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|A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton
by Paul K Lyons
11 - Couchant lions, ten bells, poisoned chocolates, and good news for the Astoria
There are two parts to Victoria Gardens. I am in the northern part crossing diagonally towards the junction of Gloucester Place and North Road. These gardens, with their lawns and bedding plants, might be pretty on the eye if one is driving to or from the seafront, but they are not substantial enough to attenuate the discomfort, for a pedestrian like me, of so much traffic and concrete and street furniture, and so many unsightly buildings. Before these gardens were enclosed in the first half of the 19th century, the area was known as North Steine and used for cricket matches and fairs. The Prince Regent (he who built the famous Pavilion just out of sight 300 metres south), gifted £500 to help pay for improvements. By the end of the century both enclosures had became public gardens named in honour of the Queen. Subsequently, in the 1920s they were remodelled. Near me, is a disused innocuous fountain basin, full of soil, supported by three couchant stone lions.
A few metres ago, I paused for a moment on the east side of the lawns, and now, having crossed from postal district BN2 to BN1, I pause for a moment on the west side. To the north there's a view of the front of St Peter's Church with its bright red door, and fussy Perpendicular Gothic style. The church was built of Portland stone in the 1820s to a design by Charles Barry (who went on to design the Houses of Parliament and the fountains in Trafalgar Square - see London Cross - and by 1873 it had become the town's parish church. Among the 'interesting facts' about the church on its website is the following: 'St Peter's has a ring of ten bells, with the tenor in D, weighing twenty five and a half hundredweight. An amplified recording of our bells serves the Church of St Peter del Mar on the Pacific coast near San Diego, California.'
Also to the north, but nearer me, are the dilapidated buildings along Gloucester Place (the road that runs down the west side of the northern part of Victoria Gardens) and in particular the ugly grey graffiti-covered facade of what was once the Astoria Cinema. Currently, there is scaffolding along the block, and it looks as though it might be ready for demolition. But it's not. In fact, the Astoria has an intriguing history - and pre-history. One of the houses knocked down to make way for the cinema was the home of Christina Edmunds. Dubbed the chocolate cream poisoner, she was found guilty in 1872 of murdering a child by injecting chocolates, for sale in a shop along West Street, with strychnine.
The Astoria, designed by Edward A Stone in the Art Deco style of the times, opened in 1933 with Alexander Korda's film 'The Private Life of Henry VIII'. It had over 1,800 seats, an organ, a cafe and a restaurant, according to the wonderful Directory of Cinemas in Brighton & Hove. In 1958, the organ was taken out to make room for conversion to 70mm and a new screen. But 20 years later, in 1977, it ceased trading. The last film shown, apparently, was George Cukor's 'A Star is Born'. The building was taken over for bingo by the Coral Social Club, and then Gala Bingo before being closed to the public in 1997. Thereafter, Bass Leisure was granted permission to convert it to a night club but failed to win a drinks licence; and the organisers of a rave in the empty building were thwarted by a police raid. In 2000, the building was given Grade II listed status, which means it will not be demolished. For some years, the building has been owned by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas of Yes/No Productions. They say the scaffolding is to protect the frontage and the public from falling masonry, and that the building needs a new roof for which they are seeking private partners or sponsorship. In the meantime, they are working with architects on new internal designs 'to resurrect the Astoria'.
Just in view to the south, near the entrance to Pavilion Gardens, is St Giles College which teaches English, and teachers to teach English. Courses for the latter are said to be a bit like a boot camp. I wouldn't disagree. I cross another low railing, two bus lanes and a dual carriageway, before passing through a forest of traffic lights. On my right is a modern yellow office block (designed by Christopher Beaver Associates and completed in 1985) and a couple of telephone boxes. A large traffic sign (tagged St Peter's Church) advises me that for London Crawley (A23) I should drive straight on, for Lewes (A270) I should bear right, and for the seafront I should turn right and right again. A few more metres and I arrive at the bottom of North Road (once called North Lane). At this point I am almost exactly on the 450 northing.
by Paul K Lyons
A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton - along the 450 northing
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