For a brief overview of the history of Brighton, why not start with this video made by Year 5 pupils at Moulsecoomb Primary School?

Our local history and archaeology collections offer plenty of ways to learn more about the history of Brighton.

Early Brighton

Our Stone Age resources guide provides information on the earliest humans to live in Brighton, including 3D models of original artefacts and an online game.

One of our most famous exhibits is the Hove Amber Cup. This was buried in the grave of a local Bronze Age ruler, and was discovered by workmen during the construction of Palmeira Square.

Photo of Hove Amber Cup

The amber cup is on display in Hove Museum or you can read about the cup’s discovery by opening the tab below.

The Amber Cup is one of Britain’s most important Bronze Age finds, and perhaps the best-known object held by the Royal Pavilion & Museums. It was discovered in 1856 in a burial mound on land that was being prepared for the construction of Palmeira Avenue in Hove.

The site was on private land but fortunately the barrow was excavated before it was destroyed. A detailed description of the finds was written by local classics teacher, Barclay Phillips. Phillips lived nearby and had been curious about the mound for many years. He reported that labourers removing earth from the hillock had found an oak coffin carved from a single tree. The coffin held a collection of grave goods, including bone fragments, a dagger, an axe head and whetstone, and the precious Amber Cup. These artefacts are about 3,500 years old.

The cup is thought to have been handmade from northern European amber, suggesting early trade links between English and Baltic communities. It first appears brownish in colour, but when held to the light it reveals a beautiful translucent quality. The presence of such a rare and valuable object suggests the Hove Barrow was the grave of a very important person, probably a local chieftain.

The owner of the land, Baron Goldsmid, donated the Amber Cup to Hove Museum in 1857, where it can still be seen on display.


Tudor Brighton

During the reign of Henry VIII, Brighton was burned to the ground by French raiders. The event led to the creation of the first map of Brighton. The original map is held at the British Library, but we have 19th century copies of the map which show how the town was laid out in the early 1500s.

1832 engraving showing 1514 French attack on Brighton (FATMP000143)
1832 engraving showing 1514 French attack on Brighton (FATMP000143)

You can read more about the French attack on our blog or download a hi-res image of the map from our Digital Media Bank.

Georgian Brighton

Modern Brighton began to emerge in the 1750s. Building on the fashion for seawater cures, Brighton quickly became the largest and most succesful seaside resort in the UK.

Dr Richard Russell, c1755

You can download portraits from our Fine Art collection of many of the important people who shaped the town at this time, including:

We have a whole set of resources dedicated to Martha Gunn, the Brighton born ‘dipper’.

Our topographic print collection is a good visual record of the town at this time, and we currently offer over 500 of these images as a free download.

Our map collection also shows the growth of the town, from the 1770s through to the early twentieth century. We currently have over 50 maps available to download, such as the 1779 map below.

Map of Brighthelmston, 1779. Coloured lithograph by Yeakell & Gardner


Victorian Brighton

The Victorian period was a time of great technological change, and our Innovation & Invention resources capture new developments in the town, and the work of local inventors such as Magnus Volk.

No invention had a bigger impact on Brighton than the expansion of the railway network. The opening of the railway line to London in 1841 completely changed the character of the town. Where Brighton had once been a fairly exclusive resort for wealthy and fashionable visitors, it now became a popular destination for huge numbers of day trippers. Our Leisure & Tourism resources show how the town adapted to meet the needs of these visitors.

Magnus Volk’s ‘Daddy Longlegs’, c1896


The Victorian period also saw the invention and growing popularity of photography. The earliest photographs in our collections date from the late 1850s, but they become much more common from the 1880s onwards and into the twentieth century. We currenty have over 2000 photographs in our collections that are available to download.

Twentieth Century

Brighton continued to grow rapidly during the twentieth century. Rottingdean and Preston were absorbed into the town in 1928, and in 1997 the town was combined with Hove and Portslade.

It was a time of great social and economic change, much of which was driven by the two world wars. Our First World War resources show the effect of the war on the town. But the Second World War had a more immediate impact, when Brighton was on the frontline of a possible invasion and was heavily bombed.

One of our most popular digital resources is this 1944 map showing where bombs landed in Brighton.

Map showing where bombs landed in Brighton and Hove, 1944

 There is plenty more…

This is a very brief overview of some of the highlights of our digital resources for teachers and students. If you are looking to dig deeper try: