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The Old Market (Hove)

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Address: Upper Market Street / Hove / East Sussex BN3 1AS / England

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      06.04.2009 14:39
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      History culture and entertainment in one attractive package!

      The Old Market Hove is a place which is difficult to label! It's an historical building of some note, a theatre, a cultural centre, a venue for private hire catering for all sorts of events including weddings and civil partnerships, a recording studio, home to the celebrated Hanover Band and a base for Springboard, a competitive performing arts festival for young people. In fact it is a wonderful and invaluable community resource just a stone's throw from the sea in The Brunswick area of Hove but just on the Brighton border.

      ~~~BRUNSWICK TOWN~~~

      The area now known as Brunswick is, for me, one of the most fascinating areas of Hove. Brunswick Town was largely the brainchild of the Reverend Thomas Scutt whose family owned much of the land upon which it was built and Charles Augustin Busby, a talented architect who was responsible for designing much of the Regency architecture of Brighton and Hove. It was developed between 1824 and 1840 as a mini town with a range of housing types and mix of uses to cater for all the needs of the wealthy upper and middle classes who were flocking to Brighton in the wake of the Prince Regent, later William IV, whose partiality for the place had quickly elevated it to the status of a fashionable resort. Brunswick Square and Terrace, with their elegant facades and mews to the rear, were the focal point for the new development and designed as luxury accommodation for the well to do. Clustered around were the "service streets" with shops, social amenities and housing for the working classes who catered for the needs of their affluent neighbours.

      Brunswick today is the haunt of a multiplicity of flat and mews dwellers and slightly Bohemian in character but much of the original architectural history is still evident making it a fascinating area to explore. Now a conservation area it is packed with listed buildings and has been hailed as "one of the best examples of Regency planning and urban design in the country" (*1)


      One of the amenities tucked away at the back of Brunswick Town was the Market which was not only built by the architect, Charles Busby but also financed by him. It is still an impressive Grade II listed building originally comprising just the central part of the island site between Upper and Lower Market Street, a charming but unsophisicated structure, which now houses the Bryson Hall the main area where events are staged.

      The market opened in 1828 but "although it provided all kinds of necessities for the estate in the early years, it was never the success that Busby had envisaged."(*2). Even his offer of free space to traders could not entice them as customers and stall holders preferred to travel to the new market near Brighton Town Hall.

      In the 1830s the building was briefly transformed into a school for the poor before being converted into a riding school in the 1840s. In 1875 it was taken over by Alfred Dupont and became his, much celebrated, Riding Academy. Mr. Dupont was responsible for adding extensions on the north and south sides which resulted in a new look which is lacking in symmetry but some say this rather adds to its charm and the front of the building is still an imposing edifice.

      The ground floor was used for riding, polo and "leaping" practice whilst the first and second floors provided stabling. The horses were led up to their accommodation by an outside ramp. Another ramp led to the basement which for many years provided a home for the donkeys that gave rides to children on Brighton beach.

      During the First World War most of the horses were shipped to France as part of the war effort and by the end of the of the war, with the car gaining in popularity and the consequent decline in the use of horses, the Market building became a food warehouse with a bacon smokery at the western end.

      In the 1960s the Old Market was bought by the Sussex Mutual Building Society and in the 1970s local people launched a bid to form the Old Market Arts Centre. Part of the building was brought back into use between 1976 and 1979. However the venture ran short of money and did not have the cash to build an auditorium Arguments among the various personalities involved in the project led to resignations and ultimately to the closure of the centre in 1983 after which the site became derelict.

      Various plans to renovate it, including one for housing, were rejected by Hove Council but eventually the Hanover Band (of whom more later) launched a successful bid to buy the building. Eventually a restoration project began in 1995 and the Old Market Trust was set up to manage it. An award from the National Lottery through the Arts Council, which, at the time, was the largest ever arts award made to the south east by the Lottery, ensured restoration could begin in 1997. With further financial help from the local authority, the Single Regeneration Budget and English Heritage the project was completed in November 1998 and opened by HRH The Duke of Kent in May 1999.

      ~~~THE VENUE TODAY~~~

      The Old Market despite its slightly sprawling dimensions has a welcoming, cosy air. The fact that it is smaller than many venues gives it an intimacy and informality which makes you feel at home whether you are dressed up in your best togs or wearing jeans and, without exception, I have always found the staff friendly, approachable and helpful. It is well patronised by locals and I can usually count on bumping into an old friend or acquaintance which all adds to its appeal.

      The Stables Bar has an air of bygone comfort, housing as it does the Long Bar which formerly graced the Grosvenor Hotel at Victoria Station in London. The five decorative pendant lamps above it complete the effect although the modern ceiling downlighters in the remainder of the bar do tend to spoil this effect but presumably these are necessary as this is the only internal public route through to the Bryson Hall and also sometimes houses exhibitions. The "cubicled" seating is comfy but in short supply and when events are in progress it is extremely crowded. The bar is well stocked and. I have read that they offer a good selection of real ale. I must admit I have never noticed this but I can confirm they offer a good cup of coffee. Prices are reasonable if not as cheap as in some of the surrounding hostelries

      The Bryson Hall is the auditorium and was the main part of the original building. It is easy to envisage it in its first incarnation as the layout is eminently suitable for market stalls with open arches on the eight bays at either side. There is no fixed seating just chairs of the stackable variety and tables which are brought out for certain occasions. This may not be the most comfortable seating and the lack of a tiered seating arrangement can mean restricted visibility if you find yourself behind a Long Tall Sally or a large hat but it does ensure versatility in terms of the ability to adapt seating plans to the needs of any occasion. The hall has the capacity for 500 standing, 312 seated in Theatre Style, 220 seated in the Cabaret layout and can comfortably seat 160-180 for dinner events.

      The acoustics are first class as it was originally restored with the primary purpose of being a recording venue for the Hanover Band and to this end the roof was raised by four metres and a layer of concrete poured on the top. Fortunately the original oak beams were left in place providing an attractive and authentic look. In addition it boasts air conditioning, a theatrical lighting rig and a state of the art sound system.

      There is a pleasant paved outside area, often furnished with tables and chairs, which is handy for smokers and where it's pleasant to take a drink, study the many layered architecture of the place and listen to the sea gulls. Last summer this area was opened daily as an outside bar/cafe serving nachos & light bites, homemade burgers and sandwiches but, according to the Ruth Jamieson, the catering manager, it has not yet been decided whether this will be introduced again this summer because they have not yet assessed the feasibility of running it amongst the diversity of private and public events being hosted at the venue.

      My only real criticism of this as a venue is the distance of the Bryson Hall from the toilets! Beware anybody getting caught short, as they have to trek the length of the bar through the foyer, down two flights of stairs (to the former donkey accommodation!) and along another fairly long corridor! Happily once there you are greeted with clean facilities a-plenty at least in the Ladies although I have not inspected the Gents. This is truly an inconvenient convenience!


      According to a review from the Federation of Disabled People (*3) it affords reasonably good access for disabled. The main rooms used for events are on one level and most doors are wedged open during events. Wheelchairs can be accommodated and are fitted into various places depending on the seating plan being used but the booking office must be informed in advance. For the hard of hearing there is an Induction Loop. Apparently there is also a lift down to the level of the toilet facilities (although I have never noticed it) and these include disabled access cubicles.

      ~~~WHAT'S ON?~~~

      The Old Market offers a great diversity of entertainment - gigs, classical music, jazz, dance, theatre, comedy, lectures and literary events as well as hosting many local community happenings.

      Just to illustrate this variety, the programme for March 2009 included:-
      >An amateur production of Rent
      >Stacey Kent, jazz singer
      >A local primary school presenting a new adaptation of Wind in the Willows
      >A professional presentation of the play Redemption Song
      >The Eroica Quintet playing Mendelssohn and Beethoven
      >The Springboard Festival
      >A lecture by the local Regency Society
      >Jeremy Paxman and Joan Bakewell both promoting their new books.

      Highlights for the coming months include:-
      >The Blockheads (formerly Ian Dury's outfit),
      >YolanDa Brown ( MOBO 2008 award winning saxophonist),
      >Literary Lunch with Libbie Purves and Kate Adie
      >Lea de Laria
      >The Portico Quartet
      >David Ford
      > La Excelentia ( a 12 piece Cuban band)
      >An evening with three children's book illustrators Axel Scheffler ( The Gruffalo) Polly Dunbar (Penguin and Flyaway Katie) and Chris Fisher (A Chair for Baby Bear)
      >Paddy Ashdown talking about his autobiography

      Thus The Old Market offers an extremely varied programme of events. Some may be categorised as fringe/ specialised interest affairs but they also attract quite well known personalities and performers of more general appeal. In the last couple of years, I have been lucky enough to see performances by Harry Hill and Aker Bilk, literary events with Mark Steel, Dave Gorman, Roy Hattersley, Cynthia Lennon, Will Self, Jodi Picoult, Simon Callow and Tony Benn not to mention taking in a couple of classical music events and the finals of First Choice Holidays Talent Competition (but only because the relative of a friend was a competitor!). All of these were on my doorstep and at cheaper prices than one would pay in larger, better known venues.


      The venue is available for private hire for events such as corporate affairs, conferences, parties, marriages and civil partnerships. Venue staff can advise on local services recommended to assist with all aspects of event preparations. There is an in-house catering service and the Catering Manager tells me they can offer "anything from Canapés/Light bites to a full three-course sit down Dinner/Buffet/BBQ's and it is growing all the time." Hirers are required to use this service or that of an approved caterer. I have no personal experience of this service but I have read and heard some excellent reports.


      This studio offers expertise and services to all aspects of the audio industry. As previously mentioned the Bryson Hall when restored was primarily intended as a recording studio for the Hanover Band. They now undertake all types of voice recordings from audio books to railway announcements, voice-overs and radio plays. It is also suitable for orchestras, choirs or any live music with plenty of secondary facilities to accommodate large numbers of performers such as kitchens, refreshments and dressing rooms. A key feature of this space is that it is not on the flight path!

      ~~~HANOVER BAND~~~(*4)

      No review of The Old Market would be complete without a mention of The Hanover Band to which it is home. As briefly mentioned above, the Band purchased the property after it had fallen into a derelict state following the closure of the Arts Centre in 1983 and was at the forefront of the battle to restore it. The Band and the centre are now inextricably linked with Caroline Brown, founder of the Band, also being Old Market's Artistic Director and Stephen Neiman, the Band's Chief Executive, being the Old Market's Company Secretary.

      Formed in the 1980's the Band has become one of the UK's most distinguished period instrument orchestras. 'Hanover' signifies the Hanoverian period 1714-1830 and 'Band' is the 18th century term for orchestra. The aims of the orchestra are to "revitalise and expand the listener's musical awareness of the rich repertoire of the baroque and classical periods". Research has been made into playing techniques, tempo and the use of original or exact replicas of period instruments. Original manuscripts and first editions are researched in order to replicate the music as the composer would have heard it. The Band has appeared at major locations in Britain such as the Albert Hall and has travelled abroad extensively.

      General ignorance of this genre plus the fact that I have only listened to them on CD once and never attended a live performance, prevent me from giving a critique of their works but their longevity, the following they seem to have attracted and widespread critical acclaim all indicate just how successful the orchestra has been.

      ~~~SPRINGBOARD~~~ (*5)

      The Old Market is also the administrative home of Springboard. Formally known as the Brighton Competitive Musical Festival, it was founded by Olive von der Heyde in 1924. It now aims to provide a wide range of performance opportunities for aspiring actors, dancers, singers and instrumentalists of the future. The Festival takes place over two weeks each March and includes a variety of workshops and non-competitive classes. Many of the events take place at the Old Market.

      ~~~CITY BOOKS~~~(*6)

      City Books also deserves a mention being the small independent bookshop which arranges all the literary events. Situated on Western Road, just steps away from the Old Market, this marvellous little establishment was founded and is run by Paul and Inge Sweetman and has been shortlisted for the "Independent Bookshop of the Year" award twice.

      This is a bookshop experience so different from the Waterstones and Borders of this world. The premises are just the size of a rather small terraced house - in fact, judging by its appearance, it might have once been a domestic establishment - but its two floors are packed with books, some spilling off the shelves and onto the floor. The staff are very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful and often locals will congregate chatting by the till. On one visit I got involved in such a conversation which involved suggestions for an alternative speaker for a literary event as Ann Widdicombe was proving too difficult to "pin down!"

      Over the years it has managed to attract some of the foremost authors and celebrity writers to early evening events at the Old Market which are so much more inviting than run of the mill book signings. I have listed some of those I have attended above and they consist of a talk by the visiting author, questions from the floor, followed by an opportunity to meet the celebrity in the bar. Of course this is based on buying the book in question and getting it signed but enjoyable and entertainingly educational nevertheless. Best of all tickets are only £6 and include a free glass of wine! Usually surplus signed copies are to be found on sale in the shop.


      Artistic venues everywhere are feeling the effects of the recent economic downturn and it's certain that the Old Market will be no exception especially as it is reported to be £900,000 in debt. So far it has proved to be a successful arts venue and survived without subsidy but a decade ago £7 million was poured into the restoration and The Trust is now struggling to repay the interest. Three years ago it reduced its debt by selling space in the building for offices. Now it is hoping to pay off its liabilities by constructing two glass penthouses and a meeting room on the roof although planning permission may be difficult to obtain as it is a listed building. As much as many may dislike the idea of adding such a structure to a beautiful old building, it may be a necessary evil if such a worthwhile, historic and attractive venue is to survive.


      The Old Market is conveniently located in Upper Market Street, Hove close to the Brighton border and just off Western Road, Brighton's main shopping thoroughfare. It is an easy fifteen minute walk from Brighton Station and is served by the many bus routes which run along Western Road. Car parking is difficult as most spaces are for resident parking only. However there is an underground car park in nearby Regency Square.

      It is well worth spending time in this area with its rich architectural heritage in the narrow streets and elegant squares and great walks along the seafront nearby where there is always plenty going on and much to see besides the view of the artistic ruin known as the West Pier! Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to bars and pubs and every type of cuisine can be found in nearby restaurants, notably a short walk away in Preston Street which consists entirely of eating establishments and one pub! Being slightly removed from the fashionable tourist centre of Brighton, cheaper prices and better deals are usually available. If attending an event at the Old Market, it is well worth making a day of it!

      ~~~AND FINALLY~~~

      The Old Market, Hove has long been regarded as one of this area's best kept secrets but to survive it needs and deserves to be promoted further afield because it is an historical treasure which has survived many twists turns and lean years to become a venue contributing much to the cultural and community life of the city. I can only re-iterate the quote from "Real Brighton" which the Old Market uses on its website. "It's a little gem well worth discovering if you haven't already."

      ~~Contact Information~~

      Box Office: 01273 736222

      Address: Upper Market Street, Hove, East Sussex BN3 1AS

      Website: http://www.theoldmarket.co.uk/index.php


      *1 Urban Design Compendium. Homes and Communities Agency

      *2 Encyclopedia of Hove and Portslade. Judy Middleton

      *3 Federation of Disabled People Website Review http://www.bhfederation.org.uk/index.php

      *4 Hanover Band Website http://www.theoldmarket.co.uk/thehanoverband/hanover.php

      *5 Springboard Website http://www.theoldmarket.co.uk/springboard/index.php

      *6 City Books Website http://www.city-books.co.uk/index.html


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      A venue for the arts, education and the community.

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