King Alfred Centre

Photo:King Alfred C. 1950

King Alfred C. 1950

From the private collection of Peter Groves

Teenage memories from the 1960s

By Peter Groves

In the 1960's, myself, my younger brother Tim, and my next door neighbour Eddie Benton, spent most of our summer holidays on the beach by the King Alfred swimming pool. Our favourite beaches were between the bottom of Hove Street, and the Medina Groyne. Initially we went with family, but as we grew into our teens we were allowed to go on our own.

A warren of corridors
The number 19 bus from Hangleton dropped us at the top of Hove Street, it was then a 5 minute walk to the beach. Long hot summer days were spent playing, both in the water and the surrounding area. If we became bored with the beach, we would play on the sun terrace in front of the King Alfred complex. This terrace area is now where the newer pool, built in the 1980's, stands. Below the sun terrace, was the underground car park, which was also a favourite place to play. There was a warren of corridors linking the car park to the pool and the nearby bowling alley. These corridors became "secret passages" as we played James Bond, Dr Who, Batman or whoever was most popular at the time. No damage was done, it was just mischievous play!

The King Alfred complex was completed in 1939, and immediately requisitioned by the RNVR at the outbreak of World War II, it was then used as a training facility. With few cars around at that time, it was surprising that there had been the forethought to build an underground car park. Even in the 1960's few cars seemed to park there, were the planners really anticipating what would happen by the end of the century?

On the beach
All three of us learnt to swim on the beach by the King Alfred. At low tide, by using the assistance of small waves in shallow water, my brother Tim, although the youngest, was the first to swim. Myself and Eddie, followed soon after.

Fishing was another popular summer pastime. Depending on the tide time, we would catch a train out to Lancing to dig bait, then back to Hove for an afternoon of fishing off the Medina Groyne. Occasionally, if tide time dictated, we were allowed to stay late into the night. Eddie's father, who had a car, would come down to collect us.

Saturday afternoons
Throughout the year, every Saturday afternoon was spent in the King Alfred swimming pool. The Major Pool was open during summer months only. This pool was 33 yards long and was 10 feet deep at the deep end, where there were 4 diving boards. The diving boards opened for one hour on a Saturday afternoon, with the deep end being cordoned off for divers only. After what seemed like hours of indecision I was the first off the high board. Eddie and Tim followed soon afterwards, encouraged by my success. During the winter months the Major Pool closed and the Minor Pool opened. This was a smaller pool adjacent to the main pool, with changing rooms deep down in the basement. There was no time limit set by the attendants, and we stayed in the pool all afternoon, usually the last out as they closed!

Homeward bound
On the walk back up Hove Street to the bus stop on the corner of Sackville Road, we always stopped at the shop for a bag of Smiths crisps. There was only one flavour, plain, with the salt wrapped in a small blue bag. The next stop was the Fire Station half way up Hove Street, to watch the firemen training, before the return journey to Hangleton on the number 19 bus!

Added to the site on 27-08-04
This page was added on 22/03/2006.
Comments about this page
Wow, this is truly fantastic!!
By Flo Wild (29/12/2004)
Lovely reminiscences. I too enjoyed The King Alfred Baths in the 60s with my family. If it was raining and we couldn't go on the beach, which seemed quite often, we would go to the indoor salt water pool. On the way home we used to get the same packet of Smiths crisps with the salt in the blue packet as you did. What a joyful memory. I remember nearby there were donkey rides to be had if we were very good. Brighton holds many memories for me and I shall be revisiting soon for the first time. Thank you for your vivid description!
By Clare Ralph (19/06/2005)
Just think - what if this building was painted white and cream again and the swimming pools uncovered - 'yes they are still there'- and the gardens put back? It would be an excellent example of its time and it would live on. Don't let it go like the art deco bus station in Eastbourne. Restore it like the Embassy Court in Hove.
By Andrew Buck (19/07/2005)
I went back very recently to Brighton and of course went down to The King Alfred Baths to take a look. I do not think King Alfred would be thrilled at the 'developements' that seem to have lessened the glorious baths as a recreation facility. However that said I'm sure there still must be plenty of children enjoying themselves as we did so many years ago. It just didnt look so good anymore. I noticed there were several spots in Brighton along the foreshore that seemed to be in a state of decay. I guess its goodbye to the nineteenth century! Hopefully the council will have enough money for the restoration programs needed to fix everything. I would like to think so.
By Clare Ralph. (06/10/2005)
How incredibly sad to think that this beautiful building faces demolition if the proposed plans of Frank Gehry go ahead with the awful twisted towers design and hundreds of concrete flats. The whole area surrounding the King Alfred will be affected which is, after all, a Conservation Area with Victorian houses and and flats. They will all be overshadowed and the extra traffic to the seafront will destroy the area. The Council should renovate the existing building and open up the green area surrounding the King Alfred to the public, after cleaning it up.
By Jillian (11/02/2006)
How sad to see these dreadful plans for the King Alfred and surrounding areas. Surely this building could be restored to its original glory? I remember so much about this building especially in the late 50s when my sister and I used to watch my parents through the window ballroom dancing in the magnificant hall. As a youngster living in nearby Medina Terrace I spent many a happy hour playing table tennis at the King Alfred and bowling at the bowling alley.
By Diane (19/02/2006)
I've enjoyed reading other people's memories of the King Alfred Centre. Here are mine. When attending a boys' preparatory school in Brighton during the early 1960s, every two weeks on a Friday, we would be ushered onto a coach and driven to the Centre for swimming classes. This was my first experience of a swimming pool, its changing rooms and the smell of chlorine. My father had first frequented the King Alfred back in 1939 for his Naval training. He later captained his own ship and saw service around Africa. During the 1990s I was a regular early bird at the 'new' swimming baths and played table tennis in one of the gyms. I am appalled at the new development plans. This centre is steeped in history and should be treated with respect. Spend the money on giving the Centre a modern face-lift rather than some 22nd century abortion comparable to an Asimov Sci Fi novel.
By Chris D'Arcy (23/08/2006)

Our family used to spend a week in Hove every April in a tiny cottage a stone's throw from the King Alfred, so my bitter-sweet memory must date from the mid-1970s. I must have been eight or nine years old, so can't remember much of the architecture. But I can vividly remember being in a very chilly, tiled, pool and then swallowing a rather lot of brackish water as I floundered around. I was a learner swimmer, more used to the paddling pool variety.  It is etched on the memory because I spent the rest of the holiday with rageing tonsilitis, which, perhaps unfairly in hindsight, I have always blamed on the salty water. Still, I hate the idea that a classic pool, with a distinguished war record, being demolished to make way for a developer's wet dream.

By Javier Pes (25/09/2006)

My cousin Ken and I were in a group of 'Mods' that used the ten pin alley as a base.  We used to have about 50 scooters out the front.  When I was younger we spent an enormous amount of time in the pool and I remember the complex with great affection.

By Chris Edwards (04/10/2006)

Does anyone remember the kiddies playground opposite St Catherines Lodge Hotel on Kingsway just before King Alfreds?  My mum used to give the change there for the different rides. We lived opposite the hotel on Medina Terrace, in the basement of Albermarle Mansions.  I worked at St Catherines for a while.

By Sandie Waller (nee Taylor) (27/05/2007)

My grandmother owned some property just a short distance from the King Alfred pool, Ithink it is now or was a car showroom

By Lesley (01/06/2007)

I have many happy memories of the King Alfred. Apart from admiring the design of the building, before the council built the unsightly slides outside, there was a very spacious area for sunbathing. I remember once when our central heating broke down and I lived around the corner in Medina Terrace, alongside the King Alfred. The King Alfred had private baths where you could have a bath in comfort. I dont know if it was sea water that was supplied but I kidded myslef that it was, like those grand houses in Kings Gardens. As you entered your private cubicle, a lady handed you lovely big soft fluffy towells and a huge bath was filled with lovely hot water, which if I remember correctly, was controlled by the lady attendant. It was spotlessly clean. I wonder if the baths are still there now. It will be tragic if this historic building is demolished. Please build the crooked towers somewhere else! I still live in Medina Terrace and dread the thought of horrible little boxes going up and the dear King Alfred knocked down and forgotten.

By Jillian (30/06/2007)

My brother and I spent many a happy day in and around the King Alfred. We used to go bowling with our dad. I was a member of the shiverers swimming club and we used to play crazy golf on the outside terrace. Also,I remember ice skating in the basement and before that, the drive-in car wash that was in the car park. My son is learning to swim there at the moment. If the crazy plans go ahead his school and many others in Hove will have no provision for swimming as all the other pools are full. I love the building and I believe all it needs is some TLC. The ballroom is pristine and has the only sprung dance floor for miles around. Where will the indoor bowls people go? Please think again council, do not demolish the King Alfred,the building is sound.

By Louise Stack (11/07/2007)

Ye Gods-I have seen the new plans for redevelopment.Ghastly,ghastly and ghastly.

By Edward (20/08/2007)

The King Alfred played a big part in my youth, during the late 60s/early 70s, and then into the 80s when it became a "sports centre" too, where I played basketball; the wood floor was built over the old pools. As a lad, I used to catch the No. 5 or 5B from Hangleton, get off at the top of Hove Street and walk down. I think that for many parents, the King Alfred must have been a true god-send during the holidays! As others here have mentioned, stopping at one of the sweet shops on the way back up Hove Street was a key part of the outing! My school, Hove County Grammar School for Boys, used the King Alfred for weekly swimming lessons and also its annual "gala" in which the four houses competed. That was always such an exciting night out! I recall how one had to go through the showers before entering the pool area; of course, many skipped the actual shower, but everyone had to wade through the 3 or 4-inch deep pools that at least cleaned swimmers' feet! I recall too the locker keys we were given which were like large safety pins and which we pinned to our trunks at great peril!
Some friends and I used to play table tennis down in the car park area - in rather stark, gloomy rooms if I recall correctly. I could never afford to go bowling, but the atmosphere in the rink always seemed kind of exotic to a lad like me from the council estate. [Funny, because now living in the USA, bowling is a very "working class" hobby.]
I was fortunate enough to live on Kingsway right across the street from the King Alfred in 1990-1991, and loved the view of the buildings and the sea beyond. If Hove were to lose the King Alfred, it would be a real tragedy.

By Tim Wareham (19/09/2007)

What memories indeed! I used to live at the bottom of Hove Street, so spent many an hour with my mates at the King Alfred. We all used to swim regularly in both the major and minor pools, and as we got older used to go bowling in the underground alleys next to the main building. What fun! I also remember the stretch of beach from the boundary statue to the lagoon as well. Ah. Happy days!

By Chrissie Burton (23/09/2007)

My family lived in a flat in the old Fire Station in Hove Street until 1971. We often used the King Alfred for swimming and bowling. Happy days indeed. The lagoon was a favourite for 'crabbing'. I hate to say it, but I remember the Mods and Rockers invasion. The police used the Fire Station yard as a holding pen! Our family then moved to Uckfield with my father's transfer, where most of them still live.

By Ann Sellers (12/10/2007)

I grew up in Hove Place (behind the Catherine's Lodge Hotel) and I went to the King Alfred throughout the year. I attended Goldstone Junior School (Ellen Street) in the early 1970s. I remember being taken to the KA by Mr Lovett for our weekly swimming lessons at the King Alfred. We were each given a strange wire basket/coat hanger contraption for our clothes which had to be handed over a counter to the attendant before we braved the freezing footbaths. I also remember that I cheated to win my 25 Yard badge by walking the last 5 yards whilst pretending to swim with my arms!   I recollect being chucked out of the pool (with my brother) by the senior attendant George Carpenter. He was older than the other lifeguards (mostly hippies) and we were all a bit scared of him. I didn't know George's name then of course, but later, when I was a student (1980s), I worked part-time as a lifeguard at the pool and I got to know him. I told him he'd thrown me out of the pool in the 70's and he said "I expect you deserved it" - he was probably right!  When I worked there, the new pool was in operation and the old pools were covered up, as has been said above, by the Sports Hall floors. It is still possible to see either of them if you lift up the trapdoor in the relevant hall in the floor. It brings back memories but lifting the trapdoors is frowned upon by the management!   PS: I too do not like the new plans. When was a crumpled fag packet ever a good model for a building!

By Chris (03/02/2008)

I remember the bowling alley well and also the underground car park too. There were also rooms to play table tennis in the car park and many a Sunday afternoon in the late 1960s/early 1970s, my girlfriends and I spent hours playing the sport ( I think there were about 4 rooms). If I remember rightly, we had to pay the car park attendant by the hour, who would allocate us a room to play. I wonder what these rooms were originally intended for?

By Jacqui Woollven (13/04/2008)

Like Chrissie, I remember the "Lagoon" on the Hove sea front. We used to sail our model sailboats there as kids and any radio controlled models brought immediate green eyes. On a recent Google map, it looks to me as though the Lagoon has been replaced with grass. If so, what a shame. Anyone know if the lagoon is still there?

By Anthony (24/08/2008)

Yes Anthony the lagoon is still there, somewhat changed now, mainly windsurfing on the large lagoon and unfortunately mostly the small one is empty of water. It never seems busy now in the summer, it used to throng!

By Peter Groves (17/09/2008)

How wonderful, the King Alfred has been saved from demolition for the time being and instead of cement mixers and cranes moving in this year, it is going to have a revamp. Sun will still be shining into the rear of my house alongside the King Alfred in the afternoon, instead of being in the dark, as I would have been with the horrendous Karis proposals. An historic, attractive building has been saved. What a fabulous Christmas present for the residents on Hove Seafront.

By Jillian (02/01/2009)

All the "gang" from Osborne Villas, Hove Place, St Catherine's Terrace, Sussex Road, Medina Villas used the KA extensively after the war ended. Anyone remember the "Naval Training establishment" which was a bombed ruin (next to Courteney Gate) and the stock of old jeeps and army truck at the bottom of Hove Street?

By John Mason (13/10/2009)

What wonderful memories. I was also a member of the Shiverers Swimming Club way back in 1951. I'm sad the old pools have been covered but so pleased the old building has been saved. I'm visiting Hove and Brighton for the first time since I moved to South Africa in 1969. I will definately be taking a look. Google Earth just isn't enough for me anymore.

By Hazel Conacher nee Jolley (28/04/2010)

I was a Shiverer in the early 60s, loved the pools. I didn't know about any changes as I live in Nottinham now. It would be a shame if it's all gone, such a great place. I used to swim there three times a week with the club and I had to get the bus from Preston Circus. I could have joined the Brighton Ladies it would have been nearer but I liked The King Alfred better.

By Anne Newman (13/10/2010)

I have just read the memories by Peter Groves. It brings back so many memories to me.I lived at Victoria Terrace in the 60s from the age of one till eleven. I wend to Goldstone School, then Knoll School for Boys. In the school hols I used to nearly live on the beach or in the K.A. or the bowling alley and myself and friends used to play in the underground corridors. Does anyone remember the 'golf o tron' in the bowling alley? We used to stand and watch the golfers practice for ages. Funny thing all the years I lived along the road I never used the bowling alley only watched other people. I used the baths all the time and we used to go there with the school on monday morning first period. I used to feel so lucky that all I had to do was walk a short distance from my home and wait outside the K.A. for everyone else to arrive on the bus. I left Hove in 1967 and moved to Bournemouth but I still love to visit whenever I am able.

By Geoff (14/11/2010)

The King Alfred pools: the major pool was 36.67 yards long and about 12 feet deep. Championship races were based on three lengths to 110 yards. The minor pool was 25 yards long. Just to keep the record straight.

By Dudley Seifert (19/01/2012)

Sorry Dudley, you are wrong. The depth was definitely 10ft, it was marked on the edge. I'm also pretty sure that the 100 yards race was the most popular and that 33.333 yds long was therefore correct.

By Peter Groves (19/01/2012)

Peter, no, you may be correct about the depth but the 3 lengths = 110 yards is correct. Ask any member of the Shiverers who competed in the 50s and 60s. We used to play 'tag' on the diving boards / tower and drove the lifeguards crazy. The configuration of the diving boards in the time frame that I have just quoted was: one meter firm, one meter spring which were either side of the tower which had a three meter firm, three meter spring and the five meter firm in the center. We used to drop, jump or dive from all the high boards and the steep slope that went from about six feet into the deepest part of the pool could present a problem if you dove/dived out too far. I remember hitting my head quite hard on this one time but not so hard that I have forgotten the pool dimensions. Maybe they were changed in the 1960s? Cheers.

By Dudley Seifert (20/01/2012)

I have to agree with Peter regarding the pool sizes, especially when you remember that they were built long before WWII when this country used nothing but imperial measures. In those days 110 yard races did not exist in the UK, they were introduced after the war (1960s?) as something of an equivalent to the 100 metres distance.

By Alan Phillips (20/01/2012)

Hi, I spent many a happy day in the pool, also watching the swimmers through the glass windows under the water. I aso like the ten pin bowling although I could not afford to play.

By Louis Simkiss (20/01/2012)

I, too, spent many hours in the pools at the King Alfred, but I don't remember underwater windows where you could either see or be seen. Where would you have accessed these on the dry side?

By Alan Phillips (22/01/2012)

Like a terrier that won't let go, I have to comment further. The 'Big Pool' was 36 2/3 yards long. This allowed six lengths to 220 yds, 12 lengths for 440 yds and 24 lengths for 880 yards, all fractions of a mile (1760 yds.) which were the given distances for many races. Sussex County ASA races were run in this pool going back to the late 1940s, just after the war, and this was the prime facility of the Shiverers Swim Club which still exists, successfully. The 'big pool' was also used for water polo although it was possible to stand at the shallow end. It was the home of the Shiverers junior water polo team that won the 1956 English Junior Water Polo Championship. Now for a little trumpet blowing-the team - Dennis Edwards (goalie), Michael Spicer, Paul Blunt, Terry Long, Brian Beal, Dudley Seifert and Jim Funnell ( Capt.and now Councillor for the Adur District). The coach was Jack Dunford. The so-called leisure pool that replaced the King Alfred pools, does not allow water polo and there is no alternative facility in the area. Water polo died in the Hove area. Lest we forget as that wonderful facility at the east end of Brighton, the outdoor Black Rock pool, has been forgotten. Cheers to all.

By Dudley Seifert (22/01/2012)

There were no glass windows under the water, although lots of people watched from the glass windows of the sun deck just outside. Those windows/doors were opened if there was a hint of sun, and the swimmers got the icy blast and had to keep in the water. The underwater glass windows were at Butlins Bognor, in a cafe, looking through to the pool.

By Peter Groves (22/01/2012)

I think I can put the pool length debate to bed. I have proof! In 1971 I won the Sussex County 220 yards freestyle championship. To the day I die, I will remember that I swam 6 lengths, and not an inch more! So three lengths is definitely 110 yards (a very close match to 100 metres). My name is on the trophy to this day - in fact I saw it last year - an awfully long way back from the current winner, and in a time unlikely to get me anywhere near the final if I entered today. Curiously enough, my team mate David Dunne, who was 3rd in my race, went on to win an Olympic bronze over the same distance, in the Montreal Olympic (team) event for GB. Another reason I have good memories of the pool and its dimensions!

By Jasper Stevens (25/01/2012)

Thank goodness somebody apart from me knows. I have beside me now my plaque that I won in 1961. I came third in the under 14s 110yds breaststroke. I was 12 at the time and was very dissappointed that I didn't win. We had to swim in heats and remember very well that I was the fastest in them but by the time of the final I was too tired! So Dudley Seifert & Jasper Stevens you are correct!

By Anne Newman (26/01/2012)

Thanks for the comments Anne and Jasper, and the support. The King Alfred was almost a second home to many like me thanks to men like Carl Wotton, George and Doug Eley, George Payne of the Shiverers and King Alfred Manager Major Frank Buckley. Also, Assistant Manager Mr. Richards, Lifeguards and Attendants George Carpenter, Arthur and Sid and that lovely lady who ran the ticket office in the fifties. This is not the nostalgia of old age speaking, it is an expression of gratitude. So, Peter, thanks for contributing a good article and allowing description of a facility that was very meaningful to many and, Alan, even horse races have been run in furlongs ... for centuries. Cheers.

By Dudley Seifert (27/01/2012)

Hi Dudley and Anne, it looks like apologies are in order, but I'm just of to Hove Planning Record Office to check first; only joking, please accept my humble apologies!! I've written many pages on the site but this was my first, I think in 2004. I never imagined that it would encourage so many nostalgic memories, and me to then write more pages! Well done to everyone who has left comments for future generations; although perhaps not exactly perfect, a pretty accurate record as it was then!

By Peter Groves (28/01/2012)

Peter, no apologies necessary. Very glad that you started off the discussion and very glad for the opportunity to contribute.

By Dudley Seifert (31/01/2012)

I too remember the K.A. back in the mid sixties, we spent many happy days at the pool and local beach. Sometimes fishing for white bait from the pier at Southwick. I attended St. Nicolas primary school in Portslade and then later Portslade school for boys, I think it's a teacher training centre now. Happy days indeed, loved reading all the fond memories from all who contributed.

By Andy Douglas (17/04/2012)

Dont know if anybody has mentioned this but one of the things I remember in the underground car park was the introduction of that American style carwash down there. I believe it was called the Superfast Car Wash and it was there in the mid sixties. Cars were attached to a slow moving chain whereupon various workers soaped and leathered the cars until they came out the other end all gleaming. Does anyone remember this being installed? Also down there I remember using the table tennis rooms, and in the far corner was the back entrance door to the bowling alley, which had at that end the bar area and the Golfotron which if people dont know was a series of rooms with slightly raised floors of green astroturf baize type material with a putting area to the green and the hole, and the major part of the room which probably only measured 14ft x 18ft was the screen which you hit the ball at and the film footage would advance to the distance you had hit depending on how hard you had hit the ball. I think it was one of those American exports that came over here that didnt really catch on, but in its day was like playing a real life computer game. If anyone else remembers the Golfotron or the car wash please share your memories.

By Dave Sanders (28/04/2012)

Yes I remember both, however us young lads found the golfotron most interesting, although it was very temperamental and prone to getting the golfers quite cross when it went wrong, a bit like real golf in fact!

By Peter Groves (29/04/2012)

I spent many a Saturday evening dancing here, on the floor that covered the large pool in winter. So many memories of New Year's dances. Regards to anyone who remembers me.

By Ken Ross (09/11/2012)

I remember King Alfred Baths very well, we used to go there from Nevill Secondary School in the early 1960's on the 19 bus from Hangleton. I did enjoy it but in the winter it was soooooo cold when getting changed!!

By Brenda Tucker (14/09/2013)

I loved the King Alfred as a child in the late 1960s and '70s. I learnt to swim there aged 3 and have been a keen swimmer ever since. My favourite pool was the minor pool, I went with my parents most weekends and always saw the same characters there - the chap who did yoga on poolside and the 'egg lady' who brought eggs for the changing room attendant! Great memories! 

By Lyn Wood (13/12/2013)

The cold draughts after your swim waiting for the metal hanging basket with your clothes, the subterranean table tennis, the golf simulator and the chip and pop shop on the corner of Sackville Rd.

By Tony Robinson (07/11/2014)

Unlike Lyn above, I hated early morning school swimming lessons at the King Alfred in the 1970s and it pretty much put me off swimming for life.  I have good memories of the playground area next door that had a small train ride and old fashioned arcade machines that would give sweets as prizes.

By Danny (10/12/2014)

Wow, its over 10 years since I added this page (my first page) to the MyB&H website, and still getting posts today!  I have recently found a new photo of the inside of the KA c.1950, when it was a sea water pool, which I don't remember from the 1960s.  I will try and add it soon!

By Peter Groves (11/12/2014)

I'm still looking for any pics of either the major or minor pools. If anyone can help with that I'd very much appreciate it! Many thanks

By Caroline Moore (28/02/2015)

Hi Caroline, I have one, I will try and post it soon!

By Peter Groves (01/03/2015)

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