Sarah Forbes Bonetta

In 1850, anti-slavery advocate Captain Frederick Forbes of the HMS Bonetta, visited King Gezo of Dahomia, West Africa. During his visit, Forbes saw that a young girl, aged about eight years old, was to be ritually murdered in a ceremony called ‘the watering of the graves’. Forbes ascertained that the girl was a princess from a neighbouring tribe and that her parents had been massacred in a Dahomian attack at Egbado, during the Okeadon war. He later wrote, ‘It is usual to reserve the best born for the high behest of royalty and the immolation on the tombs of the diseased nobility. For one of these ends she has been detained at court for two years, proving, by her not having been sold to slave dealers, that she was of good family’.

At Forbes’ behest, King Gezo agreed to give the girl to Queen Victoria, as a ‘gift’: he explained that ‘She would be a present from the King of the blacks to the Queen of the Whites’. For a year, Sarah (sometimes ‘Sara’) Forbes Bonetta — as she was subsequently christened — lived with Forbes and his wife; she was presented to the Royal Family in November 1850 and her education and upkeep were paid for by Queen Victoria.

Both the monarch and her foster father were impressed with their young charge, of whom Forbes wrote, ‘She is a perfect genius; she now speaks English well, and has a great talent for music. She has won the affections, but with few exceptions, of all who have known her. She is far in advance of any white child of her age, in aptness of learning, and strength of mind and affection’.

In 1851, Sarah returned to Sierra Leone, but returned to England in 1855 and lived with the Rev. James Schoen and his family in Gillingham. She was invited to the royal wedding of Princess Victoria and Prince Frederick William of Prussia (the future Kaiser and father of Kaiser Wilhelm II) in January 1858.

During her stay in Sierra Leone, she had come to the attention of James Pinson Labulo Davies, a widowed former slave who, after being educated in Sierra Leone and coming under the patronage of the Royal Navy, became a prosperous merchant in Lagos. After his first wife’s death, he wrote to Sarah, proposing marriage; he was then living at 9 Victoria Rd.

After a series of discussions between the Palace and Mrs Schoen, it was decided in spring 1862 that Sarah should accept the proposal and, in preparation for her marriage, be sent to live with a Mr and Mrs Welsh in Brighton. Sarah was unhappy to leave her adoptive family and friends in Kent; she knew no-one in Brighton and felt increasingly isolated. She described, the Welsh’s home, 17 Clifton Hill, as a ‘desolate little pigsty’.

On August 16 1862, she and Davies were married at St Nicholas’s Church. According to the Brighton Gazette, the guests included ‘white ladies with African gentlemen, and African ladies with white gentlemen until all the space was filled. The bridesmaids [Davies’s sisters] were 16 in number’. Captain Forbes’s brother gave her away and the service was conducted by the Lord Bishop of Sierra Leone.

The party had a wedding breakfast at West Hill Lodge, Montpelier Rd, before the bride and groom left for London, en route to Sierra Leone. They had three children; the eldest child, Victoria, became the Queen’s goddaughter, of whom she was particularly fond. When she passed her music examination, the teachers and children were granted a day’s holiday and often visited the Queen at Windsor Castle.

It was during one of these visits, in August 1880, that news came from abroad: the Queen wrote ‘Saw poor Victoria Davis, my black godchild, who learnt this morning of the death of her dear mother. The poor child was dreadfully upset & distressed…her father has failed in business, which aggravated her poor mother’s illness’. Sarah had died at the age of 37 in Madeira 1880, of tuberculosis. She had asked to be buried at sea, like her rescuer Captain Forbes; instead, she was buried in Funchal, Madeira.

The 1984 Brighton bombing

At 2.54am, on October 12 1984, a 20-pound gelignite bomb planted by a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army exploded in room 629 of the Grand Hotel. It was an attempt to assassinate Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet, who were attending the Conservative Party conference at the Brighton Centre.

Due to the hotel’s sturdy Victorian brick walls, the blast went downwards, rather than sideways, but a huge chimneystack on top of the building crashed through ceilings and floors. The front of the hotel was ripped open and the central section of eight floors collapsed into the basement, taking guests with it. Masonry was scattered across the streets, ripping the heads off parking meters and destroying a seafront shelter. The Prime Minister’s bathroom was extensively damaged; she said that she would have been in there when the explosion happened, if her private secretary Robin Butler had not asked her to do ‘one more paper’ before she retired for the night. As a result, she was sitting in an armchair, with her back to the window, when the bomb went off.

Five people died as a result of the explosion: Roberta Wakeham, wife of Parliamentary Treasury Secretary John Wakeham; Lady Muriel Maclean (who died five weeks after the bombing), wife of Tory Scottish President Sir Donald Maclean; Eric Taylor, a member of the Conservative national executive committee; Jean Shattock, wife of Western Counties Conservative chairman Sir Gordon Shattock, in room 628, and Sir Anthony Berry, MP for Enfield Southgate (at the subsequent by-election in December 1984, the seat was won by a young Michael Portillo). Several others, including Margaret Tebbit — the wife of Norman Tebbit, who was then President of the Board of Trade — were left permanently disabled. 34 people were taken to hospital, but recovered from their injuries.

The hotel’s sign had been on the balcony outside the room occupied by Norman and Margaret Tebbit. Firefighters used a BBC crew’s arc lights to rescue the Tebbits from the rubble, a dangerous operation that took several hours. Margaret Thatcher was whisked away from the building in a black Jaguar at 3.21am. Lord Gowrie fetched deckchairs from the beach for shaken but unhurt survivors to rest on; others sought refuge at the Metropole next door, where tea and sympathy were dispensed, and TV coverage of the incident could be viewed as it unfolded virtually in front of them. Sir Keith Joseph emerged in dressing gown, holding his ministerial red box. At the suggestion of a female survivor, Lord McAlpine got Marks and Spencer on Western Road to open early, so that those attending conference the next day could ‘get kitted up properly’.

By December 1 1984, police had ascertained that the occupant of room 629 on the nights of September 15 and 18 was a ‘Roy Walsh’ of 27 Braxfield Rd, London SE4; reports said that a woman stayed with him on those nights, but her identity was never discovered. In September 1986, Patrick Magee, then aged 35, was found guilty of planting and detonating the bomb, and of five counts of murder. He had stayed in the hotel as Roy Walsh 24 days prior to the conference and planted the bomb, fitted with a long-delay timer made from video recorder components, under the bath in room 629. Magee received eight life sentences: seven for offences relating to the Brighton bombing, and the eighth for a separate bombing conspiracy. The judge recommended that he serve a minimum term of 35 years; Home Secretary Michael Howard later increased this to ‘whole life’.

Magee was released from prison in 1999, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. A Downing Street spokesman said that his release ‘was hard to stomach’ and an appeal by then Home Secretary Jack Straw to prevent it was turned down by the Northern Ireland High Court. After being freed, Magee said the attack had ‘made a contribution to the peace process’ and would do the same again, but also that he was sorry for the innocent people who got caught up in the blast.

In November 2000, Jo Berry, daughter of the late Anthony Berry, met Magee; in 2003, they set up Causeway, ‘a healing project that helps individuals address unresolved pain caused by The Troubles’. He explained, ‘I decided to meet Jo because, apart from addressing a personal obligation, I felt obligated as a Republican to explain what led someone like me to participate in the action.’ Ms Berry said, ‘I wanted to meet Pat to put a face to the enemy, and see him as a real human being. At our first meeting I was terrified, but I wanted to acknowledge the courage it had taken him to meet me’. In October 2009, at the time of the 25th anniversary, Magee told the BBC: ‘I have to tell you at the time I would not have lost much sleep about Norman Tebbit. He was a hard-liner. I do very much regret Margaret Tebbit has been confined to a wheelchair ever since. I think a lot about that.’

On 18 October, Magee took part in a Q&A session, alongside Jo Berry, after a screening of the documentary Soldiers of Peace at the Duke of York’s cinema, to launch the charity, Building Bridges For Peace. He told the audience, ‘How could I not be sorry — people have been hurt, killed and damaged by my actions.’ On October 12 2009, a memorial service was held at St Paul’s Church, West St, to mark the 25th anniversary of the bomb attack, attended by Lord Tebbit and his wife Margaret, to pay tribute to those who lost their lives or were injured in the attack.

The church near the Grand Hotel was used in the aftermath of the bombing and has a plaque on its wall listing the names of those who died. After the 6pm service, officiated by Rev Prof Peter Galloway, Lord Tebbit unveiled a memorial plaque inside the Grand Hotel.

The memorial service was organised by Michael Knox-Johnston, general manager of The Grand. Just days before, Tebbit had criticised the Labour Party for allowing Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness to attend its conference in Brighton, shortly before the 25th anniversary of the bombing.

The Bevendean Road Neighbourhood

Did you know the Bevendean neighbourhood can be traced back to the last millenium? The Domesday Book of 1086 recorded the manor of Bevendean, ‘Beofa’s valley’, to be worth £6 and held by one Walter from William de Warrenne.

It was eventually divided between two estates, Lower and Upper Bevendean, which were acquired by the corporation in November 1913 and January 1940 respectively; the whole Bevendean area was annexed by the county borough from Falmer parish on April 1 1928.

Lower Bevendean Farm was originally accessed from Bear Rd by a trackway now known as Bevendean Rd and had an 18th-century farmhouse, but the buildings were later demolished to provide the open space now known as Farm Green between Auckland Drive and Bevendean School. However, Upper Bevendean Farm survives, and has a late 19th-century farmhouse approached from Warren Avenue, Woodingdean.

The first development of the Lower Bevendean estate came in the early 1930s, when the corporation extended its housing from South Moulsecoomb up the valley onto Bevendean land: thus 85-123 and 110-120 The Avenue (eastwards from the cross roads at the western end of Manton Rd), plus Lower Bevendean Avenue, Upper Bevendean Avenue and Manton Rd, are now a part of Bevendean.

At about the same time, the Widdicombe Way/Bevendean Crescent area was developed privately and was also known as part of the Bevendean estate, but it is now normally counted as part of the Moulsecoomb district. With a pressing need for new homes in the post-war period, the greater part of the Bevendean housing estate was rapidly developed higher up the valley from 1948 by the corporation, which named the roads after English castles.

Bevendean Barn, at the corner of Auckland Drive and Heath Hill Avenue, was used as a chapel for the estate from 1953, but was replaced in 1963 by the Church of the Holy Nativity, a Modern-style building in brick, mottled knapped-flint and cobbles by Richard Melhuish.

The Hyde Business Park was developed from 1955; the first factory was Elizabeth English shoes, followed by Hibberd Furniture, Brighton Sheet Metal Works, Redifon and Canada Dry; current businesses include Big Box Storage and West Instruments. Bevendean is a relatively deprived ward within the city — more than three quarters of its population are on a low income — and has been the recipient of Neighbourhood Renewal funding. It has a relatively high percentage of residents living in council accommodation — 24% — while 13% live in housing association homes.

Bear Road Neighbourhood and the Bedford Hotel

Bear Rd has an average gradient of 1:11 and a maximum of 1:8, and formed part of the boundary between Brighton and Preston until 1928. It took its name from the Bear Inn, a centre for bear and badger-baiting in the late 18th century; bear-baiting was legal until 1835.

On Bear Hill to the north of Bear Rd once stood the Bear Mill and, at the top of Bear Rd, stood the Race Hill Mill. The area to the north of Bear Rd, sometimes known as East Preston as it formed the easternmost part of that parish, was developed from the early 1900s and many of the road names have Boer War connections — e.g. Ladysmith and Mafeking roads. Most of the housing — 58% — is terraced and a high proportion of it (26%) is rented out as student accommodation — to the chagrin of owner-occupiers, who regularly complain about a variety of nuisances caused by this, including rubbish in the street and noise.

The parish church of the area, St Alban’s in Coombe Rd, was built in 1910-14 by Lacy W Ridge, in Early English style; on May 15 1974, the parish was merged into the new parish of the Resurrection. The parish room at the corner of Bear Rd and Riley Rd was built in 1902-3.

The lower part of Coombe Rd was dominated by two large factories on either side of the road. The southern one (Tyreco Ltd) was erected in 1917 for National Diamond Factories (Bernard Oppenheimer) Ltd, and ex-WWI servicemen who had lost limbs were employed there. The building was eventually occupied by Allen West and Schweppes in 1927 and, in 1945, by CVA Tools; this company was taken over by Kearney & Trecker in 1966 and the Coombe Rd factory closed in 1973.

In October 2000, the building was converted into deco flats; prices then were £87,500 for a 1- bedroom flat, £164,950 for 2-bedroom; in late 2009, a 1-bed flat cost £146,000. The impressive building opposite, now the Big Yellow Storage Company, was erected in 1918 as another diamond factory, and then became the home of Dentsply, one of Europe’s largest false teeth manufacturers, which closed in 1991.

Other businesses in the area included artificial limb makers Pedestros Ltd at 18 Coombe Rd Ltd and, at no.16, Brighton Asbestos Manufacturing Co Ltd. Nowadays, the Bear Rd area is dominated its cemeteries and crematoria, including the historic Extra-Mural Cemetery. Bevendean Hospital in Bevendean Rd closed in April 1989; it was demolished and the Sussex Beacon was erected, along with some housing.

The Bedford Hotel, 137 King’s Rd, was designed by Thomas Cooper and opened in 1835. It was considered the most distinguished late-Georgian building in Brighton after the Royal Pavilion. It had five storeys with two recessed Ionic porticoes facing south and west above the entrances, while the west wing was built back from the road and was decorated with giant pilasters. Inside was a Grecian hall with Ionic columns and a glazed dome.

The original Bedford Hotel was opened in October 1829 for William Manfield who, in 1835, leased it to the designer, Thomas Cooper; Manfield bought the lease back the following year and ran the hotel himself until 1844, when he leased it to Joseph Ellis.

In 1855, Ellis purchased the Bedford outright, and established it as the town’s leading hotel for the accommodation of royalty, the fashionable and the famous. Its guests included French Emperor Louis-Philippe, Louis Napoleon, Jenny Lind and Lord Palmerston. In 1963, the hotel was bought by AVP Industries Ltd, who said they wanted to replace it with a modern 14-storey tower block. On April 1 1964 — just two months after Brighton Council refused to make a preservation order on the hotel — the building was partly destroyed by fire. Two people lost their lives: guest Mrs Elizabeth Reed and hotel worker, Mrs Montserrat Gorriz. The hotel’s manager, John Ratcliffe, had the presence of mind to rescue a display for letters, written by Charles Dickens during his visits to the hotel, from a display cabinet on the ground floor.

A replacement Bedford Hotel — rather different in character to its predecessor — opened on September 16 1967. Designed by R Seifert and Partners, the 17-storey, 168 feet tall building was the first major new hotel development in the town for over half a century. It became the Hilton West Pier and Bedford Towers, and is now the Holiday Inn.