Brighton Rocks…And Why We Love It!
Oh we do like to be beside the seaside!
So we took ourselves, and our favourite photographer Robin, of Studio Dog, back to our roots where it all started for Tina. Born and bred in Brighton, she opened her first shop here back in 1987.
You’ve got to love Brighton! There’s something for everyone in this vibrant city. If you love shopping, you’ll be totally spoilt by a bevy of unique boutiques, antique and jewellery shops in The Lanes. Wander around this maze of passageways and while away an hour or two. Or head to the characterful cool of the North Laine where you’ll find brilliant independent record shops, vintage emporiums, books stores and artworks.
And although Brighton is known as a frivolous and fun town, it is simply steeped in history as its many landmarks hold testimony to, including the Palace Pier and the Royal Pavilion.
And did you know that Brighton has had three piers?
Possibly Brighton’s most famous and loved attraction, The Palace Pier is, of course, usually the first port of call for visitors. The Pier is visited by millions of visitors every year. And if you want to join in the fun, you can find slot machines, fairground rides, a video arcade, traditional sea side stalls and games. You’ll also find plenty of hot doughnuts and an award winning fish and chip restaurant!
This is a Grade II listed building and was officially opened in 1899 and is now the fifth most visited free attraction in the UK.
In its early days, the pier was a great success and its music hall was added in 1911 and played host to the likes of Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin. Later, during World War I, the sea surrounding the pier was extensively mined to prevent enemy attacks. And during the Second World War an entire section of decking was removed to stop enemy troops using it as a landing point!
In 1984 the pier was bought by The Noble Group, a gambling and betting company. And at this point the entrance fee was abolished which allowed many more visitors to enjoy the walk, sea air and view for free.
Originally named The Palace Pier, the Noble Group renamed this simply ‘Brighton Pier’ which was very unpopular with residents of Brighton. In 2016, The Eclectic Bar Group (now known as the Brighton Pier Group) bought the pier for £18 million. And much to the delight of residents, the new owners agreed to rename it as The Palace Pier.
An iconic part of the Brighton landscape, it has appeared in several films, books and TV series including Quadrophenia and Doctor Who. And of course it was the setting for important scenes in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock.
Fun Facts About the Palace Pier
Did you know that:
• If every plank used in the pier’s decking was laid end to end it would stretch for 85 miles!
• The length of the pier is 1760 feet (537m), that’s as long as 65 double-decker buses.
• 67,000 long-life and energy-saving lights are used to illuminate the pier every night and it provides jobs for over 400 people.
• It takes 3 months to paint the pier! A task that it is performed every year by its team of engineers, known as “deck-hands”, they are also responsible for the general maintenance and upkeep of the pier.
• It was nearly destroyed before it had even been finished! In 1896 a storm destroyed the old Chain Pier and lumber from the destroyed pier repeatedly slammed into the under-construction pier causing serious damage and building work was suspended while additional funding was secured.
The Palace Pier wasn’t Brighton’s first pier however. It was, in fact, the third pier to be built in Brighton, after the West Pier and the Old Chain Pier.
The West Pier
Although it’s a mere skeleton of its former self, the remains of the iconic West Pier cast a spectral beauty over the seafront. This is still the most photographed building in Brighton and is home to the stunning starling murmurations which can be seen from October to March, before nightfall.
The second pier to be built in Brighton, this was designed as a pleasure pier. However, due to financial difficulties, the pier was finally closed in 1975. In the great storm of 1987, the pier suffered structural damage and in 1991 access was removed for safety reasons. Arson attacks in 2003 completely destroyed the pier’s Pavilion and English Heritage believed restoration was a viable option. Despite this, in 2004 the Heritage Lottery funding was withdrawn and in 2010, the West Pier underwent structured demolition to make way for the construction of the new i360. What’s left of the structure of the pier will remain, unless significant safety concerns develop. We presume that nature will take its course and the pier will eventually be claimed by the sea.
Which was the first pier to be built in Brighton?
Known as the Chain Pier, this was built during 1822-1823 and originally designed to be used as a landing stage and embarkation platform. But this quickly became a tourist attraction.
The Chain Pier was a novel experience for both residents and visitors. And in the 1820s and 1830s as many as 4000 people went on the pier in one day! Here they were entertained by regimental bands and later, all sorts of side shows.
Made from four towers and eight wrought iron chains made from links that were ten feet long. The base of each tower housed a shop which sold confectionery, refreshments, jewellery, books and souvenirs. While underneath the pier head, you would find seawater baths for men and women.
However, in the 1860s, Victorian visitors were more attracted to the West Pier and in 1891, planning permission was granted for the Palace Pier on condition that the Chain Pier was demolished. On 4 December 1896 a huge storm destroyed the structure and all that was left the following morning was the broken first tower and some jagged piles jutting out of the sea. The chains had sunk right down to the sea bed. This was the end of the Chain Pier.
And probably Brighton’s most famous landmark – The Royal Pavilion
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this sumptuous edifice should be found on the banks of the Yamuna in India, but the Royal Pavilion is a significant landmark in historic Brighton.
So, how did Brighton end up with such an iconic pavilion?
In the mid 1780s, the Prince of Wales, George, rented a lodging house overlooking one of the fashionable promenades in Brighton. At this time, Brighton was developing into an established seaside retreat for the rich and famous. And was also popular for the therapeutic health-giving sea water remedies made famous by Dr Richard Russell. Physicians of the Prince had advised him to visit Brighton in order to try out the sea water treatments including ‘dipping’ (total body immersion in sea water).
Prince George soon took a shine to Brighton and rebelled against his strict upbringing and threw himself into a life of drinking, womanising and gambling. This decadent lifestyle and his love of architecture and the arts drove him to hire an architect (Henry Holland) to transform his lodging house into a modest villa known as the Marine Pavilion.
Fascinated with the mythical orient, Price George set about furnishing and decorating his seaside home in lavish fashion. Choosing Chinese export furniture, objects and hand painted wallpapers.
In 1811 the Prince’s father, George III was deemed incapable of continuing as monarch and so George was sworn in as Prince Regent. And being a modest building, The Marine Pavilion was not really suitable for the extravagant social events that George loved to host. And so, in 1815, John Nash was commissioned to begin the transformation into the extraordinary oriental palace that is standing in Brighton today.
George wanted to ensure that the palace was the ultimate in comfort and convenience with particular attention paid to lighting, heating and sanitation as well as the installation of the most modern equipment of the day for the Great Kitchen.
Good news for Brighton
The presence of Prince George made a huge impact on the social development and the prosperity of Brighton and the population grew significantly from around 3,620 in 1786 to 40,634 in 1831. Due to the rebuilding of the Prince’s home, there was work to be had for local tradesmen, labourers and craftsmen. And not only for the Prince’s home, there was invaluable business for local builders and service industries on behalf of his guests, members of society and the Royal Household.
The interior of the Pavilion was finally finished in 1823 but once George became king in 1820 he sadly only visited the palace twice due to his increased responsibilities and ill health. George died in 1830 and was succeeded by his younger brother, William IV.
Queen Adelaide decided to extend the Pavilion in order to accommodate her extensive household (these buildings have since been demolished.) And the royal couple continued to entertain here, albeit in a much more informal style.
In 1837, King William died and was succeeded by his niece Victoria.
On her first visit to Brighton, the queen felt uncomfortable in these extravagant and indulgent surroundings and she adopted a policy of financial stringency. Requiring more space and privacy, she finally sold George’s pleasure palace to the town of Brighton in 1850 for the princely sum of £50,000. And the continuing prosperity of Brighton in the mid 19th century and the opening of the London to Brighton Railway paved the way for the beginning of mass tourism in the town.
In 1864, Victoria returned many items that she had stripped from the pavilion, including chandeliers, wall paintings and fixtures and made further gifts in 1899. From around 1851 the Royal Pavilion was opened to the public and used as a venue for many different events.
During World War I the Pavilion was used as a hospital for Indian soldiers and as a result the interiors were altered, damaged and inevitably neglected.
Restoration to its former glory
Restoration of the Pavilion began in 1920 and was given a boost when Queen Mary returned original pieces that had remained at Buckingham Palace. The programme of restoration was extensive including using detailed research into the Regency era to ensure that the work was carried out accurately. All pieces of available evidence were examined, using original fragments, drawings and prints.
This was not without its setbacks however. Including an arson attack in 1975 that badly damaged the Music Room, and in the great storm of 1987, a ball of stone was dislodged from a minaret and fell through the newly restored coving to be buried in the new carpet! So once again, the conservation team got to work and the Music Room is now fully restored.
Now this majestic edifice is living testament to George IV’s Regency dream. And a visit is an absolute must to get a glimpse of life in this time.
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