A setting well-known to lovers of Regency novels, Brighton, on Britain’s Sussex coast, is synonymous with profligate prince whose patronage made the town famous: the Prince Regent, the future George IV. Unpopular though he was with most of his father’s subjects because of his heavy debts — money was definitely no object with him — and the mistreatment of his wife, the overweight heir to the throne was greeted with pealing church bells whenever he visited the town.
The Marine Pavilion, the prince’s holiday home, like his London one, Carlton House, underwent several alterations and refurbishments during his 40-year patronage of Brighton. The pavilion’s final incarnation — Indian-like onion domes and Chinese style interior, a building looking like
something from the Arabian Nights — is the one that is seen today.
The war with the French from 1792 until 1815, and Napoleon’s conquest of Europe meant that wealthy Britons could no longer travel on that continent. They were forced to find alternative venues for their pleasure in their own country. And in the late 18th century Dr. Russell of nearby Lewes published a tract extolling the healthful properties of sea water, both to bathe in — and to drink! A favourite resort of the Prince of Wales’ father George III was Weymouth. There, every time the king emerged from his dip in the sea, a small orchestra played the National Anthem; thus causing others on the beach to get to their feet and the men to remove their hats.
These circumstance led to the development of Brighton and other seaside towns as holiday venues for those who could afford to visit. The Prince Regent first went to Brighton seeking relief for his painful glands. He stayed with his uncle the Duke of Cumberland, whose love of cards and high-flying life matched his own. Fashionable society soon followed him there, a population explosion creating a housing boom expanding the town north and east. Used to the many amenities and pleasures of London, the visitors expected their needs tone met in Brighton, and their were entrepreneurs to cater to their whims.
Brighton boasted two inns — The Castle and The Ship — with assembly rooms for weekly balls and cards during the season, a Master of Ceremonies, a theatre, circulating libraries, a grammar school, indoor baths , charming villas to rent or buy, and more than twenty coaches a day joining the heavy traffic on the London to Brighton Road.
There was one thing that London-by-the- Sea had that its dirty, smokey namesake did not: sea bathing and the bracing sea air. Borne down to the water’s edge in horse-drawn wooden bathing huts on wheels, the bathers were helped into the water by male and female “dippers, two of whom became very well known: Martha Gunn and ‘Smoaker’ Miles. Men and women had separate beaches, the women covering themselves in flannel bathing gowns — the men bathed naked.