Archive for January, 2009

Dome Complex

Like a long-time Brighton resident visiting the Royal Pavilion for the first time, I arrived at the Dome’s stage door excited but also feeling guilty that I had not engaged before. It was to be my first piece on the Dome after all. Little did I know that I was about to be given the tour of all tours.

My visit began with an unexpected treat. Whilst awaiting Seth, the lighting and sound engineer who showed me around, I was sat down in the main auditorium as the sole member of the audience of a London Philharmonic rehearsal. Funnily enough, it was where I graduated. Although I cannot recall the order in which I saw everything (lifts, winding passageways, hidden staircases and tunnels saw to that nicely), from west to east, the complex includes: the Pavilion Theatre and a box office on New Road; the Corn Exchange; the Dome itself; and the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. My tour, however, did not include the Museum & Art Gallery for reasons that I will go into shortly

The Dome began as stables for the Prince of Wales beside his Marine Pavilion before he became Prince Regent or, indeed, King George IV. Although it was intended for horses and the Prince was not even King, it was built to the highest possible specification. The next phase was the transformation of William Porden’s original buildings into a concert venue by Philip Lockwood soon after Queen Victoria broke the royal connection. A striking Art Deco interior was added by Robert Atkinson in the 1930s. A £22 million renovation was completed in 2002, making the complex a truly world-class venue – the fourth of the complex’s four phases of development.

Today, the Dome, Corn Exchange and Pavilion Theatre may be housed in the same set of buildings as the Museum & Art Gallery but they are run entirely separately. Brighton & Hove City Council is property owner but runs just the Museum & Art Gallery in-house. The rest is run by Brighton Dome & Festival Ltd.

I shall be writing three more pieces relating to my tour that will be appearing over the coming weeks including one on the Corn Exchange and Pavilion Theatre, and another on my usual favourite topic – the hidden areas. Next time though, I’ll be concentrating on one of the most stunning interior spaces in Brighton – the Dome’s 1930s Art Deco interior.


Birdcage Bandstand Works

The true test of advancement in any building project – be it a restoration or a new development – is material progress. Approval of planning applications and promises of commencement of work count for little presently. Take the Birdcage Bandstand for example.

I personally recall fading posters on a rusting barrier a couple of years back with a promise of action by early 2006 – it was autumn 2006 at the time! Before the last local elections, Brighton & Hove City Council sought Lottery funding for the urgent works which never materialised. A different approach was taken by the new administration under the close eye of Councillor Geoffrey Theobald to take the project forward without further delay.

The Bandstand was designed by Brighton’s Borough Surveyor, Philip Lockwood, in 1883 and built in front of Bedford Square the following year. It was Lockwood who, in 1867, converted the Dome in 1867 from stables into an assembly hall and Lockwood who, in 1873, remodelled the stables, coach houses and former royal servants’ quarters to the east of the Dome into a library museum and art gallery. He was also responsible for Madeira Terrace which was completed in 1890 running between the Aquarium and Duke’s Mound on the Kemp Town seafront.

An octagon of ornate arched poles supports the Bandstand’s oriental dome. Bearing in mind that in 1910 there were eight bandstands in Brighton and Hove, it becoming Grade II Listed in 1971 must have come as a relief to many. I was hoping that the restoration would be dramatic but certainly was not expecting the entire structure to vanish – all the way to Leander Architectural’s foundry in the Peak District. Columns, arches and roof framework have been blasted back to the bare metal for repair and repainting. Much of the skeletal frame is now back in place though. The company is also busy making patterns for other broken and missing sections including gutters, friezes and balustrade posts.

DRP Architects in Brighton and Cheesmur Building Contractors in Lewes as lead consultant and main building contractor respectively are working to return the Bandstand to its former glory. Even the bridge which connected it to the promenade is to be reinstated. The former public toilets below will become a café which many are keen to run including one local prolific Bandstand supporter, Meg Stone.

The project is due to be completed by the summer – see www.brightonbandstand.co.uk for details.


Wykeham Terrace

I read about the research of Kerry Howard, the owner of 1 Wykeham Terrace, in a Montpelier & Clifton Hill Association newsletter some months ago. She caught the building bug after moving to Brighton a couple of years back and got stuck into the Terrace’s history. Like Kerry, I was keen to find out more…

Wykeham Terrace is the grey and white composition at the very bottom of Dyke Road, just below St. Nicholas Church. It was built early in the Nineteenth Century in a Regency Gothic style by an architect whose identity, unfortunately, is uncertain. I have my suspicions though. There’s little else similar in Brighton to which one might compare it. Gothic House, opposite Waitrose on Western Road, is perhaps its nearest equivalent.

Upon seeing the interior of No. 1, it was immediately clear why one might want to investigate further. From the original layout of the basement to the uniqueness of the roof terrace, little is obvious. The differences between the thirteen houses and, indeed, between the lower (Numbers 1-6) and upper (Number 7-12) sections can be explained by previous uses. There is, in fact, no No. 13; instead a No. 7a. Various houses were used as a home for prostitutes and the Territorial Army later became involved, selling off the upper section to a conscientious developer who carried out the restoration. It has since had more than its fair share of interesting residents with Sir Roy Strong, Adam Faith, Dame Flora Robson and various squatters all living there at some point.

With regards to the upper section, a limited company is in place to deal with maintenance issues as is a rule stating that that none of the houses may be turned into flats. The lower section, now separated by a large wall. is a different story. There is presently no maintenance of the gardens and the grand front boundary wall is in urgent need of attention. The plan should be – must be – to follow the limited company arrangement and start applying for grants.

There’s always so much to do. The latest battle is with Brighton & Hove City Council in the form of a historic street sign being replaced with a tacky plastic equivalent. There also exists a scale model of the Terrace in the Council’s possession. I requested a viewing some months back but have been told that it won’t be possible until after March!