20 Middle Street

One of the functions of the Sussex Heritage Trust is to highlight the county’s best renovation projects. A particularly worthy scheme in the heart of Brighton’s Old Town has just won the Commercial Award.

20 Middle Street is today the home of Worth, a media firm, which is quite appropriate given that it was once the home of William Friese-Green, the inventor of cinematography. This Grade II listed building dates from the early 1800s so its bow front and yellow brick construction were not uncommon for its time.

Nine brand new brick voussoir window lintels must have taken some planning but my favourite feature is in fact a drainpipe. The gulley behind the front parapet used to drain through a concealed pipe running inside the building but this inevitably rotted. A new painted cast iron downpipe is a fitting addition to the rather plain façade – and it looks original.

Both inside and out, Brighton-based architect Nigel McMillan and project manager Robert Stiles have put much effort into getting the small details right. This includes maintaining a complicated architrave hierarchy throughout. The most visible areas in the principal rooms get the grandest details and so on. The cornicing with a subtle Greek pattern in the front room on the first floor is best. The six-panelled doors and many of the internal details were made from scratch by Ace Joinery as was the building’s attractive fluted Doric porch. One strikingly modern item, Nigel’s favourite perhaps, is a glass wall and door within the entrance lobby which carries out a number of functions.

The renovation of 20 Middle Street has implications for more than that property alone. Although it is surrounded by a number of great buildings, the road is awaiting its renaissance. Thomas Lainson’s Synagogue and Frank Matcham’s Hippodrome are amongst Brighton & Hove’s finest yet they both sit derelict. Perhaps this scheme will serve to bring focus back to this hugely important street.

Interestingly, Friese-Green carried out a number of his experiments at his home at No. 20 and erected what has been the called the ‘first film studio’ in his garden. Quite rightly, his achievements have been commemorated on a distinctive stone plaque on the front of the building.

Winning a Sussex Heritage Trust Award is a great achievement and with it comes responsibilities. Some are fun though – like where to sensitively site the new plaque which goes to all winners.

See www.sussexheritagetrust.com.