A (very) short history of Brighton

The history of Brighton began with a small Saxon village called Beorthelm’s Tun (Beorthelm’s farm or village) in the 5th century. By the 14th century it was a busy little market town. In 1514 and again in 1545 the French burned down the town, which was easy as most buildings were wooden with thatched roofs; but despite this, Brighton was soon rebuilt and by 1580 Beorthelm’s Tun became a flourishing little town with a population of around 2,500. Brighton, the modern name for the town, was first recorded in 1660.

Then in 1703 a terrible storm struck England. It devastated Brighton and in the early 18th century the population of Brighton fell to around 1,500 people. Meanwhile the ocean continued to erode the seashore, destroying farms and fishermen’s homes, so that only the very poor and needy remained.

Brighton streetsHowever by the late 18th century Brighton had recovered because a doctor named Richard Russell wrote a book claiming that bathing in the sea was good for a person’s health. Gradually rich people began to visit Brighton, believing sea water would cure their illnesses. Then in 1783 the Prince of Wales and his friends visited Brighton, followed by many wealthy people, and that started the huge popularity of the Brighton we know today!

After the Prince’s visit the population of Brighton grew rapidly to about 4,000. As the town boomed, new streets were built, many of ‘the Lanes’ were built and lots of new houses were built. Then in 1787 Brighton Pavilion was built for the first time, originally in the classical style but then again in 1815 as an imitation of an Indian palace. During World War I Brighton Pavilion was used as a hospital for Indian soldiers.
Read more on Brighton Pavilion

In the 1820s wealthy men built new areas of houses. Thomas Kemp built Kemp Town to the east of Brighton and a man called Brunswick built Brunswick Town to the west. These are the elegant squares we see today. Rich families used to come to Brighton on holiday and bring their whole entourage, staying in these beautiful large houses near the sea. Now these houses have mostly been divided into flats.Brighton_Pier_at_dusk2

In 1824 a steam ship began carrying passengers between Brighton and northern France and then in 1841 a railway from London to Brighton opened. As a result about 250,000 people visited Brighton each year. The population of Brighton rose rapidly in the mid-19th century from 40,000 in 1840 to 65,000 in 1860.

Meanwhile in the 19th century amenities in Brighton continued to flourish: a hospital, aquarium, museum and library, an electric railway on the beach, and then the Clock Tower was built in 1888 for the golden anniversary of Queen Victoria. The first cinemas opened in Brighton in 1909 and a boating pool was built in 1925, and in the 1930s a sea wall and walkway was built from Black Rock to Rottingdean. Everything was designed to make Brighton a perfect seaside town where people could enjoy themselves and have fun!

Alfriston villageThe history of Brighton is a long and interesting one. Today the population of is 156,000. It is the most popular English seaside town. Thousands of visitors come every year, from the rest of the UK and from abroad. It is famous for its beautiful architecture, its vibrant night life, music, theatre, its artists and a colourful, unconventional population. It is also a hub for language schools, attracting students who want to improve their English while at the same time enjoying everything Brighton has to offer. It has all the attractions of London, yet is small enough to walk around in a day. And it’s by the sea, with spectacular surrounding countryside and some of the prettiest villages in the country.

The history of Brighton – from a small village to the most popular seaside resort in the UK!

For information on all the best that Brighton has to offer  – things to do, what’s on, restaurants and pubs, shopping, culture and tourist information – go to Visit Brighton.

Also take a look at our own Guide to Brighton