Architectural Styles in Brighton

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.

FLINTS 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.
GEORGIAN 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.
GOTHIC 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.
MATHEMATICAL TILES 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.
RED BRICK 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.

REGENCY 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.
VICTORIAN 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.

PRE-WAR STYLES 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.
POST-WAR DEVELOPMENT 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.
‘POST-WILSON’ 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.

WEATHER-BOARDING 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.
ARGUS LOFTS 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.

The Brighton Aquarium

Brighton Aquarium was the brainchild of Eugenius Birch, the famous engineer and designer of Brighton’s West Pier, who conceived the idea, following a visit to Boulogne Aquarium. Erected on the approach roadway to the Chain Pier, the Aquarium required the construction of a new sea-wall and promenade — Madeira Rd — which was begun in 1869. The whole project was completed in 1872, at a cost of £130,000, and the Aquarium was inaugurated by Prince Arthur that Easter, although there were no exhibits at the time. It was formally opened to the public on August 10 1872 by the mayor, John Cordy Burrows. The new Italianate building extended for about 700 feet along the base of the cliff. The entrance was at the western end, on the site of the Chain Pier’s toll-house, where a wide flight of steps descended into a large courtyard formed by five red-brick arches and terracotta columns. Inside the building, a large entrance hall led into the main aquarium corridor: 224 feet long and lined with large tanks lit from behind to add to the air of mystery. This impressive corridor, with its vaulted ceiling supported by columns of granite and marble decorated with marine capitals, remains the main aquarium hall and is now listed as being of special architectural and historic interest. The central hall housed a 100-foot tank: holding 110,000 gallons, it was the largest display tank in the world at that time. Marine exhibits were not the only attraction — a reading room, restaurant, winter-garden conservatory, smoking room, music conservatory, rockery and cascade were also provided. The roof terrace was completed in the summer of 1874 and a distinctive clock tower, gateway and toll-houses were added by T Boxall that October. In June 1876, the terrace was extended by 180 feet and a roller-skating rink, terrace garden, smoking room, café and music conservatory were all added to the roof.

The Aquarium proved to be an instant success with the town’s fashionable society and received many royal visitors. Among the early attractions was a large octopus and, in 1877, the first sea-lions arrived; the exhibition of a live Norway lobster in 1874 caused a furore. By 1880, organ recitals were being given twice daily in the hall, while concerts under the direction of William Kuhe were performed in the conservatory. In 1883, lectures and exhibitions were introduced to further stimulate public interest, and in 1889 a dramatic licence for the production of plays was obtained. Sideshows, featuring Krao the Missing Link, The Tiger Lady and The Bear Boy catered to those with more venal tastes. However, enthusiasm for the Aquarium did not last and, by the turn of the century, it was in financial difficulties. In October 1901, the building and business were purchased by the corporation for just £30,000, and Brighton Aquarium was henceforth managed as a municipal enterprise, apart from a brief private letting in 1905 and 1906. The Aquarium’s popularity then rose again, as Brighton’s fortunes in general revived. From 1907 until 1918, a municipal orchestra played in the conservatory, which was renamed the Winter Garden. There were also occasional film shows (from before 1900) and, during WWI, the Winter Garden was briefly known as the Aquarium Kinema; film shows continued until 1939. In 1920, ‘Airship Flights’, promising views from 3,000 feet up, were on offer. In July 1922, Brighton Council gave the Southdown Bus Company permission to convert the building into a bus and coach station, but the plan was unexpectedly withdrawn at a public inquiry.

In 1927, the Aquarium closed for a £117,000 modernisation, designed by Borough Engineer, David Edwards. When it was reopened by the Duke of York on June 12 1929, the exterior had been rebuilt in white Empire stonework; the entrance was replaced by two square kiosks with pagoda-style roofs; the statues representing the Four Seasons had been removed, and the distinctive clock tower had been demolished. A new entrance hall had been built with an adjoining restaurant, while the Winter Garden had been transformed into the Prince’s Hall, a modern concert hall seating some 1,250 people. A ballroom, bandstand and other small buildings were added to the Sun Terrace, which was extended eastwards above a colonnade and shops to meet the Madeira Terrace. A lift was also installed from Marine Parade down into the Aquarium, while the subway to the Lower Esplanade was opened in 1935. Both slipper and shower baths, which closed in about 1979, and a miniature rifle-range were also provided. During WWII, the Aquarium was requisitioned by the RAF. When it reopened, chimpanzee tea-parties and other small animal attractions were introduced but, in 1955, the building was again privately leased, to Aquarium Entertainments Ltd. The Prince’s Hall, which had been used nightly as a ballroom, later became the Florida Rooms night-club, but was transformed in 1961 into the Montagu Motor Museum. The first pair of dolphins was exhibited in a new 80 x 30 feet pool, costing £200,000, at the western end of the Aquarium in 1968 and proved so popular that the motor museum was converted into a permanent dolphin attraction. Opened at Easter 1969, the dolphinarium had seating for a 1,000 visitors around an oval pool which held 210,000 gallons of sea-water (the largest display tank in the world), at a cost of £50,000. The Aquarium was featured in the film, The Fruit Machine (1988). Its six dolphins were called Belle, Prinny, Missus, Baby, Lucky and Poppy, and the two seals were Sunshine and Yogi. However, serious concern about the effect of permanent enclosure on these intelligent mammals led to a considerable movement to close the dolphinarium, which occurred in December 1990. It was converted into a Sea Life Centre, costing £1 million, which opened at Easter 1991; it houses over 150 species of marine creatures. The Centre is involved with campaigns and education programmes on issues of conservation and marine animal welfare around the world.

The 50,000 sq ft of the Aquarium Terraces were redeveloped as a leisure complex by Compco in 2000. Nightclub giant Cream planned to open a 1,750 venue in the ground floor and basement, but this never transpired. As of February 2010, the only businesses in the available units were the Terraces restaurant, a Harvester and a Burger King. That month, Brighton Seafront Regeneration Ltd, headed by architect David Kohn (winner of the 2009 Young Architect of the Year award), announced a major revamp for the site, and submitted a planning application for a large restaurant in unit five of the building, on the lower terrace. The pavilion was removed from the upper terrace and the disabled not-very-accessible access ramp replaced with a lift.

Bygone days: Albion Hill

The steep slopes rising eastward from Grand Parade and Richmond Place reach 230 feet above sea-level near Windmill Terrace and make up the area known as Albion Hill. Developed with dense, poor quality housing as the town’s population soared in the first 30 years of the 19th century, much of the district degenerated into appalling slums and the many back streets, such as Nelson Row and Carlton Row where herrings were smoked on ‘dees’ by the fishermen, were notorious for the deprivation of their inhabitants. In 1868, the Brighton Home for Female Penitents was opened on the eastern side of Finsbury Rd, where it became known as the Albion Hill Home. In 1918, it closed but re-opened as the Albion Church Army Home for Girls. By the late 1940s, it was the Church Army Maternity and Child Welfare Home. It was demolished in 1958 and The Crown Hill and Westmount flats were built on the site in about 1961. The area’s worst slums persisted until the 1930s, when the corporation embarked upon a large-scale redevelopment scheme in the Morley St (formerly Sussex St) area, which resulted in the removal of many small houses and the opening of the Chest Clinic in 1936 (closed 1989), the Municipal Market, and the School Clinic and Infant Welfare Centre in 1938. Many residents were rehoused in the corporation’s first block of flats, the four-storey Milner Flats which was erected on the site of Woburn Place in 1934 and named after Alderman Hugh Milner Black, a champion of corporation housing. The adjacent Kingswood Flats, named for Minister of Health Sir Kingsley Wood, were built in 1938 on the sites of Nelson Place and a Primitive Methodist chapel of 1856 in Sussex St. The nearby Tarnerland council estate was developed on vacant land in 1931.

Clearances on the slopes to the north of Morley St commenced in 1959, the narrow streets and courtyards being replaced by flats and grassed open spaces. The town’s first ‘tower-block’ flats were erected on Albion Hill in 1961 and the area is now dominated by seven 11-storey blocks; Highleigh was the first, opened by Mayor Alan Johnson, on May 16 1961. One of the principal thoroughfares of Albion Hill was Richmond St, once the steepest road in the town (gradient 1:5) with a wall across its width at Dinapore St to stop runaway carts. Formerly lined with shops and public houses, it is now restricted to its upper reaches only, the lowest part having been rebuilt as Richmond Parade.

The Obed Arms was at number 126, on the corner of Dinapore St; built in 1860, both pub and street name had their origins in India — Dinapore being the name of a town involved in the Indian mutiny of 1857. Chate’s Farm Court, opened on February 26 1980, was built on the site of the Chate family’s dairy farm, Richmond Farm Dairy, which stood on the northern side of Richmond St from 1858 to 1934; no.34a appears to have been connected with it.

Lower down at the corner with Cambridge St, where the bottom of the zig-zag path now lies, stood the Ebenezer Baptist Chapel, a Renaissance-style building opened on April 13 1825. It was demolished in 1966 and the replacement, by CJ Wood, now stands in Richmond Parade. This is being redeveloped to provide a six-storey building with basement, comprising a new church and 49 self-contained flat, of which 26 are for affordable housing. Nearby, on the site of the Albion Brewery in Albion St, is the Elim Church of the Four Square Tabernacle, opened in September 1988 when the congregation moved from Union Street. The Albion/Stable Inn — was originally a drayman’s store opposite Tamplins stables — was at 7-8 Albion St, built in the 1860s and rebuilt in 1961. In the 1980s, it was run by Roy and Pam Pockney; he was the former chief conductor on the Brighton Belle, and chair of the Sussex Licensed Victuallers’ Association. The Free Butt, a tiny but popular live music venue in Albion St was built in 1821, and was originally part of the Phoenix Brewery; one of its regular customers was Harry Cowley.