27 January 2021

Sackville Hotel, Hove

Judy Middleton 2002 (Revised 2021)
copyright © J.Middleton
The Sackville Hotel photographed in 2005, the year the hotel closed. On the left is Girton House.

This hotel was situated at 189 Kingsway. But first of all, although it was one building, it was actually four freehold mansions called The Lawns. Building work started in 1904, and in the Hove Year Book 1907 they were advertised as being for sale, and interested persons could obtain full particulars from Mr J. G. Horrocks, 175 Piccadilly. Each mansion was provided with the very latest improvements ‘known to the builders’ art’ such as the electric lift, electric Turkish bath, and heating apparatus throughout. There was a library on the upper floor and each mansion had eight bedrooms. To top it all, the ‘gilded domes lead every stranger to inquire as to its occupants’. These luxurious residences were priced between £7,000 and £8,000. It was an incredibly expensive price, and it is not surprising that there was no queue of prospective buyers.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

It was in around 1911 that Mrs Beney-Wallis purchased the four houses to serve as an expansion to her school for young ladies called Girton House, which occupied the opposite corner of Sackville Gardens in Kingsway. There were only some forty young ladies at Girton House when she made the purchase, and so she must have been antisapating a great success.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Three articles from Brighton Newspapers featuring the The Lawns Hotel and the Brighton Board of Guardians' decision to take over some of Brighton & Hove Hotels in the First World War to house the residents of Brighton's and Shoreham's Workhouses. Both theses Workhouses were required by the Army. Brighton's Workhouse became the Kitchener Hospital for Indian Soldiers and Shoreham’s Workhouse (Southlands Hospital) was used as accommodation for troops. The condescending article to the 'poor' in the  Brighton Graphic hints at 'war profiteering' by the landlords of the Lawns Hotel for increasing the rent by 50% in one year
No doubt the First World War had some effect on the business, and by the 1920s she had decided that with declining numbers she would turn the four houses into the exclusive Sackville Gardens Private Hotel. In fact the hotel provided useful accommodation when doting parents visited Hove to see their daughters at Girton House. Mrs Beney-Willis died in 1932.

By the 1930s the hotel belonged to Sir Frederick Wells and was called Sackville Court Hotel. In 1936 the hotel was purchased by Swiss-born Mr J. Kung who already had an extensive knowledge of hotels, and had acquired the Dudley Hotel, Lansdowne Place in the 1930s. When Mr Kung worked at the Carlton Hotel, London, Mr W. Walter and Mr E. C. Schmid were also working there; the former managed the Sackville for ten years, and the latter took over from him for another eight years before retiring in 1962.

Mr E. C. Schmid was typical of the old school of hotel managers. He was born in Altdorf, and left Switzerland at the age of thirteen to start his apprenticeship as a cook in hotels in the south of France. In 1920 he came to England, and by 1922 he was head receptionist at the Hotel Metropole, Brighton. Before he rose to the level of manager, he had clocked up experience in all departments of a hotel, and during some 50 years he had worked in 30 different hotels including the Ritz, Carlton, Savoy and Mayfair. His longest stint was at the Seabank Hotel, Porthcawl, where he stayed for twenty years.

Mr Kung embarked on an extensive scheme of renovation at a cost of between £40,000 and £50,000. John Dixon was the architect and the Ringmer Building Company were the contractors. The lounge and dining room were given windows that folded back to open up the rooms to sunshine, and in addition there was a verandah. There were 52 bedrooms on three floors with the majority having private bathrooms. The rooms were handsomely furnished, and the single beds each had a Hamptons’ multi-spring mattress. Each floor had its own colour scheme – terracotta for the first floor, cream for the second floor, and soft tones of brown for the third floor. Among the amenities provided were electric clocks and softened water, while some rooms had balconies. The public rooms included a fine ballroom, a card room, and a large recreation room providing ping-pong and darts. There were lock-up garages plus a large parking space. One of the innovations was the installation of central heating by means of the ‘Dunham system of sub-atmospheric steam control’, which cost £2,500. This system was robust enough to give forty years of service. The one big disadvantage was the noise because the pipes had metal flaps that clanged shut, sounding like workmen hammering, which may have alarmed the more sensitive guests. The well-equipped kitchen contained Aga coking stoves, and guests were even invited to inspect the kitchen at any time. The modernised hotel re-opened on 21 May 1933. At that time the directors were as follow:

H. A. Kinney (chairman)

A. E. Orbell

F. M. Wells

W. Cecil Gates 
copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Hove Bandstand in the 1920s with Sackville Court Hotel in the background
By 1951 the Sackville boasted an American Bar. In the 1970s the architects Felce & Guy designed the extension on the south side that had a fronting of Westmorland slate. It more or less matched the turquoise colour with which the hotels facade was painted, and it certainly showed off the plaster embellishments painted white. In fact, the exterior might remind some sensitive souls of a wedding cake. But alas! the gilded domes were painted a depressing, shiny black.

In 1945 David Kelsey, senior, came to Brighton and purchased Howard’s Restaurant in Castle Square, where his son, also David, later joined him. They purchased the old West End CafĂ© on Hove sea-front, which they re-built in 1967. In January 1976 the Kelseys took over the Sackville from Myddleton Hotels Ltd, based in Eastbourne, who had been owners for around seven years.

David Kelsey, junior, was president of the Brighton & Hove Hotels, Guest Houses and Restaurants Association from 1974 to 1976. In 1977 a new bar was installed in the existing oak-panelled lounge, and called Winston’s Bar complete with a characteristic portrait of Sir Winston Churchill. The hotel was stated to have 47 rooms, all en-suite, and Mike Bevans was the manager. David Kelsey, senior, died in 1980. In the 1981 edition of the Good Hotel Guide the Sackville was said to be one in a million; it charged £180 a week all in.

In 1981 the new restaurant manager was Mr R. Lupi, who had arrived from Italy some 25 years previously, and had trained at Claridges. In around 1981 Mr Lupi had taken over a corner grocery store in Lyndhurst Road but soon became bored with that, and returned to the hotel trade. In 1988 head porter Viv Kelly retired after 28 years of service at the Sackville. Among the famous guests he had met he remembered particularly the politician Manny Shinwell, plus Margaret Rutherford and Douglas Fairbanks, junior, from the world of acting.
copyright © J.Middleton
The Sackville Hotel was designed with the most elegant frontage. Unhappily it was demolished in 2006 after a disastrous collapse during refurbishment.
In May 1982 David Kelsey purchased the Royal Crescent Hotel, Brighton. In June 1985 he went on a business trip to the continent, and died suddenly at the age of 46, leaving a widow and two sons. Before he died, he had appointed a new general manager for the Sackville to replace Paul Sykes who had left to join a new business venture. Simon Farrar was the new manager, aged 29, who some eight years previously had spent eighteen months at the Sackville as a junior assistant manager. At one time he had been back-of-house manager at the famous Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair.

In September 1987 the Sackville was up for sale at £1.9 million, and Farrar was still the manager. In May 1988 it was purchased by Roseville Hotels & Investments, a private company controlled by the Mejie, which originated in India. In June 1990 a fire started in the hotel garage, and restaurant customers and guests were evacuated. Some 20 firemen prevented the flames from spreading to the rest of the hotel, but the garage and a motor caravan parked outside were badly damaged. The incident was believed to have been arson.

In October 1990 the Sackville was on the market again for £2 million. But before it could be sold the Roseville Hotel Group collapsed, and so the hotel went into receivership with Price Waterhouse, although it continued to trade with its 30 permanent staff. The new price was £1.5 million and the hotel was on the books of of London agents Edward Symmons. It was not until June 1992 that a buyer came forward, and Hong Kong-based company OK Investments made the purchase for £1 million. It was stated the hotel featured in both the Egon Ronay and Michelin guides. David Mitchell, general manager, for the previous fourteen months, stated an investment programme would be drawn up to include the refurbishment of ten rooms, the reception area, foyer, bar, conference and meeting rooms.

In October 1999 the Argus ran a story about an American basketball player who was staying at the Sackville during the season he was playing for Brighton Bears, a basketball team. The only trouble was that he was 7-ft tall while the hotel’s beds were 6-ft 6-in. But he said he was used to sleeping curled up. He thought the staff and food were great, and hotel proprietor John Bhimji said they were proud to have him.

It is sad to record that by the dawning of the new century the Sackville had fallen so far from its pinnacle as an exclusive establishment to being chiefly used as placements from the local authority, such as those on social security or the homeless. When therefore the property was sold for £1.25 million in 2003 there were great hopes that the new owner might restore it to its former glory. In 2004 it was stated that during the previous fifteen years, the hotel had had experienced sixteen different owners. It was hardly the recipe for a stable situation, and indeed the hotel had suffered from chronic under-investment. But now ambitious plans were laid out. The third floor would be converted into four residential units, with a new six-storey extension at the rear to form five residential units. There would be a gym, a spa room, and a swimming pool, while in the hotel there would be new marble floors plus new lifts and staircases. Manager Carole Tilbrook was upbeat about the project, and rather hoped the hotel might perhaps regain its five stars, which it once sported in the 1960s. On 30 September 2005 the Sackville closed its doors to embark on its £5 million make-over; it was hoped it would be completed within eighteen months.

copyright © J.Middleton
The Sackville Hotel photographed shortly before its collapse

The building was festooned in scaffolding for many months. On 28 April 2006 the roof collapsed, crashing inwards and taking the upper floors with it. In May 2006 the hotel received a battering from strong winds, and the towers became unstable; then debris began to fall and the emergency services were summoned at 8 a.m. on 20 May. It was stated that as soon as the winds died down, the towers would be demolished. An urgent engineer’s report in June 2006 stated that the building was beyond repair, and the beautiful building was knocked down the same month. People were upset about the loss of such an iconic building, and wondered how it could have possibly happened.

In 2006 businessmen Robert Webb and Michael Deol purchased the site for £1.5 million. under the holding company name of Sackville Hotel Ltd. The company went into voluntary liquidation in January 2008, and there was speculation as to what would happen next. Then in December 2009 the two men came up with new plans for a 5-star hotel. It seems these plans never got off the ground because in May 2011 there was something completely different – this time it was suggested that a neo-Georgian terrace of six luxury homes should be built on the vacant site; the design being the work of Portslade-based Alan Phillips Architecture. Webb and Doel were still behind the enterprise but Brighton & Hove City Council turned down the plans in June 2012. The two men then took the matter to the independent Planning Inspectorate who over-ruled the council’s decision and gave consent to build five six-storey houses.

Nothing was built, and in November 2015 the next suggestion for the site was a monstrous cylindrical tower of 17-storeys, and 183-ft in height (56m). Yelo Architects of Brighton were the designers on behalf of the Hyde Group, and 107 properties were envisaged. Valerie Paynter of saveHove declared there was not a ‘hope in hell’ of the scheme being given planning consent. The Hyde Group said that should planning permission be granted, they would part-fund a new park on the sea-front between the King Alfred and Hove Lagoon. During the process of consultation and within the first two weeks it was obvious people were appalled by what came to be called the Sackville Tower – Valerie Paynter counted 262 objections. Indeed, a new pressure group was formed called No to Sackville Tower and its chairwoman, Angelique Henderson, said people ‘do not want the Sackville Conservation area ruined by a giant cylinder, which is intrusive and totally out of character’. The plans were withdrawn in March 2016

By June 2016 the Hyde Housing was in the process of drawing up new plans for the site. Agelique Henderson, by now chairwoman of Hove Sea-front Residents’ Association, said that any suggested building more than eight storeys high would be ‘vigorously opposed’. By November 2016 it was stated that HGP Architects had come up with a plan for 64 flats in a 9-storey block, but with only ‘an element of affordable housing’, which was unacceptable to the council. Yelo Architects were not in the picture any more. The first set of plans were presented in January 2017, and then revised following feedback from interested groups. The building would now have a corner feature to enhance a ‘classic Art Deco-styles apartment block’. The project would take two years to build, and there would be 60 homes with basement parking.

Council officers recommended that planning consent should be granted both In September 2017 and in November 2017. The building was described as 8-storeys high in the main south-facing frontage with a 5-storey height at the side facing Sackville Gardens. The building would have cream-coloured bricks, and in the balconies and screens there would be bronze detailing. The 60 homes would include 12 studio flats, 28 1-bed units, 19 2-bed apartments, and one 3-bed apartment. In the September report it was stated the council recommended the following options for affordable housing as follows:

5 affordable rents and 4 shared ownerships, or

8 rented apartments, or

12 shared ownerships

£60,192 for education

£129,908 for recreational purposes on Western Lawns

£63,900 for transport improvements

£18,200 for employment and training schemes

copyright © G.Middleton
Building work on the site of the Sackville Hotel in November 2020

Planning approval was granted on 8 November 2017. In January 2018 Geoff Raw, chief executive of Brighton & Hove City Council, had some interesting comments to make about the difficulties of dealing with prospective developers. He deplored the ploy whereby some developers purchased a site, gained the requisite planning permission, then sold it on for profit. The greatest need was for social housing, and ideally the council would like to insist on 40 per cent of social housing in any large development. But the developers could appeal to the Independent Valuer Service (DVA) stating that their project would be unviable if they had to include so much social housing. At the Sackville site, developers offered only 10 flats as affordable housing. The site had been owned by different people, and several plans had been passed. Developers could always cite the enormous cost of land in such a high demand area as a good reason to scale down the number of social housing units. Previously, the information supplied to the DVA was private and confidential, but the council wanted more transparency, and the material to be disclosed to the Press and public. The council wanted to move to CTL later in the year, which would place the obligation on the land itself, to be measure per square metre.

By April 2021 it was stated that the number of flats to be provided was 52 and that Cayuga Homes are the developers. But it had proved impossible to provide three flats at an affordable rent. In order for this to happen someone has to take responsibility for them. Although the company had approached the usual Registered Providers, nobody was interested in taking on such a small number, which would probably not be viable for them either. Therefore Cayuga Homes was given permission by Brighton & Hove City Council to offer instead seven leases on a basis of shared ownership.

The new block is advertised as having 52 luxurious apartments and the majority of them come with an underground parking space. ‘Cayuga’ seems rather an exotic name for a local developer based in Preston Street, Brighton. Perhaps it is intended to be an up-market name, but surely not to be associated with the prices demanded in Cayuga County, New York. The name for the block of flats is also somewhat unusual – it is Aurum. Although Latin is no longer a requirement for Oxbridge these days, Aurum is the Latin word for gold, but quite how this relates to Hove sea-front is not clear. Perhaps the narrow gold strips on the building have something to do with it.

See also the Kingsway page



Brighton Graphic

Brighton Herald

Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

Information provided by the Sackville Hotel

Information provided by Mr J. Kung

Information provided by Mr E. C. Schmid, one-time manager of the Sackville Hotel

Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove 

saveHove website

Copyright © J.Middleton 2021
page layout by D.Sharp