Archive for June, 2010

Brighton & Hove Bus and Coach Company 75th Anniversary

It’s going to take a lot for me to forgive Brighton & Hove Bus and Coach Company (open and shut case of car written off by bus whilst parked, refusal by nastiest of bureaucrats to settle insurance bill) but a recent rally organised to celebrate the firm’s 75th birthday did help somewhat.

A sunny Madeira Drive was the perfect spot for the presentation of a fantastic collection of local buses from both past and present. The first bus in the long line of display vehicles was the newest addition to the fleet, a 2009 Scania Omnicity. This section of the line-up was made up of buses belonging to the firm – some old like a 1965 AEC Routemaster; some new like a 2002 Mercedes-Benz bendy-bus. The old ones have so much more character though.

A quite staggering collection of historic buses in private ownership formed the second section of the line-up and featured my favourite bus of the day, Bob Gray’s 1953 Leyland Tiger TS8 Beadle painted in Southdown’s trademark green. Only 30 were built and Bob’s is the only one still in existence. The interior has some great details including Art Deco-inspired lights, a roller blind-style sun visor and a series of large wind-down windows for the passengers. This delightful bus, which has been painstakingly restored by Bob, goes out on display around a dozen times each year so is certainly no mothballed museum piece.

The 75th anniversary relates specifically to the formation of Brighton, Hove & District, a company that was created in 1935 by the firm Tilling for its operations in this area. Various arrangements were in place long before and, indeed, after that date.

The funniest moment of the day was watching a line of keen bus enthusiasts waiting patiently for a clear shot of the delightful ‘Brighton Belle’, a 1971 Leyland Leopard Plaxton painted in the colours of the famous train of the same name. After around ten minutes, the crowds suddenly parted leaving one just one person in the way of the photographers’ lenses. A couple of polite requests asking the lady to briefly stand aside resulted in the dippy individual thinking that she was to be the subject of the photograph.

This misunderstanding was soon cleared up when a Lieutenant Colonel type bellowed out loudly to the amusement of all around, “Bloody hell woman – you’re no Brighton Belle. It’s the bus we want!” Classic.

Brighton Station

Now that I am commuting up to London again, it seems only appropriate that I look into the fascinating history of Brighton Station.

Of the eight railways stations in Brighton & Hove, Brighton Station is of course the largest. Maybe that’s why I haven’t dedicated a single column to it over the past five years – it seemed too obvious a topic perhaps. Its rendered classical façade, glass canopy and enormous curved train sheds really are unmistakable but rumours of hidden areas to investigate have drawn me to write now.

The idea of the London to Brighton line was not popular in the press initially with one newspaper reporting that “Many were of the opinion that a railroad to Brighton would inundate the town with the scum of the Metropolis”. It opened in stages and was complete by September 1841 with London Bridge serving as its London terminus. ‘5,000 man and 50 horses’ were famously responsible for constructing the line which featured five tunnels (including the castellated northern entrance of the Clayton Tunnel), a number of huge cuts and the magnificent Balcombe Viaduct.

Sir John Rennie and John Rastrick were the line’s engineers but David Mocatta was responsible for Brighton Station itself. Several prominent modifications have transformed the building over the years though the original building can quite clearly be seen still. The bridge over Trafalgar Street, for example, was not original and was in fact added in 1845 (and subsequently widened in 1863 and 1865). The platforms have been extended on a number of occasions but the biggest changes took place in 1882-3 when elegant canopy at the front and the huge arched sheds were added. I’ve heard that there are all sorts of interesting hidden spaces beneath the platforms and will be in touch shortly with the powers that be to find out more.

Maintenance and, indeed, fabrication of carriages took place at the Brighton Railway Works to the east of Brighton Station. Whilst the goods yard at Hove Station and the entirety of the former Kemp Town Station were built over some time ago to become the Sackville Trading Estate and Freshfield Industrial Estate respectively, the land at Brighton sat derelict from 1969. It is now home to the rather disappointing and inaccessible so-called ‘New England Quarter’.

A large plot remains undeveloped so hopefully something exciting will be built to add life to the area. Another supermarket perhaps?

Hove Beach Huts

A day after this piece is published, the first owners of a new batch of £12,000 beach huts just south of Hove Lagoon will be taking possession of their new summer bases. The huts have sold remarkably quickly and as I write, two weeks ahead of publication, seven remain after the first ten were snapped up in a matter of days.

Hove’s first beach huts appeared in the early 1930s and by 1936 some 290 were in place. They were originally situated on the south of the promenade but were moved to their more logical place on the north. The number of huts has grown over the years though the hurricane of 1987 destroyed or damaged some 70% of them. Beach huts are only found locally in Hove but there are ‘beach chalets’ of brick construction in Saltdean, Rottingdean, Ovingdean, Madeira Drive – and Hove.

I met the agent who is looking after the current sales, Barry Hough, on site to see the new huts up-close. Those nearing completion already have their regulation green and burgundy paint scheme. Owners do get to pick the colour of the doors at least. I think of them as little houses but they’re in fact marketed as commercial property as they bizarrely attract business rates (currently £45 per year after discounting). The legitimacy of the tax was disputed in 1993 but the council won the case. The tribunal did at least call for the rates to be lowered. There is also a licence fee for the privilege of keeping a hut on the public promenade of £283 per annum.

I took the trouble to visit Jackie, Les and the lads at Ace Joinery who actually built the huts. No doubt the contract was put out to tender but it would have been crazy for anybody but Ace to carry out the work as the firm is based just a couple of hundred metres away – and their work is second to none. I know because they made all of my new doors and sash windows.

The huts are of European Redwood construction with ply panels. It’s fascinating to watch the entire process from start to finish in the joinery. Unsawn timber enters the building from the nearby harbour and leaves as completed beach huts. Jackie even turned her hand to some of the painting! There is little waste as wood chippings are sold to horse owners.

12 Richmond Terrace

A hopeful knock on the door of one of Brighton’s best homes (more of that in a few weeks) led to a fantastic tour of the owners’ last home – 12 Richmond Terrace.

Haydn Hughes and his partner bought their former home at Richmond Terrace two and a half years ago when it was in an entirely different state of repair. It had been with the previous owner for 35 years and prior to that it was a doctor’s surgery.

Starting at the top of the four storey building, a wooden pull-down ladder leads onto the slate and lead roof via a raised roof-light. An interesting drainage arrangement involves water falling towards the centre of the roof into a pipe running through the house. It meets a lead gulley and then leaves at the rear. The roof-light on one neighbouring property has been removed but on the other side the entire valley has been filled in and a dreadful flat roof created. The roof provides close-up views of several jelly mould-like chimney pots and also of the terracotta mouldings of Brighton Technical College two doors away.

The second floor of the building is situated within the building’s mansard roof and includes three bedrooms and a shower room. The drawing room is situated on the first floor and Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and grapes, is celebrated in the cornicing. That room’s fireplace is not original to the building but is a genuine Regency article, unlike the 1930s fireplace in the master bedroom suite at the rear.

Although each room and floor has its own identity, themes throughout include floorboards painted black, Forbes & Lomax Invisible Lightswitches, brass and electrical sockets embedded in the floor.

A great detail is to be found in the dining room at the front on the ground floor – shutters on the windows which slide away into cavities beside each window. The parlour at the rear has a different type of screen which slides up from beneath the windows, perhaps to provide privacy. A beautiful key with the inscription ‘GIBBONS WOLVERHAMPTON’ sits in a polished rim lock in the hallway.

The oasis-like garden once included considerably more land but a portion was taken by the Phoenix Brewery many years ago. The plot is now a crèche but apparently it will revert back to the house’s ownership in around 9,000 years. Not quite in time for the summer.

Swanbourne Lake

When I first saw the view across Swanbourne Lake in Arundel I was immediately reminded of the fabulous vista created by John Nash in St. James’s Park in London. Arundel’s history is equally regal.

The story of Arundel is impossible to separate from that of the Dukes of Norfolk, the occupants of Arundel Castle which towers above all else nearby. Swanbourne Lake began as a mill pond and was purchased, along with adjacent land, by the 11th Duke of Norfolk in 1787. The castle’s surroundings were tidied in 1892 and Mill Road was built to replace the old Mill Lane by the 15th Duke. It leads from Arundel town centre to Swanbourne Lake, the Arundel Wetland Centre and the Black Rabbit pub (hence my original visit for lunch one Sunday last year). Two rows of mature trees line each side and a small stream with a variety of waterfowl runs parallel to it. Judging by the size of the burrows in the bank, there are water voles too.

Swanbourne Lake itself is accessed via two large wooden gates which are held up by octagonal stone pillars. Immediately to the right is Swanbourne Lodge which is today used as tea rooms. The lodge was built in 1852 and is of flint construction with sandstone quoins. Its best features are prominent Dutch-style gables and oversized chimneys which rise from a lichen-covered slate roof.

Coots, swans, geese, several types of duck, and a number of naughty seagulls all call Swanbourne Lake home. It is possible to walk around its perimeter through woodland where there are owls, woodpeckers, bats and snakes. This is where my friends and I picnicked on a more recent visit. We then went on to hire a small rowing boat and managed to feed the cygnets up close.

In the early 2000s, Swanbourne was the subject of a large works programme. In times of drought, the lake would become a mud flat and Environment Agency investigations attributed incidents to low rainfall (obviously), increased siltation and the modern pressures of public water use on the water table. The problem was solved by dredging the lake in order to increase its depth which, in effect, put a more generous buffer in place for dry spells.

Swanbourne Lake’s beauty was recognised by both Constable and Turner. That acknowledgement continues today in the form of 100,000 visitors each year. I can certainly see why.