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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:


John Arthur Wells-Thorpe, OBE, Architect. 1928- 2019.

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“

Stephen Adutt

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).

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 to request a form in the post.

Make a donation

All donations will make a difference. To donate online, please visit: 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.

Melbourne Street: Too big

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.

Falmer: Too ugly

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.

Modern design in Brunswick Town

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 Terrace: but what will it look like?

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

Many members will have noticed the Astoria Cinema building in Gloucester Place in the course of its demolition. Our June 2018 update included a photo taken of glimpses of the interior. Other pictures of this disappearing Brighton icon, soon to be replaced by a block of flats, have featured in the press and social media in May and June 2018.

James Gray obtained images of the building going up in 1932 (vol 30 nos 85- 89):




Kate Ormond reflects on an interesting day out led by David Robson with occasional delights 'off-piste'. 

You may have heard Nicola Westbury’s interesting lecture about her conservation work as architect to the Churches Conservation Trust on St Botolph’s in Steyning and Holy Sepulchre in Warminghurst. To accompany the lecture RS members and friends joined a study day to visit these and other ancient West Sussex churches, many created for communities dependent on the navigability of the River Adur. As the river silted up and livelihoods were lost, people moved on, congregations dwindled, and Downland churches fell into disrepair.

While not quite Downland, we began at St Mary de Haura in Shoreham, a Grade 1 listed building of 11th century Norman origin built for a once thriving city whose history has been determined by river and sea. It is unusual among English parish churches in having a stone vault soaring above the three tiers of arcade that transition from Norman to Gothic and supported by flying buttresses. Perhaps more unusual are the columns of the arcade that are different on each side – those to the north alternately round and octagonal, to the south more complex and uniform.

As the day was led by David Robson it was not surprising to find ourselves off-piste for a few extra delights. The first was to view the grave of Amon Henry Wilds in the cemetery of St Nicholas’s church in Shoreham. Iron railings surround the tombstone now nestled beneath a spreading laurel tree and looking comfortably shabby chic.

The four Downland churches we visited had in common their Saxon or Norman origins, picturesque settings (often just a chancel and nave with limited changes dependent on population variation) and varying degrees of restored wall paintings. Yet each has its own character, best experienced by being there to sense the calm rural simplicity which evokes a sense of early Christianity.

Coombes Church, named for its siting as its dedication is unknown, contains wall paintings re-discovered in 1949 depicting the gospel through pictures for those who couldn’t read. Having served its community for a thousand years it continues to be used and maintained by a small hard-working congregation.

St Botolph’s in Steyning is a Saxon church recently restored by the CCT. The Adur runs along the east of the site. Its silting up in the 14th century brought down the only bridge across the river that had been used for what is thought to be a thousand years, leading to the demise of the village.

We were treated to a personal tour by Nicola of the restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Warminghurst. It was thrilling to hear and see for ourselves the nature and extent of the work undertaken: timber repairs to the rafters and braces of the vaulted ceiling, sourcing Horsham stone for re-roofing, even policy clashes in restoration work generally - all managed with expertise and dedication to its Grade 1 listing.

Image by Sue Wagstaff

St Botolph’s, Hardham has an extensive set of frescoes that, unusually, cover the whole church interior. Monks from St Pancras’ Priory in Lewes are said to have supervised the decoration of the church interior as well as those of Coombes Church.

Our final church was St Nicholas in Arundel but not before another off-piste view of the adjacent Arundel Cathedral, built to elaborate Gothic heights and thrill in the 19th century, confirming the continuing passion and dedication of the Roman Catholic Church.

We had a guided tour of about half of what had been a homogenous 14th century building now bizarrely divided with the chancel (Fitzalan Chapel) Roman Catholic and the nave and transepts Church of England. Grade1 listed, this may be the only surviving example of the mediaeval practice of two ecclesiastical foundations under one roof. In 1879 the then vicar, unhappy at what he saw as Roman Catholic triumphalism, fought a lawsuit, claiming the chapel for the parish church, but lost. As a consequence, a crude brick wall separated the two for 90 years until replaced by the present glazed partition. However it is not so sweet a compromise as a tall iron gate full of highly gouging spikes also guards the divide, leaving a clear message.

Thank you for contributing. Thank you for coming along.

Images, unless indicated otherwise, are by David Sears, including the gallery below of memorable sights

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. 

In our latest meeting we considered the following issues: 

Monsieur Poirot would not approve

Number 4 Grand Avenue is one of Hove’s finest 20th century buildings. It is also one of the best preserved.

It was built in 1939 to a design by Murrell and Pigott. It’s 1930s look is striking and, in the words of Regency Society member Robert Nemeth, “it would make an ideal home for a certain Monsieur Poirot”.

It is important that its distinctive appearance should be preserved. That is why the Regency Society has objected to a planning application to install a glass balustrade behind the balcony railing on the eighth floor.

The reason for the plan is perfectly understandable, to reduce the risk children falling through the existing railings. So why are we objecting?

The balcony is on the top floor and is clearly visible against the sky. Glass is a far from an invisible material and, in this position, it will act as a reflector. We are also worried that the proposed fixing into the stone parapet will not be strong enough to resist high winds.

We believe that there are alternative solutions. For example, an additional metal railing composed of fine horizontal bars set back behind the existing railing would be almost invisible. See the planning application here

The society has welcomed a plan to install a new sign near the landward end of the pier. The sign will read “Brighton Palace Pier” thus restoring its previous, but not quite its original name. Back in 1899 when the pier was opened, it was named the ”Brighton Marine Palace and Pier” and the initial BMPP can still be seen in places as you stroll along it.

However, we are less impressed by a new structure which has appeared directly outside the pier entrance. It is a large, windowless, wooden shed housing a gift shop and it looks quite out of place. No planning application has been made as far as we know. We have asked the Council to take enforcement action.

See the planning application here

Proposal for King’s House in Hove

We’re not at all happy with the proposal for the King’s House on Grand Avenue – read about our concerns here.

Would you like to comment on this article? The committee, RS members and other site users would be interested to hear your views so we are inviting you to share your thoughts online. If you would like to do so you will need to register first – it only takes a moment and once registered you can log in and comment on other articles on this site in the future. Click here to register. If you have already registered, simply click on ‘you must be logged in’ at the bottom of the page.

We're very disappointed with plans for the King's House building (formerly council offices) on the corner of Grand Avenue and Kingsway.

Our concern covers more or less every aspect of the proposal currently under consideration.

It's too massive

The new structure will not only replace the building which faces Grand Avenue. It will also include a new block where the car park is now. These three structures, including the original Grade II building which faces Kingsway, will have very little space between them.

It would be an oppressive place to live

Almost half the apartments will face into sunless internal spaces and have no views. The new block which will face onto Grand Avenue includes single-aspect flats with  dining areas 7 metres from any window. The inhabitants will need the light on all day.

You will be no better off if you opt for a flat in the North facing blocks of the main building. These flats will have no sunlight all day either.  Its structure consists of  'outriggers' (blocks which jut out from the main building). These are only 8 metres apart so will get very little, if any, direct light and very poor privacy. The Western aspect faces a blank wall. And this is one of the most desirable sea-side spots on Brighton and Hove!

There is very little open space - all of the available land has been crammed with buildings. This is a worrying trend (see our comments last month on proposals for the Amex site).

It will look a mess

We don't like the design, which feels to us as if it is an attempt to make the ungainly whole look smaller than it actually is. So it won't even be a pleasure to walk past, if you are lucky enough to live in the much superior 1930s 4 Grand Avenue, just up the road.

What about affordable housing?

This proposal is coy about affordable housing. We don't know how much is proposed nor where it would be but we fear that this is the intention for the worst of the depressing, dark apartments.

Future generations deserve better

We find this proposal unacceptable in every way. It is very sad that a prime spot on our sea front attracts so little ambition for the future of our city. It condemns future generations to a substandard home if you live there, and a depressing view if you merely have to look at it. Alas this sort of development seems to be a growing trend.  We call on the council to raise everybody's aspirations by declaring this sort of proposal unacceptable.

Read our objections

See the full planning application


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. 

In our latest meeting we considered the following issues: 

Opening up the backlands

Most people agree that our city needs more homes. Once the discussion turns to where to put them that agreement is likely to evaporate.

There will be no single answer to this question. We must “look down every rabbit hole” as the planning inspector said when commenting on the City Plan. Hopefully she was arguing for a range of solutions, rather than suggesting that green-fields would be the only answer.

The Society has recently looked at two planning applications which both illustrate one such “rabbit hole”, namely backland development. The outer suburbs of Brighton and Hove were originally developed at low densities. Now that we are struggling to find places for new homes, is it perhaps time to use suburban space more intensively?

The first scheme is in Downs Valley Road, Woodingdean. The proposal is to build four new, two-storey houses behind two existing bungalows, literally at the bottom of the gardens. A vehicle entrance will be created between the bungalows so that on-site parking can be provided. Read the planning application here

The second is slightly different: the backland in question already has a building on it. It is a plan for the former Dairy Crest site in the Droveway. The site was first used as a farm around 1800. In the early 20th century it became a dairy, operated latterly by Unigate until it closed a few years ago. It is not nationally listed, but it is included in the Council’s list buildings of local interest. It is surrounded by suburban residential properties.

The current proposal is for a mixed-use development and aims to “retain the character of the existing agricultural buildings. Some employment space will be provided towards the front of the site, with 14 new housing units mainly towards the rear, replacing part of the existing building. Read the planning application here.

What do you think of these attempts to use the suburbs to help solve the housing crisis?

Proposal for Amex house site

We’re not happy with the proposal for the Amex house site – read about our concerns here.

Would you like to comment on this article? The committee, RS members and other site users would be interested to hear your views so we are inviting you to share your thoughts online. If you would like to do so you will need to register first – it only takes a moment and once registered you can log in and comment on other articles on this site in the future. Click here to register. If you have already registered, simply click on ‘you must be logged in’ at the bottom of the page.