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Brighton, Sussex

Historical Description

Brighton, a parliamentary and municipal borough, a county borough under the Local Government Act of 1888, and the most popular watering-place in England, is situated on the coast of Sussex. The town stands on swell, slope, and cliff, under the South Downs, 18 miles W by N of Beachy-Head, 27 E by N of Selsea Bill, 8 SW by W of Lewes, 28f E of Chichester, and 50½ S of London. The sea before it forms a great slender bay, bounded by Beachy-Head and Selsea Bill, and gives an open view past the latter to the Isle of Wight. One railway goes direct to London, another to Lewes and thence to Kent, and a third to Chichester and Portsmouth, and thence to the west. The railway terminus, in the north-west of the town, is a commodious structure, whose front is surmounted by an illuminated clock. It covers an area of 20 acres.

The name popularly is always Brighton, but anciently was Brighthelmstone, and was derived from some person of the name of Brighthelm, supposed probably to have been an Anglo-Saxon bishop of Selsea. The place is thought to have been a scene of Druidical worship; and from the discovery at it of Roman coins and other Roman relics, is concluded to have been occupied by a Roman station. The manor belonged in the time of Edward the Confessor to Earl Godwin, descended to his son Harold, who fell in the battle of Hastings, was given by the Conqueror to William de Warrene, and transferred soon afterwards to the priory of Lewes. A town on it was so considerable at the end of the 13th century as to become then the seat of a market, and consisted of two parts-one on the beach, inhabited by fishermen, the other on the cliffs, inhabited by landsmen. The Flemings, the French, and the Spaniards made attacks on the town, or descents in its neighbourhood, through a period of three centuries, and continually checked its prosperity. A blockhouse for arms and ammunition, and encompassing strong walls, with four gates, were erected for its defence in the times of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth, but were gradually destroyed by the sea. Even the lower part of the town itself underwent assaults from the billows, and eventually disappeared. Charles II. fled hither from his overthrow at Worcester, spent a night at an inn, still existing in West Street, and embarked in the neighbourhood for Fecamp in Normandy. The town declined till about 1750, and had then only about 800 inhabitants, chiefly poor fishermen. Dr Russell, a distinguished physician, drew attention to it at that time as a desirable bathing-place, and some persons of influence and fashion soon began to visit it from London. Dr Johnson, with Mrs Thrale and Fanny Burney, was there in 1770; the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV., first came in 1782, and then founded a permanent summer residence in 1784. Brighton suddenly underwent a change of fortune, and it has gone on increasing, steadily and rapidly, from that time till the present, so as to be now the greatest watering-place in the world. " It is the fashion to run down George IV., but what myriads of Londoners ought to thank him for inventing Brighton!" So wrote Thackeray in " The Newcomes."

The town extends nearly 4 miles, from Hove on the W to Kemp-Town on the E, and presents such an imposing frontage to the sea as cannot be excelled by any other place in the kingdom. There is not only a fine drive the whole distance, but a footpath for pedestrians on the side next the sea of the same length. The King's Road and Esplanade are lighted by forty 1000 c.p. electric arc lamps, and the illumination of this road at night is not equalled by anything of the kind in London or Paris. The whole town, with a small exception, is modern, and much is handsome, elegant, or grand. There are altogether more than 700 streets, terraces, crescents, and squares. Some parts stand on slopes, descending from the skirts of the South Downs, some on low flat grounds at the bottom, and some on cliffs immediately overhanging the sea. The central portion includes the Steyne, named after the stane " or rock on which the fishermen of the old times used to dry their nets, and contains some houses of the last century, the Pavilion or palace built by George IV., and two large enclosures tastefully laid: out in flower beds and planted with shrubs. The western portion includes the more recent fashionable extensions, and contains streets, squares, crescents, and terraces, edificed with as splendid houses as almost any in the kingdom. Kemp-Town, on the east, surmounts a cliff nearly 100 feet high, was commenced in 1831, on the estate of Thomas Read Kemp, Esq., and includes a crescent 800 feet across, with wings 350 feet each. The streets for the most part are spacious, and intersect one another at right angles; the higher places have reliefs of garden or shrubbery, and command iine views.

A sea-wall, for resisting further encroachment by the sea, extends nearly a mile westward from Kemp-Town. The planting of hardy shrubs, and the training of ivy, &c., over the plain face of the wall, has done much to beautify this end of the town, and to render the undercliff drive and promenade a pleasant resort for invalids and pleasure seekers during the keen northerly winds. The promenade is furnished with spacious shelter halls and covered walks. An electric railway runs along the beach. A chain-pier, situated at the west end of the sea-wall, which extends 1014 feet into the sea, was constructed in 1823 by Captain Brown, at a cost of £30,000; it suffered much injury from storms in 1824 and 1833, but has since been repaired and strengthened, The pier is divided by iron towers into four spans, of 225 feet each; it measures 13 feet in width along the roadway, and expands at the head into a platform 80 feet square. It is, however, comparatively little used, as it has practically been superseded by the west pier, on iron supports. Near the Chain-pier is the Aquarium, a marine zoological garden of the greatest interest, and the largest building of the kind in the world. It is one of the most attractive sights in Brighton, and in addition to the fine marine collection, there are daily concerts, dramatic entertainments, &c. The West Pier was opened in 1866. It is 1115 feet long, and has promenading space for more than 2500 persons. On each side of the pier is a row of lamps arranged alternately as regards the colour of the glass-red, white, and blue-which produce a picturesque effect by night. In 1893 the pier head was widened 40 feet on each side of the original structure. A landing stage 11 feet wide along the whole of the east and west sides of the pier was provided, projecting seawards 100 feet. The most conspicuous addition was, however, the new pavilion, which is 120 feet long by 100 feet broad, surrounded by a colonnade that provides a sheltered open-air promenade. This pavilion is, so far as the framework is concerned, almost entirely an iron building, and, being intended for musical and other performances, was designed so as to afford ample space in the auditorium, which will seat about 1400 persons, besides which there is room in the gallery for a large number of spectators.

The Pavilion or palace of George IV. was commenced in 1784, but not entirely finished until 1827. It assumed a fantastic character, with domes, minarets, cupolas, and spires, alleged to resemble the Kremlin at Moscow; and was occasionally visited by William IV. and Queen Victoria. It had originally cost nearly a million sterling. Who can forget Byron's caustic lines when in 1823 more money was being lavished on the royal toy—-" Shut up-no, not the King, but the Pavilion, Or else 'twill cost us all another million."

In 1850 it was sold to the local authorities of Brighton for £53,000, and has been, as far as possible, restored to its original splendour. The public are admitted daily at a small charge, and the rooms are used for balls, concerts, lectures, exhibitions, and public meetings. The entrance-hall is magnificent, the banqueting-room measures 60 feet by 42, the music-room is of similar size, the rotunda is 55 feet in diameter, and the Chinese gallery is 162 feet long. The stables connected with the Pavilion were in the Moorish style, with a vast glazed dome lighting a circle of about 250 feet. They have been formed into a concert hall and rooms, and are also used for large public meetings. The whole of the buildings and grounds are lighted by electricity, and few provincial towns in England possess so fine and convenient a public hall as the "Dome." The house in which Mrs Fitzherbert (who was married to George IV.) resided is adjacent. A bronze statue of George IV., by Chantry, erected in 1828 at a cost of £3000, and a fountain, called the Victoria, are in. The Steyne. The town-hall is 144 feet long and 113 feet broad, with three double porticoes, erected at a cost of £30,000, and contains a principal apartment 85 feet by 35, and various committee, magistrates', and assistants' rooms. The market-house stands on the site of the old town-hall, was built in 1830, and is in the form of a T. County-court offices, in Gothic style, were built in 1869. The theatre has been enlarged and remodelled, and will now accommodate an audience of about 1900. There is an illuminated clock in the centre of the town, erected in 1888 at a cost of £2000, in commemoration of Her Majesty's jubilee. The waterworks-which are the property of the corporation-are supplied from wells in the chalk, pumped by powerful engines, sending the water to reservoirs at levels which command the highest houses. The corporation have undertaken the supply of electricity for public and private purposes within the borough. They have established large works for the purpose, and in addition to lighting the King's Road, before alluded to, are supplying about 15,000 c.p. lamps to private consumers. A complete system of main drainage has been carried out, and several public baths established, and in various ways the corporation has shown itself to be one of the most enterprising in the kingdom. There is also a Turkish bath and several private baths in the town. Little, if anything, is left undone which could add to the improvement and attractiveness of the town. Brighton is unusually well supplied with hotels of all kinds. The two largest are the Grand and the Metropole, both of which are palatial structures. There are also a large number of boarding houses, and over 1000 houses in which apartments are let. It is doubtful if there is any seaside place in England which has such a constant stream of visitors all the year round as Brighton. Like its congeners, it has its special seasons, but Brighton is so frequently recommended to their patients by the faculty of London that hotels and private lodging-houses along the sea front are at all times well occupied. In the height of the aristocratic season at Brighton (October to December) there is probably no sight in the world like that beautiful stretch of green on which the " Church parade" takes place. The shops in the main streets of the town are quite equal to those in the west end of London.

St Nicholas Church (formerly the parish church), on an eminence in the NW of the town, dates from the time of Edward III., and for hundreds of years served as a landmark for fishermen. It was rebuilt, in 1854, as a memorial of the Duke of Wellington, who habitually attended it while a pupil of the vicar. It is in the Perpendicular English style, with picturesque appearance, retains the original Perpendicular screen, and an ancient circular Norman font, and has in the chantry a richly decorated cross, about 18 feet high, dedicated to the Duke of Wellington, and inscribed round the shaft with the names of his chief victories. The churchyard contains monumental stones of Captain Tettersell, the preserver of Charles II.; Phoebe Hessell, who fought at Fontenoy; and Mrs Crouch, the actress. St Peter's (the present parish church), in the centre of the town, was built in 1830, after a design by Sir Charles Barry, at a cost of £20,000; is in the best Pointed style, with windows of ramified tracery; comprises nave, aisles, and semi-octagonal transepts, and has a neat tower, ornamented with pinnacles. In 1893 it was enlarged by the addition of a chancel. The living of Brighton is a vicarage in the diocese of Chichester; gross value, £936; net value, £484. Patron, the Bishop of Chichester. St Paul's Church, in West Street, near the shore, is a very beautiful structure, built in 1847, has a porch with medallion bas-reliefs from the life of St Paul, and is celebrated for its extreme ritualistic services. There are about thirty other churches, and fifty chapels for all denominations of dissenters, some of them very handsome buildings.

Brighton has a college of high repute, a clergy daughters' school, a training school for governesses, a grammar school, high schools, board and voluntary schools, a school of science and art belonging to the municipality, and other schools for manual and technical instruction, and as one result of the healthy situation and favourable climate boys' and girls' private schools abound.

The County Hospital, in Kemp-Town, was founded in 1826; has since acquired two wings, called the Adelaide and the Victoria, and contains accommodation for 150 patients. The Asylum for the Blind, close by the County Hospital, was built in 1861, is in the Venetian Gothic style, and forms nearly a square edifice, in red and black brick. On the northern portion of the Pavilion estate a public lending and reference library, also a museum and fine arts gallery, have been established by the corporation, whilst some of the rooms of the Pavilion itself are occupied by collections of old prints of Brighton and the locality. The corporation have also a fine collection of British birds, situated on the Dyke Road, to which admission is free. There are a natural history and philosophical society, several young men's literary societies, and numerous subscription reading rooms and libraries in the town. There are two parks-Queen's Park and Preston Park, in the north and east of the borough respectively. Three cemeteries lie to the N of the town: one, opened in 1851, belongs to a private company; another, opened in 1859, consists of two distinct portions-one, called the Brighton Parochial Cemetery, is 20 acres in extent, and was given to the town by the Marquis of Bristol; the other, of 23 acres, was purchased by the parish, and adjoins it. The Brighton and Preston Cemetery, opened in 1886, comprises 30 acres, and is adjacent to the Brighton Cemetery.

The climate differs, as to warmth, in the higher and lower parts, and in the E and W; but, on the whole, is of comparatively brisk dry character, excellent for children and healthy adults, and suitable for invalids of well-toned constitution. One season, for sea-bathing, runs from July to October, and another, for repose, from October till April. The bathing beach is partly shingly and steep, partly smooth hard sand, and is plentifully provided with machines, divided into groups for ladies and gentlemen. Bathing establishments, with every variety of baths, and also a large public swimming bath, are in the town. Pleasure-boats are in constant waiting for hire; regattas, concerts, lectures, and all other kinds of entertainments are frequent; two theatres and two music-halls are maintained in brisk service; harrier hunts and fox hunts take place almost daily in the season over the neighbouring downs; races are run in August, and excursions can be made, in various directions, to many objects and places of interest.

A herring fishery is carried on from October till Christmas; a mackerel fishery, from May till July; and a general fishery, for the supply of the local market, by about a hundred boats every day. Manufactures and commerce are little more than nominal. The retail trade is extensive. A weekly market is held on Thursday, and fairs on Holy Thursday and 4 Sept. There are a head post office, several receiving and telegraphic offices, and eight banks. There is one daily newspaper and two evening ones, and several others published weekly or oftener.

The town is governed, under a charter of 1854, by a mayor, 13 aldermen, and 42 councillors; and, under the Act of 1832, sends two members to Parliament. The municipal borough includes the parishes of Brighton and East Preston. The parliamentary borough consists of the parishes of Brighton, Preston, and Hove. Hove has its own governing body (see HOVE). The area of the parliamentary borough of Brighton is 3715 acres, of which 116 are water and foreshore; population, 142,129. The area of the municipal and county borough is 2529 acres; population, 115,873. A police force is maintained, consisting of a chief constable and about 174 men.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountySussex 
Ecclesiastical parishBrighton St. Nicholas 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Brighton from the following:


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Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Sussex newspapers online:

CountyCity of Brighton and Hove
RegionSouth East
Postal districtBN1
Post TownBrighton