phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Six Things You Didn’t Know About Brighton’s History
Image Credit: Charles II. Kvasir79

Six Things You Didn’t Know About Brighton’s History

15 March 2017 | Edd Elliott

For many, Brighton is home to the new, hip and trendy – no place for those stuck in the past, it would seem. Beneath the chic restaurants and stylish shops, however, there’s plenty of history to this most contemporary of seaside cities. We’ve gone hipster-diving through the archives and pulled out some strange and interesting facts for you to enjoy. Here are Six Things You Didn’t Know About Brighton’s History.

Brighton’s Woolly Mammoths
 
Way back before there were fish ‘n’ chip shops along the Brighton front – or even a place called Brighton – the site of the city was home to a whole host of huge prehistoric creatures. Recent excavation of the soil surrounding the city centre has shown a small layer of earth below the upper cliffs that dates back over 200,000 years. This slither of dirt was once the Sussex coastline and has revealed incredible archaeological finds including the bones of mammoths, woolly rhinos, bison and whales. Human settlements have also been discovered in this strip of turf, and the high frequency of spearheads may suggest that Brighton’s ancient counterparts were in fact hunters of the regions’ Ice Age beasts. You can see this layer of prehistoric soil for yourself by visiting the cliff face directly behind the Asda in the Brighton Marina.
 
Woolly Rhinoceros Hunt, Horniman Museum, London
Woolly Rhinoceros Hunt, Horniman Museum, London. Jim Linwood
 
Charles II’s Escape
 
Brighton has had many important guests pass through its ports leaving for Europe, but few have been quite as important as Charles II. The monarch’s father Charles I was famously deposed and executed in 1649 following the English Civil War. Two years later, Charles II mounted a second Civil War in an attempt to reclaim the throne. His efforts, however, were thwarted by Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester, and he was forced to flee. During his daring escape, Charles II passed through Brighton – or Brighthelmstone, as it was then known – to Shoreham, just a few miles west along the coast, before sailing to Le Havre. The retreating monarch’s journey is full of fantastical stories. Charles famously hid up an oak tree to avoid passing soldiers, and on another occasion posed as a travelling servant. In Shoreham soldiers supposedly arrived to catch the exiled royal just two hours after his boat departed the port. Charles II eventually returned to England in 1660 to be re-appointed king. The site of his lucky escape, Shoreham, is easy to visit from Brighton, lying just to the west of Brighton Airport.

Statue of Charles II
Statue of Charles II. Photo Credit: Sharaf
 
Britain’s First Filmmaker
 
It is a little known fact that Britain’s first films were made in Brighton. Less than a year after the Lumière Brothers first demonstrated their new motion picture technology to the world at the Paris Exhibition of March 1895, a Brighton local George Albert Smith purchased one of the French pair’s cameras and set about experimenting back in his seaside home. The city proved the perfect spot for the former circus showman’s enterprise: the south coast sun provided that extra bit of light needed for the primitive recording technology. Albert Smith went on to make over twenty films and pioneered many of the earliest approaches to film editing. You can learn more about Britain’s earliest film pioneer and his Brightonian successors at the Brighton Museum’s Experimental Motion exhibition, on display until 4 June.

A Kiss in the Tunnel by GA Smith_ 1899 credit BFI National Archive
 A Kiss in the Tunnel by GA Smith, 1899. Credit: BFI National Archive
 
Calling Brighton
 
Film wasn’t the only technology that was pioneered in Brighton: telephones also found an early home in the Victorian coastal resort. Brighton was the first city to have a long distance telephone connection to London, and one of the first six British cities to have their own internal network. It was also the first area in Britain to have a yellow pages! Local inventor and entrepreneur Magnus Volk bought the area’s first device in 1879 and strung the first cable across Stanford Avenue to his friend William Jago, a science professor at Brighton School of Science and Art. Unfortunately, Volk’s neighbours did not take kindly to the look of the dangling wire, and he was asked to take the contraption down. The site of Brighton’s first telephone can still be visited, only a few minutes’ walk from London Road Brighton Station.
 
 
The Royal Pavilion and a Flea Circus
 
You can’t miss The Royal Pavilion walking through Brighton’s city centre. The elaborate Oriental structure was first built in 1786, commissioned by Prince Regent George. Since then numerous annexes and interiors have been added, eventually leading to today’s tourist attraction. The Royal Pavilion’s history, however, has been far from smooth. In 1849, Parliament almost passed a bill that would have allowed the architectural oddity to be demolished – it was only thanks to local investment that the building survived. Even after this, the structure’s future was uncertain. The premises were used for a series of disparate functions including a library, a hospital and even a flea circus. You can learn all about the Royal Pavilion by visiting the building, or read our handy Discover guide!

The Royal Pavilion
Photo Credit: Dun.can
 
Brighton in Flames
 
Here’s a real history fact: Brighton almost never existed. The city, then coastal village, danced with destruction in 1514, when the small fishing port was attacked by French raiders. The English had been at war with France since 1511, and, from the limited accounts we have, this marauding fleet appears to have attempted to pillage much of the south coast. Auxiliary forces eventually arrived to repel the raiders, but by then much of Brighton had been burnt to the ground. Not much is known about the attack, and almost no marks of the destruction survive. The raid is believed to have begun in Rottingdean, however, and progressed all the way up to Lewes – not a bad journey if you fancy a historical day out!
 

Tell us what you think

You may also like

Win a Family Day Out to Harbour Park in West Sussex

Harbour Park - Win a Family Day Out to Harbour Park in West Sussex

Sun, sea and sand at your fingertips along with fun for all the family at Harbour Park in West Sussex - what more could you...

Regional Theatre Summer Round-Up

Regional Theatre Summer Round-Up

There’s a whole heap of interesting underground theatre in the UK over the next couple of months. It’s always worth taking a trip to your local…

Win a Membership and Bird-Friendly Bundle!

SongBird Survival - Win a Membership and Bird-Friendly Bundle!

Help SongBird Survival save the dawn chorus for tomorrow.

‘Ultimately Music Does Still Have that Magical Hold on Us’: An Interview with the Flaming Lips

‘Ultimately Music Does Still Have that Magical Hold on Us’: An Interview with the Flaming Lips

He’s the eccentric front man of Oklahoma alt-rock band the Flaming Lips with an impressive back catalogue of 17 studio albums, countless tours and collaborations with…

Top 5: Picnic Spots in Cambridge

Top 5: Picnic Spots in Cambridge

Once that summer breeze starts blowing through the jasmine of your mind, you know it's picnic season! Hot, languorous days are best spent out of…

Win Two All-Weekend Adult tickets to Curious Arts Festival!

Curious Arts Festival - Win Two All-Weekend Adult tickets to Curious Arts Festival!

Here's a fantastic chance to win two all-weekend adult tickets to Curious Arts Festival at the stunning Pylewell Park in the heart of the New Forest.

​Africa Oyé Festival at Sefton Park, Liverpool

​Africa Oyé Festival at Sefton Park, Liverpool

Check out the UK's largest free celebration of African music and culture taking place in Liverpool this June.

Win Dinner for Two and Entry to an Exhibition!

Wallace Collection - Win Dinner for Two and Entry to an Exhibition!

Win dinner for two in the beautiful Wallace Collection Restaurant, with entry to Gilded Interiors: French Masterpieces of Gilt Bronze.

A Guide to Alternative Summer Festivals

A Guide to Alternative Summer Festivals

There are a lot of festivals out there this summer. With such choice available, selecting the right one often comes down to something intangible and…

Win a Family Ticket to The Tiger Who Came to Tea!

Orchard Theatre - Win a Family Ticket to The Tiger Who Came to Tea!

Based on the classic children's book by Judith Kerr, a trip to this Olivier-nominated play is a treat for the whole family.

Most popular

Win a Family Ticket to The Tiger Who Came to Tea!

Orchard Theatre - Win a Family Ticket to The Tiger Who Came to Tea!

Based on the classic children's book by Judith Kerr, a trip to this Olivier-nominated play is a treat for the whole family.
An Art Lover’s Guide to Oxford

An Art Lover’s Guide to Oxford

Crammed with countless collections of painting and sculpture both ancient and modern, Oxford is a haven for art fans.
Win a Family Day Out to Harbour Park in West Sussex

Harbour Park - Win a Family Day Out to Harbour Park in West Sussex

Win a Family Day Out to Harbour Park in West Sussex
A Weekend Away in ... the Cotswolds

A Weekend Away in ... the Cotswolds

Experience the magic of the Cotswolds in our weekend guide to this area of outstanding natural beauty.
Win a Family Stay at Marwell Hotel and Zoo this Summer!

Marwell Wildlife - Win a Family Stay at Marwell Hotel and Zoo this Summer!

Looking for a family weekend this summer? We’re giving away a family stay at the amazing Marwell Zoo’s on-site lodgings, the Marwell Hotel.
Top 5: Bristol Food Festivals

Top 5: Bristol Food Festivals

From burger bonanzas to Thai and vegan feasts, there‘s something for everyone at Bristol’s top food festivals this summer.
Win Two All-Weekend Adult tickets to Curious Arts Festival!

Curious Arts Festival - Win Two All-Weekend Adult tickets to Curious Arts Festival!

Here's a fantastic chance to win two all-weekend adult tickets to Curious Arts Festival at the stunning Pylewell Park in the heart of the New Forest.
Basim Magdy Exhibition at the Arnolfini in Bristol

Basim Magdy Exhibition at the Arnolfini in Bristol

In his debut UK solo show, the innovative Egyptian artist uses dreamlike visuals and surreal slogans to predict the future.
Oxford’s Hidden Gems: Best Places to Eat

Oxford’s Hidden Gems: Best Places to Eat

In the second instalment of our monthly Oxford's Hidden Gems series, we take you on a tour of the best culinary corners of the city.
Win a Two-Course Roast for Two Plus a Jazz Performance!

Wycombe Swan - Win a Two-Course Roast for Two Plus a Jazz Performance!

Win a two-course Sunday Roast for two people complete with an essential selection of jazz and swing at the Wycombe Swan.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!