History Of Brighton

There is no better place to get a flavor for Brighton and to see how it has come to be Brighton as we know it today than going to The Brighton Museum. On a Thursday afternoon in December I took a trip to the museum to look for points of interest.

Brighton began to be popular in the 1750’s, this popularity was partly due to the works of Dr Richard Russell and his belief in the healing powers of the sea water.

Dirty Weekends


Brighton has long had a reputation as being a place for sexual pleasure. As far back as the late 1700’s, one commentor noted that Brighton was full of ‘Female Fairs’, however Brighton has had a reputation as a place for sexual enjoyment will always be linked to Prince Regent.


King George IV (1762-1830) 

George became regent after his father was declared insane and became king in 1820. Throughout his adult life, George was an important artistic patron, acquiring an impressive collection of art and patronizing architects and designers, most notably at Brighton. He first visited the seaside town in 1783, returning frequently and from 1815 developing the Royal Pavilion in an exotic combination of Indian and Chinese styles.

Prince Regent was most famous for his dissolute lifestyle and his Royal Pavilion in Brighton, George became prince regent in 1811 and king in 1820. Brighton and the Price Regent were at the centre of this Regency lifestyle. The Price set the sexual tone for the period by having a series of love affairs.

Brighton’s dirty weekend image continued through the 1960′ and 70s. Films such as ‘Carry on at your convenience’ and ‘Carry on girls’ contributed to the city’s seedier reputation and the opening of the nudist beech in 1980 perpetuated Brighton’s ‘sexy’ image.


Prostitution in Brighton

About 8 years ago I moved into a bedsit on Bartholomew Street, I remember at night how the the brothels would light up red attracting late night customers. Prostitution has always been part of this town. Levels of prostitution rose in the Victorian era. An official survey in 1860 recorded 97 brothels and 300 prostitutes. The areas most known for prostitution were  around Edward street and Church street. The scenes at night were said to be ‘beggar all description’

The army regiment based at Brighton’s camps added further to the image of Brighton as a glamorous and dashing town. Jane Austen wrote of one of her characters in Pride and Prejudice, ‘in Lydias imagination a visit to Brighton comprised every possibility of earthly happiness. She saw with the creative eye of fancy, the streets of that gay bathing place covered with officers. She saw herself the object of attention, to tens and to scores of them at present unknown. She saw all of the glories of the camp…and to complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath the tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once. In reality Jane Austen seemed to have disliked Brighton and thought the place immoral. In 1799, she wrote in a letter, ‘I assure you that I dread the idea of going to Brighton as much as you do.

Prostitutes in Brighton were certainly readily available and the amount of prostitution aroused complaints at the time.


Image taken from The Brighton Museum

Brighton as a Resort


In 1871, a new law compelled employers to give staff days off work. Thanks to the new railway, fashionable  Brighton was an obvious destination for a day trip. As well as two piers, attractions soon included an aquarium and two electric railways. The Chain Pier was built in 1823 for boarding fairies and fashionable promenading. The West Pier was built next, and became a venue for shows and entertainers.Palace Pier, opened in 1889, was solely designed for day trippers. Penny in the slot machines and funfair rides gradually replaced human entertainers.



Brighton inventor Magnus Volk built the first public electric railway in Britain along the from which still operates today. In 2000, Brighton Pier (once Palace Pier) was Britain’s second most popular leisure facility, Ironically, the derelict West Pier is the only Grade 1 listed pier in the country.

Employment in Tourism

When visitors began to pour into Brighton, new jobs were created for local people.

Teenage boys offered rides in goat-carts in the 1830’s. Six glamorous women helped tourists on the seafront as ‘promettes’ in the 1950’s. Brighton still has a punch and Judy professor (as the puppeteer is known in the trade), and shop keepers still sell Brighton Rock, invented in the 1870’s.


Brighton’s early tourists weren’t always impressed. ‘I assure you we live here almost underground’, one visitor wrote in 1736, complaining about low ceilings, but hotels and boarding houses thrived, offering seasonal work for low wages.

Brighton and Hove LGBTQ

The LGBTQ community of Brighton and Hove is one of the largest in the UK. Brighton and Hove is associated to many key events in LGBTQ history. One of the UKs forst same sex marriages took place in the Royal Pavilion in 2014. The city also hosts an important pride festival every year.


Brighton is renowned for its club scene. In regency times, aristocrats danced at Brighton’s grand balls. The Victorians enjoyed ballrooms in hotels and the Aquarium. The ‘dance craze’ swept the town in the 1920’s and 30’s. Today, Brighton is the clubbing capital of the South.


Zap Club Advertisement, 1980’s

Famous Brighton clubs include the Zap club, the Concord and the Escape club. The Paradox club was once Sherry’s, the famous 1930’s dance hall. In the 1980’s and 90’s and early 2000s. DJ Fatboy Slim became Brighton’s most famous musical celebrity.


As well as Brighton’s clubs, people have held impromptu parties in squats, warehouses, on the Downs, and besides the cliffs. The scene started with reggae ‘blues’ parties during the early 1980s .

Mods and Rockers

The 1964 clash between the mods and the rockers on Brighton beach is legendary.It inspired the film ‘Quadrophenia’ and on bank holidays the seafront is still lined with scooters and motorbikes.



Mods dressed sharply. They rode scooters and cared about their appearance. Their name was based on ‘Modern Jazz’. Rockers, on the other hand, liked 1950’s Rock and Roll. They wore leather jackets and rode motorbikes.

On a hot bank holiday in 1964, thousands of Mods and Rockers poured in Brighton.Hundreds slept on the beach. Saturday was peaceful, a few stones were thrown,but Sunday brought fierce fighting. Gangs of youth cornered each other, Windows were smashed. The police moved in with reinforcements.


Living In Brighton

Fashionable Society

At the end of the 1700s London’s high society flocked to Brighton. At first,they came for sea water cures. Later, they came to ‘see and be seen’, particularly after the arrival of the Price of Wales (who became George IV)

New visitors introduced themselves to the Master of Ceremonies, who organized the towns grand social occasions. They signaled their arrival in visitors books, which they kept in circulating libraries. Circulating libraries were like private clubs, where people met, played games, listened to music or read books.Another past time was to promenade along the seafront or on the steine ( specially fenced off on purpose). In the evening, society gathered at assembly rooms for grand balls and receptions.


A Sea Coast Promenade Fashion, 1809

By the early 1900’s, Brighton was best known as a popular resort. However, the city retained its trendy status and today still attracts the chic and fashionable.


Poverty has always existed in Brighton, but during the 1700s and early 1800s help for the poor was relatively generous. To cut costs, the poor Law Amendment Act was passed in 1834. To obtain support, people were forced to enter workhouses where conditions were deliberately harsh so that only the totally destitutes would seek help. The warehouse scheme opp-orated until 1930.

In 1948 the Poor system was replaced by the Welfare State. The post War decades saw improvements in the standard of living  of most Brightonians as thousands were employed in new factories on local industrial estates.


Recessions in the late 1980s and 90s brought a slump in manufacturing industries. Mnay factories closed leading to increased poverty. Today, the city remains at contract between wealth and poverty.


Where can you find cheap housing in Brighton? In Victorian times, the answer lay in crowded streets near the town center.( Today, 1 in 69 are living on the streets)

Brighton council began clearing slums in the 1840’s. At first, the occupants were not rehoused. From the 1920s, people were moved into new housing estates on the outskirts of Brighton. The estate provided modern comforts, but rents were high and there were no shops or pubs. As an alternative, the Council built twenty high rise blocks nearer to the town center during the 1960s and 70s.


For the private market, Victorian builders constructed Brighton’s rows of terraced houses, rented for £10-£20 a year. Developers later moved out of town, creating larger suburban villas.

Today, with little space to build new houses, many grand seafront buildings, have been split into flats  to provide Cheapest ‘bedsits’ accommodation.


The Second World War affected Brighton as it does the rest of Britain.A general blackout was enforced over the south of England in August 1939. Shelters were dug in playgrounds and parks. The Museums collection were moved to the safety of countryside.


For the first couple of weeks, all entertainers were stopped, though later continued. Anti-aircraft guns and searchlights were set up on the seafront. The beaches were closed, mined and guarded with barb wore.

The First raid on Brighton came on 15th July 1940.



During the 1800s, most goods were not mass produced, but were made by workers skilled in specific trades. Even the supply of milk was considered a trade. Local diaries sold milk over the counter from cows kept in pens at the back of the premises.

Towards the end of the 1800s large numbers of people in Brighton were employed in a trade. Workers were generally employed in trades outside of the tourist industry. In 1891 over 1,000 people worked as painters, and glaziers and more people had jobs as boot makers than hotel keepers.

Over the last 100 years, improved transport links meant that goods could be mass produced in factories many miles from Brighton. Large-scale businesses grew and the number of small traders in the town declined.

Street Traders

Entertainers and sellers of wares a common sight on Brighton’s Victorian streets. Many of Brighton’s poor saw street entertaining as a way of earning a living. Minstrels, jugglers, and organ grinders performed in almost every part of the town.


Pies, fruit and wares of all sorts were sold on Brighton’s streets. By the end of the 1800s, street traders would gather in Gardiner Street. Brighton Council, tired of moving them on, allowed Upper Garner Street to be used as a market on Saturday mornings. By 1919, a second gathering of a barrows in Oxford Street led to the opening of Brighton’s Open Market which moved to its present site in 1960.

Street trading is still evident in Brighton.As well as adding to the towns alternative image, for many, it is their main source of income.



As Brighton changed from a fishing town to a fashionable resort, the variety and number of shops increased. Most were family concerns, but London based merchants began to set up businesses selling luxury goods. By 1800, North Street had become Brighton’s main shopping area.

During the early 1800s, larger shops such as Hanningtons  and later, Leeson and Vokins, began to develop. Apprentices and assistants usually ‘lived in’ and worked long hours. Most shops were open from 8am to 10 pm, six days a week. At both Hanningtons and Leeson & Vokins however, staff were highly thought of and staff were only required to work 5 days a week. Conditions for most shop workers didn’t improve greatly until the early closing act was passed in 1911.

In 1937, there were 2964 town center shops. Today with the variety and number of shops in Brighton unequaled on the South coast, shop work remains a major source of employment.












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