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Home » Features, Local News

Saving Our Bandstand

Published by on Monday, 12 May 2008No Comment

Once upon a time Brighton (and Hove actually) had twelve bandstands. They were in our parks and on our seafront. The bandstand in Queen’s park was very ornate, while the bandstand in St. Anne’s Well was quite plain in design. The bandstand on the Hove lawns (near the lagoon) was flat and wide but was extremely popular for open air concerts including a regular brass band that performed into the 1930s.

The West Pier and the Palace Pier had competing concerts with their bandstands, and the Palace Pier even boasted that its bandstand could be used year-round due to being located inside an enclosed area dubbed the Winter Garden.

Changing times, neglect and ‘progress’ made them obsolete and one by one these bandstands were razed. By the late 1960s most of them were lost. The Hove lagoon bandstand held on until nearly 1970 when it was replaced by the Babylon Lounge, and the Victorian ‘portable’ bandstand originally owned by the West Pier was moved around for various parades and local events until the early 1980s. It was often set up in front of the Palace Pier but hasn’t been seen publicly since around the time the Palace Pier Theatre was removed in 1986.

Occasionally someone with a lovely bandstand memory will write into the Argus and submit a photo or two. Random postcards can be found at the Brighton Boot Market on a Sunday, and a few local antique dealers offer reprints of old photos. Brighton historical publications mention the odd bandstand, but overall it appears most memories and records of Brighton and Hove’s bandstands are slipping away with time. Our best records of late have been provided by the amazing James Gray Collection owned by the Regency Society. The collection (online at includes everything from concert photos to rarely seen angles of our seafront, many with notes describing slices of bandstand history.

The Bedford Square Bandstand, situated on the border of Brighton and Hove’s seafront, is our last remaining bandstand. In many ways, it is fitting that this bandstand was the lucky one to survive. Also known as The Birdcage Bandstand, it was designed by Brighton’s long standing Borough Surveyor Phillip Lockwood in 1883 and was the centre of controversy from the beginning.

The Bedford Square Bandstand project was nearly scrapped before it was even built. A committee was formed to challenge city ‘improvements schemes’ for the seafront area, with the Bedford Square bandstand a hot item on the agenda. The residents of Brighton and Hove argued that the cost of building the structure was excessive. The ornate design (hence the birdcage nickname) and the contract with the Glasgow Foundry all added to the budget while the question was raised as to why another bandstand was needed in an overly populated area? Lockwood stood firm, accusing the West Pier of fuelling the public arguments (because one had to pay to enjoy their bandstand) and argued that the foundry he had selected was one of quality, not to mention the fact that he wanted to maintain the continuity with Bedford Square and the surrounding townhouses which had already contracted the Walter Macfarlane & Co. foundry in Scotland. (Indeed he must have been right because despite the elements and decades of neglect it is still standing!)

Lockwood was Brighton’s Borough Surveyor for over 25 years, and by all accounts a passionate and responsible man dedicated to providing (and restoring) public facilities in Brighton and Hove, many not always popular. He was not one to back down easily and was often the centre of controversy including his (now much appreciated) saving of the then-crumbling horse stables and surrounding area at the Royal Pavilion. He was also the man responsible for designing the latticed arches adorned with alternate figurines of Neptune and Aphrodite that many still remember were on the sheltered promenade of Madeira Walk.

The Bedford Square Bandstand, now widely referred to as The Brighton Bandstand, is considered one of the finest examples of a Victorian bandstand surviving in England. After completion, controversy died down and it was a very popular place for Victorian ladies to socialise.

The council leased the lower floor from the summer of 1891 to the Ladies Benevolent Society to serve light refreshments for women, who sheltered on the upper floor. Many photos survive, depicting parasols peeking over the railings. It was later used for many social events including beauty contests and of course brass band concerts.
Brighton is not alone in the quantity of Bandstands lost; a survey done by Clapham’s Local Council in 2003 suggests that less than 15% of England’s bandstands survive, of which nearly all have been restored. Brighton is unique however, in that our bandstand has been left in a sad state for so many decades. The Brighton Bandstand truly began to decay from neglect in the 1960s, and the bridge connecting the bandstand to Kings Road was removed in the late 1970s for reasons of safety. The Bandstand has been left unused (apart from the public lavatories which were open longer) ever since.

Brighton’s public attention was so absorbed on another decaying landmark, that of the West Pier, that we all seem to have overlooked this landmark in an effort to save its larger older sister. Many fingers have been pointed as to why/who left the West Pier to decay and later why/who started the arson fires that did her in – we’ve all heard those accusations. The rumours will probably never be substantiated beyond the suspicions of locals.

What is known and factually undisputed however, is that the West Pier was leased to a tenant. It was leased in a poor condition, it never was restored as promised, and, well …. the rest is history.

So for the sake of watching history (hopefully not) repeating itself, Brighton’s remaining Bandstand will be opened for tender next month for a private tenant to take over its fate. The council has been inundated with interest since it was publicly announced and sign posted advising as such. Mostly entrepreneurs have been in contact, many of them wishing to turn the bandstand into a cash-cow as a seafront greasy fish- fry or other similar horror. One can only hope the tenant will have a conscience and keep it safe from harm. Several of the tenders are purported to be chain restaurants including (insert you gasp here) a McDonald’s restaurant. Surely you’d think the council wouldn’t approve such a fate, but then one has to only glance at the Blockbuster Video Rental on Western Road and the Grade I listed structure it resides in to wonder whose palm was greased there? Our bandstand is only Grade II. Anything is possible.

For years there was talk that our Council would restore and maintain the bandstand. So what happened? From around the time the West Pier sadly burned into the sea the gaze has shifted to the Bandstand. Without fail every election includes a local councillor or two promising to restore it or better yet, taking credit for the ‘progress’ thus far. Yet nothing seems to have happened. Or has it?

In 2004 Brighton’s Council began researching in earnest restoration requirements and related costs for the Bandstand, realising that decades of neglect had taken a financial toll. After several budget renditions, more than a few council meetings and two rounds of rejected applications to Heritage Lottery, it was at a stalemate. The council didn’t seem to have the resources to dedicate, and The Heritage Lottery Fund was not at liberty to advise why they didn’t deem it necessary to support the project.

Internally it was believed that Heritage felt Brighton Council had left the Bandstand too long and that the costs for restoration were excessive. This is all speculation of course, but what was known was that applying for Heritage funding was a painfully slow process with no answers accompanying the rejection. And while the council waited for an answer, the bandstand slipped further away from safety.

Members of the public stepped forward to help, and the Brighton Bandstand Campaign ( was formed by local residents volunteering their time to do whatever was required to make progress a reality. The BBC, as they are known locally, hosted grounds clean-up days (tall grass and rubbish are fire hazards), they met with the council regularly to discuss emergency repairs and maintenance requirements, garnered thousands of signatures of support, boosted awareness through multi-tiered press campaigns, and held fundraising events.

After more than a few high-profile news articles and some obnoxiously large photos of neglect requiring emergency repairs, the BBC felt a sense of victory when Brighton and Hove’s council took another look at internal budgets, and the Environment Committee stepped forward announcing they’d found internal resources to begin the restoration in mid-2007. Whether it was a result of the Brighton Bandstand Campaign’s efforts or the Council finally stepping up to the plate is a matter of opinion, but Cllr. Geoffrey Theobald, head of the Environment Committee, stuck his head above the parapet and declared it would happen.

Thus began the laborious process in late 2007 of paperwork and planning applications and all the slow realities that go along with making a derelict structure safe for public use whilst meeting health and safety requirements as well as listed building regulations. Paper-trailed arguments ensued over numerous matters like that of the railings on the upper Bandstand floor not being the correct height for building-code regulations, but altering them is against planning advice. Never mind the fact that all of Brighton’s upper promenade railings are also Victorian and health and safety regulations don’t halt the public from walking on our upper promenade sidewalks!

As of the third week of April 2008 the council was still waiting for the third round of planning documents to be approved. Under intense pressure Cllr. Theobald’s office released a statement advising ‘Restoration of the bandstand is a priority for this council so it is wonderful news that an application has now been submitted’.
The Official statement also went on to say that if all went well, restoration works would begin in the summer of 2008 with a café (hopefully) opening by the beginning of 2009. That statement doesn’t quite match that of the Seafront Offices advising that tender will open in May 2008, but perhaps the council hopes the tenant will help/oversee/take over the task of the restoration. It worked out so well when they followed that plan for the West Pier. Hmmm.

Whether it’s the tender first or the construction first, it does appear that this year Brighton’s Bandstand fate will be sealed. However, it’s possible that the Bandstand’s plight will have a happy ending. One of the die-hard campaigners is also a tender applicant. A historical preservationist with a business plan? It sounds promising. The plan is from local resident Mrs. Meg Stone. Well known for her active role in many local charities, she is also a loyal member of several of the local historical preservation societies (which are supporting her tender) and by all accounts she’s not a money-hungry entrepreneur nor a devious corporation.

Mrs. Stone has a solid business plan for Brighton’s Bandstand: to introduce a Bandstand Cafe to be run as a Social Enterprise.

Social enterprises are government-regulated profit-making businesses established to tackle social and/or environmental issues. Under Mrs. Stone’s plan, the Brighton Bandstand would tackle both. The profits would be split three ways; (A) Back into the maintenance of running of the café, (B) Into a pot for ongoing maintenance for the structure thus rendering it self-sufficient, And (C) back into the community, regularly supporting local charities. Much like The ‘People’s Pub’, The Robin Hood (on Cross Street in Hove) it would be generating income but giving back profit to the community through social enterprise-regulated local charitable donations. The upper floor would be rented out for suitable purpose, i.e. weddings, brass bands, etc. with the proceeds also supporting local charities. The idea that a Brighton landmark would give back to the community is almost too novel to sound viable. But it just might work.

It would be nice to see someone who has been working so hard on saving the Bandstand being able to continue her good work, and we wish her the best of luck with her tender. We’re not naive though, we realise that this is Brighton! Our history doesn’t always have a happy ending and our council notoriously doesn’t always learn from its mistakes. All one can do is hope for the best and hope that Mrs. Stone or someone else equally suitable will care for our lovely, last remaining bandstand.

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