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The 40 RS members who were fortunate enough to go on a tour of the Corn Exchange and Studio Theatre in February were unanimously impressed by the quality of the design and execution that has turned the once rather down-at-heel corner of Church Street and New Road into a set of resplendent spaces that will benefit the city for years to come.

The architects for the project, Fielden Clegg Bradley, used considerable ingenuity and sensitivity to return the Corn Exchange close to William Porden’s original design for the Prince Regent’s riding school but suitable for use as a 21st century venue, as anyone who visited the Van Gogh Alive show will appreciate. The Studio Theatre is also considerably more inviting and practical than it was in the days that many will remember.

 The reconfigured entrance from New Road and the circulation spaces it leads to—including the bar with its whimsical life-size golden horse ‘lifted’ by balloons—are fun as well as practical. The history of the building is now much more readable as a result, a lesson for other heritage restoration projects.

The Regency Society was one of the donors to the cost of restoration, for which we are recognised in a couple of places. Money well spent. Our grateful thanks to Maxine Hort, Director of Operations at Brighton Dome and Festival, as a most informative guide and to her colleague Kata Gyongyosi in support.

You can read our previous posts about the restoration:

Brighton Dome Corn Exchange: restoration to celebrate

The Refurbishment of Brighton Corn Exchange (talk).

Lucky early visitors view the Corn Exchange renovation

Photographs by David Sears and James Tulley.

The Royal Albion is in one of the most important and visible locations in the city, as well as having considerable historic significance. The Regency Society reacted with sorrow to the fire in July 2023 but now argues that so much of it has been demolished that it presents an opportunity for a creative intervention.

The centre section used to look quite different when it was the Palace Pier Creamery and then Louis Tussaud's Waxworks. That closed at the end of the 1970s, but the way the frontage was re-designed when it was incorporated into the Royal Albion Hotel was frankly unimaginative and dull. Moreover, it appears that section has never been listed by Historic England along with the rest of the site and no wonder.

Once lost it would be difficult to insist on rebuilding as before. Building methods and techniques have moved on. Local and national regulations would not require that, although Brighton & Hove City Council must be mindful of the importance of the site and should encourage the owners to work for the optimum result.

So, rather than a slavishly faithful reproduction of the former appearance of the western (Grade II-listed Lion Mansion) section, the replacement should be harmonious with the seafront but could introduce new elements to add something fresh and dynamic to the streetscape. Cue imaginative architects and a meaningful public consultation.

If and when a planning application comes forward, the Regency Society will certainly consider it carefully, as it does with all major developments and restoration in the city, and hopes it will be subject to a meaningful consultation period.

Brighton (much more than Hove) has had an unfortunate tradition of leaving empty and damaged sites to decay for years, especially in prominent sites, such as Jubilee Street, King’s Road and West Street. This is a chance to show it need not always be like that.

Image (November 2023) by Felice Southwell, courtesy of Brighton & Hove News