Local Folk

Photo:Oliver Dalton (1879-1939)

Oliver Dalton (1879-1939)

From the private collection of Roy Grant

Oliver Dalton: charismatic entrepreneur

By Roy Grant

Dalton's Beach

The Brighton Wheel, recently erected at Dalton’s Bastion, and now dominating the Brighton skyline, overlooks an area of the sea shore that more senior citizens will more fondly remember as Dalton’s Beach. It was named after Oliver Dalton, a charismatic local entrepreneur who was one of the major forces behind the promotion of leisure activities in Brighton in the early twentieth century. Dalton was the eldest son of War Office clerk Oliver D’Alton and Eliza Powell. The family moved from South London to Brighton in around 1888; Dalton’s father died in 1889. In order to support the family, his recently widowed mother opened a boarding house. 

Dalton's early years

As a boy Dalton delivered newspapers, but when only thirteen years of age, he applied for a position as a timekeeper on the Chain Pier. As his application was unsuccessful, he became a naval cadet on a training ship moored up the Thames, followed by a move to a clerical position in Woolwich. After that, he enlisted as a trooper in the Imperial Yeomanry and served in South Africa during the closing stages of the second Boar War(1899-1902).

An eye for business

Back in Brighton after the war, Dalton became an automatic machine inspector. He quickly realised that catering for the tourist trade had tremendous potential for financial gain. He obtained a licence to operate a number of beach huts and bathing machines on the foreshore to the east of the Palace Pier. Originally exclusively for ladies, this beach had been redesignated to allow mixed bathing, and had the added attraction that at low tide it consisted of a considerable amount of soft sand. Dalton further improved the beach by constructing a path to the sea across the uncomfortable pebbles, using old boards and thick exterior matting.  

Photo:Holidaymakers on Dalton's Beach c1922

Holidaymakers on Dalton's Beach c1922

From the private collection of Roy Grant

Extending his interests

Intent on extending his business interests, Dalton visited the USA to buy slot machines and pleasure rides which were then strategically placed around the area to obtain maximum profit. Eventually he acquired a substantial interest in the Palace Pier, seafront shops and greyhound stadium. Using his expertise, he was then able to widen his scope further by becoming involved with the promotion of leisure in other seaside resorts. Famous at home and abroad, Dalton was described by one foreign newspaper as ‘The King of Slot Machines’.

A permanent reminder

Unfortunately, during his rise from relative obscurity to success, Dalton had suffered a number of personal tragedies which had caused him great distress. His personal problems were increased when the pier and beaches were closed during WWII, and he was threatened by the possibility of financial ruin due to loss of income. Sadly his problems proved too much to bear, and Oliver Dalton took his own life. Only the beach with his name remains as a permanent reminder of Dalton’s personal contribution to the growth and popularity of Brighton as a holiday resort.

This page was added on 27/02/2014.
Comments about this page

It is a true saying that you learn something new every day. Today I learnt how the beach just east of the Palace pier got it's name. I knew the name and remember Dalton's beach from my school days when some of us 4th and 5th year students from Fitzherbert would meet up in the summer on Monday evenings after school at this beach. We would have a good swim and just have a good time in general. Sometimes we would swim around the pier at low tide which was not such a daunting feat as you could walk half the way as the beach was quite shallow at this point. That was over 50 years ago and still remembered with affection. Easy days.

By Mick Peirson (27/02/2014)

Thanks Roy. I spent many great days on Dalton's beach with my young family in the early 1980s but I didn't know why it was called Dalton's beach.

By Peter Groves (27/02/2014)

Oliver Dalton's brother was manager of the Palace Pier, his daughter, Mrs Jean Penney died a couple of years ago, she was a great friend and an absolute goldmine of Brighton history (why not with her pedigree!). She was a stalwart of the Kingscliffe Society and conducted masterful tours of the St James Street area, as well as writing several walks guides to the seafront east of the pier. At her funeral there was a board with photos of her in younger days (including dancing in London in the street on VE Day in WACS uniform!). The earliest one was of her aged about 18 months sitting on Daltons Beach with a lifebelt round her neck, with DALTONS emblazoned on it.

By Geoffrey Mead (01/03/2014)

I was one of the lifeguards on Daltons Beach around 1981 - never a dull moment and managed to save one young lad who got into trouble. Bank Holidays were mad.

By Martin Scrace (01/03/2014)

Great piece about Oliver Dalton. Everyone who grew up in Brighton knew of Dalton's Beach. It's nice to know now he's rightly being remembered in Brighton's history. I have read that he was also Managing Director of the Palace Pier.

By Carol Homewood (02/03/2014)

My dad, John Ramus, was best mates with Pat Dalton, son of Tom Dalton (Oliver's brother), who was involved with running the gaming machines on the Palace Pier. My dad also remembers he and Pat cycling to Bungalow Town to see Pat's Aunt Winni (-fred), as well as getting free goes on the canoes at the West Pier as the franchise was owned by a pal of Tom Dalton, by the name of Hatton. Thanks for this page, stirring up lots of memories for my dad.

By Andy Ramus (02/09/2015)

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