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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

These are the Regency Society talks available on YouTube.

Kate Macintosh - A Life in Architecture, Lecture and Q&A
Running time: 1:14:37

September 2020
Alan Powers: Seaside Seduction: How the moderns lost their stays
Running time: 43:10

11 November 2020
Mary McKean: Lost Streets of Brighton in the James Gray Collection
Running time: 38:49

9 December 2020
David Fisher: The expansion of Brighton and Hove 1875-1914
Part 1
Running time: 28:03
Part 2
Running time: 25:56

13 January 2021
David Fisher: Hippodrome History
Running time: 48:05

April 2021
David Robson: The Denman Century 1876-1982
Part 1
Running time: 1:12:42
Part 2
Running time: 1:23:09

The Regency Society is saddened by the devastation caused by the fire at the Royal Albion Hotel. This is a key building at one of the most prominent locations in the city and therefore of unusual significance. Restoration of the site will require considerable sensitivity.

In fact, the hotel comprises three elements that were not merged until a little over 40 years ago.

The earliest and least damaged was the original Albion Hotel, designed by the great local architect Amon Henry Wilds and built in 1826 on the site of the house of Dr Richard Russell, the promoter of sea-bathing that did so much to create Brighton’s popularity as a resort. This is Grade II* listed.

The western section dates from the late 1850s and was known as the Lion Mansion Hotel until the Second World War. This is Grade II listed.

In between were two lodging houses from the mid-1840s, although from around 1903 the ground floor was the Palace Pier Creamery. In 1938 the two houses became Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks. When this closed in 1979, the building was restored with a similar appearance to the original and, like Lion Mansion, was absorbed into the Royal Albion.

The Regency Society hopes that the external appearance of the building can be restored. It would be best if demolition could be limited to what is strictly necessary for safety and access reasons.

It is worth noting that there are two Brighton Corporation plaques, to a design by Eric Gill: one on the front of the original hotel commemorating Dr Russell and a second marking the visits of prime minister William Gladstone on the frontage of Lion Mansion. The RS hopes this can be recovered and replaced in due course.

18 July 2023

Image: RS James Gray Collection

The familiar Regency Society's James Gray Collection, much used as a photographic reference for the history of Brighton & Hove, now has a second version. Contemporary images matching the original scenes as closely as possible have been created and sit side-by-side to show the changes, with a new descriptive text.

It can be navigated from a street index or a map and can be searched by keywords.

Follow this link:

Historic and Contemporary Images of Brighton & Hove.

We are sad to announce that John Small, a long-time member and former honorary secretary of the Regency Society, died at Christmas after a long illness.

Although many assumed that John was ‘Sussex-born-and-bred’, he was in fact born in Tolworth in south-west London, the son of an electrical engineer, and arrived in Hove at the tender age of two. The borderland between Brighton and Hove, however, remained his home for the rest of his life, apart from a period of national service and brief sorties to West Africa.

He spent his schooldays at Brighton and Hove Grammar School (now BHASVIC) where he showed a talent for drawing and developed an interest in design. Then, at the age of 16, he joined the Brighton School of Art, where he studied architecture under Frank Green and eventually became an associate of the Royal Institute of Architects (ARIBA).

Between 1955 and 1957 he did his National Service in the Royal Engineers and was stationed for the most part in Salisbury. Much of his time, it seems, was spent designing alterations and extensions to officers’ houses, an experience which provided him with a fund of amusing anecdotes.

In 1957 John married Marilyn Mayhew, a librarian, and they went on to form a close-knit family with three children—Nic (Nicholas), Pippa (Philippa) and Alex (Alexandra). That year also marked the beginning of John’s career as an architect when he joined a firm of architects in London and committed himself to a daily commute from Preston Park Station to London Victoria.

In 1959 he and Marilyn bought a piece of land in Inwood Crescent, high above the railway line. Keen to put his architectural ideas to the test and to explore the possibility of operating as an architect-developer, John designed and built a pair of houses, the eventual sale of one of which would help to finance the other. In order to accommodate the steep slope of the site the house was built on split levels around an open stair with the bedrooms on the upper entry level and the reception rooms below, opening to the garden. In 1970 the house proved too small for their growing family and they moved to a large Edwardian house in Windlesham Gardens.

In the same year John joined architects Ronald Ward and Partners, the practice he would remain with for the next 32 years, first as an associate and later as a partner. Ronald Ward ran a respected commercial practice which specialised mainly in office buildings, the most famous being the Vickers Tower beside the Tate Gallery. During the 1960s John was involved with work in West Africa and spent regular short periods in Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone. Later, during the 1980s, he worked on designs for the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank in Hong Kong. When the office finally closed in 1991, John took early retirement at the relatively young age of 58, though he continued to work as an architectural consultant in Brighton and was responsible, amongst other things, for the internal re-ordering of St John the Baptist Church on Palmeira Square.

In 1979 John joined the Regency Society and in 1992 became a committee member and trustee. Anthony Dale had been one of the founders of the Regency Society in 1945 and served as its honorary secretary from 1948 until his death in 1993. During this period the secretary was the mainstay of the society and the chair had a more symbolic role. When Dale died, the Society was at a low ebb and it seemed possible that it would die with him. But the then chair, Ian Dunlop, rose to the challenge, put the society’s finances into order and laid the foundations for a new era of intense activity. In 1995 John became the Conservation Secretary and its representative on the City’s Conservation Advisory Group (CAG). Finally, in 1997 he stepped into Anthony Dale’s empty shoes to become the honorary secretary.

John served as secretary for 12 years from 1997 to 2009 under a succession of three very different but equally effective chairs: John Wells-Thorpe (1997-2000), Gavin Henderson (2000-2006) and Michael Ray (2006-2009), and there can be no doubt that he provided the foundation on which these three were able to function so effectively.

With hindsight this period can be regarded as the Society’s second ‘golden age’ (its first being the early years from 1945 to 1951). Its president was the Duke of Grafton and its vice-presidents were the academics Asa Briggs and Sir John Kingsman. The committee included such well-informed enthusiasts as Peter Bareham, David Beevers, John Bluet Denman, Delia Forester, Derek Granger, Eileen Hollingdale, Liane Jarrett, Duncan McNeill, Hazel McKay, Selma Montford, Peter Rose, Derek Sherborn and Audrey Simpson. Every year there was a full winter programme of lectures by such luminaries as Helene Binet, Gillian Darby, Jeremy Dixon, Nick Grimshaw, Peter Howell, Simon Jenkins, John McAslan, John Outram, Anthony Seddon, Gavin Stamp, Derek Sugden, Giles Waterfield, George Saumarez-Smith and Lars Tharp. Every year, without fail, members met for a garden party in the Secret Garden and during every summer there were day-outings to places of interest across the south-east and long weekend visits, organised by Stella and Tony Mercer, to such faraway places as Lincoln, Chester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Bath, Worcester, Salisbury and Buxton. Throughout this time, the society made its voice heard with critical comments on heritage and planning issues that were channelled through CAG to the council's planning committee or published in the society’s own quarterly review.

That era drew to a close in 2009 when Michael Ray relinquished the chair and John Small stepped down as honorary secretary. John was made an honorary life member and in 2014 an annual lecture in his name was instigated.

As secretary of the Regency Society and chair of CAG John made a significant contribution to debates about the future development of Brighton and the conservation of its unique architectural heritage. He was also an active member of the Montpelier and Clifton Hill Association, the Hove Civic Society, the International Building Study Group (London) and the Sussex Heritage Trust.

In 2000 John sold the family home and moved to a flat in art-deco Furze Croft, where he surrounded himself with his unique collection of 20th-century furniture. His impeccable taste was apparent in the design of his flat and also in his carefully chosen wardrobe of elegant contemporary clothes. He continued to support the activities of the Regency Society and always stood out as the best-dressed man at the Annual Secret Garden Party.

David Robson

January 2023

Image: David Robson

Regency Society Occasional Paper 1

Brighton College is a fine example of an ambitious approach to building success in every sense. The history of its buildings recounted here demonstrates that the college has not always been the leading institution it is today. Vision, top quality design and a refusal to compromise have contributed centrally to its transformation. This has clearly not always been easy, and is an example we hope other institutions in our city will learn from.

This beautifully illustrated history by John McKean shows why Brighton College has created a benchmark for design in the city.

Occasional Paper: Brighton College

The Society is pleased to announce that the next AGM will take place at 7pm on Wednesday 12 April 2023. The venue will be the Hove Club, 28 Fourth Avenue, Hove.

As well as presenting the annual report for 2022, the agenda will include the election of trustees. If you would like to become one, please contact the honorary secretary. The meeting will be followed by

John Small Lecture: Wild & Busby Revisited

For details see the events page. Non-members are welcome.

Do you remember the Sackville Hotel?

 It was built in 1904 on the corner of Kingsway and Sackville Gardens, originally as a terrace of private houses.  It collapsed in 2006 and was demolished after being battered by strong winds.

The site then stood empty and unloved until 2016 when a developer proposed a 17-storey circular tower. The Regency Society was one of the many voices opposing this idea. Amongst our worries was the shape of the flats, – think of a slice of a circular pie!

The application was withdrawn and replaced with a more credible and down to earth plan for a block of sixty flats.  Although one member of the Planning Committee described the design as “a little bland” it was approved.

The Regency Society had commented that the building “made no attempt to turn the corner in an elegant manner.”  The final building’s curved corner is perhaps a suitable response.

What do you think of the result?

The Planning Forum, attended by members of the Regency Society and Hove Civic Society 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.

From Farm House to Superstore

At the top of Dyke Road Avenue there is a roundabout which provides access to the by-pass (A27).  Adjacent to the roundabout is a plot of land which for many years was the home of the Court Farm House.

The site was previously proposed for residential development, a scheme which the Regency Society supported. Permission was granted in 2017 but never implemented.

The latest proposal is for an Aldi Superstore with parking for 120 cars.  If you’re a driver and you want a convenient place to shop you may see this as a welcome development.  However, the application has attracted lots of adverse comment. Click OBJECTION TO PROPOSED ALDI SUPERSTORE AT COURT FARM to see what the store would look like and to read why the Regency Society is opposed to it.


The Plan for the Gas Works Site

Property developer, St William Homes has submitted a proposal for the site of the former Gas Works in Kemp Town.

If approved, it will result in 553 new homes in eleven tall buildings and several smaller ones, all located between Marine Gate to the east and Courcels to the west.  The scheme also includes new commercial properties.

The Regency Society is supportive of the principle of a residential development on this site, which has been a blot on the landscape for far too long. However, we cannot support this proposal.

Click Gas Works site objection 2-1-22 to read the comments we have submitted to the Planning Authority.

The Planning Forum, attended by members of the Regency Society and Hove Civic Society 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.


 What’s happening at the Gas Works?

The Society is monitoring closely the proposals for 700 new homes on the site of the old gas works in Kemp Town.  We are represented in Aghast, a coalition of local groups opposed to the development.


Smartening up the Old Steine café

The café at the south end of the Old Steine started life in 1926 as a tram shelter, built to a design by David Edwards, who at that time was the Borough Engineer. Later it became a public convenience.  It was in the 1990s that it became a café.

A planning application has been approved for various alterations. The aim is to create a more modern café environment. The building will be restored to remove unsympathetic additions and there will be much needed repairs to the flat roof and the windows.

The Regency Society welcomes this development which will return a historic, listed building to good condition and beneficial use while retaining its historic interest.


Flats in the Old Market

The planners are looking at a listed building in Hove, the Old Market in Upper Market Street.

An application has been submitted for alterations on the south side of the building to convert two floors of office space into four flats.

The proposed internal alterations are not radical and there is no removal of historic material.  There will only be one visible change to the exterior of the building: the installation of two windows on the southern façade, to match the four existing ones.

The scheme doesn’t seem to create any obvious harm to the listed building, and it will provide four new homes.