Archive for June, 2013

Barford Court

A high wall surrounds the entirety of a whole block on the Hove seafront, behind which is a most curious 1930s Hollywood-style home.

The high wall, and the entirety of the house in fact, have been constructed with long grey/purple bricks that came individually-wrapped from Italy. It was built for the film director Stuart Millar by the prolific cinema architect Robert F. Crombie (whose work included the Lido Cinema at the top of Denmark Villas beside which the spare bricks from the house were said to be buried).

The house, now called Barford Court, is located on a large plot that was once used to graze sheep in the middle of Prince’s Crescent. Its address is 157 Kingsway but it was originally 1 Prince’s Crescent (a far more preferable address in my mind). The building became a nurses’ home after Millar sold it to Hove Hospital in 1946, and subsequently opened as a nursing home in 1996 after it was purchased by the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution.

Finding the entrance to Barford Court is actually a little tricky. A locked gate on Kingsway simply leads into an enormous front garden. It is actually entered, by both foot and car, from the east side, beneath the east wing – the original garage block which housed four cars. The south wing contains the principal rooms. The inner courtyard would once have looked across what would once have no doubt been the largest garden in Hove. But it has been enclosed though, and now serves as a link into a large new block that was built over the garden.

I could say much about the gorgeous Modernist interior, including the fabulous bronze-railed staircase but my latest visit was about new, hidden, areas. The roof spaces were fairly interesting in terms of just analysing construction methods but best of all was the rockery that occupies a generous portion of the tip of the site.

I was shown around by several members of the lovely staff at Barford Court and was particularly lucky to see the landscaped rockery area that is usually off limits. The shaded oasis includes concealed benches, a large pond and forgotten paths which are longing to be explored. I doubt that many could identify photographs as Hove.

The rockery is just one of many details that hint at the forgotten glamour of what was undoubtedly the most stylish home ever built in Hove.

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81/81a Shirley Street

I have maintained in the past that Hove has the finest mews roads in the country – and they come in all shapes and sizes as I spotted in a recent Austin Gray auction catalogue.

We all know Poets’ Corner and, as has been adopted more recently by local estate agents, the nearby Artists’ Corner. But the area between Sackville Road, Goldstone Villas, Clarendon Villas and the railway has yet to be named. It appears to have once been called the “Hove Drove Estate”, which makes sense as Sackville Road was once called Hove Drove (a drove was a road along which sheep were walked). This vibrant spot contains a number of inconspicuous entrances, behind which there are totally hidden buildings and miniature streets.

The Austin Gray property, which is still for sale, is an entire mini-mews that includes, and is accessed through, a house that fronts Shirley Street. The road gets its name from the Shirley family who once lived at Preston Manor, and who owned land in Preston and Hove that became the Stanford Estate (which included the Avenues). It was the Stanford family that sold the land to developer George Gallard (the “George” in “George Street”) in 1872. Shirley Street, and the rest of the Hove Drove Estate, were developed in the 1870s.

Each of the roads in the area is made up of row upon row of terraced houses. Yet every now and then there is an archway in the terrace; wide enough to accommodate a car (or, more to the point, a horse and carriage). Some lead to a simple outbuilding behind. In the case of 81 Shirley Street, an archway leads through to 81a which consists of four completely derelict workshops/offices.

Ceilings are collapsing, stairs are cracking and bags of post are piling up. Previous tenants appear to have been artists and a photographer. The enclosed structures are crying out to be brought to life again. If only the right buyer would come forward to propose something suitable for this potential oasis.

The obvious mews in Hove are Cambridge Grove, Wilbury Grove and those between the Avenues. In, Brighton, Kemp Town is full of them. But there are other hidden spots around the city. I can think of at least four examples in the Fiveways area – one of which probably began as a market garden, and now contains one of the city’s finest courtyard gardens.

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Eco Open Houses 2013

Hot on the heals of Artists Open Houses is Eco Open Houses – where architecture fans don’t have to pretend to be into art to look around interesting buildings.

The purpose of the annual event, which spans two weekends in June, is to demonstrate the advantages of eco buildings to the public and share best practice amongst those who are already in the know. There are 21 properties on the list this year, several of which I have written about previously, including 15 Lloyd Close.

Tucked away in leafy Hove Park, and built over what was the rear of the rear garden of a large house on Shirley Road, 15 Lloyd Close is the futuristic home of architect Mark Pellant. I actually first visited when it was still under construction but too late to see its timber frame.

There is a certain purity to this house whereby the eco theme runs through everything, including the delicious garden. Some of my favourite plants feature including silver birch and euphorbia. It was actually this exact garden that inspired me to take up gardening as a hobby. I recall discussing the various fruit trees just after they had been planted (apple, pear and plum if I remember correctly). As one might expect, there is a huge tank beneath the patio that collects rain water for the toilets and washing machine.

The zinc roof neatly incorporates an array of 15 solar panels – 12 photovoltaic for electricity and 3 solar thermal for the heating. When I last visited, efficiency figures weren’t available as the buildings was still in its first year. Mark just told me that the house now actually makes him money. He sells £1,500 of electricity to the grid each year and takes just £500 out (plus £500 on pellets for the boiler).

15 Lloyd Close is perhaps my favourite of the 21 houses. To be avoided though is the incredibly unwelcoming 148 Hartington Road which is one of those dreary white boxes. It’s at the top of a massive hill and subject to erratic opening times.

In the past, I have written about the Smart House on Ditchling Road by Alan Phillips Architects, 20 Avondale Road by Oliver Heath, Yew Tree House by Bill Dunster and 40 Varndean Gardens by BBM. I can’t recommend each of these enough.

Eco Open Houses takes place on the weekends of 15th/16th and 22nd/23rd June. See www.ecoopenhouses.org.


Secret Garden

I’ve seen a few hidden gardens around Brighton & Hove over the years. The most intriguing is perhaps that which is accessed via tunnel from Portslade Manor. But Brunswick Square, Sillwood Road, Marine Parade and Bristol Place all offer exciting alternatives.

When I was first introduced to the forgotten area behind St Leonard’s Church on New Church Road, I knew straight away that it had huge potential for something special. The secluded spot exists in a built-up area, yet is totally hidden by trees, fences and graves. It was never consecrated which meant, with agreement from Father Stephen Terry, that my fellow volunteers and I had an entirely blank canvass – in which to get muddy.

The history of the church itself is somewhat extensive. A ‘new’ church was certainly built on the site in 1150 but it may well be that another existed before 1066. A smaller replacement structure was erected during the 13th Century. This fell into disrepair over the years and was rebuilt from 1876. A fire in 1906 led to more work taking place over the ensuing years. I particularly enjoy looking at the flint walls to determine the different construction times. A combination of whole flints, broken flints, knapped flints and knapped and squared flints makes this a particularly enjoyable exercise.

The churchyard was enclosed in around 1880 and apparently its north-west corner, the location of our ‘Secret Garden’, was home to a collection of sarsens (sandstone blocks). These stories make our work to transform the space into a community allotment a little like an episode of Time Team. We have so far unearthed a variety of church-related masonry (including pieces of graves and a memorial tablet to a Hazel Mary Theobald) along with old paths and flowerbeds.

The general plan is to reinforce the hidden nature of the space by repairing gaps in the hedges and tree coverage around it. Raised beds are being built to the designs of my friend Oliver Borrow, an accomplished local garden designer. Preparation is the key though. The committee (which includes Jane Eleini, Joi Jones, Mike Sharman and me) and a dedicated group of local volunteers have been clearing unwanted plants and rubbish for several months.

We are there every Saturday from 11am and an Action Day is planned for Tuesday 18th June. If you are good at keeping secrets, and enjoy gardening, please come along and see us.