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New City of Brighton and Hove

Updated on April 9, 2015
The Banqueting Room at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton from John Nash's Views of the Royal Pavilion (1826).
The Banqueting Room at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton from John Nash's Views of the Royal Pavilion (1826). | Source

Royalty, Seaside, and a New City

Brighton and Hove, on the south coast of Britain, have formed a single conurbation for many years now.

Brighton still appears much racier than the more genteel and sedate Hove but, even so, you would be hard pressed to know when you are crossing from Brighton into Hove.

In 1997, as part of local government reforms, the two towns were officially joined to form one borough then in 2000 the borough was given official city status and is called the City of Brighton and Hove.

Brighton is the most famous of the Sussex seaside resorts. Originally called Brighthelmstone, Brighton's pre-eminence is due to the Prince Regent who first visited the small fishing village in 1783. Here he built the Royal Pavilion, an enduring landmark and symbol of the town.

Nowadays many of Brighton and Hove's residents work in London and the city is particularly popular with actors and people in the media. With a sophisticated local population, it is famous for its nightlife, restaurants and its gay culture.

History of Brighton

Access to Brighton Beach from the esplanade.
Access to Brighton Beach from the esplanade. | Source

History of Brighton

Brighton was originally called Brighthelmstone. It was a small fishing village and appeared in the Domesday Book in 1086. Most of it was burnt by the French in 1514, only the street pattern of the Lanes and part of St Nicholas Church survived.

In the mid 18th century a doctor in nearby Lewes recommended drinking sea water and immersion in the sea as a cure, particularly the sea water at Brighton. Strangely enough, the doctor had a large house there where his patients could stay (the house is now the Royal Albion Hotel). After the doctor's death, the house was rented to visitors including the Duke of Cumberland, brother of King George III. The Duke's nephew, the Prince Regent and then later King George IV, visited in 1783.

He liked the small seaside town and he built the Royal Pavilion which was first constructed around a farmhouse to a much more conventional design. Later alterations by John Nash gave it the flamboyance and startling Oriental flavour making it such an enduring landmark and symbol of the town.

Of course, Royalty patronising the town made it fashionable and it quickly became popular with high society. When the railway arrived in Brighton in 1841, it revolutionised the fortunes of the town because it made it accessible to far more people, especially day trippers from London. It also led to the physical growth of Brighton. By 1901 the population stood at 120,000 - that was an incredible 113,000 increase on the population in 1801.

The growth in population and visitor numbers led to many buildings being erected during the 19th century including the Grand Hotel and Brighton's two piers.

Chain Pier, Brighton by John Constable (1776-1837) - Oil on Canvas
Chain Pier, Brighton by John Constable (1776-1837) - Oil on Canvas | Source

Find Your Way Round Brighton

AA Street by Street: Brighton, Worthing, Hove, Lewes, Newhaven
AA Street by Street: Brighton, Worthing, Hove, Lewes, Newhaven

A street guide is always worth having when visiting a place you don't know and this one covers five of England's south coast holiday resorts including Brighton and Hove.


The History of Hove

In the 19th century, workmen digging near Hove's Palmeira Square encountered a large burial mound thought to date back to 1200 BC. Amongst the finds was a cup made of Baltic amber which can now be seen in Hove Museum (see below).

When King George IV built his Royal Pavilion, development started on the edge of Brighton and was called the Brunswick Estate.

Fine Regency houses were built for the fashionable elite. It had its own amenities like police and theatre. Hove began to spread west with Victorian developments of villas in the numbered avenues like First Avenue.

The most obvious difference between Hove and Brighton is that Hove has wide, grand avenues and are a contrast to Brighton's narrower, more crowded streets.

Brighton's Royal Pavilion

Although originally built as a typical upper class house around an existing farmhouse, between 1815 and 1822 John Nash redesigned the Pavilion giving it the rather Indian appearance we see today.

The interior, designed by Frederick Crace and Robert Jones, is even more flamboyant showing pronounced Chinese and Indian influences. There are imitation bamboo staircases, palm trees, and dragons set off against a lavish use of colour.

One of the most striking areas is the Music Room. The walls are decorated with paintings of Chinese scenes in beautiful reds with gold highlights. The huge room is lit by nine chandeliers in the shape of lotus leaves and the floor was covered with a hand-knotted Axminster carpet.

In 1975 there was a fire which damaged this room. Luckily, all but one of the wall paintings was saved. Even so, restoring the room to its former glory was a major undertaking and included replicating the carpet. Soon after the restoration was done, the Royal Pavilion was hit by the famous hurricane of October 1987 that devastated a large area of Southern England. The wind brought down a stone ball that had decorated to top of one of the onion domes and this went right through the ceiling of the Music Room causing further damage. This has all now been restored as you can see on the Royal Pavilion's Music Room page.

However unthinkable Brighton without the Royal Pavilion might seem this almost happened. During the reign of Queen Victoria the Pavilion was left to decay and was nearly demolished in 1850. Saved only by the residents of Brighton raising £50,000, over the years it has been restored to its former splendour and the original contents returned. To commemorate the saving of the Pavilion, there is a 'free' day every year in February when anybody can enter free of charge.

Royal Pavilion, Brighton

The Grand Hotel, Brighton
The Grand Hotel, Brighton | Source

The Bombing of the Grand Hotel, Brighton

Built in 1864 for Brighton's fashionable, wealthy visitors, the Grand Hotel used some innovative technology for the time. It was the only building outside London to have a lift, called a 'Vertical Omnibus'. Even in London, there were only two lifts in the whole city.

It stands right on Brighton seafront so all the rooms at the front have good sea views. It is still the most expensive hotel in Brighton; it has 201 rooms and conference facilities, most famously used by the Conservative Party for their conference in 1984.

At the time, the Provisational Irish Republican Army (IRA) was carrying out a campaign of bombing on the UK mainland. On 12th October 1984 just after 2am, a bomb exploded in a hotel room. It had been put behind a bath panel three months earlier. The object was to kill the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. The bomb caused eight floors of the central section at the front of the hotel to collapse into the basement. Five people were killed in the explosion and many others were injured.

Those of us who saw the television news coverage probably vividly remember prominent Cabinet minister, Norman Tebbit, being brought out, after several hours, on a stretcher. He made a full recovery but his wife was not so lucky and was left permanently paralysed.

Margaret Thatcher escaped injury and decreed that the conference would open at the correct time later that morning and continue its programme. In fact, she herself made a speech that day as scheduled but it had been rewritten to cover the event. In it she said, "This attack has failed. All attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail."

The IRA claimed responsibility and in their statement they said, "Today we were unlucky, but remember, we only have to be lucky once; you will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no war." Unfortunately, it's true that terrorists only have to be lucky once whereas the rest of us have to be lucky all the time when there are random acts of violence.

Margaret Thatcher attended the reopening of the Grand Hotel in 1986 and Concorde made a low fly pass as a mark of respect.

Brighton's Piers

Brighton's first pier was built in 1823 and was a chain pier principally used for ships crossing the Channel to France.

The town's second pier was the West Pier built in 1866 and the last one to be built was the Palace Pier in 1891. A condition of consent for the last pier was that the original chain pier was to be removed. In 1896, before this was done, a storm destroyed it although the iron piles on which it was built can still occasionally be seen at very low tides.

Although building work on the Palace Pier started in 1891, it wasn't completed and opened until May 1899. In 1901, a concert hall was built which was turned into a theatre in 1911.

This was demolished in 1986 although the management of the pier claimed they intended to replace it. Unfortunately, this did not happen. The pier now has the usual seaside amusement arcades and funfair rides like roller coasters, a log flume and children's rides.

In the year 2000, the pier was renamed Brighton Pier and that is how it is usually referred to now.

Like the West Pier, it suffered from fire damage in February 2003 but it was not catastrophic and most of the pier opened normally the next day.

Brighton's West Pier on fire
Brighton's West Pier on fire | Source

A Collection of Old Photographs of Brighton Pier

Palace Pier, Brighton in Old Photographs (Britain in Old Photographs)
Palace Pier, Brighton in Old Photographs (Britain in Old Photographs)

This is a wonderful collection of photographs gathered together to show Brighton Pier in the late 19th and early 20 centuries. Where the information was available, names and stories are given with the photos so adding to the interest.


Brighton's West Pier - Destroyed by a catastrophic fire

When it opened in 1866, there were only six small, Oriental style buildings on the pier and the only screens to protect visitors from wind and spray were at the end. By the end of the 1880s, the pier had a bandstand, large pavilion, steamer landing stages, and protective screens along its length. The final building to be added was a concert hall in 1916.

After that, the West Pier was a showpiece for Victorian and Edwardian elegant seaside fun. So valuable was it as an example of its type that it was the first pier to be given Grade 1 listing and the only other pier to be given the same grade is in Clevedon, Somerset.

Unfortunately, over the years, the pier was allowed to fall into a state of disrepair and by 1975 it had been cut off from the shore. In December 2002, a walkway to the concert hall and pavilion collapsed. Within a month, another part of the concert hall had collapsed.

Two months later, in March 2003, the pavilion at the end of the pier sustained damage in a fire and could not be saved as firefighters could not reach it owing to the collapsed walkway. Then in May of the same year, another fire started in the remains of the concert hall. The fire was classed as 'suspicious' and so it has remained. A year later, in June 2004, high winds brought down what was left of the middle of the pier.

The West Pier Trust had been trying to get the pier restored for some years before these catastrophes. Even the collapse of the middle of the pier has not deterred them and they still hope they will be able to restore the West Pier to its former glory.

Festivals in Brighton & Hove

Brighton Festival takes place in May each year. Events include dance, theatre, music, books, and innovative performances. There are also processions like the Children's Parade and firework displays. Local artists and craftspeople take part in 'Open Houses' where they open their homes to the public to display and sell their work.

Brighton Fringe Festival runs at the same time as the Brighton Festival. The performers who take part in the Fringe are not booked but approach the organisers so there is a real mix of acts ranging from total amateur to seasoned professional. Venues range from open air to large temporary structures, usually seen at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The Great Escape, also in May, features three nights of bands and seminars with an emphasis on new artists.

Three veteran cars taking part in the 2011 race between London and Brighton.
Three veteran cars taking part in the 2011 race between London and Brighton. | Source

This is a typically English comedy set during the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. The Genevieve in the title is a 1904 veteran car owned by a young couple competing in the race. The couple's friends rivals are also competing and the initially friendly rivalry becomes more competitive the nearer the two couples get to Brighton.


London to Brighton Car Run

Often called the London to Brighton Veteran Car Rally, this is the longest running motoring event in the world.

It started in 1896 to celebrate the passing of the Locomotives on the Highway Act which raised the speed limit for light locomotives (cars) from 4 mile per hour to a heady 14mph and no longer required a man to walk in front of the car. This first event was called the Emancipation Run. Although 30 cars started the run, only 14 finished it in Brighton.

The next London to Brighton Veteran Car Run didn't take place until 1927 as a re-enactment of the original 1896 Run. Since then it has taken place annually on the first Sunday of November except during the Second World War and in 1947 when petrol rationing was in force. Since 1930 the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) have organised the event.

The event now attracts around 500 cars each year, all of which must have been built before 1905. Participants come from all over the world and have their vintage cars shipped to London so they can take part.

The Run starts at sunrise (about 7am in November) in Hyde Park and then does the 60 mile route mostly on the A23 and finishes in Madeira Drive, Brighton. The cars can arrive anytime from about 10am although many take much, much longer. The cars stay on display in Madeira Drive until 4.30pm.

See the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run

Your Opinions of Brighton and Hove

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I was thinking of doing a lens about the West pier, maybe still will, but this is the first lens I've seen about B&H (not Benson and Hedges!). Been living here 2 years now and can't see myself leaving.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Brighton and Hove sound fascinating. I loved seeing the Veteran Car Run.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 

      8 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Great lens. I only drove through Brighton once, so can't really say I have visited. Would like top go one day though. Lensrolling to my Bournemouth lens.

    • justholidays profile image


      9 years ago

      The Pier is something I've always dreamed about when it came to Brighton. We've had a small copy of it in Blankenberge, and I liked to play like if I would have been in Brighton when I was a child. Unfortunately, they restored it and now it looks ugly because it's all modern... Seems that marvelous monuments like these tend to disappear. I' so sorry... they were magnificent monuments!

    • Squidoo For You profile image


      10 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi, I have lived in Brighton all my life and I would say your guide is very accurate, especially when you mention 'Brighton pier' was originally called the palace pier. I would however disagree that you don't notice any change when you enter hove as the residents will inform you that it is hove 'actually' and noise and life of Brighton will fade.

      I would definitely direct anyone who asked me about Brighton to this lens.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Excellent lens (5*) I go to Brighton fairly frequently. I usually get the train from Richmond via Clapham Junction because it's so much easier than driving there (and I can then enjoy a pint in the pub on the pier).

    • rebeccahiatt profile image


      10 years ago

      Great lens. Love the photos too.

    • rebeccahiatt profile image


      10 years ago

      Great lens. Love the photos too.

    • bigjimj profile image


      10 years ago

      Nice lens! Thanks for joining the Squidoo City Guide.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image


      10 years ago

      Fabulous lens! I especially like the history of the piers. This is one to come back to again and again. Welcome to All Things Travel. Squid Angel Blessed.


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