Brighton was our last stop before boarding the Celebrity Silhouette for our transatlantic cruise back to Miami. It had been 42 years Since John was in Brighton and it was Bill’s first time. Brighton is a cute seaside city about an hour south of London via the Gatwick Expresss Train, which only stops in London Victoria, London Gatwick and Brighton. It would have been only an hour ride, but we had to stop Gatwick to pick up a piece of stored luggage that we needed for the cruise, but did not want to take with us on the rest of the trip.
We had originally planned 4 nights in Brighton, but since we were filling the void left by our canceled trip to Leeds and Scotland, we added 2 more nights to Brighton. The hotel we originally booked was not available for those nights, so we used an Airbnb for those nights.
Our 2 night stay was in a cute Victorian Townhouse. It was well appointed, had everything we needed and was 150 feet from Brighton Station, a blessing since it was raining when we arrived.
After the two night in the townhouse, we moved to our originally planned hotel, a gay hotel right in the center of things. Brighton has had a gay following since George III’s son, George, known as the Prince Regent, during the King’s long mental incapacitation (1811-20). Even though George, the Crown, or the state had the money, George set about to upgrade his residence in Brighton to something more for an almost king, and after 1820, King in fact. Prince George’s lavash upgrade of his residence to what is now known as the Brighton Pavillion, provided a venue for extravagant parties. Before 1841, getting to Brighton was a long coach ride. But this did not deter the invited guests from having multiple day affairs, hob knobbing with the Princecand later King.
A small number of those invited to Brighton were aristocrats, who also had a little secret, they inclined toward relations with their own gender. An additional benefit was having large numbers of, primarily single, men serving in various military installations, which provided a deterrence to Napoleon invading England from the south during the Napoleanic wars. Much like the returning US soldiers after WWII, these soldiers with were away from home and open to exploring their sexualy. All of this, along with being outside the long reach of London Metropolitan Police, gave way to a burgeoning gay subculture. As word spread of the possibilities in Brighton, venues opened that catered to that clientele. Although homosexuality remained an offense, discreet businesses capitalized on the growing number of homosexuals by providing venues for entertainment, socializing and overnight accommodations.
By the turn of the 20th century, Brighton’s place as a gay destination was well established. Today 10-15 percent of the populationion is gay, Brighton has the largest pride celebration in the UK and percentage of same-sex household is greater than any other city in the UK. John says, “Brighton is to London what Fire Isand is to New York, Provincetown is Boston and Palm Springs is to Los Angeles. A place to get away and let your hair down, if only for a short time.
We spent our time in Brighton exploring the city on foot. There are several areas near the seafront with shopping, restaurants and cute coffeehouses. Additionally, there is a nice walking/cycling path along the seashore stretching from Brighton Marina in the East to Hove Lagoon in the West. This 4 mile path is well used, although because it is wide with multiple lanes for cycling, running and walking, it doesn’t seem crowded.
One afternoon we were walking in area known as the Lanes with cute narrow streets, filed with shops, cafés and pubs. Amazingly, many of the shops were trading in jewelry and watches. It is hard to imagine how there is enough business in this small town to support so many high end jewelry stores. We found a restaurant called The Ivy in the Lanes. They offered an Afternoon Tea. We had tried to book tea along the seafront, but they were booked. Luckily, although busy, The Ivy could accommodate us the following afternoon. We have always enjoyed the British tradition of afternoon tea with towers of finger sandwiches, pastries and other desserts, all accompanied by an assortment of teas.
We thoroughly enjoyed our tea experience. Not only were the teas, sandwiches and cakes delicious, the space was beautiful. The building was a 19th century post office building, what was originally the post office sorting room has been transformed into an elegant space filled with period furniture and countless pieces of art. It was as if we’re were dining in a museum.
On our last day in Brighton, we visited the must see Brighton Pavilion. This venue is spectacular. George, then Prince of Wales, first came to Brighton in 1783, visiting his uncle Henry, Duke of Cumberland, whose tastes in fashion, fine cuisine, gambling, the theater and overall fast living, the young Prince shared. George, in 1786, rented, and later purchased, a farmhouse right on the Old Steine, a grassy area used as a promenade for visitors to Brighton. The prince began to seriously expand his small royal residence, first in 1787, again in 1801-02 and finally the major expansion, 1815-22, by London architect John Nash into the Indo-Islamic exterior we see today. As Prince Regent, 1811-20 and King Georgec IV, 1820-37 George continued to use the Marine Pavilion, as it was called then. It allowed for discreet liasons with his mistress and later secret wife, Maria Fitzherbert. Marrying the Catholic Maria was proscribed under Royal Marriages Act. Both as Prince Regent and as King, George hosted lavish multi-day parties. His over indulgence of food and alcohol contributed to his in increasingly poor health. George IV died on June 26, 1830. His uncle became William IV. William continued to used the Marine Paviliam, but after his death in 1837, Queen Victoria found it unsuitable for her growing family. She particularly disliked the lack of privacy afforded by the small grounds. The Pavilion was stripped of all furnishings and sold to the City of Brighton in 1850 for £53,000, £8.5 million today. The stables were converted to Brighton Dome, still used for concerts today. The Pavilion was used a conference center, and later a military hospital during WWI. Eventually plans were devolped to restore the building to its former glory. Loans and gifts from the Crown of many of the pieces of furniture and artwork that had been removed. Queen Elizabeth, who was particularly interested in the restoration, loaned or gave pieces to use in the restoration.
Today, the Pavilion is open to public and its one of those must see visits in Brighton.
After 6 nights in Brighton, we were ready to board our transatlantic cruise on the Celebrity Silhouette. With that I will stop here and post the final chapter the in a day or two.
Note about timing. The internet on the ship was not fast enough to upload pictures, so this entry and the one to come about the cruise, are being written after returning home.