Brighton in old picture postcards

Brighton in old picture postcards

:   John Montgomery
:   Brighton
:   Sussex, East
:   United Kingdom
:   978-90-288-2725-7
:   144
:   EUR 16.95 Incl BTW *

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The seaside town of Brighton, in Sussex, claims to be England's Queen of Watering Places. lts name is apt for a cheerful, sophisticated, rather bohemian pleasure resort, but before the nineteenth century the town was generally called Brighthelmston. The name Brighton first occurred in 1660, when Charles 11 was King, but it was not used officially until 1810. As many as fifty variations of the earlier name are known, including Brighthelmestone, Brightelmstead, and Bright-Hampstead, and in Domesday Book it is called Brightelmestune. The nam es are probably derived from Brithelm's Tun, or farm. In 1514 the whole of the small town, except for the parish church, was looted and burned in a raid by the French, so that almost nothing of the mediaeval town now exists, and our photographs are therefore dominated by Regency, Victorian, and Edwardian buildings, squares, streets, and events.

In 1750 Dr. Russell of Lewes published a book advising patients to bathe in and drink sea water, as a cure for skin and stomach disorders. The small fishing town then became a spa, and when George, Prince of Wales, discovered it in 1783 he went there, not as Horace Walpole claimed, to escape from his father George 111, but because he suffered fr om swellings in the neck. His patronage of the town and his building of the Royal Pavillon as a seaside palace changed the small community into a fashionable, expanding social centre. During the next ten years the population doubled; Bond Street and Grand Parade were developed; Church Street, an outlying track called Spring Walks, had 34 houses; by the summer of 1794 there were 10,000 residents in the town, and many seasonal visitors.

One of Queen Victoria's first acts, in 1837, was to approve

the construction of a railway linking London with Brighton. Opened in 1841, it brought prosperity to coastal Sussex, making London-by-the-Sea accessible to the middle and lower classes. Tens of thousands of workers, trapped for most of the year in factories, shops, offices, and mean streets, were now able to enjoy a walk along the promenade, a dip in the ocean, a saunter above the waves on the pier, and the glitter of the sun on the golden domes of the Pavilion. There were fishing boats, paddle steamers, wonderous fish in the Aquarium, walks to be taken over the downs, visits to the theatres, concert parties on the beach, and trips to be made by horse omnibus to the Devil's Dyke or Rottingdean. A seaside holiday was the highlight of a hardworking year. For the rieh there were large, exclusive hotels with palm courts and hundreds of servants, while the middle classes rented houses, flats, or rooms. In the backstreets there were rows of boarding houses and hundreds of public houses and ale shops, always full and noisy. There were also many beggars.

In 1885 the author Richard Jefferies described the seafront as 'A Piccadilly crowd by the sea - exactly the same style of people you meet in Piccadilly, but freer in dress, and particulady in hats', On the beach most women used sunshades or umbrellas to keep off the sun. They liked to keep white, because sunburned or dark skins were strictly for foreigners. Before the days of deckchairs, visitors sat on promenade and beach benches, while every kind of entertainer roamed the seafront - buskers, minstrels, acrobats, jugglers, conjurors, blacked-up minstrels, Punch and Judy men, and beggars of all ages, while military bands played on the piers and in the several ornamental bandstands.

The first two picture postcards published in England, in

1890, were of Brighton and Bristol. Pictorial cards are believed to have started when a German soldier, in the Franco-Prussian war, sent a card on which he had sketched a battle scene, after which the authorities then sanctioned specially printed cards showing the places visited by the troops. Pictures from captured French towns showed German families that the boys were really there. When the idea reached England, the govermnent granted permission to Messrs. Valentine and Sons to pro duce a postcard of Brighton, and to Messrs. J. Baker of Clifton to pro duce a card showing Bristol. Published at almost the same time, they started a service which reached its peak of popularity in 1900-1910, the great period of the English picture postcard. Stamps were then cheap, there were several postal deliveries every day, and few homes had telephones. Sending a postcard for a halfpenny was therefore a popular means of communication.

Nearly every local view and event was recorded on the halfpenny or penny sepia or coloured cards. Visitors sent home pictures of the seafront, promenades, park views, beaches, rough seas, piers, pleasure steamers, trams, and all the principal squares, roads, and buildings, confident that a card posted today would reach nearly any town in Great Britain tomorrow. The postal service was so reliable that the sender could safely scribble the words: 'We shall be back at 4.30 pm tomorrow,' or 'Catching the 3. pm to Victoria, Tuesday.'

Our collection of postcards and photographs of Brighton between 1880 and 1930 has been carefully selected to portray aspects of the past. People talk loosely about 'the good old days', but of course they were good for sorne, and bad for others. Life was not all sparkle and sunshine, but few

photographers portrayed the slums and mean backstreets, or the poverty of the town. Only one of our cards dates from before 1880, a rare picture of a shipwreck taken twenty years earlier. And we have managed to find some pietures that on close inspeetion reveal that behind the big hotels and parks there were some grim, neglected areas where the sun seldom penetrated.

Our object is to present a survey of the day before yesterday with which you can, standing in the same places as the original photographers, observe how the town's buildings, views, fashions, and landmarks have changed. This is a series of nostalgie and informative views of old Brighton from whieh the reader may note the visible changes, while wondering at the way our grandparents and great-grandparents lived.

Acknowledgemen ts

The author and publishers gratefully thank the several people who have kindly lent cards and photographs for publication. They include Carolyn Jacobs of Brighton Reference Library; Robert and Terenee Jeeves of Coastal Stamp Auctions and Branch 2 Postcard Saloon at 36 Queen's Road, Brighton; J.A.L. Franks Ltd., 22 Bond Street, Brighton; Rex Wallace of the Good Olde Days cigarette card shop, 39 Gloucester Road, Brighton; A.G. Elliott of Hurst Crescent, Portslade, Sussex; and Margaret Atkinson of the Theatre Bookshop, 26 New Road, Brighton.

Some of the cards have been published in the pages of the Brighton and Hove Gazette and Herald, to whom thanks are also due.

1. Apart from the sea and the bracing air, John Nash's Royal Pavillon is probably Brighton's greatest tourist asset. This card, posted in 1906, shows the east side as it looked before modern restoration. The Prince of Wales, later to become Regent, and subsequently King George IV, began building his palace by the sea in 1787, and it was completed in 1822, but the fabric has needed constant attention for the last fifty years. King William IV and Queen Adelaide lived there, but Queen Victoria found that it lacked privacy, and when she moved to Osborne, in the Isle of Wight, the Pavilion was offered for sale, and in 1849 was fortunately bought for the town for t50,000 by an astute town clerk named Lewis Slight. In 1863 Queen Victoria returned many of the decorations and fittings which she had removed, and in 1955 Queen Elizabeth II returned on permanent loan a great deal of the original furniture.

2. This is what the south gate of the Royal Pavilion looked like in about 1904, before the entrance was removed after the 1914-1918 war to make way for the present heavy stone gateway commemorating the use of the palace buildings as an Indian military hospital. In Victorian times this was a public highway, an extension of East Street running north to join the London Road. Perhaps understandably, Queen Victoria found that her ancestor's seaside villa lacked privacy; passers-by peered in through the windows in the hope of seeing her and Prince Albert. The Pavillon no longer has through traffic, and the south gate looks quite different today. When this postcard was published, the people of Brighton were not particularly interested in the former royal palace, which had become neglected. But since the 1939-1945 war it has, through restoration and careful preservation, become one of England's leading tourist attractions.

, ,.

jfortngafe entrance to pavilion. 13righlon.

3. Our eard shows the ornate main entranee to the Prinee Regent's palaee, the Royal Pavillon, as it looked in about 1908. The extravagant1y gilded oriental building, whieh now attraets many thousands of visitors every year, has been renovated and restored many times sinee this picture was taken. The late Vietorians taak litt1e notiee of the treasure in their midst, perhaps beeause in earlier days it had not always been praised. Sydney Smith said that 'the dame of St Paul's must have eome down to Brighton and pupped'; William Hazlitt ealled it 'a eolleetion of stone pumpkins and pepper boxes'; William Cobbett said it reminded him of the Kremlin. In spite of adverse eriticism, what was onee ealled Prinny's eostly folly, has sinee had eonsiderable sums of money spent on it, with experts making it look as it did in Regeney days,

j 7 BRIGHTO::-:. - Castie Square and Pauilion Entrance. - ,'.

4. This is how Castle Square and the south gate of the Royal Pavillon looked like from East Street in 1900. The awning blind of Hannington's famous department store, still popular today, may be seen on the left. On the right, a horse bus is setting down passengers outside what is now a bank building. The Pavillon Creamery, under the clock in the centre of the picture, has been a restaurant ever since. In those days everyone ware hats, and even small boys ware caps. Straw hats were also popular. Today there is a pedestrian crossing, with traffic lights, on the left, in North Street, and the volume of vehicles would make wandering across the raad a dangerous venture. In the distance is the original gate of the Royal Pavilion, since replaced by the present heavier and uglier gateway.

s. The interior of the Royal Pavillon has always been spectacular, as this picture of John Nash's magnificent state banqueting room, taken in the late 1920's, shows. It is even more elaborate today, being fully furnished with many ofthe beautiful objects returned to the palace from Windsor and Buckingharn Palace by a succession of monarchs, from Queen Victoria to Elizabeth 11. The fema1e figure on the right wall is said to represent Lady Conyngharn, with whom George IV was in love. The lamp standards were returned with other treasures by George V, at the request of his consart Queen Mary, who had a great affection for the building, and wished to see it restored to its former grandeur. Visitors looking at this picture before going inside the banqueting room will marvel at the attention which has since been paid to refurnishing the great room in a style which the Prince Regent would have appreciated.

6. Few postcards can be more typical of the Edwardian social scene in the golden, peaceful years of plenty. The occasion, in July 1906, was a Masonic garden party organised by the Mayor and leading freemasons to meet the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, from Goodwood House, who was then Provincial Grand Master of Sussex. We have not seen sa many tall hats and frock-coats massed together for many a long day, said the Brighton Herald. The ladies were lightly clad in their prettiest dresses, making a charming picture. The Mayor and Mayoress received their guests under the shade of two large Japanese umbrellas. Beside them stood the Duke, and other dignitaries. In the bandstand - no longer there now - the band of the Coldstream Guards played during the afternoon, while ladies in wide picture hats and summer frocks, with parasols, sat out on the lawn or in the buffet enjoying afternoon tea. Japanese lanterns hung from the trees, and - strangely enough - gentlemen sitting down to eat kept their hats on. A garden party given by the Mayor, the Conservatives, or the Labour Party in modern times looks somewhat different.

7. The Dome, in the Royal Pavilion grounds, in about 1908. It was originally the Prince Regent's stables. On the extreme left of the postcard is the Corn Exchange, which was originally the royal riding house. The Prince of Wales, as he then was, kept some seventy horses and a pack of beagles in the Dome. In 1867 the building was converted into an assembly hall, but when the town bought the Pavilion estate from the crown, it became a conference and concert hall, which it still is. During the 1914-1918 war it was used as part of the Royal Pavilion military hospital for Indian troops. In the 1939-1945 war a large German bomb fell in the gardens, in the foreground of our picture. Since then, the south wall of the building has never been quite straight.

8. This is one of the earliest existing photographs of Brighton's famous seafront. The date was June 2, 1860, when the French brig L'Atlantique, from Nantes, was wrecked opposite the Royal Albion Hotel. Her cargo of gas coal was sold by auction to the Brighton and Hove Gas Company for tl05, because it would have cost t30 to remove the coal and seil it on land. The first mate, Celestin Pruneau, was drowned, and MI. Lakes, a postman, was killed by the lifeboat. The ship struck the shore at 11.45 a.m., when the crew jumped out and were dragged ashore, where hoteliers looked after them. In those days there was no Aquarium, Palace Pier, or Volk's Railway. The photo was taken from the railings of Marine Parade, looking down over Madeira Road, with the bathing machines of the ladies' beach clearly visible. Large crowds are seen watching the foundering vessel from the pebbles where the Palace Pier now stands.

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