History of Brighton

History of Brighton

The overall history of Brighton is that of an ancient fishing village which emerged as a health resort in the 18th century and grew into one of the largest towns in England by the 20th century.


The etymology of the name of Brighton lies in the Old English "Beorhthelmes tūn" (Beorhthelm's farmstead). This name has evolved through "Bristelmestune" (1086), "Brichtelmeston" (1198), "Brighthelmeston" (1493) and "Brighthelmston" (1816). "Brighton" came into common use in the early 19th century. [cite book|last=Glover|first=Judith|title=The Place Names of Sussex|year=1975|publisher=Batsford|location=London|id=ISBN 0-7134-2853-8]


The western section of the cliffs at Black Rock, near Brighton Marina are an unusual outcropping of palaeolithic Coombe Rock, revealing in section a paleocliff cut into Cretaceous Chalk. [cite book|last=Leslie, Kim and Short, Brian|editor=(Eds.)|year=1999|title=An Historical Atlas of Sussex|publisher=Phillimore|location=Chichester|id=ISBN 1-86077-112-2|pages=p.10] These rocks were formerly known as the "Elephant Beds" in reference to the fossilized material recovered by geologists and paleontologists. 200,000 years ago the beach was significantly higher and this clear strata can be observed preserved in the cliff. Protohumans (assumed to be the same species of hominid found at the Neander Valley) hunted various animals including mammoth along the shore. The preservation of this raised beach and associated evidence of a coastal paleolandscape has led to protected status for the cliff. This section can be seen directly behind the car-park of supermarket Asda.

Pre-Roman period

Whitehawk Camp is an early Neolithic causewayed enclosure c.3500 BC. The centre is some way towards the transmitter on the south side of Manor Road (which bisects the enclosure), opposite the Brighton Racecourse grandstand. Archaeological enquiry (by the Curwens in the 1930s and English Heritage in the 1990s) have determined four concentric circles of ditches and mounds, broken or "causewayed" in many places. Significant vestiges of the mounds remain and their arc can be traced by eye. [The site is unobstructed and may be visited] The building of a new housing estate in the early 1990s over the south-eastern portion of the enclosure damaged the archaeology and caused the loss of the ancient panoramic view.

The fate of a neolithic long barrow at Waldegrave Road is recorded. It was used as hardcore during the building of Balfour Road and workmen were regularly disturbed by the concentrations of human remains poking through their foundations. [ John Funnel, Chairman of Brighton and Hove Archaeology Society, on the audioguide in the Booth Museum, Dyke Road, Brighton]

More of pre-historic Brighton and Hove can be seen just north of the small retail park on Old Shoreham Road, built in the late 1990s over the site of Brighton's football ground. Here one can visit "The Goldstone". This is believed to have been ceremonial, and there are suggestions that it, together with now-vanished stones, may have formed an ancient circle. In the early 19th century a local farmer, fed up with romantic tourists, had the largest stone buried. It was exhumed in 1900.

After a scholarly review, the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity noted, "there are a concentration of Beaker burials on the fringes of the central chalklands around Brighton, and a later cluster of Early and Middle Bronze Age 'rich graves' in the same area." [cite web|title=University of Birmingham Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity: Sussex Barrows Project|url=http://www.arch-ant.bham.ac.uk/research/individuals/garwood/sussex.htm]

An important pre-Roman site is "Hollingbury Camp". Commanding panoramic views over the city, this Celtic Iron Age encampment is circumscribed by substantial earthwork outer walls with a diameter of approximately 300 metres. It is one of numerous hillforts found across southern Britain. Cissbury Ring, roughly convert|10|mi|km from Hollingbury, is suggested to have been the tribal "capital". [cite web|title=Information derived from National Trust|url=http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-global/w-localtoyou/w-south_east/w-south_east-countryside/w-south_east-places-west_sussex/w-south_east-places-west_sussex-cissbury.htm ]

Roman occupation

The Romans built villas throughout Sussex, including a villa at Brighton. At the time of its construction in the late 1st or 2nd century AD there was a stream running along what is now London Road. The villa was sited more or less at the water's edge, immediately south of Preston Park. The villa was excavated in the 1930s, prior to the building of a garage on the site. Numerous artefacts were found, as well as the foundations of the building. Locals remember that the garage owner had a small display of Roman statues and brooches on a shelf behind the till.Fact|date=February 2007

In Brighton museum, within the new Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society display (Autumn 2006), one can view two Roman figurines unearthed from the Brighton Roman Villa. In Stanmer Park, to the north of the city, is believed by the Society to have been a Roman temple.

A Roman road leads from Shoreham-by-Sea through Hove to Brighton, where it turns and leads north to Hassocks, a Roman industrial centre. No significant Roman settlement has been found in Brighton or Hove. However the presence of the Roman roads, the high number of Roman artifacts, and significant changes in geography (due to sedimentation and erosion) could mean that any possible settlement is either buried or may have been washed away by the sea. [cite web|title=Roman Britain-Novus Portus|url=http://www.roman-britain.org/places/brighton.htm]

Despite the Romano-British construction of numerous shore forts along the south coast (significant extant examples can be visited at Portsmouth to the West and Pevensey to the East) the battle to ward off Saxon raiders was eventually lost after the official withdrawal of Roman resources in AD 410.

axons and a non-literate culture

A Saxon burial area has been excavated around the Seven Dials area [ [http://archive.theargus.co.uk/2000/8/23/189860.html Boney fide surprise under floor in kitchen ] ] .

Middle Ages

After the Norman conquest, King William I conferred the barony of Lewes to his son-in-law William de Warenne. The Domesday Book of 1086 contains the first documentary evidence of a settlement on the modern site of Brighton. [cite book|last=Carder|first=Timothy|year=1990|title=The Encyclopedia of Brighton|pages=s.17|publisher=East Sussex County Libraries|id=ISBN 0-86147-315-9] Located in the rape of Lewes and in the "Welesmere" hundred, the settlement was made up of three manors, the first being described as "Bristelmestune".

Quotation|Ralph holds of William BRISTELMESTUNE. Brictric held it by grant (de demo) of Earl Godwin. In the time of King Edward, as (et) now, it was assessed for 5 1/2 hides. There is land for 3 ploughs. On the demesne is half a plough, and (there are) 18 villeins and 9 bordars with 3 ploughs and 1 serf. From gafol-rents 4,000 herrings. In the time of King Edward it was worth 8 pounds and 12 shillings; and afterwards 100 shillings; now 12 pounds.

In the same vill Widard holds of William 6 hides and 1 virgate, and for so much they are assessed. Three alodial tenants held them of King Edward, and could betake themselves whither they would. One of them had a hall, and villeins held the shares of the other two. There is land for 5 ploughs, and is (all) in one manor. On the demesne (is) 1 plough and a half, and (there are) 14 villeins and 21 bordars with 3 1/2 ploughs. There (are) 7 acres of meadow, and wood (land yielding) 3 swine. In Lewes (are) 4 haws. In the time of King Edward (this) was worth 10 pounds, and afterwards 8 pounds; now 12 pounds.

In the same place William de Wateville holds BRISTELMETUNE of William. Ulward held it for King Edward. Then, as (et)now, it was assessed for 5 1/2 hides. There is land for 4 ploughs. On the demensne is 1 plough, and (there are) 13 villeins and 11 bordars with 1 plough. There (is) a church. In the time of King Edward it was worth 10 pounds, and afterwards 8 pounds; now 12 pounds.
Domesday Book [As transliterated in cite book|last=Page|first=William|editor=|title=The Victoria History of the County of Sussex Volume One|year=1905|publisher=Constable|location=London]

The 12th century font in Brighton's old parish church of St Nicholas is described by Pevsner as "the best piece of Norman carving in Sussex". [cite book|last=Pevsner and Nairn|title=Buildings of England: Sussex|publisher=Penguin Books|year=1965]

St Peter's Church at Preston Manor, Brighton, currently under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, is 14th century.Fact|date=February 2007 A medieval fresco depicting the murder of Thomas Beckett was discovered under paint following a fire in the early 20th century. The fresco is among the oldest art in Brighton.Fact|date=February 2007 Two elm trees in the grounds of Preston Manor are the oldest English elms in the world. They are thought to be c.850 years old.Fact|date=February 2007

St Andrew's Church, the former parish church of Hove, has a 13th century nave. The exterior is entirely 19th century, or later.Fact|date=February 2007 St Bartholomew's Priory stood on the site of the present town hall. A small dispatchment of Cluniacs established the monastery submitting themselves to a regular life under the Rule of St Benedict.Fact|date=February 2007

14th Century

In 1312 King Edward II granted market rights to the village and the right to hold an annual fair on the eve, day and morrow of St. Bartholomew 23rd,24th,25th August. [cite book|title=The Victoria History of Sussex Volume Seven|last=Salzman|first=L.F.|editor=(ed.)|publisher=Oxford University Press|year=1940|pages=p.253|id=ISBN 0-7129-0589-8]

16th and 17th centuries

In June 1514, the fishing village (by then known as "Brighthelmstone") was burnt to the ground by the French as part of a war which began as a result of the Treaty of Westminster (1511). Subsequently in 1545 the residents of the town petitioned the monarch for defensive cannon. Their petition featured an illustrated map showing the French raid, a copy of which can be seen in Hove Museum.

This map is the earliest known picture of Brighton. It shows a site laid out in a rectangular shape about a quarter of a mile square. The lower town of houses on the foreshore can be seen with a series of sloping ways rising eastwards up the cliff. Middle Street came into existence during the 16th century and West Street, North Street and East Street were fully developed by the 16th century. However the interior between Middle Street and East Street remained undeveloped and was knows as the "Hempshares". [Salzman (1940), p.245]

The lower town on the foreshore suffered from sea erosion. In 1665 there were 113 houses out of a former 135. However as only 24 of these houses paid Hearth Tax in that year, it is suspected that many of these dwellings were mere hovels. [Salzman (1940), p.245]

Deryk Carver, a brewer from Black Lion Street, was arrested by the Sheriff, Edward Gage, for contradicting the dictats of state religion. Their readings were in English and they rejected the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and its continuing role as an instrument of state power. Carver and others were dispatched for trial in London and ultimately executed at the county town of Lewes. Carver was stood in a barrel of pitch and burned alive. [ [http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?862 Banner of Truth Trust General Articles ] ]

After his defeat at the Battle of Worcester, Charles II escaped to France through Brighton and finally Shoreham-by-Sea. This event is remembered annually by the Royal Escape yacht race. [Carder (1990). s.35] The tomb of the boat-owner who was instrumental in the escape of Charles II, Nicholas Tettersell, is to be seen in St Nicholas churchyard, Brighton. [ [http://www.regencybrighton.com/outabout/st_nicholas/ St. Nicholas Church | Out & About | Regency Square Area Society ] ]

18th century decline and later prosperity

By the 1640s "Brighthelmstone" had a population of over 4,000 and was the largest settlement in Sussex. Its economy was dominated by the fishing industry. [Carder (1990), s.17(e)]

However this period of relative prosperity was followed by a slow decline into the 18th century due to a fall in the demand for fish and sea erosion. The Great Storm of 1703 caused considerable damage to the town. Daniel Defoe reported that the storm:

A second storm in 1705 destroyed the lower town and covered the wreckage of the houses with shingle. The fortifications of the west cliff were destroyed in 1748. [Salzman, L (1940), p.245] Proposed sea defences at a cost of £8,000 were described by Defoe as "more than the whole town was worth". By the mid-18th century the population had fallen to 2,000 [Carder (1990), s.17(e)]

Health resort and Royal patronage in the late Eighteenth Century

During the 1730s, Dr Richard Russell of Lewes began to prescribe the medicinal use of seawater at "Brighthelmstone" for his patients. He wrote a tract advocating the drinking of seawater and sea-bathing in 1750. In 1753 he erected a large house on the southern side of the Steine for his own and patients' accommodation.

In 1758, Dr. John Awsiter, another prominent local doctor, also wrote a paper advocating drinking seawater and seabathing.

Still another local doctor, Anthony Relhan (ca. 1715-1776) published a tract in 1761 advocating the consumption of mineral waters and sea-bathing. This increased interest in the use of the local mineral waters for drinking and bathing. By 1769 the cornerstone of the Brighton Baths was laid.

After Dr Russell's death in 1759, his house was let to seasonal visitors including the brother of George III the Duke of Cumberland in 1771. On 7 September 1783 the Prince Regent (then the Prince of Wales) visited his uncle. The Prince's subsequent patronage of the town for the next 40 years was central to the rapid growth of the town and the transition of the fishing village of "Brighthelmston" to the modern town of "Brighton".

Currently enjoying restoration, Marlborough House on the Old Steine was built by Robert Adam in 1765 and purchased shortly afterwards by the eponymous Duke. By 1780, development of the Regency terraces had started and the town quickly became the fashionable resort of Brighton. The growth of the town was further encouraged when, in 1786, the young Prince Regent later King George IV, rented a farmhouse in order to escape from public life. He spent much of his leisure time in the town and constructed the exotic Royal Pavilion, which is the town's best-known landmark. The Kemp Town estate (at the heart of the Kemptown district) was constructed between 1823 and 1855, and is a good example of Regency architecture.

19th Century

Brighton's popularity with the rich, famous, and royal continued in the 19th Century, and saw the building of a number of imposing seafront hotels, including the Bedford Hotel of 1829, the Grand Hotel of 1864, and the Metropole Hotel of 1890.

Gideon Algernon Mantell lived on the Steine close to the seafront in the early part of the nineteenth century; his residency is commemorated on a plaque at the house. Mantell identified the iguanadon from a fossilised tooth found locally and was an early theorist of a prehistoric age when the earth was ruled by giant lizards!

Brighton came to be of importance to the railway industry after the building of the Brighton railway works in 1840.

In the latter half of the 19th century a large number of churches were built in Brighton. This was in large part due to the efforts of Reverend Arthur Douglas Wagner, a prominent figure in the Anglo-Catholic movement of the time. He is thought to have spent his entire fortune on building a number of churches including St. Bartholomews — an imposing red brick building, built to the size and proportions of the biblical ark. [ [http://www.allsaintschurch.org/rectnews/032606lf.htm All Saints church newsletter] ] Other notable Victorian churches in Brighton include the "Parish Church of St. Michael and All Angels", which has stained glass windows by the pre-Raphaelites, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Ford Maddox-Brown and Philip Webb. [ [http://www.acny.org.uk/4811/ Information on St. Michael and All Angels church] ]

First World War

Between 1 December 1914 and 15 February 1916 the Royal Pavilion was used as a military hospital for Indian soldiers with a total of 724 beds. It admitted a total of 4,306 patients. From 20 April 1916 until 21 July 1919, the Pavilion was designated the Pavilion General Hospital (for limbless men) and admitted 6,085 patients. [Carder (1990), s.161(e)] The 2nd Eastern General Hospital occupied the boys' grammar school, elementary schools and the workhouse. [Leslie (1999), p.116] Brighton was the location of the Third Australian Hospital and also the first hospital in Britain for shell shock cases. During the war 233 London, Brighton and South Coast Railway ambulance trains carried 30,070 patients to Brighton. [Leslie (1999), p.117]

In June 1916 the sound of the guns firing at the Battle of the Somme were heard on the Brighton College playing field during cricket. [cite book|last=Jones|first=Martin|year=1995|title=Brighton College 1845-1995|publisher=Phillimore|location=Chichester|id=ISBN 0-85033-978-2|pages=p.174]

The Brighton War Memorial in Old Steine was unveiled by Earl Beatty on 7 October 1922 bearing the names of 2,597 men and 3 women of the town who died in military service. [Carder (1990), s.216(a)]

The Chattri is a memorial to the Indian soldiers who died at the Royal Pavilion hospital. It is situated on the Downs to the north of Patcham on the outskirts of the town. It is an octagonal monument built on the place of cremation and was unveiled by the Prince of Wales on 1 February 1921. [Carder (1990), s.122(h)]

econd World War

The beaches were closed at 5:00 p.m. on 2 July 1940 and were mined and guarded with barbed wire. Both the Palace Pier and West Pier had sections of their decking removed to prevent their use as landing stages in a possible enemy invasion. The town was declared no longer to be a "safe area" and 30,000 people were evacuated. [Carder (1990), s.216(b)]

Brighton was attacked from the air in 56 recorded bombings between July 1940 and February 1944. [cite book|last=Rowland|first=David|year=2003|title=Out of the Blue|publisher=Finsbury Publishing|location=Peacehaven|id=ISBN 0-9539392-2-7] On 14 September 1940 the Odeon Cinema, Kemp Town was bombed killing four children and two adults along with a further 49 people in the surrounding area. [Carder (1990), s.216(b)]

At 12:25 p.m. on 25 May 1943 the town was attacked by 25 to 30 German Focke-Wulf 190 aircraft. 22 bombs of 500 kg were dropped and the streets were machine-gunned during the five-minute raid. Fatalities included ten men, twelve women and two children. An additional 58 people were seriously injured and a further 69 people were slightly injured. 150 houses were made uninhabitable and more than 500 people were made homeless. One of the central piers in the 20-metre high London Road railway viaduct was demolished. There was severe damage to railway workshops and rolling stock. [Rowland (2003), p.101-102]

By the end of the war 198 people had been killed during the air raids. [Carder (1990), s.216(b)] On VE Day held on 8 May 1945, the Mayor read a proclamation of victory from the Town Hall. [Carder (1990), s.216(b)]

Post-war 20th Century

In many ways, Brighton's post-war growth has been a continuation of the "fashionable Brighton" which drew the Georgian upper classes. The growth in mass tourism stimulated numerous Brighton businesses to serve the insatiable appetites of the holidaying masses. Pubs and restaurants are abundant. An important post-war development was the 1961 founding of Sussex University, designed by Sir Basil Spence. The University acquired a strong academic reputation, and a certain reputation for radicalism. Brighton, with its vibrant cultural scene, is hard to imagine without the thousands of students from Sussex and the more recent Brighton University.

Other post-war developments radically changed the centre of Brighton, in the name of creating much needed low-cost local housing. An example is the virtual replacement of Richmond street to make way for tower blocks in the vicinity. A notable feature of this area was a fence at the junction of the present Elmore Road and Richmond Street which once stopped carts from running away down the steep hill.

In the same area of the town there have been further developments, with student accommodation at the bottom of Southover Street being built in the early 1990s near the site of the Phoenix Brewery. An adjacent housing association development at the bottom of Albion Hill, behind the Phoenix Gallery, incorporates the houses once known as "Trumpton", formerly a long-term squatted dwelling, its colourful appearance much in fitting with the area's Bohemian demographic. Trumpton arose alongside the politics of the Brighton Justice? movement and the creation of a social space in a nearby squatted former courthouse.

The period of the 1970s and '80s saw much of the town becoming somewhat dilapidated. The seafront in particular was much less developed than today, with far fewer pubs. There was notorious sub-standard rental accommodation run by slum landlords. High levels of unemployment in the central districts led to a strong unemployed counter-culture involving squatting, drugs and summer festivals, very much at odds with the mainstream population. Whilst a minority of the population, they had a strong and visible presence, often with brightly dyed hair or dreadlocks, and were overtly political, vocal in their hatred of the Margaret Thatcher government.

This period is punctuated by a natural phenomenon: the Great Hurricane of 1987. The Level and Steine were decimated by this event with many great elm trees lost. The Pavilion and the Church of St. Peter suffered substantial damage.

Embassy Court is one of the most unusual buildings on the seafront at Brighton and Hove, although the reasons for this have differed over the years. When built in 1935, designed by architect Welles Coates, the building contrasted sharply with the more sedate and ornamental architecture of King's Road, and was suggested as a prototype for a proposed total redevelopment. However, by the 1990s the structure drew comment because of the state of its decay. The building made the local press after chunks of render and windows fell from the building onto the street below, and it appeared until recently that it might suffer the same ignomious fate met by the nearby West Pier, which all but succumbed to the elements and suspected arsonists in early 2004. Eventually this fate was avoided: a consortium formed by residents and owners were able to wrestle the freehold of the building from the then management company, and restoration began in 2004, being completed by autumn 2005.

Social change during the 20th Century has seen many of the 19th Century townhouses converted to flats, along with the mews buildings which once served many of them.

References and notes

* [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=11640004&dopt=Abstract "Doctor Brighton: Richard Russell and the sea water cure", Sakula A., J Med Biogr. 1995 Feb;3(1):30-3.]
* "Glandular Diseases, or a Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water in the Affections of the Glands", Richard Russell, 1750.
* "Thoughts on Brighthelmston, concerning sea-bathing and drinking sea-water with some directions for their use,"John Awsiter, 1768.

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