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You are here: Your Brighton > Heritage > architecture

Brighton architecture

A photo of part of the Royal Pavilion at sunset.

From its early days as a fishing village to its transformation at the hands of The Prince Regent, Brighton has witnessed every generation leave its architectural mark. From the exotic Royal Pavilion and crescents and squares of the Regency period to the magnificent churches of the Victorian era, Brighton and Hove boasts some of the country’s finest architectural heritage.

Find out more about some of the key architectural periods below.

Regency

The mix of seaside and Regency elegance, combined with the stunning architecture that came with it, lie at the foundation of Brighton’s worldwide reputation for elegance and fun.

Technically the Regency period lasted just 9 years, from 1811 until the death of George III in 1820, although more broadly the term Regency applies to the first thirty years of the 19th Century. The period sits in the middle of the longer Georgian period.

From 1800-1830 George, Prince of Wales, made Brighton the fashionable place it is today and brought the beau monde of the period to his new palace, The Royal Pavilion, which was transformed into its exotic opulence in 1822 by architect John Nash. Actually out of keeping with the rest of the Regency architecture in Brighton and Hove, the Pavilion is one of the most eccentric and lavish buildings in the country, if not the world.

With the Prince of Wales came a pleasure loving high society which rapidly established itself as a royal court second only to London. Previously the obscure fishing village of Brighthelmstone, Brighton was fast becoming a heady health resort, famed for its rejuvenative sea air and sea water qualities.

A building boom followed, influenced by other distinctive spa towns such as Bath, and the architectural style which evolved became known as Regency. In Brighton and Hove the Regency style survived long after the actual period when the Prince acted as Regent.

Many of the city's famous squares and crescents were built during this period, as well as familiar districts such as Montpelier.

Hove was significantly developed during the Regency period as well. Brunswick Square and Terrace were both built, designed by Amon Wilds and Charles Busby, demonstrating some of the finest examples of civic design in the country.

Key architectural landmarks during the Regency period include:

  • 1822 Transformation of the Royal Pavilion by architect John Nash
  • 1824 The first major development towards the modern Hove

Victorian

Although Queen Victoria rejected Brighton as her country retreat in favour of Osborne House, the town went from strength to strength. Major landmarks that identify the city today were built by the Victorians - the two Piers, the aquarium, the magnificent avenues in Hove, the old Engineerium, and the Clock Tower.

Inventors such as Magnus Volk, who designed the Volk Railway were Victorians pioneers in their field. It was also the era when Brighton started to attract holidaymakers on mass when the London to Brighton railway opened in 1841. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more impressive railway roof than the one at Brighton station, with its ornate architecture and stunning Railway clock.

Key architectural landmarks during the Victorian period included:

  • 1841 London to Brighton railway line opens
  • 1850 Queen Victoria sells the Royal Pavilion to the Corporation of  Brighton for £53,000
  • 1872 Sussex County Cricket ground opens in Hove
  • 1883 Magnus Volk builds England's first electric railway in Brighton
  • 1896 Chain Pier destroyed by a mighty storm
  • 1899 Completion of the Palace Pier

Brighton Rock 30 & 40s

Brighton's reputation between the wars is largely defined by Graham Greene's famous novel Brighton Rock, published in 1938. He describes a rather unsavoury place with London gangs running protection rackets and violence and extortion as the norm in Brighton back alleys.

However, this was far from the whole picture. Brighton was still a very popular holiday destination and during this era key Art Deco landmarks such as Saltdean Lido and Shoreham airport were opened. The impressive Brighton Dome was also redesigned in the Art Deco style.

The 30s and 40s witnessed the spawning of the giant cinemas such as the Regent, Savoy, Astoria, Odeon and Essoldo as well, many of which have now disappeared.

Key architectural landmarks during this period included:

  • 1930s Shorham airport starts scheduled passenger flights to the Isle of Wight, Croydon, Deauville and Jersey
  • 1934-5 The Brighton Dome is redesigned and opens as the town's principal concert, conference and entertainment hall
  • 1937 Saltdean lido opens.

End of the 20th Century

From the mid fifties, Brighton typified the British seaside destination with its fish and chip lunches and beachfront attractions and by the eighties it had become fairly run down as a leisure destination.

The opening of the Brighton Centre, in 1977, put Brighton on the map as an international conference destination. The Centre was one of the first conference centres on the south coast and attracted large party political conferences.

Hove retained its identity as a genteel, wealthy town that attracted a quieter kind of holiday maker. Hove Lawns and a variety of seafront hotels, the King Alfred sports centre and Hove band stand were just some of the attractions. Key architectural landmarks during this period included:

  • 1977 Brighton Centre opens
  • 1984 The Grand Hotel is bombed during the Conservative Government's party conference
  • 1991 Restoration of the Royal Pavilion completed after 10 years at a cost of £10 million.

21st Century City

As the new millennium approached, Brighton and Hove underwent a renaissance that has transformed the city back into the heady heyday of its Regency period. Now recognised as one of the most creative and appealing cities in Europe, new developments are popping up across the city all the time.

In 2000, the Queen granted Brighton and Hove city status and the new seafront development turned a run down area into a funky, cosmopolitan magnet for visitors of all types and ages. The newly created artists' quarter, clubs, bars and restaurants revitalised the area and turned it into (or restored it as) one of the most fashionable beachfronts in Britain.

2002 saw the completion of a some major infrastructure projects such as the Brighton Dome, the Aquarium Terraces, Brighton Marina waterfront, and the redevelopment of Brighton and Hove museums and art galleries.

Brighton’s buzzing Cultural Quarter was also recently completed, offering visitors and residents alike an area packed with funky hotels and bars, award winning restaurants and great nightlife venues. One of the area's best loved buildings, the Brighton Theatre Royal, celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2007.

The funky and eco friendly my myhotel and stunning Jubilee Library, winner of the Observer Ethical Award, also mark a new era in Brighton’s architectural heritage, as the city starts to spawn more sustainable developments.

And it doesn’t stop there. There are a number of further developments in the pipeline across the city; such as the Brighton i360, an 183 metre high observation tower at the site of the old West Pier, designed by the architects behind the London Eye.

With its heady mix of architecture old and new, Brighton & Hove really does offer some of the best architectural heritage in the UK.

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