Bear Road Neighbourhood and the Bedford Hotel

Bear Rd has an average gradient of 1:11 and a maximum of 1:8, and formed part of the boundary between Brighton and Preston until 1928. It took its name from the Bear Inn, a centre for bear and badger-baiting in the late 18th century; bear-baiting was legal until 1835.

On Bear Hill to the north of Bear Rd once stood the Bear Mill and, at the top of Bear Rd, stood the Race Hill Mill. The area to the north of Bear Rd, sometimes known as East Preston as it formed the easternmost part of that parish, was developed from the early 1900s and many of the road names have Boer War connections — e.g. Ladysmith and Mafeking roads. Most of the housing — 58% — is terraced and a high proportion of it (26%) is rented out as student accommodation — to the chagrin of owner-occupiers, who regularly complain about a variety of nuisances caused by this, including rubbish in the street and noise.

The parish church of the area, St Alban’s in Coombe Rd, was built in 1910-14 by Lacy W Ridge, in Early English style; on May 15 1974, the parish was merged into the new parish of the Resurrection. The parish room at the corner of Bear Rd and Riley Rd was built in 1902-3.

The lower part of Coombe Rd was dominated by two large factories on either side of the road. The southern one (Tyreco Ltd) was erected in 1917 for National Diamond Factories (Bernard Oppenheimer) Ltd, and ex-WWI servicemen who had lost limbs were employed there. The building was eventually occupied by Allen West and Schweppes in 1927 and, in 1945, by CVA Tools; this company was taken over by Kearney & Trecker in 1966 and the Coombe Rd factory closed in 1973.

In October 2000, the building was converted into deco flats; prices then were £87,500 for a 1- bedroom flat, £164,950 for 2-bedroom; in late 2009, a 1-bed flat cost £146,000. The impressive building opposite, now the Big Yellow Storage Company, was erected in 1918 as another diamond factory, and then became the home of Dentsply, one of Europe’s largest false teeth manufacturers, which closed in 1991.

Other businesses in the area included artificial limb makers Pedestros Ltd at 18 Coombe Rd Ltd and, at no.16, Brighton Asbestos Manufacturing Co Ltd. Nowadays, the Bear Rd area is dominated its cemeteries and crematoria, including the historic Extra-Mural Cemetery. Bevendean Hospital in Bevendean Rd closed in April 1989; it was demolished and the Sussex Beacon was erected, along with some housing.

The Bedford Hotel, 137 King’s Rd, was designed by Thomas Cooper and opened in 1835. It was considered the most distinguished late-Georgian building in Brighton after the Royal Pavilion. It had five storeys with two recessed Ionic porticoes facing south and west above the entrances, while the west wing was built back from the road and was decorated with giant pilasters. Inside was a Grecian hall with Ionic columns and a glazed dome.

The original Bedford Hotel was opened in October 1829 for William Manfield who, in 1835, leased it to the designer, Thomas Cooper; Manfield bought the lease back the following year and ran the hotel himself until 1844, when he leased it to Joseph Ellis.

In 1855, Ellis purchased the Bedford outright, and established it as the town’s leading hotel for the accommodation of royalty, the fashionable and the famous. Its guests included French Emperor Louis-Philippe, Louis Napoleon, Jenny Lind and Lord Palmerston. In 1963, the hotel was bought by AVP Industries Ltd, who said they wanted to replace it with a modern 14-storey tower block. On April 1 1964 — just two months after Brighton Council refused to make a preservation order on the hotel — the building was partly destroyed by fire. Two people lost their lives: guest Mrs Elizabeth Reed and hotel worker, Mrs Montserrat Gorriz. The hotel’s manager, John Ratcliffe, had the presence of mind to rescue a display for letters, written by Charles Dickens during his visits to the hotel, from a display cabinet on the ground floor.

A replacement Bedford Hotel — rather different in character to its predecessor — opened on September 16 1967. Designed by R Seifert and Partners, the 17-storey, 168 feet tall building was the first major new hotel development in the town for over half a century. It became the Hilton West Pier and Bedford Towers, and is now the Holiday Inn.

Allot meant a lot in bygone days

In its earliest incarnation, Brighton was a town was a quarter of a mile square, comprising North St, West St, East St and South St, with ‘allotments’ of land in the middle of these; ‘The Lanes’ were the pathways between these ‘allotments’.

Prior to WWII, there was one allotment to every 16 households; after the wartime publicity drive to encourage people to ‘Dig for Victory’, this increased to one for every 12 households.

After the end of WWII and food rationing, many allotments in Brighton lay unused and some were sold off in the 1980s.

But the late 20th century’s rise in food prices and an interest in organic, grow-your-own produce in the town saw the demand for plots rocket and the waiting list for a plot on many sites is five years or more, with 1,979 people in the queue — some since January 1998.

There are 37 allotment sites in Brighton and Hove, providing plots for 2,500 tenants. In 2002, Brighton & Hove Allotment Federation launched an £80,000 appeal to convert three plots for disabled users and set up accessible raised box beds.

In 2009, the council announced that 100 new sites would be created to help meet demand: 40 new plots on Whitehawk Hill, and another 60 in neighbouring Craven Vale. Also that year, the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership received £500,000 from the Big Lottery fund for a three-year Harvest Brighton and Hove project, to identify and utilise new green spaces for growing food. The project also promotes food-growing in the city and initiatives, such as scrumping for unharvested apples.

However, on the minus side, in November 2009, a government planning inspector gave the go-ahead for four houses to be built on a narrow strip of former railway land allotments between London Rd station and Springfield Rd, at the back of the Open House pub. Developers Kingsbury Estate Ltd had taken the plans to a public inquiry after they were initially rejected by Brighton and Hove City Council, because of the impact on wildlife.

The group Friends of London Rd Old Railway Allotments was formed to oppose the proposal. Until 1992, the site was allotments cultivated by railway workers but the developers denied there were ever any allotments there. In January 2010, it was announced that a shortlist of proposals for the draft Sustainable Communities Act included one submitted by Brighton & Hove Council, which would enable allotment-holders to sell fruit and vegetables they grow.

Black Rock Neighbourhood

Probably named after a large rock or cave that once lay at the foot of the cliffs, Black Rock, at Boundary Rd, marked the eastern limit of Brighton until 1928, a boundary which was fixed by an inquiry in 1606 after an argument over wrecker’s rights. Black Rock also marks the point where the white chalk of the South Downs meets the sea, and there are some unusual geological formations in the vicinity. Visible in the fawn-coloured cliffs behind the Asda superstore, about 15 feet above the Undercliff Walk, is a ‘raised beach’ of rounded, flint pebbles and sandy gravels up to 10 feet thick, resting on chalk. This beach was laid down around 100,000 years ago during a warm interval in the Ice Age and has yielded sea-shells and the remains of whales. Above lies a 45-foot-thick layer of ‘Coombe Rock’— chalky rubble eroded by freeze-thaw action during the colder periods and ‘sludged’ down into the valleys by the spring and summer rains. This layer has produced fossil remains of mammoths, woolly rhinos and hippopotamuses. The strata here may be seen to curve upwards where the solid chalk of the South Downs becomes exposed as cliffs; the prehistoric coastline was once at an oblique angle to the present cliffs. This area is protected as a site of special scientific interest. About 350 yards offshore to the west of the Marina breakwater is the site of an historic wreck, protected from interference by statute. On the sea-bed lies a large, timber framework from which a cannon ball, an anchor and other metal objects have been recovered. The origin of the wreck is uncertain but it may be a French ship from one of the 16th-century raids on Brighton, or even a Spanish galleon from the 1588 Armada. The first development at Black Rock was the gas-works, established in 1818-19 by the Brighton Gas Light and Coke Company. This was soon followed by some terraced housing and shops, in Black Rock Cottages, Rifle Butt Rd and Hillside Cottages and, by 1828, the Abergavenny Arms had also opened. A small laundry, employing four women who hand-washed everything, was run in Hillside Cottages; their customers included the Duke of Fife. Black Rock House was two houses knocked into one, consisting of 18 rooms. It ran as a hotel, then a guest house, and was eventually converted into flats. The bakery in Rifle Butt Rd opened in 1856 and was run by the Stevens family from 1926 until its enforced closure in 1972; it was still using the same coal-fired oven installed 116 years earlier.

Constant erosion claimed the Black Rock cliff top 75 feet inland between 1847 and 1897 — a major landslip occurred in 1843 — causing the closure of the road to Rottingdean and the opening of Roedean Rd as an alternative; large landslips continued into the 1920s. In 1824, a tunnel was constructed from the eastern end of the Kemp Town esplanade to the gas-works to facilitate the carting of coal, but it fell into disuse once coal started to be landed at Aldrington Basin, and was blocked at both ends by the town commissioners in 1850, after it had collapsed in the middle. In January 1906, Magnus Volk rented the southern entrance and, describing it falsely as a smugglers’ cave, used it briefly as a tourist attraction for his railway extension to Black Rock. The entrance disappeared completely when the corporation constructed public conveniences in the 1930s. Black Rock Farm survived until 1928, when the corporation bought the land there. On July 22 1932, with the cliffs now protected by the Undercliff Walk, a new 60-foot-wide highway, the Marine Drive, was opened between Black Rock and Rottingdean; the old inn was demolished at this time. The small community at Black Rock, centred on Rifle Butt Rd, was eventually demolished for the construction of the Marina road interchange which opened in 1976. The graves of the Quaker cemetery there were exhumed and the remains were taken to Lawn Memorial cemetery, where they were re-interred in a mass grave.

Black Rock was perhaps best known for its swimming-pool, formally opened on the site of a terrace garden on August 8 1936, and necessitating a slight shortening of Volk’s Railway. The pool, 165 feet by 60 feet, closed in 1978 and the handsome changing room and café building was demolished; in March 1984, demolition of the open air pool itself began. A major cliff collapse in recent times followed a winter of intense rain, and the soft layers of Coombe Deposits in the cliff behind Asda failed and a major fall blocked the Undercliff Walk, almost reaching the store. The walk was closed for some time before extensive work was carried out to sensitively secure the cliff face in what is an important natural site, designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The Black Rock cliffs were closed to the public again in 2001 and 2004, when storms caused parts of them to crumble and fall onto the Undercliff Walk. In 2005, professional abseilers from Uckfield builders CJ Thorne sank bolts into the rocks which were aimed at holding the rocks in place for the next 50 years. In July 2005, a sand sculpture festival was held at Black Rock beach, featuring Egyptian-style dragons, sphinxes, and Tutankhamun’s tomb, made by 60 carvers using 10,000 tonnes of sand.

In recent years, Black Rock has become the focus of several unrealised proposed major developments — some more controversial than others. However, a plan to build 147 homes on the set received a setback when, in March 2010, a High Court decision ruled that property developers would have to pay a substantial share of the costs involved in cleaning up such contaminated sites. In October 2003, RH Partnership and the Brighton International Arena became the two preferred bidders for the former pool site; RH’s proposal featured plans for a 150-bed, 5-star hotel by Forte, complete with health spa, winter garden and biodome. Brighton International Arena’s $50 million proposal was to include an 11,000-seat indoor events arena with two Olympic ice rinks (for skating and ice hockey) plus 109 residential apartments, 40 per cent of these ‘affordable’. Jayne Torvill and Robin Cousins supporting this scheme and proposed that it should be the home of a national ice dance centre. Brighton & Hove Council favoured this scheme, which was opposed by residents and a number of groups, including the Regency Society. However, the scheme — like other major developments in the city — was put on ice when the 2009 recession/credit crunch took its toll and financial backer Erinaceous went bust.

Meating the town’s needs

Brighton is now regarded by many as the vegetarian capital of the UK, but ’twas not always thus. In 1848, Brighton had a staggering 54 slaughter houses: Animals slaughtered in that year alone numbered 51,623 sheep; 5,720 beasts; 4,160 calves and 3,120 pigs; 1,097,196 stone of meat was consumed in the town annually.

The abattoirs included four in Henry St, two each in Chesterfield, Paradise and Chapel streets and Essex Place; three each in Colebrook Row and Oxford St; six in Air St; four in Church St; four in North Lane and Zion Gardens; seven in Vine St (next to Robert St); and one each in Egremont St, Mount St, Park St, Colebrook Row, Telegraph St, Crescent Cottages, Upper Bedford St, Trafalgar St, Hart St, Little Russell St and Meeting House Lane. One of the biggest was the one in Oxford Court, between Oxford St and Oxford Place; cattle were herded to this site from the station down Trafalgar St, along London Rd. In 1849, the government appointed a commissioner, Edward Cresy, to investigate Brighton’s health. In his subsequent report, Cresy made repeated references to the abattoirs and the problems caused by the animal waste, which usually ended up in cesspools. These then contaminated the wells which provided water for the local population, resulting in epidemics of typhoid, cholera, scarlet fever and tuberculosis. Cresy said, ‘Nothing is more injurious or ought to be deprecated more than that custom of keeping pigs to devour the offal of a butcher’s slaughterhouse’.

In June 1894, all the North Laine abattoirs closed and slaughtering transferred to the Brighton Municipal Abattoir, Hollingdean. This was built so that, post-Cresy, the abattoirs in poor residential areas could be closed. Nearly 7,000 animals were handled in the first year and, by 1928, the figure had risen to some 34,400 animals, with only 11 other slaughterhouses remaining; there have been no independent abattoirs in Brighton since 1936. The Hollingdean site included a special casting pen for slaughter according to Jewish ritual and, by the late 60s, granted a license to a Muslim ritual slaughterer. Business would start at 6am and end at 1pm but, for many years, private butchers and their staff carried out the work, sometimes late into the evening.

In the 1950s, two slaughtering contractors, the Brighton & Hove Meat Traders Ltd and the Fatstock Marketing Corporation Ltd, both meat wholesalers, were based at the abattoir. In 1949, nearly 50,000 cows and sheep were slaughtered there. In the 50s and 60s, the number of cattle decreased but, in 1959 alone, over 80,000 sheep and pigs were killed there. ‘Humane’ slaughtering of animals was adopted by Brighton in 1922, 11 years before it became compulsory throughout the UK. The public abattoir was closed in 1986, after repeatedly failing to meet hygiene standards.