Connaught Annexe

“Connaught Road Council Schools” is what it says above the main entrance which suggests, quite rightly, that there were once several schools on the site. Today there is arguably less than one. That’s no bad news though. The “Connaught Annexe” has just opened as a satellite branch of nearby West Hove Infants School following years of uncertainty.

The building was designed by Thomas Simpson and built by John T. Chappell at a total cost of £12,180. Simpson was also responsible for Downs Junior School, Finsbury Road School and St Luke’s School in Brighton. The Connaught is his only surviving building in Hove.

I first came across the imposing structure during its time as the Connaught Adult Education Centre. It may be a Victorian edifice but my connection was Egyptian Art Deco – that was the subject of the course that I was attending courtesy of local expert Sarah Tobias.

The first schools officially opened there in 1884 with 229 boys, 160 girls and 241 infants (presumably the infants were also boys and girls) but sadly closed in 1984, one hundred years after it opened. Separate entrances originally existed for teachers, junior boys, junior girls and mixed infants. Following the Connaught’s spell as an adult education centre, demand for school places in lower Hove has assured its rightful position as a school for local children.

The Conaught Annexe will certainly be run by West Hove Infants, a successful local school, for its first two years. I’ve met West Hove’s excellent headteacher, Wendy Harkness, before and was fortunate enough to meet the Connaught Annexe site head, Louise Smith, on my recent tour of the gleaming refurbished building. It will eventually have three years of infants but for now there will be just three forms of reception-age children, 90 in total, with the other years added in due course. The tough choice of what to do about a junior school will have to be made soon too.

Although work is still underway, the building is clearly an excellent example of a Queen Anne-style school. Its first-rate state of preservation internally and externally helped Brighton Society members, including Ninka Willcock, in campaigning for its Grade II listed status in 2009.

Without that victory, and a successful campaign from Mike Weatherley MP for it to become a school again, perhaps we’d now be looking at a Tesco petrol station instead of a fabulous new educational establishment.