The city we know today as Brighton was first settled back in Saxon times, with the main industries being farming and fishing. Soon designated streets developed, these being North, South, East and West Streets and all are still in existence today. Also surviving are the smaller passages that sprung up in order to navigate between the main streets. These are now known as Brighton’s famous ‘Lanes’.
Brighton saw its fair share of prosperity as well as despair. When the French attacked in 1514, the town was destroyed as the wooden buildings burned to the ground. The occupants were defiant and soon rebuilt their town and towards the end of the century records show that Brighton was home to over 400 fisherman and their families.
However, further wars with both the French and the Dutch meant that Brighton and its fishing trade suffered. Additionally as the 18th Century arrived, it brought with it powerful storms that battered and brought destruction to the entire South East coast. Brighton’s fishing trade was at an end.
However, the town was about to have a regeneration. In 1750, a Dr Russell wrote a paper enthusing about the many health benefits to both body and mind that were to be obtained from sea air and sea bathing. Soon the rich were flocking to the coast and when the Prince Regent chose Brighton as his favourite coastal retreat in 1783, the town’s status was sealed. Hotels, cafés, and theatres appeared to provide accommodation and entertainment for the new visitors.
During the following century, other iconic landmarks of Brighton were created including the wonderful Pavilion, the once grand and beautiful West Pier and the aquarium, now the Sea Life Centre. In 2010, Brighton played host to the annual World Horror Convention. The organisers chose the city to be their UK host as they believe it to be the most haunted place in the country. Other cities may disagree but with a wide and varied assortment of spirits from monks and nuns to smugglers, sailors, publicans and soldiers, Brighton certainly has a plethora of paranormal activity to offer.
Fancy going on a walk of haunted Brighton? Begin at the chapel formerly known as Trinity Chapel which stands on the corner of Prince Albert Street and Ship Street. Look to your left and you will see the FRIENDS’ MEETING HOUSE, on Ship Street. Originally built in 1805 for the local Quaker community, it now has a dual purpose as both a place of worship and an education centre.
The Meeting House has been rumoured to have a presence for many years. One of the best known accounts is that of two women who, in April 1997, accidentally got locked in one evening after attending a class there. Using a mobile phone, they were able to get the police to contact a key holder. However whilst waiting for their release, the women heard a key turn in the lock and distinct shuffling type footsteps close to them. However, no being emerged and the building was entirely empty, except for themselves.
Walk south down Ship Street, then turn right onto Union Street and find the FONT & FIRKIN PUB, with a JEWELLERS’ SHOP opposite. This building was originally a Presbyterian church built in 1688 and served this purpose for the following 300 years until the congregation eventually built a new church and moved out in 1988. The building then stood empty until 1994 when a brewery company bought it with plans to turn it into a pub. The Font & Firkin opened its doors a year later.
During the conversion, builders reported that their tools were regularly moved around overnight. At some point during the late 1800s, church authorities had a number of bodies removed from a burial chamber beneath the church which were then buried elsewhere. However it seems some must have remained although whether this was accidentally or intentionally is unknown.
When conversion works in 1994 required the builders to remove part of the ground floor in order to allow for the fitment of brewery vats, more human bones were found. Shortly after the new pub opened, a barmaid apparently saw an ashtray fling itself off a shelf, and another witness saw the face of a young woman wearing a grey shawl peering through the interior front doors. The image vanished as quickly as it had appeared. When a colleague checked the outer doors, they were locked, meaning that no-one could have got in or out during that time.
It seems that the upheaval of the conversion did not confine itself to the walls of the old church. A jeweller’s shop that stood opposite was also witness to several extremely odd occurrences during the time, all of which were destructive to a greater or lesser degree. Two porcelain plates flew out from their mountings on the wall and onto the floor. One remained complete but the other broke into pieces.
A few months later, with construction still taking place across the lane, a very strange Saturday afternoon ensued at the jewellers. In the space of two hours, and with plenty of witnesses, four separate incidents occurred. Firstly, with no-one touching it the glass door of a display cabinet spontaneously shattered. Later it was noticed that the amber part of a necklace had completely disintegrated.
Next a child’s bottle of drink exploded without cause and luckily without injury and finally on this extraordinary day the jeweller’s wife looked at her watch and noticed that the glass was entirely shattered. She was positive that she had not knocked the watch against anything.
The activity seemed to settle down soon after the pub opened. Turn right down MEETING HOUSE LANE. Keep right, then take the first left. Go to 41 Meeting House Lane. Number 41 Meeting House Lane is now a café but the building itself dates back to the 17th Century and has been home to an assortment of businesses. Several years ago an antiques gallery occupied the site. During this time several people witnessed an apparition of a middle aged man with greying hair dressed in grey trousers and a dark coloured, knee length overcoat. In each description he is said to be carrying a canvas or linen bag which looks to be the shape of a doctor’s bag. Unexplained thumps and sudden drops in temperature have also been experienced on the premises.
The lower floor of this building was once home to Brighton’s Museum of Childhood, which no longer exists in the town. One visitor got rather a shock to see a pale faced unkempt toddler sitting on the stairs. When the visitor went to speak to the child, she faded away.
Walk to 4-5 Meeting House Lane to see the BATH ARMS PUB. When it was first built in 1864, this pub was called the True Briton Inn but the name was changed within three years. Several health spas were being built in the town following Dr Russell’s declaration, so the name change was possibly a bid to cash in on the health resort reputation of the town.
There have been a couple of different apparitions in this pub. One is a man wearing a tri corn hat. Another male has also been seen, this time dressed in a Victorian style with a black overcoat and black brimmed hat. It’s possible that one of these gentlemen is a former landlord. Rumour has it that the man committed suicide by drowning. He calmly walked into the sea and began swimming out to sea and was never seen again.
Glasses, bottles and other items have been witnessed by both staff and customers to move of their own accord. Go back up Meeting House Lane which will bring you to the back of the Friends’ Meeting House. Take the first left at the T junction. Immediately on your right is a BRICKED UP DOORWAY.
During the 2nd World War, coastal areas were acknowledged as being at the highest risk of invasion and often classified as a ‘restricted’ area. This meant that only local residents and essential personnel were allowed to be in the town. Everyone had an identity card and movement at night was limited. It was under such circumstances that one of the best known sightings of the Grey Nun of Meeting House Lane was seen. A woman firewatcher on duty in The Lanes one night was surprised to see a hooded figure in grey moving along the lane towards the Friends’ Meeting House. The firewatcher called out to the figure but received no response. The watcher then ran after the individual and was astonished to see it drift through a blocked up doorway in the wall of the lane. There are those that think this apparition may not be a nun but perhaps a female Quaker. Their traditional clothes are plain in both design and colour, including grey and the women often wore bonnets or shawls to cover their heads. Those that have seen the apparition of a nun in this area (whether this is the same one or another wraith) close up tell that there is no face within the dark hood of her habit.