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Nelson's Column at Preston Circus

Civil Defence Control Rooms

There are probably a number of Brighton residents, who like me remember the roundabout at Preston Circus, however I doubt if there many who remember when Nelson’s Column stood on the roundabout. During WWII there were a number of Civil Defence Control Rooms set up in Brighton.  One of these was constructed on the middle of the Preston Circus roundabout, camouflaged to look like a commercial venture.

Beaconsfield/Clyde Roads

From the first photograph, it is quite difficult to recognise the view towards the junction of Beaconsfield and Clyde Roads; however the grey slate roof seen on the left remains exactly the same today. On the far right it is also possible to make out the windows on the newly constructed Fire Station, which was opened in May 1938, just before the photograph was taken.  Unfortunately, due to the oblique angle of the photo, the beautiful baroque façade of the Duke of York’s cinema cannot be seen. However the roof of the building on the corner of Stanley Road also remains the same today.  If there is any doubt about the location of the first photograph, the second, taken later in the war, and looking up New England Road, confirms it is Preston Circus. What is surprising is the construction of Nelson’s Column on the middle of the roundabout.

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WWII National Savings Campaign

Warship Weeks were British national savings campaigns during WWII, with the adoption of a Royal Navy warship by a civil community.  Brighton adopted HMS Kipling, and Hove adopted HMS Unbeaten.  The K class destroyer, HMS Kipling was built on the river Clyde in 1937, while the U class submarine, HMS Unbeaten was built in Barrow-in-Furness in 1939.  A target would be set by the saving campaign, dependent on the size of the town or city, and once the target was achieved the community would adopt the ship and its crew.  It appears that as an indicator of savings progress, a replica of Nelson’s Column with graduated markings was built on the roundabout.  The photograph, looking west up New England Road towards the Seven Dials, shows it was quite a substantial structure.

Disaster in 1942

In 1942, while the townsfolk of both Brighton and Hove were busy saving; both ships were on active service at either ends of the Mediterranean where disaster struck. Firstly, HMS Kipling was sunk in the eastern Mediterranean on 12th May 1942 with the loss of 29 of the 250 crew.  Even worse, HMS Unbeaten was lost with all hands in the Bay of Biscay on 11th November 1942. It is believed that she was attacked and sunk in error by an RAF Wellington from No. 172 Squadron. Due to war time reporting restrictions, this was not made public at the time.

Hazardous Crossing

I do not know what became of Brighton’s Nelson’s Column; furthermore I cannot recall when the roundabout was removed, and replaced with the current hazardous crossroads.  Taking into account the vast improvement that the recent Seven Dials roundabout has brought, I wonder if there’s a chance of reinstatement of the Preston Circus roundabout?  However, I doubt that we will ever again see Nelson’s Column at Preston Circus!

Click on the photographs, then click again, to open a large version in a new window.

Preston Circus c. 1940
From the private collection of Peter Groves
Preston Circus looking West c. 1942
From the private collection of Peter Groves

Comments about this page

  • Interesting! Looks like one of those creations from ‘Dad’s Army’ where Sargent Jones gets stuck at the top of the column with Nelson and it takes the whole episode for Capt Mainwaring, with the help of the Warmington-on-Sea irregulars, to get him down again!

    By Stefan Bremner-Morris (23/04/2015)

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