Cornwall & The South: Pt 31 – Brighton

One of the English South East Coast’s most famous spots is the city of Brighton, noted for its fun, frivolity and happiness…

Brighton:

Status: City of Brighton & Hove Unitary Authority, East Sussex, City, England

Date: 10/08/2016

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Brighton Beach, Brighton Pavilion, Pavilion Gardens, Brighton Dome, Clock Tower, Derelict Pier, Theatre Royal, National Westminster Bank Building, Grand Hotel, Steine Gardens, Brighton County Court House, Brighton & Hove Herald Building, The Chapel Royal, Royal Insurance Company Building, Pavilion Buildings, Max Miller Statue, South Africa War Memorial, Norfolk Hotel, i360 Tower etc

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Brighton is a city that is full of famous landmarks that people who haven’t even been will be able to recite. One of these is Brighton Pier, the 8th longest pier in the country, at 1,719 ft long.

It is officially titled the “Brighton Marine Palace & Pier”, and opened to the public in 1899. Despite being the more famous of Brighton’s piers, it was actually the third and final to be built.

It replaced the old “Royal Suspension Chain Pier” of 1823 which lay to the East, and was destroyed by storms in 1896. The wooden piles which supported it are still visible at low tide on the beach. The other Pier was the “West Pier” but more on that in a moment.

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A few years after the Pier opened, a large Concert Hall was built at the seaward end, and eventually became a Theatre. Unfortunately a storm in 1973 ploughed a barge into the supports beneath the Theatre, and it was eventually demolished.

It would be replaced by an arcade in the 1980’s, which still operates today.

Looking out across the Beach to the West of Brighton Pier you will see the “West Pier” which I mentioned earlier.

Historically it was the second pier to be built, in 1866. It contained a Concert Hall at the seaward end, like the Palace Pier would later build. Sadly the Pier closed due to lack of funds in 1975, and it slowly became derelict. Its final fate was sealed in 2003 when the Pier caught fire, leaving just the burnt out shell of the Concert Hall alone amongst the waves.

There have been many suggestions on ways to renovate the Pier, with the most promising being the construction of the “British Airways i360 Observation Tower” which will be able to rise up and down. It will sit on the promenade directly opposite the old Pier, and it is hoped that should it be a success, the Pier will be rebuilt and they can form a joint attraction. The Tower is due to open in Summer 2016.

You also get a great view back at the promenade, with the Brighton Wheel another new landmark. If you look to the left towards the old West Pier, you can see a large tower rising up into the clouds on the promenade. This is the aforementioned i360 observation tower.

Even though the weather wasn’t brilliant, the water still manages to look quite an attractive aquamarine colour.

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Just across from the Palace Pier is the Brighton Sea Life Centre, a famous landmark which opened back in 1872, to designs by Eugenius Birch (1818 – 1884, English Architect). These dates are quite important, as it allows the Aquarium to claim the title of the Oldest Aquarium in the World that is still in Operation.

The main body of the Aquarium has changed little since the 1870’s, however the exterior facade was redesigned by David Edwards in the 1920’s, giving it a classic feel.

It remains one of Brighton’s most popular attractions, and you can find out more on their official website here.

Being from the North, Brighton evokes a strong familiarity from my trips to Blackpool, which also has multiple piers, a long promenade and its own Sea Life Centre. Brighton will even soon have its own famous tower. Indeed, Blackpool is known as the Brighton of the North, but on a smaller scale.

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Away from the Shingle, and the Waves lapping around the supports of Brighton Pier, the town centre contains hundreds of different landmarks, gardens and architecturally significant buildings.

Just round the corner from the Brighton Sea Life Centre, we entered “Steine Gardens”, at the centre of which sits the “Victoria Fountain”. Designed by Amon Henry Wilds (1784 – 1857, English Architect) in 1846, the main body of the fountain is propped up by the spiralling tails of three ornately sculpted giant dolphins.

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The Northern boundary of Steine Gardens is St James’s Street, which separates it from another, smaller set of gardens, which contains the Brighton War Memorial, shown above.

Completed in 1922, it was designed by John W Simpson in memory of all the soldiers from Brighton who fell in WWI, and of course later WWII. Clad in Portland Stone from Dorset, the Monument is one of the more intricate memorials we have seen on our travels.

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Heading North along Pavilion Parade, and round to Church Street from the Memorial, we entered perhaps the most famous area of Brighton. The architecture here is incredible, and puts us in mind of a beautiful city on the Indian Sub-Continent, rather than the sunny beaches of England.

The man behind Brighton’s architectural gems was non other than the then Prince of Wales, Future King George IV (1762 – 1830), who employed an architect named John Nash (1752 – 1835) to complete his grand Pavilion to act as a Royal Residence in the city. A statue of the King has stood at the corner of the Pavilion Gardens since 1828, and behind him sits the Pavilion’s North Gate of 1832, topped with a distinctive Copper Dome.

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Despite the temptation to run straight round to the Pavilion itself, we decided to put off the big reveal for a little longer, as a few other buildings were also of interest.

The Pavilion Gardens are also home to the stunning “Brighton Dome”, which backs onto Church Street directly behind the North Gate. It was built in 1808 as a large Riding School with attached Stables by William Porden (1755 – 1822). The Riding School itself was housed under a large dome, which eventually became barracks for mounted cavalry. By 1867 it had been converted into a Theatre, whilst the following year the West Wing of the School became a Corn Exchange.

The section of the Dome you can see above was the Stables, built in 1808 during construction of the main Dome, and the Pavilion itself. The building has been extended numerous times, and in 1873 it was converted into an exhibition space. Today it houses a Museum, Art Gallery and Library.

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Sat opposite the old Stable Block is one historic building in particular, the stunning, two storey Former County Court Building from 1869. In 1865, the two parts of Sussex, (West & East) were made separate for the purposes of the courts, and administratively by 1888, requiring a new East Sussex County Court.

Designed in an old Gothic Style by an architect named Sorby, it was in use until 1967. A small extension exists to the rear of the building, as the Church Street entrance was mainly for the use of the Judge. Although no longer in use, the building is available to hire, and you can use the old Courtroom etc.

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This really is the heart of Brighton, and there is just landmark after landmark around the edge of the Pavilion Gardens.

Next up was a statue of Max Miller (1894 – 1963, born Thomas Henry Sargent, famous English Comedian from Brighton). A plaque can be found at 160 Marine Parade, also in Brighton, where Max lived for ten years during World War II.

The statue of Max was created by Peter Webster in 2005, and it has stood here outside the Pavilion since 2007.

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Opposite Max’s statue sits the “Theatre Royal” which was built concurrently with the Pavilion, starting in 1806 with the permission of King George IV.

The original building was completed in 1807, and a grand auditorium was added in 1866 by Charles J. Phipps (1835 – 1897) in an effort to make the Theatre more popular, and boost ticket sales. It was a hit, and became another Brighton landmark. The exterior facade of the Theatre was rebuilt in 1894, resulting in the typically Victorian red brick which adorns it.

We had by now walked pretty much full circle around the edge of the Pavilion Gardens, and it was time to explore inside…

We had finally arrived at the Brighton Pavilion, which was by far the building I was most looking forwards to seeing. Whilst the West facade is visible from the road running past the War Memorial, it was here we could get up close and personal, and get some great photo’s of the exterior detail.

As I said earlier, it was the future George IV who decided to build a new holiday residence in Brighton. He purchased a small Farmhouse which already occupied the site, facing out towards Steine Gardens. Various architects then helped him realise his dream between 1787 and the early 1800’s. By now the original house was a grand Pavilion with various Dining Rooms, a Conservatory and a Library. In 1815 John Nash was then employed by the future King to complete the whole design, and it was he who brought it all together in the familiar incredible design we are all familiar with.

The adjacent Riding School was built on a plot of land George purchased during construction of the Pavilion, with building work starting in 1803, and being completed in 1808.

Both King George IV, and King William IV (1765 – 1837) made regular use of the Pavilion, however the next Monarch, Victoria (1819 – 1901), was no fan of Brighton, and instead built her own retreat, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight. To help fund this, she sold the Pavilion to the City of Brighton.

During World War I the Pavilion became a large Military Hospital, and befitting the Pavilions Indian Architecture, it mainly catered to patients from the British Indian Army. Nearly 2,500 servicemen would be treated here, and after the War the Pavilion became a large Museum. Visitors can explore the old rooms that King George would have lived in, and discover 200 years of history.

Along with the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery in the Brighton Dome, the Pavilion Gardens contain the finest attractions in Brighton.

We exited the Pavilion Gardens through the “South Gate”, shown above. It is much newer than the other gates into the garden, having been completed in 1921.

It brings you out into a small square, home to a row of buildings on either side known as the “Pavilion Buildings”. Numbers 2 & 3 are now occupied by a British Bar Chain, however originally it was built for the “Brighton & Hove Herald” as their new head offices in 1934. The Paper had begun printing in 1806, and moved into its new offices here, until it became part of the Brighton & Hove Gazette in the 1970’s.

This whole street is actually relatively new, as when King William IV was in residence at the Pavilion, he had special Guest Rooms and Servants Quarters built on this site in 1831. Just 20 years later they were demolished, and the Pavilion Buildings were erected, although Numbers 2 & 3 wouldn’t join them for another 80 years.

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Coming away from the Pavilion Buildings, we turned out onto North Street, which was once the very heart of Brighton itself. During the 18th century it was the main road between Brighton and London.

Many important buildings were constructed on the street, including “The Chapel Royal”, the original version of which was completed in 1975 by Thomas Saunders for the Vicar of Brighton, Rev Thomas Hudson.

The main body of the Church was extensively remodelled in the late 19th century by Arthur Blomfield, giving the building its more modern Victorian design.

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Heading West away from the Chapel Royal we passed “Number 163, North Street” which backs directly onto the Royal, out of shot behind it.

It’s another good example of one of the large imposing buildings which lined this important thoroughfare at the turn of the 20th century. Built out of stunning Pink Granite in 1904 for a local Insurance Company, it is widely regarded as one of the finest buildings in Brighton.

The designers were a firm called Clayton & Black (Founded in 1876 in Brighton by Charles Edward Clayton, and Ernest Black). They are well known around the city, and in neighbouring Hove for their work.

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Clayton & Black were also responsible for another impressive structure, just a few doors further up the street. “Numbers 155 – 158, North Street” was completed in 1923 and was home to a new branch of the National Westminster Bank until the 1990’s. It was then sold off and converted into a bar, as another branch of the same Bank was located nearby.

Today it is a JD Wetherspoons Pub called the “Post & Telegraph”. Before the new Bank building was constructed, one of the buildings on the site was occupied by a local paper called the “Brighton Gazette, Hove Post & Sussex Telegraph”, hence the name of the pub. The paper moved elsewhere, and continued publishing until 1981.

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At the Western end of North Street, where it meets Queen Square, Dyke Road and Western Road stands the Iconic Brighton Clock Tower.

Built in 1888 from the same Pink Granite as was used in Number 163, it commemorates Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.

On the four faces of the tower sit four round portraits:

North: Queen Victoria

East: The Prince of Wales (The future Edward VII)

South: Prince Albert

West: The Princess of Wales (Alexandra of Denmark, wife of Edward VII)

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We cut down West Street from the Clock Tower and came back out onto the promenade, and took some time to enjoy the vast shingle Beach that separates the city from the waves. Brighton Pier loomed ahead of us, the seagulls called, and the sea air was all around us.

Brighton is a great place to visit, and was certainly one of the highlights of our few days in Sussex.

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Heading West up the promenade on the way out of Brighton we passed the cities most famous Hotel, which was the scene of a tragedy on October 12th, 1984.

Margaret Thatcher (1925 – 2013, British Prime Minister) came to power in 1979 as head of a Conservative Government. In 1984 she held her party conference here at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. It’s a fabulous building, designed by John Whichcord Jr (1823 – 1885, English Architect) and completed in 1864.

Sadly there was another visitor to the Grand Hotel that weekend, as members of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) had also arrived. They had been involved in a violent campaign to try and get the British out of Northern Ireland, with little success. Led by Patrick Magee, they planted a bomb in Room 629, and set a time delay so it would detonate when he was clear. When the blast occurred, it didn’t reach as far as the Prime Minister’s Bedroom in an adjacent room, leaving Margaret and Dennis Thatcher unharmed. It did however sadly claim five lives, and over 30 other people were injured.

The Hotel was rebuilt, and Thatcher herself attended the reopening ceremony in 1986.

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A few blocks further West along the promenade from the Grand Hotel stands the “South African War Memorial”. It refers to the Second Boer War, fought by the British in what would become South Africa between 1899 – 1902.

Dedicated sometime around 1905, the Memorial pays tribute to the soldiers of the “Royal Sussex Regiment” who were killed fighting in the war. Serenading their fight is a tall, bronze figure of a Regimental Trumpeter, atop the Memorial.

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Our final stop in Brighton was further again up the Promenade, where we stopped outside the Mercure Hotel, which opened as the Norfolk Hotel in 1866. Designed by Horatio Nelson Goulty (1832 – 1869, English Architect) it is another in a long line of impressive Victorian hotels which line Brighton’s sea front, showcasing the grandeur of the era.

Brighton is an incredible City, and has more landmarks than we could possibly hope to see in one trip. There are almost three parts of the city, the first being the Promenade, with the Pier’s, the Beach and the exotic Hotels. The second is the Pavilion Gardens and the many stunning buildings that inhabit, and border it. The third is then the shopping streets, the commercial heart of a city which is one of the major centres in the South East of England.

It has fantastic transport links, with direct trains all the way into Central London, as well as West towards Southampton, with branch lines off to Portsmouth, Littlehampton, and Bognor Regis. The other routes by rail into the city go as far as Worcester and Bedford towards the Midlands.

Gatwick Airport, the second largest airport in the UK, is only half an hour away by road, and also accessible via direct trains. The A27 runs past the City, towards the M27/Southampton in the West, and Eastbourne in the East. When you reach Gatwick at Crawley you can also join the M23 for access to the London Orbital Motorway, the M25, with the other major routes around the country radiating off from there.

The rest of our holiday would mainly focus on Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and Kent, however we had seen some beautiful places across East & West Sussex, and Brighton was no exception.

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