with thanks to David Sears and Paul Zara for taking the pictures.
The site of the former East Brighton Brighton gasworks has been blighted since it was bombed in 1943. The land is contaminated and therefore potentially costly to develop. It has become something of an eyesore (see photos of its current state at the bottom of this page). We would welcome a proposal to transform it - especially for much need affordable housing and as a focal point for the local area. A developer has come forward with a proposal but we are unhappy with it. Here's why.
Last Autumn, developer St William consulted us about their ideas for the gasworks site. Their initial proposal was for a development including 600 - 700 homes in a densely packed high rise development. We were not happy with this. After all, in the City Plan, this site is earmarked for just 87 dwellings. This is also not an area designated by the council as appropriate for tall buildings.
The proposal would be out of scale with the area and significant overdevelopment. We feel that any development on this site needs to be sympathetic to the immediate mixed environment and add value to the local community. Read our initial thoughts here.
St William have now produced a revised plan (read about it here). We welcome some minor improvements, but little has changed from the first version. We are still not happy with it.
We don’t think the current masterplan addresses the fundamental flaws we pointed out in our comments on the previous version.Minor improvements including treatment of Boundary Road and an improved northern entry to the ‘Green Link’ are welcome.
It is still as dense as the previous version. Despite a few perfunctory changes, the buildings are still too high. We think the illustrations are deceptive. The apparent size of the buildings in comparison to others in the neighbourhood is misleading horizontally and vertically. There is an impression of relaxed spaciousness and sunlight between the buildings. The reality will be overshadowing for much of the day by the crowded, high buildings in most spaces, and wind tunnels through the long corridors in this exposed area.
Claims are made in the proposal that the design of some buildings reflects local heritage. We are not convinced by this. This matters as this site is close to the Kemptown Estate.
We also believe that the cost of decontamination (claimed as the reason for the proposed excessive height and density) should be factored into the premium paid for the site, and not recovered through overdevelopment.
There is considerable strength of feeling about this proposal amongst amenity groups throughout the city and other organisations with a direct interest in this site. We’ve joined forces with them in issuing an open statement which welcomes housing on the site as long as a significant amount of it is affordable and any development is sustainable. The joint statement also opposes the overdevelopment and tall buildings in this location, and urges a safe and healthy outcome for this site.
The proposal has not yet been submitted to the Council for planning permission. There is still time to let the developer know your thoughts. The consultation is short: the deadline is 5 March. Use this link to tell St William what you think.
Images of the site now
Boundary Road now and as proposed
Pictures from St William publications and by John and Mary McKean
The Regency Society, like many organisations, is going online for its events for the foreseeable future.
This means that our 2020/2021 lecture programme will be available online. Each video lecture will appear on the relevant page on this website as it becomes available.
We are aware that not everyone is familiar with browsing on Youtube, and you do not need to do so to watch our lectures as they become available. However, we will use our YouTube channel to house RS lectures for as long as our lecture presenters are happy for them to be there, so if you want to browse previous lectures you can do so there. Visit our YouTube Channel (lectures will be added here as they are released).
It also contains a miscellany of other publicly available videos which may be of interest to members, drawn from various sources. If you would like to make suggestions for additions, please contact us.
We hope you enjoy our online events. We look forward to the time when we can meet face to face again!
We wanted to capture the unusual sights of the last few months so we asked Regency Society members and James Gray Collection Project volunteers to take photos of our city during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.
They responded remarkably enthusiastically. Over 180 images came in on several themes, all taken in May and June 2020.
This was a fascinating period of empty streets and unusual sights, which evidently sometimes caught the eye and prompted creative thoughts in our intrepid photographers. We all hope that this crisis will soon fade into a distant memory. Nonetheless, we may like to look back and remember what it was like.
I think the results are wonderful. They display very many ways of thinking about this period. Some of these photos contain sights we will probably never see again. They also show that the RS family (members and volunteers) think a lot about what they see in our city and are very good at documenting it, both in the images and the captions.
Developer St William homes has just completed a first consultation on a proposed scheme for the gasworks site in East Brighton. Whilst we are delighted that someone has a proposal for this blighted site, we are not happy with their current ideas.
The gasworks site sits on a neglected piece of land immediately above and to the west of Marina Way. Neglected because the current and former gasholders on the site make it problematic to build on, it has stood empty for many years. We believe it represents an opportunity lost so far - it could form a focus for the lively, mixed area at the Eastern edge of Brighton currently made up of separate and disparate communities around its edges.
Members met on a cold wet night in February to discuss how we would like our city to change for the better and what the Regency Society might do about it.
Angela Devas and John McKean introduced the evening with brief presentations suggesting ideas we might like to think about. If you would like to see their presentations you can download them here.
Everyone agreed we want a city which is friendly to people (and less friendly to traffic), streets where children can play, better green spaces and more trees. It was an animated, friendly and remarkably consensual discussion!
What should the Regency Society do? We want a much higher profile in the city, the capacity to attract younger people, and next year's events should have a strong environment/climate emergency theme. We would also like to think about running some projects in which people can get involved: ideas included developing pocket parks and tree planting.
We agreed that we would like more conversations like this - and indeed an opportunity to continue the one started tonight.
Everyone then answered three questions individually about future ‘conversation’ events, how you would like to get involved with the RS and feedback to the committee on any topic. If you were not able to be at the meeting but would nonetheless like to answer these questions (or comment on any issue) you can do so online here.
You can download a full summary of the discussions here.
Image: Brighton Festival Children's Parade 2019 by John McKean
Members will be saddened to hear of the death of our Vice President and former Chair, John Wells-Thorpe, on Easter Sunday 2019.
John made a unique contribution to the Regency Society over the years. Many will remember his towering but quiet presence at Society events, whether he was introducing a visiting speaker or making a thoughtful contribution to a discussion. Perhaps some of his most significant moments were when he provided wisdom to anyone in the Society who sought him out, those to whom he would listen carefully and to whom he always gave his measured and considered advice.
John was dedicated to public service far beyond the Regency Society. He was a member of the BBC Advisory Board and a Justice of the Peace. He found time for these interests in a long and distinguished international career in architecture during which he was a Council member and Vice President of the RIBA. As President for the Commonwealth Association of Architects he travelled extensively.
A personal reflection by his friend , architect and academic Stephen Adutt, follows:
An extended Wikipedia on John would give us all the facts. We would read about John's career in architecture. How he worked in two practices: first with Gotch and Partners (1953-1971), where he started as a trainee and in time became a partner; then within his own practice of Wells-Thorpe and Suppel (1971--1991). We would learn how, over some forty years of architectural activity, John and his colleagues carried out building commissions primarily in England but also in other parts of the world, particularly in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Malta and Tanzania. As many as fifty projects covered a wide range of building types, civic, commercial, educational, ecclesiastical, medical, residential and the workplace.
From time to time, over and beyond these working years, the Wikipedia would list some dozens of John's parallel activities and responsibilities, sometimes to architecture, sometimes to the church or to education or to society. Such key roles and duties extended beyond the remits of the OBE which he was awarded by the Queen in 1995 'for Services to Architecture'. In my view he deserved more.
Yet when reading such an extensive Wikipedia our underlying sense of John would be lost. Instead, we would gain a greater insight by reading his book 'Behind the Facade, An Architect at Large’.(Book Guild 2009). There we would find revealed a man with a rich sense of humour, a man keen to understand all aspects of the times and situations in which he lived, knowledge which enabled him to develop appropriate management skills, which in turn increasingly allowed him to become a sound administrator and leader. So he nurtured his own ability to walk with all walks of life, from his 1947 Singapore national service gunnery squad personnel to his later spread of contacts, to the Governor Generals, High Commissioners, Bishops, Archbishops, Heads of Industry and even Royals.
In his book John shows how critical it was for the head of a 'private sector’ practice to react sensibly to the inevitable rises and falls of the national economy. So he surrounded himself with a good team of design and technical collaborators, who he was then ever concerned to hold together, to whom he was prepared to delegate and for whom he knew that it was his responsibility to find work. He also knew that some of his practice’s much needed clients wanted buildings primarily to 'improve business’, upon which he later reflected "never talk to shopkeepers about aesthetics or the greater public good".
It was left to the range of the practice’s completed projects to demonstrate not only functionality but also creativity, whether they showed sympathy for the scale of their surroundings like Hove Town Hall (1970-74) or whether they showed care for building detail. The latter is exemplified over many times, such as at Brighton’s Brighthelm Centre (1987) fronted by John Skelton’s sculptured ‘Loaves and Fishes’; or at Dulwich College where John the architect designed the Shackelton Science Block (opened by Lord Shackelton, the explorer’s son, in 1989), the new work with its red and buff brick livery matching the neighbouring buildings by Charles Barry ; or at the College’s War Memorials to which John had earlier added two standing stones with his own sensitively designed name- inscribed tablets. All such detail, whether self -generated or whether inspired by work from chosen artists and sculptors, known or unknown, would have been familiar to John. After all, he was himself educated at Brighton’s famous College of Art.
In 1991, having ended a forty year period of architectural endeavour, John embarked on a last and different lease of working life. Although already the responsible Chairman of Hove’s Martlets Hospice, he was also now made Chairman of the NHS South Downs Health Trust. Over a six year period of tenure he was able to enjoy just being a Client who commissioned other architects to design buildings. A series of neighbourhood medical facilities were planned. These would address local needs such as the care of the mentally ill or of the frail elderly or of injured children. Here John’s management talents flourished as always, while he was again also able to contribute to national medical publications which dealt with the nature of healing through thoughtfully designed environments.
In 'Behind the Facade' John no doubt deliberately chooses to leave out his more personal life. We might glean that he was religious. From his earliest student written thesis on Modern Church Architecture, checked by his diocesan bishop George Bell of Chichester, John clearly remained a loyal member of the established Anglican church. This in spite of the church's harsh ruling that John's father, having committed suicide, was allowed only to be buried in an unmarked grave. Undeterred, perhaps forgiving, perhaps strengthened by regular visits to a retreat, John's involvement in the design and repair of places of worship lasted a lifetime.
Nor does John the author choose to tell us about himself as husband and family man. His first wife, Ann (married 1954) is mentioned only once by name, as are their two children, Frances (born 1956) and Peter (born 1957). We learn of his second wife, Meta (married 1989-2019) because ‘Behind the Facade' is dedicated to her:
“For Meta, without whose encouragement and persistence this book would not have been written“
20 04 2019
Photograph of Hove Town Hall by David Sears
Photograph of John Wells-Thorpe by David Robson
There is nothing more central to our heritage than the Royal Pavilion Estate. In the early years of our existence, the Regency Society fought hard and successfully for the then badly delapidated Royal Pavilion.
Too often we write with disappointment about new projects where quality architects have been replaced by cheaper alternatives once permission has been obtained, or of contractors who do not appreciate the care required when working with historic sites. It is, therefore, particularly heartening to report on a project supervised throughout by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and realised by R. Durtnell and Sons, a family business established since 1591 with a track record of delivering high profile heritage restoration projects.
This project is now at an advanced stage. Much twentieth century addition has been stripped away and the original, simple magnificence of the widest span timber frame building in Britain, the Prince Regent's Riding School, is beginning to re-emerge. Gone and unmourned are the mirroring on the windows, the incongruous 'wagon wheel' hanging light, the painted roof, and much else. We have heritage to be proud of and it is good to see it cared for and made fit for purpose as a state of the art twenty-first century performance venue.
Much of the funding is already in place for this project but members are encouraged to consider making a contribution to help raise the final 10%. (see below).
click on the images to see an enlarged view
The Brighton Dome and Festival team write:
'Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival’s transformational £21.2 million project to redevelop the Grade I Corn Exchange and Grade II listed Studio Theatre is well underway. These extraordinary venues were in urgent need of repair and renovation to continue welcoming artists and audiences. As well as preserving the unique heritage, visitors will enjoy more comfortable, accessible spaces with improved acoustics, lighting and seating. The wider project includes a new viewing gallery for visitors to observe creativity at work in the Corn Exchange, new bars, a café opening up onto New Road and a new creative space for artists and community groups.
After eighteen months on site and generous public and private support, over 90% of funding is in place towards the total project costs. Brighton Dome is now seeking support from audiences for their community campaign ‘Build Brighton Dome’, inviting individuals to make a donation or even Name a Seat in the redeveloped Corn Exchange. Build Brighton Dome has so far raised over £55,000 towards the total £250,000 needed. Thanks to The Roddick Foundation all donations, including seat donations, will be doubled so whatever people choose to give at this crucial time will mean even more.
Name a Seat
Honour the memory of someone special, share your love of music or surprise a loved one with a unique gift. In appreciation, your name - or a nominated name - will be inscribed on a seat plaque in the refurbished Corn Exchange for a minimum of twenty years. Seat donations start from £25 a month over 12 months. For more information please call 01273 260818 or email email@example.com to request a form in the post.
Make a donation
All donations will make a difference. To donate online, please visit: build.brightondome.org or you can donate via text: Text BDFL18 £3 to 70070 (you can change the donation amount for anything up to £10).'
Images: Top: Detail of Corn Exchange window (looking down into the public Hall). Image by Carlotta Luke. Centre: Visualisation of the Corn Exchange cross section. Image by FCBS architects Corn Exchange works in progress (view from the new balcony). Image by Carlotta Luke
The Planning Forum, attended by members of the Regency Society and Hove Civic Society committees, meets monthly to discuss planning applications which the Forum considers significant.
Each society forms its own view on the applications and decides what action, if any, to take.
The Planning Forum looked at two significant applications in September, both just north of North Laine conservation area and each with a potentially dramatic impact on the physical environment of the area. The Regency Society is generally supportive of both albeit with comments on improving some details of each.
We looked at 2 schemes for student housing this month.
The first is a very large development proposed for Melbourne Street, just off the Lewes Road near the gyratory.
The application is being made by Vita Brighton 1 Ltd which is part of a group which develops and operates student accommodation.
It will involve demolition of an existing office building and a workshop. The new building will provide 350 student rooms, plus communal facilities. It will also include 20 affordable homes and over 1,000 square metres of employment space.
The society has no objection to a development of this kind in this location. However, we are objecting to the massing of the proposed building which we think will have an adverse impact on neighbouring properties.
The second student housing scheme is for a site in Falmer near the station. It is currently occupied by two rather dilapidated cottages of no particular heritage value, which will be demolished.
The proposed replacement is a four-storey building which would provide accommodation for 71 students with associated cycle and car parking and some landscaping.
So far so good, but look at the design! One member described it politely as “too urban” for the location. Another was more blunt, describing it as looking like a prison.
So, as with the previous scheme, we’re saying yes to the proposed demolition and use for student housing, but no to the proposed building, this time on the grounds of a design which is unsympathetic to its neighbours and its location.
Brunswick Street West is located behind the large houses on the east side of Lansdowne Place. It was probably a mews and like many similar streets in the area it has been re-developed in a variety of ways over the years.
This scheme relates to a site on the east side, about one third of the way down from Western Road. It has been used recently by a car sales business.
The proposal is to demolish the existing buildings and replace them with five, three-storey, three-bedroom dwellings. The design is modern but not particularly exciting.
However, it will provide five small homes in a “desirable” location and will probably look a lot better than what is there now. So, the society is not making any comment.
Clermont Church is in Clermont Terrace just south of Preston Park Station. It was built in 1877-8 to a design by local architect, J G Gibbins. It is an attractive building with an impressive, high-pitched roof.
It is located in the Preston Park conservation area and is locally listed It is no longer in use as a church. Behind the church there is a more recent, two storey extension which is currently used by the Brighton Academy of Performing Arts.
The Academy wants to expand its space by adding a further storey. Our image shows the current view from the south west approach to the site. This suggests that a third storey could have an adverse effect on the appearance of the fine pitched roof.
The problem is we don’t really know, because the applicant has not included a drawing or “artist’s impression” to show what the new view would be from the street. Nor does the application include a heritage statement to explain the significance of the existing building. So, we are objecting on the grounds of inadequate information.
Lyn Turpin reflects on a lovely afternoon in the Secret Garden at the Regency Society annual Garden Party
Despite concern that ticket sales were down and that maybe the garden party has had its day as a summer event, the annual Regency Society garden party on 23 June was once again a great success. It was helped, no doubt, by the sunshine, the wine and the delicious canapés. And, of course, the delightful setting of Kemptown’s Secret Garden, now owned and maintained by the Antony Dale Trust.
Worries about ticket sales were unfounded as numbers were virtually the same as last year, with almost a third paying at the door, maybe encouraged by the good weather.
Music played in the background as people nibbled, drank and chatted with old friends and new faces. Had I known I was going to be writing this, I might have listened more carefully to the music playing but possibly there was some Glenn Miller and definitely a little Ink Spots! So nothing too loud or aggressive or likely to upset the neighbours.
We were joined by some special visitors, including Councillor Dee Simson, Brighton & Hove’s new mayor; Sir Simon Jenkins, President of the Regency Society, and Professor Gavin Henderson CBE, Vice President of the Society and Chair of the Antony Dale Trust. The mayor said a few words, congratulating the Society on its work encouraging concern for our city’s built environment, and drew the first ticket (and several more) of the afternoon’s raffle (prizes predominantly books and booze). Gavin Henderson also spoke, giving us a potted history of the Secret Garden and the Antony Dale Trust’s plans for future development and uses of the garden. These include an exhibition in next year’s Brighton Festival of the work of sculptor, William Pye, probably best known in the south-east for his water sculpture at Gatwick Airport.
Click on an image to enlarge
Special thanks must go to Martin Auton-Lloyd for the catering; Delia Forester, Helen Walker, Rupert Radcliffe-Genge and Richard Robinson for their sterling work on the bar and raffle; Suzanne Hinton and Kate Ormond at the door; David Robson for photography and ferrying tables back and forth, and Roger Hinton, Chair of the Society and provider of the music from his extensive collection of 78s. And to all the people who attended – perhaps the garden party hasn’t had its day after all!
Images of the party by David Robson
Images of the garden by Nick Dwyer