Did you know that Madeira Terrace played a role in Brighton’s seafront defences during the Second World War? As the Save Madeira Terrace crowdfunding campaign continues, it is worth remembering there was a time when this famous section of Brighton’s seafront architecture faced a very different threat.
After the defeat of France in June 1940, Britain was faced with the danger of a German invasion from across the Channel. The South East of England suddenly became a potential front line. Brighton’s beaches were closed off, and the central sections of the town’s two piers were dismantled so they could not be used as landing stages by enemy troops. Barbed wire and barricades were constructed along the whole seafront.
The German invasion was postponed by the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940, and ultimately halted by Hitler’s decision to attack the Soviet Union in June 1941. But the threat was very real, as this German reconnaissance photo of Brighton shows.
Taken by the German air force, the Luftwaffe, in 1940, the photo has marked the dismantled sections of the West Pier and Palace Pier. It’s clear evidence that the Germans were using aircraft to survey Britain’s coastal defences, and it shows why the covered walkway of Madeira Terrace was useful in hiding some of these defence measures from enemy eyes.
The best record we have of Brighton’s seafront defences is a series of photographs taken by the local authority in August 1944. Following the successful D-Day landings in June that year, the beaches were considered safe to reopen. The town’s Borough Surveyor’s department recorded some of these defences as they were cleared away, and these photographs are available to view and download from our Digital Media Bank. One shows a large covered oil tank situated beneath Madeira Terrace. A section of the structure’s distinctive latticework can also be seen on the right of the photograph, presumably as it was waiting to be reattached following the tank’s removal.
It’s possible that this may have been an emergency fuel store for vehicles, and was covered to discourage theft. But it’s more likely to have been set up for use as a potential weapon. In the event of an invasion, oil could have been sprayed onto the beach and the sea and set alight, creating a wall of fire against enemy soldiers.
Although the threat of a military invasion has long passed, Madeira Terrace is in urgent need of funds to save it from irreversible disrepair. To find out how you can help, visit the Save Madeira Terrace crowdfunding page. (Update 28/12/18: the funding target was achieved, and work will begin on the restoration in Spring 2019.)
Kevin Bacon, Digital Manager