Award winning Lewes building doesn’t fulfil what the judges claim

The Riverside House, South Street, Lewes, winner of the Residential category at South Downs National Park's first Design Awards
The Riverside House, South Street, Lewes, winner of the Residential category at South Downs National Park's first Design Awards

Regarding last weeks article ‘Robust yet graceful building scoops award’.

The inaugural South Downs National Park’s Design Awards included a top accolade for Lewes.

The winner of the Residential Category was ‘The Riverside House’, in South Street, Lewes, East Sussex.

Judges were impressed by the way the design team had “exploited this space to its full value, with a robust yet graceful building of high architectural merit”.

I might be inclined to agree with these comments if the building was located elsewhere.

“Wharf House”, South Street was for a couple of centuries (circa 1760) the first house in Lewes and as for ‘The Riverside House’, the house next door to Wharf House was called ‘Riverside’ in 1938.

Also, for decades my family, including me, lived and owned both properties, so it is interesting to read some of the past comments on the ‘New Gateway to Lewes’. Quote 1, ‘a simple palette of materials emphasises the building’s form and reflects the qualities of the site and its surrounds.

The walls and roof are clad in a continuous skin of Cor Ten steel which will self-weather to a striking ochre colour, echoing the local soft red clay brickwork and tiles and, alluding to the past industrial heritage of the site which had previously housed a cement factory’.

It does nothing of the sort and were all that true, then the building would be drab grey, because everywhere was covered in cement dust. Quote 2, ‘it backs onto a former quarry on the site where chalk from the cliff was loaded onto barges.

After the quarry closed a cement factory was built on the site and, since that shut, it had become a dumping ground for waste’.

This is incorrect, chalk was loaded into barges from Navigation pit which was behind the Snowdrop Inn.

The cement works (Lewes Portland Cement & Lime Co Ltd) was in the next pit from where cement was loaded by a crane on rail lines into a variety of vessel moored on the wharf which extended from Wharf House southwards, (This cement works closed in 1927 moving to where Cliff industrial site is now).

The far end of that wharf was the original location of Lewes Rowing Club 1874.

It never was a dumping ground.

When the new cement works opened in 1927 this works site was demolished on both sides of the road (South Street was the A27). That is why when the site was being prepared for the new build (Grand Designs) excavations revealed rail lines, bricks, concrete rubble etc.

To the east side of the road Gerald Gilmers Fencing occupied the north part of the pit and Chandlers Builders Merchants the south part. All now part of the A26. In conclusion, the site was very poorly exploited to its maximum by a building that contained no reference at all to the true industrial heritage of the area and can hardly be described as graceful, it also blocks from view the long standing gateway building to Lewes.

But hey ho, it depends on who and from where the judges hail.

Paul Woolmer

Wannock Drive,

Polegate