Lower Esplanade

From below Madeira Drive to Western Street

Reproduced with permission from the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder, 1990

Please note that this text is an extract from a reference work written in 1990.  As a result, some of the content may not reflect recent research, changes and events.

The Lower Esplanade runs below Madeira Drive, Grand Junction Road and King's Road from beyond the Aquarium to Western Street, and for many years was a ramshackle area frequented by stall-holders and street entertainers. It was improved in 1864-7, and again in 1882-7 when the main road was widened over top of the King's Road Arches. It is now a mixture of private beach chalets and commercial enterprises including amusement arcades, cafes and public houses. The Lower Esplanade now epitomises the day-tripper, slot-machine, fish'n'chip side of Brighton's appeal as a resort, but remains somewhat ramshackle.

It now begins about a quarter-mile to the east of the Palace Pier, where a small path crosses Volk's Railway and then runs past the railway station and a crazy golf-course before widening out opposite the Aquarium. On 27 June 1930 the mayor, Horace Aldrich, inaugurated an extension to the roadway and promenade of both Madeira Drive and Grand Junction Road, and from this point to beyond the East Street Groyne the widened upper promenade forms a colonnaded walkway on the Lower Esplanade lined with commercial premises. The subway under Madeira Drive to the Aquarium opened in 1935.

The path rises to road level at the East Street Groyne, but then descends again to the former Fish Market, arches 216-224, and the Fish Market Hard, an area traditionally used for meetings and entertainments (see "Fishing Industry"). No.217 is now occupied by the fascinating Old Fashioned Penny Palace, the National Museum of Penny Slot Machines. A little further, on the beach below the Old Ship, stands the Martha Gunn Winch, recommissioned in 1984 as a reminder of the past importance of the fishing industry.

The cafe and amusement arcade below West Street opened in August 1887 as a public shelter hall with a handsome interior holding 500 people in inclement weather; the exterior is decorated with many figureheads of Neptune. Beyond the West Street subway the Lower Esplanade widens out considerably and part is set aside for the Beach Deck, a seaside entertainment area. Two arches by the Grand Hotel steps were decorated with the story of Brighton's fishing heritage for the 1984 Brighton Festival. At arches nos.109 and 110 below the Metropole are two plaques to the former lifeboat stations at this point (see "Lifeboats"). The adjacent paddling pool and putting green were laid out in 1935-8.

The putting green and boating pool beyond the West Pier were added in 1925. Between the two stands a Modern-style cafe and amusement arcade, built in 1953 as a contribution to the Festival of Britain. It opened as the Western Bathing Pavilion and provided changing room for 2,000 bathers, but it proved unpopular and became a cafe in 1957. The area of formal gardens, walks and flower beds beyond are known as the Western Lawns and were laid out in the 1884 improvements. The King's Road Bandstand is a light ironwork listed building with a public convenience in the base. Topped by an oriental dome, the roof is supported by eight delicate ironwork pillars and there were originally shutters to shelter the performers from the breeze. A special area for the disabled was added nearby in 1981 to celebrate the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

The Lower Esplanade then joins the King's Road promenade beyond the Western Lawns as it stretches past the Peace Memorial into Hove as the Brunswick Esplanade .

Any numerical cross-references in the text above refer to resources in the Sources and Bibliography section of the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder.

The following resource(s) is quoted as a general source for the information above: {24,115,123,126}

This page was added on 07/06/2007.
Comments about this page

I can remember in the late 1930s an amusement arcade under Maderia Drive. We used to go down a slope and under the railway to get in.

By Viv Webb (10/06/2007)

In the 1930s Aladdin's cave ran under the prom from the Palace Pier eastwards to just beyond the Volks Railway terminus. There were all the stands from hoopla, rifle shooting etc., a pool with electric boats and of course bumper cars. It was a major attraction and as a youngster I was always being ejected from there.

By Tony V (12/07/2007)

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