Hove Town Hall

The destruction of Hove Town Hall on 9th January 1966 by fire was felt deeply by the people of Hove. Indeed, it is still mentioned today. But it wasn’t just a much-loved local building that was lost, it was a treasure of national importance.

The architect of the red-brick, terracotta and Portland stone structure was Sir Alfred Waterhouse, one of the great Victorian Gothic revivalists. Given that Waterhouse was also responsible for the Natural History Museum in London, Manchester Town Hall and the Metropole Hotel in Brighton, its importance cannot be emphasised enough.

Local architect John Wells-Thorpe was appointed to design a new building and carried out the imaginative task of flying a group of dignitaries from the specially-formed Civic Buildings Committee to Holland to see the best of what had been built there. Hilversum’s town hall of 1934, designed by Willem Marinus Dudok, was on the group’s list and its influence on the final result in Hove can clearly be seen.

The new building grew from the old site which had been enlarged by demolishing buildings on Tisbury and Norton Roads. The door numbers on what are now the first houses on those streets give some idea of what was removed. Concrete clad with Derbyshire spar and acres of bronzed Spectrafloat glass famously dominate Hove Town Hall today. It opened in 1974 when a very specific type of architecture was in vogue. That popularity reached an all-time low several years ago but a revival seems to be on the horizon. Art Deco architecture, now immensely popular, has just been through a similar process after all.

Much of the criticism levelled at Hove Town Hall today is a little unfair as a number of the building’s best features have actually been removed over the years. Concrete, whether its clad or not, isn’t the friendliest of materials yet the wondrous cascade of tropical plants which provided a pleasant welcome are no longer in place. Despite the size of the building compared to its predecessor, a large undercroft fronting Church Road and a courtyard with a Japanese garden were turned into offices. A tunnel even exists which provides access to the car park opposite – but it is no longer used.

John says that he “wasn’t seeking to be modern for superficially stylistic reasons.” Hopefully he’ll chuckle when I point out that every architect says something along those lines to explain something controversial.