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Marlborough House is a grade I listed building facing onto the public open space of the Old Steine within the Valley Gardens conservation area. It is described in the Pevsner Guide to Brighton and Hove as “the finest late C18 house, or rather villa, in Brighton” and is one of the most architecturally significant buildings in Brighton & Hove. Around 1786 it was enlarged and re-modelled by Robert Adam to its present Neo-Classical style.

To the front of the property is a semi-circular carriage drive together with a bottle-balustraded and rendered boundary wall curving outwards in a shallow segmental shape.  The planning application presently being considered proposes a repositioning of the existing front boundary wall enclosure to its historic location clearly dimensioned on deed plans dated to 1890. The evidence demonstrates that the line of the wall was originally set significantly further out on a deeper curve and the rebuilding of the current non-original wall on this line and would reinstate its original form and would enable a larger garden area.

The Regency Society has had a long interest in this precious building. Just last year we published a Journal entirely about Marlborough House, 'Georgian Brighton's Best', recounting it's whole interesting history.  With this keen eye, the Society has submitted the following objection to one key aspect of this application:

The Society welcomes the removal of car-parking from the forecourt, its return to its original size and the restoration of the enclosing wall to its design before the forecourt was reduced.

However, it objects to the proposed treatment of the centre circle of the forecourt with an irregular pattern of paved areas occupied by seating and tables which is inconsistent with the original or the last uses of the house or the permitted change of use.

The Design and Access Statement makes the highly debatable assertion that “the garden (forecourt) is therefore as significant as the façade itself”. If indeed this were true, any benefit to the significance of the facade from the recovery of the of the original size of the forecourt would be even more outweighed by the detrimental effect of its occupation by random areas of seating, particularly as the design of the original railings cannot be reconstructed.

Our second event of the year was almost as different to the norm as the previous one and was certainly as popular. Alison Minns tells the story.

High vis and high standards

Double click on photo to enlarge

It’s hard to look sartorially elegant in a hard hat teamed with a high vis vest and sensible shoes. It’s hardly a Regency dandy look but stalwart members of the Regency Society who dressed appropriately and who had been prudent enough to put their names down early were treated to a behind the scenes tour of the 200 year old grade 1 listed Brighton Corn Exchange as it undergoes major refurbishment. We felt very privileged as we navigated our way round William Porden’s magnificent building – surely far too elegant a space to house the humble horse.

Chief Executive of Brighton Dome and Festival, Andrew Comben admitted there had been many challenges along the way, not least uncovering a Quaker burial ground on the site as well as the original contactors ceasing trading but Andrew was confident another contractor would be appointed within a matter of weeks.

Our tour was led by project architect Peter Clegg of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios. As Peter explained the background and the details, we marvelled at the newly evident beauty of the building – the exposed curved wooden roof beams (it’s the widest span timber framed building in the UK but needed a little TLC – invisible strengthening bolts and treatment for rot), the unique decorative windows (now restored), the splendid view from the balcony down the full length of the glorious internal space, the Prince Regent’s private balcony (few of us knew of this feature) and a newly created bar area (a modest yet masterful reclaiming of open space). Many striking features are now revealed, having been hidden by ugly accretions over the years. The refurbished Corn Exchange will be a flexible, accessible venue fit for purpose with added rehearsal space, better sight lines (there will be no need for a raised stage), more storage areas, as well as extra bars (and toilets!)

After our tour we gathered at our new meeting place (The Friends Meeting House) to hear a fascinating though slightly more formal talk by Peter Clegg. He covered the history of the building (originally a riding school) and showed examples of his practice’s previous work including the South Bank Centre and Alexandra Palace. He went on to outline plans for, and progress on our very own Brighton Corn Exchange – a building that is surely at the very heart of what the Regency Society values and cherishes. Congratulations to all concerned for their wonderful vision and for their splendid work so far.

Chair Mary McKean spoke briefly but passionately about her enthusiasm for the new look Corn Exchange and mentioned that it is still possible to donate to the project. It’s hoped the building will be opened in around a year’s time. I expect to see many of you there (a celebratory pre-performance glass of wine in the stunning new bar area, perhaps – though on such an occasion not sporting a hard hat and high vis vest)

 

. . .  there is a masterplan for the western end of the Marina and the Black Rock site.

Already the Marina is a hodgepodge of buildings whose layout and design relate  to nothing of local meaning. Furthermore, pedestrians seem to have been largely left unconsidered, e.g. plenty of obvious places for cars but little to help someone on foot negotiate from, say, the western beach entrance to the 'Laughing Dog'. This view seems uncontroversial.

The present proposed development attempts to nudge potential future developers on the site toward some design logic but this viewpoint isn't nearly broad enough to encompass the practical and environmental impact of what might be a new Brighton Centre on Black Rock with all it's as yet unresolved heritage and transport issues. (There isn't even a design yet.)

The full planning application now with the council proposes phase 2 and outline permission for phase 3 of largely private and some 'affordable' flats with parking, amenities and public walkways and open space - all this immediately south of the shed structures that are presently the David Lloyd Leisure Centre, the bowling alley and the casino. This will be built on reclaimed land and is intended to relate to phase 1 already built to  the east.

We have seen earlier designs for this site that included a slim 40 storey tower on the southwest corner and curvilinear  blocks of various heights. This has been superseded by a 28 storey tower plus eight buildings of eight -19 storeys, some forming a crescent facing the sea with several large blocks beside and behind.

This proposal is the start of intended radical changes to the profile of the city that claim to be inspired by the lovely Regency squares that define us. The Regency Society, while not hostile to change, progress and, in some cases, tall buildings, does not believe this proposal, conceived in isolation of other radical changes brewing, rises to the challenge of our city's social, economic and heritage needs.

Our objection submitted to the council details benefits and dis-benefits of the proposal as we see it.  Please read it here as it provides details about our concerns that outweigh the benefits sought.

 

Visual impressions within the development

Visual impressions from outside the development

13-22 September

Heritage Open Days is England's biggest heritage festival bringing together over 2,000 organisations, 5,000 events and 40,000 volunteers. It celebrates our fantastic history, architecture and culture; offering people the chance to see hidden places and try out new experiences - all of which are FREE to explore.

Every year in September, the bunting is unfurled and buildings of every age, style and function throw open their doors. It is a once-a-year chance to discover the often hidden or forgotten gems on our doorsteps and enjoy a wide range of tours, events and activities that bring local history and culture to life.

Free of charge and right on people’s doorstep, Heritage Open Days is an event for everyone, whatever their background, age or ability. From castles to city halls, tunnels to tower tops, police cells to private homes, workshops to woodland walks, the variety of places and ways to discover them are endless.

Locally, Brighton & Hove’s contribution to the festival is organised by the Regency Town House which has been involved for nearly 30 years.  Often, Brighton & Hove are in the top five cities in the country for the number of events organised.  It’s yet another area where we ‘punch above our weight’.

Previous openings during the festival have included the Sussex Masonic Centre, Embassy Court, Duke of York’s cinema, Shoreham Lifeboat and behind the scenes at the Theatre Royal.

It is hoped to showcase the restoration of a Brighton tram, the WW2 air raid shelters under a school playground, the heritage of the Palace Pier as well as an exhibition and tour of the architecture of John Leopold Denman.  If none of that appeals, there should be up to 100 other events to pick from.  Also, for the first time, there will be a guided walk of the ‘Old Village of Hove’ by a Regency Society member.

See the event listings here as well as on the national website 

Some events must be booked but a large number will be ‘open door’ and you can just turn up.

 

"I'm not an architect, I'm a scouser of a certain age with too much time on his hands. Like most volunteers." So said Brian, our excellent RIBA guide to commercial Liverpool. In the space of an hour he steered us around the monuments to 19th Century trade and showed us how deeply Liverpool had been involved in the American Civil War as well as WW2, where the Blitz went on for weeks. We saw the beautiful bombed out but restored Oriel Chambers, as well as Shrapnel wounds to handsome stone buildings.

...continue reading "Merseyside Study Tour 2019"

Some things we do so well - with the help of fine weather and a lovely garden. Our guests and members, including some stalwart trustees, mingled, laughed and had a few serious words, no doubt, while enjoying too the added attractions this year of William Pye's garden water sculptures, the entrance to the secret tunnel and the practicality and perhaps the ultimate essence of a garden party, the marquee.

Our vice-president Gavin Henderson welcomed everyone on behalf of the Antony Dale Trust. We were honoured to entertain for the first time a member of the European Parliament who is also the city's new mayor, Green Councillor Alex Phillips. She spoke knowledgeably about the work we have done and are doing,  leaving us with a sense of a sincere interest in our pursuit of our objectives. Mary McKean, our chair, encouraged us to have a look at next years' lecture series with its particular emphasis on the local area including a rather special event in the newly restored Corn Exchange. 

Wine, raffle prizes and Martin Auton-Lloyd's delicious hors d'oeuvres seemed to please. Thank you for coming to the Regency Society summer party in the lovely Secret Garden. We look forward to seeing all of you and others next year.

with thanks to David Sears for the photos

Lovely lighting to Shelter Hall rotunda

As the new Shelter Hall at beach level comes more into public view, the lighting suggested for the rotunda that will appear at street level offers a stunning welcome to Brighton seafront.

 

Street communication hubs to replace phone kiosks - in some places

A new piece of community infrastructure will likely adorn some of the central streets in Brighton and Hove. This is offered by a partnership between BT and InLink to deliver a suite of urban tools to help connect and improve local streets at no cost to the taxpayer.  Tools include free ultrafast Wi-Fi, touchscreen tablets to access council services, BT phone book, maps and directions; induction loops and braille with TalkBack functionality, free phone calls, direct 999 button and more.

If approved, London Road will be the first to have two phone kiosks removed and the hub installed. Other locations have been identified, most along the central route to the seafront and around the cultural quarter.

As well, it will be possible to integrate environmental sensors to monitor air quality (in trial), noise and other environmental factors.

Over the years, the Regency Society has acquired a collection of books that have been kept in store. We have been clearing out the store, which was not really a suitable place to keep anything. The books have been offered to The Keep and to Brighton and Hove Libraries. We are now offering the following remaining titles to members in return for a donation to the society. A ‘guide price’ is provided, based on the lowest recent cost of acquiring the book from Amazon or Abebooks, where available. Any suitable donation is, of course, welcome.

Please send your title request and proposed donation to publishing@regencysociety.org with your email address. Books will be collected from the store in batches. We will propose a suitable delivery arrangement.

In the event that more than one person requests a title, the higher offer will secure the title.

See book list here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 Audrey, a long-time member, trustee, officer and supporter of the Regency Society, died on 31 March 2019, aged 83

Audrey was a trustee of the Society, on and off, for 13 years during the period 1988-2011.She was very supportive of the Society. In particular she worked closely with chairs John Wells-Thorpe, Gavin Henderson and Stephen Nieman. One of the many events she organised was the 60th Anniversary Dinner in the Music Room of The Royal Pavilion, which was held in December 2005.

When she left the Regency Society committee, she established the 21st Century Society and Politico, both wide-discussion groups.

Wise, hospitable, sociable, innovative, stylish and elegant, resembling an Erté model, Audrey always championed Brighton and Hove.

Audrey was appreciative of our history and architectural heritage but occasionally she didn't agree with the ‘conservationists’. She often spoke up for modern development, prosperity and business. She always spoke against the banal and substandard, promoted good design and wise development. Audrey once said, ‘If a fearless Council had not built the Conference Centre, Brighton would have suffered the same fate as Bognor.’

Audrey was a successful business woman and hotelier, developing Brighton's first ‘boutique hotel’, the Granville, which she bought in 1978 when it was just a guest house.

Her energy was boundless. She travelled widely, often representing VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas), offering training in hotel skills in the Third World. She served as a magistrate for 28 years.

She worked with many local organisations including City College, the Beacon Trust, the Chamber of Commerce and the Gardner Arts Centre. She was a major supporter of the Martlets Hospice and other charities. For many years she had a leading role in the Mayor's Charity fund raising events.

Audrey was also an active member of the West Pier Trust. One of her major achievements was supporting the i360.She stuck with the project to renovate this dilapidated area of Brighton for over 20 years. She ‘deferred’ her 80th birthday party until she was 81 in September 2016, so that she could have the celebrations on the i360.

Audrey is irreplaceable—not, as many thought, indestructible—and will be sadly missed by her family, friends and colleagues.