Brighton Dome

Photo:Brighton Dome from Pavilion Gardens

Brighton Dome from Pavilion Gardens

Photo by Matthew Andrews

Photo:Dome entrance

Dome entrance

Photo:BDFL historic building assessment of the Dome

BDFL historic building assessment of the Dome

Central to Brighton's past, present and future

Brighton Dome, comprising three performing arts venues (Concert Hall, Corn Exchange and Pavilion Theatre - now known as the Studio Theatre) is one of the leading cultural venues in the South East, and also a leading business in the city, contributing significantly to the local economy.

Buildings now functionally compromised

Across the history of Brighton Dome, each element of the complex group of buildings has been built or altered for different use, generally in a thoughtful manner and with some respect for what had gone before. But inevitably that process has resulted in buildings which are functionally compromised. A major redevelopment project in 1999-2002 did much to address these functional problems but left parts of the Dome complex untouched.

To understand the current arrangement of Brighton Dome’s venues, it is helpful to understand their historical development, presented here in six stages.

1.    Construction of the Dome Stables and Riding House, 1804-8

Brighton Dome was built as stables to the designs of William Porden (1755-1822), adjoining the Prince of Wales’s Brighton residence (the Royal Pavilion). On its west side it had a riding-house (now the Corn Exchange) and on its east side a walled area for a proposed tennis court. Further stabling and other facilities filled the space between the Dome (now the Concert Hall) and Church Street. This was a remarkable group of buildings, in its use of Indian and Islamic styles.

2.    Conversion of the Dome Stables and Riding House, 1867

The royal buildings were not to Queen Victoria’s taste and were therefore sold to the town in the 1850s - an unusual early instance of a municipal authority acquiring a historic building. In 1867 the Dome was converted to a concert and assembly room, designed by P C Lockwood, and the riding-house became a Corn Exchange, where a corn market was held every Thursday. A new door was opened up to Church Street to allow direct access to the space from the street.

3.    Conversion of the Eastern Stables to Museum, Library and Art Gallery 1871-3

P C Lockwood returned to the site in 1871-3 when he rebuilt the stables of 1832 as the Museum, Library and Art Gallery. Though many of his spaces have subsequently been altered, the main hall of the Museum and Art Gallery survives largely as he designed it.

4.    Enlargement of the Library and New Entrances, 1901-2

During the 1850s the stables and facilities facing Church Street were converted to offices. In 1901-2 Francis J May (1838-1906), the Borough Engineer and Surveyor, converted those offices to provide additional library space. He also reconfigured the Church Street frontage, creating two new entrances, one leading to the Dome and the other to the Library and Museum. These entrances are amongst the most spectacular in the whole Dome complex.

5.    Works to the Dome and the building of the Pavilion Theatre, 1934-5

In the early 1930s Brighton Council turned to the architect Robert Atkinson (1883–1952) to undertake a significant reworking of the Dome complex. Part of his work focused on the Dome auditorium, but he also designed improvements to the Corn Exchange and provided it with a new entrance. In addition he built an extension to the complex on the New Road frontage, to accommodate kitchens and a first floor supper room, currently the Studio Theatre.

6.    The Dome redevelopment, 1999–2002

By the 1990s many challenges in the Dome complex had become apparent. In 1998, following successful grants from Arts Council England Lottery Fund and Heritage Lottery Fund, RHWL/Arts Team were appointed to undertake a redevelopment project. Works included the relocation of the Library to a new building north of Church Street (completed 2003–5). This allowed a new foyer to be made in what had been part of the library ground floor, accessed via openings from the traditional Dome entrance. The foyer was designed with a partial mezzanine and also had adjoining rooms (the Founders’ Room and kitchen). The entrance corridors with their Craven Dunnill tiles were restored. Although considerable work was undertaken in the Concert Hall and foyer, the project left most of the Corn Exchange and Pavilion Theatre unchanged.

Looking to the future

Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival now present over 600 events annually in the Dome venues to audiences of nearly half a million and continue to look at ways in which its buildings can work better for artists, audiences and the public.

If you would like to know more about Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival please visit their website:

[Material included in this article is taken from a report undertaken for BDFL in 2012 by Alan Baxter & Associates LLP (prepared by Robert Thorne, Boris Bogdanovich and Olivier Fernandez; reviewed by Kit Wedd; copyright Alan Baxter & Associates LLP) ] d

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 221, March/April 2013]

This page was added on 13/04/2013.

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