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|A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton
by Paul K Lyons
26 - About a King's visits, Queen Vic's view, a boy Vic's tips, and a grandson's find
Modern buildings take over on both sides at the south end. On my left is Kingsway Court, built following bomb damage in the Second World War. It was owned by the confectionery giant Mars for a while in the 1980s. The restaurant called Bali Brasserie, in Kingsway Court, used to be Scottie's. On my right, the west side, is a large office block with car park which extends across to the next road (Grand Avenue). This is King's House, home to Brighton and Hove City Council, although for many years it served as the headquarters for South Eastern Electricity Board. Before that it was Prince's Hotel. The premises were refurbished in the early 1980s with an extension added to the back (north side). I walk to the end of Second Avenue - with a view of green lawns (King's Lawns), a line of aquamarine beach huts, and the blue sea before me - and turn right into Queen's Gardens. Splendid Victorian houses once stood along here, just as they did in the Avenues. Number 7, for example, was the home of Reuben Sassoon, a close friend of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII); also the Shah of Persia visited in 1889. Today, Queen's Gardens is rather lifeless since there are no entrances to King's House and all the windows are of brown tinted glass which I can't see through.
Appropriately enough, Queen's Gardens brings me to the widest of all Hove boulevards, Grand Avenue, and to Queen Victoria. She stands facing the sea, looking rather middle-aged and severe (thanks to the sculptor Thomas Brock), on a pedestrian island at the southern end of the avenue. In one hand, she holds an orb with winged creature (Victory) on top, and, in the other, a sceptre. Beneath her are four bronze panels, one each for Empire, Education, Science and Art, and Commerce. A plaque tells me the monument was erected by 'the inhabitants of Hove to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the accession of Queen Victoria June 20 AD 1897'. The letter 'u' in both 'Queen' and 'June' (but not in 'Education') is written as a 'v', for some reason - surely, the Queen's English no longer took this antiquated form in 1957.
Looking seaward, there's a gap in the line of beach huts, as if Queen Victoria didn't want her view of the English Channel interrupted by anything so common. And, if Queen Vic were to look over her shoulder, north, she would surely be impressed by the width of Grand Avenue. There are four lines of parked cars, four lanes for moving cars, wide grass verges, and side lanes as well - making almost 100 metres between facing buildings. A few of the buildings are still grand too, and gothic, built in the Queen Anne Revival style with rich terracotta detail. Vic Furze, though, who used to do a paper round here in the late 1950s, and has noted his memories on the BrightonandHove website, says Grand Avenue suffered some of the worst vandalism in living memory. He recalls the west side, from the seafront northward, as having 'the best architecture anywhere' - houses maintained to the highest standards and with their own sunken gardens. The owners must have tipped him well, because he remembers them as 'very generous toffs'.
Completing the hike across the width of Grand Avenue I arrive at King's Gardens which, like Queen's Garden's, is a short road, inset from the main thoroughfare of Kingsway. However, unlike Queen's Gardens, the original 19th century buildings still stand - and very impressive they are too. The first four mansions, which take up the block between Grand Avenue and Third Avenue, provide a symmetrical set - in overall design, though not in detail. Number 1, for example, has bays going all the way up to a turret on its east side, while number 4 has a very similar structure with bays and a turret, but on its west side; and the two middle buildings have similar bays but concluding in parapeted gables on opposing sides. All four buildings have first floor verandas. In superficial detail, though, there are many differences. While the two middle elevations are rendered and flesh coloured, and number 1 is painted cream, number 4 is brick faced. Three of them have doorways with similar carved stone surrounds, but not number 1. With such magnificent views across King's Lawns to the sea, it's not surprising that a four bedroom flat on the second floor in one of these mansions costs around £600,000.
King's Gardens continues the other side of Third Avenue, but on this stretch the houses - numbers 8 to 14 - are terraced. (Numbers 5-7 King's Gardens do not exist, or have escaped me.) The first floor veranda along half the terrace is glassed in, creating seaview conservatories, I suppose, while the other half is still open to the elements. The property at number 8 has some intriguing tales to tell. Most interestingly, it was the home of Arthur Sassoon, brother to Reuben (in Queen's Gardens), between 1883 and 1912, and often saw visits by King Edward VII - his last was just months before his death in 1910. Then, for a while during or after the First World War, the house was used as a convalescent home (in conjunction with number 12) for officer patients. During the Second World War, a resident of one flat, 74 year old Alice Amelia Gibson, died with others when the Avila Star was torpedoed by a German submarine near the Azores. More bizarrely, the 'Brighton Argus' ran a story in 2002 about Gary Nash who had been living in one of the flats for a couple of months when he discovered that his grandmother had lived there 80 years earlier. Nash worked out, according to the story, that because his property had been created out of the old servants' quarters and his gran had been a servant, he might actually be inhabiting the same room as she had.
by Paul K Lyons
A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton - along the 450 northing
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