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Falmer House moat is full of water again

The refilling of the Falmer House moat was the culmination of two years of work by Sussex Estates and Facilities (SEF) and the rest of the Estates team in their ongoing project to restore the moat to its 1960s glory.

Falmer House moat as it looked in 2013. Photo: Simon Carey

The clear, mirror-like surface of the water in the moat was designed to reflect the sharp contrasts of light and dark in the vaults above it.

1960s Sussex students Yves Fedida and Ray Harari enjoyed the view over the Falmer House moat. Photo: Yves Fedida

The Falmer House moat is full of water – and not because it’s been raining so much over the last few weeks.

On Friday (8 November), water was pumped into the moat for the first time since 2015.

It was the culmination of two years of work by Sussex Estates and Facilities (SEF) and the rest of the Estates team in their ongoing project to restore the moat to its 1960s glory.

Designed by architect Sir Basil Spence, Falmer House opened in October 1962 – just a year after the first 50 students enrolled at the new University of Sussex.

As an architectural reminder of more ancient universities, the building was constructed around a central open quadrangle. Running around the inside of this quadrangle, a moat about 4.6m wide separated the three-storey structure from an inner courtyard. The clear, mirror-like surface of the water in the moat was designed to reflect the sharp contrasts of light and dark in the vaults above it.

Dan Hore, Partnership Director of SEF, says: “There’s more work involved in maintaining a moat than you might think - especially one in a building that has been listed since 1993 for its ‘exceptional’ architectural interest. Our aim has been to bring the Falmer House moat back to how it’s designed to be, while ensuring that it’s manageable for the grounds team to maintain.”

Particular credit goes to SEF mechanical engineers Marlon Johnson and Dave Curran, who serviced the non-functioning electric pump and got it working again.

The final task was to jet wash the moat; this was the job of SEF groundsmen Guiseppe Condello and Mark Henson. From now on, SEF grounds staff will net the water every week to clear it of any floating debris.

And to prevent the water from stagnating, SEF will be using a chemical that won’t harm any wildlife who visit the moat.

It was originally planned that the moat would be stocked with fish and plants – but in 1964 the University’s governing Council ruled out these plans.

That doesn’t mean the moat hasn’t had other uses, though: 1960s alumni who attended a campus reunion a few weeks ago recalled that they were “enthusiastic members of the caving club and used the moats (in the dark) to practice”!

When the moat was empty, its main function was as a shortcut between the Students’ Union shop and the Tuesday market stalls.

The newly filled moat clearly has the ‘wow’ factor, with passers-by variously proclaiming the transformation as “exciting”, “cool” and “amazing”. “It’s supposed to be like this,” said one, approvingly.

And as for inclement weather: when it rains, a sensor will let water out, to keep the depth consistent at about 12 cm.


Posted on behalf of: SEF and Estates
Last updated: Wednesday, 13 November 2019

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It is good that the Falmer house moats have water again but the 'back story'is a little more complex than the current account on the web suggests.

Even very early in the University’s history Basil Spence wrote (very disapprovingly) about critics who wanted to fill in the moats, or stock them with plants and fish. These comments were in his chapter in the 1964 Daiches book. As originally designed the moats were just under a metre deep - so they actually provided a good place for the caving club to practice, as well as somewhere for an often forced birthday dip. By the mid-1990’s they were in a poor state and empty most of the time producing a safety hazard. The University management of the time were very keen to fill them in entirely, and this actually happened to the moat that used to be to the north of Falmer House. However after a number of planning / English Heritage objections (some from members of the University!), the shallow moats within the Falmer House courtyard were approved as a not very satisfactory compromise measure. The flints that originally lay on the bottom of the deeper moats were removed and the present plain concrete surface installed. You can just about make the flints out in the third of the pictures in the current web announcement.

So, if the University had had it’s way in the mid 90’s the Falmer House moats would be no more!

From Pete Clifton on 14 November 2019
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