Look around the town of Brighton and you will see it is awash with different architectural styles. Here is an in-depth look at some of these you will find.
The most common local building stone, closely associated with chalk, is flint, either rough stones picked up from the fields or smoothed, round flint cobbles (known locally as ‘pitchers’) from the beaches. In many cases, the flints have been ‘knapped’ to present a flat face to the exterior, and on some of the larger houses the flints are also ‘squared’ to give a regular coursing; the random joints formed when knapped flints are not squared are known as ‘snail-creep’.
Good examples of knapped flint buildings can be seen at Ovingdean, Patcham, Rottingdean and Stanmer villages; at St Nicholas’s Church; the Druid’s Head, Brighton Place; and 8 Ship St. Knapped and squared flints may be seen at Court House and Down House, Rottingdean; Southdown House, Patcham; Home Farmhouse, Withdean; and in Preston, at 36 North Rd, 199 Preston Rd, and in South Rd. Flint-cobble buildings, often coated with tar to improve weather-proofing, are common and mostly date from the early 19th century.
Good examples in the town may be found at Bartholomews; Church St; the Cricketers Arms, Black Lion St; Dorset Gardens; Kemp Town Place; Marlborough Place; Middle St; Mighell St; New Rd; Pavilion Parade; Queen’s Place; Richmond Gardens; St James’s Place; Ship St; Southover St; Union St; Upper Rock Gardens; and York Place.
The other use of flint is the form of wall which is known colloquially as ‘bungeroosh’ and is very often to be seen in boundary walls, and in internal walls which are subsequently plastered.
The streets of the East Cliff contain numerous examples of small-scale, Georgian-style housing, many with bows to allow visitors and lodgers a view down the road to the sea. Other good examples may be found at Bartholomews; 15 Prince Albert St; Ship St; and a terrace at Tilbury Place, reminiscent of Georgian London.
Despite the many Victorian churches and chapels, there are few examples of domestic Gothic-revival architecture in the town. The Percy and Wagner Almshouses; the former Debenhams store, Western Rd; and Wykeham Terrace are the best examples.
These were hung on timber-framed buildings to give the appearance of higher quality brick walls, and it is usually difficult to distinguish them from the real thing. Black, glazed mathematical tiles are easy to discern, and may be seen at many locations including Jubilee Library; Grand Parade; Manchester St; Market St; Old Steine; Pool Valley; Royal Crescent; and York Place; also at Patcham Place and Wootton House, Patcham; and at North End House, Rottingdean. No.8 Wentworth St is a good example of a house faced in cream-coloured mathematical tiles; many other late 18th and early 19th-century houses in the East Cliff area are also faced with these tiles.
From the 1890s to the 1920s, large areas of red-brick housing were erected, particularly in Preston. Fine examples, often with decorated gables, may be seen at Beaconsfield Villas; Compton Rd; Ditchling Rd; Edburton Avenue; Hollingbury Park Avenue; Inwood Crescent; Queen’s Park Rise; Queen’s Park Terrace; St James’s Avenue; St Luke’s Rd; St Luke’s Terrace; and Southdown Avenue. Much larger red-brick residences are found in Beaconsfield Villas; Dyke Rd; Harrington Rd; and Preston Park Avenue.
The great expansion of Brighton in the late 18th and early 19th centuries produced most of the town’s outstanding examples of architecture and, although the Prince of Wales’s regency lasted only from 1811 to 1820, the term ‘Regency-style’ has come to be applied to many of the buildings of the period from 1810 to the 1840s.
Typical are the classical crescents, squares and terraces, adorned with pilasters, ironwork balconies, verandas and bows. Most are covered in a painted plaster known as ‘stucco’ which resembles stone, and gives the town its traditional white and cream appearance; those that remained unstuccoed were usually faced with flint, or with yellow bricks from the former brickfields around the Hove boundary.
The use of stucco was, for many years, considered sham, and it was not until Osbert Sitwell and Margaret Barton wrote appreciatively of the Regency style in 1935 that general opinion changed.
Outstanding examples of the Regency style are the classical terraces of the Kemp Town and Brunswick estates; Cavendish Place; Marine Parade; Marine Square; Montpelier Crescent; New Rd; Old Steine; Oriental Place; Portland Place; Regency Square; Russell Square; Sillwood Place; and Western Terrace.
From the late 1820s until the 1860s, a later style was in evidence which retained some elements of the Regency period. Many houses were refronted with newly fashionable wide bows while new houses in this style were erected at Belvedere Terrace; Chesham Place; Chichester Place; Clarendon Terrace; Eastern Terrace; Eaton Place; Grand Parade; Montpelier Rd; Norfolk Square; Percival Terrace; Powis Square; and St George’s Place. Attractive Italianate villas were built at Buckingham Place; Clifton Terrace; 128-130 Dyke Rd; Montpelier Rd; Montpelier Villas; Powis Villas; and Russell Crescent. Less impressive but still attractive contemporary cottages may be found at Blenheim Place; Camden Terrace; Clarence Gardens; Crown Gardens; Crown St; Dean St; Frederick Gardens; Hanover St; Marlborough St; Norfolk St; North Gardens; Regent Hill; Spring St; and Trafalgar Terrace.
Angular window bays and decorative details are the typical features of mid to late-19th century Brighton houses and public buildings. Houses of the period may be found in many parts of the town, especially in the Hanover, St Saviour’s and Prestonville areas, while good examples of grander Victorian terracing may be found at Buckingham Rd; Denmark Terrace; Gladstone Terrace; Park Crescent; Round Hill Crescent; St Michael’s Place and Vernon Terrace.
Many large villa residences were also erected, especially in the Buckingham Rd/Dyke Rd area; the Clermont Estate at Preston; Florence Rd; London Rd, Withdean; Old Shoreham Rd; Preston Rd; Richmond Rd; Springfield Rd; Stanford Avenue; Walpole Rd; Wellington Rd; and York Villas.
The 1920s and 1930s saw dramatic changes in the Brighton townscape, as the main shopping streets were widened and the slums of Carlton Hill and Upper Russell St were swept away. Art Deco and International Modern styles began to appear, and the first high-rise blocks were erected on the sea-front.
The most notable buildings from this period are the former Co-operative Society store, London Rd; Electric House (now Royal Bank of Scotland), Castle Square; Embassy Court, King’s Rd; Marine Gate, Black Rock; the Ocean Hotel, Saltdean; St Dunstan’s, Ovingdean Gap; St Wilfrid’s Church, Elm Grove; Saltdean Lido; Varndean Sixth Form College, Surrenden Rd; the White House, Saltdean Drive; and the stores on the northern side of Western Rd. Council housing of the period includes the early ‘model’ estate of South Moulsecoomb; North Moulsecoomb; the Queen’s Park estate; Manor Farm and Whitehawk; and the Milner and Kingswood flats.
Private housing ranged from the ‘Tudorbethan’ style of Braybons Ltd in the Valley Drive area and the brown brick of the Brangwyn Estate, to the numerous bungalows of the Ladies Mile, Ovingdean, Patcham, Saltdean and Woodingdean.
The immediate post-war need was for housing and large estates were rapidly erected by the council at Bevendean, Coldean and Hollingbury. However, a little of the pre-war style lingered on into the 1950s, with buildings such as the Western Bathing Pavilion; Barclays Bank, North St; and some of the factories on the Hollingbury and Moulsecoomb Way industrial estates.
From the late 1950s until the early 1970s, the townscape was radically changed by the widespread replacement of many small, terraced houses with numerous blocks of both high and low-rise flats. The predominant use of concrete, the harshness of line, the brutal disregard for location, and the pure functionalism of designs in this period have resulted in many buildings which can only be described as ‘ugly’: within this category must fall the Albion Hill redevelopment; the Bedford Hotel; Churchill Square; the Law Courts, Edward St; New England House; Osprey House, Sillwood Place; the Police Station, John St; the eastern side of Queen’s Rd; St James’s House, High St; Sussex Heights; Sussex University; and Wellesley House, Waterloo Place.
Other less objectionable buildings of the era include Brighton Square; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Coldean; Church of the Holy Cross, Woodingdean; Church of the Holy Nativity, Bevendean; and the Spiritualist Church, Edward St.
On March 22 1973, Brighton Council unanimously rejected the ‘Wilson report’ — a town-centre plan by Sir Hugh Wilson and Lewis Womersley which proposed large-scale road construction in the vicinity of Preston Circus and a ‘spine road’ through the North Laine to a car-park in Church Street. These would both have involved the demolition of over 500 houses as an interim measure, preluding even more extensive new road construction.
However, the essential aim of the plan — to restrict town centre traffic and introduce extensive pedestrianisation — was laudable. Five town-centre conservation areas were designated that year (with five more in 1977, notably North Laine), and so 1973 marked something of a watershed in civic attitudes towards the inherited townscape.
A few examples are to be found in the centre of Brighton: 29-30 and 43 Meeting House Lane; 37a Duke St; and 179 Edward St. There are also weather-boarded houses at 8-9 The Square, Patcham; and barns at Patcham and Stanmer.
Once owned by the Southern Publishing Co, this building on the corner of Robert St and North Rd — former site of Robinson’s printing works — was the home of the Argus newspaper printing works from 1926 until 1992, when the paper moved to its new premises in Hollingbury. Workers used to drink at the Canteen pub, sited where the Bathstore shop is.
Ownership of the building changed hands numerous times in the next few years. A huge fired broke out on December 5 1999, and residents in Robert St were moved to safety from the 30 foot flames, intense heat and exploding gas-cylinders that were still inside the building.
At that time, preliminary work had begun on an £18.5 million scheme by City Loft Developments, comprising 61 loft-style homes, designed by Conran & Partners, plus workshops, shops and offices on the ground floor. Renamed the ‘Argus Lofts’, prices for the apartments in 2001 ranged from £120,000 to £385,000.