A hundred and ten years ago this month, the Mayor of Brighton, J E Stafford, opened, with the aid of a solid gold key, the new Library, Museum Art Gallery buildings in Church Street, Brighton.
The improved facilities had been formed out of the original Royal Pavilion stable block, which, together with the Royal Pavilion, were purchased by the Brighton Corporation in 1850. The former circular stable block was converted into the Dome concert hall in 1867, the riding house became the Corn Exchange the following year, and the eastern part of the complex was converted into the Museum, Picture gallery and Free Library in 1873.[slideshow]
The only untouched section of the structure was a range of offices, rooms and former stables which ran between the new Corn Exchange and Museum. It also contained the offices of the Board of Guardians ,who were responsible for poor relief in Brighton. But plans for an extension to the library and museum were delayed as the police court had moved in temporarily while Brighton Town Hall was being remodelled. In 1895, the Guardians moved to new offices in Princes Street which meant that redevelopment could finally take place.
The Brighton Gazette was not overly enthusiastic about the new façade but commented that it was an improvement on what had stood before:
‘The dull, dingy, and dismal frontage has been swept away. In its place we have a façade containing certain Oriental resemblances which blend fairly well with the Moorish outlines of the main buildings’
However, the Brighton Herald was more fulsome in its praise:
‘The handsome arched entrances, with their artistic wrought-iron gates, the elaborate ornamentation of the windows, and the elegant copper domes…go to make up an exceedingly attractive spectacle.’
The new ground floor consisted of a lending library, news room, and magazine room with a reference library (currently the Brighton History Centre) on the floor above. Once through the entrance from Church Street, a new doorway on the left led to the remodelled Museum and Art Gallery. Here, the old library rooms had been replaced with an ethnography gallery and two galleries for the Willett collection. On the first floor, three new exhibition art galleries had been formed out of the old ethnography room and a new zoology gallery was created over what is now the entrance to the Museum.
The total cost of the remodelling, which included alterations to the Dome and Corn Exchange, was £45,000.
This Edwardian photograph of Brighton Museum foyer shows the stairs which now lead to the exhibition galleries and the cafe. On the left is a public telephone call-box and next to this, according to a 1910 guide-book description, is:
‘a handsome perpetual calendar clock….This clock not only tells the hour, but also the day and the month, as well as the phases of the moon’
Paul Jordan, Senior History Centre Officer