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MARKET TOWNS OF SUSSEX (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Brighton in 1836

BRIGHTHELMSTONE, commonly written and pronounced BRIGHTON, a parliamentary borough, market town, seaport, and fashionable watering-place in the hundred of Whalesbone, rape of Lewes, Sussex, 46 miles S. of London, direct distance. It is chiefly in the parish of Brighton, of which it occupies the whole breadth from E. to west, and extends also west into the adjoining parish of Hove. The barracks and a few detached houses are in the parish of Preston, which lies on the N. of both Brighthelmstone and Hove. It is bounded on the east by the parishes of Rottingdean, Ovingdean, and Falmer, none of which contain any houses connected with Brighton.

The town occupies only a part of the parish of Brighton, but it comprises nearly the whole of the population. The government is vested in a chief constable and headboroughs, to whom are added commissioners appointed under act of parliament for regulating, paving, improving, and managing the town. It was constituted a parliamentary borough by the Reform Act, and returns two members ; the borough consists of the parishes of Brighton and Hove. The population within the boundary in 1831 was 41,994. Brighton stands near the centre of the curved line of coast of which the east and west points are respectively Beachy Head and Selsea Bill. The town is built on a slope, and is defended from the north winds by the high land of the South Downs, which from Beachy head as far as the central part of Brighton press close on the sea and form high chalk cliffs. From the central part of Brighton west, the hills recede farther from the sea, leaving a level coast. Thus the town of Brighton in the east part presents a high cliff to the sea, and in the west part a sloping low beach.

The soil on the South Downs is a calcareous earth resting on chalk : on the steep slopes and some of the flat tops the soil is very thin ; in the hollows and occasionally on other parts it is a pretty good loam, capable of producing profitable crops. From the nature of the ground and the superior advantage of a sea-frontage, the town has not increased towards the north so much as along the coast ; but it has run up the depressions in the chalk, along which the London and Lewes roads respectively are formed.

The entire sea frontage of the parish of Brighton, a space of near 3 miles in length, is occupied with houses, and the line is extending west into the parish of Hove. The population of the town has increased with astonishing rapidity during the present century : in 1801 it was 7,339 ; in 1811, 12,012 ; in 1821, 24,429 : in 1831, 40,634. At present the number of residents during the summer occasionally amounts to 70,000. The number of houses within the town in 1831, taxed at £10 and upwards, was 2,763 ; the entire number within the parliamentary boundary was 8,885. The amount of assessed taxes in 1830 in the parish of Brighton was £31,800, and within the boundary £35,580. The place is rapidly and daily increasing.

The origin of Brighton is uncertain. Its name is commonly derived from a Saxon bishop supposed to have resided here, named Brighthelm ; but this is mere conjecture. Roman coins have been dug up in the vicinity. At the Conquest the lordship of the manor was included in the possessions of Harold, and was given by the Conqueror to his son-in-law, William de Warren. About this time a colony of Flemings are supposed to have established themselves for the purpose of fishing. From the exposed nature of the coast the town has occasionally suffered from hostile invasion. It was plundered and burned by the French in 1513.

During the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth fortifications were erected to protect it. The town has also suffered from storms and the encroachments of the sea, by which the cliffs have been undermined, and at different times many houses destroyed. Wooden groins have lately been formed, running from the cliff to low water mark, within which the loose shingle is deposited ; the shingle in this part of the channel is always driven eastward. A sea wall is also partly built and still in progress along the east cliff.

During part of the 17th century Brighton is stated to have contained upwards of 600 families, chiefly engaged in fishing. It was from Brighton that Charles II effected his escape to France after the battle of Worcester, being conveyed across the channel by the captain of a coal brig, who afterwards enjoyed a pension for his services.

About the middle of the 18th century attention was directed to Brighton as a suitable watering-place, and chiefly by Dr. Richard Russell, an intelligent medical man, whose work on the use of sea water created considerable interest.

But the progress of the place was slow until it was rendered a fashionable resort by George IV, then prince of Wales, who selected it as his summer residence. In 1784 the foundation of the Marine Pavilion was laid. This royal palace may be regarded as the nucleus of modern Brighton. It is a singular structure. The original design has received many alterations and additions. The appearance of the exterior is rather fantastic than striking, presenting an assemblage of domes, minarets, and pinnacles. The furniture of the interior is of a very expensive character. The pleasure grounds attached occupy upwards of seven acres.

Adjoining the palace is the fashionable promenade of Brighton termed the Steine, which, prior to 1793, was a piece of common land used by the inhabitants for repairing and drying their boats, nets, &c. It is now a spacious lawn, surrounded by fine houses. On the north side of it is a bronze statue by Chantrey of George IV.

The rapid increase of Brighton caused the want of a suitable landing-place to be strongly felt. A company was accordingly formed for the erection of a suspension or chain pier, which was begun in October, 1822, under the direction of Captain Brown, and opened in November of the following year. It is composed of four spans or chain bridges, each 255 feet in length, and at the end, on a framework of strong oaken piles, is a platform paved with blocks of granite. The main chains, which are eight in number, are carried over pyramidal cast-iron towers 25 feet high, which rest on clusters of piles. The entire length of the pier is 1,136 feet, the breadth of the platform being 13 feet. This structure, which stood several severe storms uninjured, was seriously damaged in a tremendous gale on the night of the 15th October, 1833, by which the third bridge or span was broken down, the suspension rods and chains being snapped and dislocated. It has been since repaired.

Can the east side of the parish of Brighton is Kemp Town, a magnificent assemblage of private houses elected on the estate of Mr. Kemp. When first built, a few years ago, it was quite detached from the town, but is now united with it.

On the west side, in the parish of Hove, is Brunswick square, one of the best parts of Brighton : beyond this a crescent named Adelaide-crescent is in the course of building. Indeed the best part of Brighton may be briefly described as composed of ranges of splendid houses, formed into squares and crescents.

The parish church of St. Nicholas, an ancient edifice, stands on a hill north west of the town ; the living is a vicarage, in the archdeaconry of Lewes, and diocese of Chichester ; the rectory of West Blatchington, a parish north-west of Brighton, is annexed to it.

The town-hall, begun in 1830, on the site of the old market, nearly in the centre of the town, is a large but ill-designed edifice.

The places of worship belonging to the Establishment and to the Dissenters are numerous. The royal chapel stands on the site of the former assembly rooms ; or rather the building has been converted to its present use ; its internal decorations are very fine, particularly the seats appropriated to the royal family. St. Peter’s Church, erected in 1827, is a handsome Gothic structure, of Purbeck stone, situated near the entrance of the town by the London road. There are several chapels of ease subordinate to the parish church. Some of the dissenting chapels are handsome edifices.

The charities consist principally of the poor-house, a well-regulated establishment on the top of Church Hill ; the Dispensary and County Infirmary, founded in 1809, under the patronage of George IV ; the Sussex County Hospital, near Kemp Town, founded by the earl of Egremont and T. R. Kemp, Esq. ; the United Fishermen’s Society, for the relief of the fishermen of Brighton ; with several other institutions of a benevolent character.

Of charity schools there are two national schools which are partly endowed ; the Union charity schools, founded by Edward Goff, Esq. in 1805, who left £400 to the boys’ school, and £200 to the girls’, are supported by voluntary contributions : and there is a school founded by Swan Downer, Esq. in which fifty girls are educated and clothed. The education returns of 1831 give 158 daily schools, 43 boarding-schools, 14 Sunday-schools, and three infant schools. The number of private schools at Brighton is very considerable, a circumstance owing to the salubrity of the place, and the desire of many parents who live in London to send their children out of the metropolis.

The inns, hotels, and baths of Brighton are numerous. There is a chalybeate spring in the parish of Hove, which has been inclosed, and has considerable celebrity. The water has been analysed by Professor Daniel, and is held in high estimation for its medicinal qualities. An establishment, termed the German Spa, was formed in 1825 for the manufacture of artificial mineral waters. Brighton contains several places of amusement ; a theatre, an assembly room, a club house, and about a mile east of the town, on the summit of a beautiful part of the Downs, a fine race-course, at which races take place annually either in July or August.

The trade of Brighton is confined exclusively to supply of the wants of a rich population. There is annual fair on September 4th ; the principal market days are Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. At the market, which is excellent and convenient, all kinds of fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish are sold. The market was originally a weekly one, held under charter ; in 1773 an act was obtained for a daily market. A fish market is also held by the fishermen on the open beach.

There is no vestige of the fortifications erected in the 16th century. The present battery was originally erected in 1793, and rebuilt in 1830.

The gas with which Brighton is lighted is supplied by two gasometers ; one to the east of Kemp Town, the other to the west of Brunswick Town, near Hove Church.

About 5 miles from Brighton, by a pleasant road across the Downs, is the Devil’s Dyke, an extensive entrenchment, about a mile in circumference, of an oval form, which is conjectured, from the finding of an urn filled with coins of the later Roman emperors, to have been a Roman encampment. It is separated from one part of the Downs by a natural chasm, which appears to have been made deeper in order to form a high rampart called Poor Man’s Wall. From this height there is a fine view of the Weald of Sussex, and some of the adjoining parts of Hampshire, Surrey, and Kent. The ground around Brighton affords a number of fine drives and walks.

Since the establishment of steam-boats and the erection of the chain-pier, Brighton has become a packet station, which is much used by those who prefer going and returning from Paris by way of Dieppe and Rouen, instead of the old route of Dover and Calais. Four different lines of rail-road have been projected, and are now (March, 1836) before the public.