Archive for May, 2012

Park House Squatters

When permission was granted to redevelop Park House, I knew that I had to see inside before it was gone forever.

Park House is the large Edwardian mansion between Goldstone Crescent, Hove Park Gardens and the Old Shoreham Road in Hove. In its heyday, the sumptuous residence was defined by a full-height corner bay with a protruding semi-circular window on the ground floor, several generous Mock Tudor gables, and various rubbed-brick details with ultra-slim mortar lines. Modern extensions were presumably added when it served as accommodation for Bellerby’s Language College. The Hyde Group bought the complex in early 2008 with a view to demolition.

Hyde started by submitting plans for an identikit block of flats, which were turned down, as was an appeal. This ultimately prompted the developer to knuckle down and present something decent. Plans by Andy Parsons of Brighton-based Yelo Architects were eventually passed in April for a yellow brick and zinc L-shaped block of 71 flats.

When I met Andy and Tom Shaw from Hyde on site to explore what had by then become a derelict squat, none of us had any idea how dreadfully the building had been treated by the squatters.

To get inside, we first had to get past a most necessary anti-intruder door. The original had been lain down on its side within the entranceway. Everything else of value has been stolen, including radiators and copper pipes. Large parties had quite clearly taken place within but the building more resembled the invaded colony in the film Aliens than the set of, say, House Party. In one hallway and adjoining room, insulation was hanging from the ceilings in a way that made it look like an upside-down jungle. The entirety of one particular toilet, rather than just the bowl, had been used repeatedly (which presumably put one squatter off as he used a cupboard instead).

Some of the inevitable graffiti was actually quite witty. On a complicated fire precautions poster: “*Procedure revised Nov/10 – Run like Buggery!” On a door: “Eric Pickles can jog on and FUCK Right Off!” Rather chillingly, there was anti-Jew graffiti alongside a Palestinian flag and a Smash EDO poster. Smash EDO is of course a local militant protest group that campaigns against Israel.

By the end of the summer, Park House is likely to have been demolished. I am glad that I got to see inside properly – without breaking in.


Saltdean Lido Update

Developers that wish to build on sensitive sites tend to resort to the same tactics and, in the case of Saltdean Lido, the leaseholder’s behaviour is textbook.

Running properties into the ground under the radar is a trick that is employed regularly by unprincipled developers who wish to bulldoze loved historic structures. Saltdean Lido has not been maintained for a long period of time, under the premise that the business case for doing so does not stack up. The assertion is that nobody wants to swim there. But when it is closed on sunny days and the water is green, who is really to blame?

Saltdean itself was the brainchild of Charles Neville whose dream was to develop the coast between Rottingdean and Newhaven. The architect Richard Jones was responsible for both the Lido and the nearby Ocean Hotel that were built by Neville’s Saltdean Estate Company in 1938 and 1939 respectively. In Rottingdean, he designed the St Margaret’s block of flats which was completed in 1938.

The Save Saltdean Lido Campaign was founded in 2010 to ‘hasten the departure of the current leaseholder’ and to ‘develop a business plan for how the entire site could be run by a Community Interest Company’. With 650 members, and supporters from as far afield as New Zealand and Australia, the campaign is progressing well. I periodically speak to Rebecca Crook, the group’s spokesman, who has done well to draw on the skills of a number of key experts in the team to further the cause, which ultimately involves the community running the Lido.

My own view is that Brighton & Hove City Council has severely let down Saltdean Lido. As freeholder, the council should be in a perfect position to recognise that the leaseholder in question is a textbook chiseling developer. The embarrassment of Saltdean Lido being the only building that is owned by the council to be put on English Heritage’s ‘At Risk’ Register should have prompted action months ago.

After being strung along for years, council officers are finally in discussions with the leaseholder to discuss the surrender of the lease. Such action though is a necessary distraction from the real task of transforming the Lido into a national attraction – and clarifying whether it is pronounced ‘Lee-do’ or ‘Lie-do’.

See www.saltdeanlidocampaign.org for details of two concerts that are being staged at the Lido on Friday 25th and Saturday 26th May.


Hove Park Railway

Tonnes, grams and metres are unheard of at a hidden attraction in the north-west corner of Hove’s largest park.

The Hove Park Railway is owned by the Brighton & Hove Society of Miniature Locomotive Engineers. This most British of organisations was formed in 1962 when a group of keen rail enthusiasts broke away from the more general Brighton & Hove Society of Model Engineers.

An earlier, much shorter, incarnation of the railway was kept at Withdean Zoo (that’s another story) and consisted of 2.5”, 3.5” and 5” gauge ‘portable’ track, thought to have been constructed from redundant air-raid shelter steel. It was moved to Hove Park in 1951 and, after 500 passengers in around five hours, was an instant success. Another track was added in 1957 alongside the original which effectively doubled passenger capacity. Each was then extended to 270ft in 1958 and again, after the removal of 25 tons of soil, to 339ft in 1967.

The circuit of today takes its form from the works of 1975 which saw the creation of a 2,000ft continuous track of 3.5” and 5” gauge with a loop at either end. But this was destroyed, along with hundreds of surrounding trees, in the hurricane of October 1987. Only the club headquarters, which had opened in June of that year, survived.

A community project raised £13,000 for the most solid of replacement structures. Residents and businesses were encouraged to ‘sponsor an arch’, as evidenced by the plaques on the various concrete sections. The new track was opened in 1992 by the then Mayor of Hove, Cllr Mrs Arlene Rowe.

I was told straight away about locomotives and carriages, tenders and tanks, boilers and batteries. Every guy has a serious passion for their hobby including Chairman Mick Funnell and enthusiast Colin Hancox. Michael Lloyd took time to show me his tender engine, one of two locomotives that he owns. Another member owns four. Peter French actually started a long career on the railway as a fireman aged 15. Bob said that he had been a member for around 30 years and then realised that he joined in 1962. Time flies, like the model trains.

The Society will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in September but the busy Hove Lions Carnival on Monday 4th June comes first. Tickets cost 50p or £1, depending on the size of the kid. Euros are definitely not accepted.

See www.hoveparkrailway.co.uk.


40 Varndean Gardens

When I bumped into my friend Nigel Robinson at the Smart House on Ditchling Road during last year’s Eco Open Houses, I had no idea that many of the features that were being showcased during the event would turn up in his new home six months later.

Nigel’s passion for eco building may well have been inherited from his mother who told the architects exactly what she wanted when the family home was constructed at 40 Varndean Gardens. It was completed in 1958 and featured a south-facing rear garden with large windows at the back and small windows at the front. Nigel can recall it being built and has the photos of him on site to prove it.

Walking up Varndean Gardens to see Nigel and his wife Sally was a treat in itself as various trees were in full blossom at the time. No. 40 has been given a radical overhaul by Nigel and Sally with the help of BBM, a Lewes-based firm of sustainable architects, to update its eco credentials and create extra space and a new layout.

The main structural change to the house is the addition of a large bedroom with en-suite bathroom above the garage, which actually protrudes from the front of the house. The entire building has been insulated externally and clad with lengths of finger-jointed coppiced sweet chestnut. The roof features 16 photovoltaic panels to generate electricity and two solar thermal panels to heat water. The guttering and downpipes are galvanised steel and the porch roof is zinc.

The 18mm oak-laminated floors that grace most of the interior have been specifically sourced from France, rather than China, for obvious reasons. The kitchen is from Harvey Jones, a British firm, and the recycled glass Resilica kitchen worktops come specifically from Newhaven. The windows are Velfac and the doors are Sunflex.

Like all good eco houses, this home comes with a gadget room which, in this instance, is the garage. This is where the meters, boiler, tank and controls for the underfloor heating are kept. It is also a hub for the Cat 5 and Cat 6 cables that ensure that the house is future-proofed for some time yet. Logically, the garage door itself is actually insulated.

This year’s Eco Open Houses will be held on 25th-28th October. Perhaps Nigel will consider opening his own eco house this year to inspire others. I hope so.


62 Rowan Avenue

Although the town was not of strategic importance during the Second World War, Brighton was an ideal spot for German planes to drop their unused bombs.

Precautions against air-raids were certainly made. Blackouts were enforced at night, shelters were dug, and children (and treasures from the museums) were sent to the countryside for safekeeping. Despite the preparations, around 200 people were killed in over 50 bombing raids.

I have been aware for some time that 24-26 Park Crescent were destroyed during one such raid in 1942 and were not in fact rebuilt until 1983. I had no idea though that nine large bombs were dropped on two roads that I have often walked along, Rowan Avenue and Elm Drive in Hangleton, during the raid of 26th August 1940. One person was killed and two others were injured.

Two buildings were destroyed on Rowan Avenue, Nos. 62 and 64, yet the replacement structures which stand in their place today look just like their neighbours. But there are some clues as to their past and these were pointed out to me by one observant estate agent. Simon Francis from Fox & Sons in Hangleton is currently marketing No. 62 on behalf of the family of the original owner – who purchased it for £620 brand new in 1946. Braybon, a well-known local building firm that usually operated in the Withdean area, was responsible for its construction.

The two replacement houses form the northern end of a terrace of six buildings. The older neighbours feature wooden decorative beams yet their counterparts on the new buildings are made of sand and cement, rather than wood. On the ground floor, the bricks are a different colour and above, on the first floor, a small triangular bay window is missing. Vents are located in slightly different positions. None of these is noticeable though.

Although the interior is somewhat dated, there are two features that I really like. The first is a variety of Bakelite switches and handles that are most attractive. The second is a solid fitted 1950s kitchen that most people would turn their noses up at, which I find infinitely preferable to the chipboard equivalents of today. Behind is a generously-proportioned garden with a concrete coal bunker that comes complete with asbestos lid.

See Simon at Fox & Sons to purchase this property for £244,950 – an increase of just 39,408% on its original purchase price.