The park opened in 1883 on land purchased from the Benett-Stanford family of Preston Manor. The new park contained tennis courts and bowling greens as well as landscaped walks. It was officially opened by the Mayor of Brighton, Arthur Cox on 8 November 1884.
A cricket ground and a cycle track were added in 1887 as well as a tea chalet which housed the park police in the upper rooms. A free standing clock-tower was unveiled on 17 June 1892 and bore the following rhyme,
‘Here I stand with all my might to tell the hour day and night. Therefore example take by me and serve thy God as I serve thee’.
Tragedy occurred in August 1895 during a firework display, a mortar designed to be fired high into the air, exploded on the ground. Several people were seriously injured by shards of metal. One of the victims, fifteen year old George Carpenter, later died of his wounds.
For most Brightonians, their first experience of a baseball game came in August 1917 when a match took place in the Park between Canadian and American teams, in aid of the British Red Cross Society. Henry Roberts, Director of Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, helped organise the event and he was overheard to say that he had bought up all the chewing gum in London for the benefit of the Americans.
A First World War tank was a feature of the Park for over twenty years. On January 10 1920, the Mayoress of Brighton, Miss E. R. Palfrey, smashed a bottle of Champagne over the tank and ‘christened’ it ‘The Brighton’. The tank was a gift to the town in recognition of Brighton’s contribution to the war savings campaign.
Preston Park was re-opened on 22 July 1929 by the Mayor of Brighton, Herbert J. Galliers. The Brighton Herald included a lengthy description of the newer sections of the park and illustrated it with photographs.
Of particular note was the Rotunda Café. The article described the interior decoration;
‘ The walls are of orange, the round ceiling of cream, with a bronze centre also of orange; and the French windows are of a delicate gray … a refreshment house such as this on a Continental “plage” would make the reputation of the place.’
A common myth is that the Rotunda was brought from the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley following its closure in 1925. In fact, it was the work of Brighton Corporation’s Superintendant of Parks & Gardens, Captain Bert Hubbard MacLaren.
MacLaren also made use of material from other sites. The four statues representing Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, which had adorned the Aquarium clock tower until its demolition in 1927, were placed in the larger flower garden. The circular pond contained fountains, the heads of which were in the form of dolphins retrieved from the site of Brill’s Baths. The baths had been demolished for the Savoy Cinema in 1929. MacLaren even re-used the seat frames from the Aquarium which he had converted and re-upholstered and placed in the Rotunda lounges.
Paul Jordan, Senior History Centre Officer