Archive for January, 2010

Friends of St Michael’s

One or two invitees were still expected to turn up despite the organisers’ best efforts to postpone the relaunch of the Friends of St. Michael’s due to the recent poor weather. But a fantastic number braved the snow anyway demonstrating perfectly the overwhelming support which exists for St. Michael & All Angels.

St. Michael’s was built in two distinct stages by two different architects. The original building of 1861 by George Bodley wasn’t large enough for the growing congregation so a huge extension was added to the north. The dominating addition was designed by William Burges who didn’t actually live to see its foundation stone laid in 1893. Each section is constructed from brick with Bath stone dressings. St. Michael’s was the first brick-built church in Brighton in fact. Bearing in mind its location in the heart of the Montpelier & Clifton Hill Conservation Area, an area renowned for its beautiful architecture, it says something that St. Michael’s is the only Grade I Listed structure. Incidentally, it is also considered to be amongst the country’s top one hundred churches in Simon Jenkins’ England’s Thousand Best Churches.

With contributions from William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti amongst others, the involvement of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the development of St. Michael’s is immense. The group’s contribution goes some way towards explaining the quality and variety of the church’s internal features; from carved frogs to painted ceilings.

Just before Christmas, I popped into St. Michael’s to do a little research for this piece and found out much more than I had hoped for. I’m always on the look-out for hidden areas – interesting bits tucked out of sight of the general public – and I wasn’t disappointed.

I was shown a spiral staircase, the organ loft and a vertical void leading up onto the roof. The organ loft provides a quite unique view across the nave and also access to a hidden ladder in the narrow void which leads up into the dark.

The Friends of St. Michael’s, whose Patron is Sir Roy Strong, will be relaunched – again as it were – in April. But, in the meantime, it is business as usual. The church is open on Saturdays for general viewing from 10am-4pm but, for me, the best time to go really is 9am-11am when delicious fry-ups are available!

Please call 01273 727362 if you would like to get involved.

Mayor’s Parlour

Brighton and Hove got their first mayors in 1854 and 1898 respectively when each town was incorporated. Lieutenant-Colonel John Fawcett was Brighton’s first and George Baldwin Woodruff was Hove’s. The mayoralty of Brighton & Hove was created in 1997 when the two boroughs were merged to form a single unitary authority.

Visitors to the Mayor’s Parlour must first ascend Brighton Town Hall’s magnificent staircase to reach the beautiful room on the first floor. It’s a large space filled with a number of pieces of furniture, some on loan from the Royal Pavilion. It was not built for this purpose though. Before 1997, the Mayor of Brighton’s parlour was in the Royal Pavilion and the Mayor of Hove’s in Hove Town Hall.

The Mayor’s Parlour has parquet flooring with deep red walls and wooden panelling. Ornaments include a bronze bust of Queen Victoria dating from 1839 and signed photos of the Queen and Prince Philip from a visit to Brighton in 1979. Visiting the Parlour is without doubt a real privilege but many people have had the opportunity over the years due to the welcoming spirit of a number of successive mayors.

The Mayor of Brighton & Hove has the use of two sets of chains – one from Brighton, one from Hove. The Hove chains are not used though, apparently because they are too easily identified as being from Hove specifically – by the presence of the letter ‘H’. There is a mace from Brighton which contains a parchment with a list of contributors, and a mace from Hove which is bigger. Brighton’s number plate, ‘CD1’, is used because Hove’s plate, ‘H2 OVE’, clearly relates to Hove. Incidentally, there is a portrait of Robert Robertson, the Mayor’s Chauffeur above the regalia cabinet. It has a good likeness too; much better than Three Children, a painting on the other side of the room dating from around 1840 featuring three creepy kids with massive heads.

The current Mayor of Brighton & Hove is the lovely Cllr Ann Norman and the Deputy Mayor is Cllr Garry Peltzer-Dunn who served as Mayor last year. Pat Dines is the Mayoral Secretary and does a thoroughly good job in running the Mayor’s diary – and that means around 750 events per year!

If you would like the Mayor to attend a function or would like to visit the Mayor’s Parlour, please contact Pat Dines on 01273 291223 or

Argus Lofts

Taking up an entire block between Robert Street and Kensington Street in the North Laine, the Argus Lofts mixed-use development occupies an extremely large site in an area consisting primarily of small individual shops.

The five storey complex today consists of a central red-brick section (made up of two adjoining older structures) with extensions faced with stone and coloured panels at either end. One of the extensions in fact replaced an earlier addition by John Wells-Thorpe, the architect responsible for Hove Town Hall. The practice responsible for the conversion though was Conran & Partners and the work was complete by 2003.

As its name suggests, there is a connection with the Argus newspaper. The local daily occupied the site from 1926-1992 and that publication’s famous reporter, Adam Trimingham, recalls the building well. The printing presses were in the cavernous basement beneath and everything shook when they were in operation! The basement is now tenanted by The Basement, a firm offering a variety of flexible spaces to experimental performers.

I’m lucky enough to have seen around what must be two of the best apartments in the building. The first was a penthouse-inspired flat at the top of the northern extension. A good friend of mine was staying there and I remember being impressed by the art in the communal hallways and the interior finish generally. That particular flat’s exterior space was its greatest asset as it was at least the same area as the interior. There were problems though. I remember finding it hilarious in 2005 that water once came pouring in through the lights in the ceiling during a storm. As more pipes became blocked, it then came up though the floor. I shouldn’t have laughed but what are friends for? There was also a rat infestation in 2007.

The second flat, much more recently, was a proper loft-style apartment with bare-brick walls, an open-plan living area, a spiral staircase and a bed up in the rafters. The owner, a reader of this column in fact, thoroughly enjoys city centre living and I can certainly see the attraction.

I imagine that the destruction of the old sections was discussed when the development of the site was considered and I’m just grateful that they survived. The use of the best bits of the existing landmark was key to the scheme’s success and the new additions, aesthetically at least, worked tremendously well.

Brighton Police Station

Having witnessed a crime in the vicinity of Churchill Square, I dutifully visited Brighton Police Station to make a statement. Described by Timothy Carder, the author of The Encyclopædia of Brighton as being, ‘amongst the ugliest of the town’s public buildings’, Brighton Police Station is no architectural treat but the visit reminded me of the fascinating way in which our force has grown over the years.

The 1810 Brighton Town Act allowed the town commissioners to appoint eight ‘watchmen’ to patrol Brighton at night. Sixteen more were appointed in 1815. Prior to this, a high constable with assistants was responsible for law and order in the town. In 1838, the first fully professional force locally was set up in the basement of what was then the new Town Hall and, by 1865, there were one hundred officers and men.

Much evidence exists of Brighton Police’s time at Brighton Town Hall. In fact, during recent years, the basement has been transformed into a successful police museum complete with cells. On the east side of the building it is still possible to see ‘POLICE’ on the frosted lower windows from the outside.

The building on John Street was opened in 1965 by the Home Secretary of the day, Sir Frank Soskice QC MP. It is essentially a huge concrete slab between John Street and William Street with two protruding wings. There is a large garage underneath and a phenomenal number of aerials above. Its look has changed greatly since it was built – for neither better nor worse really – due to the addition of external cladding. It is now rather a mix of styles as the cladding conflicts with the surrounding external walls’ inlaid flints (that once complimented decorative flints on the building itself). It projects an aura of officiousness and bureaucracy, not one of cohesion and authority as it should.

The Sussex Constabulary was formed in 1968 when a number of individual forces, including Brighton Borough Police, East Sussex Police and the West Sussex Constabulary were merged. Rather pointlessly, its name was changed to Sussex Police shortly afterwards. Brighton & Hove is today arranged as a division of Sussex Police and is in turn divided into three districts.

Brighton Police Station was designed by the Borough Engineer at the time, Percy Billington, in what must have seemed an exercise in efficiency and modernity. Hindsight exposes the project as a crime – in architecture.