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.
a) ORIGINS: The Old Ship is the oldest inn in Brighton. The earliest known record dates from 1665 when it was owned by Richard Gilham, but it may date from the previous century as an unnamed house was owned by a Richard and John Gilham in 1559. It probably derived its name from being partly constructed from ship’s timbers, and for many years the entrance to the stable included a ship’s stern-piece. It serviced the market place on the nearby cliff top, while the street in which it was situated took its name from the inn, Ship Street.
In 1671 the Ship (as it was known until the New Ship opened almost opposite) was purchased by Nicholas Tettersell, the owner of the boat which carried Charles II to France (see “Charles II”); in the Tettersell Bar now hangs a painting of the Surprise, also Tettersell’s annuity document.
b) EXPANSION: By 1750 the Old Ship was the property of William Hicks who, investing in Brighton’s newly-found prosperity as a health resort, built a splendid new public function room by 1759. Hick died in 1765 but was succeeded as proprietor by his grandson, John.
The Old Ship hosted many of the important functions in the town for many years, and was used for town meetings, petty sessions, and meetings of the town commissioners in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Until 1777 it also included the town’s post-office, and was the original site of the Brighton corn market. Rivalled only by the Castle Inn until the opening of the Royal York in 1823, it was the most important establishment for some time and was frequented by the nobility, but was rarely used by royalty.
In order to compete with the rooms which opened in 1766 at the Castle, John Hicks commissioned Robert Golden to build the impressive assembly rooms in Ship Street in 1767. Fitted out in Adam style, they included a ball-room ninety feet long with spectators’ and musicians’ galleries, and also a card-room with plaster decoration and a vaulted ceiling. The popularity of grand balls waned in the mid nineteenth century however, and more informal dances and concerts were held, but by 1885 the assembly rooms had been converted to auction rooms
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.