Tag Archives: architecture

London Slant: An exotic encounter outside Brighton

Imagine the quintessential English country scene: emerald valleys, swathes of buttercups, cows gently munching the grass. It couldn’t have been more idyllic when I climbed up the South Downs on a day out from London.

South Downs, Ditchilng and Brighton

On top of the South Downs, between Ditchling and Brighton.

A path from Ditchling village led up to a ridge; I walked along enjoying fabulous views of fields flowing down on either side. Then, as I began to descend towards Brighton, a strange white dome emerged behind a slope. As I approached it took on a distinctly Moghul form; I felt as though I was being transported to the banks of the Ganges. I wasn’t expecting any sort of building in this rural setting, let alone one that appeared to be transported from a hot, sandy plain in India. Whatever could it be?

Chattri Brighton

The Chattri Memorial, on the spot where Indian soldiers who died after fighting in WWI were cremated.

I drew closer and discovered a plaque describing it as the Chattri Memorial, built to honour Indian soldiers who fought alongside Britons in the Great War. Constructed in pure, white marble, I found it very moving, alone among a scattering of windswept trees.

Chattri Memorial

The word “chattri” means umbrella in several Indian languages. It was designed by Indian architect EC Henriques and is now a listed building.

We’re all familiar with Brighton’s Royal Pavilion, where the future King George IV played out his oriental fantasies as the 18th century drew to a close. Less well known is that this extravagant palace was a hospital for thousands of Indian military casualties who served on the Western Front. Fifty three Sikhs and Hindus who did not survive their injuries were cremated here on the South Downs and the Chattri Memorial built in 1921 on the actual spot of their funeral pyres.

Chattri Memorial in 1921

The dedication ceremony for the Chattri Memorial in 1921.

The Prince of Wales presided at the memorial’s opening ceremony. Now, every June, crowds continue to gather here to remember the dead.

Royal Pavilion, Brighton

Royal Pavilion at Brighton, an unlikely hospital for Indian soldiers injured in WWI.

I was pleased to have come across the Chattri by chance during the World War One centenary year. As I continued my walk down into Brighton my thoughts turned to the Pavilion: it seemed fitting that the Prince Regent’s extravagance could have also served a worthwhile purpose, and that many more men were nursed back to health under its outrageous chandeliers than turned to dust in the green hills beyond its domes.

I travelled from London to Hassocks station, walked to Ditchling village with its Museum of Art+Craft, then continued up over the South Downs to Patcham and into Brighton, for the return train journey. 



For over a year I’ve been watching the Walkie Talkie building rear up from Fenchurch Street in the City of London. Suddenly, this week it seemed to reach a critical mass. Awkward, bulbous and truly ugly, it’s not a pretty sight. Designed to concentrate its rentable space on the more expensive upper floors, it’s all too solid proof of how money wins out over design. In this, perhaps it is the perfect choice for both its location and its era. As it looms over the elegant facade of Custom House and dominates The Tower you realise why most tall buildings are either straight-sided or taper to the top.

The Walkie Talkie: money speaks more loudly than aesthetics.

The Walkie Talkie: money speaks more loudly than aesthetics.

Speaking of which, it directly faces The Shard across the Thames. The cudgel versus the spear, you might say. My jury’s still out on The Shard, but I like it enough to have booked my ticket to go up to its viewing gallery as soon as it opens in February. I just wish that they would hurry up and finish it off. Its peak should culminate in pure blades of glass. Not in a crane atop piles of steel.

The Shard: isn't it time to get rid of the crane on top, and let the light stream through?

The Shard: isn’t it time to get rid of the crane on top, and let the light stream through?

All this building activity is happening around London Bridge, which features strongly in a great new book I’m reading. London: A History in Maps, by Peter Barber, is a brilliant publication by the British Library’s Head of Maps, telling the city’s story through striking visuals from Roman times up to today. Why it wasn’t published at the same time as his excellent exhibition and television series, I don’t know. But better late than never—as anyone still fishing around for a Christmas present for a lover of London may agree.

London Bridge and the City of London around 1600, in Peter Barber's book.

London Bridge and the City of London around 1600, in Peter Barber’s book.