Archive for November, 2009

George Williams House

I finally appear to have found a fairly large new residential development locally that passes the Németh Test. And the firm of architects, ABIR, are tucked away just around the corner from me on my favourite mews, Wilbury Grove.

Like ABIR’s inconspicuous offices in Hove, George Williams House is hidden away out of sight. It sits just north of the Old Shoreham Road near Portslade Old Village but has little in the way of its own road frontage. There’s just a narrow driveway down from behind. The development was built for Brighton YMCA and consists of 63 units of accommodation for the vulnerable. This breaks down as 25 shared units in 5 joined house-like buildings, 36 self-contained units in 3 connected blocks of flats, and 2 separate units for staff. There are also offices, IT suites, art rooms and kitchen for training. It replaced a building on the site which fulfilled a similar role but was no longer fit for purpose.

The most obvious materials on display are galvanised steel, brick, render, sweet chestnut and powder-coated aluminium doors and windows. The blocks are arranged as a quadrangle which adds to the intimacy of the accommodation. Units for the disabled spread across three floors (accessible by lift, of course) which was a deliberate move away from the usual ground floor arrangement. Some of the rooms even come with views of the sea and Downs. Construction was carried out by W. Stirland Ltd and took place between 2006 and this year at a total cost, including all design work, of £5.1 million.

Upon entering the secure bottle-neck entrance to the site, it is immediately evident that much thought went into the landscaping of the grounds. Thankfully, it was possible to remove a number of mature plants from the old garden and return them to new beds. A number of trees have been planted and one of the blocks even includes an environmentally-friendly sedum roof. Although the bin store in the middle of the courtyard is a little unsightly, an extremely sleek cycle store more than makes up for it.

Matthew Richardson, one of ABIR’s directors, has done an amazing job on this project and the firm generally, a new practice with much experience, is certainly one to watch. With the Birdcage Bandstand already under their belts, and some revolutionary beach buts in Boscombe on the way, I can’t wait to see more.


Leeds Castle

With Amberley, Arundel, Bodiam, and Bramber so close, there really has to be a good reason to travel further afield to see another castle. After all, one castle is just like any other, right?

It takes a little while for Leeds Castle to come into view after starting the winding walk along the approach path. The terrain is varied and the driveway long, just like Burghley in Stamford – but Leeds has a great number of beautiful friendly peacocks. Incidentally, Leeds Castle is near Maidstone in Kent, not Leeds in Yorkshire, and was built in 1119 by Robert De Crevecoeur to replace an earlier Saxon manor called Esledes. It became a royal palace for King Edward I at which time many substantial modifications were made. Henry VIII transformed the castle too for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and his daughter, Elizabeth I, was imprisoned there before her coronation.

Along with Norman foundations, a medieval gatehouse, a Tudor tower, and a 20th century interior, there is also an aviary, a maze and a surprisingly well-built modern grotto. The castle itself sits on two islands in the middle of a man-made moat which was created by diverting the River Len. Black swans – just like those at Churchill’s Chartwell – can be seen all around the estate and were imported from Australia by the castle’s last private owner, Lady Baillie.

Olive Cecilia Paget was born in New York in 1899 and became Lady Baillie in 1931, when she married her third husband, Sir Adrian William Maxwell Baillie, 5th Baronet of Polkemmet. She purchased Leeds Castle in 1926 with her second husband and retained it after their divorce. It was Lady Baillie who employed Stéphane Boudin, the President of Maison Jansen (one of the greatest interior design firms of the 20th century) to create a number of exquisite interior spaces. He first visited as a weekend guest in 1936 and then went on to design a number of rooms using the highest quality materials – such as silk, gold and crocodile skin. He later restored and renovated the White House during the 1960s for the First Lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy.

Prior to 1974, Lady Baillie ensured that the Leeds Castle Foundation was set up so that the public would be able to enjoy her beautiful home after her death. I for one am extremely grateful as Leeds Castle really is like no other.


Hampton Lodge

I’d spotted two grand porticoes from the upper deck of the bus on Western Road many a time but it took a visit from the Greek Ambassador to really hit home their importance to me.

139 and 140 Western Road – known as Codrington Mansion and Hampton Lodge respectively – both have fascinating links to the great war hero, Admiral Sir Edward Codrington (1770-1851). A terrace of nine houses known as Codrington Place was built in the 1820s of which Codrington Mansion was numbered 8 and 9. Much of the terrace is now beneath Waitrose though some of the buildings now exist as flats with their gardens as commercial premises on Western Road. Hampton Lodge adjoins Codrington Mansion and was Codrington’s home from 1828-32. Each appears to be a fine structure but it’s difficult to say due to the number of modifications which have taken place. One more building, just around the corner, has taken the name of the great man – Codrington House at 1 Hampton Place.

Codrington really made his name at sea at the Battle of Navarino on 20th October 1827 when the combined British, French and Russian fleet which he was commanding destroyed the Turkish and Egyptian fleet during the Greek War of Independence. There is a large obelisk dedicated to the memory of him and the other officers at Navarino at Pylos in Greece where he is certainly known better than he is in Brighton. The lack of proper recognition locally has been a great shame bearing in mind Codrington’s important role in the creation of Greece as we know it today.

A blue plaque on 140 Western Road, Hampton Lodge, was unveiled on 29th September by the Greek Ambassador in the presence of the Mayor of Brighton & Hove and a huge number of other local and, for that matter, international dignitaries. I know that Roger Amerena and his Montpelier & Clifton Hill Association colleagues have been campaigning for such a commemoration for some time so it is an excellent result for the area and also for the memory of the Admiral.

The revival of the blue plaque scheme locally in a big way is a fitting way to remind residents just who has been living on their doorsteps. Other recent additions include Max Miller’s plaque on Marine Parade, Charles Augustin Busby’s on Lansdowne Place, Dame Anita Roddick’s on Kensington Gardens and Peggy Ramsay’s on Kensington Place.


Norfolk Hotel

An inscription on the side of the Norfolk Hotel bears the date 1864. That was when its foundation stone was laid and it was also the year that the nearby Grand Hotel opened.

The Norfolk, at 149 King’s Road, in fact opened two years after the Grand in a similar Italian Renaissance style. Griffins on lamp bases guard the hotel’s forecourt as lions stare down from the balconies of the second floor. Corinthian columns hold up the porch which leads on to a delightful revolving door that was perhaps added in the 1930s judging by its brass fittings.

Much of the original plasterwork survives in the lobby along with a fine set of Doric columns. On the right, a small staircase leads up to a stunning glass dome overhead and then on to the ballroom which has fluted Ionic columns and a stage that is now used as a bar. The best bit is a wonderful wooden staircase which rises to the top of the building with iron balusters which feature the abbreviation ‘NH’. Unfortunately, some of the staircase has been boxed in but presumably it’ll be easy to restore it to its original glory in due course.

The Grade II Listed Norfolk Hotel was designed by Horatio Goulty and was presumably named after the Duke of Norfolk whose family seat was and still is Arundel Castle. Having been refused planning permission for flats, a company called AVP Industries sold the hotel in 1969 to the Feld family and it became the Norfolk Resort. A £2 million refurbishment programme took place during the 1980s and the town centre’s first hotel pool was added in 1985 which now sits empty. The building is in good shape generally, though a bit of cash could be spent here and there. Today’s owners call it the Ramada Brighton but it’ll always be the Norfolk to me.

There are eight storeys in total and the best bit, shown to me by Hayley Gauna who was my excellent tour guide, is at the top. The roof space once housed a nightclub called Rafters but it’s now used for conferences. It’s certainly true to say that the sea views are stunning but I can’t help but feel that a trick is being missed as the views to the north, west and east, which I could only see from a fire exit, are amongst Brighton & Hove’s finest.