The RN in Brighton & Hove 1798 to the present day, an overview

Sailors from a nearby naval training establishment helping out with the harvest pictured with Colonel Percy Filkins in the Vale, Ovingdean during WW2.
From the private collection of Mrs Dulcie Carnaghan
HMS Vernon on parade during Sunday Divisions held on the quadrangle at Roedean School for Girls." alt="The men and women of HMS Vernon on parade during Sunday Divisions held on the quadrangle at Roedean School for Girls. | Photo from the private collection of Lt Cdr Rob Hoole RN" />
The men and women of HMS Vernon on parade during Sunday Divisions held on the quadrangle at Roedean School for Girls.
Photo from the private collection of Lt Cdr Rob Hoole RN

There have been a number of Royal Navy units associated with the Brighton and Hove area, the earliest appeared at the turn of the nineteenth century; at the beginning of the twenty-first century there is still one active unit.

These units were:
1798 – 1810: the Sea Fencibles
1853 – 1873: the Royal Naval Coast Volunteers
1859 – 1994: the Royal Naval Reserve
1874 – 1892: the Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers
1903 – 1914: pre-WW1 Sussex Division of the RNVR
1921 – 1939: pre-WW2 Sussex Division of the RNVR
1939 – 1946: HMS King Alfred
1941 – 1945: HMS Vernon
1942 – 1945: HMS Lizard
1942 – 1945: RN W/T Training School
1946 – 1994: post-WW2 Sussex Division of the RNVR/RNR- became HMS Sussex in 1951
1990 – Current: SussexUniversity Royal Navy Unit

1798 – 1892
The first Royal Naval unit to appear in the area was a company of the Sea Fencible Force, a local defence force raised to protect against a French invasion.  Not needed after the battle of Trafalgar they islanded in 1810.

The need for local defence was again raised in 1853 when the Royal Naval Coast Volunteers were formed to protect Britain’s coastline. The men of this force could be used to fight at sea under certain conditions but were never called in to active service, disbanding in 1873.

In 1859 the Royal Naval Reserve came into being; a company was raised in Brighton, under the control of the RNR Sussex Headquarters in Newhaven, In 11877 a dedicated RNR Battery was opened in Hove to train the men in naval artillery. As its name suggests, this was a gun emplacement pointing out into the English Channel used to give gunnery instruction to RNR officers and ratings.    The RNR still exists today but has no presence in the city; the Battery was closed in 1968

One year after the Royal Naval Coast Volunteers disbanded a new volunteer force was to be established in Brighton, when a company of the Sussex brigade of the Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers (R.N.A.V.) was formed in 1874. This was the first naval force to recruit and train volunteers from all walks of life in naval gunnery and drill. They co-existed with the RNR using the RNR Battery at Hove for training. The R.N.A.V. was short lived however and was disbanded in 1892.

1903 to 1939
Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century another RN unit was to make its appearance when the Brighton and Hove Company of the new Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve was formed in 1903.  By 1909 this and other companies at Newhaven, Hastings, Bexhill and Eastbourne formed the Sussex Division of the RNVR, with their headquarters at 5 Victoria Terrace in Hove. This unit also used the RNR Battery on Kingsway;
The RNVR was mobilised in 1914 on the outbreak of World War I, however the majority of the officers and men did not join the fleet, instead they were to fight as soldiers. The eight RNVR divisions in the UK were divided into 2 Brigades to fight on land as the Royal Naval Division; the men of the RNVR would see action on the western front and at Gallipoli, 47,900 of them were to become casualties. This effectively decimated the RNVR as a reserve force and it was to be 1921 before the government had formulated a new plan to provide reserve forces for the fleet. The RNVR was reconstituted in that year; the Sussex Division was re-established at 5 Victoria Terrace in 1922. The RNVR was again mobilised for war in September 1039.

1939 – 1945
With the outbreak of World War II on September 3rd 1939 the RNVR was again mobilised and several buildings in Brighton and Hove were immediately requisitioned for use by the Admiralty, including the newly built (but not yet opened) Hove Marina complex. This building and the adjacent RNR Battery, was commissioned as His Majesty’s Ship King Alfred, on September 11th as an RNVR officer training establishment, the first of four naval units to operate in the area during WW2. The Sussex RNVR Division was fully mobilised by the end of October 1939, its officers and men being absorbed into the fleet and the Division effectively ceased to exist.

In May 1941 RoedeanSchool for Girls was requisitioned to house the navy’s Torpedo and Mine training school, HMS Vernon, which was evacuated from the bombing in Portsmouth.  April 1942 saw the opening of the RN W/T Training School in Queen’s Road and West House, this was followed in July 1942 by a Combined Operations Landing Craft base, HMS Lizard, which was opened at AldringtonBasin to act as training and re-supply depot for Royal Navy and Royal Marine landing craft flotillas.

As the Second World War progressed the establishments expanded into other buildings and sites around the area – as far out as Lancing College which became a part of HMS  King Alfred in 1942, and Rottingdean where accommodation was acquired in for Senior NCOs from HMS Vernon.  Numerous hotels, rest homes and private houses were requisitioned by the Admiralty for the accommodation and training of naval personnel. Many local businesses came to rely on business from the naval bases for their livelihoods. In the case of King Alfred a number of Naval Outfitters opened in the vicinity to cater for the officers passing out from training, many of whom were in need of a new uniform.

The war’s end
By the time it ceased operations in Hove on January 7th 1946 HMS King Alfred had trained 22,508 Officers, who were to form the backbone of the Royal Navy’s sea going officer strength. HMS Vernon at Roedean had seen over 6000 officers and men, including over 1200 WRNS personnel, attend training courses in torpedo and mine warfare. While neither of these two establishments had any direct participation in operational activities, HMS Lizard was directly involved in providing logistic support for operation ‘JUBILEE’ – the ill fated allied raid on the port of Dieppe on August 19th 1942, as well as operation ‘NEPTUNE’ the build up of forces for, the D-Day landings in Normandy on June 6th 1944, operation ‘OVERLORD’.

HMS Vernon was withdrawn to Portsmouth by the end of July 1945 and Roedean was reopened as a girls’ school in January 1946.  HMS Lizard was no longer needed as a landing craft depot after the end of hostilities in Europe and was wound down to close on New Year’s Eve 1945. HMS King Alfred moved its operations to Exbury, Hampshire in January 1946, the main building which they had occupied reverted to being Hove Marina in June 1946 and was renamed the King Alfred Leisure Centre.  The fate of the RN W/T (Wireless/Telegraphy) Training School in Queen’s Road is not clear.

1946 – 2007
On October 1st 1946 the newly re-constituted post-war Sussex Division RNVR returned to the RNR Battery, Hove. The unit was commissioned as HMS Sussex on April 28th 1951, before transferring to a new site at Maxwell’s Wharf, Shoreham in 1968 at which the Battery was closed.

In the summer of 1990 the Sussex University Royal Naval Unit (URNU) was formed, initially this unit lodged at HMS Sussex before moving into offices at the university’s Falmer campus in 1992. It is one of 14 such units located on or near university campuses around the UK. HMS Sussex was closed as part of defence spending cuts in March of 1994.  The Sussex URNU is currently the only naval presence in either East or West Sussex.


The wardroom mess committee of HMS Vernon (1956) ‘HMS Vernon 1930-1955’ Portsmouth

Middleton, J. (2002, 2003) ‘Encyclopaedia of Hove & Portslade’ Vol.8, I to L & Vol.11, Q to R, Brighton & Hove Libraries

Middleton, J. (1986) ‘HMS KING ALFRED 1939. – 1945: Hove’s erstwhile stone frigate’ Hove, the author

Frampton, P.  (2001)

Kerr J.L. & Granville W. (1957) The RNVR – a record of achievement’ London, Harrap & Co

Warlow, B. (2000) Shore Establishments of the Royal Navy (Second Edition) Liskeard, Maritime Books

Dingwall & Bailey (1977) Sussex (Sunday Sailors) by the Sea, the History of the Royal Naval Reserve in Sussex: 1874-1974, Private publication

Comments about this page

  • Good article. Might you wish to mention that the current HMS King Alfred is one of the largest Royal Naval Reserve Units in the UK, commissioned in 1994 and based at Whale Island, Portsmouth.

    By Rodney Duggua (05/05/2005)
  • Fair comment Rodney. Although this page was written specifically about the wartime units in Brighton & Hove (and an account of HMS King Alfred will be added soon), I have been in contact with the current establishment to carry the name King Alfred and I hope the following short piece is what you had in mind. The present HMS King Alfred is a Royal Navy Reserve (RNR) training establishment located on Whale Island, in Portsmouth. The unit was commissioned on 8 June 1994, after the closure of three south coast RNR units – HMS Sussex (Hove), HMS Wessex (Southampton) and HMS Southwick (Portsmouth) following a reorganisation at the end of the Cold War. HMS King Alfred is one of the largest Reserve Training Centres in the Country and, like her wartime predecessor, is the first port of call for all RNR reservists (excepting the Air Branch). Initial training is done there before going on to specialist courses at other naval training establishments. The unit has its own web page at

    By Tony Drury (05/05/2005)
  • I was amazed to see your comment that the RNVR ceased to exist after 1946 at the King Alfred, Kingsway. I volunteered for 3 years on 8th November 1954 to do three years training as a telegraphist and I left in Nov 1957. Our wireless station – it is true – was a collection of huts several hundred yards to the west of King Alfred but it was a thriving unit which I was proud to belong to. I left when I married in 1957 and I still have my Certificate of Service. Very funny memories of taking our huge wirelesses out on the the seafront to call up HMS Bickington and alarmed citizens asking us if ‘something was up’. Happy Days.

    By Joy Carson (02/07/2005)
  • I work for the Council in Kings House on Grand Avenue, Hove. The front of our building was the former Princes Hotel and I understood this was also a Naval Establishment at some time in its past. Is this correct?

    By Allan Clarkson (20/07/2005)
  • Allan – I have no information that confirms the Princes Hotel was used by the Navy. If it was it would have been for accommodation or office space – not an official establishment. But if anyone else has information on this query I would be most interested to hear from them. Many thanks.

    By Tony Drury (21/07/2005)
  • Very Interesting. I will be sending you photos and articles from the period of time that my dad was training at the KA and also his time in the N. Atlantic. Did you know there was supposedly a report by the Germans that they had sunk the King Alfred?

    By Bonny Cother - Veronica Bentley (13/11/2005)
  • Hove & Adur Sea Cadet Unit was named TS King Alfred in memory of those who trained and served at HMS King Alfred in Hove. The Cadets still wear TS King Alfred on their Cap Tallies.

    By Paul Heward (26/01/2006)
  • This relates to the comments of Allan Clarkson (20-07-2005) and Tony Drury (21-07-2005) about the Princes Hotel in Hove. My father, Norman Price, after having started as assistant to the manager, became general manager of the Princes Hotel prior to the War. He was then involved in the closing down of the hotel when it was requisitioned and, as I understand it, used for offices for the Navy or MOD.

    By Jeremy Price (25/04/2006)
  • I have a badge for a blazer for the RN Electrical Association. Can you please tell me if such an association exists, and if so, how can I contact them? [Editorial Team: We have emailed you.]

    By B. W. Ward (11/06/2006)
  • In the fifties my next door neighbour Mr. Alex Dare in Bennett Road, was member of the sea cadets, I think in Hove. He was also an ex-navy bloke. I remember that there was HMS Curzon based at Shoreham which was used by the sea cadets. Am I right in thinking that HMS Curzon overturned in a storm somewhere? What type of vessel was she and when did she go down?

    By Mick Peirson (19/11/2006)
  • There have been three vessels attached to the Sussex Division of the RNVR/RNR that have borne the name HMS CURZON. The first arrived in June 1947 when the wartime Motor minesweeper MMS 1017 was attached to the Division as a sea training tender. She was re-named HMS CURZON by the Countess Howe at Newhaven on September 20th 1947 in honour of the Division’s former Commanding Officer Commodore Earl Howe, PC, CBE, VD, RNVR (formerly the Rt Hon Viscount Curzon MP).

    In 1954, the sea training tender was replaced by the ‘Ton’ class minesweeper HMS BICKINGTON, which was also to bear the name HMS CURZON. On November 16th, 1960, this ship was replaced by another ‘Ton’ class minesweeper HMS FITTLETON, again the ship was renamed HMS CURZON.

    On January 1st 1976 she reverted to her original name of ‘FITTLETON’. Sadly on September 20th of that year she capsized and sank following a collision with the Frigate HMS MERMAID off Den Helder, Holland during the NATO exercise ‘Teamwork’. Twelve members of her crew, mainly from the London Division RNR lost their lives.

    By Tony Drury (27/11/2006)
  • I thought you may be interested to hear about my grandfather Alfred W N Langrish who was in the Sussex division of the RNVR in the early 1900s based in Hove.

    By Jan Hamblett (20/12/2007)
  • There were 5 HMS CURZON., MMs 1017, MMS 1728, MMS 1060, M1109 and M1136. I served in all these and commanded M1109 and M1136 on many occasions

    By P.R.Noel (17/12/2009)
  • I was a young naval rating aboard H.M.S. Indefatigable in 1951 – when Britain had aircraft carriers and have fond memories of Brighton for we visited and received lavish hospitality during the Festival of Britain Week. I competed in the local athletics match against their very capable Field and Track team and was also memorably hugged by a lady Olympic-Shot putter-to-be (and survived). It was also my good fortune to fall in love for the first time (mind you I was 17yrs old at the time). The ship – as is tradition in the RN – hosted onboard a Pirate Party for children from the local Orphanages – could there have been some 200 of them? and my heart went out to a blue eyed, dark curly haired lass of four years old called Mary. I shall always remember the date 18th July 1951 around 1300 – how do I recall-its in my diary. I wonder what happened to the children? – forget the orphanage building – but I do hope that the children were all distributed around to loving foster-parents. So. Yes, Brighton had a strong affect on me emotionally all those years ago and trust that currently children not so well blesed in life are still being looked after with love and sincerity as they obviously were then.

    By Peter Shore (14/01/2010)
  • My name is Clifford Dennison 84/5 years of age and while browsing Brighton and Hove I fell upon your email address and as I am at this moment in time trying to trace my Royal Navy history here we go. I joined the R.N. in July 1943 and was drafted to Brighton to be trained as a wireless operater. I was billetted with Mrs Morris at 18 Broad Street who was such a lovely lady she really did look after us, 8 in all. I recall there being a pub across the road - the tiniest pub I have ever been in down some very steep stairs but worth it as there was always a welcome there. We went daily to our seat of learning – an ex-school for the blind, St Dunstans, a short walk towards Roedean? on the left – probably a block of flats now if your developers are anything like ours (by the way I live in Nuneaton Warwickshire where the ring road goes through the town centre - enough said). After a few months of learning to be morse code readers we were then rated as Telegraphist {S} and sent off to Eastbourne to learn Japanese Morse Code so we now had a fair idea where we would end up. After three months or so we were back in Brighton in 21 Lower Rock Gardens then back to St Dunstans to pass out as useful units of H.M.Navy. This is how I remember my time in Brighton. It was not all work – the dancing at the Dome was a bit special. All that is left to say is a big thank you to all who made us welcome - and there were many.

    By Clifford Dennison (23/01/2010)
  • My Dad served on HMS Curzon MMS 1017 – Mickey Mouse – as they were referred to. I think there were two full-time naval personel aboard. The Captain and the electrical tech.

    By John Beecroft (21/05/2011)
  • I am the co-author of “Sussex (Sunday Sailors) by the Sea: The History of the Royal Naval Reserve in Sussex: 1874 -1974” written to prove and commemorate the century of Sussex Division RNR. Then a Lieutenant (E)(ME): now a Commander (E)(ME) RD, JP (Ret’d).

    By Roger Bailey (15/04/2013)

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