Oscar Wilde and the green wall

Oscar Wilde and the green wall

What has Oscar Wilde got to do with the Madeira Drive green wall?

Bear with. Madeira Road was opened in 1870, forming a new promenade along the bottom of East Cliff, and connecting people from the wealthy Brighton and Kemp Town with the seaside. Our new theory is that it was named ‘Madeira’ after the island.

One man who did much to popularise Madeira as the ‘garden isle’ was Sir William Wilde…you guessed it…father of Oscar. An excellent botanist, he wrote of the vines and terraced gardens, praising the ‘hothouse of the open air’ that he grew to know on his visits from the late 1830s. Madeira became popular with Victorian visitors through the 19th Century for much the same reasons that Brighton did – for the health giving properties of seaside living and recreation, as well as its luxuriant gardens.

madeira-cliff_2517649a

Madeira Drive green wall was planted in 1872, and we expect that it was always part of the vision of for Madeira Road to establish vegetation to soften the hard cliff and new road, and encourage people to spend time there.

brighton seafront 1872 chain pier cliff planting people James Gray collection

A later photograph, probably about 1872/1873. By now, the Aquarium had been built, on the site of the esplanade, and the few hesitant steps towards the construction of Madeira Drive had commenced. Note the long line of sapling trees and the ladies’ bathing machines.
Both are, of course, recent copies of old stereoscopic photographs.

So Madeira Drive Green Wall is extra well named…our little slice of the ‘garden isle’ on the Sussex coast.

And what of Oliver? A frequent Brighton visitor, and sometime Worthing resident, Oscar lectured in the Pavilion, avoided long walks, and crashed his cart into the railings of Regency Square. I don’t know that he ever saw the newly growing saplings of Japanese Spindle of Madeira Road…but I hope that he did.


With thanks to Derek Wright for the prompt to research this piece.

 

 

Old photograph proves planting date for Madeira Drive green wall

Old photograph proves planting date for Madeira Drive green wall

For some years we have been digging through archives to find the planting date for the Japanese Spindle at Madeira Drive…part of the oldest, longest green wall in the UK.

We have now uncovered this 1872-3 photograph from the James Gray collection that clearly shows the plants at the bottom of the East Cliff – as well as the new hedge being carefully established on the promenade. Benches too – public realm with nature at its heart, 148 years ago.

What a fantastic image – in stereo no less! – and great to have this photographic proof at last.

jg_05_016.jpg

“A later photograph, probably about 1872/1873. By now, the Aquarium had been built, on the site of the esplanade, and the few hesitant steps towards the construction of Madeira Drive had commenced. Note the long line of sapling trees and the ladies’ bathing machines.
Both are, of course, recent copies of old stereoscopic photographs.”
Image Reference: JG_05_016.tif
Date: 1872-1873
Image Details: Copy
Size of Original: 188×101
Place: Brighton
Additional Information©Philippe Garner

Good news – Madeira Terrace regraded to II*

Good news – Madeira Terrace regraded to II*

Heritage England have regraded Madeira Terrace as a II* structure.

The nerds amongst you will enjoy reading the citation. A few headlines for others:

  • This designation is deserved by ‘particularly important buildings of more than special interest’
  • There is no other building like it in the English historic record (closest is a Victorian pier)I
  • It’s ‘monolithic’ form is considered very rare of possibly uniqueI
  • It is thought to be the longest cast iron structure in England and possibly the world.

The Madeira Drive green wall gets a special mention:

“Earlier, between 1830 and 1833, the natural East Cliff at Brighton was made good by the application of a concrete covering, and was then planted up to achieve a green wall which is now believed to be the oldest and largest of its kind in Europe, with over 100 species of flowering plants recorded.”

Now to save it…

(Painting by Vincent Donlin)

Major funding announcement for Madeira Terraces

cover photo, Image may contain: outdoor

Jax Atkins from the Save Madeira Terraces campaign has announced the Council budget committee’s decision this week to contribute £13.4 million to the restoration of Madeira Terrace.

This is fabulous news – it’s not the total budget required, but with the architect and design team about to be established, a committed bunch of local people involved in advising the Council, and the good work already done to fundraise in the community and protect the Madeira Drive green wall, we should see some progress at last!

Building Green represents the environment sector on the advisory committee. If you have concerns or questions you would like us to raise on your behalf, get in touch.

image from Facebook Madeira Terraces group.

 

Unearthed – architect design for Madeira Road

Found in a second hand shop…a framed print of how Madeira Road could have developed. By architect John Johnson, and published in The Builder, May 5, 1883, the ‘improvements’ show features that are still in place, and many now lost or never implemented.

print of madeira road east brighton 1883

Surviving still – albeit with sections lost over the years – is the ‘green wall’, running from the Chain Pier (now the sun terrace) to Paston Place. Banjo groyne is there. There is the idea of a lift from Marine Parade (the print shows two lifts) – now part of the Concorde 2 of course. There were gardens and squares in Kemp Town. There were extensive lawns and bandstands on Madeira Road. Some of these were built and maintained for many years, but have all now been lost. And there was planting in the road – hedges close to the Madeira Terrace, which this architect hadn’t envisaged.

Obviously not taken forwards are the grand looking hall to the east of the Chain Pier, and the car free streets!

print showing east brighton seafront madeira road 1883

Questions remain. Was there an architectural competition, and was the winner the Council’s own Philip Cawston Lockwood who imagined the Madeira Terrace? Whose idea was it to establish the green wall? And what is today’s vision for the future of East Brighton seafront?

New shoots

A note from our Treasurer…

“On Saturday 23rd November I took 60 cuttings from the Japanese Spindle on Madeira Drive – the green wall.  I took the cuttings from along the green wall, from the end of the arches and up Duke’s Mound.   I took from the new growth, the lighter greener leaves.  With the help and expertise of family (Mom) 60 cuttings are now planted and will hopefully grow inside over winter.  Like the other cuttings James has nurtured and that are now planted in, these will I hope eventually add to the green wall, filling it out and helping it to grow the whole way along.

Japanese spindle cuttings in glasses on table

The cuttings are varied in length, and taken from different parts of the green wall, to see if some take better than others.  Each of the stems has been cut at an angle, soaked in water overnight and dipped in organic rooting gel, and planted into deep compost pots.  The top of the soil has been covered in course grit to keep moisture in and help keep the soil compacted.  They are all inside a light conservatory that’s insulated and that is heated.  I’ll let you know how they get on and hopefully we can plant them in next year sometime.”

Joss