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 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).