Marine Gate from the southwest
|Architectural style||Art Deco, International/Modern|
|Address||Marine Drive, Black Rock, Brighton BN2 5TN|
|Town or city||Brighton and Hove|
|Owner||Marine Gate Holdings Ltd|
|Design and construction|
|Architecture firm||Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie|
Marine Gate is a large block of luxury flats built in 1939 to the design of architects Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie. It stands at the eastern end of the English seaside resort of Brighton, overlooking Brighton Marina and Black Rock. Originally built with 105 flats, a restaurant and offices, internal reconfiguration has increased the number of flats to 132. The International/Modern-style building is situated in a prominent clifftop position at the eastern entrance to Brighton. Its proximity to a large gasworks resulted in it being damaged by bombs several times during World War II, to the extent that it was Brighton's most bombed building.
The block occupies a commanding position at the main entrance to Brighton from the east. Its bold form, with Art Deco features and "nautical touches", has divided opinion among architectural historians and critics. Described variously as "interesting", "elegant" and "comparing favourably with Embassy Court" (a famous building of the same era further west), a 2002 critique by Anthony Seldon placed it among "the city's worst ten buildings".
Brighton's seafront has been characterised since the mid-19th century by "monumental domestic architecture" in the Regency style—"one of the great sequences of Regency and Early Victorian town planning in England". Stuccoed terraces and crescents stretch several miles along the coast, terminating in the east at the Kemp Town development consisting of Arundel Terrace, Chichester Terrace, Lewes Crescent and Sussex Square. Beyond this, the landscape changed significantly at Black Rock, the westernmost point at which the South Downs meet the English Channel. Brighton's eastern boundary (and until 1928, the boundary of the whole borough) was fixed here in 1606, and the only substantial development until the 20th century was a gasworks established by the Brighton Gas Light and Coke Company. Some terraced houses, inns and commercial buildings followed. Until the early 1930s, an old turnpike ran along the top of the cliffs to the village of Rottingdean. In around 1931 it was closed and rebuilt further inland, requiring the demolition of several small houses.
In 1936, Marine Parade Estates (1936) Ltd was formed with the aim of developing land in the area behind the new road for housing. It leased a large site next to the gasworks from the landowner, Brighton Corporation (who had themselves acquired it in May 1931). The company commissioned architects Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie to design a large block of flats for rent (initially, none were sold for owner-occupation). Under the guidance of this firm, Maurice Bloom was responsible for the design; he owned Courtenay Gate, a large block of flats on Hove seafront. Work started in 1937 and was complete in 1939, and Marine Gate opened on 5 May 1939. The building was marketed as "the most up-to-date fully serviced block of flats in the south of England": it had two restaurants for residents, shops, office accommodation with its own telephone exchange (the flats lacked private telephone lines at first), a cocktail bar, offices for the managing agents Fox & Sons, communal garages and sea views from every flat; some also had north-facing windows looking towards the South Downs. Various short leases were available for residents, and rents varied between £140 and £475 per year at first.
World War II broke out soon after Marine Gate was completed. Not all flats were let at first, and empty ones were commandeered by the Navy to accommodate personnel based at the Mining and Torpedo School established in the nearby Roedean School (known during the war as HMS Vernon). The Royal Air Force also established a lookout post at Marine Gate. Its strategic importance, and its proximity to Brighton's main gasworks and the cliffs, made it a target for bombing and other attacks. More generally, Brighton and other south coast areas were susceptible to attack because they were easy targets—close to continental Europe and not strongly defended; spare bombs left over from bombing raids elsewhere in England were often released over the coast; and Hitler considered invading Britain by way of the Sussex coast near Brighton. The eastern part of Brighton fared worst, and Marine Gate was the most affected building in the whole town: "very tall, very white and an easy target", it was "strafed with machine gun fire", damaged by explosions at the gas works and bombed more times than any other structure.
In an attack lasting just 15 seconds on 26 June 1942, Marine Gate was hit by 22 shells fired by two Messerschmitt Bf 109 aircraft, and was further damaged by fire from the gasometer which exploded at the same time. On 29 August 1942, machine gun bullets and a bomb caused serious damage. One resident, Claudette Mawby (a Hollywood child star as one of The Mawby Triplets), was killed when she was blown to the bottom of the building's lift shaft by the blast. Most of the building's windows were shattered. Brighton's worst air raid, on 25 May 1943, affected Marine Gate badly. A large bomb passed through one adjacent building and exploded in another, just missing some workmen. Soon afterwards, three bombs were aimed at the block. One cut through the building at fourth-floor level, destroying three flats and leaving its fin stuck in the floor of one; a second bounced off a patch of wasteland and hit a house before cutting right through Marine Gate, exploding on the road outside; and the third broke every window when it exploded at the southeast corner at ground-floor level. There was also fire damage from another explosion at the gasworks. No residents died, but many were injured. After this attack, all residents were evacuated and the building was left unrepaired. Another raid on 23 February 1944 caused more damage: Marine Gate was hit by one of several bombs dropped that night.
After the war ended, repairs were made and people moved back in. The original layout, with 105 flats, was changed to accommodate more: the main restaurant was taken out in 1955 and the space divided into flats, and the number of flats available went up to 120. The shops were converted into additional garages as well. These changes reflected the decline in the demand for hotel-style serviced apartment blocks: longer leases began to be offered, some flats were sold to their occupiers, and residents were able to become shareholders in the leaseholding company, Marine Gate Holdings Ltd. Its subsidiary Marine Gate Management Ltd runs and manages the building. There are now 132 flats, each with "American-style" numbering in which each floor has a letter. Flats range in size from one to four bedrooms. The garaging below the block has allocated parking, bicycle storage and a carwash facility, and there are about 4 acres (1.6 ha) of south-facing gardens in front of the building. There are two sets of seven lifts inside.
Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie were a London-based firm active between the mid-1920s and the mid-1940s. Edmund Walter Wimperis (1865–1946), son of Edmund Morison Wimperis (1835–1900), entered into partnership with William Begg Simpson (1880–1959) in 1913. Their main commission as a pair was the rebuild of the Fortnum & Mason store in 1923. Leonard Rome Guthrie (1880–1958) joined two years later when the architects were working with Edwin Lutyens on Grosvenor House in London. They were known to have designed some buildings in Scotland and others in London.
Marine Gate is a u-shaped building on a large elevated plot. It is steel-framed and brick-built; the brickwork is painted white, and the balconies are a contrasting blue colour. Each flat has a round window to the bathroom; these porthole-style openings "give a vaguely nautical air". It is International/Modern in style with some Art Deco touches, as seen in several 1920s and 1930s buildings around the city. Integral fitted furniture was provided, and each flat has "indisputable spaciousness and elegant proportions". The steel framing has allowed for changes to be made in the interior layout, as the internal walls are not load-bearing.
Opinion of the building and its design has been mixed. Anthony Seldon placed Marine Gate at seventh place in his list of "The City's Worst Ten Buildings" in 2002 "on account of its insensitivity to its position". Claiming that it serves as "the entry lodge at the very portals of the city" because of its site at the eastern end of the built-up area on the main road into Brighton, he said "the only positive comment is that it is less bad than the monstrous orange block of flats" (Courcels) beyond the gas works. He also compares it unfavourably to Embassy Court, noting its similarities but finding "little intrinsic architectural interest" in Marine Gate. Local historian Clifford Musgrave also drew comparisons with Embassy Court—noting that the two buildings provided "the first challenge to the [Regency] architecture of Brighton", but claiming that Marine Gate's "slightly more elegant modern style" was more suitable to its position because unlike Embassy Court it did not clash directly with older buildings. The "immense building" was also criticised much less at time of its construction than Embassy Court, again because of its isolated clifftop position. Other writers have described Marine Gate as a "good example of quality Thirties apartments" and, more generally, "...of the many large-scale flats built along the coast" in the interwar period. Other similar contemporary buildings on the seafront include the Grand Ocean Hotel at Saltdean and the Saltdean Lido, both designed in 1938 and both with Moderne and Art Deco touches.
- Rowland 1997, p. 9.
- Musgrave 1981, p. 395.
- Antram & Morrice 2008, p. 10.
- Collis 2010, pp. 28–29.
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- "Early History". Marine Gate website. Marine Gate Holdings Ltd. 2013. Archived from the original on 27 October 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
- Collis 2010, p. 191.
- Musgrave 1981, p. 396.
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- Rowland 1997, pp. 65–66.
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- Rowland 1997, p. 72.
- "World War 2". Marine Gate website. Marine Gate Holdings Ltd. 2013. Archived from the original on 27 October 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
- "Living at Marine Gate". Marine Gate website. Marine Gate Holdings Ltd. 2013. Archived from the original on 27 October 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
- "Marine Gate Today". Marine Gate website. Marine Gate Holdings Ltd. 2013. Archived from the original on 27 October 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
- Scottish Architects: Edmund Walter Wimperis
- Scottish Architects: William Begg Simpson
- "DSA Architect Biography Report: Wimperis, Simpson & Guthrie". Dictionary of Scottish Architects. 2013. Archived from the original on 27 October 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
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- Brighton Polytechnic. School of Architecture and Interior Design (1987). A Guide to the Buildings of Brighton. Macclesfield: McMillan Martin. ISBN 1-869-86503-0.
- Collis, Rose (2010). The New Encyclopaedia of Brighton. (based on the original by Tim Carder) (1st ed.). Brighton: Brighton & Hove Libraries. ISBN 978-0-9564664-0-2.
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- Seldon, Anthony (2002). Brave New City: Brighton & Hove Past, Present, Future. Lewes: Pomegranate Press. ISBN 0-9542587-1-1.
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