Sunday, 12 October 2014

Save The King Alfred Leisure Centre!

This is the recently-refurbished 1939 Hove leisure centre that the council want to raze to the ground and redevelop into guess what? A £40m leisure centre, albeit incorporating 400 new houses. They claim this course of action would be 'cheaper' than making the existing leisure centre greener and more economical to run! Is it even theirs to sell to developers? It is a municipal facility which belongs to the tax payers of Brighton and Hove.

Aside from the sheer waste, this is not just any old leisure centre but a nationally important piece of maritime war history.

For this building, originally known as Hove Marina and completed just before the outbreak of WWII in September 1939 was requisitioned by the Admiralty and re-christened HMS King Alfred to become a 'land ship' training centre for over 22,500 officers of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve during World War II.

The RNV(S)R had been formed in 1936 for gentlemen who are interested in yachting or similar pursuits and aged between 18 and 39.

Once this intake had been mobilised, the role of HMS King Alfred changed to training new officers of the RNVR. This required a longer course as many members of the RNVR had no experience of either maritime pursuits or the "officer-like qualities" required. Longer courses needed more space so the Admiralty requisitioned two further premises: Mowden School also in Hove and Lancing College. 

Mowden School, taken over in 1940, became known as HMS King Alfred II or HMS King Alfred (M) while Lancing College, taken over in 1941 became HMS King Alfred III or HMS King Alfred (L). The Hove site continued to be referred to as HMS King Alfred or sometimes HMS King Alfred (H).

A training course consisted of ten weeks, the first two weeks at HMS King Alfred II, then six weeks at HMS King Alfred III and the final four weeks at Hove. Upon successful completion of the course, the men emerged as Temporary Acting Probationary Sub-Lieutenants and attended further training at the Royal Navy Training College before being posted operationally.

Training ended in December 1945 and the leisure centre was returned to civilian use in June 1946.

Among the many young officers to pass through its doors were Alec Guiness, Kenneth More, Norris McWhirter, Ludovic Kennedy and Dr Who's, Jon Pertwee, who detailed his wartime experiences in his engaging autobiography 'Moon Boots and Dinner Suits'. It is said the water training tanks are still below the present leisure centre.

I must confess I have a personal stake in this matter for I am a member of the King Alfred Gym and it really could not be better. It is an excellent gym and being council-owned, not as expensive as most, so one of the few affordable sports facilities in Brighton would be lost in addition to a respectable 1930s building and piece of wartime history.

Aside from the leisure centre there is also a privately owned bodybuilding gym and a large ballroom contained within the building, which would presumably be swept away.

There is a tiny glimmer of hope though. There have been many plans and schemes for the King Alfred 'site' over the years and all have come to nought for one reason or another. But there is still no room for complacency.


Nota Bene said...

Don't think I've ever disagreed with you before...and it's not easy as this is where Fred learnt to swim...but it's a building that has far outlived its usefulness, and has little architectural value...I'd welcome a modern leisure centre that looks beautiful...Brighton doesn't have a great track record for that, but I live in hope.

I'm popping down to Brighton this weekend if you and yours fancy catching up over coffee?

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Hi Notabene

Well there's been no mention of the word 'beautiful' in connection with the new leisure centre proposal or even an undertaking that it won't be any less handsome than what it replaces. And with 400 houses attached, I fear what monstrosity they intend as that 'site' is in no way large enough!

Would be great to meet up this weekend. Will message you on FB. Lx


Steve said...

Aesthetics aside I think you make a good point about ownership and heritage. Too often councils tread all over these without consulting the real owners of the building - the community.

Barry Coidan said...

I went to school just across the road from the old King Alfred. My first experience of the dizzy heights of near adulthood: the ten pin bowling alley.

It was a hell of a mess in my day. The planned build looks like a cross between a mosque and hyper store.