Archive for August, 2008

Hove Civic Society

When Miss Ella Boyce-Stamper floated some balloons in her garden, she captured the imagination of a community.

It’s difficult to say whether or not a precedent is being set on New Church Road currently for a second wave of large flatted developments. The demolition of the Nuffield Hospital and recent construction of the gargantuan Coast development has resulted in a rather pleasing structure even though it does have many snagging problems, at ground level in particular. Further towards town, plans were controversially approved late last year for a pair of blocks to replace the Westbourne Hospital. Demolition was swift – a great opportunity was lost. It’s not certain what else is in the pipeline for the road. It is certain though that public resistance to the first wave of blocks led to the formation of Hove Civic Society in 1961.

The purpose of the balloon hoist was to show how high a proposed seven-storey replacement building at 15 New Church Road would be. A meeting at Miss Boyce-Stamper’s house, 9 New Church Road, resulted in the formation of the Society. The building went ahead though, which is why we’re now stuck with the drab Pembroke Court instead of the detached mansion that was there previously. Many other campaigns have been fought since but the greatest single battle took place during the 1960s. That’s not to say that things are quiet today but a single particular scheme that would have transformed Hove forever was defeated.

The ramps at the foot of Adelaide Crescent may be a little battered but they are without doubt an integral component of the famous Regency composition. It’s amazing to think that Hove Council once wanted to demolish them. Even worse, it wanted to replace them with road so that the end result would be a six-lane highway on Hove seafront. Years of campaigning led to a victory for the Society and, ultimately, the people of Hove.

The purpose of Hove Civic Society is to stimulate community interest in the beauty, history and character of Hove and its surroundings. Ian Crossman, the Chairman, told me, "The challenges to our politicians, planners and developers are formidable; they need advice from well informed local people." There aren’t many people in a better position to give such advice.

On top of its important planning work, Hove Civic Society arranges a varied programme of events throughout the year. See for details.

London Road Tesco Development

The future of the Open Market by London Road is so closely linked with the future of the road itself, which is why it so important that St. James’s Investments’ grand plan for the area is a success.

London Road was once lined with private houses but today, following a long period of conversion and demolition, just one remains as residential. Even that (No. 87), a Regency gem of 1825 by the famous Wilds and Busby partnership, is now flats. The Open Market began in 1919 as a chaotic collection of barrows owned by ex-servicemen on nearby Oxford Street. Following a stint on the Level, traders moved to the gardens of the cottages of Marshalls Row in 1926. The cottages were demolished in 1938 and, in 1960, the enlarged Open Market was opened by the Duke of Norfolk. Two nearby imposing churches are worth a mention too – the cavernous St. Bartholomew’s to the west and the crumbling yet seductive St. Peter’s to the east.

Despite there being several exceptions to the rule, including Neil Underhill’s ‘Principal Meats’ on the Marshalls Row corner, the shops of London Road are in obvious decline. This depressing situation hasn’t been helped by – and, indeed, contributed to – the closure of the massive Co-Op department store of 1931. Most thoughtful residents would like to see more independent outlets but in reality, a commercial need for an anchoring superstore to enable change appears to exist.

St. James’s Investments proposal is to build over much of the land in-between London Road, York Hill, New England Street and New England Road. This area includes several fine Regency properties. New England House (the home of Latest Homes and many other independents) would go too. A Tesco, a tower-block and, in all likelihood, traffic (from the large underground car park) are all contentious components of the radical scheme. Without doubt, a lot of work has gone into St. James’s Investment’s slick website but why are there no contact details, why is there no information about the company, and why is there no clear picture of what the scheme actually entails? What about some transparency on the relationship between St. James’s and Tesco too?

No sane individual would be against change at London Road but if we are to get our new Open Market one day, consultation must be open too – a whole lot than electronic submission forms on a faceless website.

Royal Sussex County Hospital

Harry Gaston probably knows more about one great local institution than everyone else in Brighton & Hove put together. His book, Brighton’s County Hospital, 1828-2007, describes the journey of the "County" from a small establishment with just 72 beds to the regional health centre that it is today.

As a young architect, Charles Barry, went up against two established locals, Wilds and Busby, in a competition to design the now famous St. Peter’s Church. In 1825, they went head to head again: to design a new hospital for the poor. On each occasion, Barry got the job. His hospital, seven windows across, opened as the "Sussex County Hospital & Sea Bathing Infirmary" in 1828. Just as Charles Barry received a knighthood from Queen Victoria in 1852, royal recognition was bestowed upon the County by King Edward VII in around 1905. Thenceforth, it was officially called the Royal Sussex County Hospital.

Soon after construction, two sizeable extensions were added to Barry’s original building – the Victoria Wing opened in 1839 and the Adelaide Wing soon afterwards. Symmetry was retained but from then on, it all went downhill on the architectural front. Countless additions have taken place since including a non-descript tower-block that was completed in 1969. Of course, looking pretty is not the primary function of a hospital but calming surroundings are surely conducive to recovery. It’s not all about buildings though. A fire in 1872, two World Wars, the formation of the NHS in 1948 and the bombing of the Grand Hotel in 1984 have all provided considerable drama on top of the usual day-to-day challenges that go on inside hospitals.

Today, Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital along with the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath. The County has expanded so much though that Barry’s original building accounts for just a minute fraction of the overall floor area. The construction of the new children’s hospital, a surprisingly attractive slab with coloured stripes, may well mark a new era of quality buildings. In the past, a masterplan has clearly been lacking. If it was up to me, all or most of the extensions to Barry’s attractive and symmetrical structure would be removed; even the tasteful ones. Replacement structures would be detached, tall, orderly, efficient and amazing.

Brighton’s County Hospital is available from City Books on Western Road and all other healthy local bookshops.

Courtenay Terrace

A two bedroom flat in Hove for around £600,000? At these prices, Lewes Crescent flat owners would need to get saving.

Courtenay Terrace’s seven imposing buildings – Courtenay House, Tye, Beach, Lodge and Towers along with Courtenayside and Little Courtenay – are all Grade II Listed. The first four of these, each with beach-facing canopies, were built in around 1840 but Courtenay Towers and Courtenayside were added in the 1930s when an adjacent large seafront villa was converted into flats. Although residents of Courtenay Gate (the fine Art Deco block overlooking Hove Lawns) and Flag Court (the neighbouring Siberian monstrosity) include Courtenay Terrace within their addresses, I’m only concerned with the actual terrace itself. Courtenay Terrace is likely to have taken its name from the Honourable Elizabeth Courtenay who is commemorated in a wall tablet at St. Andrew’s Church, Waterloo Street. The spelling has varied over the years with ‘Courtnay’ and ‘Courteney’ having been used previously.

Courtenay Terrace is rather different to the more famous seafront developments in that it faces north, not south. Due to the size of the rear gardens – with back gates opening directly onto the promenade – this potential liability is in fact a great asset; hence the price. It was once the only development on the South Coast with a private beach but this was compulsorily purchased in 1908 so that the promenade could be created. The year afterwards, plans were drawn up for Western Esplanade by Hove Lagoon (Millionaires’ Row!) to be built which included a private beach.

There’s mounting pressure to make all private beaches public and fairly recent right-of-way legislation is one big step in this direction. At the very least, change should be gradual and compensatory towards current owners – property rights should be respected. In my opinion, a good argument exists for there never to have been development south of the coast road. Of course, it’s too late to change the arrangement now but Brighton & Hove City Council could at least increase the gaps between nearby beach huts so that one can glimpse the sea more easily from the road!

Architecturally, Courtenay Terrace is a real mix, made all the more interesting by a varying building line and height. The style could be described as ‘extravagant Victorian seaside’. Despite the main road location, calm shades of cream paint combined with various fairytale outcrops make for a pleasing proposition to say the very least.