Conservationists trip to Brighton

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Brighton was a good choice for the Rye Conservation Society summer outing. Following on the two previous years’ successful visits to Sandwich and Canterbury, the plan to meet up with a host conservation group again paid dividends.

In Brighton, we were met by the chair and committee members of the Brighton Society. After a brief introduction to some of the city’s planning headaches, we split into three walking tour groups for a first hand acquaintance with this many-faceted town. One group was taken on the Regency town walk, and another round the one-time industrial area known as North Laine, centred on the rail station.

Our group took the southern Old Town area, once the scene of the devastating French raid of 1514. We were shown the amazing juxtaposition of architectural styles, increasingly lacking in harmony as new materials and building methods developed, particularly over the last hundred years. Some of us, but by no means all, admired the work of controversial architect Piers Gough seen in Black Lion Street.

The sadly neglected Hippodrome

We were saddened at the obvious neglect of historic grade 2 star listed buildings, such as the Jewish Synagogue and the Hippodrome both in Middle Street, boarded up and desolate. The search for alternative uses has failed so far to bring these building back to life despite a vigorous campaign.

Most of us had visited the Lanes as tourists, but today we saw them from a planning perspective. Eating places were certainly vibrant, however elsewhere the shops looked jaded and unprosperous, with many closed and shuttered. Away from the sea-front, graffiti, litter and street rubbish bins were much in evidence. The graffiti has been hailed as artwork, apparently endorsed by the council to attract tourists, but only serving to diminish this sightseer’s pleasure. The impression was given of a city struggling to cope with urban pressures, and failing to develop a communal sense of ownership or spatial awareness. The beauty of the Brighton Pavilion gardens did much to restore our spirits.

Very different was the afternoon’s experience. After an excellent lunch, we were greeted by the chairman of the Kemp Town Society. We explored the square, crescent and gardens of the grand Kemp Town estate. This had  originally been laid out in the early 19th   century as fashionable society started flocking to Brighton in the wake of the Prince Regent, later George 1v. We rejoiced in the sunshine and the beautiful setting, before boarding the coach to return to a thankfully graffiti-free Rye. The day was not yet over however. John Griffiths, the society’s chairman and organiser of the outing, had thoughtfully arranged a stop on the way home at Middle Farm Shop at Firle near Lewes, where cream teas were on offer.

Their whole planning was meticulously organised and a great day out was had by all.

Photos: Kenneth Bird

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