Archive for January, 2008

St Margaret’s

“I am to say that the Association views this monstrous structure with horror and dismay; feelings which are shared by practically every inhabitant of Rottingdean,” wrote Miss Jayne Seymour to the Town Clerk of Brighton Borough Council.

St. Margaret’s is a classic example of Art Deco architecture. It was built in 1938 by Charles Neville’s Saltdean Estate Company to the designs of Richard Jones. Neville was a speculator who dreamed of developing all of the land between Rottingdean and Newhaven. The Estate Company was also responsible for the Lido and the Ocean Hotel in Saltdean; buildings similar in character to St. Margaret’s. Ocean liner-inspired design features include sweeping curves, regimented balconies, gleaming white expanses and, well, views of the sea. Visitors are greeted with expansive Terrazzo floors and then stairs with black and white chequered inserts. The flats themselves have plenty of brass fittings and, in common with many other Art Deco buildings, small box sections along the joints of many of the walls and ceilings which unashamedly cover the building’s steel frame.

Rottingdean was listed in the Domesday Book so dates back to at least 1086. It became part of Brighton in 1928 but never really fitted in. Even today, unlike any other council ward in Brighton & Hove, Rottingdean has a parish council. The above-mentioned Miss Seymour formed a Ratepayers’ Association in response to the St. Margaret’s development and rapidly recruited 400 members. The Association evolved into the Preservation Society which continues to serve the people of Rottingdean to this day.

St. Margaret’s was declared structurally unsound when it was discovered that large sections of its steel frame were rotten. This resulted in the front of the building having to be replaced. The 42 leaseholders, many of whom own a share of the freehold, had to foot the £2.3million repair bill. The work is nearing completion and it’s clear that it’ll look stunning. I for one am glad that St. Margaret’s was not destroyed by the bomb that fell down the lift shaft without exploding, rather miraculously, during the Second World War.

Although, looking back, Charles Neville’s grand development plan seems a crazy prospect, his Art Deco buildings have more than stood the test of time. With the refurbishments of St. Margaret’s and the Ocean Hotel nearing completion, it’ll soon be possible to clearly imagine the opulence, style and workmanship of an era that now seems so distant.


Sackvilles

The word ‘Sackville’ crops up several times across Hove. Buying a property recently on Sackville Road, the most obvious example, prompted me to find out why this is the case.

One could write a whole book on the history of the Sackville family. Herbrand de Sauqueville was Lord of Sauqeville in Normandy and was certainly in England four years after the Conquest. The family estate became the largest in East Sussex. Thomas Sackville was Elizabeth I’s second cousin and, in 1566, she granted Knole in Kent, one of the largest houses in England, to him. He was created 1st Earl of Dorset in 1604. The family title was, however, upgraded in 1720 when Lionel Sackville, the 7th Earl, was created 1st Duke. Knole was passed to the National Trust in 1946 but the family retained many of its treasures, its park and a lease on various apartments. Unsurprisingly, Lewes, Worthing and, I’m sure, many other towns across Sussex also features road names that include the word ‘Sackville’.

Sackville Road itself was built on land owned by the Vallance Estate and was originally called ‘Hove Drove’. Residents campaigned for the change for two reasons: their road was often confused with ‘The Drive’ nearby and the word ‘Drove’ gives an unfavourable rural connotation. Some of the early villas were designed by the architects of the Vallance Estate, Lainson & Son. Thomas Lainson was responsible for many notable local buildings including Middle Street Synagogue, Adelaide Mansions, the Royal Alexandra Hospital and the home of John Olliver Vallance, Brooker Hall (now Hove Museum). Interestingly, the deeds of my building mention Emma Kate Vallance (who was, by that time, John Olliver Vallance’s widow) and the Trustees of the Vallance Estate (her brothers, H. J. R. & W. S. Livesay).

Sackville Gardens off New Church Road, like Sackville Road, was developed in the late 1800s in a variety of colours and materials. It is a delightful road but is under attack; potentially on two fronts. The collapse of the Sackville Hotel, on the seafront end of the road, was, I hope, simply due to incompetence. On the north end of the road, the approval of the plans for the Westbourne Hospital site by Brighton & Hove City Council has angered and upset many due to the sheer ugliness of the proposed structure.

Quite understandably, local residents are now expecting the worst for the Sackville Hotel site.


Brighton and Hove Boundary

When settlements were smaller and surrounded by open land, it was easy. Today, due to sprawl and complicated political boundaries, defining a place is not so simple.

A paving stone on Western Road recently got me thinking about the different ways in which people use place names. Brighton was once pretty much just the area surrounded by North Street, West Street, East Street and the sea. Hove was once just, well, Hove Street. These two parishes absorbed many of the surrounding parishes. Brighton, for example, took on Preston and Patcham; Hove took on Aldrington and Hangleton. Each of these was originally set up for ecclesiastical purposes and each evolved into a secular unit of local administration.

The stone in question is at the foot of the west side of Boundary Passage on Western Road between York Road and Norfolk Road (near Bankers Fish Restaurant). ‘HP’ and ‘BP’ have been engraved into the stone and refer to Hove Parish and Brighton Parish. The line between the two is the physical dividing line between the two. The Peace Statue on the seafront is the first indicator of the boundary. The next one along, perhaps serving as a metaphor, is the point where 1 Brunswick Terrace adjoins Embassy Court. York Road and Norfolk Road were constructed from the 1850s and 1830s respectively so presumably the passage was built at the same time. A similar stone marker may be seen at the top on its west side, which further indicates that the alley itself is in Brighton. Going north from Seven Dials, the border is the centre of Dyke Road.

There is more to the story though, which only serves to complicate. The adjoining council wards of Brunwick & Adelaide (thought of as Hove) and Regency (thought of as Brighton) use a line half a block to the east. Confusingly, the Parliamentary constituencies of Hove and Brighton Pavilion currently use the traditional line but will use the Council line at the next General Election. Embassy Court will, therefore, be in the Brighton Pavilion constituency! Another anomaly, on a slightly different point, is the fact that Rottingdean, unlike the rest of the Brighton & Hove, still has a parish council.

Discussion just raises more questions. Does Aldrington still exist? Is Brighton & Hove in East Sussex despite the fact that it broke away in 1997? What is now the true boundary between Brighton and Hove?