03 June 2022

Hove Lawns

Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2022)

copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Although the term ‘Hove Lawns’ is used loosely to describe the lawns on Hove sea-front, between Kingsway and Hove Esplanade, historically there were different names for each area.

copyright © J.Middleton
The lawns opposite Brunswick Terrace were well patronised

For example, Brunswick Lawns stretched west from the Brighton boundary to St John’s Road.

The West Brighton Estate Lawns were from St John’s Road to Courtenay Gate.

copyright © J.Middleton
A wonderful view of the West Brighton Estate Lawns in Edwardian times with just a few cars

copyright © J.Middleton
This panoramic view dates from the 1950s. Note the curved flowers beds with hedges to shield them from the salt air

King’s Lawns were to be found opposite King’s Gardens.

copyright © J.Middleton
King’s Lawn pictured when it was still private

The Western Lawns stretched from Hove Street to Aldrington and Hove Lagoon.

copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Originally, these pieces of greenery were exclusively for the use of people living in the nearby residences, and not for general use, and those on the east stayed that way until after the Second World War.

 copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Brighton Herald 15 September 1900
(Major Teevan, Chief Constable of Hove Police Force)

There are many delightful postcards showing the fashionable crowed promenading along Brunswick Lawns after church attendance, prompting the title of the Sunday Church Parade. Ladies wore the latest fashions, which were duly noted by reporters sent along to observe the scene.

copyright © J.Middleton
The Sunday Morning Parade was a sight to see

 copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

 copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

In the summer months top military bands would perform on the lawns within a temporary bandstand, which would be removed before winter set in.

copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Hove's temporary bandstand

Hove Council endeavoured to keep Brunswick Lawns in good repair, and there were notices forbidding ball games there. But when Hove was reluctantly joined with Brighton in 1997, officials took the notices down, saying they were not legal. There followed something of a free-for-all with organised football matches taking place. Of course it was a dangerous practice because there was nothing to stop a football from landing on traffic in Kingsway, and indeed one unfortunate motor-cyclist was knocked off his machine.

Although the football matches are no more, there is a new hazard in the shape of the portable barbecue, which leaves a nasty scorched square of grass that takes ages to re-generate. There are plans afoot to ban such barbecues from beaches and lawns but who will police it?

Even royalty patronised the lawns, and King Edward VII was seen strolling in King’s Gardens when he was staying with his Sassoon friends across the road at Hove.

Further along, on the Western Lawns stood the much-loved Hove Bandstand in an area abounding with flowers, plus a tinkling little fountain nearby with tea served at the West End Cafe.

copyright © J.Middleton
The Bandstand in its heyday

Graham Gilmour's Flight to Hove Lawns

On 6 May 1911 the celebrated Air Race from Brooklands to Brighton took place with Shoreham serving as the turning point; it was a distance of 45 miles. The Sussex Daily News excitedly proclaimed the race ‘would go down to posterity as the first aerial point-to-point’. Graham Gilmour took part along with other well-known aviators of the day most of whom managed to lose their way or get disqualified. Gilmour flew a Bristol Boxkite, which was photographed on Brunswick Lawns on 7 May.

 copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
 Graham Gilmour on Hove Lawns 6 May 1911

Hove and Kingsway Bowling Club

copyright © J.Middleton
The bowling greens are a hive of activity. The bottom photo shows bowling greens C, D, E, while the top photo shows them in reverse – E, D, C.

The Hove Bowling Club was founded in 1896, and pioneer member A. E. Hounsom sent down the first jack in the same year. The club was first mentioned in Council Minutes in 1897 when it was stated that a game of bowls was to be permitted on Number 3 Western Lawns, opposite Westbourne Villas, and the borough surveyor was instructed to keep the grass mown for the purpose.

In 1898 a shed was erected for the use of club members, which by 1900 cost the club £1 a year payable to Hove Council. Members had a shock in 1907 when the fee was suddenly raised to £7 a year.

S. E. Yelland was an important club member in the early days, and he was also an official of the London County Bowling Club. In 1901 he arranged for an Australian team to tour England, which was also hoped to include some matches locally. Unhappily, the Australian captain took one look at the humble Hove green, noted the uneven surface, and refused to play there, the match being switched to Brighton.

In 1904 Hove Bowling Club sought permission to enlarge the club-house. The council graciously granted permission, but it was still subject to revocation at a month’s notice.

In 1907 Hove Council decided to renovate the bowling green at a cost not exceeding £200, and in 1911 permission was granted to extend the shed.

In the week starting 19 July 1920 there was a Bowling Festival. It took place under the patronage of Hove Council, and was organised by members of all the bowling clubs in Brighton and Hove.

In 1923 Hove Council decided to erect a new pavilion for the club at the south-west corner of number 2 Lawn at an estimated cost of £615. The building was timber-framed, and panelled with asbestos sheeting with a rough-cast surface. The roof was covered with red asbestos tiles, and a 4-ft wide verandah was to be created on the north, west and east sides. The central room measured 25-ft, 6-in by 20-ft, and was partitioned off by revolving shutters. The building, together with the use of kitchen and lockers, was rented to the club for £25 a year.

In July 1935 it was stated that the club now had 217 members, and as locker-space was exhausted, members were permitted to use part of the pavilion allocated to public use.

The Kingsway Bowling Club was formed in 1925 and was also based on the Western Lawns. Sir Zachariah Wheatley was president of the club in 1934 and 1935, and he arranged for Canadian and South African teams to visit Hove. The Canadians were personally welcomed by Sir Zachariah and Lady Wheatley, and when the Canadians played on the Western Lawns, the Canadian flag was hoisted. Two receptions for the visitors took place at Hove Town Hall.

copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

During the Second World War, the club was unable to use its premises, or the bowling greens because the sea-front became a restricted area.

However, on 1 May 1945, after a five-year lapse, the Kingsway Bowling Club re-opened. Well-known Tubby Edlin, the club’s president, bowled the first wood well wrapped up in his overcoat because it was such a cold day. Edlin expressed his appreciation at the marvellous work Hove Council had done in opening up the sea-front so quickly once restrictions had been lifted. A special mention was made of Peter Grant who was responsible for the upkeep of the bowling greens while they were closed to the public. Indeed the greens had benefited enormously from their long rest, and Captain J. Hawkins considered them to be the finest at Hove.

The other Hove bowling greens did not re-open until 1 June, and until that day arrived, members of the Good Companions and the Civil Service Club were accommodated at the Kingsway Club.

In 1970 the Hove Bowling Club and the Kingsway Bowling Club amalgamated to become the Hove and Kingsway Bowling Club. The Kingsway was the largest of the four clubs that eventually joined up – the Good Companions joined soon afterwards, and in 1986 the Viceroy Club joined too.

copyright © J.Middleton
A bowls tournament is under way. The club-house burned down in 1990

The old wooden club-house erected in 1923 became a changing and locker room, and later on it was occupied by the ladies’ club. The club-house was then placed in the spacious Kingsway quarters; this building having been erected in 1965, and extended in 1984. The lowest estimate for the latter work was quoted as £60,000, and appropriate loans had been taken out. But there had been an unfortunate financial miscalculation, and for a while it seemed probable that the entire club was in jeopardy. However, a new financial team took over, and although the bank called in its loan in 1987, new arrangements were made; eventually, all loans were paid off.

On 28 April 1990 two vagrants accidentally set fire to the wooden building, and it burnt down taking all the club’s records with it. The architects Overton Hart designed a new brick building with long, low lines like the earlier one; there was also a pitched roof sporting a clock tower and a weather vane as a focal point.

In June 1991 the Mayor of Hove, Audrey Buttimer, opened the new £120,000 bowls pavilion, in the company of club president Arthur Waller.

In 1995 the club photograph recorded 58 male members.

In December 1999 members were incensed when Brighton & Hove Council suddenly erected bollards at the north end of the service road leading from Kingsway to the esplanade. The club, which had more than 280 members, said there had been no consultation, and the closure was a serious inconvenience for their more elderly members. The council replied that the roadway was intended for pedestrians, and action was taken to stop coaches and taxies from parking there.

In February 2002 members were again angry when the council stated they intended to close Green E, plus another green at Preston Park in order to save £15,000 a years. Once again, there was no consultation.

It is interesting to note how the demographic of club members has changed over the intervening years. Bowls is no longer regarded just as a pastime for retirees. Instead, there are younger members who might work during the day, and then enjoy a game of bowls in the evening sunlight during the summer months. It is heartening to hear that in 2021 many new members joined the club. There is also the option of people coming to the greens for a ‘pay and play’ session.

The Tennis Bubble

This structure was erected in October 1986 to enable tennis to be played throughout the winter months, and in the evenings. The Bubble was erected on a site formerly occupied by the Arnold Palmer Crazy Golf Course and was around 28-ft in height. There were six large flood-lights and an electric generator plus a back-up fan and an emergency gas-driven generator. Inside, there were three courts.

The Record Tennis Centre owned the Bubble, and it cost in the region of £100,000. It was open seven days a week and it cost £8 an hour at peak time to hire a court. There was a chalet to provide changing facilities and showers, as well as a small shop and snack bar.

Many people living in nearby flats objected to the Bubble on the grounds that it spoiled their sea view. But others maintained that the Bubble was less a blot on the landscape than their flats. Magistrate Frank Skinner called the Bubble a monstrous white carbuncle, and one of the biggest environmental mistakes ever made by Hove Council.

Unhappily, such a prominent structure was a magnet for vandals and within a few months the Bubble had been attacked four times. In March 1987 vandals scaled the 8-ft perimeter fence and slashed the dome in four places.

In April 1987 the Bubble was officially opened, and Virginia Wade was present. She took part in a doubles exhibition match, and then coached some youngsters.

In February 1990 it was reported that a storm had blown the roof off for the third time in four years and needed to be replaced. The cost was high but a number of important tournaments were held there, including two LTA ranking competitions.

In March 1990 the Bubble burst again, for the third time that winter. A high wind was the culprit, and it also damaged other Tennis Bubbles in the South East. This meant that there was a waiting list for replacements. Meanwhile, the 250 members were told they could use the tennis courts for free.

By March 1993 the Hove Indoor Tennis Centre was running the establishment and they wanted permission to keep the Bubble up all year round – previously it had been taken down between May and September. David Fisher, Hove’s Leisure Director, backed the scheme, but the planning committee opposed it. There were 81 letters of objection to it staying up all year plus a petition with 162 signatures, but there was another petition with 91 signatures in favour.

However, in August 1998 Hove Council closed down the business because it owed them thousands of pounds in rent and tax. David Fisher stated that the Bubble had not been erected for two years because of financial chaos despite the operators having received a grant of £72,000 from the Lawn Tennis Association. The tennis courts then reverted to Hove Council, but nothing could be done until rusty pieces of metal had been removed.

Recent Times

It is shameful how the area has been neglected since Brighton and Hove Council was formed over twenty-five years ago. For example, there were eight tennis courts, but now there are only four because four were considered too dangerous to use, and were locked up in April 2022. Apparently, there is no money available, and the damage goes deeper than was anticipated at first.

As for staffing levels – in 2004 there were two permanent gardeners on site with plenty to do with bowling greens, tennis courts, pitch and putt, and many flower beds in the bandstand gardens as well as around the Lagoon. There was employment for four seasonal workers during the summer – two to take ticket money for the use of tennis courts, and two to sell tickets for the pitch and putt course. They also helped to keep the area looking spick and span by removing any litter.

In 2022 there is one gardener to look after the vast space on his own.

Kingsway Ladies Bowling Club

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph was taken on 2 June 2009 and shows the Kingsway Ladies Bowling Club in action

The fate of this long-standing club is a classic example of Brighton & Hove City Council’s wilful neglect. In February 2013 it was announced that the council would be closing down the club, their green and re-possess the pavilion for commercial use. The club had been in existence for 75 years, providing countless hours of exercise and enjoyment together with valued social interaction. Moreover, some of the ladies played to such a high standard that they were chosen to represent England in international tournaments. The ladies were devastated by the decision.

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph was taken on 30 July 2014, and the clubhouse of the Ladies Club can be seen on the right

Roll on nine years and what has happened? The green is unused, the pavilion is shuttered, the once excellent toilets on either side are in a horrendous state. In days of yore, the ladies loo was so well looked after for many years by supervisor Pearl that it won many accolades. No commercial use of the pavilion has happened. Therefore not a penny of revenue has been earned by the council.

Number 1 Western Lawn

This is the lawn immediately to the west of the King Alfred. For some time it was earmarked for the storage of materials and plant to be used in the massive flat-building scheme on the King Alfred site, which never came off the drawing-board.

Zippo’s Circus has camped there in August from 2000, and will do so in 2022.

copyright © J.Middleton
In August 2002 Zippo’s Big Top erected on Number 1 Lawn rises above the beach huts

Bowling Greens

The next spaces were also once known by numbers, as in number 1 Western Lawns. Today, the first five letters of the alphabet are used.

copyright © Dennis Productions
The bowling greens in the 1950s showing from the right greens E, D, C.

A – This sunken area contained a bowling green for ladies only, and they had their own clubhouse. The council closed it down in 2013.

B – In 2004 it was a bowling green, but in 2022 it is a croquet lawn.

C – Bowling green.

D – Bowling green.

E – It used to be a bowling green until 2002 when the council decided to close it to save money; it is now covered by ordinary grass.

Croquet

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph was taken on 17 March 2014 and shows where the old croquet lawn was situated. The gap in the background to the left is where the late-lamented Sackville Hotel once stood

Today croquet is played on lawn B. Previously, the croquet green was located west of the access road

Rockwater

copyright © D. Sharp
Rockwater in 2018

At least some private money has been invested in Hove sea-front. This area is now generally called Rockwater, the most recent name of what was once the West End Cafe. North of the building the Hove Bandstand was situated, surrounded by flower beds.

Tennis Courts

copyright © J.Middleton
This postcard was sent in May 1926 and the edge of the tennis court looks remarkably close to the bandstand

There were eight tennis courts, but in 2022 only four are in use.

Pitch and Putt Course

copyright © Coastal Cards
The putting green in the 1950s

Next to the tennis courts and before the Lagoon, there was a 9-hole pitch and putt course, with five holes on the east side of the service road, and four holes on the west side of the service road. In 2022 it is just grass, but popular with dog-walkers.

Kingsway-to-the-Sea Project

The Government has promised to provide £9.5 million towards the re-generation of this part of Hove sea-front. But there must be no dawdling because works should be completed by March 2024. Brighton & Hove City Council have also managed to dredge up £1,147 million to add to the kitty, and so in total there will be over £10 million.

Amenities envisaged are two bowling greens, one croquet lawn, four tennis courts with another two for bat-tennis, plus a skate park and pump track. Changing areas and improved public toilets are a much needed feature. It is interesting to note that one bowling green would have traditional grass while the other would have artificial turf, seeing as such a green has proved to be successful in Victoria Recreation Ground, Portslade.

A special exhibition was held in the ballroom of the King Alfred on 20 / 21 May 2022 to allow the public to view, and comment upon, the new proposals. Nobody could accuse the people of Hove of being apathetic when it comes to planning matters because the room was crowded with residents, and members of the design team were also in attendance. There were plenty of ‘post-it’ notes in different colours, according to which table and plan was on display, and people were invited to leave their comments. There was also a fascinating video showing how the project might look on completion. It is remarkable how many trees were included, but will they withstand salt-laden air? It is to be hoped that security cameras would be installed to deter vandals.

However, it must be said that local dog-walkers were not pleased because they had become accustomed to a nice secure green space in which to exercise their dogs in the area formerly occupied by the pitch and putt course.

copyright © J.Middleton
Today’s emphasis is on re-wilding and the photograph taken in July 2014 is of the wild-flower border between the bowling greens and the pavement

The Riwaq

In May 2022 a curious structure started to materialise on Number 1 Lawn – the area has certainly never seen anything like this before. The designers are Marwa Al-Sabouni and Ghassan Jansiz, and ‘Riwaq’ is the Arabic word for a colonnade. But this one is in the shape of a horse-shoe and is 30-metres in diameter. It will provide a semi-open space for all kinds of cultural and social activities.

copyright © R. Horscroft
These two photographs of the fascinating Riwaq were taken on 8 May 2022 

The construction is indeed ingenious. It can be no coincidence that there are 33 arches on each side, making a total of 66 arches because possibly we are in the realm of sacred geometry where measurements were not just numbers but carried meaning too.

copyright © R. Horscroft

Mr Al-Sabouni was obviously pleased with the location, and said in a delightful statement ‘The Riwaq will be buzzing, filled with visitors contributing and transforming it into a beautiful meeting spot on the charming seafront of Hove.’ (
Argus 5/5/2022)

The Riwaq would host all kinds of events, some with an international feel, others for families, or young people, or as therapy for the disabled such as Best Foot Music, In-House Records, Little Green Pig, and Carousel. (Argus 13/3/2022)

It has proved to be a popular destination in the Brighton Festival with people curious about the structure as well as the organised events.

Sources

Argus

Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

Hove Council Minute Books

The Hovarian (April 2022 / May 2022)

Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Copyright © J.Middleton 2022
page layout by D. Sharp