Madeira Terrace and lift

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.

b) MADEIRA TERRACE and LIFT: The great sea-wall stretching along the face of the East Cliff from Old Steine to Kemp Town was constructed in 1830-8 by William Lambert at a cost of £100,000 (see “Coastline (Sea-Walls)”). A plaque recording this massive construction may be seen above the Madeira Terrace, to the west of the cliff lift, two further improvements that were added in 1890 under the terms of the 1884 Brighton Improvement Act. The terrace has a length of 2,837 feet from the Aquarium to Duke’s Mound, a width of 25 feet, and is listed as being of special architectural interest. Designed by borough surveyor Philip Lockwood, it is supported by cast-iron columns and delicate latticed arches adorned with alternate figurines of Neptune and Aphrodite; the sheltered promenade below is known as the Madeira Walk. The terrace opened to the east of Royal Crescent in 1890, but it was somewhat controversial and its completion was delayed until 1897 at a total cost of £29,000; in 1927-9 it was extended above a colonnade to meet the Aquarium Sun Terrace.

The Madeira Lift and Shelter Hall, both listed buildings, were constructed at the same time as the terrace. The lift, which was initially powered by hydraulics, has an iron building on Marine Parade decorated with four griffins and an ornate dolphin weather-vane. It descends into the shelter hall, now Clown’s Cafe, which was intended to accommodate visitors during inclement weather. The two were inaugurated on 24 May 1890. By the roadway to the west of the Shelter Hall stands the marble base of a drinking-fountain, erected in 1896 through the munificence of Mrs Bryan of Portland Lodge.

The Madeira Terrace, which looks particularly impressive when viewed from the Palace Pier , provides a magnificent promenade and also the middle tier of a three-tiered ‘grandstand’ for the regular events that take place in Madeira Drive. These include the well-known National Speed Trials, organised annually in September by the Brighton and Hove Motor Club. The first Motor Race Week was held on 19-22 July 1905 to inaugurate the new tarmacadam surface of Madeira Drive, with J.T.C.Brabazon, C.S.Rolls and T.Schneider competing.

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.

Comments about this page

  • Does anyone know about the planting along the front here? The picture clearly shows formal gardens – these must have suffered in the salty breezes. In the background you can see that the Edwardian planting is being established up the cliff, where it thrives today.

    By James Farrell (27/10/2009)
  • As a boy l have great memories of the beach opposite the lift, this was just after the war and early fifties. l remember the fishing boats that were kept on that beach. The Royal Rose that went to Dunkirk, was owned by Hobbly Thwaites l think. The “Lucky Jim” owner, Jim Howell, “Girl Pat” owned by the Howells. l went to school
    with Ron Howell at Queens Park school. These boats also did the trips for holidaymakers. l still think of how the beach was during the war, barbed wire and mines. and the old Volks Electric Railway. Happy days. l live in Australia now and have for the last fifty-odd years. l still look back on my Brighton days, it was where l was born in Bloomsbury Street.
    Dennis Beeney.

    By Dennis Beeney (13/05/2021)
  • Dennis, No doubt you will remember that the Volk’s Railway carriages were stored beneath the Madeira Arches until about 1947 when the railway re-opened after the War. We used to get on them and ‘ding’ the pedal operated bell.

    By Tim Sargeant (14/05/2021)

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