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Adventures on the Edge of Britain
Brighton in General
Member Name: thevenerablebede
Brighton in General
Date: 24/07/01, updated on 18/01/02 (164 review reads)
Advantages: Too many to mention
Disadvantages: Too few to bother with
Brighton’s development is widely acknowledged to have three distinct phases. The first boost was as a result of Dr Richard Russell’s, and his successors’, promotion of seawater cures and bathing. His 1850 Dissertation on the Use of Sea-Waters in the Affections of the Glands outlined the benefits of not only bathing in, but drinking, sea water. Although he had been probably been prescribing the waters to his patients since the 1830s, the Dissertation popularised the cure and Russell himself moved his practice from Lewes to Brighton to capitalise on his success. The treatment was not by any extent attractive. It involved a strict regime of rising early, bracing walks, obligatory bathing in the sea (immersion was compulsory) and also drinking the seawater at regular intervals during the day. Patients were offered the option of mixing it with milk if they found it unpalatable. Russell and his successors pretty much single-handedly invented the seaside by promoting its health benefits to the rich and famous.
The second catalyst to expansion was the influence royal patronage and that powered the town’s fashionable and aristocratic heyday between 1790 and 1830. One of the aristocratic pati
ents of Russell was the ebolient Duke of Cumberland a brother to George III. On one fateful occasion in the late 18th century Prince George, Prince of Wales travelled to Brighton and fell in love with the place and transformed it into quite simply the most fashionable playground in Britain. He built his fabulous marine Pavilion. An oriental uber-palace with a magical domed exterior and a riot of different styles within. It must simply be seen to be believed. And with the palace came parties and people and debauchery. But George (or Prinny as he is still affectionately known in the town) also found a wife: the catholic Mrs Maria Fitzherbert. It was, in many ways, a turbulent marriage but also a great romance that was inevitably doomed. But between them they presided over an amazing period for Brighton as the town’s patron sinners. However, by the 1830s the Royal connection was waning, and although William IV and Queen Adelaide were frequent visitors, their court lacked the vibrancy and excess of George IV. Victoria disliked Brighton and visited the town only a few times before stripping the Pavilion of its fittings to help fund the purchase and construction of Osbourne House.
The third major catalyst for change in Brighton was the construction of the London to Brighton railway which opened in 1841. The impact of the railways was two-fold: firstly the increased volume of visitors generated demand for more services and leisure facilities and secondly the railway required workers for the factories and to maintain the line and manufacture and repair locomotives. The opening of the railway line in 1841 put Brighton well ahead of its local resort competitors. Eastbourne and Hastings were not afforded such benefits until 1846. The railway also decreased the cost, time and discomfort of travelling from the capital thus making Brighton the closest and most accessible Sussex resort. However, the impact of the railways was not immediate. It was only after Rowla
nd Hill, who lived in Brighton and was fundamental to the development of the Post Office in Britain, became chairman of the company in 1848 that the railway’s potential was realised. He understood the potential of the railways for mass travel and instigated third-class travel to increase passengers and ran special bank holiday services from the capital by using four locomotives to power trains that carried up to 2000 travellers. The new breed of day-trippers tended to be lower middle class or artisans. The trainfare was still relatively expensive in the early years and this clearly excluded poorer, working class families. This group grew as disposable income rose and fares dropped. More significant, perhaps, is that these visitors came off-season during the summer, complementing the winter season from October to March still favoured by fashionable visitors.
In many ways the railway’s impact on the permanent residents of the town was greater in the long run. By siting virtually all of its engineering works in the town the L.B.S.C.R completely transformed the industrial flavour of the town. The railways, and the three independent iron foundries that also existed were the only heavy industry in the town. The railways completely transformed the character of Brighton. The jobs, money, possibilities and people it brought to the town engendered two decades of considerable growth.
So by 1900 the shape and nature of Brighton had been largely shaped. It was a seaside town with mass appeal close to London with a reputation for showing a little more leg. Graham Greene’s wonderful protrait of Brighton in “Brighton Rock” is a perfect picture of the town on a bank holiday. The crowds, the drinking, the laughs, the playful visitors. But also it exposes the dark underbelly of the town that existed beneath the glitz. The race-course ciminals, the razor gangs and gangsters who lived in poverty but fed off the glamour. In ̶
0;Hangover Square” by Patrick Hamilton we see more of the danker side but still it is obvious what Brighton exists for: people go
there to have fun.
And that’s what Brighton remains good at to this present day. Now that Brighton has two universities and all the entertainment needs that creates. Now that it has a vibrant gay community that is no longer clandestine but central to its identity. Now that it has three Labour MPs and a Labour council (sorry, couldn’t resist that) it seems to have come of age and is at once doing what it does best after several none too promising decades of decline. From the slot machines of the Palace Pier to the majestic decay of the West Pier, a stroll along the prom, in the shadows of the huge hotels, kicking the pebbles on the beach and maybe stopping for a drink along the way, remains a British institution. But that’s because, on the edge of Britain, things are done differently.