Looking Into Brighton’s Past

As a student at Brighton University, I was very pleased to be able to get a short time of work experience with the Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove. I am in my second year studying Visual Culture, which is essentially History of Art, although the course is quite flexible so I have the opportunity to study photography and film if I want to study more contemporary art practices rather than the more traditional art movements.

Since starting my work experience here I have been working alongside Kevin Bacon, the Digital Development Officer who deals with digitalising fine art and photographs, working on the Museum website, the smartphone app and social networking sites (along with a lot more that I have yet to discover). Kevin has taught me how to use their image store  which I wasn’t even aware of before I started my placement. If you haven’t had a browse yet, I recommend it, even if you don’t have an interest in art, many of the paintings/photographs/postcards/ceramics I came across were fascinating to look at, seeing Brighton during both World Wars and previously is intriguing.

[slideshow]
Monochrome postcard bearing image of 12 Indian Soldiers posing outside the Royal Pavilion, during its use as a Military Hospital
Monochrome postcard bearing image of 12 Indian Soldiers posing outside the Royal Pavilion, during its use as a Military Hospital

Some of the photographs within the slideshow were taken during the First World War. I’m most fascinated with the ones taken of the Indian Soldiers at the Royal Pavilion. In 1914, it was decided that Britain was in need of more troops in order to be able to cover all areas of fighting, so recruited soldiers from India who arrived in France in September ready for battle. Initially, it was planned that the Soldier’s would be treated in France if they needed to be hospitalised but due to the number of casualties, the next best place to use to treat the Soldiers was the South coast of England.

Along with Bournemouth and Southampton, Brightonwas used to accommodate the injured Indian Soldiers, which would accumulate to 4,000 men treated between 1914 and 1916. The general hospital at the top of Elm Grove and York Place School were transformed into Military hospitals alongside the Royal Pavilion.

Within the Pavilion, temporary places of worship were made for the different religions for the troops. A marquee was erected for Sikh’s in the Pavilion grounds, Muslims were assigned to use the lawn in front of the dome and there were nine kitchens in total to cater for the different religions. Hindus and Muslims had different water supplies and the patients were taken care of by people of the same faith as them. The Pavilion was a picturesque environment for a military hospital, one soldier wrote home, ‘Do not be anxious about me, we are very well looked after. Our hospital is in the place where the King used to have his throne.’

Monochrome photographic print of Gas Warning Vehicle in Brighton during the Second World War
Monochrome photographic print of Gas Warning Vehicle in Brighton during the Second World War

Along with the First World War there are many taken between 1939-1945 during the Second World War. Within the collection there are numerous photographs of air raid shelters and much documented evidence of how Brighton was damaged from air raids. Children had been evacuated to Brighton at the beginning of the war, however after a badly shot-up sea plane had to make an emergency landing on Brighton beach in May 1940 it was no longer classed as a Safe Area.

The 30,000 evacuees in Brighton had to be re-evacuated to other areas along with the local children. During the course of the war, Brighton suffered from 56 raids, 381 bombs were dropped, 198 people were killed, 357 seriously injured, over 200 houses were destroyed and 894 seriously damaged. The last image in this group of photographs is a still from a film of people celebrating the end of the war in Brighton.

Monochrome photographic print of a Boy's Brigade Camp in Glynde, East Sussex.
Monochrome photographic print of a Boy’s Brigade Camp in Glynde, East Sussex.

This rest of the photographs in the slideshow are taken around Brighton Seafront and around Brighton town. I think these photos have captured a range of personalities that Brighton attracted and still does today. I particularly liked some of these as they made me laugh and others I just found intriguing. I think these photographs capture the atmosphere of Brighton well, that was present over 50 years ago and still is today.

photographic print of several bathers emerging from the sea at Brighton.
B&W photographic print of several bathers emerging from the sea at Brighton.

I have only selected some photographs but there are so many more available to look at. In the History Centre located on the first floor of Brighton Museum, there are books of photographs sorted into different categories, for example, railways, piers and transport from a range of dates in Brighton History. If you want to look from home, the image store is available to search for a variety of images so I recommend taking a look if you’ve enjoyed looking at the images above.

Amanda Perks (Volunteer)

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