Metropole Hotel

When the Metropole opened in 1890, it was the largest hotel outside the capital and, due to its size and colour, it stood out from its neighbours like a sore thumb.

The architect was Alfred Waterhouse who was responsible for the old Hove Town Hall. He also designed the Natural History Museum in London and Manchester Town Hall. Just earlier today, I was kindly shown around the Metropole’s many hidden areas by its Director of Business Development, Martijn Dresen, so that I could gather material for at least two columns on the behind-the-scenes areas. He even patiently answered my obscure questions!

Hilton Hotels is particularly responsible when it comes to the building’s heritage and a huge refurbishment of the premises was completed in 2007. Unfortunately, other owners have not shown the same level of respect.

A firm called AVP Industries applied to turn the old Bedford Hotel into a 14 storey block of flats just before it was destroyed by fire in 1964. Even taller flats were eventually built. Soon afterwards, AVP tried to replace the Norfolk Hotel with flats. That great building still stands at least. And it was AVP that bought the West Pier in 1965 and sought permission to demolish its famous pavilion. The following, therefore, will not surprise.

AVP bought the Metropole in 1959 and made a huge number of changes, mainly for the worse. The removal of the various rooftop delicacies which characterised the building was simply inexcusable. Although the addition of the conference halls at the rear has benefitted the local economy immensely, the construction of Sussex Heights over St. Margaret’s Church has turned out to be one of the worst architectural crimes ever committed in Brighton.

I’ve often assumed, wrongly it turns out, that extra floors were added to the front of the building. Without the main spire, various gables and assorted chimneys, the building is actually lower at the front and it was further back that the residential flats were added. The Starlit Room restaurant in fact replaced the spire in the centre of the building but its glass and concrete walls are no match for Waterhouse’s brick and terracotta. It opened in 1961, closed in 1975, and is today a conference suite known as the Chartwell Room. The views which it provides really are something to behold but I would still swap it for that bronze spire in an instant.