During the scorching heatwave which enveloped Britain recently the town of Brighton on the Sussex coast was a welcome few degrees cooler. Located some 51 miles south of London by rail the train journey only takes about one hour.
Popular with the rich during the Georgian period of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Brighton drew the working classes with the advent of the railways in 1841.
Sometimes called `London by the sea` due to its popularity with day-trippers from the capital, it has two piers – the Palace Pier and the now ruined West Pier. The beach is pebbly but always draws crowds wishing to cool off on a hot day.
The main pier is a third of a mile long and contains restaurants, funfairs, fortune tellers, bars and is lit at night by 67,000 bulbs. Because of its size it requires constant repainting which takes about 3 months every year.
The pier has been the location of many a film including the 1947 classic British gangster film `Brighton Rock` starring Richard Attenborough, the 1972 comedy `Carry on at Your Convenience` with Sid James, and the 1979 drama based on The Who’s 1973 rock opera of the same name, `Quadrophenia`.
Watch out for the seagulls
Huge seagulls abound on Brighton Palace Pier. I saw a huge gull swoop down and snatch a man’s ice cream cone right out of his hand. Standing a little to the back of them I felt a bit like Australian actor Rod Taylor in the classic Alfred Hitchcock horror film `The Birds` when flocks of birds make unexplained attacks on local people.
Speaking of seagulls, the local football team, Brighton and Hove Albion, are in the English Premier division with a modern ground at Falmer in north east Brighton. Football trivia: Nicknamed the Seagulls, they reached the FA Cup final of 1983 where they came close to winning in the first match which was a 2-2 draw, but then lost heavily to Manchester United in the replay. Ironically, they were relegated from the old first division in the same year.
In George’s honour
After the pleasures of the Palace Pier a visit to the nearby Royal Pavilion is an interesting trip back through the ages. Derided by some as`bizarre`or `grandiose` it is a large, imposing structure built for George, Prince of Wales who went on to become Prince Regent and then King George IV.
The building, designed in Indo-Gothic style, was completed in 1823. It has a huge banqueting hall near the entrance with a chandelier weighing a whole ton. There George would dine with his rich guests on 10-course dinners which went on all night. The exotic menu had a choice of eight soups, eight removes of fish, forty entrees served around the fish, eight roasts, 32 desserts and savoury entremets. All washed down with buckets of the finest wines of course. Enough to give George a spot of indigestion and indeed he grew immensely fat in his later years.
Next to eating and fornicating, George’s great love was music and in the Music Room the king’s own band entertained guests with Handel or Italian opera. The Italian composer Rossini performed there in 1823.
The fabulously opulent saloon was where George as King would entertain heads of state and guest of high rank during his reign of 1820 – 1830.
Many other sumptuous features include the long gallery which linked all the main state rooms including the Banqueting Room and the Music Room.
George’s apartments were moved to the ground floor as he became increasing obese and immobile in his later years. Like Tudor King Henry VIII he had to be hoisted in to bed due to his gout, poor health and huge girth.
Queen Victoria who ascended the throne in 1837 did not like the Royal Pavilion as she thought it small, lacking in privacy and too close to the centre of Brighton where she would be constantly mobbed by crowds.
From December 1914 to February 1916, the Royal Pavilion was offered for use as a hospital for troops from the Indian Corps wounded on the Western Front in France and Flanders during World War I.
The pavilion was purchased from Queen Victoria by the town of Brighton which marked the beginnings of its use today as a tourist attraction.
Proudly modern and progressive
Contemporary Brighton boasts fine shopping, a racecourse, two universities and a dynamic nightlife. The famous `lanes` are a maze of narrow streets which used to be the fishing village of Brighthelmstone. They are packed with tea rooms, coffee shops, jewellers and high-class antique shops.
Modern day Brighton is proud of its liberal attitude to transgender and gay people. The third weekend in July saw the UK’s biggest ever Trans Pride event. As a wave of colour and glitter swept through the town, the local MP Caroline Lucas of the Green Party said, “I am so proud that our city was home to the first ever Trans Pride in the UK seven whole years ago.”
At the 2019 Green Pride event in the city the same week, medicinal and recreational cannabis user fans openly smoked joints in front of the police. PCSOs (Police Community Support Officers) did approach the many users handing out leaflets warning that cannabis is illegal and would not be tolerated at the event. The large gathering drew people from all over the UK and in the event only two arrests were made.
Just a mile or so to the east of Brighton is the famous naturist beach. Officially known as the Cliff Bathing Beach it is walking distance from the town centre. Many prominent people like local councillors get an all over tan when the sun shines.
With its excellent transport connections (London an hour and Gatwick Airport just 30 minutes away by train) and liberal values Brighton is an attractive town to visit, especially on a scorching summer’s day.
Just 11 miles west of Brighton is the sizeable town of Worthing. Once known as a retirement centre for old people it now has a large financial sector and three theatres as well as one of Britain’s oldest cinemas – the Dome. Famous writers Oscar Wilde and Harold Pinter once lived here.