It may not properly be in Sussex anymore, but Mark Beech finds Brighton wouldn’t be where it is today without once being part of the county
righton is easily the most famous seaside resort in southern England, let alone Sussex. Traditionally nicknamed “London on Sea”, this relatively newly-created city, combined with Hove since 1997 and given city status in 2001, embraces many of the capital’s pleasures and also some of its sins. It may not properly be in Sussex any more, but it certainly wouldn’t be where it is today without having long been part of the county. Does London itself still belong in England even? Brighton was mentioned in the 11th-century Domesday Book as Brithelmeston and remained a fishing village for the next seven centuries. Daniel Defoe, writing in the 17th century, didn’t predict much of a future for Brighthelmston because it was in sore need of better sea defences, “the expense of which… will be £8,000, which if one were to look on the town would seem to be more than all the houses in it are worth”. Ouch. But how very wrong he turned out to be (see Property News, Page 80).
Half a century or so later, in the 1750s, Brighton was already booming in popularity in large part thanks to Dr Richard Russell’s “Dissertation Concerning the use of Sea Water in Diseases of the Glands”. Hailing from Lewes, he recommended Brighton for its sea-bathing, a cure undertaken by Fanny Burney, Mrs Thrale and Dr Johnson among others in 1770. Thanks to the town’s proximity to London, thousands of affluent Londoners were lured to the coast. No change there, then. But it was ‘Prinny’ the Prince Regent, later King George IV, who provided the ultimate cachet for the place. Around the turn of the 19th century, he set a trend for raffish bad behaviour, improvidence and foppishness. Vice had existed in many forms in pre-Regency England, but under George it took on an identity and sense of purpose it had previously lacked: hellfire orgies, mighty estates gambled on the drunken turn of a card, footpads and pornography.
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