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Brighton seafront
Grid reference: TQ315065
Location: 50°50’35"N, 0°7’53"W
Population: 155,919  (2001)
Post town: Brighton
Postcode: BN1-2, BN41-42, BN45
Dialling code: 01273
Local Government
Council: Brighton and Hove
Brighton Kemptown
Brighton Pavilion

Brighton is the major town of Sussex, and sits on the English Channel on the south coast of Great Britain, from which it takes its origin and its fortune. Brighton is a seaside resort primarily, but has grown into a large town.

Brighton is wholly contiguous with its neighbour, Hove and together they form a single city. This in turn forms part of the Brighton-Worthing-Littlehampton conurbation of seaside resorts stretching along the Sussex coast, with an overall population of around 480,000.

The ancient settlement of Brighthelmstone dates from before Domesday Book (1086), but Brighton emerged as a health resort featuring sea bathing during the 18th century and became a destination for day-trippers from London after the arrival of the railway in 1841. Brighton experienced rapid population growth, reaching a peak of over 160,000 by 1961.[1]

Brighton has two universities and a medical school which is operated by both universities together.

Name of the town

Into the eighteenth century, Brighton was known as Brighthelmstone, a name seen on early prints of the town as it emerged as a tourist resort. Soon afterwards the name became shortened to Brighton.

In the London Gazette, the name "Brighton" begins to appear around 1812, but for some years both names appear, with Brighthelmstone appearing to be considered "official" and Brighton an actual local usage. For example, an auction notice of 1814 is headed "Brighthelmstone" and uses that name in the text but also refers to the property in question as being "in Brighton aforesaid".[2]

The name of Brighthelmstone is believed to come from the Old English Beorhthelmesstun ("Beorhthelm's village"), and it appears in the Domesday Book as Bristelmestune.


Photochrom of Brighton aquarium, 1890–1900

In the Domesday Book, Brighton was called Bristelmestune[3] and a rent of 4,000 herring was established.

In June 1514, Brighthelmstone was burnt to the ground by French raiders during a war between England and France. Only part of St Nicholas Church and the street pattern of the area now known as "The Lanes" survived. The first drawing of Brighthelmstone was made in 1545 and depicts what is believed to be the raid of 1514.[4]

During the 1740s and 1750s, Dr Richard Russell of Lewes began prescribing seawater at Brighton.[5][6]

By 1780, development of the Georgian terraces had started and the fishing village became the fashionable resort of Brighton. Growth of the town was further encouraged by the patronage of the Prince Regent (later King George IV) after his first visit in 1783.[7] He spent much of his leisure time in the town and constructed the Royal Pavilion during the early part of his Regency. Although contracted forms of the name are attested since the 15th Century, it was not until this period that the modern form of the name came into common use.[8]

The arrival of the London and Brighton Railway in 1841 brought Brighton within the reach of day-trippers from London and population growth from around 7,000 in 1801 to over 120,000 by 1901.[9] The Victorian era saw the building of many major attractions including the Grand Hotel (1864), the West Pier (1866) and the Palace Pier (1899). Before either of these structures, the Chain Pier was built, to the designs of Captain Samuel Brown. It lasted from 1823 to 1896, and featured in paintings by both Turner and Constable.

New housing estates grew up around Brighton from the later nineteenth century and much council housing was built in parts of Woodingdean after the Second World War. More recently, gentrification of much of Brighton has seen a return of the fashionable image which characterised the growth of the Regency period. Recent housing in the North Laine, for instance, has been designed in keeping with the area.

Brighton Pavilion

Royal Pavilion

The Royal Pavilion, commonly called Brighton pavilion, is a former royal palace in the heart of the town. It was built as a seaside home for the Prince Regent during the early 19th century, under the direction of the architect John Nash, and was enjoyed by him throughout his regency and subsequent reign as King George IV and by King William IV. Queen Victoria came here too, though ultimately she gave the pavilion to the town.

The Royal Pavilion is of remarkable design. It is of Indo-Saracenic architecture, intended to resemble an Indian Raja’s palace. It interior is Oriental; Regency chinoiserie taken to an extreme and beyond. Though its days as a royal palace are past, the pavilion and its exquisite docation have been maintained by the council and it is a major tourist attraction.

Other Indo-Saracenic buildings in Brighton include the Sassoon Mausoleum, now, with the bodies reburied elsewhere, in use as a chic supper club.


The 11th century St Nicholas Church is the oldest building in Brighton, commonly known as "The Mother Church".[10]

Other notable churches include the large brick-built St Bartholomew's, and St Peter's on an island between the Lewes Road and the London Road.

Brighton has one synagogue, the Middle Street Synagogue, a Grade II listed building built in 1874–75. About 12% of the population of the Brighton & Hove conurbation are of Jewish ancestry.

Sights of the town

Palace Pier

Brighton Marine Palace and Pier (long known as the Palace Pier) opened in 1899. It features a funfair, restaurants and arcade halls.[11][12][13]

The West Pier was built in 1866 and has been closed since 1975 awaiting renovation, once it was burnt down which faces continual setbacks,[14] The West Pier is one of only two Grade I listed piers in the United Kingdom, but suffered two fires in 2003 in mysterious circumstances. Plans for a new landmark in its place – the i360, a 600-foot observation tower designed by London Eye architects Marks Barfield – were announced in June 2006. Plans were approved by the council on 11 October 2006.[15]

Brighton Pavilion, King George’s eccentric seaside palace, sits in the heart of the town.

Created in 1883, Volk's Electric Railway runs along the inland edge of the beach from Brighton Pier to Black Rock and Brighton Marina. It is the world's oldest operating electric railway.[16]

The Grand Hotel was built in 1864. Its nighttime blue lighting is particularly prominent along the foreshore.[17] This hotel was the scene of the 1984 Brighton Hotel Bombing by the IRA, aimed at assassinating the Cabinet during the Conservative conference in the town. The hotel has since been extensively repaired.

The Brighton Wheel opened with some controversy in the Kemptown area in October 2011 after a previous attempt to locate it in a more central location near the Metropole Hotel, at which time it was to have been the "Brighton O" — a special spokeless design rather than the usual spoked wheel eventually bought from its previous home in South Africa.


Brighton's Kemp Town beach in summer
Boats on Brighton Beach

The seafront has bars, restaurants, nightclubs and amusement arcades, principally between the piers. Being less than an hour from London by train has made the town a popular destination. Brighton beach has a nudist area (south of the easterly part of Kemptown). Brighton's beach is a shingle beach up to the mean low tide mark. The Monarch's Way long-distance footpath heads west along the seafront above the beach.

Since the 1978 demolition of the open-air lido at Black Rock, the most easterly part of Brighton's seafront, the area has been developed and now features one of Europe's largest marinas. However, the site of the pool itself remains empty except for a skate park and graffiti wall, and further development is planned including a high-rise hotel which has aroused debate, mirroring proposals for the King Alfred leisure centre in Hove, which were pulled in 2008.[18] In addition, part of the eastern side of the beach has been redeveloped into a sports complex, which has courts for anything from beach volleyball to “ultimate Frisbee”, and opened to the public in March 2007.


Brighton sports alternative culture in various forms. In the 1950s rival motorcycle gangs ofmods and rockers descended on Brighton in the summer months and fought bloodily on the seafront. That thankfully has passed, but the town has attracted all sorts since. Its attraction for those living on state benefits, who might as well live by the sea as anywhere, has earned Brighton the cruel nickname “Skidrow on Sea” in the pages of ‘’Private Eye’’.

Brighton has huge numbers of “hippy” type shops, countless vegetarian restaurants and about a third of the population are reckoned to be homosexual. It is the only town ever to have returned a Member of Parliament for the Green Party. However it is just as much the home of the well-to-do Upper Middle Classes and its shops, attractions, hotels and restaurants cater very well to all demographics amongst visitors and townsfolk.


Brighton's art community is showcased once a year in an artists' open house event during the Brighton Festival. On the seafront between Brighton's two piers is the Artists Quarter, a row of Victorian fishermen's workshops converted to small galleries and studio spaces, where artists, employing a variety of media and styles, publicly present their work.[19]

In 2009 Anish Kapoor exhibited throughout Brighton as part of the Brighton Festival, for which he was also artistic director.[20]

Brighton Museum and Art Gallery in Pavilion Gardens, part of the Royal Pavilion complex, provides permanent collections and temporary exhibitions.[21]

Films set in Brighton

Brighton and its counter-culture have featured in a number of films, including:

  • Brighton Rock (1947, and remake 2008)
  • Quadrophenia (1979)
  • MirrorMask (2005)
  • Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008)
  • The Young Victoria (2009)
  • The Boat that Rocked (2009)

Night-life and popular music

Brighton is considered to be one of the United Kingdom's premier night-life hotspots and is also associated with many popular music artists. There are also several live music venues attracting big-name artists. There are a large number of events and performance companies operating in the town.

There are over 300 pubs in the town.[22]


"The Big Beach Boutique II" (July 2002)
Seafront display of Minis after a London to Brighton drive

Each May the town hosts the Brighton Festival, the largest arts festival in the United Kingdom after Edinburgh). This includes processions such as the Children's Parade, outdoor spectaculars often involving pyrotechnics, and theatre, music and visual arts in venues throughout the town, some brought into this use exclusively for the festival. The earliest feature of the festival, the Artists' Open Houses, are homes of artists and craftspeople opened to the public as galleries, and usually selling the work of the occupants. Since 2002, these have been organised independently of the official Festival and Fringe.

Brighton Festival Fringe runs alongside Brighton Festival, and has grown to be the second largest fringe festival in the world. Together with the street performers from Brighton Festival's "Streets of Brighton" events, and outdoor performances mimicking those of Edinburgh's Royal Mile that make up "Fringe City", outdoor spectacles and events more than double during May.[23]

Other festivals include The Great Escape, featuring three nights of live music in venues across the town; the Soundwaves Festival in June, which shows classical music composed in the 21st Century, and involves both amateur and professional performers; Paddle Round the Pier; Brighton Live which each September stages a week of free gigs in pubs to show local bands.

The Kemptown area has its own small annual street festival, the Kemptown Carnival, and the Hanover area similarly has a "Hanover Day". Beachdown Festival, started in 2008 has recently ceased operations due to financial difficulties.[24][25]

An inaugural White Nights (Nuit Blanche) all-night arts festival took place in October 2008. 2009 saw the first Brighton Zine Fest[26] celebrating zine and DIY culture within the town.

On 1 September 2007, competitors from the United Kingdom, United States, Germany and other countries convened for the World Beard and Moustache Championship. Hosted by The Handlebar Club, categories include Dali moustache, goatee and full beard freestyle.[27] Additionally, Brighton is permanent home to notable moustache advocate Michael "Atters" Attree.

Brighton is the home of Britain's first Walk of Fame which celebrates the many rich and famous people associated with the town.[28]


Brighton museums include Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Booth Museum of Natural History, Brighton Toy and Model Museum, and Brighton Fishing Museum the long established social epicentre of the seafront, which includes artefacts from the West Pier. The Royal Pavilion is also open to the public, serving as a museum to the British Regency.

Theatre and cinema

Theatre Royal, town centre

Theatres include the Brighton Dome and associated Pavilion Theatre, the expanded Komedia (primarily a comedy and music venue but also a theatre) and the Theatre Royal which celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2007.

There are also smaller theatres such as the Marlborough Theatre and Nightingale Theatre, both above pubs, which attract mostly local plays, and the Brighton Little Theatre.

Brighton also has a history of involvement with the film industry, and the Duke of York's Picture House at Preston Circus has been in operation since 22 September 1910. There are multiplex cinemas at West Street and Brighton Marina.


The Lanes

Brighton has a high density of businesses involved in media, particularly digital or "new media", and since the 1990s has been referred to as "Silicon Beach".

The Lanes form a retail, leisure and residential area near the seafront, characterised by narrow alleyways following the street pattern of the original fishing village. The Lanes contain predominantly clothing stores, jewellers, antique shops, restaurants and pubs. The North Laine area is a retail, leisure and residential area immediately north of The Lanes. The North Laine contains a mix of businesses dominated by cafés, independent and avant-garde shops, bars and theatres.

Churchill Square shopping centre has over 80 shops, several restaurants and 1,600 car-parking spaces.[29] It was built in the 1960s as an open-air, multi-level pedestrianised shopping centre, but was rebuilt and enlarged in 1998 and is no longer open-air. Further retail areas include Western Road and London Road.


Brighton Marina

Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club is the local professional football team.

Brighton Football Club is one of the oldest Rugby clubs in Britain.[30]

Throughout the year many events take place on Madeira Drive (a piece of roadway on Brighton's seafront), which was constructed in order to host what is commonly held to be the world's oldest motor race, the Brighton Speed Trials, which has been running since 1905. The event is organised by the Brighton and Hove Motor Club and normally takes place on the second Saturday in September each year.

There is also from time to time a beach soccer competition in a temporary stadium on imported sand on the beach. The inaugural contest in June 2002 featured football stars such as Eric Cantona and Matt Le Tissier.

Brighton has a horse-racing course, Brighton Racecourse, with the unusual feature that when the full length of the course is to be used, some of the grass turf of the track has to be laid over the tar at the top of Wilson Avenue, a public road, which therefore has to be closed for the races.

There is a greyhound racing circuit in Hove, run by Coral, at which Motorcycle speedway racing was staged in 1928.

There are yachting clubs and other boating activities run from Brighton Marina.

Brighton has two competitive swimming clubs. Brighton SC[31] formed in 1860 claims to be the oldest swimming club in England. Brighton Dolphin SC[32] was formed in 1891 as Brighton Ladies Swimming

Outside links

References and notes

  1. Carder, Timothy (1990). The Encyclopaedia of Brighton. S.127 East Sussex County Libraries. ISBN 0-86147-315-9
  2. London Gazette Issue 16881 published on the 9 April 1814. Page 13
  3. "National Archives: Domesday Book: Brighton". Retrieved 13 December 2009. 
  4. Carder (1990), s.17
  5. Russell, Richard (1755). The Oeconomy of Nature in Acute and Chronical Diseases of the Glands (8th ed.). John and James Rivington, London; and James Fletcher, Oxford. Retrieved 7 December 2009.  Full text at Internet Archive (
  6. Russell, Richard (1760). "A Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water in the Diseases of the Glands. Particularly The Scurvy, Jaundice, King's-Evil, Leprosy, and the Glandular Consumption". To which is added a Translation of Dr. Speed's Commentary on SEA WATER. As also An Account of the Nature, Properties, and Uses of all the remarkable Mineral Waters in Great Britain (4th ed.). London: W. Owen.  First published 1750 as De Tabe Glandulari.
  7. Carder (1990), s.71
  8. Mawer, A. and F.M. Stenton, The Place-Names of Sussex, Part II, Cambridge 1930, p. 291.
  9. Carder (1990), s.127
  10. "St. Nicholas Church – Out & About – Regency Square Area Society". Retrieved 11 April 2007. 
  11. The Argus newspaper
  12. The Argus newspaper
  13. The Argus newspaper
  14. Pier Threatens To Unplug Rival (from The Argus)
  15. "BBC NEWS – England – Southern Counties – Tall tower rises from pier ashes". BBC News. 11 October 2006. Retrieved 20 August 2007. 
  16. "Home page of Volks Electric Railway Group". Retrieved 20 August 2007. 
  17. "Blog post from The Virgin Backpacker". Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  18. Developments in Brighton and Hove
  19. "The Artists Quarter", Brighton and Hove City Council. Retrieved 13 July 2011
  20. Conrad, Peter, "Round and round the gardens ...", Guardian, 3 May 2009. Retrieved 13 July 2011
  21. Brighton and Hove Pavilion Museum and Art Gallery
  22. My Brighton and Hove
  23. "Brighton Fringe Festival 2007. 5–28 May 2007.". Retrieved 20 August 2007. 
  24. "Beachdown festival homepage". 
  25. "Evening Argus newspaper story and interview". 
  26. "Brighton Zine Fest homepage". 
  27. BBC NEWS, Bearded wonders go head to head
  28. "Apache 2 Test Page powered by CentOS". Retrieved 13 September 2010. 
  29. "Churchill Square Shopping Centre: Churchill Square Food". Retrieved 20 August 2007. 
  30. "Brighton Rugby Club – Sussex, south of England". Retrieved 11 April 2007. 
  31. "Brighton Swimming Club". 
  32. "Brighton Dolphin Swimming Club". 
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