Archive for August, 2013


Tuesday 8th February 2005 was the date of publication of my first piece on architecture in Latest Homes. The column was called Hot Heritage and the subject was Brighton’s Marlborough House. 399 columns later, with a name change to Building Opinions, I still have the best job in local history.

To celebrate my 400th column, I thought that I would focus on 400-year-old buildings in Brighton & Hove. There aren’t many. Marlborough House of 1765 doesn’t come close. Hangleton Manor, the subject of my second column and oldest secular building in Hove, dates from 1540 which isn’t too far off. An older Portslade Manor which dated from the early 1100s was rebuilt in 1611. I probably can’t get closer than that. It was demolished sadly and its flints became the rather odd folly in the current manor’s grounds.

In Brighton, three cottages on Black Lion Lane are claimed to date from 1563 but they are probably newer. They may well date from the early 1600s but this is unconfirmed. I should have written about 200-year-old buildings on my 200th column. It certainly would have been easier.

The oldest buildings in Brighton & Hove are churches. St Helen’s in Hangleton (late 1000s), St Wulfran’s in Ovingdean (early 1100s), St Andrew’s in Hove (late 1100s), St Peter’s in Preston (around 1250) and St Nicholas’s in Brighton (1300s) all survive to this day.

Hidden spaces have captured my imagination over the past eight years and have become something of a theme. Tunnels, cellars, bell towers, attics, and reservoirs have all featured. These involve the built environment but don’t always count as architecture. My favourite building locally is probably Furze Croft in Hove or perhaps nearby Park Gate, because of their respective strengths as dense blocks of flats. 15 Lloyd Close, an eco-house in Hove, is my favourite new building.

The worst buildings aren’t the usual suspects from the 1960s and 70s such as Hove Town Hall, which I actually quite like. The real turkeys are the missed opportunities of the 1990s and 2000s which inevitably involve pastiche and blandness – the yellow and blue curved corner building opposite the Royal Pavilion is one example.

The best moment has been writing about construction graffiti on a hidden chimney on the Metropole Hotel. I was contacted by the late builder’s daughter in Australia who came across my picture of her father’s writing unexpectedly on the internet.



Brook Place

It is always an absolute pleasure to talk to people who love buildings just as much as I do which is exactly what happened when I met Ben Copper of Nutshell Construction during a tour of Brook Place near Horsham.

Brook Place dates from the early 17th Century, if not earlier, and was once part of Brook Farm. The main building features two principal storeys on an irregular E-shaped plan with roof rooms above. The site was known as ‘Birchen Ersh’ which translates as ‘the good land overgrown with birch trees’. I saw little in the way of birches but discovered an abundance of oak – within the house itself.

Brook Place owes much of its current form to famous Sussex architect Frederick Wheeler who lovingly transformed what was a working farmhouse into a grand country home with an Arts & Crafts theme in 1911 after a period of neglect. The building’s oak windows were certainly added at this time though much is unclear, despite the commissioning of a detailed Oxford Archaeology survey.

I visited with Ben during the course of a huge works project which his firm is carrying out that involves refurbishing the stone roof, restoring the oak frame, rearranging the interior layout and adding a green oak kitchen extension.

The exterior consists of a variety of materials including original oak beams, lime render, sandstone ashlars, hung tiles and brick. Matching Roman numerals on adjoining pieces of oak show how carpenters once planned their work. Careful planning now means that any oak that has to be removed is being recycled as pegs and fillets during repairs, so that the amount of new oak that is needed is kept to a minimum.

Due to the presence of one of the most thorough scaffolding installations that I have ever seen, I did not know what Brook Place actually looked like until I got home and looked it up on the computer. It is a fine building with impressive gables and a most curious roof that is made up of a variety of sizes of Horsham Stone slabs. Small holes allow bats inside and a bat-friendly lining helps them to cling on. Nushell’s attention to detail is second to none.

Ben’s own family history can actually be traced back to 1593 locally, which is more than what we have on the history of Brook Place – but that’s a story for another day.



Medina House Interior

“The best way to save a building is to find a new use for it” says English Heritage. This is certainly true in the case of Medina House.

The Medina Baths were built in 1893-4 to the designs of P. B. Chambers by the Hove Bath & Laundry Company and occupied two buildings on King’s Esplanade flanking Sussex Road. The much larger plot on the west side was home to a 93ft pool for men and laundry rooms. It is now home to Bath Court, a modern block of flats. Medina House on the east side, once home to a 65ft women’s pool, still exists.

Once the baths had closed, and the King Alfred was firmly established as the swimming pool for Hove, Medina House was leased to Monnickendam Diamonds. This convenient arrangement lasted from the 1940s until 1994. Once vacated, the building’s deterioration was rapid.

The current owner, Sirus Taghan, actually gained permission to replace Medina House with two houses and three flats in 1999. Since then, schemes for towers of 18, 16 and 9 storeys were refused in 2002, 2008 and 2009 respectively. I would like to see the building converted into a restaurant or luxury spa.

A seemingly derelict car park alongsside Medina House, which is actually an important space due to the remains of its astonishing Royal Doulton tiles and its history as Turkish baths, is currently surrounded by hoardings. Whilst walking past during a particularly windy evening earlier this year, I stopped to re-fix one of the panels which had blown off. In order to ensure that nobody would be trapped inside, I ventured into the building’s open side door.

It struck me straight away just how dark the building was inside. I needed my largest Maglite to see where I was going. In terms of surviving features, an attractive white, turquoise and orange terrazzo floor and a wide wooden staircase leading upstairs were particularly eye-catching. An array of safes was presumably used by Monnickendam for cash and diamonds. I can’t explain though the wall upstairs that has been decorated with discarded computed motherboards and another with serial-killer-style newspaper cut-outs. A graffitied electric organ was a bit of a shock too.

A quite predictable fire on 13th May has prompted a tightening of security at Medina House but it is too little, too late, really. So many features are now either rotting, missing or destroyed.

Medina House Detail of Faience Schemex


Forfars, St James’s Street

Weatherboarding and a quirky roofline distinguish 78 St James’s Street from its rendered, parapeted, neighbours.

St James’s Street was developed from around 1790 yet most of the buildings at least appear to be Victorian. An oval plaque on the side of No. 78, an insurance mark, gives a date of 1791.

An archaeological survey by David Martin and Barbara Martin of the Institute of Archaelogy at Universtity College London that was commissioned in 1997 by Forfars Bakers – freeholder of the building and occupier of the ground floor – prompted my interest in this curious structure. A copy was given to me by Bruce Gibson who owns the upstairs flat (and whose wonderful Art Deco home on the seafront nearby was the subject of a recent column).

78 James’s Street has a timber (soft-wood) frame and is kept dry by means of weatherboarding. This is in contrast to its neighbours which tend to be of brick (or potentially bungaroosh) construction with lime render to keeps the weather at bay. The building has a varied roofline because the original roof was chopped around to incorporate an extension over its rear elements. The survey, which was carried out when there was no plaster on the internal walls, goes into incredible detail on these points. Its skilled writers describe five phases of development; from a (possibly detached) cottage-like structure to the three-storey bloated building that it is today.

An old photograph shows H. Candlin in occupation, a ‘fruiterer’ and ‘greengrocer’. This was during the inter-war period. It was then perhaps a builder’s. There are many clues as to the building’s past. I noticed a disused stone step to the left of the façade beneath a sizeable window. The original entrance was apparently in the middle though which is actually where it is today. The current arrangement of large front windows is clearly a modern intervention. Large panes of glass did not even exist in the 1790s, nor did the type of metal supports that currently hold up the whole façade. Sadly, the basement was not viewed by me nor the archaeologists. It is often the least glamorous areas that give the best information.

Dating from 1791 at the latest, 78 St James’s Street was certainly one of the first buildings on the road. A historic home is most appropriate for Forfars whose owners, the Cuttress family, have milled and baked in Sussex since the 1500s.