In contrast to the blue plaques on historic buildings across the city, James Farrell, founder of Brighton & Hove Building Green and a member of the Madeira Terrace Advisory Panel, introduced a green plaque indicating the history of the wall.
Decorated with Japanese spindles
In 1872, Euonymus Japonicus, or “Japanese Spindle”, was brought in by the Victorians to decorate the 16-meter-high stern wall built to obscure the cliff face.
A special limestone cement was used to prevent erosion of the cliff, and this also helped protect the cliff where the new buildings for Kemp Town were constructed.
The history of the balcony
Later, a Madeira Terrace walkway was constructed, first at the eastern end around the Shelter Hall and later moving towards the western end, connecting with the Aquarium (now the Sea Life Centre).
The first phase of construction on Madeira Terrace began in 1888. It opened to the east of the Royal Crescent in 1890, before being extended to the Aquarium in the 1920s.
Fifty years later, the terrace needed major engineering work and the green wall may have been removed. It is not known if the original spindle plants were planted on the proven plantings of the time, or if the ones we see today were planted in 1971.
A recent survey showed that the wall behind the terrace needed reinforcement to continue doing its job of protecting the cliff behind it from erosion. Our challenge is to stabilize and support the wall and balcony while protecting the green wall wherever we can and replanting it in a sustainable way.
The remaining spaces between the spindle plants will be home to a whole new ecosystem containing native and new plants. It will thrive with invertebrates and do the same job of cooling and ventilating the space as the existing wall does.
A small section of the green wall was cut down in 2021 by council contractors for safety reasons. Thanks to the work of officers and volunteers like Building Green, the wall has since seen significant regrowth.
The first phase of the restoration of Madeira Terrace
On November 2, 2022, planning permission was granted to begin the first phase of the restoration of the Madeira Terrace structure. Protecting the heritage of the Green Wall, both below and above deck, is an essential part of this project.
Euonymus spinners will be protected where possible during the construction phase and other plants will be taken and colonized to allow for later replanting.
The cassettes with the special biological growing mix inside will then be fixed to the wall. This will support the development of a new ecosystem below the terrace without long-term adverse effects on the back wall.
Contractors will begin cleaning the site this year and undertake preparation for restoration work that begins on site in fall 2023. This will include some heavy trimming of the spindle to protect it while working around it.
Mayor Counselor Dean said, “I am delighted to be here today to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Madeira Drive Green Wall.
“I would like to thank the volunteers from Brighton & Hove Building Green who helped advise on the best ways to protect, plant and re-fill the wall. And to the volunteers from Portslade Green Gym and the local East Brighton community who regularly tend to the plants here.
“Work will soon begin to restore and revive the terrace. It is one of the most important projects the council has undertaken in a long time. I am honored to plant this new Japanese spindle tree and look forward to watching it grow.”
The longest green wall in Europe
James Farrell of Building Green said: “Thanks to Victorian visionaries, Brighton & Hove is home to not only the longest and oldest green wall in Europe – but also the world’s tallest continuous iron structure, Madeira Terrace.
The green wall was planted in 1872 to make the then new waterfront an attractive place to walk, enjoy the sea air and enjoy the views.
“With the porch restoration moving forward, these aspirations remain as relevant now as they were then. I would like to encourage more people to come and enjoy the nature that can be found at the seaside. It is a wonderful resource that can help us feel calmer and happier.”
Brighton & Hove Building Green is a volunteer-run website and resource, and platform for sharing and promoting nature in the city. It was founded in 2006 by James Farrell, a coach, environmentalist and resident of Kemptown.
James is filming ‘Brighton’s Great Green Wall, Nature by the Sea’ with LatestTV. The film tells the story of Brighton’s connection to nature from 1700 to the present, and features the Madeira Drive Green wall.