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|A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton
by Paul K Lyons
23 - From a blooming clock to a cracking giant dome via an autobiographical snippet
Beyond Holland Road, on the south side of Western Road, I pass a restaurant called RedRum. It takes up the ground floor of a large red brick building, with patterned terracotta chimneys, unusually placed on the roof's edge, between the dormer windows, immediately above the front elevation. Next door is a characterless office block, Intergen House, which, among other organisations and business, houses the Brighton and Hove Volunteer Bureau. A row of small shops, Spektra (hair salon), Handbags and Gladrags, Eventa (ticket sales) and Home Leasing, brings me to Palmeira Square. Prior to its development in the 19th century, this plot used to be a cricket field - Brighton's first. An earlier incarnation of the Wick Inn, on the northeast corner, had a thatched roof.
But the north side of Western Road changes character entirely. West of Holland Road, it opens up to a rectangular garden area barely 30 metres wide and 150 metres long with Church Road running along its north side. This extended traffic island is a Hove landmark as it should contain - between the small lawns and flowerbeds - a floral clock. But, at present, the whole area between Church Road and Western Road is a mess of road works, with cones and barriers, and construction activities. The floral clock garden is being remodelled at a cost of £0.5m. The aim is to reduce traffic speed, to provide crossing points for pedestrians, and to improve safety for cyclists. Some local retailers claim their business is down by 50% because of the road works. The clock was originally installed to celebrate the coronation of Elizabeth II. With a double dial design - each face having a diameter of nine feet - it was said at the time to be the only one of its kind. Despite being a local attraction, or because of it, the clock became a target for local vandals, and at times over the years the local council got tired of finding money to repair it. Hopefully, once the remodelling of the Floral Clock area is complete, the punters will be back visiting the local retailers, and admiring not despoiling the attraction.
To the north of Church Road, behind one of the blocks called Palmeira Mansions, and less than 50 metres from St John the Baptist Church, a Bronze Age barrow was discovered or rediscovered in the 1850s. It provided evidence - an amber cup now in Brighton Museum, and a coffin with some bone fragments - of local habitation around 1,000 BC.
I walk across the north end of Palmeira Square, and looking south admire another of Hove's beautiful 19th century creations. This is also a garden surrounded by large magnificent terraced houses, only these are not Regency, but more solid-looking with heavy porches - early Victorian. They are all painted the same colour, magnolia, although this was not the case in the 1970s when owners liked to express their individuality. Apparently, the regulations stipulating the external paint regime were not as strong as those created for the houses in Brunswick Square, and it was only when Hove Council stepped in that colour uniformity returned to Palmeira Square. The garden is attractive, interesting; it undulates with lawns and circular flowerbeds and windy paths. Prior to the Second World War, it was enclosed by railings, like that in Brunswick Square, but some residents thought them ugly and wanted them removed. In the 1920s, there were meetings on the matter but no agreement. Later, though, they were dug up for the war effort, and then - unlike those elsewhere - not replaced.
I am much attracted to Palmeira Square, for a rather obscure and immaterial reason. The word 'palmeira' means palm tree, but the square was named after the Portuguese title - Baron de Palmeira - of the man who owned the land. He was a prominent British jew with the real name Isaac Lyon Goldsmid. As it happens, my father was a Goldsmith (anglicised name) and a jew (although I think he was a Goldschmidt to be precise). As a teenager in the 1930s he came with his family from Berlin to live in London. There he met and married my mother, so I was born with the name Goldsmith. Within a few years, my parents had separated and my mother had remarried. Her new husband was also a German refugee, and one who had also anglicised his name - to Lyons. For many years, thereafter, I used both surnames Lyons and Goldsmith. It's not a name combination I've ever come across anywhere - until Palmeira Square.
Building work on the terraces in Goldsmid's Palmeira Square might have started nearly two decades earlier, but for the ill-fated Anthaeum project. Goldsmid was one of the project's backers, as was Henry Phillips an eminent botanist, and they hired Amon Henry Wilds as architect. The aim was to build a tropical paradise within a circular structure under the world's largest dome, bigger even than that of St Peter's in Rome. Iron was the principle building material. It was first shipped to Shoreham Harbour and from there transported by carts needing 20 horses. Disputes of various sorts appear to have dogged the building works. Wilds resigned or was sacked over a dispute about a central pillar, which was not included in the final plans; and, as the project proceeded, the contractor, Mr English, seems to have taken more and more responsibility on himself. The day before the Anthaeum's grand opening - in 1833 - English had the scaffolding removed. Within hours the huge iron ribs began to crack, and then they snapped. A newspaper report from the time stated: 'The destruction of this great edifice is accounted for only by the immense weight of iron at the top, which then unsupported by the scaffolding, folded in, and forced its way to the ground. The ruins were visited yesterday by several hundreds of persons. It was situated at the western extremity of the town, and would have formed one of the most splendid ornaments in the world.' The iron wreckage blighted the land for nearly 20 years, before it was cleared and building work began.
by Paul K Lyons
A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton - along the 450 northing
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