12 January 2016

The Market House & Dupont's Academy, Hove

Judy Middleton (2001 revised 2012)

copyright © J. Middleton.
The Old Market House
Charles Augustin Busby designed the Market House to occupy a prominent island site between Upper Market Street and Lower Market Street but it was numbered as being in Waterloo Street. It was intended to be an integral part of Brunswick Town and it opened for business on 28th August 1828. Although it provided all kinds of necessities for the estate, it was never the success envisaged by Busby and by 1839 its market days were already over.
The structure’s connection with horses was of a much longer duration. Robert’s Riding School was already there by the 1850s. By 1858 Mr C Poole was in charge and he remained until 1875 until Alfred Dupont arrived on the scene. Under his successful direction Dupont’s Riding Academy became virtually a household word.
An interesting article on the establishment appeared in the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser (14th December 1888). ‘Originally one-storey (Dupont) has practically re-built the whole of the place, with the exception of the riding school, sections being added at different times, until the building now reaches three storeys of horses, and one of saddle rooms, riding masters’ rooms, and store rooms, completing, up to the present, premises which, for their purpose, are probably unequalled in the South of England, and, in the opinion of those who may be trusted to know, unexcelled in any other town in England. The Riding School is a very neat and commodious place, having a properly tan ground for exercising, and embracing all the necessary appointments for the purpose of pupils. Riding and driving lessons are given, and there are special classes for children, Lieutenant Lee (late 7th Hussars) and Sergeant Hinton (late 20th Hussars) being the careful and qualified instructors. Polo and leaping practice and other features are also carried out. An indicating board affixed outside, showing which horses are out, is a very ingenious idea, as it is not only convenient for the obliging manager (Mr Nightingale) but also for the customers, who can see at once whether the animal they wish to engage is at liberty or not. There is a gallery at one end of the School for the convenience of relatives and friends of the pupils. Kindness is a quality, which seems to be practised at every step in dealing with our four-footed friends in Mr Dupont’s premises’.

A section of the Dupont's Academy photograph from the Brighton Season 1907
The writer proceeds to eulogise about the stabling inside the building with enough accommodation for 150 horses. ‘It is one of the prettiest and most novel sights imaginable to see the long rows of well-groomed animals standing in their stalls and boxes side by side, each one looking – if the phrase can be applied – as clean as a new pin, and in thoroughly good working conditions. Attracting attention is a pair of chestnut geldings, with high courage, but with such manners that any lady accustomed to driving can easily manage them; whilst a handsome pony by the celebrated Kisber is also nearby. It is easy to see that Mr Dupont, as he walks between the lines of his horses and ponies – and many of them knowing his voice, turn round to be caressed – has made the comfort of the horse a science. Not a stray straw litters the pathway; the hay smells as sweet as in the fields; the best of forage that can be obtained is on hand; and every stall is clean and sweet. To achieve the latter end, Sherringham’s, Boyle’s and Tobin’s ventilators have been fitted throughout the building, as well as a ventilating shaft; the fittings are of pitch pine; encaustic tiles are used for cleanliness, and at the end of each floor there is an opening leading outside, through which the manure can be shot below. There are harness and carriage stores containing every description of vehicle for pleasure, including the four-horse coach, elegant landaus, victorias, phaetons, ralli carts etc and a carriage lift (by Wagwood) a saddle drier – Mr Dupont’s own idea – and stores for forage. It may be added there is an extensive range of stabling on the opposite side of Waterloo Street, utilised as horses’ rest and hospital boxes. Mr Dupont’s livery branch is an extensive one, and as he has a good eye for a horse, it is not surprising to learn that the foreigner often utilises his establishment, some useful and valuable horses being exported by him. Throughout the whole of the premises, I should add, electric light is used instead of gas; and there are electric bells everywhere, for use in an emergency. The floors are made of Wilkinson’s patent concrete; to guard against fire, large tanks of water are fixed on each floor, and, to be accidentally alliterative, convenience, comfort, cleanliness and completeness reign throughout’. 
Dupont advert in the Page's Directory of 1878

Alfred Dupont was a Suffolk man by birth and he and his family continued to spend some months in the old family home in Suffolk every year. But his Hove address was 33 Denmark Villas. The Duponts were connected by marriage to the celebrated artist Thomas Gainsborough because Gainsborough’s sister married a Mr Du Pont of Sudbury.

The Duponts’ Hove home was graced with a couple of original Gainsboroughs as well as some Morlands. In fact the walls were crowded with sporting scenes and portraits of favourite foxhunters while amongst the ornaments on display were silver-mounted hooves of esteemed horses, foxtails and fox pads. The hall was adorned with a collection of birds, many of them rare species and most of them shot on the Norfolk Broads by Dupont. He was frequently the guest in Devon of the famous hunting parson the Revd Jack Russell.

On the occasion of the Dupont’s silver wedding anniversary, the happy couple were presented with some beautiful illuminated addresses. Prominent people such as TW Howlett, chairman of the Hove Commissioners, and Alderman Martin, Mayor of Brighton, added their signatures while the address from the Masonic Lodge carried the signatures of H Benett Stanford and local MPs. The Freemasons presented Mrs Dupont with a charming jewellery case.

A Miss Morice posing for photograph outside 
Dupont's Academy, Brighton Season 1907
On the afternoon of 3rd July 1890 Alfred Dupont was about to ride with his 16-year old son Herman over to Henfield where he had a number of horses out at grass. As he mounted the horse outside his house, the horse stumbled before he was properly seated with feet in the stirrups, and then it bolted. All the time Dupont endeavoured to get mounted but at the foot of Albany Villas, he threw himself off. Unfortunately, he landed on his head and died shortly afterwards. The horse continued to run but was eventually caught and brought back to the stables. The inquest was held the same evening. Dupont’s funeral was held at the parish church of Great Cornard and he was buried on what would have been his 52nd birthday. At the time of the accident his wife and three daughters were staying at Fountain Villa, their place at Sudbury.

The Sussex Daily News said he was one of the most prominent and most highly respected of local public men. He had also been a Brunswick Square Commissioner and for many years belonged to the Brighton Detachment of the Middlesex Yeomanry. It was said his engaging manner and personal magnetism won him many friends.
Despite his death, Dupont’s Riding Stables continued in business. It is interesting to note that in 1920 Dupont’s were awarded the tender to supply one horse with regulation equipment for police use at a cost of £90 a year plus 15/- a day each for extra horses that might be needed (up to a maximum of four). In view of the number of horses that lived in the building during some 90 years, it is not surprising that the ghosts of some of them still on occasions paw the ground, or rattle their tethering chains or bump the doors of their stalls.

During the 1950s part of the building was used to smoke bacon and ham and in the 1960s it was used as a warehouse. By the 1970s it belonged to Sussex Mutual Building Society and on 10th September 1971 it became a Grade II listed building. In the 1970s there was an ambitious scheme to convert the premises into an arts centre after it had stood empty and derelict for five years. In 1976 OMAC (Old Market Arts Centre) purchased it for £25,000. Volunteers carried out a great deal of the conversion work and after three years roughly half the building had been brought back into use. There was an art studio, a pottery studio with four kilns, an art gallery, and classes in tap dancing, ballet and yoga were held there, besides meetings of the Brunswick Poetry Group.

In 1979 the famous Long Bar (Paddy’s Bar) was installed. It came from the Grosvenor Hotel at Victoria Station and was constructed in 1906 of oak and marble. It came complete with copper figureheads, hand pumps and mirrors and it took more than 100 hours to dismantle it. It was 40 feet in length and was reputed to have been the place where hundred of soldiers said their farewell before leaving for the Front in World War I.

In 1980 an appeal called OMAC 80 was launched to raise £177,000 to build an auditorium to accommodate 260 people. But it proved to be a dismal failure and by July 1981 there was a cash crisis together with a rumpus going on behind the scenes and key people resigning. OMAC closed in May 1982 some £50,000 in the red because it had been losing £3,000 a month.
In July 1983 it was stated the studio theatre was still in use but the overdraft stood at £68,000 and moreover it was increasing by £2,000 a quarter.

Then came plans to convert the building into flats; for instance in 1985 a plan to create 33 sheltered flats for the elderly was turned down. In February 1989 four squatters were rescued from a fire and it was claimed to be the third in recent months. In March 1993 the property was up for sale at £250,000. In February 1994 plans to create 22 self-contained flats were approved.

However, in 1995 came news that the Hanover Band had received £44,000 lottery money in order to carry out a feasibility study into making the building their permanent home. In March 1996 the Hanover Band purchased the premises from Seamount International after the building had been empty for thirteen years. The National Lottery awarded it £3.8 million in 1997 but the final cost of the restoration work came to £7 million. The first concert took place on 25th November 1998 and the band’s patron, the Duke of Kent, performed the official opening in 1999.
copyright © J. Middleton.
East side of the Old Market House

However, by July 1999 the Old Market Trust was in financial difficulties and there was a huge row when Brighton & Hove Council agreed to loan the Trust £275,000. In May 2001 a new director, Celia Frisby, was appointed with six months in which to turn the fortunes of the Trust around.

In 2007 developer John Bigg purchased office space on the first and second floors for around £1 million.

But continuing cash-flow problems brought forward the old idea of providing flats. This time it was aimed at the top end of the market and the Trustees wanted to build two glass-fronted penthouses on top of the building. The illustration accompanying the plans seemed to show blue sky reflected off the glass so that nobody would notice there were expensive penthouses up there. But there were plenty of objections on the grounds that it was quite out of keeping with a listed building and the surrounding area. Stephen Neiman, chief executive, said the Trust needed to go ahead to help clear its massive debt. There were two attempts to get the plans passed but they were both rejected, the second one on 14th October 2009. Neiman said they would appeal against both decisions and it would be up to a Government inspector to decide.

In January 2010 it was announced that the Old Market Trust had gone into liquidation because of non-payment of tax debts amounting to £240,000 with the total amount coming to at least £1.2 million. But this did not mean the end of the show because the existing management formed a new company and the building continued to function. Statistics from the Charity Commissioners revealed its expenditure during the last five years had been around £1 million more than its income. Later in the same month Barclays Bank put the Old Market up for sale for £1 million. Things looked promising with estate agents Stiles Harold Williams reporting interest from five parties including Brighton Vineyard, an evangelical church.

Then it was revealed that Yes/No Productions purchased it in June 2010 for £800,000, having defeated a rival bid from Michael Chowan, former owner and founder of Sussex Stationers. Yes/No Productions is a Brighton-based arts group that created the world famous percussive dance group Stomp founded in 1991. But even this was not to be plain sailing because there was an outstanding debt owed to Brighton & Hove Council of £275,000. This dated back to 1998/1999 when the council made a loan, which they converted to a grant in 2004. There was also the matter of £585,000 owing to Seeda (South East England Development Agency). In order for the sale to proceed, the money needed to be written off.

Copyright © J.Middleton
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