Archive for September, 2012

Level Restoration

‘Memory Day’ on Saturday 29th September will see artefacts, newspaper clippings, photographs and, indeed, memories collected from local residents to celebrate the history of the Level in Brighton, which is soon to undergo a major renovation.

My own memories of the Level, as a student living just off Elm Grove, were not entirely positive. I would often walk across this grim public space on my way into town and generally found it to be unwelcoming and grimy. The dark tree-lined border with the Lewes Road seemed particularly unsafe and nothing like the grand continental boulevard that it could be with the right lighting. That was twelve years ago and little has changed. A refurbishment is well overdue.

If all goes to plan, work will start in October on a grand project that will involve both restoring and remodelling. I particularly like the idea of the reintroduction of symmetry to the southern areas of the park, and the rejuvenation of the Rose Walk. Best of all appears to be an innovative water feature within the children’s area that will use both the original boating lake and its two bridges for an entirely new purpose. The list of improvements is long and is available for perusal at www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/thelevel.

The project has not been without hiccups along the way. Planning permission was granted to move the skate park into the centre of the Level but the idea was opposed by thousands of residents for quite sound reasons. A gorgeous skate park is proposed though, which I hope to review once its concrete has set.

Cricket is often mentioned in the history of the Level and it is said to have been played there since the middle of the 18th century. The Level was formally laid out in 1822 by Amon Henry Wilds (architect of Park Crescent and Hanover Crescent nearby, along with many other famous local compositions) and Henry Phillips (the renowned landscape gardener). Some of Brighton’s oldest residents may remember the boating lake being constructed in 1927.

Whilst it is unlikely that many will recall that year, others will certainly have all kinds of other memories of the Level or items of memorabilia that those with a passion for the area would find fascinating. Please do share them.

Memory Day is being held on Saturday 29th September from 10am to 4pm in the Local History Centre at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.


Hove Station Redevelopment

Overcrowding, smallpox, cows, ‘unusually offensive’ manure, drunken fights and funfairs defined the neighbourhood to the south-west of Hove Station during Victorian times.

Although bus-related activities have taken place in the area since those days, it was the opening of the enlarged and remodelled bus depot on the north of the site in 1940 that saw the operation consolidated. 1965 was the year that demolition of the five-acre plot below the bus depot commenced, between Sackville Road, Ethel Street, Conway Street and Clarendon Road. Terraced housing, workshops and garage were replaced with four large residential blocks and several industrial units.

A proposal to demolish the bus depot and the industrial units to construct a nine-screen cinema, a climbing wall, a supermarket (Waitrose, I hope), offices, housing and a number of other bits and pieces is now in the process of being unveiled to and discussed with members of the public. It specifically involves the entirety of the four blocks which surround the Fonthill Road / Conway Street junction.

Andrew Lambor of local firm Matsim Properties is the man with the plans, and Nick Lomax and his team at Brighton-based LCE Architects have drawn them up. It is currently at the concept stage which means that now is really the time for neighbours and policy-makers to have their say. The planning stage is too late.

Seven years ago, when the country was spending more money than it had, there were major projects popping up in front of us left, right and centre. Ideas for the King Alfred, Black Rock, the Brighton Centre and the Marina came to nothing. Plans for inappropriate towers on the King Alfred seafront site gave major projects, especially those which involved tall buildings, a bad name.

This industrial location is quite different to the King Alfred in that there is no particular conservation angle nor are there buildings to the north. Any shadows that might be cast affect only a wide railway line. If the architecture is of a high quality, and it is accepted that more homes are needed, I can see little reason to not welcome this exciting proposal with open arms.

The King Alfred project was monikered the “tin-can towers’ but this scheme has not got a nickname yet, or even a name for that matter. Perhaps readers can help. I will publish any sensible, or amusing, suggestions that I receive in a column soon.


Christchurch House

The story of Christchurch House in central Brighton is as much about a co-operative as it is about buildings.

‘Christchurch’, as this modern development amongst Regency townhouses in the centre of Brighton is also known, rose from the ruins of Christ Church during the 1980s. The church, known for its tall spire, was built in 1838 and demolished in 1982. Work on this most unique development of 11 flats, with facades on both Montpelier Road and Bedford Place, began in 1985 but came to a temporary halt in 1987 when the builders went bankrupt. It was completed in 1988.

Despite the presence of a myriad of pretty pot plants across numerous balconies, the two facades appear fortress-like. This is principally down to a distinctive street-facing fire escape on each that features what I see as modern takes on battlements and arrow slits. Parapets hide pitched roofs.

I was shown around by resident Helen Russell who is, like every resident of Christchurch, a member of Two Piers Housing Co-operative, the organisation that owns this and several other buildings around Brighton & Hove. Helen explained that every resident performs functions as member of the co-operative, as landlord and as tenant. I enjoyed chatting with this engaging piano teacher and marvelled at her enthusiasm for the co-operative movement. It is hard to disagree with the principles behind co-operatives, and on the clever design of her open-plan two-bedroom flat that opens onto the much-loved shared garden.

This inner courtyard between the two matching blocks is a miniature oasis that feels incredibly safe and welcoming. The cedar-clad courtyard-facing walls of the two blocks and various slate-look roofs that are on display, along with plants and a pond, provide a rural getaway for residents. The ‘gazebo’ is the central feature which acts a meeting room. A clever touch is that all of the living rooms face inwards so everybody gets to enjoy this space as much as possible. Bedrooms face the streets.

Architect Michael Blee has certainly created something different on this historic site and residents seem to be making the most of it though I do wonder what happens when somebody doesn’t do their fair share. Not everybody is so community-minded after all.

“CO-OPERATE or DIE” says a little badge that Helen stuck on my notebook. I guess that that is one way of dealing with people who don’t put their recycling out on the right day.