From humble origins to fame: Edward Bransfield

Born in Ballinacurra, County Cork, this sailor — press-ganged into the Navy at 18 — was a classic example of someone being in the right place at the right time, to unwittingly carve out their own piece of history: namely, being the first man to sight mainland Antarctica. Edward Bransfield began as an Ordinary Seaman and steadily rose through the ranks; by 1816, he was Master of the Severn, which he took part in the Bombardment of Algiers. In 1817, he was appointed Master of the Andromache, under the command of Captain WH Shirreff; during this tour of duty, Bransfield was posted to the Royal Navy’s new Pacific Squadron off Valparaíso, Chile — then fighting for its independence from Spain. Two years later, Captain William Smith of the merchant ship Williams accidentally discovered what came to be known as the South Shetland Islands.

When Captain Shirreff learned of this discovery, he chartered the Williams and sent it back with Bransfield, two midshipmen and the surgeon from HMS Slaney, to survey the islands. On January 28 1820, Bransfield landed on King George Island and took formal possession on behalf of King George III, before heading south-west past Deception Island and then turning south, crossing what is now known as the Bransfield Strait (named for him by James Weddell in 1822). On January 30 1820, Bransfield sighted Trinity Peninsula, the northernmost point of the Antarctic mainland, and made a note in his log of two ‘high mountains, covered with snow’, one of which was subsequently named Mount Bransfield, by Dumont Durville, in his honour.

Bransfield then discovered various points on Elephant Island and Clarence Island, and formally claimed them for the British Crown. When he arrived back in Valparaíso, he gave his charts and journal to Captain Shirreff, who gave them to the Admiralty.

These charts survived and are still in the possession of the Hydrographic Department in Taunton, Somerset, but the journal has been lost. However, two private accounts of Bransfield’s voyage were published in 1821. It later emerged that, two days before Bransfield’s sighting, the Russian explorer Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen had sighted an icy shoreline now known to have been East Antarctica, and some historians therefore claim he should be credited with the find.

Based on this sighting, a claim has been made on behalf of Bellingshausen that he should be credited with the discovery of the continent. After his journeys in the Southern Ocean, Bransfield returned to Plymouth and was discharged, on half pay, to the reserve list. He served for several years as a Master on merchant ships. When he retired, he moved to Brighton, setting up home in London Rd. He and his wife, Ann, are buried in the Extra-Mural Cemetery, and the gravestone now bears an inscription reflecting Bransfields claim to fame. In 1999, one of his descendants, Sheila Bransfield, discovered the grave and found it in a woeful state. Aided by charitable donations, she organised its renovation and a ceremony was held to mark this, attended by the master of RRS Bransfield (an Antarctic surveying vessel named after him) plus representatives from the National Maritime Museum, the Hydrographic Office and the Royal Geographical Society. In 2000, the Royal Mail issued a commemorative stamp in his honour but, as no likeness of him exists, the stamp depicted RRS Bransfield.

The origins of Brighton to the Neolithic Age

We all love the seaside and the sense of freedom it brings, but Brighton has a reputation above all other resorts in Britain for the ‘edgy’ pleasures it offers to visitors from all over the world. It’s not a bucket-and-spade kind of place, but a sophisticated ‘melting pot’ for a wide variety of people who relish the idea of having a good time in their own way. In fact sometimes it feels like a place for grown-ups who haven’t quite grown up at all.

It took a long time for a proper town to develop here and Brighton only discovered its true purpose in life only about 250 years ago. That purpose has been to attract visitors in their droves, parting them from their cash – and sometimes from their common sense, too – in return for an endless, and colourfully varied, range of entertainments. Of course, the people who live here care very much about things like schools, hospitals and rubbish collections, but that’s certainly not what Brighton means to everyone else.

As far as the wider world is concerned it isn’t really owned by its inhabitants at all – or not in the way that matters. It’s always been a place for other people to pass through on their way to somewhere else, or to pause in for a little fun before going away again. This has given it a very peculiar history. The obsession with having a good time began with George, the Prince Regent, and his extravagant friends (can you imagine the gaudy Royal Pavilion being built in any other seaside town?), and it hasn’t stopped since. In many ways this has been very useful for Brighton. The rich folk who came here during the 18th century for the ‘sea-water cure’ helped to revive a town that was very much down on its luck.

It wasn’t until 1810 that the authorities decided officially to call their town Brighton. Before that it was known as something like Brighthelmston, although more than 40 variations on the theme have been recorded. (In the Domesday Book it was Bristelmestune.) The ‘tun’ bit signifies a homestead, and the best guess is that someone called Beorthelm (which means ‘bright helmet’) was the bigwig here in Saxon times – but, if so, the poor chap’s been completely forgotten.

But the influx of so many outsiders can cause problems, too. Once the railway had arrived in the 1840s, Brighton grew faster than any other town in Britain, and during the later Victorian period many areas were horribly overcrowded, with foul-smelling slums that were a terrible health hazard because people drank water raised in buckets from wells that lay right next to their cesspits.

During the 1930s, day-trippers arrived here in their thousands, but some of them weren’t the kind of people you’d want as next-door neighbours. There were razor-wielding gangs who frequented the racecourse, and for a time the town had a very bad reputation indeed. Fortunately, Brighton has always found ways to rise above its problems, knowing that unless it puts on a good show for its visitors it can’t hope to be prosperous. Today it’s a bright and cheerful city, but – just like some of the characters who like to have their fun here – it has a colourful and occasionally disreputable past.

The first thing you need to know about Brighton is that the land it sits on wasn’t always there. Let’s go back a hundred million years to a Sussex that wasn’t the attractive jumble of hills and valleys we know today, but a flat expanse of nothing, covered by water. At one period this was a swampy region, criss-crossed by meandering rivulets and inhabited by iguanodons and other dinosaurs. Later it was flooded by the sea. The bands of sediment that built up on the bottom hardened to become the eventual rocks and soils of Sussex: sandstones, clay, shales, limestone and chalk.

During all these vast aeons they lay in an orderly fashion, one on top of the other, quietly minding their own business. The chalk, on top of everything else, was created from minute calcite crystals secreted by planktonic algae when the land was under the sea, and it built up at the rate of a metre every 100,000 years for all of 30 million years to form layers some 300 metres thick.

So why isn’t the landscape flat today? Because once, another very long time ago, there was a gradual but violent grinding of the tectonic plates (sections of the earth’s crust) that lie beneath our continent. It lifted, twisted and buckled the rocks to form the Alps in northern Europe and create the huge, if less dramatic, dome that eventually became today’s Sussex. Geologists call it the Wealden anticline – and Brighton sits on the southern edge of it.

Once rivers had cut through the rocks on their way to the sea, and once rain, frost and ice had scoured and weathered the surface over millions more years, Sussex was left with the broad bands of soils which make up our Downs and Weald today. (You might think that our chalk slopes should be called the Ups rather than the Downs, but the word comes from the Old English dun, which means ‘hill’.)

Don’t imagine, though, that the beach we walk the dog on today is where the earliest inhabitants of Sussex found it half a million years ago. The fickle sea was sometimes 40 metres higher than it is now, and sometimes all of 100 metres lower. In the cliffs at Black Rock, near Brighton Marina, you can see evidence of an ancient beach 8 metres above the current sea level and dating from about 200,000 years ago. It wasn’t until 5,000 years ago that the sea arrived at something like the present coastline, and another 2,000 years before it reached roughly the height we know today – although it has kept ebbing and flowing ever since, and at present threatens to wash away houses all around the south-east coast of England.

Let’s introduce you to a man called Roger. He’s very old – probably half a million years old – but unfortunately we can only guess what he looked like. That’s because all that remains of him is a single fragment of shin-bone. The archaeologists who affectionately gave him his daft name (no, of course nobody was called Roger then) were exploring an ancient raised beach at Boxgrove, 32 km (20 miles) west of Brighton, near Chichester. They also found a couple of teeth, but these probably belonged to someone else.

The Boxgrove people were members of a species we know as Homo heidelbergensis – their descendants being Neanderthal man (now extinct) and possibly ourselves (not yet) – and they lived in a climate similar to our own. They collected flints from the base of the cliffs and chipped away at them to fashion razor-sharp hand-axes. With these they hunted and butchered rhinoceroses, bears, bison, horses and large deer. But there were chilly times to come. Some 14,000 years ago, with glaciers forming further north, the Downs were covered by snowfields and the chalk was permanently frozen. The snow melted when the last ice age ended, and rivers cut through the hills, scouring out the valley north of Brighton which we know as Devil’s Dyke.

As the temperature rose, life became easier for the nomadic hunter-gatherers and hunter-fishers who foraged along the coast and in the dense oak forests of Sussex, which teemed with wild cattle, deer and pigs. Their rock-shelters have been excavated in the Sussex Weald, especially on the high ground to the north of Brighton, but scatterings of their worked flints have been found in the Brighton area, too.

Come the New Stone Age, Brighton at last finds a definite place on the prehistoric map. During this period settlers used polished stone tools, domesticated animals, practised weaving, made pottery and sank flint mines deep into the chalk – walk on the Downs above the Long Man of Wilmington chalk figure to the east of Brighton, and the indentations you see in the turf are the tops of those ancient mineshafts.

These settlers also left permanent marks on the landscape in the form of long and oval ‘barrows’, or burial mounds, and a series of large ‘causewayed camps’ on high points of the Downs. One of these camps can still be seen – although it’s been knocked about more than a bit – 130 metres above sea level, up by Brighton Racecourse at Whitehawk Hill. Probably built between 4000 and 3000 BC, and extended over several centuries, it comprises four concentric earthworks with crossing points, or causeways, over the ditches.

Nobody really knows what these structures were for. They weren’t sufficiently protected to have been fortifications, and the best guess is that they were centres for communal rituals of some sort.

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.

The history of bath houses in Brighton

Bath houses, offering either simply a private dip in enclosed sea-water, or a steam or ‘Turkish’ bath for medicinal purposes, were extremely popular in Brighton in the late 18th century and throughout the 19th.

In 1736, Margate became the first seaside resort to have an enclosed sea-water bath. Public slipper baths, for the use of residents whose homes had no sanitation, were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; some were still used as late as the 1970s.

Artillery/Battery Baths/Hobden’s:
Artillery Place, near the West Battery. Opened by Nathan Smith in 1813, they became Hobden’s Royal Artillery Baths in 1824. In 1864, they were rebuilt when the Grand Hotel was completed and direct access was made between the two buildings. The baths were demolished in 1908 and the hotel’s ballroom was built on the site.

Awsiter’s Baths:
The first baths to be constructed in Brighton were built on the western side of Pool Valley by Dr John Awsiter, and designed by Robert Golden, in October 1769. They consisted of six cold baths, a hot bath, a sweating bath and a showering bath. In 1768, he had published a pamphlet ‘Thoughts on Brighthelmston concerning sea-bathing and drinking sea-water with some directions for their use’, in which he advocated the use of individual indoor sea-water baths, as well as the drinking of sea-water, mixed with milk and cream of tartar, as a cure for a number of afflictions — including infertility. Sea water was pumped into the baths by a pump-house that stood on a groyne extending 100 ft into the sea; the pump-house was demolished in 1829, when Grand Junction Road was built. Awsiter’s eventually became Wood’s Original Hot and Cold Sea-Water Baths, then Creak’s Baths. They were demolished in 1861, to make room for an extension to Brill’s Baths.

Cobden Rd
Public slipper baths were opened in April 1894 by the mayor, Sir Joseph Ewart, in a red-brick building with shell and dolphin decorations at the corner of Islingword Rd. When many of the houses in the Hanover area had bathrooms installed, the demand for public baths receded; Cobden Rd baths were closed in 1976 and converted into flats. The building was used as the Hanover Community Centre until 1982 and then as a resource centres, before being converted into flats in 1985/6.

Ditchling Rd:
No.93 housed Corporation slipper baths from 1891 until about 1932.

Lamprell’s (later Brill’s Baths):
The first communal swimming-bath in Brighton, opened in 1823 on East Street, by Abraham Johnson Lamprell. The baths had a circular domed building nicknamed ‘the bunion’, housing a large ladies’ baths which, curiously, had a balcony that accommodated 400 spectators. An inscription in Latin around the pool told the bathers that the water was ‘as fresh as the sea, but safer’. In 1845, Charles Brill (Lamprell’s nephew) inherited the baths and they became Brill’s Baths. In 1861, Brill opened a new ladies’ seawater bath in a nearby Gothic building on the west side of Pool Valley, on the site of Awsiter’s baths. They were given the royal seal of approval: they were opened by the Duchess of Cambridge and Princess May of Teck — later Queen Mary — took her first swimming lessons there.

In 1869, Brill built a new gentlemen’s bath, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, in a red-brick building at 76-79 East St which extended into Pool Valley. The circular pool, 65 feet in diameter, was the largest in Europe at that time and its 80,000 gallons of seawater were brought in from Hove, as Brighton’s was thought to be polluted. The Baths was the home of the Brighton Ladies Swimming Club, formed in 1891. Brill’s Baths were demolished 1929, but the name lives on with the tiny Brill’s Lane, between East St and Grand Junction Rd.

Mahomed’s Baths:
Built in 1821, near the site of the present Queen’s Hotel. Medicated steam or vapour-baths, called ‘shampooing’. In 1822, Mahomed published ‘Shampooing, or benefits resulting from the use of the Indian vapour-bath, describing cases of asthma, rheumatism, sciatica and lumbago cured by his methods. The book also featured poems praising him. One was called Ode To Mahomed, the Brighton Shampooing Surgeon:

‘While thus beneath they flannel shades
Fat dowagers and wrinkled maids
Re-blown in adolescence,
I marvel not that friends tell friends,
And Brighton every day extends
Its circuses and crescents’

The business was continued by his son, Arthur Akhbar Mahomed, into the 1870s.

North Rd Slipper Baths:
Opened in 1870, closed in 1976, built on the former Barrack Yard site. A 2nd class warm bath cost twopence, a cold bath a penny; 1st class baths were sixpence for a warm bath and threepence for a cold bath. At their height, the baths were filled nearly 16,300 times in six months alone. A special feature of the North Rd baths women’s section was a Jewish Mitveh, a kind of ritual cleansing bath; it was the only Jewish immersion bath on the South Coast. The pipes were straight, rather than bent, so they could not become contaminated, and used rainwater.

Victoria Baths:
Opened on May 24 1888, on the east side of Park St, as slipper baths for the local poor. They closed in 1979 and Sloane Court now stands on the site.

Williams’s Royal Hot and Cold Baths:
Opened in 1803 on the south-west corner of the Old Steine. Eventually demolished in 1856 to make room for the Lion Mansion Hotel (now part of the Royal Albion Hotel).

Alms houses in Brighton

An almshouse is a place where poor people could reside. They were usually paid for out of someone’s will, with a few places reserved for the needy. Here is some history about some almshouses in Brighton.

FALMER
In 1869, Knights Almshouses were built alongside the village pond, erected in memory of Mary Chichester, the wife of Henry Thomas Pelham, third Earl of Chichester. The two cottages, now known as Pelham Cottages, share a porch, above which is a carved stone tablet, bearing the arms of the Pelham family. Over the windows on the front elevation are two more stone tablets, which bear the Countess’s initials ‘MC’ and the date 1869.

HOWELL’S
In George St, off St James St, a three-storey row of houses known as Howells Court was erected in 1987 on the site of Howell’s Almshouses — ten small, stuccoed houses built in 1859 by a Charles Howell ‘for the benefit of the reduced inhabitants of Brighton and Hove’. The almshouses had become derelict by 1965.

PERCY AND WAGNER
The first six of these almshouses — the oldest buildings in Hanover — were built in 1795 at the bottom of Elm Grove, by Mrs Margaret Marriot, to commemorate her friends, the late Dorothea and Philadelphia Percy, daughters of the Duke of Northumberland. She stipulated that the houses had to be occupied by six poor widows who were members of the Church of England. The women were also given £48 per annum and a new gown and cloak every second year; this was later increased to £96 and two gowns and bonnets each year, and a duffel coat every third year. The original houses, nos.4-9, were the first Gothic revival buildings in Brighton. In 1859, another six houses, for six ‘poor maidens’, were added by the Revd Henry Wagner and his sister Mary, in memory of the Marquess of Bristol. By the 1960s, the almshouses were in a dilapidated condition and seemed doomed for demolition but were listed in March 1971 and restored in 1975-6, with financial assistance from Brighton Council. The interiors were redesigned and new kitchen and bathroom extensions were built at the back of the houses.

PILGRIM’S COTTAGES
This row of almshouses were built in 1852 in Spa St by the Soames’ family, for poor widows aged 60 and over; they were occupied until the mid-1960s.

ST BARTHOLOMEW’S
The Church and Priory of St Bartholomew stood on the site of Bartholomew House, just to the south-west of the junction of Market St and Prince Albert St. The chapel was established between 1120 and 1147 by the great Cluniac Priory of St Pancras at Lewes. It was partially destroyed by French raiders in 1514, but the Prior’s Lodge, a residence connected with the chapel, was spared. In 1547, the priory was dissolved under Henry VIII and some almshouses were erected on the land then known as the Bartholomews, which stretched from Little East St to Black Lion St. In 1592, the ruinous chapel and the other buildings of the Bartholomews were purchased on behalf of the town, and the almshouses were sold to the parish in 1733 for £17. The land was acquired by the town commissioners in 1824 for the construction of a new town hall.

STANMER
Numbers 11-12 of the village street were built as almhouses in 1912, in memory of Lilla, Countess of Chichester. Thomas Pelham was the first Earl of Chichester and, until 1947, the Pelham family owned Stanmer village.

Allot meant a lot in bygone days

In its earliest incarnation, Brighton was a town was a quarter of a mile square, comprising North St, West St, East St and South St, with ‘allotments’ of land in the middle of these; ‘The Lanes’ were the pathways between these ‘allotments’.

Prior to WWII, there was one allotment to every 16 households; after the wartime publicity drive to encourage people to ‘Dig for Victory’, this increased to one for every 12 households.

After the end of WWII and food rationing, many allotments in Brighton lay unused and some were sold off in the 1980s.

But the late 20th century’s rise in food prices and an interest in organic, grow-your-own produce in the town saw the demand for plots rocket and the waiting list for a plot on many sites is five years or more, with 1,979 people in the queue — some since January 1998.

There are 37 allotment sites in Brighton and Hove, providing plots for 2,500 tenants. In 2002, Brighton & Hove Allotment Federation launched an £80,000 appeal to convert three plots for disabled users and set up accessible raised box beds.

In 2009, the council announced that 100 new sites would be created to help meet demand: 40 new plots on Whitehawk Hill, and another 60 in neighbouring Craven Vale. Also that year, the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership received £500,000 from the Big Lottery fund for a three-year Harvest Brighton and Hove project, to identify and utilise new green spaces for growing food. The project also promotes food-growing in the city and initiatives, such as scrumping for unharvested apples.

However, on the minus side, in November 2009, a government planning inspector gave the go-ahead for four houses to be built on a narrow strip of former railway land allotments between London Rd station and Springfield Rd, at the back of the Open House pub. Developers Kingsbury Estate Ltd had taken the plans to a public inquiry after they were initially rejected by Brighton and Hove City Council, because of the impact on wildlife.

The group Friends of London Rd Old Railway Allotments was formed to oppose the proposal. Until 1992, the site was allotments cultivated by railway workers but the developers denied there were ever any allotments there. In January 2010, it was announced that a shortlist of proposals for the draft Sustainable Communities Act included one submitted by Brighton & Hove Council, which would enable allotment-holders to sell fruit and vegetables they grow.