12 January 2016

Medina Baths & Medina House, Hove


Judy Middleton (2002 revised 2016)

 copyright © J.Middleton
This wonderful postcard displays the elegance of the frontage belonging to Medina Baths / Hove Baths. In those days the red brick, terracotta mouldings, and delicate ironwork are clear to see. It was in 1923 that cement rendering was placed on the frontage.

Choosing a Site

It appears the first choice for the site of the proposed swimming baths at Hove was north of Church Road, between Connaught Road and Hove Gas Works, which in those days was next door to St Andrew’s Old Church. In August 1890 the Works Committee was empowered to enter into negotiations with the Vallance Estate to purchase this piece of land. But nothing came of it, probably because the price was too steep for Hove Commissioners.

Fortunately, at the same time the Medina Esplanade Extension Scheme was on the table and it was thought that a swimming baths and slipper baths could be combined with it and this is what in fact happened.

Construction of Medina Baths

In 1891 negotiations began with John Tooth to buy some land near the sea-front, which was duly purchased for £2,000. Medina Baths became an early example of public/private initiative because a private company was responsible for building the baths, which enabled Hove Commissioners to keep the costs down. The company also ran a laundry on part of the site. 

All the material from the excavation for the baths and from the demolition of houses formerly occupying the site was used to help construct the extension of Medina Esplanade; an early example of the virtues of re-cycling, perhaps.

P.B. Chambers was the architect of Medina Baths and he first submitted his plans on 7 December 1892. Hove Commissioners were not happy with some aspects of the plans and they had to be altered. Hove Commissioners approved the revised plans on 5 January 1893.

The main difference between the plans was as follows. The west block, containing the men’s baths, had its frontage to the esplanade increased from 167 feet to 186 feet and its frontage to Sussex Road increased from 117 feet to 138 feet. The plan for a third floor was scrapped and thus the height of the building from ground level to ridge was 42 feet 6 inches instead of 47 feet. Also abandoned was the idea of including a bar and billiard rooms on the second floor. Instead the space was to become living accommodation for the manager. There would be ten slipper baths for men instead of six.

The plans for the east block containing the women’s baths were virtually the same as the first ones except the number of first class slipper baths was to be increased from five to six. It is interesting to note that a subway between the two blocks was envisaged.

Medina Baths Finished

On 13 September 1894 Medina Baths were opened. The large swimming bath for men measured 93 feet 6 inches by 30 feet; It was floored with Victoria stone and lined with Doulton tiles. The smaller swimming bath for ladies measured 65 feet by 33 feet. The temperature was maintained at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The baths were filled with sea-water, which was thought to have beneficial properties. The sea-water passed through an enormous charcoal filtering process and was changed daily.

Fetes and Matches

On 28 September 1898 a special event took place at Medina Baths. The Hove Gazette had this to say. ‘One of the most successful, if not absolutely the most successful, of the fetes held by the local swimming club was brought off at Hove Baths on Wednesday night. The space available for spectators was crammed to its upmost capacity, and several enthusiasts were reduced to the necessity of sitting on the little diving platform and dangling their feet over the heads of the swimmers.’ Mr J.J. Clark presented the prizes. John Jackson Clark (1845-1928) was a man of some note at Hove. He rented Goldstone Farm from the Stanford Estate in 1877 and founded Clark’s Bakery. He was a Hove councillor for 48 years, first as a Hove Commissioner, then as a member of Hove Council. It seems he was fond of sport. He laid out the Goldstone Football Ground and erected a stand for Hove Football Club – it was afterwards leased to Brighton & Hove Albion. He also laid out West Hove Golf Course at Hangleton and built the clubhouse. 

On 16 October 1898 Hove Swimming Club and Cambridge University staged a water-polo match at the baths. This became a regular fixture and was still being staged in 1906.

The Laundry

Under the terms of the Factory and Workshop Act of 1901 Mr H.H. Scott, Borough Surveyor, inspected the laundry in March 1904. He stated the laundry at Hove Baths was situated in a three-storey building. There were doors on the east side near the north end of the building leading to Sussex Road and another at the south end leading to the boiler room. Access to the first floor was by one wooden stair that was only 2 feet 6 inches wide. There was a wooden stair from the first floor to the north room on the second floor, and an iron spiral stair from the first floor to the south room on the second floor. There was no communication between the two rooms of the second floor.

He recommended an external iron staircase should be provided with two exits on the first floor and one from each of the rooms on the second floor. He also stated the windows on the south side of the south room should be altered so that in the event of a fire workers might escape onto the lead flat adjoining.

In August 1904 the residents of St Aubyn’s Mansions complained about the black smoke emitted from the chimney of the Hove Baths and Laundry Company.

  copyright © J.Middleton
St Aubyn’s Mansions once had a red-brick exterior like Medina Baths but as can be seen in this photograph it too has acquired cement rendering. In 1904 the residents complained about the black smoke coming from the chimney of the nearby laundry.

Trouble Caused by the Groyne

Mr M. Mannington, director of Hove Baths and Laundry Company Ltd, wrote a letter to Hove Council on 23 March 1903. It stated ‘Since the Council have extended the groyne at Medina Terrace there has been a much larger accumulation of beach on the shore, consequently we have to pump in a large quantity of sand in our water; I shall be glad if you will allow me to extend further, say 36 feet. I think this would remedy the defect.’ Permission was granted and the sea-water intake pipe was extended the said distance.

Turkish Bath

Mr Mannington was soon in correspondence with Hove Council again. This time he wanted to close six of the slipper baths and instead use the space to create a Turkish Bath. He stated the use of second-class slipper baths had declined dramatically. Whereas from the time the baths were opened until December 1906 there had been 3,554 visits but from 4 September 1906 to 31 December 1906 there had only been 144 visits.

The Turkish Bath was duly established and was in full swing by 1911 when the establishment also advertised ‘Dr Kaffenbracker Solar Light Bath’. Should your arm be troubling you perhaps a ‘localized electric arm bath’ might be of benefit. Apparently medical practitioners recommended the baths for the cure (no less) of ‘Rheumatoid-Arthritis, Osteo-Arthritis, Neuritis, Paralysis and diseases of the nervous system’. For the ladies there was ‘Facial Massage and Hygienic Complexion Treatment’. 

copyright © J.Middleton
These boys were photographed in 1913 and they were members of Hove College Swimming Club. They did not have far to walk as their school was nearby. Note the wooden pillars, the tiles and the sacking on the bench to prevent the boys from sliding into the water before they intended.

The Great War

In December 1914 it was decided that soldiers in uniform or with an arm badge would be able to use the bath free of charge on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. On other days cold baths would be free while hot baths would cost one penny.

The Ministry of Pensions wanted the ladies’ bath to be used as an out-patient orthopaedic clinic for discharged, disabled men from the armed forces originating from Sussex, Kent and Surrey. Hove Council agreed to a three-year lease at a rent of £150 a year.

Buying Out the Company

During the war years Hove Council started to negotiate to buy the freehold of the whole Baths and laundry site for the sum of £6,500. The Borough Surveyor estimated that some £2,350 would need to be spent on the premises. But in December 1916 it was stipulated the purchase price would not be paid until one year after the end of the war.

In 1916 the Borough Surveyor reported the external condition of the brick and terracotta was in a serious state of decay and it was too expensive to cut out and replace the defective parts. Therefore it would be better to render the whole surface with Portland cement; in 1918 sanction was obtained to borrow £800 in order to carry out the work. In the event, rendering did not take place until 1923 when Parsons & Sons agreed to undertake the work for £1,279.

 In March the 1918 the Local Government Board approved the purchase of Hove Baths after the Government restriction on borrowing money was lifted. Until the purchase was completed Hove Council had a tenancy of the premises at £325 a year. The sub-committee stated the men’s swimming bath should be made ready as soon as possible but the ladies’ bath and slipper baths remained in abeyance.

It was necessary to put the boilers and pumps in order, repair the salt-water intake pipe, clean out the salt-water storage tank, replace defective slates on the roof, repair broken windows, and re-decorate.

Re-opening

The men’s swimming bath re-opened on 29 July 1918 and the establishment was known as Hove Baths. Bathing costumes could be hired at a cost of one penny.

The staff consisted of a supervisor earning £2 a week, an engineer to attend to the boilers at £2-10s a week plus war bonus, a female clerk and cashier at 25/- a week and a boy to assist the supervisor at 15/- a week. The supervisor soon resigned.

In May 1919 Leopold Kemp was appointed supervisor at a salary of £175 a year. He and his family occupied the top storey and remained there during the Second World War too. His responsibilities had broadened by then because during those war years he was also responsible for the smooth running of the boilers at the new baths, once known as Hove Marina but then occupied by HMS King Alfred. After the war the Kemps moved to new quarters above the entrance to the King Alfred Swimming Baths and stayed there until his retirement. The Kemp daughters, Alice and Hilda, were excellent swimmers and keen members of Hove Shiverers Club, winning many medals for their skills.

There was no artificial light in the building when Hove Baths re-opened and so opening times were governed by the season. In the summer the premises were open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. but were closed for 1½ hours at lunchtime. In 1919 it was decided that electricity should be installed at a cost of £21-10s.

It was also time to restore the slipper baths for use; six of them were to be supplied with sea-water and four would have fresh water. In 1920 it cost £120 to put the small swimming bath in order. There was a pay-rise all round in 1920; Leopold Kemp’s salary rose to £182 a year and his accommodation was to be free instead of the 10/- a week it had been costing him. C.E. Morton, engineer, was to receive £3-16s a week, instead of £3-6s, and P. Norton, assistant engineer, would earn £2-15s instead of £2-5s.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health’s formal sanction to borrow money to purchase the site was received in February 1920. The sum was made up of £8,915 for the purchase of the land, buildings, structural works and legal fees (repayable in 30 years); £693 for new slipper baths and pipe fittings (repayable in 20 years); and £884 for fittings and furniture (repayable in ten years).

In 1928 Leopold Kemp, supervisor, suggested that because of increased demand for hot sea-water baths, the disused Turkish Bath should be re-converted into slipper baths. The site was on the first floor, north of the corridor leading to the first-class slipper baths, and four additional baths could be fitted into the space. Hove Council agreed. In 1922 five dressing rooms were converted into bathrooms because of demand.

The Thirties

By the 1930s there was general agreement that Hove Baths were hopelessly out of date and therefore new swimming baths were necessary. Building work on a nearby site was completed by 1939 and the splendid new structure was to be called Hove Marina. But the Admiralty also had its beady eye on the site because it was next door to the RNVR base and before anybody had a chance to dip toes in the water, the Admiralty had requisitioned the building. In no time at all it became HMS King Alfred.

Thus the old Hove Baths received an unexpected new lease of life and were in use until well on in the 1940s. By that time there was only one swimming pool; the water had a curious opaque quality so that swimmers could not see the bottom of the pool. This was a disconcerting experience for young children trying to learn to swim while imagining strange monsters lurking in the depths.

Once the King Alfred was back in business, there was no further need for Medina Baths. For some years the buildings were given over to light industrial use and the west block was known as Emblem House; the last firm to leave the buildings of Hove Baths was Monnickendam at Medina House.

Bath Court

In 1978 R. Green Properties put forward plans to build 45 flats in four blocks on the site of Dreadnought garage and Medina Baths. R. Green Properties purchased part of the site from a private company and the rest from Hove Corporation.

In February 1979 work on Bath Court got under way. The £1 million development was arranged in four blocks rising to six storeys; it was hoped the show flat would be ready by April 1981. The prices ranged from £35,000 to £110,000 for a five-bedroom luxury maisonette. 

In August 1982 two three-bedroom flats were on sale for £51,750 and £64,000. 

 copyright © J.Middleton
King’s Esplanade was photographed in June 2009. It shows Bath Court to the west of Medina House. 
Compare the view with the old postcard at the top of this article.

Monnickendam

Louis Monnickendam founded the firm in 1890 at Amsterdam. When the Great War broke out he moved the enterprise to England and it seems at least some of the family settled at Hove because in 1925 Hove Library thanked Miss Bessie Monnickendam for her donation. But the firm’s first local business enterprise did not happen until 1945 when they leased the ground floor of a building in Wellington Road, Portslade, once home to St Andrew’s School.

In 1947 the Government of Tanganyika (now Tanzania) wished to celebrate the wedding of Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) by presenting her with some rough diamonds. However, it needed a practised eye to convert these dull stones into multi-faceted, glittering diamonds and the task was entrusted to Monnickendam. Although it was a great honour it was also a great responsibility. They produced a pair of earrings, which must surely be the most valuable jewels ever to see the light of day in Portslade. The year 1947 was an important year for Princess Elizabeth because she celebrated her 21st birthday on 21 April and her wedding day was on 20 November. Although that year also saw the dying days of the British Empire, Princess Elizabeth still received magnificent jewels from around the world as gifts including 21 diamonds from South Africa to mark her 21st birthday.

In 1948 the works were extended but in the 1950s Arthur Monnickendam took out a lease on the old Medina Baths building.
By 1968 the workforce numbered 45. It is a long process to cut a diamond and even a small gem can take all of 24 hours. Diamonds cut in marquise, pear or oval style, all have 58 facets and each facet has to be cut at a precise angle. It is a delicate skill and men tended to spend all their working lives at Monnickendam’s; every year around four gold watches were presented to employees who had notched up 25 years of service.

Freda Monnickendam died on 19 January 1958 aged 53 and Albert Monnickendam died on 26 April 1979; they were both buried at Hove Cemetery in the Jewish part. Their son Arthur died in around 1988 aged 63.

The firm had to make cutbacks in the early 1980s but they managed to keep going. By 1988 the small and dedicated team consisted of one sawyer, one cutter, four cross-workers, eight polishers, four trainees and two administrators who also took their turn at the workbench. The firm specialised in expensive brilliants and fancy-cut stones.

In June 1991 Hove Council approved plans submitted by Monnickendam to make changes at Medina House. Although they continued with their diamond cutting in part of the building, the idea was that the rest could be converted into a craft and exhibition centre, together with a café and offices. Unfortunately, it all fell through. Apparently, Monnickendam wanted to buy the building outright but Hove Council declined to sell. Thus in January 1994 the firm gave up the lease and the diamond cutting business moved to the basement of their London office at 9 Ely Place.

 Medina House

  copyright © J.Middleton
This remarkably clear view was posted on 1 August 1907 and shows Medina House in its heyday.

It appears Hove Council had a change of heart about selling Medina House because in 1998 the property was sold for £300,000 to Sirus Taghan. Then followed sixteen years of uncertainty and despair while the historic gem stood desolate in a seeming forest of modern high-rise flats. The issue is still unresolved today.

In 1999 it was still hoped the building might become an arts centre but of course there was already the re-vamped Old Market just a mile away, which rather spoiled the artistic prospects for Medina House.

Developer Globe Construction wanted to convert the house into three self-contained flats with two new houses on another part of the site. By February 2000 Globe Construction had changed their plans to building twelve flats four storeys in height, which would involve demolishing Medina House. By April 2000 seventeen letters objecting to the scheme had been received. Liz Holden, Planning Officer for Brighton & Hove City Council, thought Medina House had architectural merit and historical interest. In June 2001 the Conservation Area Advisory Group (CAAG) opposed plans for demolition.

The easternmost building of the Hove Baths complex on the southwest corner of Victoria Cottages was demolished in July 2000. Thus revealed for all to see were the seven arches along the west wall and above a frieze of large, decorative tiles featuring a stylised onion shape (shades of the Royal Pavilion) with six swirls on either side and a pear-shaped centre.

On 9 May 2002 squatters moved in to Medina House. But they were not the usual squatters. The Chalk Circle Group, as they were called, set about repairing the place while describing themselves as ‘a fledgling community exploring ways of living together for the good of all’. They held free music, theatre and martial arts events in the building. On 26 June 2002 Delta Star Properties obtained a possession order from Brighton County Court. But the Chalk Circle Group wanted to remain.

  copyright © J.Middleton
 These beautiful tiles once graced the interior of the Bath House.

Paula Sigley held her first exhibition of paintings and sculptures in Medina House, which remained on view until 29 September 2002. One of her most controversial pieces was a model of a pregnant man entitled My Thoughts Inflicted. She created the piece when she was pregnant and cross because no man understood what it felt like. The model was placed outside when the exhibition opened but a female passer-by took such a dislike to the artwork that she dragged it back inside saying she never wanted to set eyes on it again. Paula Sigley was amused rather than angry at her outburst and at least her sculpture was being noticed.

Unhappily, the high-minded ideals had evaporated by 2006 and the group was accused of holding two-day raves besides spoiling their environment with graffiti and rubbish.

In October 2006 an astonishingly futuristic plan for the site was produced. Residents thought the architect’s drawing for the block of flats looked more like a ‘stack of toppling plates’ than anything else.

In January 2009 architect Camillin Denny came up with some new proposals for Medina House site. This followed the withdrawal of previous plans for an 18-storey block of flats because there were concerns about excessive height. The new design was for a 15-storey tower containing 11 flats, restaurant, bar and office space. A small building on the east side had an upward curving roof-line.

Later on that month an aggrieved letter-writer to the Argus described the new design as ‘ugly, square, multi-stacked rabbit hutch tower blocks’.

  copyright © J.Middleton
This view looking eastwards towards Brighton was photographed in June 2009 when Medina House was still in comparatively good shape.

The owners Anis and Sirus Taghan were anxious to have at least one of the grandiose plans approved by Brighton & Hove City Council and as a result neglected to take care of Medina House. The Council made tactful approaches to the owners suggesting that action should be taken but when nothing was done the Council was obliged to serve an Enforcement Notice. In September 2011 Councillor Phelim MacCafferty, chairman of the Planning Committee, said the building was vulnerable to salt-laden winds because it had not been maintained properly. They were given six months in which to comply with the notice.

Local conservationist Robert Nemeth remarked that he had been showing Medina House to visitors from the USA as a rare example of Victorian baths and they could not believe how it had been allowed to fall into such an appalling state. In January 2010 Mr Nemeth discussed the sorry state of the building on a BBC1 programme England’s Empty Homes.

In May 2012 Mr Taghan was preparing his fourth set of plans for a £3 million development in conjunction with property firm Savills while still ignoring the state of Medina House. The Council had already given him an extension until 1 June 2012. 

At last in July 2012 there was a headline in the Argus ‘Grot-spot Given Facelift’. The work on Medina House involved cleaning and re-painting the elevations on the south and west of the building, removing breeze blocks in the windows and replacing with glazed windows, re-painting external window frames, and repairing broken doors.

It is interesting to note that by 2012 the site had been separated into two lots as regards ownership; that is Medina House became one part and the former swimming pool area became the other part. In 2012 one part of the property changed hands and was sold for £150,000 to Ardeshir Taghan aged 59, and Mohammed Jafari aged 58, a businessman from Iran.

Unfortunately for conservationists working to save the building, it was stated in February 2013 that Medina House was not a listed building and therefore English Heritage had no objection to its demolition.

In 2012 the 'saveHOVE' group raised their first petition to ask Brighton and Hove City Council to create a Planning Brief for Medina House and presented it to the Culture and Economic Development Committee in July 2012. They were not too hopeful of the outcome but were pleasantly surprised when the same committee agreed to implement the Planning Brief in September 2013. When Mr Taghan produced new proposals for Medina House in October 2013, they were turned down because they did not comply with the Planning Brief, which stipulated that any new building must be of a similar height to Medina House and the proposed structure was ‘massively out of scale’.  Worryingly from the conservationist angle, there were only five letters of objection from members of the public. Perhaps people were suffering from what is sometimes called ‘compassion fatigue’ after such a long drawn-out tussle. 

Mr Taghan was frustrated by the eight-month delay in the decision on his plans. He still thought the building was not worth saving and moreover he stated it was structurally unsound and the cost of restoration would be three times the value of the building.

On 20 December 2014 there was a second arson attack on Medina House. The fire brigade was alerted at 5.40 p.m. Fortunately, they were able to protect the roof space because if the fire had taken a firm foothold there, it is likely the whole building would have been lost. If the fire had occurred at 2 a.m. for instance, the outcome might not have been so satisfactory either.

copyright © J.Middleton

The 'saveHOVE' group then decided to raise an e-mail petition calling on Brighton and Hove City Council to acquire Medina House by a compulsory purchase order. They saw it as the only way forward to secure the future of Medina House. The petition was to be presented on 19 March 2015. 

In November 2014 new plans for Medina House were submitted to the Council. Ian Coomber, partner at Stiles, Harold Williams, and planning agent for Mr Taghan, said the fire was ‘deeply regrettable’. But the plans included the demolition of Medina House as usual. The envisaged building would be up to four storeys high and contain eight two-bedroom flats. The project architects were ADD Architecture and apparently a great deal of work had been done. They stated ‘it was a very high-quality contemporary and contextual design finished in copper’. But this was not apparent from the published drawings. This ninth application to demolish Medina House was turned down in March 2015.

It is pleasant to record that more than 440 residents signed the petition that was presented to Brighton and Hove City Council on 19 March 2015. But Council Leader Jason Kitkat was still unmoved. He said he had looked into the matter and had decided that present circumstances did not warrant a compulsory purchase order. But perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel after all because Mr Kitkat said he welcomed the Budget announcement made by Chancellor George Osborne stating he was reviewing the procedure councils had to go through to issue a compulsory purchase order and try to make it less difficult. 

Saved from Demolition

The Argus (30 October 2015) for once carried some cheering news as regards the fate of Medina House. It reported that developer and owner Sirus Taghan had given up on the idea of developing the site after so many failed planning applications. Perhaps he retained some affection for the problematic building because he said he practically gave the building away provided the new owners did not demolish it.

Dave Gilmour (of Pink Floyd fame) and his wife Polly Sampson are the new owners; they live nearby at Medina Terrace. Apparently, they endeavoured to purchase the building some six years previously to turn it into a spa. But Mr Taghan was not ready to relinquish the property at that point. Now, however, the new owners plan to convert Medina House into a family home. Finance would not be a problem since Mr Gilmour’s fortune is put at around £85 million.

Valerie Paynter, veteran campaigner in the struggle to save Medina House, was pleased at the news but said she would wait before cracking open the champagne until after she had studied the new plans. But she was certain the Gilmours would do a ‘fabulous’ job.

Building ‘Beyond Salvaging’

In September 2016 came some disappointing news indicating Medina House could not be saved after all. This was despite author Polly Samson falling in love with the building and work on plans to convert it into a family home having been worked on for over a year. She purchased Medina House for a seven-figure sum.

The architect involved in the project Keb Garavito-Bruhn, partner at Pilbrow & Partners of London, stated that a detailed survey found Medina House was beyond economic repair. There had been subsidence, structural damage, demolitions and damaging alterations in addition to the misfortune of fire and neglect.

However, there was some solace in that the proposed new building would keep the shape of the original and moreover heritage details such as the glazed Royal Doulton tiles would be incorporated into the new structure. Handmade white bricks would be used for the new building in keeping with Medina House’s original aspect.

Roger Amerena, Brighton & Hove Heritage Commission, was not entirely convinced that Medina House was beyond saving. He argued that if a lighthouse could be moved back from a crumbling cliff, then surely it would be possible to save this historic building. On the other hand, he liked the new plans and said ‘The concept is admirable and the treatment of what was the pool room is also appropriate.’ But he would have liked more interesting details on the frontages.

The new design went on display to the general public at the King Alfred.

Argus columnist Tim Ridgway never had a high regard for Medina House in the first place writing of it as a ‘rather shabby shell of a structure which I’m amazed has stood up to the seaside battering for so long.’ He stated that within reason he welcomed the new plans that would enhance the area.

 copyright © J.Middleton
There are not many old postcards of the seafront featuring the sea in the foreground. 
This one was posted on 8 August 1906 by Gussie who had just arrived at Hove and complained it was very hot on the train.
copyright © J.Middleton
Medina House looks lonely and unloved among the high-rises.

Sources

Argus 8 January 2009 / 18 January 2010 / 21 September 2011 / 8 May 2012 / 12 July 2013 / 18 February 2013 / 14 September 2013 / 8 January 2014 / 22 December 2014 / 11 March 2015 / 6 September2016 / 7 September 2016 / 12 September 2016 / 16 September 2016
Brighton and Hove Independent 26 December 2014
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Hove Council Minute Books
Monnickendam. Promotional booklet (ND)
The saveHOVE Website

Copyright © J.Middleton 2016
page layout by D.Sharp