Brighton Boozers: History of pubs in Brighton
In 1800, Brighton had one inn for every thirty houses. Local inns served many purposes; they were used for markets, auctions, and even for staging trials. As time passed, the better inns turned into hotels. Others became ‘public houses’, where working people drank and socialised in the evening.
There were two types of public house. Beer-houses served cheap beer and had no tables or chairs. Gin palaces were larger, ornately decorated with brass and glass, for ‘a better class of customer’. By 1900, in poor districts even small streets had several pubs.
After the First World War, pubs moved upmarket, partly to attract women. However, with competition from dance-halls and cinemas, the number of pubs started to fall. In the 1950s, the breweries closed many small pubs. There are now about 900 pubs in Brighton, ranging from traditional ‘locals’ to trendy pre-club bars.
Nineteenth century pubs
In 1800 there were 41 inns and taverns in Brighton, equivalent to 1 inn for every 30 houses. Inns had been established for various reasons, with some serving the local fishing community, some the general townspeople and others catering for the needs of wealthy visitors to Brighton. The most important inns at this time were The Old Ship and The Castle. They both acted as the principal meeting places for fashionable society. Both had large public rooms where balls, concerts, card assemblies and tea parties took place. During the early 1800s local inns were also used to hold political and business meetings, markets, auctions and even trials. However as time went on a change occurred with the more prestigious inns becoming hotels and the others evolving into ‘public houses’.
The most popular kind of leisure
By the mid-1800s visiting the public house had become the most popular form of leisure activity amongst working people in Brighton. Pubs were somewhere to drink, talk, sing and generally socialise with friends and neighbours. Music Hall had its origins in pubs during the 1850s, when local publicans began to provide entertainment for patrons in the form of singing, dancing and comic sketches. Brighton’s first music hall was opened in 1852 at The Globe Inn in Mighell Street. It consisted of an extension built onto the back of the pub, with a small stage surrounded by tables and chairs. In rooms like this it was possible to watch and listen to a show while enjoying a hot meal and drinks until late into the evening for the cost of only a few pennies.
More pubs than shops
By the 1860s pubs were being replaced by purpose built theatres as the venues for variety acts. However, the tradition of them providing live entertainment, especially music, continued. The numbers of pubs in the town grew rapidly. By 1860 there were 479 pubs and beer-shops in Brighton, more than all the local butchers, bakers, grocers and greengrocers combined. Many were located in the poorer districts of Brighton, around Edward Street, Carlton Hill and Albion Hill. In 1891 it was reported that this area contained no less than 71 licensed houses. Even the smallest street in Brighton would have several pubs. Mrs Edie Hazelgrove, who spent her childhood at the Pedestrian Arms in Foundry Street, remembered that ‘There were beer houses on every corner. There was one at each end of our street, and we were in the middle’.
Beer-houses and gin palaces
The type of pub ranged from beer houses to so-called ‘gin palaces’. Beer-houses were small, bare places, without tables and chairs, which sold cheap beer to largely working-class customers. By comparison gin-palaces were large, ornately decorated buildings designed in the latest architectural fashion. Their facades would be ornamental brickwork or plaster depicting sunflowers, lilies, cherubs and urns. Inside they were decorated with glazed tiles, mosaic floors, marble counters, brass, engraved glass windows and ornamental lamps. Seats and tables were provided in bars, with partitions and face screens to segregate the different classes and types of drinkers. A local example of this type of pub is The Queen’s Head, Queens Road.
New décor and the ‘King and Queen’
The 1920s and 1930s saw changes in the design and use of local pubs. During this period, dining rooms, ‘Art Deco’ fittings and ‘lounge’ bars replaced the elaborate glass and brass of the old ‘gin palaces’ and the more basic features of traditional local pubs. New designs, based on a wide range of architectural styles, were introduced. For example in 1931-32 the King and Queen public house, Marlborough Place, was lavishly rebuilt in the Tudor style. The following description of the pub appeared in the House of Whitbread magazine in October 1937:
‘The exterior is gabled and half-timbered and the public rooms contain beautifully designed brickwork, leaded windows, carved oak beams and woodwork, old tiles, stout doorways and wide open fireplaces. The large saloon lounge is a replica of the dining hall of the period, while the public lounge represents a soldiers and retainers dining-hall and kitchens. A Tudor courtyard, with fountain, lily-pond and flowers add to the attractions of the house’.
The owners of the King and Queen, Edlins Ltd, had re-modelled their other pubs in Brighton in styles including ‘Jacobean’, ‘Old English’, ‘Nautical’ and ‘Ultra-Modern’. Kemp Town Brewery, which also owned large numbers of pubs in the town, claimed that in its houses it offered a style in which tradition was ‘welded harmoniously with new ideas so as to produce an effect which later generations can recognise as the characteristic architecture of the twentieth century’. These changes were prompted by the growing popularity of other leisure venues, especially local cinemas and dance halls, which threatened the pubs’ position as the central social institution in most people’s lives.
A new form of marketing
Public houses moved upmarket, to make them more respectable in order to attract a wider range of customers. This trend was demonstrated by the introduction of segregation of many pubs to separate public and saloon bars in order to create a more refined image. Kemp Town Brewery was keen to assert that to its houses ‘a man can take his wife and family without hesitation. The stand-up bars of the nineteenth century are replaced by bright, attractive and comfortable lounges’. The strategy worked to a certain degree as more women were using pubs, usually accompanied by their husbands and boyfriends. However the overall popularity of pubs had diminished in comparison with the years before the First World War, the number of licensed premises in Brighton dropped from 700 in 1900 to 495 by 1930.
Decline in pub numbers
The decline in pub numbers in Brighton continued in the years after the Second World War. There were a number of reasons for this. Leisure patterns were changing, with many people spending more time at home watching television. Other attractions, such as sport, dancing, going to the cinema and theatre, or going out for a meal competed with pubs for people’s leisure time.
It was during the decade after the Second World War that the large breweries controlling most of the town’s pubs developed a strategy of concentrating business in a smaller number of modern pubs. Large numbers of small pubs were closed during the 1950s and 1960s. They were often replaced by large, modern pubs, that many felt were rather soulless places. As a drinker at one small local pub put it ‘Who wants to drink in a chromium plated palace?’
Another factor in the decline in pub numbers was the demolition of many of the smaller beer houses as a result of slum clearance in the Albion Hill and Carlton Hill areas and other re-developments carried out in the town centre. By the 1970s there were only around 300 pubs in Brighton.
Growth of the super-pubs
During the 1980s and 1990s national brewery chains began setting up large ‘super-pubs’ in Brighton, complete with a corporate theme or ‘house style’. These ‘super-pubs’ were accused of squeezing small independent pubs out of business by undercutting them with cheap promotions of food and drink.
The 1990s saw the growth of local pub chains C-Side and Zel, which converted a number of traditional pubs into trendy bars and cafes. This reflected the growing importance of the club scene, with fashionable bars acting as meeting places for people preparing to go onto dance clubs later in the evening. As Kate Johnson of C-Side observed ‘I think there is still a place for small independent pubs. But the club scene is so important in Brighton now that people want stylish bars to go to beforehand’.
Some felt that the combination of the ‘super-pubs’ and the new bars threatened to undermine the character and diversity of pubs in Brighton. Great upset was caused, especially to regular customers, when a local pubs name, décor and character were changed to create a new image. It was claimed that historic pubs, with names going back hundreds of years, were being sacrificed to attract affluent young customers. Bev Robbins, the landlord of the Hand in Hand pub in Kemp Town, argued that ‘The problem is that this trend restricts choice for customers. Brighton is becoming dominated by groups of pubs. Brighton always had variety and its starting to lose that’.
A permanent pasttime
Today there are around 900 licensed premises in Brighton and Hove, ranging from trendy bars and ‘super-pubs’ to more traditional local pubs. Pubs continue to play an important role in the social life of local people, acting as places to meet, talk, drink, eat, listen to music and generally relax. Although tastes in their design and décor may change, the basic role of the pub, as a gathering place for people to enjoy themselves, seems set to continue into the twenty-first Century.