Wednesday, October 01, 2014
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The History of Barford Court

The house was originally built as a private villa and was known as No 1, Princes Crescent, Hove. In the Hove Borough voters’ list of 1936 were the recorded names of Ian Stuart Miller, D Miller (presumed to be his wife) and three other women who appeared to be a housekeeper and servants all living at 1, Princes Crescent, Hove.

Ian Stuart Miller came to Hove in 1923 and first lived at 22 Pembroke Crescent, Hove – a late Victorian villa, part of the Vallance Estate and now divided into flats. Mr Miller was a rather eccentric millionaire who originated from Newcastle where he made his money in iron and steel and, latterly in various other business interests, two of which were known to be Messrs Ice Rinks Limited and a shirt factory located in Brighton. It was also believed he owned the builders E.D. Winn & Company who were employed in the building of 1, Princes Crescent, Hove.

He wanted something very special, something different for his home – he was a man of great taste and discrimination. It must have been at the time when he bought the Ice Rink in Denmark Villas, Hove, which had been built in the very distinctive Art Deco style, that he realised that this was the style of architecture on which he wanted to base the design of his home; he therefore chose and commissioned the architect Robert F Crombie FRIBA who had originally designed the Ice Rink.

Robert F Crombie was born in 1887 and became the doyen of the Independent British Cinema Architects. He was enormously successful in specialising in the Art Deco style of architecture which dominated public buildings in the late 20’s and 30’s. He had listed to his credit at least fifty cinema theatres all over England with familiar names such as Gaumont, Plaza, Regent, Ritz among many others including the spectacular Streatham Ice Rink.

It is possible that Miller may well have had a business interest in the Streatham Ice Rink and even the cinema theatre, although this is only speculation; but the interest he did have was in the actual architecture of the fast growing cinema theatre era, and the advanced building technology used at the time, especially in the use of steel, which considering his background in steel he would have well appreciated.

In deciding to build this beautiful house in Hove and to use local builders and labour, it was felt at that time that Miller was making a valuable philanthropic gesture in giving work to a town very hard hit by the depression. It is interesting to note that in April 1933 there was a total of 4000 unemployed in the area, which was a sizeable proportion of the adult population. The Brighton & Hove Gazette of the 6th January 1934 made the unemployment figures an important topic of the news.

So… plans were drawn up in 1934 and were approved by the 8th March of that year and in the 1935/36 official guide to Hove there is an aerial view of the sea, hotels and bowling green and part of the ‘newly built villa’ which had been completed in 1935.

No expense was spared in the building, and the completed work in today’s jargon would have been referred to as the ‘State of the Art’.

Much of the material used came from the continent; in fact a workman who had been on the site recalled that the imported bricks had actually been individually wrapped when first delivered. The bricks left over on Mr Miller’s instruction were buried near Hove Station so that they remained exclusive to him. (They were subsequently found when demolishing the old Lido Cinema in Denmark Villas.) Everything used was of the highest quality and workmanship, in fact there is still the beautiful wood panelling and the decoratively inlaid polished doors.

Incorporated into the villa were all the special features then used in cinema theatres - the concealed cove lighting, the illuminated fountain electrically controlled to flow when approached, and the most advanced thermostatically controlled heating.

The main staircase reflects the cinema auditorium with its modern French decorative work, even the 50ft.diameter reflective dome was copied from the foyer vestibules. To this day a gentleman who worked as a young man in the planning office in 1936 remembered the awe in which officials of the borough viewed the property. He particularly recalled the use throughout the house of the advanced sound equipment, which appeared to invoke the atmosphere of the cinema. He and his colleagues felt they were “in Hollywood” when visiting the house,. The overall effect gave an air of fantasy and theatricality.

The original accommodation comprised of two master bedrooms with bathrooms, five guest rooms served with ample bathrooms and toilets and rooms for three servants. There were large lounge areas, library and dining room. All the rooms had electrically heated panels which ran along the skirting boards on all the outer walls. It is interesting to note that in spite of Mr Miller’s apparent philanthropy he did not consider it necessary to heat the servant’s rooms! The kitchen had gas and electric ovens installed and a refrigerator plant.

The garage with its overhead lighting and automatically opening doors on approach could accommodate four cars, and had a self-contained flat above for the chauffeur. The front garden area remains rather as it was originally, but the back garden which stretched to the far end of the Crescent and which now has the very fine atrium leading to the new wings was originally a formally laid out rose garden.

So much care, expertise and heart had gone into the creating of this home. It is to be wondered at, as to why just a few years later Mr Miller put the villa up for sale; business trouble, divorce, both are conjectured.

There is no certainty as to what use the house was put during the intervening war years, but in 1946 Hove Hospital paid £40,000 for the property and changed the address to number 157 Kingsway, where it became Hove General Hospital Annexe.

In 1963 it was converted into a nurses training school at a cost of £27,000. It was divided up into offices, lecture rooms, and demonstration rooms that could accommodate up to 300 students in the class rooms.

Now this beautiful listed building has come into its full glory again with most of its original features restored, due to the purchase in 1993 by the Royal Masonic Benevolent Association. It has been redesigned to accommodate ten residents in the main building, and additionally thirty residents are accommodated in thee separate units approached by an attractive atrium to the main building.

Barford Court is the eighteenth Residential Home opened by the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution..