The fascinating history of Brighton & Hove’s grandest buildings

24th April 2019

In terms of architecture, Brighton and Hove is pretty special. These historic, seaside streets are home to Regency, Victorian and 20th century buildings; we wanted to learn more. This week, Maslen Estate Agents delves into the fascinating - and sometimes spooky - history of Brighton and Hove’s grandest buildings.


The Royal Pavilion

Unmistakably iconic, its past is as detailed as those intricate spires.


What influenced the design?

King George IV (previously the Prince of Wales), had an admiration for Asian rulers. So much so in fact, that he transformed his farmhouse into a majestic tribute to the East. It looks Indian on the outside and Chinese in the interior. Weirdly, though, George never actually visited either country.


What happened inside?

When George visited Brighton, the Royal Pavilion was a place of balls, banquets and concerts. However, over the years he fell out of public favour.


So, what did he do?


Construct a tunnel that could sneak him from the Pavilion to the Prince Regent’s stables (now the Brighton Dome). Costing £1,783 to build, the 60 metre tunnel is still in situ today.


George loved the Pavilion, visiting for years until his death. But, years later, the ruling Queen Victoria wasn’t quite so fond of it. She used the Pavilion as a royal residence until 1845 - when she sold it. Attracting stares, she found it too public a place for her family. Consequently, she sent a staggering 143 wagons of interior furnishings and decorations to London’s Royal Collection.


It was later bought by the town for £53,000 and many items were returned to help restore the interior’s original look-and-feel.


Over the next century, the Pavillion was used for a variety of events. Everything from balls and flower shows, to baby contests and flea circuses took place inside.


Prestigious writers such as Oscar Wilde and William Thackeray gave lectures there. And, keeping with the literary theme, the Pavilion was even home to the town’s first library (built in 1866).


Facts about the Pavilion


The Brighton Dome and Corn Exchange

The prestigious Brighton Dome and Corn Exchange has hosted some of the biggest names in show business. If those walls could talk, they’d surely have some stories.


What happened inside?

Built between 1803 and 1808, the Dome was originally a riding school for the Prince of Wales. The Corn Exchange formed the west wing of the Royal Stables.


In Victorian times, the building became a roller skating rink and, surprisingly, a military hospital for Indian soldiers during the First World War. It was a valuable propaganda tool for Britain, helping to boost relations with India. Then, from 1916 to 1920, it was also used as a hospital for British troops who were injured in the war.


Finally, the Dome and Corn Exchange became the performance venues that we’re familiar with today. Abba, Patti Smith, Van Morrison, Bryan Ferry are just some of the famous acts that have played there.


What’s going on with it at the moment?

You might have noticed that the Corn Exchange has been closed for a while. Well, this is because it’s currently going through a lengthy renovation process. It’s the first phase of a wider vision to restore and reunite the Royal Pavilion Estate - securing its long-term future.


Facts about Brighton Dome and Corn Exchange


The Grand Hotel

The opulent seafront hotel was designed in an Italian style by the architect J.H.Whichcord Jr. Costing around £100,000 to build, the hotel opened in July 1864.


The bombing of the Grand

In the early hours of 12th October 1984, The Grand fell victim to a terrorist attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). It was a bid to kill the, then, prime minister Margaret Thatcher and was timed to coincide with the Tory Party conference. Tragically, five people died in the explosion and the hotel was completely renovated afterwards. It was later discovered that the bomb had been hidden three weeks earlier, behind the bath panel of room 629.


Facts about The Grand Hotel


Preston Manor

William Stanford purchased Preston Manor - including the manor house, farm and surrounding lands - in 1794 for £17,600. Bargain.


The Lord of the manor rebuilt the original 13th-century structure in 1738. However, its history goes back much further.


What are the origins of Preston Manor?

The name Preston derives from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘priest’s holding’ - suggesting that there was a settlement here in Saxon times. Originally, the property was one of eight manors belonging to the Bishopric of Chichester. They owned the property for about 470 years (from as early as 1086).


The manor house passed through several owners, including the Stanfords - cited as one of the richest families in Sussex.


However, fortunes changed for the Stanford family at Preston Manor.


Over the years, they were troubled by ghostly visions of a lady ascending the staircase - and disappearing into nowhere. Not only that, several guests staying in the south west bedroom reported seeing disembodied hands on bedposts and strange noises from the dress cupboard.  


But it didn’t end there...


The haunted history of Preston Manor


1896: Sister Agnes, a nun who had been wrongly excommunicated from the Church - and buried in unconsecrated ground outside the house - made contact during a séance held in the Cleves Room. It was claimed that if Agnes received a Christian burial, the hauntings would cease.


1897: The drains of the house were inspected after an epidemic of sore throats. Later, a 400-year-old skeleton was found under the terrace outside the dining room. Apparently, this was then reburied by a local gravedigger - no more hauntings were reported afterwards.


1960s: Non-existent visitors, including a ghost playing with a toy tractor in the nursery were reportedly seen. Furthermore, lights flickered on and off without reason, and a ghostly hand was spotted turning a doorknob.


2006: Living TV’s Most Haunted visited Preston Manor and reported an active night, including an appearance by the infamous Lady in White.

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