Archive for April, 2008

Utrecht

In the past, I’ve visited Tilburg and Haarlem, always via Amsterdam, and this particular trip to Holland to see Rick the photographer led to a stay in Amersfoort and, more importantly, visits to Utrecht.

Utrecht is the largest city in the province of the same name; Amersfoort is the second. Although many (including me) use ‘Holland’ and ‘the’ Netherlands’ interchangeably, North and South Holland are just two of the twelve regions that make up the Netherlands. Due to its central location, Utrecht is arguably the country’s most significant transport hub and is home to the state-owned track company, ProRail. Their headquarters is one of the city’s most iconic structures for a large UFO sits on its roof. It was placed there as part of the city’s Millenium celebrations and was so popular that it was retained.

The average building in Utrecht is fairly typical as far as Dutch buildings go; and the style is certainly one that I admire. Each is tall and slim but, most importantly for me, operates independantly of its neighbour. This results, of course, in variety and is a refreshing change to the methodical Regency compositions of Brighton & Hove that can be spoilt by one building being out of shape. My favourite bit of Utrecht is its unique two-tier pavement arrangement. The main pavements by the canal are built on top of cellars which are accessed from lower water-level walkways. The imposing Dom tower, the best-known feature on the Utrecht skyline, is one of two remaining parts of the Dom church that have been separated since the collapse of the nave in 1674. In fact, Utrecht has more than its fair share of ecclesiastical structures which is easily explained by the city’s importance as the country’s religious centre.

The most fascinating thing that I learnt about on this visit to the Netherlands was the Delta Works. Heralded by the American Society of Civil Engineers as "one of the seven wonders of the modern world", it is an ongoing construction project to reduce the risk of flooding and is, quite simply, one of the largest projects of all time. I hope to investigate further next time.


Dockerill’s

‘I got this in Dockerills,’ sung the ‘Unofficial Mayor of Brighton’, Terry Garoghan, to the tune of Hot Chocolate’s ‘You Sexy Thing’. If you don’t know Dockerill’s, you don’t know Brighton.

New Road was laid out in 1805 under the supervision of William Porden, the Borough Surveyor, to replace a road to the east that ran right past the Prince of Wales’ original Pavilion. It was Porden who built the Dome as stables for the Prince from 1803-8. No. 24, known as Regent House, is a flint-cobbled bow-fronted building with brick dressings built by a Mr Rob Furner. It was once the Regent Hotel and then Crabb’s Wine Merchants until the 1980s. The building acquired Grade II Listed status in 1952.

Dockerills is based at 2 Church Street, once the stables at the rear of the hotel. Church Street wasn’t the original home of the firm though; it began on Edward Street and later moved to Gardner Street. Walter Dockerill established the business around one hundred years ago and passed it on to his son, Walter Harry Dockerill, who in turn passed it on to his son, Malcolm Dockerill. Malcolm runs it with his wife, Brenda, and their daughters, Karen and Jo, and son-in-law, Ryan. Dockerills winning ‘Best Company Offering Service to its Customers’ in the 2005 Brighton & Hove Business Awards speaks for itself.

The subterranean is a running theme throughout my columns and it was the large tunnel running beneath the Church Street pavement that led to me writing this piece. From Dockerills’ basement to beneath New Road, it is said to have once provided access to the Pavilion; perhaps explained by the fact that Mrs Fitzherbert, the Prince’s lover, lived at the Regent Hotel for some time. Although a sandwich bar currently occupies 24 New Road at street level, the original massive basement remains undivided; explained by the fact that Mr Dockerill owns both sections of the building. A series of large vaults, once the Regent Hotel’s wine store, is today where every hardware product known to man is stored. When New Road was recently made pedestrian-friendly, the tunnel was breached from above; much to the surprise of an unsuspecting workman.

Like Terry Garoghan and the Royal Pavilion, Dockerills is a great local institution that more than embraces those unique characteristics of Brighton that we all know and love – and that is why it should be supported


Wakehurst Place

When it’s not quite warm enough to take to the beach, an excursion to the countryside is always a more than acceptable alternative. So, off I went with some friends to Wakehurst Place in Ardingly to see Kew’s country garden.

It is not known precisely when the first house was built on the site but by 1205, William de Wakehurst was certainly in possession of 40 acres of land that was previously owned by Philip de Crauele (Crawley). In 1454, the last of the Wakehursts, Margaret and Eliabeth, married Nicolas and Richard Culpepper. What became the present building was completed by Edward Culpepper in 1590 though many of the great features of today may be attributed to the Marchoness of Downshire who bought the building in 1869. Sir Gerald W. E. Loder MP (later Lord Wakehurst) bought the estate in 1903 and created the gardens but it was the next owner, Sir Henry Price, who donated it all to the National Trust upon his death in 1963. Two years later, it was leased to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

With map in hand (quite necessary in a 500 acre estate), we set out to see the ‘Bog Garden’, the ‘Himalayan Glade’ and ‘Compost Corner’. Our first destination though was the beautiful Grade I Listed mansion itself. The entirety of this fine country pile is not open to the public as much of the building is used as offices. However, what we did see on the ground floor was impressive with carved wood aplenty. The gardens were amongst the best I’ve seen but I was more interested unsurprisingly in the built environment. I did happen to spot though that Wakehurst is home to the largest growing Christmas tree in England!

Our final stop on the tour was the Wellcome Trust Millennium Building, home of the Millennium Seed Bank Project, which opened in 2000 as the largest ex situ conservation project conceived – ever. The extremely modern structure houses an exhibition dedicated to explaining how Kew’s team is working behind the glass screens to conserve seeds from 10 % of the world’s flora by 2009. My first thought upon entering the building was ‘Cologne Airport’. With exposed concrete, polished steel and hangar-like ceilings, there is quite a similarity.

According to the National Trust’s latest available information, Wakehurst Place is their most visited property for which admission is charged. I can easily believe it.


Connaught Centre

As a lover of quality modern architecture, I wish that more of my time could be spent writing about the decent new buildings that we have around Brighton & Hove. Unfortunately, I’d run out of subject matter pretty quickly. Instead, I inevitably find myself writing about the histories of older – better – buildings when, as is often the case, their futures are uncertain.

The large and much-loved Victorian building on Connaught Road, currently known as the Connaught Centre, may be under threat. It was built on the site of a brickworks and began as the Connaught Road Schools; consisting of the Connaught Road Boys’ School, Girls’ School and Infants’ School; each with a separate entrance along with another for the teachers. The rather grand structure, built in red and yellow brick with terracotta dressings to the designs of Thomas Simpson of Ship Street, first opened its doors in 1884. Various other arrangements followed until it closed as a school in 1984 – 100 years after it opened.

Today, the Connaught Centre is owned by Brighton City College and run as an adult education satellite site. It is used by an impressive 3,000 people each year. There is also a Brighton & Hove City Council day care centre tucked away in an outbuilding behind. The College currently has five sites with facilities ‘not fit for modern use’ (a College spokesman’s words, not mine) and hopes to end up with four state of the art new ones by variously selling, relocating and rebuilding. In the case of the Hove site, the Connaught Centre, a move is in mind. Inevitably, this would lead to the sale of the building to who knows whom. Bearing in mind the recently-built 1A Connaught Road, built by the developer behind the King Alfred scheme, and the awful Tesco around the corner, there may be reason to worry. There is even talk of a Tesco petrol station for the site!

Connaught Road, like Connaught Terrace and the Connaught Hotel public house, takes its name from Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, a great royal figure who had connections with Hove. He was Queen Victoria’s third son and said to be her favourite. 

I write this piece having just returned from a thoroughly delightful ‘World of Art Deco’ Saturday workshop. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, I say. Call the Connaught Centre on 01273 736491 for details of other courses.


Church of the Annunciation, Hanover

I’m always grateful to receive requests but this was a particularly good one for I had never even heard of the building in question.

The Grade II Listed Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady is, indeed, a fascinating building; tucked away between two of Hanover’s typically narrow streets. It was one of several churches in Brighton, including St. Paul’s on West Street and the massive St. Bartholomew’s by London Road, that were built on behalf of the Reverend Arthur Douglas Wagner. It opened on the Assumption of Mary Feast Day (15th August) in 1864. The design by William Dancy came to be modified when a new north aisle in a similar style to the original south aisle was added to the designs of Edmund Scott. The modified structure, with a greater capacity to cope with increased demand, was consecrated in 1884.

Brighton owes much to Wagner, who was ordained to the priesthood in 1850. Not only did he leave a legacy of unique buildings, he also paid particular attention to the poor of his day by, for example, not charging pew rates. Wagner’s churches followed the Anglo-Catholic ritualist tradition, something that was not popular with many reactionary Protestant figures within the Church of England. Incidentally, St. Andrew’s on Waterloo Street in Hove that I wrote about two weeks ago follows this same tradition.

The façade of the Church of the Annunciation consists of a large tower along with two gables, each with flint facings and red-brick surrounds. Inside, the weighty wooden structure is clearly visible. The window above the altar is rather special – it was executed by the great William Morris to the designs of Edward Burne-Jones. Following a campaign by anti-ritualists, a ruling was made in 1902 that many of the building’s treasures, such as the candlesticks and confessional boxes, had to be removed. There was, however, a later revival of the ornamentation, including the introduction of two reredos (ornamented screens). The overall effect is stunning and is well worth a look, perhaps during one of the Reverend Steven Foster’s rather fun Sunday morning services.

The Church of the Annunciation is one of several buildings in Hanover that stands out from the rows of similar houses. I’m quite a fan of the area and once even thought that I lived there. I was disappointed to find that that I was a couple of streets past the boundary!