Archive for October, 2007

Stamford

The rendered surfaces of the bungaroosh walls of Brighton & Hove imitate a material that is not common to our area – stone. Stamford has stone in abundance.

I came across Stamford in Lincolnshire quite by accident during a trip to help a good friend, Nicholas Boles, get selected for a Parliamentary seat. I obviously love our local buildings but our rendered bungaroosh walls aren’t exactly practical. For those not in the know, bungaroosh is a material made up of old chunks of bricks, flint, wood and chalk. The old Lincolnshire limestone facades of Stamford, however, are built to last.

I had heard in advance that Stamford featured as ‘Meryton’, the home of the Bennet family, in the recent film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice which starred Keira Knightley. It is the quintessential Georgian stone town; full of character with rows of tiny houses and shops. It also appeared in the 1994 BBC adaptation of George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Despite knowing this, I was certainly not prepared for the magnificent Burghley House just outside the town centre.

Burghley House was the home of William Cecil, Elizabeth I’s closest adviser. Along with preparing for the Spanish Armada, he is said to have been Burghley’s principal architect. It was built on land that was acquired by the Cecil family following the Dissolution of the Monasteries (carried out, of course, by Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII). Building work was complete by 1589 though many changes have since been made. In the main house, there are 35 major rooms on the ground and first floors. There are more than 80 lesser rooms and numerous halls, corridors, bathrooms and service areas. During the 17th century, the great Italian painter, Antonio Verrio, painted the magnificent interior. During the 18th century, the grounds were landscaped and the building remodelled under the guidance of the great Capability Brown. Today deer roam freely amongst the stunning surroundings – what a life! Burghley also appears prominently in the Pride & Prejudice film as ‘Rosings’, the home of Lady Catherine De Bourgh.

Brighton and Stamford both have great Georgian connections. The soldiers in Pride & Prejudice are the 10,000 troops who were stationed on Brighton’s Belle Vue Field in 1793 at a time of great unrest across the Channel. Belle Vue Field later became Regency Square. More recently, Shoreham Airport featured in the Da Vince Code film – as did Stamford.


Joogleberry Playhouse

Latest Homes’ Bill Smith and Angi Mariani certainly took on an exciting project when they bought the lease to the Joogleberry Playhouse on Manchester Street recently.

Health & safety regulations and licensing exams surely just get in the way of running a good cabaret bar as Bill and Angi would now probably agree. Many know the Joogleberry as the original Komedia though it is now a well-established venue in its own right. Much of Manchester Street was built in a similar style to the rest of the roads off St. James’s Street. However, Nos.14-16, a wide single storey structure with a basement, is something quite different which goes some way to explaining its Grade II Listed status. This building, combined with No. 17, a neighbouring three storey building with a basement, forms Kemp Town’s hippest cafe, restaurant and bar.

Nos. 14-16 Manchester Street is still known by some as the Kentfield Billiard Rooms after its owner, Edwin Jonathan Kentfield, a famous billiards player. It is my understanding that the Billiard Rooms replaced three houses during the first half of the 19th century that were similar to No. 17. The low building has a symmetrical facade with flat-arched tripartite windows either side of a round-arched entrance. Other details include Tuscan pilasters, ornamental laurel wreaths and a parapet hiding the roof. In fact, each of the two original buildings has an interesting roof – the Billiard Rooms’ has a large skylight; No. 17′s has a double pitch and, therefore, a potentially problematic drainage gulley above the top floor. Down below, each has an extensive basement extending well under the pavement.

After its time as the Kentfield Billiard Rooms, the building has been all sorts of things such as a boarding house, the St. James’s Club, a Church Army labour home, the Longhurst & Williams Garage and the Southdown Motor Services club. It became the Komedia in 1994; a theatre and cabaret bar in which Graham Norton, Johnny Vegas and Alistair McGowan all performed. In 1998, the Komedia relocated to a former Tesco in Gardner Street. Without saying too much about Bill and Angi’s plans, they will be taking steps to draw up some of the basement’s energy onto the currently quieter ground floor.

Now that I know a little about the history of the Joogleberry Playhouse, there’s still one thing that I would like to know. What on earth is a Joogleberry?


Regency Society

Who would think today that Brunswick Square and Brunswick Terrace were once seriously being considered for demolition?

The beauty of Brunswick Town in Hove only goes some way towards explaining its Grade I Listed status. Its age, completeness and sheer size are surely all factors also. It seems crazy that the Hove Borough Surveyor was pushing for its annihilation during the 1940s. Sure, the buildings may have been in a bad condition at the time but that’s no excuse. Four men including Antony Dale and Clifford Musgrave formed the Regency Society in 1945 to counter the threat.

The Regency Society is a registered charity and is the oldest conservation and amenity society in Brighton & Hove. Its number one aim is to campaign for the preservation of the City’s best buildings but it does much more. Contrary to what its name suggests, the Society concerns itself also with Georgian, Victorian, Art Deco and every other style and age of architecture that Brighton & Hove has to offer. As one would expect with such a variety of architectural styles, there are a number of different groups; each with a different story to tell. Hove Civic Society, for example, formed in 1960 and went on to beat plans to destroy the ramps below Adelaide Crescent. Defining the Regency Society’s role today is difficult. Its aims have certainly evolved over the years and, indeed, a debate about what it should be doing continues (as I know very well from my time serving on its committee for the past few years!).

Dr Ian Dunlop was invited by Antony Dale to lead the Regency Society and ended up being its Chairman from 1988-97. He took a series of sound decisions which put the Society on a solid financial base which included the selling of unused artefacts. He created the yearly Antony Dale Memorial Lecture and fought campaigns to save Stanmer House and Marlborough House. Dr Dunlop passed away earlier this year and will never be forgotten.

If exciting lectures, visits to historic buildings and campaigns to save local buildings sound interesting then see www.regencysociety.co.uk for details about getting involved. The Society’s James Gray Collection of around 9,000 old photographs of Brighton & Hove is being added at a rapid rate so the site is well worth a visit for that alone. Brunswick Town may still be standing but there’s lots more still to do yet!


Prague

‘The city of a hundred spires’ had long been on my long list of places to visit but, not wanting to greet our stag night ambassadors out there, I kept putting it off.

The inhabitants of Prague had an eventful 20th century. The city was made the capital of Czechoslovakia when that country declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War. The Nazis who occupied the country during the Second World War were soon replaced by the Communists who remained in power until 1989. In 1993, the country split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic, with Prague as its capital. The city’s dramatic past is mirrored in its wealth of architectural styles. From medieval to Art Deco to Neoclassical to Modern to Contemporary, most styles are well represented.

My good friend, Roland, and I booked our trip for three nights beginning from a Monday night in order to avoid embarrassing louts. The drive from the airport was rather uneventful as was our walk from our suburban hotel to the city centre. Once we reached the river though, it was immediately clear what all of the fuss is about. The wide river, with its islands and famous bridges, is lined with grand structures. On the opposite bank, I then saw the building that I had been waiting for.

Several buildings in Prague really were to my taste such as the elegant Rudophinum, the dominant St. Vitus Cathedral and the massive Prague Castle (the largest castle in the world apparently). The Petrin Tower up on the hill was simply good fun and is Prague’s very own Eiffel Tower; albeit at 1/5 of the size. However, it was Vlado Milunic and Frank Gehry’s ‘Dancing House’ that I had really come to see. Gehry is of course the architect who is responsible for the current King Alfred plans in Hove. The Dancing House was built from 1994-6 and replaced a Neo-Renaissance house that had been bombed during the Second World War. This modern icon does seem to respect its neighbours though. In fact, one of the next-door neighbours, a former Czech president, was a great supporter of the project! This is one of the rare examples of glass and concrete expanses holding their own alongside the classically-inspired.

Prague is beautiful. Prague is stunning. But, architectural fans, please behave yourselves out there – us Brits aren’t too popular with the locals already!