the seven dials directory
History Notes by M Bance

Winter Warmers: Hand-knitting

As winter drags on, we look at the history of hand-knitted clothes. An ancient, widely-practised craft, knitting is the creation of fabric from a single thread formed into horizontal rows of loops that interlock with each subsequent row. Historically, the natural yarns available were linen, hemp, wool and later cotton, although wool was often favoured for its softness and warmth. For centuries, wooden sticks, bone, ivory or quills were the basic hand-tools used, until fine steel needles became more commonplace in the 1800s. Over time, diverse customs evolved in different areas, regional variations giving the knitting of specific locations a strong visual identity; yet the familiar knit and purl loop construction was almost universal and similar knitted textiles have been produced worldwide for centuries. Read more >

The Forever Changing Face of The North Laine

I used to live in the North Laine, we moved there in January 1985 and I can’t tell you how exciting it was. We could open the door of our Robert Street house and (if we avoided getting run over by Argus lorries) find everything we needed just steps away: there was a fish monger, a butcher, a baker and a green grocer just in Sydney Street alone; in Gardner Street, a small Tescos, a purveyor of eggs and a shop that sold shoes for vegetarians. Then there was delicious bread from Infinity Foods, a selection of great pubs, and, for a truly new shopping experience, a visit to Anita Roddick’s Body Shop in Kensington Gardens. As young people-about-town we really didn’t want for more! Read more >

Christmas shopping traditions

The rampant consumerism at this time of year can seem excessive, almost overwhelming, and yet the avalanche of marketing and merchandise is not entirely new, as Christmas shopping has been big business for generations. Well over a century ago, advertisements for seasonal goods loomed large on billboards, sandwich boards and posters, filled handbills and periodicals, while many shops began stocking their festive fare in September or October. Read more >

30th June 1916 “The Day that Sussex Died” Commemorating The Battle at Ferme du Bois near Richebourg

The battle at Ferme du Bois doesn’t ring many bells, does it? It has, I think I can confidently say, passed out of popular memory. And the reason for this may well be that it took place a day before the infantry attack on the Somme and has become heavily overshadowed by the fighting there. Read more >

Behind the Wheel

On 6th November a unique local spectacle takes place, the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. Organised by the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) and Bonhams, this is the world’s longest-running motoring event, attracting participants and spectators from around the globe. The original Emancipation Run of 14th November 1896 celebrated the passing of the Locomotives on the Highway Act (or ‘Red Flag Act’) that raised the official road speed limit for ‘light locomotives’ from 4mph to 14mph and abolished the requirement for a man on foot to precede these vehicles. The event was first formally re-enacted in 1927 and has been commemorated every subsequent November, except during WW2 and in 1947, when petrol was rationed. This year marks the 120th anniversary of the original 1896 Emancipation Run. Read more >

Hopping Time

For many women, September is ‘hopping time’; the coming of autumn, the time when they, their mothers and grandmothers made the annual journey to Kent. It is now just a fond memory held by a diminishing few, but nevertheless a marker in the year that is not forgotten.

The special place hop-picking holds in the lives of these women is well documented, but what is not so well known is that Brightonians, as well as Londoners, made this annual pilgrimage.
There seems to be no single reason why so many uprooted their families and moved to the country every September and, of course, these reasons changed over time, but most saw hop-picking as a holiday or a source of extra cash. Others might have said hopping provided a legitimate reason to be away from their husbands or, during the war, the bombing. Read more >

Dressed for Action

With the focus now on the Olympic Games, we look back at nineteenth and early-twentieth century sports and sportswear. Before the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, men enjoyed energetic activities like football, rowing and athletics, wearing comfortable adaptations of regular dress or early sportswear. Conversely, undertaking strenuous exercise and winning at competitive events weren’t deemed appropriate for Victorian ladies and underlying these issues were deep-rooted concerns over dress, particularly the ‘immodest’ exposure of the legs, or even their clothed outline. It wasn’t considered decent for women to wear the kinds of clothes that would provide the physical freedom needed to excel in sports and early female sportswear aimed to conceal, hampering the progress of female competition sport. Only in the early-1900s when clothing conventions began to relax, did a shift occur, the gradual development of more modern, movement-enhancing sportswear furthering the expansion of the Games and sporting prowess. Read more >

New Road – One of the Most Popular Places in the City

In May I wrote about the Brighton Unitarian Church and, whilst doing my research, stumbled upon some interesting stories about the construction and history of New Road. It is now one of the most popular places to visit in the City, but it started as just a small part of the Prince Regent’s convoluted plan to form an enclosed estate around the Pavilion. Read more >

Fit for a Queen: Royal Style 1926-2016

Historically the social elite always led fashion and, although dress today is shaped by various influences, the general public remain fascinated by royal style. Born on 21st April 1926, Her Majesty the Queen made her public debut in May, wearing the hereditary royal christening robes of silk and lace, first created for Queen Victoria’s daughter, Vicky in 1841. She still attracts worldwide attention ninety years later. Read more >

Brighton Unitarian Church "At Risk"

During this year’s festival season, New Road will be positively humming with activity. If you find yourselves there, on the way to the Dome theatre perhaps, watching a street performance or just sitting outside a pub soaking up the festival spirit, take a minute to look at the buildings around you. There is one, in particular, different to all the adjacent buildings that I think is definitely worth exploring. Read more >

A Well Kept Secret: The Largest Municipal Rock Garden in Britain

If asked to write a list of all the public gardens in Brighton, I suspect most people would forget to include The Rockery. This really is one of Brighton’s best kept “secrets”. It gets overlooked by residents and is largely unknown to the countless people who drive past it every day. So, in its 80th year, the Garden Manager, Andy Jeavons, and I thought it would be a good idea to shine a little light on its history, the way it is now and plans for the future. Read more >

Wearing the Trousers

Who wears the trousers in your house? Unlike modern women, who dress mainly as they please, earlier generations were both restricted and defined as the weaker sex by their ‘petticoats’. As we mark Mother’s Day and International Women’s Day in March, let’s consider some of the pioneering women who defied convention by literally wearing the trousers (or bloomers or breeches), ignoring censure and paving the way for the sartorial freedoms enjoyed today. Read more >

History of Homelessness in Brighton & Hove

Whichever way you look at it, “the history of homelessness” is a huge subject, both in terms of the number of years it spans and the devastating impact it has had (and still has) on people’s lives.

The first recorded vagrancy statute is from 1349 - The Ordinance of Labourers which prohibited the giving of relief to able-bodied beggars, “that they may be compelled to labour for their necessary living”. This was followed by a catalogue of draconian legislation: Read more >

Winter Sports and sportswear

Now, in the depths of winter, we can enjoy seasonal outdoor activities. Festive ice-skating rinks are open to the public at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton and at other picturesque venues, while the dazzling slopes of ski and snowboarding resorts beckon energetic holiday-makers. Expertise in traversing the ice and snow are nothing new: for millennia, the inhabitants of cold climates have had to negotiate snowy landscapes and frozen wastes in order to survive; but in recent centuries what were once essential skills have evolved into pleasurable leisure pursuits and serious competitive sports. Read more >

Scarlet and blue: a traditional uniform at Christmas

Ever since Georgian mail coaches thundered along turnpike roads and early letter carriers knocked on doors, postal workers have been familiar figures in our streets, wearing their distinctive blue and scarlet uniforms. Although sending festive cards by post is no longer the only method of conveying seasonal greetings, our local postmen/women will, as ever, be fulfilling an important role, delivering cards and parcels and helping to connect relatives and friends in these busy weeks leading up to Christmas. Read more >

Female Uniforms of War: 1915

During the First World War (1914-18) more British women adopted uniforms than ever before. Apart from the standardised dress worn by nuns, nurses, domestic servants and members of the Salvation Army, adult females had scarcely been seen in uniform, but the proliferation of new war-related organisations created an unprecedented demand for outfits that would create identity, foster an esprit de corps and demonstrate their wearer’s role. Yet initially, when war erupted in August 1914, women struggled to gain the right to serve and to be seen doing their duty. Warfare was considered a masculine arena: genteel ladies were traditionally regarded as passive home-makers, while working women often held subservient positions, so in the early months of the conflict the expected role of females was, in general, not to undertake active work, but to support their men folk and urge them to sign up. Everything would change in 1915. Read more >

Honouring A Remarkable Woman

“Insanity begins before a person is insane, and it is then that recognition and skilled treatment are most valuable”. Dr Helen Boyle.

A new blue plaque was unveiled in Brighton in September, dedicated to Dr Helen Boyle (1869-1957), and marking the place where she carried out ground-breaking work that changed the lives of countless working class women and girls in Brighton and Hove. Read more >

Saddlescombe Farm The Story of a South Downs Farm

This month I thought that I would travel outside of Brighton for the subject of my article – just five miles to the hamlet of Saddlescombe, where I found a farm that can trace its history back thousands of years. Today Saddlescombe Farm is situated in the South Downs National Park and, along with the surrounding countryside, is owned by the National Trust. The 450 acres are farmed by tenants who operate a traditional sheep, beef and arable farm. Twice a year the National Trust hold open days and visitors are able to explore farm buildings ranging in date from the early 17th century Read more >

VJ Day Celebrations The World at Peace at Last!

Although the war in Europe ended in May 1945 it continued in the Far East. And while Britain was busy with street parties and bonfires to celebrate VE Day, British and Commonwealth troops were still fighting in Burma, Singapore and Thailand and thousands of POWs continued to live and die in horrendous conditions. .Read more >

Stories from the Sewers

Today the provision of a safe water supply and the removal of wastes are things that are seldom at the forefront of people’s thoughts, but in past centuries these were major concerns. A water supply is often seen as key to establishing a settlement; locally we describe communities such as Poynings or Plumpton as ‘spring-line settlements’. Small communities can cope with provision of drinking water and the disposal of wastes, but with urban and industrial growth demand for these services outstrips the capacity. During the early years of the 19th century Brighton experienced a massive population growth [103% between 1811and 1821] as a depressed agricultural economy drove people from rural Sussex to booming urban settlements on the coast. These people arrived seeking work and somewhere to live, bringing with them such few possessions as they had, which could include donkeys, cooped hens and a pig or two; all of which would be housed alongside human residents.Read more >

Bridal fashions, 1840s-1940s

Spring always brings seasonal wedding fairs and June is a popular month for weddings. White bridal ensembles were fashionable within early-Victorian high society, for white garments (difficult to care for) signified elevated status and the colour carried Christian associations of innocence, purity and inferred virginity. This vogue evolved into a tradition following Queen Victoria’s wedding to Prince Albert in February 1840. Declining the customary heavy state robes, the young queen favoured a light toilette comprising a creamy-white Spitalfields silk dress with a deep Honiton lace flounce and white satin court train ornamented with orange-blossom, on her head a wreath of orange-blossom attached to a lace veil. Her twelve train-bearers also wore white dresses and the charming impression conveyed by the bevy of white-clad ladies was captured in the visual images and popular souvenirs widely circulated after the event. Read more >

Festival Time!

An event that gets more ambitious by the year...’ Sunday Times.

Whilst now two distinct entities, together, Brighton Festival and Brighton Fringe Festival create the largest arts festival in England; putting Brighton right on the international cultural calendar. This is a spectacular achievement and one that deserves to be made a song and dance about and, in 2016, in its 50th anniversary year, the organisers of Brighton Festival intend to do just that. Plans are already being hatched to roll out the red carpet for some really special events. But, ahead of their celebrations, I thought it would be an idea to look back to see how it all came about. Read more >

Historical Hat Parade

The arrival of spring always brings a renewed excitement about clothing and fashion as evidenced by Easter Bonnet Parades, so it seems the ideal time to look back and take inspiration from some of the more extravagant headwear from the past. Headdresses have been worn since time immemorial, but only in the late eighteenth century did hats become a major feature of female high fashion and the art of millinery evolve. Read more >

“Tuppence, Please!”

In conversation with my friend Lavender, I mentioned that I was looking for a Brighton “character” to write about and she suggested Henry Ratty. How could I resist such a name? Disappointingly though, my research failed to uncover a tale of passion, sacrifice or murder, but he can be credited with a sort of celebrity, at least historian John George Bishop, writing in 1897, thought so: “There were few men better known to Brighton visitors and residents than Mr Henry Ratty. read more >

The Turbulent Life and Times of Sake Dean Mahomed
aka “Dr Brighton” (1759 – 1851)

The history of Asian immigration to Britain does not begin in the 1950s, with post-war labour demands; it goes back much further to the founding of the East India Company in the 1600s and an early and distinctive chapter in this history features Sake Dean Mahomed (also Deen Mohomet). Travelling from India to make a home here, Mahomed demonstrated a resourcefulness and adaptability that was quite remarkable. His skill at reinvention enabled him to move from boy soldier in India to our very own Dr Brighton and, along the way, be the first Indian to publish a book, own a restaurant and do “shampooing” in England. read more >

The Winter Coat

Today our modern lifestyle, current fashion trends and advanced weatherproof textiles mean that not all of us possess a traditional winter coat, but in the past a warm woollen cloak, mantle or sturdy overcoat were considered essential items in the outdoor wardrobe. read more >

"May Everything Go Off Nice And Smooth This Xmas!"

I know that Christmas is coming because I have had a “visitation”. Nothing particularly existential (or as disturbing as the face of Jacob Marley), more a dream involving my friend Sally! I dreamt of arriving at Sally’s house in Patcham where all was ready for Christmas – the perfect festive scene - the tree was beautifully decorated, at its foot were piles of beautifully wrapped presents and the mantelpiece was covered with cards. My mild surprise on arriving soon turned to panic when I realised that it was Christmas Eve and I had done nothing to prepare for my own family’s Christmas, had not even bought my cards! read more >

An Act of Remembrance

Remembrance Sunday, the second Sunday in November, is the day traditionally put aside to remember all those who have suffered and died in conflict and all those who mourn them. On the 9th November this year, services around the country will be framed to ensure that no-one is forgotten. And in this spirit, we should perhaps spare a thought for the 16 German prisoners of war buried in Bear Road Cemetery, Brighton. read more >

A Call to Arms: Taking a Different View

mages from the start of the war in August 1914 are familiar to us all now; the cheering crowds outside Buckingham Palace, the surge of patriotism through the country and the rush to the recruitment offices, where men inspired by romantic ideas of duty, honour and glory, eagerly took the King’s shilling. read more >

Back to School: A Short History of School Uniform

As the new academic year beckons, most local schools are encouraging a smart, standardised image for their pupils. Until fairly recently relaxed polo shirts and sweatshirts in a specified colour and bearing the school’s logo graced many Brighton & Hove schools, but the past few years have seen a return to a more traditional uniform comprising tailored trousers or skirt, a shirt, tie, V-necked jersey and blazer. Adherents consider that a closely-prescribed, formal school uniform reflects well on the institution and benefits its pupils, helping to raise standards of personal appearance, fostering an esprit de corps among students and even improving conduct. read more >

Brighton: The Summer of 1914

There is something very appealing about looking back exactly one hundred years. It’s just beyond our memory, but was, nevertheless, experienced by people who lived in the houses we now live in, sent their children to the schools we went to, visited the parks, cinemas and theatres we still enjoy. And in the summer of 1914, despite rumours of war, Brighton was a busy seaside resort playing host to holiday-makers, day trippers and those looking for fun, just as it is today. In fact, Brighton was experiencing a bit of a tourist boom, benefitting from the very natural disinclination on the part of many to risk Continental travel. read more >

Bathing beauties

July is here and the summer holidays are imminent. As we head to Brighton & Hove seafront or journey along the coast for a day on the beach, let’s look back at the history of sea bathing and past fashions in swimwear. read more >

The London to Brighton Bike Ride

Velocipede (Latin for “fast foot”) is a collective term for any of the various early forms of human-powered land vehicle, like the unicycle, the tricycle and the quadracycle. The most common type of velocipede was, and still is, the bicycle. Something that we are all very familiar with in Brighton, or ‘Cycling Town’ as it is known to some – the place where the Council have multi-million pound plans to create a European centre of excellence for cycling. read more >

The Battle of Lewes 750

Whilst we may be in the midst of Brighton festival madness our neighbours in Lewes also have some pretty extensive plans in place for May. Not the Festival, the Fringe or even the Great Escape, but the Battle of Lewes 750, designed to commemorate events that took place in May 1264 which, some believe, shaped the future of democracy in this more >

The Countess of Huntingdon and her Connexion

People new to Brighton (or just the young), may be surprised to know that there was, until relatively recently, a chapel in North Street; directly opposite the entrance to New Road where Huntingdon Towers, the language school, is today. I was certainly surprised by this discovery, even more so by the fact that it was built by a woman; a woman who felt so passionately that she was prepared to sell her jewellery to pay for it; a woman who took on roles normally attributed to men and went on to form ‘The Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion’ – her own society of preachers and a popular religious movement. read more >

Brighton Hippodrome

At the time of writing, the future of Brighton Hippodrome remains uncertain. Council Planners have received the required information from Alaska Development Consultants and their application to turn the Hippodrome into an eight-screen cinema is now valid. What happens next is a period of public consultation and interested parties have until the 4th March to make their feelings known. read more >

A Short History of Perfume

Monday 27th January is Holocaust Memorial Day and this year the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust have taken as their theme ‘journeys’: how the experience of people who suffered in the Holocaust under Nazi persecution is characterised by forced journeys - journeys often undertaken in terror and ending in death, but also journeys that ended in survival, new lives and new homes. read more >

Journeys - Holocaust Memorial Day

Monday 27th January is Holocaust Memorial Day and this year the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust have taken as their theme ‘journeys’: how the experience of people who suffered in the Holocaust under Nazi persecution is characterised by forced journeys - journeys often undertaken in terror and ending in death, but also journeys that ended in survival, new lives and new homes. read more >

A Century of Party Frocks & Evening Wear Fashion History at Christmas By Jayne Shrimpton

As Christmas and the New Year approach, the fashion magazines and shops are bursting with festive occasion wear, those must-have sequinned tops, statement dresses and stylish suits for the party season. Christmas celebrations began in earnest in the early Victorian era and here we look at how formal dress for dinners, dances and other evening functions evolved over the following century. read more >

The Night of the Fires

Whether you are lighting sparklers in your back garden or watching £12,000 worth of fireworks being let off at the Sussex County Cricket Ground you will be doing so in compliance with an Act of Parliament passed in 1606, ‘for a publique thanksgiving to almightie God everie yeere on the fifte day of November’. read more >

From Genteel Watering Place to Day Trippers' Paradise

Clergy denounced the iron horse as an invention of the Devil, breathing out the black smoke of Hades. Medical men had doubts as to the effect of speed on the human constitution, particularly on delicate females. Many thought the railway was just unnecessary – the present carriage service from London was perfectly adequate – and who knew what environmental and economic effects it might have on the area? The well-to-do, in particular, raised objections about the likely impact on their genteel watering place, turning it into a noisy resort for the Cockney hordes. But, however ‘reasoned’ the protest, because of its wealth and fame, Brighton was an inevitable magnet for developers and the arrival of the railway was inescapable. read more >

The Friends’ Meeting House

Back to school, college or university? Or, perhaps this September you are thinking of attending a course at the Friends Centre? Until August 2005, this was located in the Friends Meeting House, Ship Street, where adult education classes have been held continuously since 1876; thanks in no small part to the Quakers – the Religious Society of Friends. read more >

Innocent Fun under Canvas

This August Bank Holiday weekend, like very many before it, the circus will be in town. Zippos Circus will be on Hove Lawns from the 21st August to 3rd September carrying on Brighton and Hove’s long tradition of hosting circuses and fairs. read more >

Brighton on The Level

After much restoration work, The Level is due to open again on the 8th August. As part of the Master Plan, the Parks Project Team have been working with community history website ‘My Brighton and Hove’, oral historians and volunteers to create a record of activities and events associated with The Level, including personal stories of time spent there. What they have uncovered demonstrates the town’s long and varied relationship read more >

Brighton: A Town on Trial The Great Conspiracy Case

The 1950s was an interesting decade: a time of change, a move away from the drab austerity of the post-war years into a lighter, brighter world. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan went so far as to say, “most of our people have never had it so good”. In Brighton, the Promettes were on the seafront, housewives could shop in the town’s first supermarket, 200 workers produced BMW Isetta bubble cars in a factory in New England Street, slums were being cleared and plans were in place for the town’s first tower block flats. read more >


In 1628 Preston Manor was described as: “the Mansion House of Preston” with “a gatehouse, stables, coach house and other outhouses, barns, gardens, orchards, bowling green with a plantation of young elms”. William Stanford bought Preston Manor and nearly 1,000 acres of land from his landlord Charles Western in 1794 for £17,000. read more >

Walking in the Zoo

In 1870, music hall artist Alfred Vance had a “hit” singing about walking in the zoo on a Sunday. His song is noteworthy, because it is credited with bringing into popular usage the words “OK” and “zoo”. The abbreviation, zoo, had appeared in print before in around 1847, when it was used for the Clifton Zoo in Bristol, but did not catch on until Vance sang, the okay thing on Sunday is walking in the Zoo. read more >

Medical Failings, Excoriating Reports and Cover-Ups Victorian Style

Medical scandals are at the forefront of everybody’s mind at the moment, not least because of the catastrophic failings of the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust. The national press even went as far as to dub 6th February 2013 the “NHS’s Darkest Day”. read more >

Brighton’s Most Famous Ambassador, Sportsman and Philanthropist: Sir Harry Preston

In February I usually write something connected to Valentine’s Day: times in our past when the tradition of courtly love, romantic love and even mass-produced, commercial love flourished. read more >


I had heard, in the 80s, about the ‘slum photographs’, as they were known, in the keeping of the Chief Environmental Health Officer of Brighton Borough Council, so I asked him if I could see them. He said I could, if he could find them. Two years passed and I heard nothing so I gave up. I thought that they might have been stolen. read more >

Don’t try this at home! The hazardous world of the Victorian parlour game

If you are looking to switch off the television, computer and game console this Christmas and play some old-fashioned family parlour games you might want to think twice. The words ‘health and safety’ did not trip off the Victorian tongue and certainly not where Christmas was concerned. We recall the candle-bedecked Christmas tree with its inflammable trimmings and the flaming Christmas pudding but less well-known are the fire-themed parlour games. read more >

The Changing Face of Commemoration

At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month millions of people observe a two-minute silence to commemorate those who died in the two world wars and all subsequent conflicts. The 11th November this year will be the 94th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice, signalling the end of four years or war – the Great War, 1914-1918. read more >

The Witches of Brighton and Sussex

It’s Hallowe’en soon and witches will be abroad. There may be covens of witches in Brighton and Hove preparing to celebrate the ancient magic of witchcraft at this very moment. Who knows? Perhaps the people living next door to you are followers of Wiccan. The neighbours of Doreen Valiente, who had a flat at 6 Tyson Place, Grosvenor Street, Brighton, certainly lived next to a witch, indeed, some called her ‘Queen of the Witches’. . read more >

Fun in the Water Aquatic Entertainers

Caught up in the excitement surrounding the Olympics, I went down to the beach to watch the opening ceremony and, while the stream of teams from countries I had never heard of ambled across the Big Screen, I gazed out along the shoreline to the poor old West Pier and the site of the new i360. With construction now scheduled for the autumn 2012 it does seem that this really is going to happen. The West Pier Trust have said that they are delighted and have described the i360 as a “vertical pier” and a “worthy successor to Eugenius Birch’s masterpiece, the West Pier”. Instead of walking out over the sea as the Victorians did, we Elizabethans will rise 150 metres in the air to admire the panoramic views. read more >

Charlotte, the Forgotten Princess

The Prince Regent, later George IV, married his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick in 1795. Princess Charlotte of Wales, born in 1796, was their only child. Her parents separated three months after her birth and Charlotte’s upbringing was that of the child of a broken marriage. She spent a lonely and isolated childhood, kept apart from her mother and with a distant father who was jealous of the nation’s affection for his daughter. ‘My mother was bad’ wrote Charlotte ‘but she would not have become as bad as she was if my father had not been infinitely worse’.. read more >

The British Swimming Champion & a Very Annoyed Chancellor of the Third Reich!

At the first few modern Olympic Games, swimming events were held in open water. For the Paris 1900 Games, for instance, they took place in the River Seine. However, the rules were formalised in 1908, when the London Games staged the first Olympic swimming competition to be held in a pool. This outdoor pool was built on the infield of the athletics track at White City Stadium and the swimmers were all men; women’s events were not introduced until the Stockholm 1912 Games. read more >

Enthroned in the Hearts of their People

Queen Elizabeth II has now become the second monarch in British history to celebrate sixty years on the throne. To mark this fairly momentous achievement, individuals and communities up and down the country will be marking the Diamond Jubilee in a host of different ways and Brighton will be there joining in the fun and games, with plans afoot for a right royal knees up! read more >

Fish and Ships

At 12.30 p.m. on Sunday 13th May a very peculiar Brighton tradition will take place outside the Brighton Fishing Museum – the annual Mackerel Fayre. This is when The Lord Mayor and other local dignitaries, all wearing their best regalia, come together with members of the Church - this year Father Robert Fayers, Parish Priest St Paul’s and St Michael’s - to bless the nets. .read more >

Revolutionary Tales

It will not be news to you, that it is 200 years since the birth of Charles Dickens. Events are being staged to mark the bicentenary of his life and work everywhere - film, TV, theatre, arts performances, exhibitions, festivals, outdoor events, there is even a new iPhone and iPad App to take users on a journey through the darker side of Dickens’s more >

Brighton’s Great Dance Craze

As a major form of entertainment ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ (Strictly or SCD to its devotees) and ‘Dancing on Ice’ cannot hold a glitter ball to the dancing craze that hit Brighton in the 1920s and 1930s. read more >

The ‘hidden’ hospital in Buckingham Road
by Harry Gaston

When young Pat Blaker, a nurse at Southlands Hospital, arrived in Brighton to begin training as a midwife one day in October 1950, she had trouble finding the Sussex Maternity Hospital. read more >

“Soot -Oh, Sweep”

Does your chimney need sweeping? In the past, were you one of the many Brighton residents more likely to say ‘I need Wadeys’, rather than ‘I need a chimney sweep’? read more >

A Dickens of a Christmas!

In the [happy] days before television celebrities entered our lives novelists were often accorded this status. Amongst their shining number in the 19th century was Charles Dickens, who was a regular visitor to Brighton. Dickens first came here in October 1837 after finishing Pickwick Papers. He liked the town as a seaside resort and a place to write, indeed, he wrote Dombey and Son whilst staying at the old Bedford Hotel, King’s Road. “I feel much better for my short stay here, also the characters one meets at these seaside places.” He particularly liked taking trips on Captain Fred Collins famous pleasure boat. “The sea was rather choppy and his chatter to the trippers was very witty and amusing,” he more >

Séances, Science & Spiritualism: a Victorian diversion

On the 11th November 1896 the inhabitants of Preston Manor held a séance for which there is documentary evidence including a transcript of the proceedings so we know exactly what happened that night and the consequences. But what were a family of such high social standing and impeccable conventionality doing dabbling in the occult? read more >

A Little Piece of Hollywood

The future of Saltdean Lido is in the balance once again and a campaign has been set up to try and save this major Brighton landmark. The Save Saltdean Lido Campaign is asking the owners, Brighton and Hove Council, to start proceedings against the current lease-holder who, they claim, has failed to adequately maintain the building, action (or lack of it) which should, in their view, result in the forfeiture of the lease-hold. According to Rebecca Crook, Campaign Chair: ‘This extraordinary Grade II* Listed building is decaying day-by-day.”.read more >

Brighton and Hove Celebrate the Coronation of King Edward VII

Edward VII (aka Albert Edward Saxe-Coburg-Gotha; 9th November 1841 – 6th May 1910) was a very popular character. During his many years as heir apparent he built a colourful reputation for himself, not least as arbiter of men’s fashion and as a man with a large appetite for wine, women and song – well perhaps not so much song as food! He was, in fact, responsible for introducing the practice of eating roast beef, roast potatoes, horseradish sauce and Yorkshire pudding on Sundays. For that alone I like him, as did the people of Brighton and Hove who felt they had a special bond with this charismatic more >

The Oldest Operating Aquarium in the World

On Saturday 10 August 1872 Brighton aquarium formally opened to the public. 139 years later it is still entertaining and informing the masses about an underwater world that remains a mystery to most of us. Today visitors to this showpiece of Victorian splendour can see giant turtles, sharks encircling a tropical reef, an Amazon rainforest with razor-toothed piranhas and deadly poison dart frogs. They can also learn about the intricate balance of the oceans and the ways in which man is endangering some more >

I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside…

I loved Upstairs, Downstairs in the 1970s, I really loved the new episodes shown on the BBC last Christmas, but I really, really loved Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey. In fact I can’t wait for the second series later this year. These television dramas have given me a taste for Edwardian life; the lives of the servants “downstairs” and their masters “upstairs”; the gradual social and technological changes that took place in all their lives and how the two classes reacted. read more >

The Gentleman’s Game

Listeners to a recent Radio Four programme were asked what most signified the arrival of summer to them. I replied to my radio, as you do, without hesitation: the almost permanent presence of a large, overflowing and potentially smelly, cricket bag in the hall. Summer means cricket in our house as it does to so many others on a local club, county team and international level and this has been the way, particularly in Sussex, for a very long time. Sussex cricket teams can be traced back to the 17th century, but the county’s involvement in cricket goes back much further than that. In fact, Sussex, alongside Kent, is believed to be the birthplace of the sport; cricket having been invented by children living on the Weald in Saxon or Norman times. read more >>

Memories Preston Manor

I loved Upstairs, Downstairs in the 1970s, I really loved the new episodes shown on the BBC last Christmas, but I really, really loved Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey. In fact I can’t wait for the second series later this year. These television dramas have given me a taste for Edwardian life; the lives of the servants “downstairs” and their masters “upstairs”; the gradual social and technological changes that took place in all their lives and how the two classes reacted. read more >>

Dress for Excess

Many of us know of George IV’s passion for architecture and opulent furnishings, apparent by the lavish Royal Pavilion that still graces the heart of Brighton today. Perhaps though, less of us know about this King’s love of fashion? read more >>

27 March 2011

It is census time again, when the Office for National Statistics attempts to count us, something they do in the UK every ten years. This is ostensibly to find out more about who we are as a nation, but I think it is done to help genealogists of the future trace their ancestors, a gift to up-coming generations of Who Do You Think You Are programme more >>

The Royal Escape

Before 1750 Brighton doesn’t appear very often in the history books, apart from a few incidents which receive mention; the first in 1541 when, as part of his divorce settlement, Henry VIII granted various manors to Anne of Cleves including Preston; then when poor Deryck Carver, a brewer from Black Lion Street, was burned to death in Lewes, making him one of the first Protestant martyrs in Sussex; then, more famous than either of these two events, is the episode that links the town with Charles II’s escape from England - Cromwellian forces hot on his heels. read more >>

The Popular Figure of the 18th Century Gentleman Smuggler

Last month all our thoughts were turned to where we were going to purchase the “little extras” we wanted for the festivities. We were on the look out for signs that a bottle of gin was cheaper in Asda than Sainsburys. Now, with Christmas over, we have the additional incentive to buy goods at “sale” prices to help counter the effects of Mr Osborne’s VAT increase. read more >>

A Regency Christmas at the Royal Pavilion

Celebrations at the Royal Pavilion for the Christmas and New Year period of 1822-23 were so extraordinarily lavish and indulgent they cost quite literally the accumulated worth of a skilled man’s entire working more >>

Brighton as National Foster Mother

On 22 August 1939, Parliament was recalled and the Emergency Powers Defence Act was instigated. This set in motion wartime regulations, including an evacuation procedure, which had been crystallising since 1922. The signal for evacuation was given on the radio on 31 August 1939 and Operation Pied Piper began the next day. Of the 660,000 evacuees streaming out of London over the next three days, approximately 31,000 arrived in Brighton.* 400 buses and a convoy of cars met the evacuees at the railway station and delivered them to six distribution centres throughout the Brighton area. read more >>

No Ordinary Ghost Story: No Ordinary House

We all know about Brighton’s restless dead; the woman in white at Preston Manor, the haunted house in Prestonville Road, the famous grey nun in The Lanes, ghoulish monks, martyrs and drowned sailors. The World Horror Convention went so far as to declare Brighton the UK’s ghost capital. There is, however, one haunting, said to have occurred at Patcham Place, that seems to attract less attention. read more >>

Entertainment for the Masses

On the 22nd September the Duke of York’s cinema celebrates its 100th anniversary. This is a real achievement, especially when so many of its contemporaries, with wonderful names like the Bijou Electric Empire (now Burger King), have long since closed their doors. The history of cinema in Brighton goes back further than 1910 though and encompasses not only the rise and fall of glitzy picture palaces and back street ‘flea pits’, but the very birth of the film industry. read more >>

The Most Notorious Man-Women Story of the Early 20th Century

I went on an organised walking tour recently of some of Brighton’s more interesting places. Outside The Old Courtroom in Church Street the tour guide regaled us with a fascinating tale that he introduced as similar in theme to the stories surrounding Phoebe Hessel - one of the most well known women of Brighton – who is said to have dressed as a soldier and served in the West Indies in order to be near her lover, Samuel Golding. read more >>

The Wagners

The Wagners were of German descent and emigrated to England in 1717. They were hatters to the Monarchy and eventually to the British Army, and were thus quite wealthy and influential. The Brighton connection came about when, in 1784, one of the Wagners’ married the daughter of Henry Mitchell, Vicar of Brighton. Henry Mitchell was also a man of influence, having been a tutor to the future Duke of Wellington and a Sussex Yeoman. One of the sons of this marriage was Henry Mitchell Wagner, who apart from inheriting some of the Wagner wealth, became tutor to the sons of the Duke of Wellington and therefore influential in his own right. In 1824, Henry Mitchell Wagner was appointed Vicar of Brighton at St Nicholas Church, a post he held until his death in1870. Also in 1824, his eldest son Arthur Douglas Wagner was born. read more >>

Oriental Palace Occupied by King-Emperor’ s Oriental Troops

I have tried to think when I last visited the Royal Pavilion. I suppose my first visit was in the 1980s when we came to live in Brighton and then again in the 1990s when our children were small. In those intervening years nothing much had changed. The glittering chandeliers, sumptuous furnishings and exotic decoration were all still there, but nothing new appeared to have been added and I guess that is why I have not ventured back. Now there is a reason, a new permanent exhibition has just opened, charting a fascinating chapter in palace’s history. read more >>

Stones at St Peters.

St Peter’s Church has stood at Preston for more than seven hundred years and holds, in its memorial stones, all manner of stories - of people linked to royalty and also to murder. 

The oldest graves, from the centuries after the church was built in 1250, no longer survive. One of the earliest memorials is a grey stone plaque in the wall of the bell tower ‘Here lyeth buried the body of Elizabeth the daughter of Sir Richard Shirley, Barronnett who departed this life on 23rd day of April Anno Domini 1684’ read more >>

Gangland Brighton

Gang warfare, racketeering, welshing and protection – no not the Sopranos, but the more seedy and sordid attractions of gangland Brighton in the inter-war years. A side of Brighton that was brought to us by Graham Greene in his 1938 novel Brighton Rock and later the film of the same name, staring Richard Attenborough as the sadistic teenage gangster, Pinkie Brown. read more >>


When the newly appointed administrator arrived from his Sheffield teaching hospital to take up his post at Brighton General in 1951, he was shocked at what he found.

The wards on J Block, for example, had open fires, wooden floors and no curtains at the windows. They were, he later recalled, “like giant cowsheds filled with people”. read more >>

Pantomime & Brighton’s Theatrical Heritage

The origins of British pantomime probably date back to the Middle Ages and blend the traditions of the Italian “Commedia dell’Arte and the British music hall. Commedia was a type of travelling street entertainment that used dance, music, tumbling, acrobatics and buffoonery in a repertoire of stories passed down through generations of touring troupes. Each plot contained stock characters such as the over protective father, Pantaloon, Columbine his daughter, her love the heroic Harlequin and the servant Pulchinello, (who still exists in this country as the puppet Mr Punch). read more >>

Brighton’s Victorian Railway Heritage

A new greenway has recently been planted near Brighton Railway Station. It is currently in its maintenance period, before being formally opened to the public later this year. The area has been designated a Site of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI) and forms part of the approved Masterplan for the Brighton Station Site. It is located to the rear of One Brighton and the Clarenden Centre and the traffic-free path will take in the New England Road Grade II listed bridge. Seating has been placed along the greenway, together with an art installation designed to reflect the site’s Victorian railway heritage (a rocket style steam train I believe). read more >>

Devil’s Dyke: The Largest ‘Dry’ Valley in Britain

The Beachdown Festival on Devil’s Dyke is happening again this August Bank Holiday weekend and it looks like it will be quite an event, offering an eclectic line-up of music, film and comedy. Not only do the promoters promise 42 hours of entertainment, they also guarantee the driest underfoot-festival site anywhere in the UK - due to the chalk base of the South Downs any rain that falls will simply seep away. read more >>

The Hangman and the Corrupt Banker

For months now our newspapers have been full of stories about bankers, fraud and corruption, so much so that I must admit to feeling a tad weary of the subject. Until that is I found a story about a corrupt English banker who had forfeited his life for his crimes, and discovered that both he and his hangman had lived in Brighton. read more >>

Royal Pavilion Gardens

As we all know, Queen Victoria wasn’t a fan of the Royal Pavilion and when her seaside residence on the Isle of Wight was completed she took the opportunity to strip the Pavilion almost bare, leaving it to become the property of the town in 1850. From that time the gardens changed, new paths were laid and seats placed in the shrubbery walks making them the place in the town for promenading. read more >>

The battle of lewes road

Not the Battle of Lewes, which took place on 14th May 1264 between the forces of Simon de Montford and King Henry III, but a strike action the Brighton and Hove Herald called the ‘Battle of Lewes Road’. A violent and bloody incident leading from The General Strike called by the Trades Union Congress in defence of mineworkers who were being asked to accept a universal seven-day week and a drop in wages of up to 25%. read more >>

Three Women Called Louisa

The first was Louisa Edwards, mother of ten children and wife of James Spicer, paper merchant. She was a committed Congregationalists and believer in religious and moral reforms. Her eldest daughter, Louisa, (1839-1914) became a suffragist and activist for women’s rights and her daughter, Louisa, (1872-1966) in turn became one of the world’s leading experts in obstetrics and gynaecology. Together, they made a big impact on the lives of women, especially those living in Brighton. read more >>

Brighton Love Stories

A weekend spent clandestinely with a lover. How exciting that sounds – theoretically, of course! But the element of sin and guilt, fundamental to the uniquely English and rather old-fashioned concept of the ‘dirty weekend’, is not quite the same now. Romantic couples no longer have the excitement that signing the hotel register as Mrs and Mrs Smith must have created and those wanting a divorce no longer have to wait in anticipation of being caught in flagrante. However, if you were thinking of a little dalliance you are in the right place. With its raffish, tolerant and non-censorious atmosphere Brighton, apparently, remains the nation’s favourite destination for weekends dedicated to sensual more >>

The Chattri

It was not so much a New Year’s Resolution, more a need to break the invisible hold the kitchen had gained over me in the last couple of weeks, that made me think about visiting the Chattri. I have never been there before and, for someone who professes a keen interest in all things connected to the First World War, I felt that it was time to rectify this. I must say though that, as soon as I had parked the car and started across the fields, I did feel that perhaps I had made a bit of a mistake. But, in truth, the walk was easy, even for a “non-walker/townie” like me, and after about 30 minutes I came to the Chattri, the resting place of 53 Hindu and Sikh soldiers who died in Brighton and were cremated on the Sussex Downs near Patcham during the early part of the First World War. read more >>

Prosperity and poverty, dereliction and rebuilding, the story of London Road

t a valley running through downland fields. The first development in this area became Brighton’s first suburb, built on the open field known as the North Butts, an area which we can now identify as between London Road, Viaduct Road and Ditchling Road, a triangle ending in the south at what is now St Peter’s church. The first roads to be developed there were Queen’s Place, Marshall’s and Brunswick Rows. read more >>

Anglo- Saxon Burials in the Seven Dials Area

I cannot claim to know anything about Anglo-Saxon Brighton, but I did find it really interesting to learn that evidence had been found of these early inhabitants of the town in roads and places I regularly drive along. read more >>

Winter Solstice

At this time our attention is once again taken up with Christmas preparations; what shall we eat, what to buy that ‘difficult’ man, will the wrapping paper co-ordinate with the chosen colour scheme and, perhaps this year more than ever, will the funds stretch? read more >>

Unknown Warriors

A few years ago I met a man who planned to write a book about all the war memorials in Sussex. He wanted to record where the county’s war memorials were and attempt to put faces and personalities to the names inscribed on them. A huge task and, as I found out when I tried to look at the Book of Remembrance at St Peter’s Church, not an easy one. read more >>

Shine on Harvest Moon

Many moons ago I was a secretary, working for a man who would not normally be considered a traditionalist, but for reasons beyond my young-self, he liked to refer to the four quarter days of the year. For example, he would say ‘….after Lady’s Day’ or ‘when the Michaelmas term starts…’. At the time I thought he was completely bonkers, but now I have made the connection between quarter days and the time of year, particularly Michaelmas, September and our harvest festival customs and traditions. read more >>

The Oldest Electric Railway in the World

I must confess that I am not a great fan of Brighton seafront during the summer months; in fact, I usually go out of my way to avoid it, humbug that I am. However, this August I might be tempted down to the Banjo Groyne to join in some of the celebrations being held to mark the 125th anniversary of Volk’s Electric Railway - the oldest working electric railway in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records. read more >>

Wykeham Terrace - Home for “Fallen” Women

Wykeham Terrace cannot escape attention, located as it is just down from St Nicholas’ Church and only seconds away from the city centre. Architecturally, it is one of the most striking terraces in the whole of Brighton, built in Regency Gothic style, possibly by A.H. Wilds or Henry Mew, between 1822 and 1830. read more >>

Midsummer Magic at Hollingbury Camp, Ditchling Road, Brighton

Midsummer is the magical time when the days are longest, the nights are shortest, and our hopes for that seemingly elusive long, hot summer have not yet been shattered. A time when spending the evening in a pub garden becomes an attractive prospect. read more >>

Proposal of Marriage

Leap Year is the traditional time for women to propose marriage. It is believed that this tradition started in 5th century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait a long time for men to propose. According to legend, St. Patrick said the yearning females could propose on this one day, the 29th February. read more >>

Lightning Rods for Scandal: The Hilton Twins

Most people today are aware of the socialites, Paris and Nicky Hilton, but they were not the first Hilton sisters to create a splash in the world of celebrities. Indeed, this rather dubious honour should go to two Brighton girls, Daisy and Violet Hilton. read more >>


If your New Year’s resolution was to get out more and do different things then I may have just the thing for you. The Old Police Cells Museum in Brighton’s Town Hall. This is a fascinating place, originally dedicated to charting the history of policing in the city from the first days of the force in 1812 until 1967 when the local force merged with the Sussex Police. read more >>

The Legend of the Christmas Candle

I found this wonderful story in Cecile Woodford’s Yuletide Festival, a portrait of Sussex at Christmas time. Long, long ago an aged cobbler and his wife lived in a tiny cottage on the edge of a small village in Austria. read more >>

Christmas Past - Paula Wrightson, Brighton & Hove Museums describes A Regency Christmas

Christmas in the late Georgian and Regency period was very different from festivities today. 200 years ago the ‘Season’ began on 24th December and ran until 12th Night on 6th January. read more >>

We Shall Remember Them

With a nephew in the British army my thoughts are never far from the fighting taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan at the moment, but the approach of 11th November will inevitably turn my thoughts outward to all those who have faced conflict, particularly during the Second World War. read more >>

Victorian Rubbish

I found it interesting to discover that this is not the first time tipping of the town’s waste on the northern side of Hollingdean Road has created both a health hazard and a campaign by local people to do something about it. read more >>

Royal Alexandra Hospital for Sick Children

The Royal Alexandra Children’ Hospital, 57 Dyke Road, Brighton closed its doors on Friday 22 June 2007, after serving the community for more than 120 years. read more >>

The Coach House, Clifton Hill, Brighton

In recent weeks, I have seen articles in both local and national papers about possible plans to build next to the Coach House in Clifton Hill and I must say I have been shocked. read more >>


Preston Park Avenue was developed from the 1880s with large red brick villas, many of which remain, but several have been replaced with blocks of flats. Whistler Court is one of these; its name commemorates the decorative artist, Rex Whistler.  read more >>

Grand Designs. Their vision, our town.

The petition to improve the Seven Dials roundabout is gathering steam. One idea put forward is to erect some form of memorial to the architectural partnership of Amon and Amon Henry Wilds and Charles Augustus Busby who designed much of Regency Brighton.   read more >>


Schools will soon be out for summer. Another academic year over and the long holidays ahead. Years ago, when my sons were younger, the very thought of the approaching school summer holidays filled me with dread. What was I going to do with them for all those weeks?   read more >>

The Chalybeate - St Ann’s Well Gardens

The beauty of St Ann’s Well with its wonderful scented garden, winding pathways and fishpond, plus all the amenities it provides for the community, needs no introduction to local residents.  read more >>


This house is unique. I know of no other typical Edwardian house open to the public in the whole of England. read more >>

Seven Dials, In The Parish of St Giles, London

Today Seven Dials is a small road junction in London’s West End, north west of Covent Garden and just to the south of Shaftesbury Avenue. read more >>


The development of Preston from a rural centre to a middle-class suburb can be traced back to Brighton’s renaissance as a fashionable seaside resort. read more >>