Channel breezes and holiday fun in Sussex by the Sea
A commercial harbour at the mouth of the River Adur and a cross-Channel port on the River Ouse lie at opposite ends of one of the busiest and most heavily populated stretches of the South Coast. At its heart lies Brighton, the very epitome of the ‘Sussex by the Sea’ of the music-hall song: a resort which with its piers, promenades, long beaches and huge marina has set the pace in seaside entertainment ever since the time of the Prince Regent.
The commercial, eastern arm of Shoreham Harbour is entered by locks not far from the harbour mouth. On the north bank, at Southwick, is a disused lighthouse built in 1846; and near by is the Shoreham lifeboat station, with a small museum on the ground floor. The large expanse of shingle beside the lighthouse, a good spot from which to watch the shipping in Shoreham Harbour, has been designated a village green – though it is completely without grass – and parking is forbidden there.
The Portslade side of the harbour entrance can be reached either on foot across the locks, or by car down Wharf Road, from near the Hove boating lagoon.
Though from the holidaymaker’s point of view Hove is part of Brighton, it is in fact a separate borough, with its own modern town hall of aluminium, concrete and brown glass, opened in 1974. The boundary between the two lies just east of Hove’s monumental Brunswick Square, which opens on to the seafront and was built in the 1820s.
Hove is a good deal quieter and more sedate than its sister resort, but it has attractions of its own. These include the Sussex county cricket ground; a boating lagoon where windsurfing is taught; a museum of art, with collections of ceramics, ship models and pictures of Sussex; and the British Engineerium. Restored in 1976, a century after it was built, the Engineerium was formerly the pumping station which supplied Brighton and Hove with fresh water, and is now a museum devoted to the history of engineering. The massive beam- engine is ‘in steam’ on Sundays and Bank Holidays.
Hove is no longer summed up by the stern-faced statue of Queen Victoria at the foot of Grand Avenue. A good many of the large houses built in the 19th century along the seafront are giving way to new flats, overlooking the wide grass lawns that add greatly to the open feeling of the town, while the King Alfred Leisure Centre on the front was one of the first such complexes to be built on the South Coast.
For two centuries Brighton has been the queen of British seaside resorts. Indeed, it is often claimed that the seaside holiday was invented there, since it was at Brighton that the virtues of seawater were first publicised and promoted on a large scale. Its 19th-century hotels, the Grand and the Metro-pole, were the ancestors of the seaside palaces that have sprung up from the Costa Brava to Florida, and from Acapulco to the Seychelles.
Brighton today provides all the amenities of a major town: fine parks and houses, a university, an art college, a theatre, a racecourse, excellent restaurants, and good communications by road and rail. It has its own unique attractions as well, foremost of which is the Royal Pavilion, that oriental fantasy near the seafront, built in the early years of the 19th century by George Ill’s flamboyant eldest son, the Prince Regent, later George IV.
George first visited Brighton in 1783, and down the years became more and more attached to the place, using it as an informal retreat from the stifling atmosphere of the court in London. His contribution to the town is summed up by a delightful painting by Rex Whistler in the Royal Pavilion. Called The Prince Regent Awakening the Spirit of Brighton, it shows the almost-naked prince, with leering countenance, lifting the veil from a sleeping girl. Brighton has never lost the air of raffishness conveyed so well by this picture.
The most spectacular of recent innovations is the giant marina, below the cliffs at the eastern end of Brighton. Opened in 1978, it is Europe’s largest man-made yacht harbour, with moorings for more than 2,000 boats. The marina is a centre for sea angling, either from the breakwaters or from charter boats. There are plans for a health and sports centre with a water theme park, a hotel, apartments, restaurants, shops and a supermarket.
The ideal way to visit the marina is by Volk’s Electric Railway, which rattles along the front from a terminus near the Palace Pier. Magnus Volk drove his first car on the line in 1883, making it the oldest electric seafront railway in Britain.
Volk’s railway runs beside the elegant cast-iron columns of Madeira Drive, the finishing line of Brighton’s best-known annual contests, all of which start from London – the Historic Commercial Vehicle Run in May, the Stock Exchange Walk in June, and the Veteran Car Run in November. In Madeira Drive are the Aquarium and
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Dolphinarium, together with the ‘Pirates’ Deep’ children’s adventure playground.
Brighton’s other attractions include the Palace Pier, the shops of The Lanes, Art Gallery and Museum, near the Pavilion; the Booth Museum of Natural History; and Preston Manor, whose furniture and decorations have remained unchanged since before the First World War.
The beach at both Brighton and Hove consists of a broad shingle bank, leading down to sand. Swimming is safe, and lifeguards patrol every day during summer. There are no slipways, but boats small enough to be manhandled can he launched over the beach.
Between the eastern end of Brighton and Rottingdean is an open stretch of downland, where the coast road skirts the cliff edge, giving wide views over the Channel. On the hill above the road are the massive buildings of two schools – Roedean girls’ school, built mainly in the 1890s, and St Dunstan’s Training Centre for the Blind, a yellow-brick building of the 1930s.
Rottingdean has a small seafront, with a sea-wall promenade leading to Brighton in one direction and to Saltdean in the other. The beach is rocky and uninviting. Old Rottingdean runs inland, along a downland valley. Its narrow street of old flint-built houses opens out into a green beside a large village pond.
In the later years of the 19th century Rottingdean had famous artistic and literary associations. The Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones lived there towards the end of his life, and Rudyard Kipling spent
FLOWERS OF THE CL1FFTOP A plant that originally escaped from gardens, hoary stock is now well established on the south coast. Its flowers smell of cloves and attract butterflies. Round-headed rampion is also common in places along the chalky coastal grasslands between Seaford and Beachy Head. five years there. The Downs round Rottingdean inspired Kipling’s poem Sussex, which sums up their special qualities in a single line – ‘Our blunt, bow-headed, whale-backed Downs.’ Kipling relics are on view at Rottingdean’s small museum, The Grange, which also has a collection of antique toys. The house was built as a vicarage in the 18th century and was remodelled by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1919.
Residential estates, mainly built between the wars, are grouped round Saltdean’s oval recreation ground on the north side of the coast road. From the car park by the recreation ground a subway leads under the road to a broad concrete promenade. Below the promenade, the beach is mainly rocky but has patches of sand. Powerboats are prohibited, but there is a ramp for small boats, which have to be manhandled through the subway.
In 1915 Charles Neville, a wealthy businessman, bought 650 acres on top of the cliffs and planned to build a town there, to be called Anzac-on-Sea, probably because Australian and New Zealand troops were stationed near by. Plots were offered at £50, £75 or £100, depending on their nearness to the sea. Building began immediately the war was over, and the occasion was commemorated by altering the proposed name of Anzac-on-Sea to Peacehaven. The grid pattern of streets designed by Charles -<; ‘.-.
BRIGHTON ISELLES As fashion took to the seaside, photographers helped bathing belles to show off their latest daring costumes -many of which never got wel.
LEGACY IN STONE Regency Square is among the many elegant terraces that rose in Brighton as wealthy aristocrats, following the example sel In/ the Prince Regent, moved to the seaside for their health and recreation and gave the town its distinctive seafrout. ‘DOCTOR BRIGHTON’ -WHERE ROYALTY
MADE THE SEASIDE
The English invented seaside holidays in the late 17th century, when ‘taking the waters’ was extended to include bathing in and drinking seawater. In 1750 a Dr Russel published a book extolling the benefits of sea-bathing at Brighthelmstone, as Brighton was then called; he claimed it was an excellent treatment for glandular diseases, so earning the town its contemporary nickname of ‘Doctor Brighton’.
Dr Russel’s treatment proved immensely popular, but it was not until 1783 that it attracted the attention of royalty-in the handsome shape of the young Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent and George IV, who was suffering from a glandular swelling in the neck. He liked the place so much that he decided to live there, first in a small rented farmhouse but later in the Royal Pavilion, built by Henry Holland and then turned into a fantastic extravaganza by John Nash.
George IV’s successors did not share his enthusiasm for the Royal Pavilion, and in 1850 Queen Victoria sold it to the town. It was a ‘white elephant’ purchase and stood empty until after the Second World War, when it was restored to its former glory. But by 1850 Brighton no longer needed royal patronage, for the coming of the railway in 1841 had made the town a favourite spot for day trippers and quickly earned it the nickname ‘London-by-the-Sea’. And before the 20th century was a few years old, intrepid motorists were clanking down the Brighton road.
DOCTOR OP ENTERPRISE Dr Richard Russel was living in Lewes when he recommended seawater as a cure for many ills. This proved so profitable that he was able to build a house Brighton, on the site where the Royal Albion Hotel stands today.
PRINCE OF FASHION Society idolised the Prince Regent, who entertained lavishly at the Royal Pavilion and was noted for his extravagance. But after becoming George IV he was criticised and ridiculed even by his friends, and died an unloved king.
DADDY-LONG-LEGS The Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Railway was built by Magnus Volk in 1896, and became known as ‘Daddy-long-legs’. The double-decker car, powered by an overhead electric cable, was mounted on stilts 24 ft high and ran on an underwater track. The railway was subject to frequent breakdowns and never he-came popular. It was discontinued after four years.
HOLIDAY SOUVENIR Victorian souvenirs of a seaside holiday, such as this plate of 1910, are now much sought after In/ collectors. h><
SUNSHINE LINE Before the advent of the railway in 1841 few people could afford the one guinea coach fare from London to Brighton, and in any case the 6 hour journey ruled out a day trip. But the opening of the Loudon, Brighton and South Coast Railway paved the -amy for cheap-day excursions that took thousands of Londoners for their first visit to the seaside.
BESIDE THE SEA Several seaside resorts claim to he the first to have introduced bathing machines. One was recorded in Scarborough as early as 1735, when people often swam naked and needed shelter in which to undress at the water’s edge. Brighton beach was not slow to provide these mobile changing rooms for modesty-conscious Victorians. They were, however, expensive to hire, and most day trippers were content to paddle at the water’s edge, starting a rolk’d-up-trouser-leg and daintily lifted-skirt fashion that surbives today.
SEASIDE ENTERTAINERS Piei’lVtS, promenade shows and Punch and Judy have long been traditional seaside entertainments. Punch and Judy, and their dog Toby, date back to the 17th century and have their origins in Italian comedy. The pier-rot shows of pier and promenade have been nurseries for many entertainers who later became international stars. ‘THE FINEST PIER IN THE WORLD’ Few argued with Brighton’s proud boast when its Palace Pier was opened in 1899. It offered everything its Victorian visitors desired, on 1,760 ft of promenade deck, with ornate domes and glass-covered sun verandas.
Neville was preserved in the bungalow development that is seen today.
Peacehaven’s promenade is still largely an unmade-up road, running along the top of the cliffs. Halfway along it is a monument to George V, built on the Greenwich Meridian and inscribed with the distances to the major towns of the British Empire. There are steps leading down the cliffs to the beach at two points along the promenade, but it is a long climb.
This little village tucked away on the banks of the Sussex Ouse is a refreshing survival so near the sprawling estates of Saltdean and Pea’cehaven. St John’s Church, perched up above the river, has a round Norman tower, topped by a glittering weather-vane in the form of a fish; Rudyard Kipling called it a ‘begilded dolphin’, but knowledgeable local anglers insist it is a sea trout. Flint-walled cottages and small boats aground in the mud complete the illusion of a country village miles from anywhere.
For some reason, Newhaven has never expanded like Southampton, Dover and other cross-Channel ports. Ships still berth in the Ouse, rather than in the harbour basin, though in recent years there has been an increase in commercial traffic. The Newhaven-Dieppe service started with paddle-steamers in 1847, and has been going ever since. Until the 16th century there was no harbour at Newhaven, because the Ouse reached the sea at Seaford; but a great storm in 1579 diverted the river, and the ‘New Haven’ was the result.
Newhaven’s commercial activities take place mainly along the east bank of the river; the marina, and the small sandy beach protected by the harbour breakwater, are on the western bank. The road on the western side leads up to Fort Newhaven. The fort was built in the 1860s, as one of 72 coastal forts built by Lord Palmerston as a defence against attacks by the French, and was garrisoned until 1956. It is sited on a headland that gave an excellent field of fire across Newhaven harbour and Seaford Bay. The fort consists of earthworks and artillery emplacements protecting, on the seaward side, old magazines, barrack rooms and a central parade ground.
A bridge leads across the moat to the 40 acre Castle Hill Coastal Park. The hill rises 190 ft above the mouth of the River Ouse and provides panoramic views across Seaford Bay, the Ouse Valley and the South Downs.
PLACES TO SEE INLAND
Bentley. Halland. oil B2192, via A27. Wildfowl colleclion and motor museum Daily in summer; winter weekends.
Firle Place, West Firle. off A27, via A26. Tudor and Georgian house. Some aflernoons in summer.
Glynde Place, off A27. via A26. Tudor courtyard house Some afternoons in summer
Lewes. Anne of Cleves House, museum of local history. weekdays and Sun. afternoons in summer; Barbican House Museum. Archaeology, weekdays, Sun. afternoons in summer. Military Heritage Museum, most days in summer. Norman castle, daily
Shellield Park Tudor house, some aflernoons in summer; Garden (NT), most days in summer; Bluebell Railway steam-hauled trains, daily in summer.