The Exploring Brighton gallery and Images of Brighton gallery are the local history galleries in Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. The galleries should be viewed in association with each other as they represent two very different sides of the city.
Exploring Brighton questions the commonly held perceptions of the city and is divided into four themes:
Living in Brighton looks at the city’s growth and the social impact of its expansion. We see that behind the grandeur of the Regency seafront and Pavilion estate, Brighton too has its share of poverty and depravation.
Working in Brighton demonstrates that not everyone in Brighton works in the tourist industry. A variety of ways to make a living are examined from street traders to light industry.
Time to Yourself shows some of the ways Brightonians spend their leisure time. Whilst piers and amusements are primarily the tourist’s domain, Brighton also has its share of sports, pubs, gardens, cinemas and theatres.
Banding Together examines how Brightonians form their own identities through religious groups, schools, societies and associations. It looks at how these identities add to the diversity of Brighton’s communities and in turn, how Brighton promotes its own reputation.
Living in Brighton
The Living in Brighton section of Exploring Brighton gallery looks at the city’s growth and the social impact of its expansion. We see that behind the grandeur of the Regency seafront and Pavilion estate, Brighton too has its share of poverty and depravation.
‘In no town in the kingdom do the extremes of cleanliness and squalor exist more than in Brighton’ Dr William Kebbell, 1848
From the mid 1700s, Brighton became famous for its sea water cure. But its slums were breeding grounds for cholera, typhoid and smallpox.
The town became over-crowded in the 1840s and 1850s. Few Victorians could afford doctors. Charities set up ‘dispensaries’ to provide free advice and medicine. Hospitals, funded by wealthy benefactors, struggled to meet demand. State medical help was only available to paupers in Brighton Workhouse (now Brighton General Hospital). The situation was transformed by the National Health Service Act in 1946. However, no new public hospitals have been built in the town for over 100 years.
In 1845, a new law required every county to build a mental asylum. Brighton Council was keen, perhaps wanting to keep people with mental health problems off the streets. The asylum opened in the countryside near Haywards Heath. Its progressive regime of work, education and leisure activities eventually suffered from over-crowding. From the late 1960s, policy shifted to ‘care in the community’, and St Francis Hospital (as it became) closed in 1995.
‘Mother could never pay the rent so we used to do a moonlight. We used to hire a barrow and put all the furniture on and move it to the next address.’ John Gorringe, 1940
Poverty has always existed in Brighton, but during the 1700s and early 1800s help for the poor was relatively generous. To cut costs, the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed in 1834. To obtain support, people were forced to enter workhouses where conditions were deliberately harsh so that only the totally destitute would seek help. The workhouse scheme operated until 1930.
In 1948 the Poor Law system was replaced by the Welfare State. The post war decades saw improvements in the standard of living of most Brightonians as thousands were employed in new factories on local industrial estates. Recessions in the 1980s and 1990s brought a slump in manufacturing industries. Many local factories closed leading to increased poverty in the town. However, recent years have again seen improvements in employment. Today, the city remains a place of contrasting wealth and poverty.
‘Brighton was to be likened to a ragged garment with a golden fringe. It certainly had a beautiful fringe, but the garment!’ Herbert Carden, Mayor of Brighton, 1919
Where can you find cheap housing in Brighton? In Victorian times, the answer lay in crowded streets near the town centre.
Brighton Council began clearing slums in the 1840s. At first, the occupants were not re-housed. From the 1920s, people were moved into new housing estates on the outskirts of Brighton. The estates provided modern comforts, but rents were high, and there were no shops or pubs. As an alternative, the Council built 20 high-rise blocks nearer to the town centre during the 1960s and 1970s.
For the private market, Victorian builders constructed Brighton’s rows of terraced houses, rented for £10-20 a year (about £500-£1,000 by today’s standard). Developers later moved out of town, creating larger suburban villas and ‘Tudorbethan’ estates, decorated in pebbledash and mock wooden beams.
Today, with little space to build new houses, many grand seafront buildings, have been split up into flats to provide Brighton’s cheapest ‘bedsit’ accommodation.
‘One day I was in the kitchen with my friend. All of a sudden we heard a plane go over. We opened the back door …. and there was a German all in black racing just over our heads. He was being chased out to sea. We’ve had some scares.’ Violet Oakely, 91years old, on Kemp Town air raids
World War II affected Brighton as it did the rest of Britain. A general blackout was enforced over the south of England in August 1939. Shelters were dug in playgrounds and parks. The museum’s collections were moved to the safety of the countryside.
For the first couple of weeks, all entertainments were stopped, though later continued. Anti-aircraft guns and searchlights were set up along the seafront. The beaches were closed, mined and guarded with barbed wire. Even the piers had sections removed to stop them being used as landing stages.
The first raid on Brighton came on 15 July 1940. Brighton was not among the worst bombed towns in Britain, but for those who experienced it, their memories are no less revealing.
Working in Brighton
The Working in Brighton section of Exploring Brighton gallery demonstrates that not everyone in Brighton works in the tourist industry. A variety of ways to make a living are examined from street traders to light industry.
Working in Brighton looks at:
‘Shoe repairers were nearly on every shop corner … All that lot and we’re all trying to make a living!’ Dennis Manville started in the trade in 1952, aged 13
During the 1800s, most goods were not mass-produced, but were made by workers skilled in specific trades. Even the supply of milk was considered a trade. Local dairies sold milk over the counter from cows kept in pens at the back of the premises.
Towards the end of the 1800s large numbers of people in Brighton were employed in trade. Workers were generally employed in trades outside the tourist industry. In 1891 over 1,000 people worked as painters and glaziers and more people had jobs as boot makers than hotelkeepers.
Over the last 100 years, improved transport links meant that goods could be mass-produced in factories many miles from Brighton. Large-scale businesses grew and the number of small traders in the town declined.
‘In Brighton and Hove today engineering alone employs more labour than all the hotels, boarding-houses and restaurants put together.’ Industry in Sussex, 1952
The early 1900s saw most people in Brighton employed in trade, domestic service and hotel work. With the exception of railway workshops, there were very few large factories. However, during the inter-war years purpose-built factories were constructed on the outskirts of town by local firms such as Ronuk and Allen West.
By the 1950s large-scale industrial development had taken place. Industrial estates such as Hollingbury and Hyde were created and companies began to locate to Brighton. Property prices were low, transport links were good and there was a large pool of cheap labour.
The last few decades has seen Britain’s economic climate change. Service industries such as banking and insurance have begun to dominate and manufacturing industries have declined. In Brighton, take-overs and relocations have seen the end of companies like Ronuk and Allen West and many industrial estates have been redeveloped as retail parks.
‘Busking is wicked, it introduces me to a huge amount of people from all segments of the population who would not normally be hanging out together.’ Phil the didge guy, on busking, 1999
Entertainers and sellers of wares were a common sight on Brighton’s Victorian streets. Many of Brighton’s poor saw street entertaining as a way of earning a living. Minstrels, jugglers and organ grinders performed in almost every part of the town.
Pies, fruit and wares of all sorts were sold on Brighton’s streets. By the end of the 1800s, street traders would gather in Gardner Street. Brighton Council, tired of moving them on, allowed Upper Gardner Street to be used as a market on Saturday mornings. By 1919, a second gathering of barrows in Oxford Street led to the opening of Brighton’s Open Market, which moved to its present site in 1960.
Street trading is still evident in Brighton. As well as adding to the town’s alternative image, for many it is their main source of income.
‘Service was the thing. You didn’t work for someone – you served.’ Joseph Lucien Postles, Leeson and Vokins, 1925-45
As Brighton changed from fishing town to fashionable resort, the variety and number of shops increased. Most were small family concerns, but London-based merchants soon began to set up businesses selling luxury goods. By 1800, North Street had become Brighton’s main shopping area.
During the early 1800s, larger shops such as Hanningtons and later, Leeson & Vokins, began to develop. Apprentices and assistants usually ‘lived in’ and worked long hours. Most shops were open from 8am until 10pm, six days a week. At both Hanningtons and Leeson & Vokins however, staff were highly thought of and were only required to work 5½ days a week. Conditions for most shop workers didn’t improve greatly until the Early Closing Act was passed in 1911.
In 1937, there were 2,946 town centre shops. Today, with the variety and number of shops in Brighton unequalled on the south coast, shop work remains a major source of employment.
‘I was the little one down below stairs, never seen. I never went upstairs unless I sneaked up, I used to go up the back stairs and peep into the hall.’ Drusilla Wooller, 4th housemaid at Preston Manor, 1931
In 1891 17 percent of Brighton’s workers were employed in domestic service. Only rich families could employ many servants. However, it was unthinkable for a middle-class family not to employ at least one servant, a ‘maid of all work’, who was usually a teenage girl from a poorer family.
Daily duties included opening window shutters, scrubbing the front door step, blackleading fire grates, laying fires, dusting and polishing furniture, sweeping rooms, making beds, cleaning the kitchen and laying the table for mealtimes. In the early 1900s, a ‘maid of all work’ was paid between £12 and £28 per year (about £650-£1,500 by today’s standard) and was fed and housed for free.
By the late 1940s, servants had all but disappeared. Greater opportunities in shop and office work, the lowly status of a maid, changing attitudes towards women and increasing numbers of labour-saving devices for housework meant that the number of teenage girls becoming domestic servants quickly declined.
‘I think it makes people think about money in a different way. What is it, why do we all go out to work in order to earn and what’s the point of having this system?’ Amanda Brace, Local Exchange Trading Schemes
In Tudor times, Brighton’s major employer was the fishing fleet. In Victorian times, the railway was the biggest single employer. Today, the largest single employer is a finance company, American Express.
Brighton’s first banks were small, local companies and investors took great risks. The Brightelmston Bank was hailed as an ‘invaluable institution’ when it opened in 1818. It collapsed 24 years later, ruining many local people. The only local bank to survive, the Brighton Union Bank, was taken over by Barclays in 1894.
Banking also provided ’employment’ for the Blue Coach Robbers, who broke into a strongbox on a stagecoach journey from London in 1812. The Brighton Union Bank changed the design of its banknotes as a result. Five people were arrested a year later.
Today, some local people in Brighton exchange skills and services without using money. They join a Local Exchange Trading Scheme and trade in tokens such as ‘Brights’ or ‘Hans’.
‘They were sometimes known as the silent death they were so quick, if you didn’t have your wits about you, they could ‘ave yer’ ‘ Michael Storey (b. 1934), on driving Brighton trolley buses.
Brighton had a strong tradition of employment in transport. From 1848, carriages for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway were made at an engineering works near Boston Street. Later, workshops for building locomotives were added. By 1891, the works employed 2,651 people and was the largest single employer in the town.
As the town continued to expand, the need for public transport increased. Jobs were created in a host of transport related activities. The creation of Brighton’s tramway system in 1901 and the introduction of motor-buses, meant that drivers, conductors and engineers were required as well as labourers, track-layers and electricians.
In 1939, a trolley bus system was introduced to replace the tramways. However, 20 years later, rising costs meant that the service was abandoned. Around the same time, the railway works were closed and the number of people in Brighton employed in transport dropped dramatically.
Time to yourself
The Time to Yourself section of Exploring Brighton gallery shows some of the ways Brightonians spend their leisure time. Whilst piers and amusements are primarily the tourist’s domain, Brighton also has its share of sports, pubs, gardens, cinemas and theatres.
Time to Yourself examines
Changes in employment law during the Victorian period meant that working people gained time and money for leisure. Much of this was spent on sport. Brighton Council and local benefactors began to provide parks and sports facilities for everyone.
Cricket and horseracing, which still thrive in the city today, had taken place in Brighton from the mid 1700s, sea-swimming for pleasure became very popular as it was free and the town’s first professional football club, Brighton United, was founded in 1898.
Greater awareness of public health in the 1930s, led to the development of sporting complexes like SS Brighton, Withdean Stadium and Black Rock swimming pool. Many became homes to successful teams such as Brighton Tigers Ice Hockey team and Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club.
Sport is still important to Brighton’s residents. In the late 1990s, Brighton & Hove Albion’s ground was sold and home games were played in Gillingham, Kent. However, continued pressure from supporters saw the team return to the town in 1999.
‘Someone said to me, “Whatever you do, don’t ever go in the Golden Fleece; it’s full of that sort of people.” So the next night I went down there.’ James, first visit to a gay pub, 1955, Brighton Ourstory Project
In 1800, Brighton had one inn for every thirty houses. Local inns served many purposes; they were used for markets, auctions, and even for staging trials. As time passed, the better inns turned into hotels. Others became ‘public houses’, where working people drank and socialised in the evening.
Towards the end of the 1800s, there were two types of public house. Beer-houses served cheap beer and had no tables or chairs. Gin palaces were larger, ornately decorated with brass and glass, for ‘a better class of customer’. By 1900, in poor districts even small streets had several pubs.
After World War I, pubs tried to attract more people, especially women. However, with competition from dance-halls and cinemas, the number of pubs started to fall. In the 1950s, the breweries closed many small pubs. There are now about 900 licensed premises in Brighton, ranging from traditional ‘locals’ to fashionable pre-club bars.
Many Victorians hoped parks, libraries and museums could compete with pubs and other ‘forces of evil in trying to catch the man who had free time’.
It was initially felt that Brighton did not need parks, because the seafront provided enough fresh air and open space. However, a campaign grew for a public park and Preston Park was purchased from the Stanford family in 1883.
Brighton’s first libraries were private social clubs for fashionable visitors to the town. The first Free Public Library was opened in 1873. A speaker declared ‘It is by Literature that the moral part of our nature is mainly directed and cherished’.
A museum was established in the Royal Pavilion in 1861. It initially displayed objects from local collectors. A decade later and renamed Brighton Museum & Fine Art Gallery it moved to its current premises. National Lottery money has helped fund the new museum you see today.
Theatre, cinema, and dancing were central to Brighton’s social life. The first permanent theatre opened in Brighton in 1774. Early theatre-going could be a rowdy experience, with audiences shouting, hooting and whistling.
Music hall began in the back rooms of pubs, and was most popular in the 1890s. The music hall tradition was kept alive by end-of-the-pier shows and variety entertainers, such as Brighton’s own ‘cheeky chappy’ Max Miller.
Cinema came to Brighton early, partly due to a group of pioneering early film-makers in Hove. By 1940, there were 24 cinemas in Brighton. The Regent cinema had seating for 3,000 and a dance-hall for 1,500 in the roof. It was one of the leading social venues in Brighton; ‘nothing has ever replaced it’. Between the wars, for two shillings and sixpence (about £3.75 by today’s standard) two adults could see a film, have a drink and get a return bus or tram to the northern suburbs. ‘Saturday night at the Regent … was an escape from reality.’
The Banding Together section of Exploring Brighton gallery examines how Brightonians form their own identities through religious groups, schools, societies and associations. It looks at how these identities add to the diversity of Brighton’s communities and in turn, how Brighton promotes its own reputation.
Banding Together examines
Societies, associations and unions
‘People are coming together … as groups to pray and from all different backgrounds. I really believe that prayer is going to be the cement that is going to bring us together.’ Sister Margaret O’Shea, 2000
Religion upholds a very strong sense of belonging in those who choose to worship. It can be the uniting or dividing factor between communities. Religion can create barriers and alienate people from each other. Equally, it can promote harmony between any number of groups, bringing them together to form one community.
Brighton has had a long tradition of Anglican Christianity. The religious census for 1851 recorded the Jewish faith as being the only religion other than Christianity in the town. As religious attitudes have changed and with the gradual development of Brighton’s multicultural society, the range of religions within the city has increased hugely.
‘Because there was a group of us, I think we felt safe – invincible almost.’ Allie, bullied about sexuality, 1980s Brighton Ourstory Project, 2001
Schools are one of the first places where people experience belonging or rejection. Many remain loyal or loathe their schools for the rest of their lives. Whether through academic success, sporting achievement or even school ‘punch-ups’, a sense of identity prevails within and between schools.
‘School Town’ was the nickname for Brighton in Victorian times. As a health resort, it had attracted dozens of small private boarding schools for gentlemen and ladies. Groups of pupils promenaded the seafront in their Sunday best, shepherded by tutors, on the way to church.
‘Free-scooles’, or charity-run schools, were first recorded over 300 years ago. Many were funded by donations from the public. Others were set up by the church. Gradually, the state took over education. By 1900, school was compulsory and free for children under 13.
In 2000, Brighton & Hove Council ran 48 schools in Brighton. The tradition of private seafront schools still flourishes, but nowadays for foreign students learning English.
Societies, associations and unions
‘We started as a group of friends and ended up as an association.’ Peter Stocker, North Laine Traders Association, 2000
Over the last 200 years, groups of local people have banded together to protect their interests or promote their point of view.
In the 1800s, Brighton had many self-help ‘friendly societies’, such as the Odd Fellows, the Foresters and the Sons of Temperance. In return for regular subscriptions, members received sickness and funeral benefits. The societies also organised social and educational activities. Many still exist today.
In 1890, the first meeting of the Brighton Trades Council was held at Odd Fellows Hall. It campaigned on behalf of the rights of working people. By 1926 there were over 8,000 trade union members in Brighton. The Trade Council claimed that support for that year’s General Strike was ‘the most complete of any town in the South of England’.
Nowadays, societies, associations and unions take many forms in Brighton, ranging from Gay Pride to Friends of the Earth. Each group adds to the diversity of the city’s wider community, offering people a sense of belonging and unity.
‘It gave me a deeper connection with Brighton, a real sort of belonging. This is my community, this is what I’m doing, it really is my city … the pride when I look back.’ Emma Skilton, in the Beating Time parade, 2000
Jubilees, coronations, New Year celebrations, carnivals and Brighton Festival have all produced days to remember and a strong sense of togetherness amongst Brighton’s communities.
One of the town’s most notable celebrations took place in 1887 when Brighton Corporation decided to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Festivities took place over two days and included sports events, illuminations and fireworks. It became the model for future events such as the 1928 Greater Brighton celebrations, which marked the incorporation of new localities within Brighton’s boundaries.
A desire to promote the town’s popularity as a resort saw Brighton hold its first carnival in 1922 and although the emphasis has now changed to raising money for charity, carnival continues to take place each year. These and other celebrations such as Pride, Burning of The Clocks and New Year continue to provide an opportunity for Brighton’s communities to reflect on their collective spirit.