Published 16th November 2005
It’s not that I’m against modern buildings par se, it’s just that I hate the one size fits all approach. I detest the replacement of the beautiful with the drab. I abhor identikit blocks of flats and I would certainly think long and hard before I gave my support to the destruction of anything with character. The Dorset Gardens Methodist Church is an excellent example of a responsible team running an ambitious project that perfectly balances financial constraints with the upkeep of the quality of a Conservation Area.
The closest that John Wesley (1703-91), the founder of Methodism, got to Brighton was Rottingdean in 1758. His sermons are still popular today, though most of us are more familiar with the hymns written by his brother, Charles Wesley (1707-88), such as Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Brighton’s first specifically Methodist church was built on the west side of Dorset Gardens in Kemp Town and was opened in 1808. It was a square red-brick building that was accessed via a passage from St. James’s Street. It was greatly expanded over the years but was demolished to make way for a new church that was completed in 1884. This larger church was again red-brick, but with terracotta dressings and an Italianate tower. Services attracted up to two thousand people, but times changed and the church fell into disrepair. To the horror of many, it was demolished in the year 2000.
The current church was completed in April 2003 at a cost of £1.6 million. Saville Jones Architects of Worthing were asked to produce a welcoming and flexible building that would principally serve as a place of worship. It truly is a striking building. The inviting exterior has large areas of glazing and red tiles. The equally impressive interior, spread over four floors, is spacious and versatile. A long staircase leads to the top floor “sanctuary” where light comes in via a tapering tower that protrudes from the front of the building. My favourite internal features are the etched glass and bronze pillars.
Planners required a landmark building and they certainly got one. The architects won a Sussex heritage Trust award so I suppose that in this instance I can live with the flats that also had to be built on the site to pay for the project. John Wesley famously said, “The best is yet to come.” I wonder if we’re still waiting.