Archive for March, 2015

Foredown Tower Update

Several themes come together to make a visit to Foredown Tower a fascinating experience.

The building began as a water tower for an adjoining isolation hospital. Only a boundary wall survives. The tower was served by a nearby underground reservoir that lives on in the area today. A distinctive beam engine (like that of the Engineerium) beside the reservoir, which is remembered by volunteer Mike Feist, is gone though.

The water tower was saved by Hove Borough Council and reopened in 1991 as a countryside centre with a camera obscura. Everyone should see the camera in action at least once, and many local school children do as a matter of course. The countryside centre is gone which is in itself curious as the South Downs National Park is famously inaccessible (or, at least, thought of as inaccessible by many local residents).

J. Every of Lewes (see their names on drain covers thoughout the city) made the 116 cast iron panels that form the old water tank at the top which, with a raised pitched roof, form a large room. Electric shutters close to allow the camera to operate. An image is projected onto a large disc in the middle of the room. At a glance, it looks like a standard picture. On closer inspection, it can be seen as a live reproduction of what is outside. Seagulls fly across the sky and cars skim across the bypass.

Two distinct groups make Foredown Tower work. The first is the volunteers, including gardeners and long-term Foredown Tower champion Mike Feist, who work so hard to make a visit pleasurable for all who come. The second is the nearby Portslade Aldridge Community who use the building as an adult learning centre.

Visit on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to see the camera in action.

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4 Marine Square

Finding a house in single occupation in any of our seafront squares and crescents is a rarity. Finding one in its original configuration is rarer still.

For years, I had been dying for a tour of the Marine Square residence of two friends of mine with whom I served on the Regency Society committee for years. It was finally arranged – just a couple of days before they sold their beloved home.

Marine Square was built during the 1820s and was awarded Grade II listed status in 1952. Some of the houses are five storeys high; others are six. Facades are either yellow-brick or rendered. Balconies with canopies set the square apart from the other compositions. Most have been converted into flats.

Two particularly interesting things stand out about the house that I saw. The first is the detail that English Heritage went into when describing the building for the listing. The second is how little the building has changed over the years.

The listing document includes reference to all manner of obscure items that wouldn’t usually be mentioned. Rare paper mache ceiling roses, that are so fragile that they are impossible to restore apparently, are featured. Marks in the walls of the rear courtyard are noted as a potential hen house. Even the coat pegs in the second floor bathroom cupboard are observed.

It is certainly true that the building has been updated as the years have passed. A custom modern kitchen now graces the basement (where it should be). Electricity has been introduced, obviously, and the switches have transparent back plates. Curved sash windows on the first floor have been replaced with doors that give balcony access – but very much in the spirit of the original building.

It’s no surprise that my friends are already missing this delightful house.

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St Michael’s Behind the Scenes

1980s classics such as The Goonies and the Indiana Jones trilogy created a whole generation longing to find hidden tunnels beneath concealed entrances in the floor.

I have often stared at the various grates on the floor of St Michael & All Angels Church in Brighton and wondered what exists below. On my latest visit, Fr Mark Lyon and I lifted one.

The remains of the original warm-air heating system were instantly recognisable. Large pipes, over one foot in diameter, once transported air around the building. Today, the old network serves as a conduit for the hot water pipes that lead to the large iron radiators that now heat the building.

A stone staircase at the rear of the building leads down into the boiler room. Two large square holes, carved into the lintel above its door, were presumably inlets for the original warm-air system. The cavernous room was clearly once home to a large coal stove that heated air for the whole building. Two large gas boilers now heat water for the radiators.

An adjoining door provides access to a spiral staircase that leads to a flat roof overlooking Powis Square. The staircase is topped by a circular turret, opposite the heating system’s disguised chimney. A door on the roof leads into a void above the north aisle with views across the nave. Lights in the north aisle can be lowered by rope from here so that bulbs can be changed at ground level.

On the way out, I spotted a ladder beneath one of the grates. Peering through the holes, it was clear that the ladder is about 12ft long and set amongst alien machinery – what I can only assume are the windchests of the original organ. I’d love to explore further.

See www.friendsofsaintmichaels.co.uk to join the Friends.

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Newhaven HSBC

Last time that I visited Newhaven, it was to see Westminster House – the former home of NatWest Bank on the High Street. This time, I came for a tour of the old HSBC a few doors up.

When HSBC closed in September last year, it did so as the only bank in Newhaven. Unmanned counters, with a thank you note from staff, greet those entering today. Behind the front wall, bolts rise from the floor where cash machines stood. The thick steel door of the vault downstairs is now open with its elaborate workings exposed. The safe within claims to be “FIRE & THIEF RESISTANT”. But it sadly wasn’t resistant to the harsh realities of the modern town centre.

The building was bought by Mike Stimpson, one of the county’s most successful property investors, for just £155,000 two and a half years ago. The seller wasn’t the bank as one might expect but, instead, the family of the building’s original developer. HSBC (well, Midland Bank, as the lease still says) never actually owned the building.

The double-fronted four-storey property consists of commercial premises at ground and basement levels with two floors of residential above (one two-storey maisonette on each side). Each maisonette will become two one-bedroom flats.

It amazes me how often the upstairs of town centre properties are forgotten. In this case, the maisonettes haven’t been occupied for decades. The building, which I suspect is late-Victorian, underwent a 1930s refurbishment and, perhaps, another in the 1960s. Indeed, one Victorian marble fireplace has inlaid 1930s tiles with what I presume to be a 1960s electric fire in front.

Little has changed here since flares were en vogue and green, blue and pink walls de rigueur. With French investment in the port promised, the future of Newhaven will not be dull.

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Linescapes

With the annual Artists Open Houses event fast approaching, I just wanted to mention an artist whose recent work highlighting local architecture has impressed me immensely.

I met architect Amalia Sanchez de la Blanca through my friends Dan and Coralie at the Claremont Hotel on Second Avenue in Hove. As a relative newcomer to Brighton (she lived in Dulwich until a year back), Amalia has got to grips with our best local historic buildings and structures surprisingly quickly.

Amalia’s style is distinct. She uses the CAD program Vectorworks and limits colours to a palette of dark/mid/light grey, yellow and mustard with black outlines. After starting with the seafront shelters, the collection now includes the Palace Pier, Birdcage Bandstand, Royal Pavilion, Dome and Corn Exchange. There is a distinct Modernist theme running throughout Amalia’s work. Of Brighton’s finest seafront buildings, Embassy Court, Al Fresco and Saltdean Lido are featured. The wider collection includes London’s Isokon Building, Royal Festival Hall and Barbican.

As regular readers might expect, I have requested more pictures of Hove. Other than several houses that have been drawn as commissions (I am particularly tempted to commission a drawing of my Osborne Villas property by the way), Hove receives little attention. Eagle-eyed history buffs may spot that the only piece of Hove that has been included is an Embassy Court chimney – it actually belongs to 1 Brunswick Terrace! Future work is likely to include a full frontal rendering of the Royal Pavilion with a cross-section that is based on Nash’s original drawings.

Amalia is currently exhibiting at the Claremont Hotel and will soon be holding a solo event from 23rd to 29th March at the Friese-Greene House Gallery on Middle Street in Brighton. She’ll then be at her Compton Avenue flat for Artists Open Houses in May. See www.linescapes.co.uk.

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