Today we are off to Brighton on the south coast. Much as I like Brighton, the town where I grew up, I have mixed feelings about this because on a Saturday in summer both the trains and the town itself are likely to be packed. We took the bus to London Bridge station where I bought cheese and tomato baguettes with coffee for breakfast while Tigger acquired train tickets from one of the machines. We narrowly missed one train but another arrived at 10:12. As this train also calls at Gatwick, it is popular with people making for the airport. We were among the first to board but the train was soon full. There is inadequate provision on these trains for luggage, and there were bags, cases and pushchairs everywhere, some blocking the doorways.
The day started grey and fairly cool but as we trundle south, the sun is making efforts to break through the clouds.
When we reached Brighton, the station, though busy, wasn’t as crowded as I had feared. Perhaps after all it will not be such a scramble to get a train back to London later.
We soon discovered, however, that the local football team, Brighton and Hove Albion, aka the Seagulls, were at home to Doncaster, kick-off at 3 pm. Many of the pubs were packed with people in blue and white striped shirts, some carrying flags.
From the station we walked down Gloucester Road, which leads to Gardner Street and Kensington Gardens, always picturesque and lively.
As usual, we set out to explore, wandering more or less at random. Knowing Brighton well we enjoy familiar sights but there is always something new to discover.
As we walked along Kensington Place and saw a skip, we thought someone was throwing away cats…
But no, he was a friendly cat who had found that the green canvas in the skip had been deliciously warmed by the sun. He was ready for some attention, though…
Brighton is well known for its wall paintings and seems to have an active community dedicated to filling up blank spaces. Above is a selection from Frederick Place. Note that the Banksy of kissing police officers has been covered to protect it, whereas in some towns they are actively erased. I was glad to see the humble pigeon has been remembered!
Clouds had been gathering and now it began to rain. We could either take shelter or go for a bus ride. We returned to the station looked at the destinations on the fronts of the buses. One was going to Ditchling Beacon, so we went aboard.
The bus route terminates in a car park out in the middle of nowhere. It was still raining and when the bus driver said he was going straight back we remained aboard. I snatched one quick picture of the rain-swept Sussex countryside before the bus left.
The bus travelled up the Ditchling Road and then back down it on the return journey. On the way back we stopped off here, at Dover Road, because this is where I grew up. The post box on the corner always seemed to welcome us home when we had been away. So… this is the nostalgia spot!
Although most of the corner shops to which I was sent on errands have disappeared, some of the shops and places I knew still exist, such as the bread shop. The family that owned it then were German and made all sorts of bread and cakes that were new to the neighbours.
In this era of post office closures, it’s good to see that the one in Preston Drove at Fiveways is still going strong. I could continue, showing you others, but I will desist and spare you that. Suffice it to say that we wandered around my childhood haunts and I lectured Tigger on all the people who had lived in the houses and all the things they were memorable for…
Tigger is interested in cinemas so we caught a bus to Preston Circus and went to look at another of my childhood memories, the Duke of York’s Cinema. Opened on September 22nd 1910, it celebrated its centenary last year.
In my day, the cinema had two domes but these have been removed at some point and the roof has been sporting a pair of legs since March 1995. These originally came from one of the owner’s other cinemas in Oxford.
As is not uncommon with things remembered from childhood, the foyer is smaller than I remember it. Instead of the more common paper tickets, the box office issued tokens, possibly made of Bakelite. These were given up at the door and reused.
Sometimes, as a special treat, we would take seats in the circle. We couldn’t go up there today but they did kindly allow us to take photos from the foyer.
Adjoining the cinema is Preston Circus Fire Station. This understated building dates from 1938 – just in time to help Brighton through the Second World War. It is part of the East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service which has a very informative Web site with a page dedicated to this fire station.
We also took a turn around the Open Market. I remember this as a very lively and busy place. Today it was very quiet but, to be fair, we had left it a bit late and most of the stalls had closed down for the day. It opened in 1926 with trading from barrows, the first permanent stalls being added in 1938. I have read that there are plans to develop and modernize it. I hope these are successful as I would not like the market to disappear.
From the Market, you can easily see the gigantic St Bartholomew’s Church, opened in 1874. What possessed them to build such a monster? My mother always told me that it had been built on the same plan as Noah’s Arc as given in the Bible. I was always mystified as to why she would think this and was therefore greatly amused to read this history of its building and to see that it had in Council discsussions been referred to scathingly as a “Noah’s Arc in brick”. Perhaps she had heard about this and misinterpreted it.
Brighton’s other major church is St Peter’s, designed by Sir Charles Barry and built between 1824 and 1828 in Portland stone. When Brighton became a city in 2000, there were demands that St Peter’s be raised to the dignity of a cathedral. Far from that, it looked as though the church – in a state of disrepair and suffering from the disappearing congregation syndrome – might actually be demolished. While it has been saved from that fate, it is very unlikely that it will ever become a cathedral.
Few people will be unaware that Brighton, an obscure and poor fishing village, became famous as a result of the Prince Regent building his country retreat here. Originally a fairly plain house, it was subsequently redeveloped in the most remarkable way to become the archetype of orientalist Regency design and was widely imitated though never equalled. The phrase “Indian outside and Chinese inside” describes it in a nutshell but does not give any idea of the magnificence of this royal palace. You need to visit it to enjoy its splendour.
During World War Two, people caught outside during an air raid would, if nearby, run into the Pavilion grounds. This was because during one of his broadcasts, William Joyce, nicknamed “Lord Haw-Haw”, announced that the Pavilion would not be bombed as Hitler intended to make it his residence in England. One bomb did in fact fall in the Pavilion grounds but no damage was done to the buildings. Were the bomber crew punished for this breach of Hitler’s instructions, I wonder?
We arrived at the Old Steine (which rhymes with “green”) where stands this beautiful fountain. Well, I think it’s beautiful though some opinions differ. The lower bowl is supported by three intertwined dolphins which are the symbolic animal of Brighton. (Walking around Brighton, you will see representations of dolphins everywhere.)
The listed fountain, designed by A.H. Wilds, and financed partly by public subscription and by John Cordy Burrows (to whom a statue stands nearby), was inaugurated in 1846. Unusually, it was not in celebration of one of the Queen’s jubilees but commemorated her 27th birthday. The foundation was cast at the Eagle Foundry in Gloucester Road – a reminder that the seaside resort is also no stranger to industry.
From the Old Steine, we caught a bus to Hove. Brighton and Hove enjoy a strange relationship, being joined at the hip, so to speak, while maintaining separate identities. In my day, we thought of Hove as the posh part. Hove was quieter, more sedate and more affluent. Is it still the same today or have the currents of modern life had a levelling effect?
The bus brought us to Hove railway station where we crossed to the other side of the track by this bridge. I do not know how old it is – it’s a fine piece of iron work dating, I would guess, from the early 1900s or even earlier – but in desperate need of cleaning and refurbishing. It has a feature that is unusual in the UK but common in the Netherlands: on the left-hand side of the stairs, there is a metal runner for the wheels of bicycles being pushed up the stairs. But what was it that led us to cross the bridge?
This, the old Dubarry perfume and cosmetics factory. We spotted it from the train once and decided to take a further look. It is quite difficult to photograph because the surrounding drive is rather narrow in relation to the building’s height. Dubarry went bust in the 1960s and today the block comprises apartments and ancillary facilities including a gymnasium.
I don’t know when the factory was built or, if already built, occupied by Dubarry, though I have seen a reference to a prospectus dating to 1923 that mentions the Hove building. That seems to fit the whimsical Art Nouveau font in the mosaics. The building itself is rather plain and it is these green and white mosaics that are its principal charm. While these proclaim Dubarry’s magic in making women beautiful, men are not forgotten: one inscrption reads “DUBARRY’S SILKASHAVE SOAP FOR A LUXURIOUS SHAVE”.
Before leaving, we took a look at this row of shops, dated 1896. You might think it is just a row of local shops, especially in view of it being tucked away in a corner. However, one of the shopkeepers, intrigued to know what we were up to, came out to speak to us. He was able to tell us that at least the first three shops (as they are today) had once been one big shop. This was confirmed by the fact that the doorsteps of these shops all have the same name in mosaic: “The Store”. Such fascinating quirks of history turn up where you least expect.
While Brighton is the main focus of my nostalgia, Hove plays a role in this too. For a while I went to school in Hove and as the bus took us along Cromwell Road, this suddenly brought back memories. My school was called Cromwell House School and might well have been in this street though I imagine all traces of it are long gone.
We caught a bus which took us back to Brighton and, conveniently, dropped us at the station. I was relieved to see that we had avoided the post-match exodus and even though there were a few supporters on the train avidly discussing the match, the train was far from crowded.
Despite the earlier rain and cloudy conditions, we had enjoyed a good day out. We had visited some familiar sights and made some new discoveries. Also, I had been able to indulge myself with a little nostalgia trip. Whether or not Hove is still the posh relation to trendy Brighton, both have a lot to offer and we shall return ere long.