Westminster House

Fed up with leasehold property, Brighton resident Jian Farhoumand set out to buy a freehold property in Newhaven after being charmed by a friend’s house in the heart of the town. When he heard that the old NatWest building on the High Street had just come on the market, he snapped it up.

One can be forgiven for not knowing that Newhaven even has a high street. A dreary one-way system and over-promoted retail park see to it that few visitors actually stop to explore the heart of Newhaven. The old bank, dubbed ‘Westminster House’ by Jian, occupies a large and prominent corner plot at the foot of the High Street but has sat empty for around four years.

A stone shield on the Grade II listed building’s façade hints at its origins. Two diagonally-opposite corners display the flag of the City of London; the other two contain martlets which appear on the emblem of Sussex. With this in mind, the building was undoubtedly a branch of the London and County Bank (which merged with the London and Westminster Bank in 1909 to become the London County and Westminster Bank). By 1970, after several more acquisitions and mergers, it had become NatWest.

64 Western Road in Hove, on the Holland Road corner, is a similar structure. It has two entrances – one for the bank and one for the floors above. It features sandstone on the façade at ground level and red brick on the two floors above. And it has a large basement along with generously-proportioned attic rooms at the top. That building is today a restaurant but it also began as a branch of the London and County Bank.

During my tour, Jian pointed out that each entrance actually has its own postcode. At that point, his plan was to rent out the ground floor, and presumably basement, on a commercial basis. The three floors above were to become residential again, which was their principal use throughout much of the building’s life.

The harbourmaster of Newhaven is said to have lived at the top on account of its views across the harbour. The building’s dumb waiter, which could easily be brought back into operation, may well have been used for his food.

Since my visit, Jian has won planning permission to turn Westminster House into…a house. At over 4,000sqft, I’m banking on it becoming the finest residence in Newhaven.