Archive for October, 2012

Regency Weekend

As a committee member of the Regency Society some years ago, I wondered how we would celebrate the bicentenary of the Regency period. Regency Society Weekend, which celebrated the two-hundredth anniversary of the end of the first year of the Regency era, was all that I imagined and more.

Regency Society Weekend brought together some of the finest speakers in the country including Sir Simon Jenkins and Dan Cruikshank. I attended the talk of my friend Jackie Marsh-Hobbs to see what she had to say about The origins of the Regency Society and conservation of the Royal Pavilion.

The story begins in 1850 when Queen Victoria sold the Royal Pavilion to the people of Brighton. But everything was removed from within; much of which was put in storage in the basement of Kensington Palace or installed in the new east wing of Buckingham Palace which was completed that same year. Chandeliers were even taken as evidenced by the distinctive chandelier from the Pavilion’s Music Room which can be seen to this day behind members of the royal family when they stand on the famous Buckingham Palace balcony whilst waving to the public. Some chandeliers were returned during the 1860s but many are replacements.

The Pavilion gradually fell into disrepair. Muddy bronze-coloured paint soon covered gold leaf. The entrance hall doors were painted corporation green. An ambitious group called the Regency Festival Committee ran a series of successful events – Regency Exhibitions – from 1946. These public displays demonstrated to visitors just how special the Pavilion could be with the right furniture in place. The Regency Society was formed the year before, and shared members with the Festival Committee, and also contributed photographs and other items to the Exhibitions.

The legacy of the Regency Exhibitions was a restored Royal Pavilion. They carried on until the 1970s until the Pavilion provided all-year-round complete exhibitions of its own, as it does to this day. When the Regency Festival Committee disbanded in 1957, its profits of £4,480 were given to the Regency Society and used to purchase various items which exist in the Pavilion until this day, such as the carpet in the Banqueting Room and a bust of George IV.

It may have lasted for just several days, but Regency Society Weekend captured the magic of those influential Regency Exhibitions of old. The current committee should be very proud indeed.

See to join today.

20 Avondale Road

The owners of some of the most advanced properties in Brighton & Hove will be opening their doors on 25th-28th October for the fifth Eco Open Houses event.

The impressive list of environmentally-friendly buildings includes 15 Lloyd Close, 1a Whichelo Place, Yew Tree House and the Smart House; each of which I have written about already. I visited designer and architect Oliver Heath at 20 Avondale Road in Hove to see why he will be welcoming members of the public into his home over the long weekend.

Beneath insulating render and a sweet chestnut-clad façade exists the remains of a standard post-war property. But the detached house has been modified much. The integral garage was turned into a kitchen. Four bedrooms are now three with a large family bathroom. Wide patio doors have been installed.

Of the many additions, Oliver told me that they have “got to be beautiful and have an inherent level of sustainability in them”. This particularly goes for the eye-catching and hard-wearing Resilica work surface in the kitchen. It was made in Newhaven from a mix of broken glass and resin. Other attractive yet sustainable features include
aluminium guttering and downpipes, Velfac windows, and a wood-burning stove.

Behind the scenes lurk some quite serious gadgets, which are of great appeal to an engineering graduate like me. A heat recovery system cuts down on waste by using warm unwanted air to heat new fresh air from outside. Solar thermal and photovoltaic panels on the roof heat water and generate electricity respectively. As winter approaches and my own home is getting a little chilly, I am reminded just how pleasant it is to live in a house that simply does not get cold, especially when it costs so little to run.

Much is about good old-fashioned common sense – something that Oliver can trace back to his teenage days as a windsurfing instructor when he was inspired by recyclable debris that found its way onto the beach. This means not wasting cash on identikit fixtures and fittings, whilst ensuring that natural resources are not wasted either.

A wall that has been fashioned from larch that came down in Kew Gardens in the 1987 storm, and individual drawers that have been mounted on their bases as shelves, are two exciting examples which must be seen in the flesh to really be appreciated.

To visit this house and others, see

British Engineerium Works

A huge crane is all that gives away to passers-by the ambition of the ongoing works to the British Engineerium. But an open day will soon give the public the chance to see what has been going on since Hove’s great engineering museum closed six years ago.

The Engineerium opened as the Goldstone Pumping Station in 1866 and was operated by the Brighton, Hove and Preston Constant Service Water Supply Company. It was soon under pressure to supply more water so a second engine, twice as powerful as the first, was added in 1876. The two steam engines lasted well but, by the 1950s, this method of power generation was outdated. By the 1970s, the ornate buildings were under threat from the wrecking ball.

A successful campaign by Jonathan Minns and a dedicated team of engineering enthusiasts saw the buildings, and much of their contents, saved and put on show to the public. They opened as a museum in 1976 and became the British Engineerium in 1981. I recently met Bob Keenan and Hannah Staff for a tour of what is currently a hectic building site to see what Mike Holland and his team have been up to since he purchased the site six years ago.

I had forgotten just how large the plot is. At 3.5 acres, there are lots of nooks and crannies to explore. Most people know the very Victorian pump houses and famous chimney, but how many are aware of the grotto, 7ft deep cooling pond and buried reservoir? Several new buildings have been added, including the underground ‘ride’, which is to take visitors on some sort of interactive journey through our country’s engineering heritage. On the subject of the subterranean, I have long wanted to see inside the brick-vaulted reservoir. Bob wants to put a Hawker Harrier on top of it.

Another idea is to build Charles Babbage’s unrealised Victorian dream – the steam-powered computer. Embarking upon this mammoth task, and others, won’t be possible without a large team of volunteers, which is what Bob is searching for now. I recently wrote that Amberley Museum has over 400 volunteers. The Engineerium will need to capture the imagination of Brighton & Hove’s engineering fraternity – young and old – if a similarly strong team is to be built.

To that end, an open day is being held on Sunday 28th October from 11am to 4pm. See for details.

Old Police Cells Museum

A basement can give so much away about a building’s past.

As principal floors are refurbished and redecorated, lower areas are often not used to their potential, or are simply forgotten. One such example is the basement of the Metropole Hotel where new services, such as boilers, have been added without removing old equipment. The old features – usually unglamorous – survive as the upper areas change as quickly as fashions change.

In the case of Brighton Town Hall, its basement presents all sorts of clues about the classical structure’s history and, in particular, it contains the Old Police Cells Museum, which is accessed from the building’s attractive foyer. I recently met with Trustee Phil Mason for an up to date tour.

The main attraction of the museum is a collection of 13 disused police cells, which divides up as 8 for men and 5 for women. Spread amongst and around the cells is a variety of different exhibits. I was more curious about the fabric of the building itself though, including all sorts of inscriptions that had been added to the cells over the years.

“THE COPS HERE ARE FAT C***S” (my asterisks obviously) was one inspired case in point but another, “DAVE THE ROCKER 8TH JUNE 1964”, does capture the imagination. It was written not long after the so-called Battle of Brighton that was fought by Mods and Rockers on 17th-18th May. Incidentally, the alley scene in Quadrophenia was filmed just over the road.

No doubt of great interest to a delegation from Subterranea Brittanica, whom I bumped into whilst looking around, is the sub-basement. This contains the parquet-floored police clothing store (where ‘capes’ and ‘breeches’ were kept) and old toilets but also, outside the confines of the museum, various boiler rooms that give away much about how the building was put together. Poured concrete ceilings with steel supports suggest a major layout change. This corresponds with reconstruction work that took place in 1897-99 that included enlargement of the police department.

Top of my list of potential improvements would be the bringing into use of several areas that are currently used by the council for storage but Phil has ideas of his own. “I don’t know if you could get a panda car in but it wouldn’t be through lack of trying” said Phil. I can quite believe it.

Call 291052 to book a tour or see for information.

Amberley Museum & Heritage Centre

It is hard to imagine Amberley Museum & Heritage Centre in its previous incarnation as the Amberley chalk pits. After all, the man-made valley was once so white that workers suffered from snow blindness. With so much greenery now packed in, including a variety of orchids, it is hard to imagine that lime production ceased so recently.

These glorious surroundings provide the perfect backdrop to a huge collection of industry-related buildings, vehicles and exhibits that is loved and maintained by a team of 400 volunteers. West Sussex County Council owns the site and leases it to the museum which operates as a registered charity.

Probably the most famous of the buildings on the site is the De Witt Kilns which have been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The block of brick kilns was designed by a Belgian called De Witt and built in around 1905. When I visited in 2005, restoration work had not then commenced. The Heritage Lottery Fund grant was certainly spent well.

Another structure that I was glad to see again was Hove Station’s old ticket office, which I last saw at Hove Station funnily enough. The handsome single-storey structure used to be situated at the north end of the pedestrian bridge that crosses Hove Station and suddenly vanished in 2004, along with the many trees to its east, when new sidings were added. Many feared that the listed building had simply been destroyed. I was delighted to see it again in its new role as ‘Brockham Station’, which now serves the railway that transports visitors from one end of the quarry to the other.

On the subject of bridges, as the Golden Gate Bridge is not particularly close by, I failed to recognise Amberley Museum as the site of Zorin’s mine in the 1985 Bond classic A View to a Kill. It wasn’t until I chatted with Museum Curator Claire Seymour that I wished that I had paid a little more attention when I watched the film last weekend at my nan’s.

Recent trips to Amberley Museum, the British Engineerium and Hove Park Railway remind me that we Brits tend to do innovation better than anyone else in the world. We need people like Claire and the army of volunteers – such as Jim Hawkins and Chris Kirk who both showed me around – to inspire that whole new generation of engineers that we so desperately need.