Characters of the Past
As I start to unravel this project I thought It would be interesting to start off this blog with a look at some of the colorful characters from Brighton’s Past. Whilst I have been researching Brighton’s past I came across My Brighton and Hove website which is a really resources full link that shares past stories and memories of the past. Brighton has been a magnet for attracting outlandish people and I thought I would share some of the stories I found.
Old Charlie, by Andy Grant – My Brighton and Hove
During the early 1900s Fenwick’s Library of 128, Western Road, Hove, offered a series of six reproduction postcards depicting Brighton Celebrities, The Past, and Present. One of the fascinating characters depicted was ‘Old Charlie’, his coat emblazoned with an advertisement for ‘Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday’. ‘Old Charlie’ was, in reality, Juiseppe (also known as Joe or Joseph) Rivera, an Italian by birth who had reportedly come to England at the age of 12.
Former street musician
Like many Italian immigrants to Brighton, he had previously been a street musician, attracting large crowds in Madeira Drive, where he played organ with dancing dolls along its top. Many of his spectators were children, who, if they became cheeky, he would frighten off by removing his tall hat and shaking his unkempt mass of gray wiry hair at them.
In later life, his pitch was located “on the roadside opposite the reservoir at the copse, on the way to the Dyke”, where he sold oranges, sweets, and matches from a wicker basket. The advert for ‘Ally Sloper’s half-holiday’ refers to a comic magazine of that name, published from 1884 until 1916, based upon Charles Ross’s earlier cartoon character, ‘Ally (Alexander) Sloper’. It is reputed that Charlie Chaplin based his “Little Tramp” character upon him. Old Charlie lived at 17, John Street during the early 20th century and died penniless in the infirmary on 17th August 1915, at the age of 75.
Prince Monolulu : Brighton seafront 1954 – By Colin Southwood
Colin Southwood from Cambridgeshire shared this picture from his youth on My Brighton and Hoves Website. It is a photograph taken by his father of Price Monolulu, his mother and brother outside the Palace Pier in 1954. Colin recalls how the Prince would give out envelopes with tips and shout “I’ve gotta horse”
Prince Monolulu was the most famous black man in Britain. Between the wars, he was a national icon renowned for his eccentricity, a racing tipster of such theatricality that even in the days when newspapers carried few photographs and television was in its infancy, he was still the most recognizable racing personality other than the top jockeys.
Battle against racist attitudes
Interned in a German camp during the First World War, he emerged to become Britain’s most famous racing tipster – unlike some of the today’s TV tipsters he was funnier, louder and considerably more accurate with his tips! Indeed he came to prominence because of an extraordinary coup in the 1920 Derby. Virtually alone among tipsters he plumped for ‘Spion Kop’ the 100-6 outsider which romped home in record time to win him £8,000 – a fortune in those days. His career was made; soon no major race meeting was complete without a visit from the Prince and his envelopes of tips. He was a figure of fun, yes, but he also contributed in his own uniquely humorous way to the battle against racist attitudes.
Harry Vowles: ‘Blind Harry’ by Chris Vowles
A popular local entertainer
Harry Vowles moved to Brighton in 1882. To earn his living he sang in the big houses around Brighton and entertained in local hotels like The Ship Hotel. He was a regular performer in the Music Halls and had a pitch on the Brighton/Hove border, where the Angel of Peace statue now stands. He married Alice Vaughan in 1885 at St Nicholas’ Church and they went on to have nine children and lived in Upper Russell Street. During WW1 he spent a lot of time entertaining the troops stationed in the Brighton area. He died in 1919 when the Spanish influenza virus swept the country.