When Brighthelmston became Brighton

Photo:Nash's design for Royal Pavilion east front

Nash's design for Royal Pavilion east front

Photo by kind permission of Royal Pavilion & Museums Brighton and Hove

How it became a fashionable resort

By Ken Fines

In the mid 18th century Brighthelmston was in danger of gradual extinction, not only because of the storms, but because the old town had never really recovered from virtual destruction in a French raid as long before as 1514.

Dissertation on the use of sea water

Remarkably, help was to come during the second half of the 18th century by courtesy of the medical profession, who advocated, not only bathing in sea water, but also actually drinking the stuff!  The prime instigator was Dr Richard Russell of Lewes, who earned a great reputation by publishing in 1750 his famous book, actually written in Latin, but translated into English as Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water in the Diseases of the Glands. Our Dr Dick (alias Ricardo) could be regarded as the first patron of today's North Laine.

In search of good health

The transformation of the declining fishing and farming town of Brighthelmston into the fashionable resort of Brighton is legendary.  The nobility and gentry came to the seaside in their numbers, by coach and carriage, in search of good health.  Many of them decided to set up their first or second home here.  During the latter part of the 18th and early 19th centuries splendid Georgian and Regency housing, with a number of hotels, spread along the coast to the east and west of the Old Town.

Royal patronage

Culmination came with royal patronage. In 1783 George, the young Prince of Wales, paid his first visit and expressed his delight with the town.  Three years later he acquired a farmhouse on the Steine and employed some 150 workmen to transform it into a classical 'Marine Pavilion' in just three months. The former boggy Steine became a fashionable sheltered promenade and fine houses were built inland up the valley. In 1811 the Prince of Wales became Prince Regent when his father was declared insane; and then, in 1820, King George IV.  During the period 1815-1822 he employed John Nash to transform the building yet again into the fabulous Royal Pavilion, the Oriental extravaganza that today is the jewel in the crown of our City.

[Previously published in the 'North Laine Runner', No 189, Nov/Dec 2007]

[Sadly Ken Fines, the writer of this history, died in 2008.]

This page was added on 18/06/2008.

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