A small delegation of us decided to walk around the Brighton General Hospital site at the weekend in response to the plans to redevelop it (included are just some of the photographs we took above, along with some more historical images and a map).
Despite the overcast conditions, we found ourselves blown away by the sheer size of the site and wealth of buildings on it of historic interest, not just the one Grade II listed building (Arundel), but pretty well all of them outside a few unsympathetic 20th Century additions. The quality of many of the buildings and the curving stone walls is outstanding. Some buildings even retain the original Victorian bollards on the corners to protect them against carriage wheel collision.
Why on earth does the site need to be redeveloped? we found ourselves asking. It would probably be possible to get a good 2000 flat conversions out of what is already standing, and much more characterful homes into the bargain, with the odd cottage or individual house for good measure.
Furthermore the site is already laid out in village-like configuration and already geared up for ‘mixed use living’ with industrial/work spaces, green spaces and car parking liberally dotted around with a network of roads connecting all. All that would be needed would perhaps be a convenience store and some community spaces. Many groups of buildings are already sensibly constructed around sheltered internal courtyards – presumably for former patients to recuperate and staff to have their breaks in. This would work equally well for parents seeking safe spaces for their children or adults seeking a sun trap out of the wind on Elm Grove hill. Moreover large picture windows offering light and space and high ceilings abound. One of the most common complaints regarding modern flats is the lack of light and space in many and the low ceilings.
If any new buildings were to be built (ie a proposed ‘heath hub’), it would be better to sacrifice a car park for the purpose than most of the existing buildings or gardens and green spaces.
Brighton General hospital is said to be the last intact workhouse in Britain. Moreover it was converted into Kitchener Indian Hospital during WWI and later officially became a municipal hospital in 1935 – joining the newly-formed NHS in 1948. It is surely worthy of an imaginative and sensitive scheme which honours its history whilst making it fit for today’s standard of living.
Sadly the wonderful Nurse’s Home on the right hand side of the hospital has already been demolished in 2011 (a rather splendid 6-storey Edwardian building on the famous steps of which generations of Brighton nurses were photographed after qualifying – the Brighton General even issued its own nursing badge.) What has been built it in its place is not a pretty sight, commanding an undeserved hillside location with sweeping views to the sea with scores of somewhat brutalistic flats, which probably do not accommodate any more people when all is said and done, and certainly not affordably.
BHHC believe a sensitive conversion of this valuable historic site would not only be more appropriate heritage-wise but greener and considerably cheaper too. It is certainly the case that today’s new-builds are nowhere near of the same quality or appearance as the heritage which is all too often swept away to facilitate them, with many newbuilds not intended to last more than 50 years, making them little better than pre-fabs.
Do take the time to walk around the site yourselves and drink it in. It is well worth your time, and even more stunning on a sunny day!