Opening of Brighton’s new Library, Museum and Art Gallery, November 2nd 1902

A hundred and ten years ago this month, the Mayor of Brighton, J E Stafford, opened, with the aid of a solid gold key, the new Library, Museum Art Gallery buildings in Church Street, Brighton.

Plans of the buildings, 1850
Plans of the buildings, 1850

The improved facilities had been formed out of the original Royal Pavilion stable block, which, together with the Royal Pavilion, were purchased by the Brighton Corporation in 1850. The former circular stable block was converted into the Dome concert hall in 1867, the riding house became the Corn Exchange the following year, and the eastern part of the complex was converted into the Museum, Picture gallery and Free Library in 1873.


The only untouched section of the structure was a range of offices, rooms and former stables which ran between the new Corn Exchange and Museum. It also contained the offices of the Board of Guardians ,who were responsible for poor relief in Brighton. But plans for an extension to the library and museum were delayed as the police court had moved in temporarily while Brighton Town Hall was being remodelled. In 1895, the Guardians moved to new offices in Princes Street which meant that redevelopment could finally take place.

The Brighton Gazette was not overly enthusiastic about the new façade but commented that it was an improvement on what had stood before:

‘The dull, dingy, and dismal frontage has been swept away. In its place we have a façade containing certain Oriental resemblances which blend fairly well with the Moorish outlines of the main buildings’

However, the Brighton Herald was more fulsome in its praise:

‘The handsome arched entrances, with their artistic wrought-iron gates, the elaborate ornamentation of the windows, and the elegant copper domes…go to make up an exceedingly attractive spectacle.’

The new ground floor consisted of a lending library, news room, and magazine room with a reference library (currently the Brighton History Centre) on the floor above. Once through the entrance from Church Street, a new doorway on the left led to the remodelled Museum and Art Gallery. Here, the old library rooms had been replaced with an ethnography gallery and two galleries for the Willett collection. On the first floor, three new exhibition art galleries had been formed out of the old ethnography room and a new zoology gallery was created over what is now the entrance to the Museum.

The total cost of the remodelling, which included alterations to the Dome and Corn Exchange, was £45,000.

Foyer of the Museum leading from the Church Street entrance

This Edwardian photograph of Brighton Museum foyer shows the stairs which now lead to the exhibition galleries and the cafe.  On the left is a public telephone call-box and next to this, according to a 1910 guide-book description, is:

‘a handsome perpetual calendar clock….This clock not only tells the hour, but also the day and the month, as well as the phases of the moon’

Perpetual Calendar Clock
Perpetual Calendar Clock

Paul Jordan, Senior History Centre Officer

3 Responses

  1. SilverTiger

    As a child, I loved the Museum and dragged my mother in there whenever we passed nearby. I well remember the “perpetual” clock in the entrance and always stopped to look at it.

    My mother misunderstood the label on the clock and told me it was a “perpetual motion machine”. One day, I took a young friend to the Museum and showed him the “perpetual motion machine”. A gentleman coming in at the same time stopped and asked if he might have a word with me. He took me aside and explained, gently but firmly, that there was no such thing as a perpetual motion machine. I listened in embarrassed silence but the lesson stuck and I have been an enthusiast of science all my life, as well as a lover of clocks.

    I now live in London but I still visit the Museum from time to time, though it is greatly changed from my day.

    • Royal Pavilion & Brighton Museums

      Thanks for your comment. That clock is fondly remembered by many people in Brighton. if I remember rightly, it even featured in one of the ‘Magic’ series of books by Elizabeth Beresford, the author of the Wombles stories.

  2. Jax Atkins

    So, when will the clock be returned to its rightful place in our museum? Of all the museum items, this is the one most people remember well & are keen to see it returned to us.

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