Visiting Eastbourne with a heritage colleague recently we were struck by the stunning conversion of All Saints Convalescent Hospital in the Meads area just below the cliffs.
Erected in 1869 by architect Henry Woodyer in high gothic style, All Saints Hospital was the vision of Harriet Brownlow Byron, Mother Foundress of the Community of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor, to provide the first purpose-built seaside convalescent hospital in Great Britain. The All Saints Sisters tended their patients and establised a philosophy of care which continued for over a century.
This former Grade II listed hospital is contained in around 10 acres of grounds, not unlike the Brighton General Hospital in size and scale, and was cleverly converted after its closure as a hospital in 2004 by Berkeley Homes.
Without obvious compromise to the historical integrity of the exterior, Berkeley managed to fit in additional floors and still ensure that all residents had their share of large windows and high ceilings. Sensitive additional units were discreetly and almost seamlessly inserted in the gaps with a range of handsome garages by the gate house, which may or may not have originally comprised a stable block, as far as the untrained eye is concerned.
We spoke to a couple of residents there, one of whom had lived there for around ten years and they couldn’t have been happier. They said there was a real community feel to the place.
There are 105 housing units in all with the chapel separately owned and maintained as a special event venue and community space for hire.
What a wonderful example of what can be done with a former hospital!
Let Brighton & Hove City Council take note when Brighton General Hospital site becomes available.
Brighton and Hove Heritage Commission has been in high level discussions with Brighton & Hove City Council concerning its proposal for the historic Brighton General Hospital site to be designated as the city’s 35th Conservation Area. The reasons are many. It is the last almost complete “workhouse complex” left in the country, the Kitchener Indian Hospital from 1916-20 where hundreds of wounded sepoys were nursed and then the Brighton Municipal Hospital, and has been a landmark across the city for 154 years.
Backing for the idea has proved unanimous from the many local amenity groups that have so far replied to the presentation. They include the Regency Society, Hove Civic Society, Brunswick Town Association, North Laine Community Association, Ovingdean Residents Presevation Soc, and Rottingdean Preservation Soc. This enables the proposal to be put forward for public consultation. Save Brighton General Action Group has also been positive.
REQUEST FOR THE CONSIDERATION AND SUPPORT FOR THE BRIGHTON GENERAL HOSPITAL SITE BE DESIGNATED AS THE 35th CONSERVATION AREA
The site is the last virtually intact Workhouse complex left in the country, occupying a large acreage at the top of Elm Grove. The first buildings were opened in 1867 (area 1 on the attached plan) finishing before 1900 (area 2 on the attached plan). Although the Arundel Building was listed Grade II in 1999 the rest of the buildings were not. However they do have a very important “group value” for the site. See attached annotation plan. The proposed CA would be Area 1 (amber) and Area 2 (pea green) on the attached BHCC Listed Building Curtilage Map dated 10/01/2007. Area 3 (blue) would be excluded as SCFT plans indicate the northern part of this area will be the site of the new Health Hub.
Not only is there architectural value to these buildings where local vernacular materials were used, but the not listed buildings’ past uses were very specific, such as the Lunatic block, and Asylum Wings, and the Bread Token house. Moreover, the site has an unequalled social history. A workhouse, then in 1916 the Kitchener Indian Hospital for hundreds of wounded Sepoys, Subedars were placed at the Pavilion and Dome. Then in 1920 it reverted back to the workhouse, in 1934 the Brighton Municipal Hospital (run by Brighton Corporation) and finally it became the NHS hospital in about 1950.
The palatial listed Arundel Building does not give the true picture of what life was really like in the workhouse, other buildings do that.
At present technically all could be demolished without needing permission other than the listed building. I have met with Lucie Carayon the director of Ancient Monuments Society. I have also had discussions with Historic England while on their recent visit to Brighton, who share our concerns that more of the site is not protected.
Discussions have also taken place about the consideration of more buildings being listed, particularly for five others not including the historic flint walls and the Lodge. However my view is that this action would impinge on any proposals for the site’s ideal conversion into low cost housing, thus the formation of a Conservation Area will allow for much greater flexibility for plans for conversion but also protect the site in the meanwhile. A CA would allow for greater examination about what could be retained for conversion and what could be demolished, with a view to allowing sympathetic new build on areas such as on part of the present large car parks.But still maintaining some open spaces. The mathematics of major demolition and rebuild will not result in low cost affordable housing
The site’s designation as a Conservation Area does not mean the buildings are preserved but are protected, subject to demolition consent being granted. This procedure forms the legal part of the planning process for development in a conservation area.
The key is, that once designated as a CA, demolition consent is necessary for any structure within that area, whereas at present no permission is needed for demolition. Even the historic flint walls are technically not protected though some believe they are deemed to be in the curtilage of the listed building.
A similar situation occurred with the Royal Alex in 2005 when I started that campaign .The 1881 Lainson building was not listed but in a CA thus demolition consent was needed. The developer wished to remove all buildings on the site.The outcome was that demolition consent was refused for the main building but the group of buildings at its rear, after in-depth discussions with the community, were given permission to be demolished.
I would cite another example with which I was involved being a member of CAG. The Carlton Hill Conservation Area. This was the last designated CA in the city in 2008. With the threat of the new Amex development subsuming the Mighell Street farmhouse and even seeing its demolition, together with the Thwaites Garage site adjacent ear marked for offices, there was a need to create a CA to give a greater control over what could be done in the 1 1/2 acre area which included Tilbury Place. The result was that the farmhouse was secured and on the garage site next door there has recently been completed a very sensible housing development, The application came to CAG in many forms but the result, which is now satisfactory, respects the setting of the listed farmhouse’s position within the CA and adheres to CAG’s request to reinstate the historic flint wall on Carlton Hill. The result would have been much more difficult to achieve if this area had not been designated as a Conservation Area.
On Tuesday 5th May I presented the proposal to CAG at its monthly meeting. The result, I am pleased to say, was a unanimous support for the initiative. The city’s amenity groups have been written to, and amongst those the Regency Society, Rottingdean, Ovingdean, Kemp Town Society North Laine, Brunswick Town, Montpelier and Clifton Hill and Hove Civic have already given their agreement to the idea, with others yet to reply. Membership structures are different in each group but of the mentioned collection of societies we calculate they represent some nine to ten thousand people.
Thus,we have an excellent opportunity of satisfying the needs of the community as well as securing the city’s built and social heritage for future generations.
Roger V. Amerena
Brighton and Hove Heritage Commission
Brighton & Hove City Council Conservation Advisory Group
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!
One of the last remaining workhouses in Britain, erected in 1865, Brighton General Hospital sits atop the hill of Elm Grove. It is currently at risk of either full or semi-demolition to fund development of a shiny new ‘health hub’, or worse still, a bland housing development of several hundred units undeserving of a hillside position.
If you wish to save it as a hospital, please complete NHS survey here. Choose option 1 or 2 to see it restored or refurbished (the cheapest and greenest option as well as the most noble). It is not after all a shiny new facility which delivers good health care, but having sufficient doctors, nurses, equipment, building maintenance and nursing care. I am sure we have all visited someone in a shiny new PFI hospital where the level of care and attention is actually poorer than it was in the original hospital, often because there is less money left in the pot for actual patient care. In addition most hospitals have closed their nurses’ home or sold it off to developers when they used to provide affordable onsite accommodation for key worker nurses.
History of Brighton General Hospital documented here.
If Brighton General is to be lost as a hospital, the existing building would make a handsome flat conversion and would be much more affordable than a newbuild. In addition, there is more local demand for flats than houses.
Here is an example of a similar project involving a former London workhouse dating from 1770s which inspired Dicken’s Oliver Twist.
A previous plan for a new school seems to have been discarded but some have suggested that turning Brighton General Hospital back to its original purpose, but as a 21st century style ‘workhouse’ (aka rehabilitation centre/hostel), could be an innovative and very welcome alternative to the growing problem of street homelessness in the city. Certainly Emmaus have previously expressed an interest in obtaining a city centre HQ/complex, and they provide full service and support for the vulnerable, getting them back into society, work and housing.