight, Queen’s Road is an embarrassment due to the poor buildings which replaced several gems of old. Goldstone Villas in Hove is thankfully somewhat of a different story.

Goldstone Villas was originally known as ‘Station Road, Cliftonville’. This made perfect sense as it led to Cliftonville Station. The road later became ‘Goldstone Villas Road’ and then simply ‘Goldstone Villas’. The name of the station was changed in 1879 to ‘Hove & West Brighton Station’. The Hove Station of today opened to the west in 1893 and is in fact the third station to be built in Hove. Of particular note is the cream and green tiled wall on its south side which states ‘LBSCRy’ (London, Brighton & South Coast Railway). The first station was at the top of Holland Road.

The closest building to Hove Station is a pub called, rather imaginatively, ‘The Station’. It was originally called the ‘Cliftonville Hotel’ and was once thought to be one of the finest buildings in Hove due to, in part, its ornate interior. Goldstone Villas was developed from the 1870s and has several rather special buildings along its length. Most of the buildings, in various combinations, have four storeys with either yellow brick or rendered facades. The most interesting structure on the road for me is about half-way up on the west side. It has pleasing Classical proportions and was built in 1873 as the Nonconformist Meeting Hall. The prettiest house on the road is on the east side and stands out on account of its flint facade.

The Goldstone itself is a large stone that was placed in Hove Park in the year that it opened, 1906. It was unearthed in 1900 having been buried in 1834 by a farmer who had wanted to stop sightseers from crossing his land to see it. Many believed that it was a Druidic altar with holy powers. It has given its name to several other roads locally and was also of course the namesake of Brighton & Hove Albion’s rightful home, the Goldstone Ground.

Goldstone Villas is a beautiful road but two buildings on its east side slightly let it down. The non-descript Stone Court and the factory-like Cliftonville Court should both be demolished as soon as possible, preferably with the developers inside!


Royal Pavilion’s Main Dome

‘Basement to Bottle’ is the name of one of the Royal Pavilion’s recent behind the scenes series. The ‘Basement’ is pretty much self-explanatory, but what is the ‘Bottle’?

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Pavilion’s hidden passageways which included its well-known but not often seen tunnel to the nearby Dome Theatre. After showing us the best bits of the servants’ areas, Louise Hume, the lady with the best job in Brighton, led us to a rickety helix staircase. Whilst climbing up the warped wooden steps past walls covered in pencilled graffiti, it was obvious that something special was at the top. And, we weren’t disappointed.

The Bottle, or ‘Saloon Bottle’ as it’s also known due to its position above the Saloon, is the Pavilion’s biggest and most famous dome. It is the centrepiece of the building and may be seen emblazoned on recycling boxes all around Brighton & Hove. Inside, there is more graffiti from recent times all the way back to the 1800s. Julius Caesar seems to have added his name in 55BC though I’m not sure how authentic that particular signature is. Various pieces of the building are scattered around the heavy wooden floor, some useful, some perhaps forgotten. Several disused chimney breasts suggest that the room might once have been quite cosy. No doubt it would be, if converted, the most expensive flat in Brighton! The many different views out of the Indian style porthole windows across the Steine to the east and the Pavilion’s roof to the west are breathtaking – but more of that in two weeks…

As many readers know, the Royal Pavilion was built around the site’s previous building, the Marine Pavilion, which also had a dome. The top of the previous dome was removed and the Bottle was secured on top (rather precariously in my opinion). For information on the series of special behind the scenes tours go to www.royalpavilion.org.uk, e-mail visitor.services@brighton-hove.gov.uk or call 01273 292820. Seeing the hidden ares made my understanding of the transition between the two buildings so much clearer. Spaces on the tours are sparse but if the team at the Pavilion know that demand exists then they will simply consider running more.

I write this column in the knowledge that, tomorrow morning, I will be shown the roof of the Royal Pavilion, weather and health & safety legislation permitting! Watch this space shortly for the third instalment.


New Church Road

New Church Road got its name when plans for the second of its two churches, St. Philip’s, were passed in 1894. Prior to this, it was simply part of Church Road. The first church, St. Leonard’s, is much older having actually been rebuilt in the middle of the 13th century! Prior to 1893, most of what is today New Church Road was not even in Hove. Only a small portion on its east end fell within the parish of Hove. The legislative absorption of Aldrington into Hove changed that though. Today, however, there are just as many people who state ‘Aldrington’ when asked where they live as there are people who have no idea where Aldrington even is.

During my regular walk to Hove Station one morning, I spotted a terracotta plaque which simply stated ‘New Church Road’ on the low wall outside one of the Brighton & Hove Hebrew Congregation’s buildings. Interestingly though, the plaque was in the middle of a block, not on a corner. Below New Church Road, the boundary between Aldrington and Hove was Westbourne Place (along which it is still possible to see sections of the old boundary wall). By extending the road to the north to dissect New Church Road on a map, I noticed that the plaque sits adjacent to the boundary, just within the Aldrington section which explains its seemingly arbitrary location.

The entire Hove portion of New Church Road falls within what was once known as the Vallance Estate after its owners, the wealthy Vallance family. Hove Museum & Art Gallery, once known as Brooker Hall, is by far the finest building on this section and was built for John Olliver Vallance in1877. Blenheim Court and Pembroke Court, two 1960s blocks, tragically replaced the neighbouring property, a ten-bedroomed mansion set in extensive grounds. Aldrington House, within the Aldrington section as its name suggests, was built in the late 1800s as a private house but is today an NHS day centre for the mentally ill. Despite its rather imposing appearance, it is my favourite building on the road due to its rugged appearance (and will be my house if the NHS ever sell!).

Many mistakes were made on New Church Road during the 1960s and a massive block is under construction close to the Richardson Road junction. It seems to better than its 60s counterparts at least. Once completed, I will review.