Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove Local History Collections

These collections cover Brighton & Hove’s story from the 17th century to the present day, illustrating both the traditional and unconventional aspects of the city’s rich and colourful history. From a major fishing town to a vibrant, creative city, via a fashionable resort favoured by royalty and the advent of the ‘day-tripper’, Brighton’s growth and development is brought to life by archival and pictorial holdings, including specialist books, topographical prints, a major collection of historic newspapers, maps, oral history recordings, parish records and photographs.

There are more than 20,000 books and pamphlets relating to the history of Brighton and Sussex, including biographies of significant local people such as Maria Fitzherbert, secret wife of George IV, the 19th century bare-knuckle fighter Tom Sayers, and artist Aubrey Beardsley, who was born and educated here. Rare materials include visitors’ books belonging to Sake Dean Mahomed, ‘shampooing surgeon’ to the Prince Regent, whose magnificent vapour baths stood near the seafront, on the site of the Queen’s Hotel. The collection also holds Brighton guide books dating back to 1790.

Historic local newspapers are one of the most popular resources. The collection includes Sussex papers dating back to 1749 and Brighton papers from 1806, as well as The Argus from its first edition in 1880 to the present day. Periodicals range from the Fashionable Visitors List (1873-1953), a ‘who’s who’ giving details of the latest arrivals in the town and a glimpse of the social scene, to the radical Brighton Voice, produced between 1973 and 1989, which discussed local reaction to issues such as homelessness, nuclear disarmament and equal rights for women. 

The history of Brighton’s theatres, cinemas and dance halls is reflected in programmes, posters, playbills and scrapbooks. More recent sporting and festival publications are also in the collection, and even this year’s club flyers.

Brighton is a diverse, modern city. Holdings include material relating to the many communities that exist here, such as LGBT and BME communities.

The topographic print collection reflects the growth of Brighton & Hove, its architectural development and key landmarks; and also intriguing examples of Brighton as it might have been. The photographic collections embrace a vast range of Brighton and Sussex subjects, from the introduction of photography to the present day. These include Victorian studio portraits, images of the town’s iconic piers, and buildings such as the Aquarium and the Royal Pavilion. There are around 7,000 postcards from the Edwardian era.

Oral history recordings tell Brighton & Hove’s story through the voices of the people who lived here. This collection holds testimonies relating to World War I and World War II, such as working in the Land Army; preparation for, and growing up in, the War; Home Guard; rationing; Brighton as a garrison town; changes in everyday life; bombings, raids and evacuation. Interviews with town planners, recordings that cover debate on the expansion of the city, and news coverage of key local developments describe the changing face of Brighton & Hove. There are interviews with Mods and Rockers from the 1960s, with contemporary newspaper accounts of the notorious battles on Brighton beach. The ‘Renegade’ project relates to subcultures in the city, for which individuals have been interviewed about their thoughts on identity and belonging. The collection also includes the Radio Brighton Archive from 1968 to 1983, which comprises over 900 recordings.


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