I’ve written nearly a dozen books now on Sussex but as a Brightonian it is always the greatest honour to be asked to write about my hometown, so I was delighted to be asked by Amberley to write the latest book in the popular ‘Celebrating’ series on Brighton and Hove. After all, with all that the ‘Terrible Twenties’ have thrown at us all so far, a good dose of celebrating anything at all sounds like a mighty fine idea and celebrating a place that has made (and still makes) millions of people happy every year an even better one.

There are many ways that writers can approach writing about the history and heritage of Sussex, and I think I’ve tackled most of them. This time we settled on themes, as this seemed to be well received by readers of my previous book on the city, Secret Brighton, which has been my best-selling local book so far. We start with amazing authors, and progress to anniversaries which leads in well to celebrations across the centuries (Brighton is certainly known for being a place people go to celebrate, whether a pending marriage, escaping a marriage partner, or just the fact that they have a day or weekend off work). We avoid the darker side of wartime in Brighton and Hove as many books have covered that and instead look at the chippier and inspirational tales of wartime in the towns (as they were then, pre-city status). Our wartime past does however lead to my serious proposal for a new event, perhaps a much-needed rival to the Americans’ Thanksgiving, namely ‘Cemetery Sunday’, where I urge readers to make an annual pilgrimage to the places of our war dead, high above the valleys they look down on. Perhaps Brighton may one day be famous for starting off this tradition, which leads us to our next chapter, which is ‘Famous For and Firsts’. Brighton and Hove are also famous for the boost they have provided to peoples’ health, and the wealth visitors (such as George IV) brought to the town, and we bring both together in our next chapter. Those that visited or became residents not only brought wealth, but a wealth of ideas, and inventions, so we celebrate the city’s past and present inventors and engineers as well as other local heroes. Brighton and Hove are also year-round locations for pageants, fairs, festivals, and fun, which we explore as well as our own local traditions and sporting successes. Our royal visitors and residents created their very own exclusive clubs and traditions, but it is the societies and clubs of the city past and present we finish off with, leaving the reader with my very own favourite, the Pirate Society of Sussex University’s Students’ Union, who promise no less than “Pirates. Absolutely. Everywhere.”

Brighton from the West Pier. Oil painting by James Webb & George Earl, c1870. (Celebrating Brighton & Hove, Amberley Publishing)

The book is visually the most stunning of all my books so far, thanks to Jenny in the design department here at Amberley who has worked her magic even more than usual and because we were lucky to have the support of the wonderful Kevin Bacon at the Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove, who has again supported us in use of the museums’ fantastic archive of images. So many of these images will rarely have been seen before and this helps make the book unique. Big thanks, fellow Kev!

What else did we try to achieve? Well, Celebrating Brighton & Hove aims to select, shout, and sing from the rooftops the positive people, amazing animals, and exciting events of Sussex’s premier city’s past and present. It celebrates those that made and make Brighton and Hove unique, vibrant, and irresistible to visitors. We need to celebrate Brighthelmstonians, Brightonians and Hovites across the centuries also though as not all visitors have been friendly! The earliest inhabitants of the town would probably have had to survive raids by the Saxons and then Vikings, the French and then endure endless battering’s from the elements. An old belief was that a first Brighton settlement – probably on the beach again – was swept away and submerged by the sea in a great storm of 1278, the same year the original port of Winchelsea down the coast was also destroyed. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, one of our earliest history books records that Brighthelmstone faced ‘bad wind’ in 1103, 1114, 1118 and 1121. 1348 saw not only was the plague sweeping Britain, but Brighton faced yet another storm. 100 houses were destroyed in one night in the 1700s when Brighton lost its South Street (it is today replaced by King’s Road) and much of Hove was washed away too. These people were tough – they needed to be to survive malnutrition, the elements, Vikings, and waves. 

Celebrating Brighton and Hove takes a cheeky, sneaky peak at the historical celebrations of yesteryear, at remarkable local people, notable events and feats of great achievement and ambition.  It also celebrates those who sing our praises from the rooftops, such as Martin Sirk, Brighton Council’s Conference Officer back in 1991 who summed us up as: “Cleaner than London and Birmingham, [with a] better atmosphere than Bournemouth,” and “not as tidy as Harrogate…but a lot less boring.”

Brighton and Hove
The Royal Pavilion. (Celebrating Brighton & Hove, Amberley Publishing)

Celebrating Brighton and Hove provides a miscellany of greatness; detailing the history of how and what makes this seaside city so iconic and worth celebrating. Sussex writer EV Lucas may have been partly correct when he said that much of Brighton’s brilliance was in its past, but the fact that so many of the 11 million who visit today do so because of our past I think suggests that the past has mostly survived into the future, and with all the city’s many strengths and eccentricities today it truly makes it a place worth celebrating. See if you agree with me.

If I still haven’t piqued your interest, the book tells you of the link between Brighton and the late Prince Philip’s favourite beer, of boozy Brighton College lunchtimes for boys, of perhaps the country’s most unhappy happy hour and how you could have witnessed ‘a big dangle’ (it’s cleaner than it sounds). There’s the barmaid in a binbag and handcuffs (again, cleaner than it sounds), the students who went to their prom in a dustcart, the car factory that had no road for its cars to leave by, loony lost property, how a part of Cheddar Gorge ended up in Brighton and how sheep invaded a cricket pitch. I promise I’m not pulling the wool over your eyes (no reference to the sheep there either).

I hope you enjoy the book and if your workplace, history group or society would also like to celebrate Brighton and Hove, All-Inclusive History offer an illustrated talk on the book, or a walking/ motorised tour of a selection of its locations. For further details please email info@allinclusivehistory.org or call 07504 863867. You might even end up living here – many visitors find that’s what they end up doing, and whyever not? As journalist and author SPB Mais (1885-1975) said “Anyone who does not live in Brighton must be mad and ought to be locked up.”

Kevin Newman's new book Celebrating Brighton & Hove is available for purchase now.