Pubs

Brighton Boozers: History of pubs in Brighton

In 1800, Brighton had one inn for every thirty houses. Local inns served many purposes; they were used for markets, auctions, and even for staging trials. As time passed, the better inns turned into hotels. Others became 'public houses', where working people drank and socialised in the evening.

There were two types of public house. Beer-houses served cheap beer and had no tables or chairs. Gin palaces were larger, ornately decorated with brass and glass, for 'a better class of customer'. By 1900, in poor districts even small streets had several pubs.

After the First World War, pubs moved upmarket, partly to attract women. However, with competition from dance-halls and cinemas, the number of pubs started to fall. In the 1950s, the breweries closed many small pubs. There are now about 900 pubs in Brighton, ranging from traditional 'locals' to trendy pre-club bars.

Nineteenth century pubs
In 1800 there were 41 inns and taverns in Brighton, equivalent to 1 inn for every 30 houses. Inns had been established for various reasons, with some serving the local fishing community, some the general townspeople and others catering for the needs of wealthy visitors to Brighton. The most important inns at this time were The Old Ship and The Castle. They both acted as the principal meeting places for fashionable society. Both had large public rooms where balls, concerts, card assemblies and tea parties took place. During the early 1800s local inns were also used to hold political and business meetings, markets, auctions and even trials. However as time went on a change occurred with the more prestigious inns becoming hotels and the others evolving into 'public houses'.

The most popular kind of leisure
By the mid-1800s visiting the public house had become the most popular form of leisure activity amongst working people in Brighton. Pubs were somewhere to drink, talk, sing and generally socialise with friends and neighbours. Music Hall had its origins in pubs during the 1850s, when local publicans began to provide entertainment for patrons in the form of singing, dancing and comic sketches. Brighton's first music hall was opened in 1852 at The Globe Inn in Mighell Street. It consisted of an extension built onto the back of the pub, with a small stage surrounded by tables and chairs. In rooms like this it was possible to watch and listen to a show while enjoying a hot meal and drinks until late into the evening for the cost of only a few pennies.

More pubs than shops
By the 1860s pubs were being replaced by purpose built theatres as the venues for variety acts. However, the tradition of them providing live entertainment, especially music, continued. The numbers of pubs in the town grew rapidly. By 1860 there were 479 pubs and beer-shops in Brighton, more than all the local butchers, bakers, grocers and greengrocers combined. Many were located in the poorer districts of Brighton, around Edward Street, Carlton Hill and Albion Hill. In 1891 it was reported that this area contained no less than 71 licensed houses. Even the smallest street in Brighton would have several pubs. Mrs Edie Hazelgrove, who spent her childhood at the Pedestrian Arms in Foundry Street, remembered that 'There were beer houses on every corner. There was one at each end of our street, and we were in the middle'.

Beer-houses and gin palaces
The type of pub ranged from beer houses to so-called 'gin palaces'. Beer-houses were small, bare places, without tables and chairs, which sold cheap beer to largely working-class customers. By comparison gin-palaces were large, ornately decorated buildings designed in the latest architectural fashion. Their facades would be ornamental brickwork or plaster depicting sunflowers, lilies, cherubs and urns. Inside they were decorated with glazed tiles, mosaic floors, marble counters, brass, engraved glass windows and ornamental lamps. Seats and tables were provided in bars, with partitions and face screens to segregate the different classes and types of drinkers. A local example of this type of pub is The Queen's Head, Queens Road.

New décor and the 'King and Queen'
The 1920s and 1930s saw changes in the design and use of local pubs. During this period, dining rooms, 'Art Deco' fittings and 'lounge' bars replaced the elaborate glass and brass of the old 'gin palaces' and the more basic features of traditional local pubs. New designs, based on a wide range of architectural styles, were introduced. For example in 1931-32 the King and Queen public house, Marlborough Place, was lavishly rebuilt in the Tudor style. The following description of the pub appeared in the House of Whitbread magazine in October 1937:

'The exterior is gabled and half-timbered and the public rooms contain beautifully designed brickwork, leaded windows, carved oak beams and woodwork, old tiles, stout doorways and wide open fireplaces. The large saloon lounge is a replica of the dining hall of the period, while the public lounge represents a soldiers and retainers dining-hall and kitchens. A Tudor courtyard, with fountain, lily-pond and flowers add to the attractions of the house'.

The owners of the King and Queen, Edlins Ltd, had re-modelled their other pubs in Brighton in styles including 'Jacobean', 'Old English', 'Nautical' and 'Ultra-Modern'. Kemp Town Brewery, which also owned large numbers of pubs in the town, claimed that in its houses it offered a style in which tradition was 'welded harmoniously with new ideas so as to produce an effect which later generations can recognise as the characteristic architecture of the twentieth century'. These changes were prompted by the growing popularity of other leisure venues, especially local cinemas and dance halls, which threatened the pubs' position as the central social institution in most people's lives.

A new form of marketing
Public houses moved upmarket, to make them more respectable in order to attract a wider range of customers. This trend was demonstrated by the introduction of segregation of many pubs to separate public and saloon bars in order to create a more refined image. Kemp Town Brewery was keen to assert that to its houses 'a man can take his wife and family without hesitation. The stand-up bars of the nineteenth century are replaced by bright, attractive and comfortable lounges'. The strategy worked to a certain degree as more women were using pubs, usually accompanied by their husbands and boyfriends. However the overall popularity of pubs had diminished in comparison with the years before the First World War, the number of licensed premises in Brighton dropped from 700 in 1900 to 495 by 1930.

Decline in pub numbers
The decline in pub numbers in Brighton continued in the years after the Second World War. There were a number of reasons for this. Leisure patterns were changing, with many people spending more time at home watching television. Other attractions, such as sport, dancing, going to the cinema and theatre, or going out for a meal competed with pubs for people's leisure time.

It was during the decade after the Second World War that the large breweries controlling most of the town's pubs developed a strategy of concentrating business in a smaller number of modern pubs. Large numbers of small pubs were closed during the 1950s and 1960s. They were often replaced by large, modern pubs, that many felt were rather soulless places. As a drinker at one small local pub put it 'Who wants to drink in a chromium plated palace?'

Another factor in the decline in pub numbers was the demolition of many of the smaller beer houses as a result of slum clearance in the Albion Hill and Carlton Hill areas and other re-developments carried out in the town centre. By the 1970s there were only around 300 pubs in Brighton.

Growth of the super-pubs
During the 1980s and 1990s national brewery chains began setting up large 'super-pubs' in Brighton, complete with a corporate theme or 'house style'. These 'super-pubs' were accused of squeezing small independent pubs out of business by undercutting them with cheap promotions of food and drink.

The 1990s saw the growth of local pub chains C-Side and Zel, which converted a number of traditional pubs into trendy bars and cafes. This reflected the growing importance of the club scene, with fashionable bars acting as meeting places for people preparing to go onto dance clubs later in the evening. As Kate Johnson of C-Side observed 'I think there is still a place for small independent pubs. But the club scene is so important in Brighton now that people want stylish bars to go to beforehand'.

Negative feeling
Some felt that the combination of the 'super-pubs' and the new bars threatened to undermine the character and diversity of pubs in Brighton. Great upset was caused, especially to regular customers, when a local pubs name, décor and character were changed to create a new image. It was claimed that historic pubs, with names going back hundreds of years, were being sacrificed to attract affluent young customers. Bev Robbins, the landlord of the Hand in Hand pub in Kemp Town, argued that 'The problem is that this trend restricts choice for customers. Brighton is becoming dominated by groups of pubs. Brighton always had variety and its starting to lose that'.

A permanent pasttime
Today there are around 900 licensed premises in Brighton and Hove, ranging from trendy bars and 'super-pubs' to more traditional local pubs. Pubs continue to play an important role in the social life of local people, acting as places to meet, talk, drink, eat, listen to music and generally relax. Although tastes in their design and décor may change, the basic role of the pub, as a gathering place for people to enjoy themselves, seems set to continue into the twenty-first Century.

Text reproduced by kind permission from information sheets in Brighton Museum & Art Gallery
This page was added on 22/03/2006.
Comments about this page

'Brighton is becoming dominated by groups of pubs. Brighton always had variety and its starting to lose that.' When I moved to Brighton in September of 1983, I found the town to be dominated by three big brewers - Charrington, Courage and Whitbread. These made up a large number of the pubs on offer, with a few: Harvey's, Gales and a handful of 'free houses' making up the balance. So, actually, I think the choice has actually improved and therefore I disagree with the comment made in the article.

By Graham Whyte (01/04/2005)

I was in Brighton from 1992 to 1997. I've always found a great choice in the variety of pub - from the very shabby to the very modern wine bar, the pub for the old, the one for the quiet, the one for the football fans - and so on. I believe that the only reason a new trend of pubs will attract is that English people like going to pubs. So  we might see very local or pre-nightclub pubs. English love their pub culture and it is there to stay

By Eric (15/10/2006)

My Dad lived in a house at 29 Hanover Street, Brighton which was once a pub. Does anyone have information on this, or can tell us more?

By Karen (16/01/2007)

I run the cafe bar in Egremont Place, called 32 Cafe Bar. I have heard, that at one time the downstairs area was called The Cave, which ran jazz nights. Does anyone have any information on this?

By Simon West (05/02/2007)

Have you any information on a pub back in the 1980s approx. called Mary Packs? It was in Hove Place, Hove, near The Sussex pub on Hove seafront.

By Wayne Marmont (23/04/2007)

The pub once called The Mary Packs is now called the Red Lion. It is around the corner from The sussex pub.

By Wayne Wareham (21/09/2007)

Does anyone know of any sing along old time type of evening in Brighton or Hove? I accompany an 88yr old soprano who would love an evening out to sing with others...

By Bunty (08/05/2008)

I'm trawling through some family history and found that a family member was a publican (Licensed Victualler) in 1901. On the census he was listed as working at home at 54 West Hill Street, Brighton. Was / is there a pub there? Does anyone have any further information? Many thanks.

By Wendy Slaughter (15/08/2008)

The pub was called the West Hill Tavern. I'm not quite sure when it ceased to exist but it was relatively recent -1960s or so, I think

By Debora Parr (10/09/2008)

Wendy Slaughter please get in touch, it has been a while(1call@ukonline.co.uk/ lighthouse2005@hotmail.co.uk).

By Vince (06/11/2008)

29 Hanover Street was the Duke of Edinburgh. I don't know when it ceased trading but it was prior to 1968.

By Alan James Piatt (10/06/2009)

Does anyone remember the Heart and Hand in North Road and The Country and Gospel Club that I ran there. You couldn't move in the pub on a Sunday night, and the landlord decided enough was enough. We then moved to the Stanford Arms, Preston Circus whose landlord and landlady were relatives of the well known Jim Marshall. Many, many memories, and great times.

By John Winch (27/08/2009)

In doing some family research I have come across a Mary Baker (a widow) who lived in George Street, Kemp Town and was listed as "keeper of a beer house Sheens". Can anyone expand on this, or provide some background info? Cheers.

By tony berry (28/03/2010)

I recently found out a family member was landlord of Admiral Napier, Elm Grove, Brighton 1860s to 1880s(approx). Does anyone have any information about this inn. His name was Michael Constable.

By Barbara Jones (20/06/2010)

My great grandfather, John Bartlett Powis, was landlord of the Sir Robert Peel beer shop, 48 Church Street in 1881 (now a house) and the Regent Tavern, 3 Church Street in 1901-19? (now Dockerills). His son, William, was landlord of the Great Eastern, 103 Trafalgar Street in 1938, don't know how long before or after. Would like to find out more if anyone knows.

By John Cording (13/02/2011)

Does anyone know the names of the pubs on both corners of Freshfield Road many years ago, also on Montague Place.

By Anne Hogbin (02/03/2011)

John Winch, the pub with the drum kit in the window was 'The Alhambra'. I have had many a good night there in the 70s, with live bands on most nights, there was also a small nightclub downstairs called 'The Inn Place'. The frontage from Dr Brightons to the Old Ship Hotel was demolished to make way for council offices and a hotel.

By Michael Brittain (04/03/2011)

My 2x great grandfather was a publican at the Fitters Arms Hotel, 27 York Hill (Rd) Brighton from 1905 - 1918 approx. I am trying to find this pub and if it is still standing. Does it have a different name now? His son (my great grandfather) was "Blind Wally" a musician who played there often.

By Jacqueline Overton (08/01/2012)

Jacqueline. Look under 'Pubs' and scroll down to 'Fitters Arms'. I have written an article on this pub (see here). I did know a 'Blind Johnny' who played for various pubs in the area. He was also a piano tuner.

By Barrie Searle (09/01/2012)

The pubs at the bottom of Freshfield Road were The Freshfield and The Eastern. Over the other side of the road was The Great Eastern. We lived next door to the Eastern in some grotty council mid-way flats. In the later 80s we came over from Germany to visit my mother and used to drop in to the Great Eastern for a few pints and darts. The landlord couldn't believe we'd come all the way over from Germany to visit the place. Sadly it was knocked down later like everything else in Brighton. When you walk into town along Eastern Road and down the hill, there was an amazing junk shop called Jack Ball. Responsible for many sales and buys to make a bit of pocket money. Just along the road also was a car breakers also quite amazing in the middle of the street.

By John Winch (13/01/2012)

Yep, what where those bars called in Regency Square?

By Norman (12/12/2012)

Re: 'The Mary Pack' and in answer to Wayne Marmont, I have a lot of info about 'The Mary Pack' as Mary Pack was actually my great grandmother! It was named after her by Whitbread Brewery after she died. Mary ran the pub during the 60s and 70s along with a few other places here and there, mostly in London. When Mary ran the pub it was called 'The Cliftonville Inn' (not to be confused with the other newer Weatherspoons pub of the same name now!) but, as per Wayne Wareham's comment, it has sadly been renamed 'The Red Lion'. I have lots of photos of the pub in its heyday, I also have part of the original bar itself!

By Elliot Leeds (26/02/2013)

Does anyone have any information about The Prince of Wales Pub in London Road or The Railway Arms, Cheapside. Both were run by members of my Family 40's/50's.

By Diane Meik (23/03/2013)

Diane, I think I remember that pub. I lived in Whitecross Street my father was Don Waller of H A Waller & Sons Limited, sheet metal workers. I seem to recall going there with my mum and dad to visit Reg and his wife. He was an undertaker and i think his wife ran the pub. I think her name was Evelyn. Of course, their 'local' was the Beehive which was on the corner of Whitecross Street and Trafalgar Street. Hope this is of some use.

By Lyn Horsburgh (24/03/2013)

Hi Diane, both of the establishments you mention were not listed as pubs during that time and therein lies a problem with tracking its occupants. Both establishments were 'Beer Houses' (see the article above) and were usually listed under the name of the proprietor, not the name given to the premises. The 'Prince of Wales' stood at 143, London Road and was probably founded at the end of the 1850's, originally being named 'The Country House', but its name was changed by one of its licensees named Hickling at the start of the 1860's. The 'Railway Arms' stood at 24, Cheapside and was founded at the start of the 1850's. Regards, Andy.

By Andy Grant (24/03/2013)

I have been told that my paternal grandparents (the Barnard's) ran the Prince of Wales pub on London Road at one time too, must have been around the 1950s, at a guess! I wonder if there is anyway to confirm this information?

By Emma Barnard (28/07/2013)

My great grandfather had the Prince of Wales public house in London Road, Brighton from about 1905 until the Second World War. I would love to have any information please.

By M Cooper (02/08/2013)

Hi Emma, Alfred L Barnard was indeed the publican of the Prince of Wales from the end of the war until the late 1950s. Regards

By Andy Grant (03/08/2013)

Hi M Cooper. Whilst you have not given a name that would would either confirm or deny that your great grandfather was a publican of the Prince of Wales, I can state categorically that the landlord of the pub changed a number of times between 1905 and the start of WW2. Regards

By Andy Grant (03/08/2013)

Does anyone know the name of the pub which stood where 'Circus Circus' stands today? I think it changed about 25 years ago?

By Kay Moors (27/10/2013)

Stanford Arms I think, named after the Stanford family who owned Preston Manor and much of the surrounding land.

By Peter Groves (27/10/2013)

HI Kay, my 1971 Kelly's has no 2 Preston Road as The Stanford Arms Hotel.

By Thomas Vic Fulker (27/10/2013)

My husband's grandparents kept The Lord Clyde pub in Queens Road quadrant, at the top of Gloucester Road opposite the toilets. Does anyone remember this pub? It had a sawdust gully in the bar. it is long since demolished to make way for an office block.

By Maureen (27/10/2013)

Hi, I'm looking for info, especially photos, of The Wick public house on the corner of Gloucester Road and Foundry Street in Brighton. It was my grandparents pub in the 60's, Emily & Ernie Netley.

By Kelvin Healey (24/01/2014)

Maureen's comment about the 'sawdust gully' in a Pub reminded me of a Cider Bar somewhere near the Lanes. They sold Rough Cider, Mild Cider, and Guinness. Needless to say, these drinks were then the cheapest pints that one could buy and the clientel were in keeping with this. They swept the place out last thing at closing time and, the next morning covered the bare floorboards with a new coating of sawdust. It was just how I imagined an old Western bar. There was also a Cider bar where the Dome booking Office is in New Road. This was a bit better than the other one and sold Churchfarm Rough Cider. It's a wonder we all didn't go blind drinking this stuff. A mention of what was The Stanford Arms at Preston Circus. It was run for years by a landlord called Tom and his wife. They were Relations of Jim Marshall that ran the Folk Club there for some years and broadcast a Programme called Minstrels Gallery for Radio Brighton and Radio Sussex. Another Pub we sometimes used in the 'old' days was the Basket Makers - another pretty rough type of place at the time. Remembered Pubs - The Running Horse, The Eagle, Doctor Brightons, The Fortune of War, The Belvedere, The Great Eastern, The Chequers, The Golden Fleece, Seven Stars (another sawdust and board floor), The Gloucester, Quadrant, etc; etc. Great times.

By John Winch (20/02/2014)

My parents Jack and Lucy Lago ran the Black Horse in Montague place in Kemptown in the early 50s, for a few years before it was knocked through to the old Malsters Arms pub next door. Is it still in business?

By Tony Lago (20/11/2014)

Does anyone remember George and Doris Drake who were ran a pub I thought was called the Dragon and something in and around Sydney Street in the early 1970s?

I assume you mean 'The Green Dragon' in Sydney St.

Editor

By Paula Gerard (03/04/2017)

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