Newsletter, May 2011

Chairman’s letter

I was sitting in the Giggling Squid with my wife the other evening – a window table with a grand view of Church Road. We had just come back from Paris and enjoyed the hustle and bustle and marvelled yet again at the huge investment in the public domain including street washing and beautifully laid out public spaces.

What took my fancy as so often before were the boulevards with double rows of well maintained trees on either side, providing shade and mellowing the stern buildings on either side. And here we were in Church Road – our view restricted by parking, only allowing the narrowest of pavement –probably the most desolate view in town and yet probably the biggest concentration of restaurants, all attracting numerous customers. How I ask myself do we tolerate such a miserable environment – if only we took heart and had a little bit of guts, then this road could be converted into a boulevard – take half a lane out on either side, widen pavements and plant trees. A solid line of trees like the Victorians did.

It would provide a huge benefit to business and after the initial cri de coeur from the motorist lobby it would be liked and well used by all and sundry. Passegiata in Church Road!

This leads me on to our role as a civic society – we are supposed to encourage high standards in architecture and town planning. This means not just being reactive and largely negative to new ideas and proposals, but being prepared to influence and shape the future of our city, being proactive and creating alliances that help bring about much needed positive changes.

I believe we need massive investment in our environment, good buildings, a much better streetscape, a solid renewables infrastructure, public art – all of which should be able to retain the best of what we have got but create a much better city. This also means that we as a civic society need to be prepared to support good development proposals and encourage the elected members of the council to take a more positive stance than often is the case.

Since the last letter we have supported several proposed developments, which we believe would bring very substantial benefits to Hove (and Brighton).

Firstly there is PortZed, the first totally zero emission development (code 6) in the city on Kingsway at the edge of Shoreham Harbour. This development shows the way ahead for new building in the city, with good quality dwellings with minimum future energy costs. The proposal has been in preparation for 3 years involving all potential stakeholders. Now opposition is rising locally for very narrow minded reasons – we can only hope that the council committee that will decide the application recognises the importance of this development to the city.

We have also supported the proposals for an additional exhibition gallery to the Engineerium which seeks to reflect the industrial character of the old pumping station, and we hope this can be resolved speedily as we all are very keen to see the Engineerium up and running again.

We have also expressed our formal support to the West Pier Trust, who are doing a sterling job and hope that it will soon be possible to move on the i360. See Rachel Clark’s contribution in this newsletter.

Our campaign for better standards for new dwellings continues as we make representations and seek alliances across the city on this.

In addition, we are now asking for an in-depth study of ways of harnessing the huge amount of heat which is being generated every day at Shoreham Power station – the heat lost we believe is equivalent to the total heating needs of the city and in energy terms almost equals the energy to be generated by the proposed Rampion offshore windfarm.

Surely we can’t afford such a waste of energy?

I keep calling for more volunteers, and we have indeed a steady trickle of people joining. Do help us – here is your chance to influence the future of our city.

Helmut Lusser

50th Anniversary celebrations

These got off to a good start with the very successful dinner at the Gallery restaurant at City College on March 29th. 27 members and guests enjoyed a congenial evening with excellent food and drinks – an Italian themed evening.

Feedback suggests that the demand may be there for this to be an annual event.

We were blessed with perfect spring sunshine and cloudless blue skies for our excursion to Michelham Priory and Alfriston on April 9. Brighton & Hove Coaches supplied an executive coach and an obliging driver, and everything worked like clockwork.

We very much appreciated the support of our friends at the Kingscliffe Society (the area of Brighton running from the Old Steine towards Kemp Town, and from the seafront northwards). With a 49 seater coach and about 22 participants or so everybody had a good seat.

The highlight of the day was the tour of the priory with Leslie Weller’s authoritative commentary on the furniture throughout.

Formerly of Sothebys, Leslie specialises in English furniture making in the 15th to 17th centuries. Oak was the wood of choice, and elm, yew and walnut were also used. His commentary was absorbing, as evidenced by the enthusiasm of the questions asked by our party in each room.

The gardens were beautiful – even bluebells were out – and there were various other features to enjoy.

Members of the mediaeval archery group were there, in authentic clothes of the period, with magnificent longbows at least 6 foot tall: ‘as used at Agincourt’, they said. I tried to pull the cord back and couldn’t move it an inch. What strength those archers must have had!

Our driver obliged us by taking us to Alfriston via a route with a wonderful view of the Long Man of Wilmington. Alfriston is a beautiful village. The Clergy House was fascinating for those who chose to visit, with pretty gardens, but there was so much else to enjoy – the riverside, the parish church (‘the Cathedral of the Downs’) and  numerous tea-rooms and speciality shops.

The day was a good balance between organised events and free time, and I am glad everyone seemed to have had an enjoyable day out.

For me an abiding memory is sitting in the peaceful garden behind the Great Barn and watching swallows swooping down across a brilliant blue sky: magical.

When Mike Holland gave us a talk about the British Engineerium (Hove) in January, he kindly offered to give us a private tour in April. 25-30 persons gathered there for an interesting look around the various buildings. The site manager, Steve Rather, gave us a very authoritative and interesting tour, showing us progress and outlining plans.

We are certainly lucky that the Engineerium is in the hands of such a dynamic character as Mike Holland and we will do anything we can to support his endeavours at the British Engineerium.

Enclosed with this newsletter are application forms for two more visits this summer – Portslade and Southwick. I am confident they’ll prove to be popular, so it’s first come first served! Thanks for your support of our celebration programme.

Before leaving the subject of anniversaries, we would like to congratulate the Brighton & Hove Society of Miniature Locomotive Engineers, who run the miniature railway in Hove Park. It is 60 years old and still going strong.

The rest of the dates for this year: Saturdays: May 28, June 25, July 30, August 13, August 27, Sept 24, October 29. Also Mondays May 30 and August 29, and Sunday July 17.

Opening times from 2:00-5:00 pm, £1 (50p children). (May 30 opens 12:00 noon). Give it a go – you are never too old to have a ride on a miniature railway!

Elaine Evans

Blue plaques

Until her resignation, Carolyn Oxenbury was our representative on the Commemorative Plaques Panel. I am delighted to take her place.

By happy timing, within weeks an unveiling took place for Hablot Knight Browne at 8 Clarendon Villas, Hove.

The Mayor, Councillor Geoff Wells, gamely perched on a precarious-looking contraption constructed in the basement in order to reach the plaque. Unperturbed, he said a few words and posed for press photos.

A gentleman from the Dickens Society, looking rather like a Dickens character himself with luxuriant sidewhiskers, then gave a short speech about HKB, better known perhaps as ‘Phiz’ and the illustrator of a number of Dickens’ novels.

He had been born in Kennington (Lambeth) in 1815, and also illustrated work by other Victorian authors, such as Anthony Trollope and Harrison Ainsworth, as well as being a contributor to Punch.

His later years were blighted by partial paralysis. He moved to Hove and died in 1882.

I suppose there were about 20 persons attending, including retiring ward councillor Averil Older, representatives from a number of amenity societies in the city and the actor Brian Capron. He generously hosted refreshments at his beautiful house close by. You may remember him from ‘Midsomer Murders’ when he played a corrupt mayor and as a serial killer in Coronation Street.

At the time of the unveiling he was appearing in a touring production of ‘Stepping Out’.

I thought Brian would be an interesting character for my ‘Hove Residents of Note’ series in our newsletters and website, and he readily agreed, so watch out for the interview in due course.

Elaine Evans

The West Pier – past, present and future

The West Pier, opened in 1866 and designed by Eugenius Birch, was the finest pier ever built and the first to be Grade 1 listed. Even in its current parlous state the pier is probably the most photographed structure in Brighton and an essential iconic feature of the seafront.

It grew from a simple promenading pier in the 1860s to a vibrant centre of entertainment with a thriving concert hall and theatre receiving 2 million visitors a year in its late 1920s heyday. Subject to hostile environments, piers are evolving structures, but the West Pier was altered little after the opening, in 1916, of the beautiful domed concert hall.

With the outbreak of the second world war and the changed circumstances of its aftermath, the fortunes of the West Pier began to decline. As the fashion for foreign holidays took hold in the 50s and 60s, the neglected pier fell into disrepair. Declared unsafe, it was closed to the public in 1975.

Almost immediately the battle to restore the pier to its former glory began.

The West Pier Trust was created in 1978. There were several near misses in the 1980s but it wasn’t until 1998, with the granting of a major Heritage Lottery Fund award, that the goal became achievable.

After defeating a succession of legal challenges by the owners of the Palace Pier finally, in 2003, the pier was on the brink of restoration. Tragically, in March and May that year the pier was destroyed by arson and the Heritage Lottery Fund withdrew its grant. 

Marks Barfield Architects, creators of the London Eye, approached the trust proposing to site its latest observation attraction, the i360, on the pier’s root end.

The trust considers the i360’s elegant and innovative design to be entirely appropriate to the site, reflecting the high standards set by Birch.

It will be a vertical pier – an attraction as stimulating to the senses as walking on water on the West Pier was to the Victorians. A fitting 21st century tribute to its magnificent predecessor. Original materials from the West Pier will be used in the scheme, such as the restoration and reinstatement of the east and west toll houses. Artefacts from the pier will also be incorporated in the landscaping of the areas adjacent to the site. 

The i360 will contain historical information about the pier and a West Pier heritage centre, funded and run by the trust, will be created nearby using a restored 1866 kiosk original to the pier.

Meanwhile the trust hasn’t given up on the pier itself and we expect i360 construction to generate new development interest.

It’s a long term goal and, whilst a restored West Pier is no longer feasible, we hope that eventually the site will boast a new West Pier to complement the i360.

Rachel Clark
Chief Executive
West Pier Trust
01273 321499

Guided walk from Portslade old village

Saturday, 2nd July 2011

Trevor Povey, our local expert, who has given several entertaining and enlightening talks to our Society, has kindly agreed to lead a walk round Portslade Old Village Conservation Area as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations.

In the Domesday Book there are two references to Portslade, mentioning land held by Oswald and Albert – a reflection of Portslade’s Saxon past.

We begin at St Nicolas Church, which was built about 900 years ago. It was a landmark for sailors and appropriately dedicated to St Nicolas, the patron saint of sailors.

After a tour of the church we move on to Portslade Old Manor, a Scheduled Ancient Monument and one of very few examples of Norman manor houses still existing in England. In 1226 Hubert de Burgh, of Norman ancestry, held the Manor and it was in use until 1807, when the new Manor House was built. It was then used as an almshouse until Victorian times, when it was partly demolished to use as building materials.

Trevor will continue round the heart of Old Portslade, highlighting the oldest surviving buildings and even taking us back to Roman times. This will be a fascinating glimpse into Portslade’s historic past.

Heritage Open Days 2011

These celebrate England’s architecture and culture by allowing visitors free access to interesting properties that are either not usually open or would normally charge an entrance fee.

They are always the second weekend in September, so this year will be from Sept 8th to 11th.

Sometimes they are co-ordinated by the local Council. In Brighton & Hove they are organised by Nick Tyson and his team of volunteers at the Regency Town House, Hove – a mammoth task.

In 2009 Brighton & Hove offered more places to visit than anywhere else in England, so I understand, and was chosen for the official launch by English Heritage at the Jubilee library.

Nick and his team surpassed that last year with an amazing miscellany – not only the old favourites such as a tour of BBC studios or the Synagogue in Middle Street, but more unusual places such as a dig at a Bronze Age barrow on the cliffs of Peacehaven, a viewing of a private collection of 19th century woodworking tools, and tours of the Portslade offices of Archaeology South East, the commercial arm of University College London, with presentations of recent excavations.

Locally, the weekend is known as Brighton & Hove Open Doors, just to be different, and we have made a donation towards the 2011 expenses.

Reminders of Golden Jubilee events

Tour of Portslade Old Village

Saturday 2 July 2011

A morning guided walk around Portslade Old Village conservation area, including 12th century St. Nicolas Church and the scheduled ancient monument of Portslade Old Manor.

Our guide, Trevor Povey, a Portslade man, knows all there is to know – you probably remember Trevor from some of the lively talks he’s given at our winter programmes. This will be an ideal opportunity to learn more about the local history of Portslade and is easy to get to by bus or car. 

Visit to Southwick Manor Cottage

Saturday, 13th August 2011

Continuing our 50th anniversary celebrations, we have arranged a private visit to Southwick Manor Cottage, a 15th century timber-framed cottage and the oldest house in the town.

Southwick is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The cottage is leased by the Southwick (Sussex) Society, and is arranged as a local heritage museum. Some of their members will kindly be in attendance and will give us an introductory talk. It is an Open Hall design, with seven rooms. The scullery is furnished in keeping and the other rooms house exhibitions.

The Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels has Saxon origins, with a tower dating from around the 12th century. It is on the other side of Southwick Green, a walk of approx 5-10 min.

Southwick Roman Villa was a prominent building, built during the 1st century AD and of similar layout to Fishbourne Roman Palace. Over the years it was excavated several times, but finally Southwick Methodist Church was erected over the remains of the villa.

Last year a panel was unveiled on the site, with the support of the Southwick (Sussex) Society, showing how the villa looked, and there is currently an exhibition of finds at Manor Cottage.

The site is about 5 minutes’ walk from the Cottage, going north up Southwick Street. (Southwick Manor House, an attractive Grade II listed property next door to the Cottage is a private residence.)

If you wish to join . . .

If you want to join the society, please see the Get Involved page.