Brighton started off as a Saxon village. The Saxons took over Sussex in the 5th century AD. One of them was called Beorthelm. He lived in a farm (in Saxon a tun) called Beorthelm’s tun. In time this grew into the town of Brighton. There was much fishing as well as farming in the village. Brighton looked over a cliff. The fishermen’s huts were beneath this cliff on the shore. The church of St Bartholomew first had a mention in the late twelfth century, though it may have existed before then.
Brighton gained a charter in 1313. This document granted merchants the right to create their own local government and a few other rights. A fish market was held every day on the beach. There was also a weekly pig market and corn market as well as a general market where all kinds of food were sold. Once a year there was a fair. A fair was like a market but it was held annually and attracted buyers and sellers from London and all over south east England.
The 18th century
In 1703 England encountered a severe storm. In Brighton it stripped several houses, turned up the lead on a church roof, turned over two windmills and laid them flat on the ground’. Another storm two years later demolished houses below the cliff, on the foreshore. In 1723 several groins were built. But the two storms severely damaged Brighton which had already endured economic depression. Brighton fell in size to around 1500 people in the early 18th century. The ocean began to cut into the town. First it destroyed the houses beneath the cliff, then, by 1760 it began to undermine the cliff itself.
World War Two
World War II began in 1939 and many schoolchildren were evacuated from London to Brighton to escape the bombing. Because Brighton was a seaside resort rather than a manufacturing town it was believed that it would escape the blitz. However, most of the evacuees soon returned home. Brighton was not as secure as people thought it would be and the town suffered substantial damage as a result of bombing. There were 56 raids in all during the Brighton blitz and over 5000 houses were damaged or destroyed.
To discover more about Brighton’s past, why not look at our Museums guide?