Celebrating Greater Brighton, 90 years ago today!

30 May 2018

By Kate Elms

Ninety years ago this week, Brighton was in party mood. On the 1 April 1928, thanks to growth that had made the town one of the most densely populated in the country outside London, the borough was enlarged to incorporate the parishes of Preston, Rottingdean and Ovingdean, plus parts of Falmer, Patcham and West Blatchington. To mark the creation of ‘Greater Brighton’, a week of celebration was arranged, starting on Tuesday 29 May. The mayors and town clerks of all the county boroughs in Great Britain and Northern Ireland were invited, plus a delegation from Paris, and a dazzling programme of events was put together for guests and local people. There were grand banquets, sporting contests, firework displays and a pageant involving one thousand performers, to name just a few of the highlights. The culmination of the week was a visit from the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth), who laid the foundation stones for the pylons to be erected at the new borough boundary and unveiled a carved stone seat at Devil’s Dyke, which had recently been acquired by Brighton Corporation.

These celebratory events have been recorded with great care in a scrapbook held in our archives. We can’t be sure of its provenance, but it’s possible that it was compiled by Henry Roberts, who moved to Brighton in 1906 to take up a post at the public library. He subsequently became director not just of that institution but of the town’s museums and art galleries and, after the war, was appointed the first director of the Royal Pavilion Estate. He later added director of the Publicity Department to his cv, and an excellent publicist he was, too. Our collections include a number of scrapbooks that document Roberts’ activities – mounting art exhibitions, attending library conferences, contributing to the local war effort – and this one shows the same meticulous attention to detail. Starting with a series of articles written by the town’s departmental chiefs and published in The Municipal Journal & Public Works Engineer, it includes newspaper cuttings about the Greater Brighton celebrations, correspondence, draft speeches, menus and invitations to luncheons and dinners, and other documents and ephemera that bring the occasion and the era to life.

Clearly this was a moment of great civic pride. The Royal Pavilion, the Dome and the grand seafront hotels all played a prominent role, as did the local piers, theatres, cinemas and dance halls, which laid on gala performances and entertainment for the whole town. Preston Park hosted athletics, horse shows, dancing, a fire brigade display and more, while guests were taken on official visits to Rottingdean, Moulsecoomb and Falmer, part of the newly created Greater Brighton. The proceedings were captured in a wonderful series of photographs, many of which appeared in the local papers. Although much of the focus was on the distinguished guests, the images also capture the carnival atmosphere in the streets and the crowds of local people either taking part in or watching the displays or processions.

Crowds gathered in celebration at Patcham

Crowds gathered in celebration at Patcham

It was reported that a time capsule was buried with the foundation stones of the Pylons, containing coins, a copies of two local papers, the Brighton Herald and the Sussex Daily News, and a book recording the ceremony itself. We don’t keep coins in our archives but we have a wonderful collection of newspapers that includes both titles, and you couldn’t wish for a better account of the celebrations than this scrapbook, which can be ordered by registered members and viewed in our Reading Room. It also contains detailed, visual coverage of the reopening of Brighton’s Aquarium in 1929, but that’s another story!

A second, smaller scrapbook containing programmes and ephemera relating to the celebrations (including an illustrated description of the Pageant) is also available to order and view in the Reading Room.


Pavilion Blues: Tales from a Military Hospital

20 April 2016

By Kate Elms

The transformation of the Royal Pavilion during WW1 into a military hospital for the care of Indian soldiers is perhaps one of the better-known chapters in the building’s history. It has been brought to life in the Pavilion itself through displays of archive images, and is commemorated in the Indian Memorial Gateway and the Chattri Memorial, both of which were unveiled in 1921. And in this year’s Brighton Festival, the experiences of the soldiers and of the local people who cared for them will be the focus of Dr Blighty, an event taking place in the Royal Pavilion Gardens.

The Recreation Room

There is, however, an equally moving story to be told about the wounded men who followed the Indian soldiers into the Royal Pavilion’s military hospital. From 20 April 1916, it was used for the care and rehabilitation of those who had lost limbs in battle; after treatment, amputees would recuperate until they could be sent to hospitals specialising in the creation and fitting of prosthetic limbs, such as Queen Mary’s at Roehampton. A temporary exhibition at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery – Pavilion Blues: Disability and Identity – tells the stories of some of these men, using material from the museum’s local history collections alongside contributions from the patients’ family members.

The Royal Pavilion & Museums is one of The Keep’s partners and, as a result, our archive also holds fascinating material relating to this story, most of which can be easily accessed by the public in our Reference Room. My first port of call is usually Henry Roberts’ book, A History of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, which was published in 1939. Roberts moved to Brighton in 1907 and quickly took responsibility for both the town’s library and its museum. He was closely involved with the decision to hand the Pavilion over to the authorities for use as a military hospital and, after the war, became the first Director of the Royal Pavilion Estate, so his is an interesting first-hand account. Douglas d’Enno’s recently published Brighton in the Great War offers a more detailed analysis of the period as a whole, with many specific references to the town’s military hospitals, while our local newspaper archive is, as always, a rich source of anecdote and information. But perhaps the most poignant and entertaining of the documents in our care is Pavilion Blues, a monthly journal produced ‘in-house’ by the hospital staff and patients.

Staff outside Queen Mary's Workshops, in the grounds of the Royal Pavilion

Staff outside Queen Mary’s Workshops, in the grounds of the Royal Pavilion

First, a few facts and figures. From April 1916 to July 1919, more than 6,000 patients were admitted to the Royal Pavilion hospital. About 520 beds were provided in the Pavilion, Dome and Corn Exchange and, in the summer, it is reported that a further 88 patients were housed in marquees in the gardens. Huts erected in the grounds also provided a chapel, mortuary, kitchens, dining halls and the celebrated ‘Queen Mary’s Workshops’. As part of the rehabilitation process, these offered men the chance to gain useful new skills for life, such as typing, book-keeping, woodwork, metalwork and mechanics. The motto, ‘Hope welcomes all who enter here!’ sums up the positive spirit with which this pioneering vocational training was conceived.

Trained nurses, volunteers and orderlies lived in rented houses close by, while local women undertook anything from clerical work to cooking, dispensing duties to massage treatments. And although most of the patients were transferred to other hospitals to be ‘fitted out’, in January 1918 a temporary limb department was set up, providing fibre legs and plaster pylons, which allowed a return to weight-bearing after amputation.

If this sounds a bit grim, Pavilion Blues – named after the colour of the patients’ uniforms – creates a very different picture. From the very first issue, published in June 1916, it was infused with humour, affection and cameraderie. Edited by Colonel G H Coats, who was described by Henry Roberts as the ‘guide, philosopher and friend to all’, its content ranged from thoughtful articles and regular columns to photographs of patients and staff; wittily captioned sketches; poems, cartoons and jokes that betray no trace of self-pity.

An example of the humorous illustrations in Pavilion Blues

Colonel Coats persuaded a succession of different men to try their hand at writing and to act as ‘sub-editor’. An early piece begins: ‘The powers that be have asked me to contribute an article,’ and goes on to say, ‘I trust this little journalistic adventure will interest and amuse you – if it does not, blame the sub!’ Certainly, the emphasis of the hospital seems to have been to boost morale by getting people doing things, and contributing to the Blues was something many of them appear to have enjoyed.

As President of the Recreation Room, Col Coates also seems to have understood that sport and entertainment were a vital part of the healing process. The pages of Pavilion Blues are littered with references to W H Boardman, manager of Brighton’s Hippodrome, and Lawson Lambert, manager of the Theatre Royal, who put on numerous concerts and dramatic performances to entertain the wounded men. There are also stories about whist drives, bowling and billiard matches, competitions, lectures, recitals, and excursions. ‘Gymkhanas’, which included egg and spoon races for one-arm men and chair races for men without legs, were a hugely enjoyable feature of the summer months, and the Sussex game of stoolball was also popular with hospital patients and staff.

After six issues, Pavilion Blues had an impressive circulation of 3,000. It was sold at various newsagents in Brighton & Hove as well as in the hospital canteen and Recreation Room, costing twopence to patients and staff, sixpence to everyone else. The money raised was used, among other things, to buy treats for the men and to fund some of their outings. For this they seem to have been profoundly grateful. In August 1917, one of the magazine’s regular columns – Things We Should All Know – stated, ‘That everybody in Brighton and Hove is wonderfully good to our Pavilion Boys’, and ‘That this magazine is not big enough to adequately express our thanks to everyone.’

Colonel Coats died in May 1919 and his death was reported in the June edition of the magazine, a rare sombre note in its jovial history: ‘The late Colonel founded the ‘Pavilion Blues Magazine’ to cheer the ‘limbless’ soldiers, also to swell the funds of the Recreations, so that the patients could have the many extra comforts that the profits would allow for.’ This wasn’t a journal created with posterity in mind; in fact a souvenir edition was produced in 1917 to record, ‘in a more permanent form…the officers, etc, who are actively associated in the work of The Royal Pavilion Military Hospital’. But the Blues itself has stood the test of time; in our Reference Room, every issue from the first to the last can be found in one bound volume. Colonel Coats would surely approve.


Bringing Cézanne back to Brighton

13 April 2016

Sue Wood, guest blogger and Brighton resident, writes about her research at The Keep

Last October on my MA Art History and Curating course at Sussex University, I was set a fascinating brief: to source an acquisition for a museum of my choice from anywhere in the world. The dream element of the brief was that, as it was a student project, money was no object and I was expected to aim high in my theoretical acquisition. I did however need to justify why my choice was right for my museum.

Invitation to the opening of the exhibition of French art, June 1910

Invitation to the opening of the exhibition of French art, June 1910

Over the summer I had been reading a fair bit about the history of public museums in the UK and I came across an intriguing reference to the groundbreaking French Art exhibition that was staged at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery in 1910. Predating Roger Fry’s Post Impressionist exhibition in London by a matter of months, the exhibition included paintings by a number of artists who are now household names, including Monet, Degas, Renoir and Cézanne. Could I source one of these paintings and ‘return’ it to Brighton? As a long-term resident of the city, I liked the idea of acquiring a painting that could form an impressive centrepiece to an exhibition publicising Brighton Museum’s innovative history.

Crucial to my research was the French Art catalogue from the 1910 exhibition, which would enable me to identify the paintings displayed. It was time for a visit to The Keep. My MA group had had an afternoon where we were introduced to the archive and shown how to search online for items of interest. However, when I tried this I initially only found some general material about the museum and the Royal Pavilion, and it wasn’t until I consulted the very knowledgeable staff at The Keep that I was directed to the photocopy of the catalogue. I was also able to copy an article written by the museum’s director, Henry D. Roberts, in 1911 for the Museums Journal, which gave a detailed account of the staging of the exhibition.

Armed with copies of these documents, I was able to start my detective work and try to track down the present whereabouts of the paintings from the exhibition. Some titles were so generic it was impossible to identify them – Monet’s ‘Storm at Sea’ for example – and others in the show were not for sale. I quickly came to realise that there was a ‘what might have been’ element to this project, as the Henry Roberts article detailed how the Fine Arts Committee had ‘purchased for our own galleries a magnificent canvas by Gaston La Touche, entitled ‘Swans at Play’. This was on sale for £320, which was also the price of the Monet.

Cezanne's 1866 portrait of M Albin Valabregue. Image courtesy of The National Gallery of Art, Washington

Cezanne’s 1866 portrait of Antony Valabrègue. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

A more expensive painting at the exhibition, which returned to Paris unsold, was described in the catalogue as ‘Portrait of M. Albin Valabrègue’ by Paul Cézanne. This, four years after Cézanne’s death, was being offered for sale by M. Vollard, Cézanne’s Parisian dealer, for £600. An online search soon revealed that this was a painting of Cezanne’s friend from Aix-en-Provence, Antony Valabrègue, of whom Cézanne had painted two portraits, one in 1866 and one c.1871. The later portrait, now in the Getty Museum, had already been sold at this point by Vollard to Comte Armand Doria; the 1866 one, however, was at Vollard’s gallery and wasn’t sold to Auguste Pellerin, a keen collector of Cézanne’s work, until 1911. I had found my painting!

As my research continued, I became ever more fascinated both by the history of the Cézanne painting and by Brighton Museum’s innovative and enterprising director, Henry Roberts. It was his vision and drive that led to the French Art exhibition being the first of many temporary shows of other nations’ art including Sweden and Italy and I felt privileged on my next visit to The Keep to be able to read his scrapbook of 1910. This massive volume was Henry Roberts’ personal archive of all of the newspaper cuttings and exhibition ephemera related to his work, all neatly cut out, glued into place and dated. His passion for education shone through and there were many accounts of his lectures and efforts to make the museum more accessible to all.

I was in danger of getting sidetracked here though, and needed to keep my focus on the painting. I discovered through reading his letters that Cézanne submitted it to the Paris salon of 1866, and was delighted when it was refused. Its subsequent rejection in Brighton in favour of the ‘magnificent’ Swans at Play suggested to me that there would be a rather splendid symmetry in returning it to Brighton from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, where it now resides. The very helpful Keeper of Fine Art and the paintings conservator there were thankfully excited rather than offended by my plan and offered me considerable help by e-mail. By the time I submitted my project I think I had almost convinced myself that ‘Brighton’s Lost Cézanne’ was on its way back here to celebrate its 150-year anniversary in 2016.

Above: extracts from Henry Roberts’ scrapbook, showing the mixed reaction to the paintings on show





Science in the Archive: Magnus Volk

2 February 2016

By Kate Elms

Mention the words Brighton and Magnus Volk and, for most people, Volk’s electric railway and his extraordinary ‘Daddy Long Legs’ spring to mind. Volk’s other achievements – and there were many of them – are perhaps less well known. In a series of posts written to coincide with Brighton Science Festival, which runs from 2-28 February, we’re taking a closer look at how science is represented in our archives here at The Keep. This post focuses on how Magnus Volk’s endless curiosity and invention helped bring electric light to Brighton’s public buildings and spaces towards the end of the 19th century.

Portrait of Magnus Volk

Portrait of Magnus Volk

Brighton claims to have the longest continuous public electricity supply in the world. The first steps were taken in 1881, when Robert Hammond arrived in town. He demonstrated an arc lighting system that seems to have dazzled a group of observers, including members of Brighton Corporation. A brief experimental period followed, during which time local people – or those who could afford it – were able to try out the service, and in February 1882, Hammond set up his eponymous Electric Light Company.

Meanwhile, Magnus Volk was busily experimenting at his home and workshop in Brighton. First, he decided to build an organ. Then he set up a telephone connection linking his house with that of his friend William Jago; he also began to think about installing electric lighting. Volk’s endeavours may or may not have overlapped with Hammond’s, but he was certainly making progress at around the same time. In December 1881, for example, he demonstrated ‘Swan’s Incandescent Electric Lamps’ (alongside electric bells, clocks, fire alarms and a complete telephone exchange) at The Brighton Health Congress and Domestic & Scientific Exhibition, which was held at the Royal Pavilion.

What seems to have happened next is that Hammond’s initiative spurred Brighton Corporation into action and, in 1882, Volk was asked to use the new incandescent lamps to light parts of the Royal Pavilion during a promenade concert and display of electrical appliances. The operation was a success, and on 4 November 1882, the Brighton Gazette reported that, ‘The room…was brilliantly lit by means of the electric current …The light was dispensed from arc and incandescent lamps, there being three varieties of the latter…’

Report published in the Brighton Gazette, April 1883

Report published in the Brighton Gazette, April 1883

On 5 April the following year, the same newspaper reported that ‘the powers that be’ had engaged Volk to oversee the installation of electric lighting at the Pavilion, starting with an ‘experimental display’ in the Banqueting and Music Rooms. 216 lamps were required to light the Banqueting Room – 96 for the central chandelier and 30 for each of the side lights – and the effect was described as, ‘a light of great purity, strength and softness’. It was also considerably safer than gas lighting.

Electric lighting was adopted by Brighton and Hove Councils in 1890 and 1891 respectively, and during the 1890s, arc lighting was used to illuminate the seafront and other main arteries. When the Palace (Brighton) Pier was opened in 1899, it’s said that it was lit from end to end with more than 3,000 lightbulbs. The rest, as they say, is history. It’s difficult to imagine a town such as Brighton without its landmark buildings lit up at night, but in the late 19th century this new technology – and the skill and tenacity of men such as Magnus Volk – enabled people to see their home town quite literally in a new light.

Brighton's Palace Pier lit up at night in the 1920s

Brighton’s Palace Pier lit up at night in the 1920s

The Keep holds a range of archival and reference material relating to Magnus Volk, including family papers, biography, pamphlets and newspaper cuttings.

Look out for more science-inspired posts later in the month.




Stories from the Collections: Sake Deen Mahomed

16 October 2015

By Kate Elms

October is Black History Month, which gives us an ideal opportunity to look at some material from our archive relating to one of early 19th-century Brighton’s most intriguing characters, Sake Deen Mahomed.

There is some debate about the year of Mahomed’s birth – according to some accounts it was 1749, other records suggest that it was 10 years later. The spelling of his name also varies. What we do know is that he was born in India, served in the East India Company’s Bengal Army for a number of years, and moved to Ireland in 1784. There he met his future wife Jane, and together they moved to London. In 1794, he produced The Travels of Dean Mahomet, the first book written and published in English by an Indian author. Ever the entrepreneur, he then opened the first Indian restaurant in the country, the Hindoostane Coffee House, near Portman Square in London.

Portrait of Mahomed, c1810 Mahomed’s story starts to be of particular interest us in around 1814, when he and Jane are thought to have arrived in Brighton. The town had been developing as a sophisticated resort since the mid-18th century, partly thanks to the work of medical men such as Dr Richard Russell – an early advocate of seawater cures – who established his practice here, and partly as a result of the growth of services – hotels, assembly rooms, libraries – that attracted a stream of aristocratic guests. Indoor hot and cold seawater baths began to appear for medicinal purposes, offering privacy and exclusivity along with health benefits. It was as the manager of a bath house in Devonshire Place that Mahomed established himself in Brighton.

His timing could not have been better. During Mahomed’s early years in Brighton, John Nash was in the process of transforming the Royal Pavilion into an exotic, Indian-inspired palace and, from the start, Mahomed sought to exploit his ancestry. To set himself apart from other bath-house keepers, he offered ‘authentic’ Indian oils and herbal treatments, which were quickly followed by therapeutic steam and vapour baths and his signature ‘Shampooing’, which was actually an invigorating massage. As Mahomed’s business grew, he began to refer to himself rather grandly as a Shampooing Surgeon. In 1820, he embellished his reputation with the publication of Cases Cured, a book of glowing accounts written by former patients. This was followed by another book, Shampooing, first published in 1822 (shown here is the second edition). Shampooing featured more detail about conditions Mahomed had successfully treated, such as asthma, rheumatism and paralysis, and – ever the self-publicist – it also includes further effusive letters of thanks.

‘I am very unwilling to leave your house without acknowledging my gratitude for the wonderful cure effected on Mrs Wartnaby by the use of your Vapour baths and advice…’ begins one. ‘Through the divine blessing, you have been the means of so much benefit to my bodily health, that I cannot leave this place without testifying my gratitude to you upon that account…’ declares another. It becomes apparent, however, that these are not spontaneous testimonials – a third one reads: ‘In compliance with your request of yesterday’s date, I feel much pleasure in stating, for the benefit of whomsoever it may concern, that, in the year 1816, I was completely crippled from contractions in both legs, and that from the use of your bath for six weeks, I found myself greatly recovered…’

Visitors’ Books held in our archive show that business was brisk and that Mahomed’s clientele, both Gentlemen and Ladies (whose care would have been supervised by Mahomed’s wife Jane) travelled from some distance to benefit from his unique therapies. His most prestigious client would undoubtedly have been George IV, and it’s said that Mahomed was consulted about the arrangement of the King’s bathroom at the Royal Pavilion. Princess Poniatowsky of Poland was another royal visitor. In September 1824, it was reported that she had come to Brighton specifically to visit Mahomed’s baths, and it seems that she was so delighted with the results of his treatment that, in May 1825, she presented him with an engraved silver cup. It now forms part of the Local History collection held by Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

Report of Princess Poniatowsky's gift to Mahomed, from the Brighton Gazette

Report of Princess Poniatowsky’s gift to Mahomed, from the Brighton Gazette

By this time, Mahomed had moved into a magnificent new bath house on the seafront, close to the Royal Pavilion. His opulent new premises featured reading rooms and parlours for waiting guests, bedrooms for those needing overnight accommodation and, of course, luxurious marble baths. Mahomed and his wife were prominent figures in Brighton society and retained their royal patronage when William IV succeeded his brother in 1830. Despite his advancing years, Mahomed seems not to have embraced retirement. The ESRO archive features a handwritten letter written from Mahomed to Brighton’s Town Commissioner Lewis Slight dated 1 January 1840. Reminding the Commissioner of the numbers of people he has brought to the town to his ‘justly celebrated baths’, he asks for a foot coping to be provided from the other side of the street to his front door. ‘Ladies frequently are compelled to go to other establishments,’ he explained, ‘because in wet weather there is no approach to mine without wading through the mud…’ We will transcribe this letter in full in a future post, and hope by then to have found out whether or not permission was indeed granted!

Mahomed died in February 1851, just two months after the death of his wife Jane. They are buried at St Nicholas’ Churchyard.




The Keep News: Brighton West Pier plan joins its brothers and sisters at The Keep

On Saturday 6 October 1866, Brighton’s West Pier was opened to the public for the first time. Designed by Eugenius Birch, it was a classic Victorian structure that was described by one observer as ‘a kind of butterfly upon the ocean to carry visitors upon its wings’. The opening ceremony, to which 1,200 guests were invited and a further 1,675 paid one shilling to attend, was followed by a celebratory dinner at the Royal Pavilion and a grand display of fireworks. Once the official proceedings were over, the two Promenade Tolls were thrown open to the general public and, according to the Brighton Gazette, more than 5,000 people paid the admission charge of fourpence for the privilege of ‘walking on water’ on that opening day.

The Keep holds many fascinating resources relating to the West Pier, ranging from postcards, photographs, books and pamphlets, to programmes from its theatre and concert hall. There is also a collection of plans, including Birch’s initial designs dating from 1863. East Sussex Record Office has recently acquired a further plan and elevation showing the proposed widening of the pier, dated 4 February 1891 and signed by R W Peregrine Birch, thought to be Eugenius’ nephew. The plan is currently in conservation but will soon join its brothers and sisters, which are catalogued under DB/D/15: Engineer and Surveyor’s Department: Beach and groynes plans.

     Whole Plan     Helter Skelter