Brighton

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Brighton rises from the glittering seafront to the protective South Downs, with Beachy Head to the east and Worthing Point to the west, basking in one of the sunniest climates in the country. Brighton is often described as "London-by-the-sea", but this moniker does not do it justice. Brighton is about freedom. There is the obvious freedom provided by the wealth of leisure and entertainment facilities - the interweaving streets are lined with original and atmospheric bars, clubs and restaurants, and during the summer the beach front attains a festival-like ambience on a daily basis.

However, if you take a closer look beyond the hedonistic pleasures that Brighton has to offer, an astonishing diversity, warmth and sense of community shines through. There is real freedom here through expression of individuality, tolerance of different ways of life, and an invigorating entrepreneurial spirit. Brighton residents are invariably welcoming and fun-loving and visitors soon feel at home. Whatever your interest, be it sport, theatre, eating out, clubbing or just strolling down the promenade taking it all in, Brighton will not let you go away disappointed.

This guide is set out as a kind of walking tour. This is purely to represent Brighton as the connected whole that it is, rather than a collection of artificial areas. It is not meant to be literally walked in one go, unless you are in training for a marathon. Deviate at will; there is not enough room to fit in all the good stuff.

Hitting the beach

Brighton train station is as good a place to start exploring as any, with many visitors arriving here with no idea where to go. The answer is obvious of course - to the beach! So head straight out of the station and down the hill. This is Queens Road, and its best attraction is The Tamarind Tree, a terrific Carribean restaurant. Veering off the road east would take you into the heart of the North Laine and on toward Kemp Town; west to the residential areas of Seven Dials, Montpelier and eventually Hove, but there's plenty of time for all that. You will soon arrive at a crossroads, centred around Brighton Clock Tower.

Shopaholics will spy Churchill Square shopping centre to their right, but the sea is now clearly visible straight on, so keep going. Over the Clock Tower the road becomes West Street, and to the east now is the entry to The Lanes. Lovers of shamelessly commercial dance music take note of the Paradox club to the left and the Event II on the right. Also on the right is the multi-screen Odeon Cinema. But now the sea is at your fingertips, so cross the road and drink in the view.

To the east lies Brighton Pier (formerly Palace Pier), all winking lights, funfair rides, candyfloss and cheeky good times. Above Brighton Pier look out for the acclaimed Sealife Centre. To the west the battered yet beautiful West Pier represents the elegance, decadence and rich cultural diversity of this seaside town. Drop down onto the seafront between the piers and explore. If the sun is out it should be pretty lively. There are the volleyball and basketball courts, the paddling pool and the petanque piste for those looking for activity. There may be a band playing al fresco at The Ellipse.

For a drink try The Beach, Gemini Beach Bar or the Fortune of War. Hungry? Try Alfresco, the Cook and Fiddle or the brand new Boardwalk. For cultural points of interest, visit the Fishing Museum, the Seafront Artists' Quarter with its open galleries and shops, and the marvellous Penny Slot Museum under Brighton Pier. Above all, walk, relax and take it all in.

You can walk west along the promenade all the way to Hove Lagoon and beyond. Walking to the east takes in the varied delights of the electric powered Volk's Railway, the Concorde 2 venue and the Naturist Beach. Keep going and you will get to Brighton Marina and you can continue on an
undercliff walk all the way to Rottingdean.

If this all sounds too energetic, then why not head for the shops, swiftly followed by the bars.

The Town Centre

Brighton is the one of the best places to shop, eat and drink in the world. I have no statistics to support this, but it is an unshakeable personal belief. Start back at the Clock Tower. Directly west is Western Road, which is home to most of the major chains: Marks & Spencer's, The Gap, HMV and Oddbins to name a few. It also contains Churchill Square, a superior shopping centre whose highlights include Border's Books and Music, Virgin Megastore and Habitat.

Adjacent to Churchill Square is the Western Front, a landmark in Brighton bar culture. On the way down Western Road check out the Pull and Pump pub, sample fine French cuisine at La Fourchette or wander down Preston Street for a drink at Skid Row and a mex-tex feast at Dig In the Ribs. Take a right at Montpelier Road and walk up the hill. Turning right at almost any point will take you into residential streets containing some of Brighton's loveliest houses. Montpelier Villas, in particular, is a must see. Carry on up the hill until you reach the Seven Dials roundabout. A sharp right will take you onto Dyke Road and two great restaurants in the Tin Drum and Little Buddha.

The Lanes

Walk down Dyke Road and you will return to the Clock Tower. Now turn east down, confusingly, North Street. A short way down is Ship Street on the right. This is a good place to enter The Lanes area. Packed with bars, restaurants and shops (with antique dealers and jewellers a speciality), all I can say here is explore - there is too much good stuff to mention. Don't miss the Cricketer's pub, Food for Friends and Terre a Terre veggie restaurants and Casablanca nightclub.

North Laine

Back on to North Street, continue down the hill and turn left at Bond Street. This brings you into the North Laine area. This is Brighton's "alternative" area and is even more chock-a-block with goodies. Komedia arts centre has loads of great attractions, Wai Kika Moo Kau is a top lunch destination and the Mash Tun is an essential Brighton bar.

Returning once again to North Street, head down to its foot and to your left you will find the stunning Royal Pavilion. Walk through the grounds and see what's on at the Dome Theatre, and out the other side to Brighton Museum and Art Gallery on Church Street.

Hove, Kemp Town and North Brighton

The above is the Brighton most visitors see. There is so much to do in this central area that many do not venture further afield, but they are missing a lot. Hove boasts some of the area's most magnificent architecture; you simply must visit Brunswick Square and Palmeira Square. It is also home to Sussex County Cricket ground and some great restaurants: try Saucy and Aumthong Thai.

In north Brighton, you should try and squeeze in a visit to the Duke of York's Cinema, stroll through Preston Park and take either Dyke Road or Ditchling Road up to the top of the South Downs.

Do also try and explore Kemp Town. There is so much great Regency era architecture and a community spirit that epitomises Brighton life as much as anywhere alongside a few more bars, restaurants and shops.

This is the tip of the iceberg. The best thing to do is get a map of the area (free ones are available from Brighton Tourist Information Centre in Bartholomew Square) and trawl through this wonderful website! Check out the Where to Stay guide and book yourself in for a week; you'll have the time of your life.

History of Brighton

Although the local land has been inhabited since 3000BC, it was not until the arrival of the Saxons that Brighton's foundations were laid. By the 6th Century AD they were in control of much of the South of England; in fact Sussex means the 'kingdom of the south Saxons'. The original name of Brighton was 'Brighthelmston' and was almost certainly distorted from the Saxon name 'Brithelm' or 'Beorthelm', and 'tun', meaning farmstead. During Saxon times the settlement developed as a modest community of 400 which revolved around fishing and farming.

Brighthelmston was a village constantly fighting to survive. In 1514 the French pillaging of the south coast all but destroyed it, but against all odds the village recovered and went on to thrive as a fishing community as never before. Despite this growth, the town fell into decline as rising sea levels, culminating in the violent storms of 1703 and 1705, destroyed its lower part. By 1730, a population that had swelled to 4,000 in 1600, had dwindled to half that number.

The Royal Resurgence

In 1750 Dr. Richard Russell, of Lewes, popularized beliefs in the healing power of drinking and bathing in sea water and breathing sea air. Dr. Russell, as well as others who maintained his views, advocated this struggling fishing town as the ultimate health resort. The wealthy but unhealthy started to trickle down from London to see if it was all true. For many the cleaner air and the seawater did the trick, but even if it did not, Brighthelmston quickly began to provide social pursuits at every turn, from cock-fighting or theatre to drinking and gambling.

Once George the Prince of Wales added his emphatic approval after visiting in 1783, the trickle became a positive flood. Prince George defined the new image of the town now unofficially called Brighton. Artistic, witty and charming on one hand, he was excessive and hedonistic on the other. Be he saint or sinner, he left his mark physically as well as spiritually, most famously in the fabulous Royal Pavilion. The Chain Pier, now Brighton Pier, was completed in the same year, 1823, and along with the classic style of houses built in the Regency period of 1811-1820, Brighton was acquiring many of its enduring characteristics.

When the town finally did lose royal favour under Queen Victoria, it bought the Royal Pavilion to keep it from neglect and opened it to the paying public, bringing it yet more revenue. By 1861 the population of Brighton (officially called so since 1853) had risen to 78,000. The final stages of this population explosion were accelerated by the opening of the first London to Brighton railway in 1841, a service which got faster, cheaper and more frequent as the years passed. The railway meant that Brighton was becoming a more and more viable prospect for the masses, who came for newer attractions such as Palace Pier (now Brighton Pier). Brighton was evolving into what some called a "Cockney Paradise", as Londoners found all the amusements of the capital fitted snugly into a friendly seaside town.

The War Era

Although Brighton had flourished for over a century, its success disguised an unsettling underbelly of poverty and crime. Wealth was not evenly distributed, and many who tried to make their fortune here failed. After the First World War poverty was at crisis level, and government money was given over to clearing some of the worst slums. Unfortunately, many people were moved to new estates without thought, and old homes were lost, roots damaged, and in some cases families separated. 攏2m was spent on slum clearance, road widening and refurbishments between the wars, but the image of Brighton was tarnished, as is demonstrated by Graham Greene's novel of this era, "Brighton Rock". If anything, though, the seedier side of Brighton increased its attraction and the crowds flocked. On the August Bank Holiday of 1945 Palace Pier attracted 45,000 visitors. A few weeks later the beach was lined with barbed wire as Brighton awaited Hitler's forces. They never materialised, but Brighton was still right in the firing line, and 56 air raids during the WWII killed 198 people and destroyed 280 houses. The town's architectural treasures survived however, and Brighton continued entertaining, this time US and Canadian troops.

The Modern Era

After the war, Hove Council failed to see the lucky escape and proposed to demolish the beautiful Brunswick Square and Terrace and Adelaide Crescent and replace them with high rise blocks. In reaction to this the Regency Society was formed and successfully protested against the developments. Further successes included campaigning to have hundreds of Brighton buildings listed by 1952.

The society could not stop all progress, however, and high rises popped up over the 1960's, as did a modern shopping centre at Churchill Square in 1968. The protection of the South Downs always had massive support, and in 1966 the area became an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA), safeguarding the Downs for the near future. Other positive developments were the foundation of the University of Sussex and Brighton Polytechnic (now Brighton University). These, along with the Brighton College of Technology and numerous language schools, made the town a major centre of learning, and education became the number one employer.

The increasing young population brought more nightlife to the town, as well as more political activism and, in some cases, more trouble. The most dramatic episodes occurred in the rivalry between the mods and rockers, culminating in the pitch battle on Whitsun Bank Holiday of 1964. The turbulent social pattern in Brighton discouraged some visitors, as did the rise of the holiday camp, foreign holidays, car ownership and competition from other seaside resorts. Theatres and other attractions were forced out of business and the neglected West Pier was closed in 1975.

Even as the rot was setting in, Brighton was fighting back. The first Brighton Festival of the Arts was not a success in 1967, but it grew to represent Brighton's cultural diversity as the city bloomed again in the late eighties and all through the nineties. The Brighton Marina project, initially derided by some, came to fruition in the nineties also. A massive success was the Brighton Centre, which has been in constant use since its completion in 1977, with political conferences, concerts and other events, bringing tens of thousands to Brighton every year. And, as ever, there is the sun, the sea and the friendly, positive, outgoing and welcoming people of Brighton, drawing visitors in and making them want to stay. With train links to London now dipping under 50 minutes and set to decrease, more and more people are coming round to the charms of Brighton.

It is a history such as this, of bad times as well as good, that has given Brighton a richness of character that enables its visitors and residents to revel in its delights as never before.

 

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