Wednesday, June 24th 2015
It was planned that we should meet friends for a trip to Brighton. Everything went smoothly enough but we tarried rather long over lunch, chatting about this, chatting about that and generally passing the time. We therefore did not see as much of Brighton as I would have liked but here are a few of the photos that I did manage to take.
Walking down the sloping Trafalgar Street from the station we pass in front of passage called Trafalgar Arches. This is in fact right underneath the station and I remember, as a boy, coming here to collect a parcel that had been transported by rail. Nowadays, the arches are occupied by shops and businesses. The one nearest the street is called Steam Coffee and outside it there is often a stall selling second-hand books. I don’t know whether the book stall and the cafe are a joint business or separate enterprises.
This attractive street is called Kensington Place and, to my mind, it is remarkable for the variety of designs of the houses in it. Kensington Place is one of a set of streets between Trafalgar Street and Gloucester Road (see map). I think my favourite is Kemp Street with its neat rows of terrace houses (see Rambling around Brighton or see this view of Kemp Street) but Kensington Place has a charm of its own. I like the custom of painting the houses in bright colours.
Kensington Place meets Gloucester Road where a section of the latter road is pedestrian-only, forming a small public square. Though it was still early, there were already chairs and tables out, awaiting customers. In fine weather, the streets of this part of Brighton are crowded and the atmosphere relaxed but lively.
This slab-faced building in Upper Gardner Street was the Central Infants’ School. The dedicatory panel on the front tells us that it was rebuilt and opened by the Countess of Chichester in November 1887. That’s all I have been able to find out about it. Was it re-erected on the same site as the old school or does this still exist somewhere? It is no longer a school but accommodates something called the Tindle Centre.
The name “The Grapevine” sounds like a pub and, for all I know, 29-30 North Road could once have been a pub. Today it is a backpackers’ hotel, advertising cheap accommodation. It is one of three establishments in Brighton of the same name.
In Church Street stands the old County Court. This was designed by Thomas C. Sorby and opened in 1869. Between then and 1967 when it finally closed, it dispensed justice for the County of Sussex but to us now, it is a pretty building that has happily found new use, currently as a library store. It is Grade II listed.
Opposite is Court is the Royal Pavilion Estate, a beautiful area comprising the Royal Pavilion itself, the Dome arts venue and concert hall and the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, all set in restored Regency-style gardens. We entered the Museum from Church Street, although this is no longer the official main entrance. I always have to stop and admire the decor. This building was originally built by the Prince Regent, along with the Pavilion. It was intended to be a tennis court but was never completed for this purpose and served for some time as a barracks.
The museum moved here in the early 1900s. It is decorated throughout with colourful ceramic tiles, though in a style quite different from the Chinese-themed Pavilion. It’s a pity they have seen fit to install ceiling boards bearing light fixtures as these obscure the real ceiling and upper parts of the walls. Surely they could have found a solution more in keeping with the style and beauty of the place.
It is customary to decry the Prince Regent, later George IV, for his vices and his profligacy. However, without pretending that the criticisms are not merited, we must also thank the extravagant royal personage for leaving us an architectural and artistic treasure that is quite unique not only in Brighton and the UK but, I think, in the world. “Indian outside, Chinese inside”, there is nothing to compare with it.
We passed through an inviting doorway into the museum and art gallery. The first thing we did was to go upstairs to the cafe for tea. They do an engaging range of cakes too…
As a child, I loved the museum and dragged my mother in here whenever we passed anywhere near. It has changed since my day, in some ways for the better, in some ways not. I still love it, though, and you can study a specific subject or wander about examining anything that takes your fancy. Special exhibitions add variety.
Admission to the museum was always free and it still is… if you are a resident of Brighton. If you are not, then admission will cost the modest fee of £5. In these times of financial stringency (strangely at odds with Britain’s supposed position among the world’s richest nations), museums are finding it harder and harder to survive and one by one are having to impose admission charges. The choice made by Brighton – charging visitors but admitting residents without charge – is an excellent one in my view, and I expect it to become widely imitated.
So here is a glimpse of the Royal Pavilion. I have photographed it many times before and do not apologise for doing so again. It was indeed a prince’s folly but it has left us with an enduring jewel of architecture so we can hardly complain. Dig deep enough in the foundations and you will probably discover some remains of the farmhouse that was the Prince’s original purchase. What would the farmer have thought of its replacement?
Contrary to what many people think, the Prince Regent did not invent Brighton as a resort, though he no doubt popularized it and added welcome glamour. The erstwhile fishing village has already become a resort with the fashion for sea bathing, promoted by Dr Richard Russell and others as health giving and a curative. That, indeed, is what brought the Prince here in the first place. About the time when the Regent was converting his until then modest (by royal standards) holiday home into the oriental splendour that we see today, Royal York Buildings came into existence (1819) as an hotel.
In its time it has been an hotel, offices for the council, a hotel again and now a member of the Youth Hostel chain (YHA). This latest mutation in the fortunes of what is a Grade II listed building has stirred up controversy but it at least preserves the building and in a usage not too dissimilar from its original purpose.
Having taken leave of our friends, we started slowly back towards the station. In Bond Street, we saw this large wall painting. It is by GRAF Inc and has been painted to publicize the Stay Alive anti-suicide campaign being run by Grass Roots. In particular, it draws attention to the Stay Alive app, said to be available for Android and iPhone (htough I think the latter may have been remived from the iTunes store). As a onetime Samaritan volunteer, I can only approve of this campaign and wish it well.
When we look for an icon to symbolize Brighton, the Royal Pavilion is an obvious candidate. For many of us, however, there is another object that, though it is smaller, is equally significant in its way. I always visit it when I go to Brighton.
The appropriately named Victoria Fountain was erected in honour of the accession to the throne of Queen Victoria in 1837. Its creation, however, was undertaken, not by the town, but as a private venture by John Cordy Burrows and formally inaugurated in May 1846 to coincide with the Queen’s 27th birthday celebrations. The dolphins around the column became the heraldic symbols of Brighton. Since then it has become a familiar landmark and a well loved symbol of Brighton.
The fountain stands in Old Steine Gardens, near the seafront. As you can see, it is favoured by gulls as a source of fresh water for drinking and bathing.