Saturday, May 7th 2016
The weather was sunny and warm and we hadn’t been to Brighton for a while so that seemed to be a good destination for today’s outing. When we reached ‘the queen of watering places’1, we found the city alive with football supporters and I assume that Brighton & Hove Albion were playing at home. We spent the day dodging the crowds of supporters, tourists and day-trippers and this determined, in part, why we wandered off to the east and visited areas we had not seen before.
We were going to catch a train from St Pancras but passed through its neighbouring station, King’s Cross, on the way. There we found a new addition to the decor. This very lifelike (if slightly larger than life-size) statue of Sir Nigel Gresley had been unveiled on April 5th this year. It was sculpted by Hazel Reeves and commemorates the engineer who designed a number of famous steam locomotives including the Flying Scotsman and the Mallard, the fastest steam locomotive in the world. As chief engineer for the Great Northern Railway and then the London and North Eastern Railway, Sir Nigel worked in an office on this station. You will find more about him here.
The sharp-eyed among you may have noticed the row of four toy ducks on the ground beside him. This is a small but colourful protest. Sir Nigel used to breed waterfowl – hence the name, Mallard, of his famous creation – and the statue was originally intended to be accompanied by a mallard duck standing just to Sir Nigel’s right. Two of his grandsons apparently considered the presence of the duck ‘demeaning’ and for that reason it was omitted from the final installation. A protest has been mounted against this decision and in favour of restoring the duck to its intended position. You will find details (and an opportunity to sign a petition, should you be moved to do so) here. Personally, I think the duck is a nice touch and I hope it regains its place.
We first did a quick tour of some of the areas where we know street artists have been active in Brighton. Here are a few of the paintings seen.
My favourite, partly because it is of an animal and partly because of its apparent whimsicality, is the one below. (Unfortunately, I do not know the identity of the artist.)
This painting depicts a rather odd-looking giraffe with what resembles a camel’s hump. I think we have to take it together with two other items on the wall. Firstly, there are words to the right of the giraffe’s chest, ‘The Camelopardalis or Giraffe’. This reads rather like a label on a specimen in a museum. Next is the poster advertising an exhibition by Brighton Museum called Exotic Creatures. The exhibition was on the theme of Royal menageries and zoos and mentions the first live giraffe to reach Britain, a gift to George IV by the Pasha of Egypt in 1826. These three items fit together to suggest a work inspired by the exhibition but there’s slightly more to it than that. I serendipitously discovered tweets by Alexandra Loske in which she shows that the painting is based on a woodcut by Thomas Bewick and is one of the illustrations in his 1790 book, A General History of Quadrupeds (see here). It seems clear that Bewick had never actually seen a giraffe and was working from written or verbal accounts – and hence what I perceived as the ‘whimsical’ character of the picture. (This is an example of how consideration of works of street art often draw us into hidden depths!)
It was time for a rest and refreshments. Passing along Tidy Street, we chanced upon the Rock Ola coffee bar and I am very glad we did. The cafe’s furnishings and decor are all of the 50s and 60s, with an American flavour. Adjoining the cafe is a record shop accessible through a door in the cafe itself.
You could, I think, spend hours examining the fascinating collection of pictures and knick-knacks lining the walls. At present there seems to be something of a vogue for recreations a classic American diners and we have visited a couple ourselves (see, for example, Trinity Buoy Wharf), but this one has a character all of its own.
Where Tidy Street meets Gloucester Road is an area that is busy on Saturdays with stalls and sightseers. We there encountered a herring gull. Though gulls have become used to prospecting and scavenging in areas where there are people, they are much more cautious than pigeons, for example, and tend to keep their distance (apart from the occasional piratical grab at food in someone’s hand!). This one, though, seemed bolder than most and I was able to approach quite close to take a photo.
Near St Peter’s Church, we found the Chatfield Drinking Fountain. I’m a littkle ashamed to say I did not previously know of its existence, though it has been around for 145 years. It is a Grade II listed building but seems to have suffered damage of late: the metal plates shown to be present on earlier photos are now missing, presumably stolen by metal thieves.
Surmounted by an obelisk, the fountain has two basins for humans to drink from, two curved troughs for cattle and horses (now used as planters) and some lower troughs for smaller animals. The fountain is listed by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association so was presumably commissioned by them though it was paid for and gifted to the town in 1871 by Frederick Chatfield. A note by the MDFCTA indicates that it was originally flanked by four gas lamps. It would in its time have been a handsome and useful piece of street furniture and it deserves to be better looked after than is currently the case.
The Prince Regent (later George IV) may have been a spendthrift, a glutton and many other things, but his self-centred passions have left us an inestimable treasure in his ‘summer cottage’, the exotic oriental Royal Pavilion. We did not visit it today, as we usually do, and so I made do with photographing it from a distance (the only way you can capture all of it, anyway).
It was a very warm day and by the time we reached the lower end of St James’s Street, we were ready for a rest and a drink. We entered the coffee house with the colourful name of Redroaster. It was crowded but we found a table free. Normally I dislike crowded places but the Redroaster has a pleasant atmosphere and the high ceiling helps to make it feel roomy. We drank coffee and I took this scan shot of the interior.
We progressed up St James’s Street, which contains an intriguing mix of shops and eateries. In fact we stopped at one of the latter for lunch. St James’s Street also takes you into the heart of Kemp Town.
To the west of Brighton is Hove, which, though now forming a single continuous conurbation with Brighton, is really a separate town in its own right with its own character. Though less well known, Kemp Town occupies a similar position on the eastern side of Brighton. Kemp Town was originally developed in the 19th century by Thomas Read Kemp, from whom it takes it name, but has grown much since then. Some distinguish Kemp Town (two words), the original development, from Kemptown (one word), the expanded modern district.
We had not visited Kemp Town, or Kemptown, before, so this was our first brief look. Perhaps we will come back another time to see more of it.
We arrived at the Church of St Mary the Virgin to the sound of music. This year’s Brighton Fringe is currently in progress (May 6th to June 5th) and the South London Jazz Orchestra was rehearsing in the church. The music was (to my ears) cacophonous but the church was magnificent. Unsurprisingly, it has Grade II* listed status.
Designed in Gothic Revival style by William Emerson, the church was built in an 18-month period from 1877 to 1878.
The church was never completed. The projected budget of £12,000 proved to be a gross underestimate – the final cost was £20,000 – and as a result certain planned features were never realized. Perhaps the most important of these was the large tower intended for the north-west corner which never came into being.
A shop with the rather incongruous name, The Boozy Cow, inhabits a building with Grade II listed status. Originally, the premises was a house, built in the early to middle 19th century but in early 20th, the Sussex Dairy Company took it over and pebble dashed the upper storeys, implanting the company name and a panel showing a cow with two roundels. Placed fore and aft of the cow, they each contain a Tudor rose and an inscription, ‘Established 1860’ and ‘Rebuilt 1904’, respectively. 1860 is presumably the date when the Sussex Dairy Company was founded and 1904 the year when the house was converted into the company premises (though Historic England dates this event to 1908). As far as I know, the Sussex Dairy Company has disappeared, perhaps bought out by others, leaving thid nostalgic historic trace behind it.
This building no longer shows any sign, apart from the general design, of its religious past. It was built in 1873, designed by Thomas Lainson, and was known as the Bristol Street Methodist Church, one of six in the general area. It continued in its original purpose until 1989 when it closed as a church and was converted into a recording studio. At present it belongs to Brighton College, though for what purpose I do not know.
In Eastern Road we came upon this lengthy façade, much too long to be photographed comfortably in its entirety, given the relative narrowness of the street. This is part – an impressive part – of Brighton College, the first public school to be set up in the county of Sussex.
The college was founded in 1845 and this building was completed in two stages, 1848-66 by Sir George Gilbert Scott and 1883-7 by Sir Thomas Graham Jackson.
I believe that the handsome gateway was the work of Jackson. Though the design is obviously all of a piece, the sharper-eyed among you may notice that the fabric of the upper part is of a slightly different hue from that of the lower part. The reason for that is that the gateway was not completed in 1837 but went up only as far as the first set of windows above the arches. Work ceased at that point for lack of sufficient funds to continue. Funding having become available, the work was finally completed in November 2014, 127 years later.
I had time only to take a quick photo of the exterior of this rather shoebox-shaped church. Dedicated to St George the Martyr and built in 1824-5, it was designed by Charles Augustin Busby who was commissioned by Thomas Kemp himself to build a church for his new estate. The interior is probably quite interesting but we had to leave it for another time. The building has been given a Grade II listing.
Our final discovery turned our to be a fascinating piece of exotica. Looking somewhat like a fragment that has fallen off the Royal Pavilion, this building would not look too out of place near that palace where other examples of Eastern-inspired Regency architecture still survive but it seems misplaced out here in the relatively ‘new’ Kemp Town.
Next door to it in a more conventional row of houses is what used to be a pub called The Hanbury Arms and the building under discussion was for a while known as the Hanbury Ballroom. Now, though, both the pub and the onetime ballroom have been absorbed into a new entity called Proud Cabaret. Of course, none of this explains how the building came into existence in the first place.
For this we have to go back to the last decades of the 1800s when Sir Albert Abdullah David Sassoon (1818-96), a wealthy businessman, settled in Britain and bought a house in Eastern Terrace. It was he who built this structure in 1892 as a mausoleum for himself and his descendants. He was indeed buried therein upon his death in 1896 and his son, Edward, joined him there in 1912. In 1933, however, Sassoon’s grandson, Sir Philip, sold the property and the bodies were transferred to new accommodations in London.
During WWII, the structure was used as an air-raid shelter and later was bought by the Kemp Town Brewery which turned it into the Bombay Bar, whose name can still be seen above the Paston Place entrance. What would Sir Albert Sassoon think of that?
Paston Place leads down to Madeira Drive which overlooks the sea. While waiting for a bus to begin our journey home, I took this somewhat hazy view along the seafront with the pier in the background.
Though I lived my early life in Brighton and have returned numerous times, I continue to make new discoveries and hope to make more in days to come.