Brighton Pavilion – known formally as the Royal Pavilion – was built for the Prince Regent as a seaside retreat. In 1787 the Whig architect, Henry Holland (1745-1806), extended an existing farmhouse, developing it into the so-called Marine Pavilion. This in turn was later developed by John Nash (1752-1835) into the exotic oriental-looking palace that remains today, a prince’s one-time playground, famous for its lavish feasts and parties.
Brighton Pier – properly known as the Palace Pier – opened in 1899 and is Grade II* listed. It is the last of Brighton’s three piers to remain intact, the Royal Suspension Chain Pier having long been demolished and the once-elegant West Pier now but a rusting carcase in the sea
The Duke of York’s Cinema
The oldest continuously operated cinema in the world, the Duke of York’s, which opened in 1910, is a huge favourite with Brighton audiences. An art house cinema, it was purchased in 2012 by Cineworld but so far the quality of the movies, the home-baked cakes and the excellent wines and beers in its bar has remained undimmed. Most importantly for many, the celebrated striped ‘can-can’ legs remain on its roof.
The Prince Regent
George IV (1762-1830), as he later became, acted as Prince Regent during the debilitating illness of his father, George III, from 1811 until his accession to the throne in 1820. He led a famously self-indulgent and extravagant life, much of it played out in Brighton. He treated his wife (and cousin), Caroline of Brunswick, appallingly (even barring her from his coronation) and left her for a succession of mistresses including, most famously, Maria Fitzherbert whom he married in secret.
The actor and director Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) once famously said, “Success smells of Brighton,” and when he was raised to the peerage in 1970 (the first actor ever to be so honoured) he paid tribute to the town (he lived for many years in Royal Crescent) by becoming Baron Olivier of Brighton.
The original ‘Cheeky Chappie’, stand-up comedian Max Miller (1894-1963) was Brighton born and bred. He wore outrageous suits and told outrageous jokes and was adored by his audiences if not by the censor. He lived for many years in Marine Parade and there is a statue to him in New Road, outside the Theatre Royal.
Phoebe Hessel (1713-1821) is famous not only for her great age but also for serving in the British Army disguised as a man in order to be close to her lover and future husband, Samuel Golding. In 1745, during the War of the Austrian Succession, she was wounded at the Battle of Fontenoy. Widowed by Golding she moved to Brighton to marry Thomas Hessel, a fisherman. Widowed again she was awarded a pension of half guinea a week by the Prince Regent. She died aged 108 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Nicholas, Brighton.
Maria Fitzherbert (1756-1837) was the mistress of George IV and, later, wife, although the marriage was deemed invalid. She was twice widowed by the time she met her prince in 1784. They married the following year despite the fact that it was illegal, the prince requiring the consent of both his father and the Privy Council, which he signally did not have. She lived for over thirty years in Steine House in Brighton and is buried in the Catholic church of St John the Baptist in Brighton’s Kemp Town.
Martha Gunn (1726-1815) was a ‘dipper’, someone who worked the cumbersome bathing machines on Brighton’s shingle beach and looked after the women bathers. She was quite the celebrity and was taken up by the Prince Regent. She is buried next to Phoebe Hessel in the churchyard of St. Nicholas, Brighton.
Brighton and Hove (actually)
Despite being part of one conurbation, Brighton and Hove were once separate entities, with different councils. The two towns were united in 2001 when Brighton and Hove was awarded city status. Although the border between the two is invisible to most visitors (it is marked by the Peace Statue beside Hove Lawns), residents of both Brighton and Hove maintain a certain rivalry. Ask a Hove resident if they live in Brighton and they will be horrified, replying, “Gosh, no, Hove actually.”
Mods and Rockers
As anyone who has seen the 1960s-set film Quadrophenia will tell you, the Mods and Rockers were poles apart. Mods wore parkas and rode Lambrettas or Vespas. Rockers wore leathers and rode motorbikes. Their mutual antipathy frequently boiled over into full scale brawls, most famously along Brighton’s Bank Holiday sea front.
Brighton and Hove Albion FC, known as the Seagulls, was founded in 1901. They currently play in the Championship and boast a state of the art stadium at Falmer, on the outskirts of town, sponsored by major local employer American Express. The club’s finest moment was making it to the FA Cup Final in 1983, taking Manchester United to a replay which they lost 4-0.
The Veteran Car Run
The Veteran Car Run, open only to cars built before 1905, takes place between London and Brighton on the first Sunday in November each year and is the world’s longest-running motoring event, having been established in 1896. The 1953 comedy, Genevieve, based on the run and starring Kenneth More, John Gregson, Dinah Sheridan and Kay Kendall is much loved by Brightonians.
The London to Brighton Bike Ride
Sponsored by the British Heart Foundation, the London to Brighton Bike Ride has taken place every summer since 1980. Around 30,000 riders now take part each time and the event – famous for its hideously steep ascent of Ditchling Beacon just north of Brighton – has raised over £40m since its inception.
There has been racing at Brighton ever since the Duke of Cumberland (uncle of the Prince Regent) first arranged a race on Whitehawk Hill to the north east of the town in 1783. It is a left-handed course used mainly for flat racing and although hardly one of the country’s premier tracks it attracts a hearty crowd, especially during its three-day festival every August. In the 1940s
The South Downs, which border Brighton to the north, are a range of chalky, grassy hills which roll picturesquely across Hampshire, West Sussex and East Sussex. There are many of fine walks to be along them, the most famous of which is South Downs Way which runs for 100 miles from Winchester in the west to Eastbourne in the east.
Needless to say, Brighton is defined by the sea. It is what drew folk here in the first place. That what was once the tiny fishing village of Brighthelmstone became a fashionable resort is due in part to one Richard Russell (1687-1759), a local doctor, who popularised the idea that swimming in – and also drinking – seawater was beneficial to one’s health. So successful was he that those who flocked to the town to improve their health were said to be visiting ‘Dr Brighton’.
Brighton Rock is a hard, baton-shaped, sugary sweet, usually red on the outside and white on the inside with the words ‘Brighton Rock’ running through. It gave the name, of course, to Graham Greene’s most famous novel (1938) which subsequently became a celebrated film (1947) directed by John Boulting and starring the youthful Richard Attenborough as ‘Pinkie’, the psychopathic teenage leader of a racecourse razor gang based in Brighton.
Being the relaxed and tolerant city it is, Brighton has a large and thriving gay community and Pride, the UK’s leading LGBT event held every August, is something to behold.