Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Biggest Beach Ball of All: Brighton

As summer vacation draws to a close and students head back to school here, I wanted to close my series on seaside resorts with the one most celebrated in romantic literature: Brighton. This sleepy little fishing village on the Channel due south of London looked doomed to die in the 1700s. Storms had damaged buildings, waves eroded the shoreline, and entire neighborhoods had fallen into the sea. People left in droves, and, by early 1700, fewer than 1,500 people were living in the area.

That all changed with the publication of a medical book in 1750. Dr. Richard Russell of Lewes wrote a dissertation on the use of seawater to treat glandular diseases like gout, which was attacking any number of his wealthy, sedentary clients. He thought bathing in and drinking sea water (along with a number of other interesting concoctions containing woodlice, cuttlefish bones, and crabs’ eyes) was therapeutic. Those clients flocked to nearby Brighton to be dipped and bathed.

So did the Prince of Wales. The young prince first visited Brighton in 1783 when he was 21 years old and doctors thought sea bathing might help reduce the swelling in his neck glands. He found the diversions, which included a theatre, two assembly rooms, and a covered market by then, far superior to the stuffy court of his father. In fact, the man who dipped him in the sea, Smoaker Miles, bossed him around like a son, to the point of grabbing him by the ear and dragging him back to shallower water when the sea was rough.

Suddenly, Brighton was all the rage. Between 1770 and 1795, over 600 new houses were built. The 1800s saw first a steam ship running between Brighton and France (post Napoleon, of course) and then a railway from London to Brighton. The Chain Pier opened in 1823. Though it was meant as a place to dock ships from France, the towers supporting the chains housed little shops selling sweets and souvenirs, and the visitors loved to promenade along its length. By 1848, more than 250,000 people were said to visit Brighton each year. To serve them in various capacities, the resident population rose to more than 65,000. The Grand Hotel was built in 1864 to accommodate visitors. An aquarium, museum, library, and general hospital quickly followed.

But the shining star of Brighton, one of the reasons so many of the aristocracy made the trek, was the chance of being invited to entertainments at the Prince’s pleasure palace, Brighton Pavilion. Come back on Friday to discover some of the secrets of this Taj Mahal of England and learn the names of the final two winners of our Nineteen Teen fan contest!

And speaking of which, Melanie, please contact Marissa at her website, because you are the winner of last Tuesday’s drawing for a Nineteen Teen fan!


Liviania said...

I loved this series, especially since I just got back from England. (It rained while I was in Lyme, which did not make walking the Cobb fun.)

Dara said...

When I think of Brighton, I think of Pride and Prejudice, where Lydia goes and ultimately ends up eloping with Wickham while there.

Regina Scott said...

Oh, Liviania, I envy you--going to England, even in the rain! And walking the Cobb. SIGH.

Dara, from what I've been reading about Brighton, there were times when it was just the kind of place where the Lydias of the world could elope with the Wickhams. :)

Sarah said...

Another very interesting post! Thanks.

I had no idea a building like that last one existed in England.

Marissa Doyle said...

I so have to go back to England...it's been nearly twenty years (sigh). And I will DEFINITELY make sure I fit in a trip to Brighton this time!!

Tricia Tighe said...

Great post. Love the historical photos you guys use. It makes it all so much more real.

Regina Scott said...

Thanks, Sarah and Tricia! Sarah, be sure to check Friday's post for lots more photos of that last building--Brighton Pavilion.