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Archive for the ‘Brighton’ Category


The lovely weather we’ve been having here in England always makes me think of Lydia Bennet’s adventures in Brighton! Here’s a little taster of the fun and scrapes she experiences with her friend Harriet Forster.

Lydia and Harriet were dressed and downstairs by seven o’clock next morning to go bathing. They left the Colonel snoring away, as he was not due to inspect his troops till one o’clock, and hastened down to the beach to be dipped by Martha Gunn and her ladies. The girls decided to share a bathing machine for changing, but as there was hardly any room to manoeuvre, they kept falling over, partly because of the necessity of standing on one leg to undress and partly because they were laughing so much. Once they had on their flannel gowns and caps, it was time to face Martha Gunn, chief dipper and a woman not to be opposed. She stood in the water whilst her servant and helper led them hand in hand down the steps, but as soon as they hesitated with a first toe in the freezing water, she stepped up and very firmly took charge. She was a strong woman, and before they realised what was happening, they were submerged. Lydia would never forget that first occasion. She declared the horror of it would stay with her forever. Such was her surprise at being forcibly plunged into the icy brine, she forgot to hold her nose as instructed and as she emerged, coughing, feeling half drowned, she was convinced she had drunk several day’s dosage of the recommended amount.
“I cannot imagine any circumstance where I would be induced to try this heinous activity again, unless I was desirous of drowning myself and anxious to have done with my life,” she spluttered.
“I cannot agree, Lydia,” Harriet declared, splashing her friend till she shrieked for mercy. “I find it most refreshing and invigorating, and I profess that the water is exactly the temperature I prefer.”
“You are clearly most insensible, my friend. I always knew that, of the two of us, I was the most sound of mind and feeling,” shouted Lydia, as she escaped another assault and ascended the steps, dripping and cold.
Getting dried, dressed, and changed into one’s clothes, not to mention trying to dress one’s hair so as not to appear a complete fright, was a skill which they had not yet mastered after sea bathing. They almost ran back to the inn, which fortunately was opposite the steps they had descended, but as they reached the summit and were stepping out to cross the thoroughfare, they were intercepted by a curricle which swerved, making the horse rear, forcing Harriet to fall backwards, sending Lydia reeling to the ground. As she recovered herself, she saw that the driver had at least had the courtesy to stop, but she could have died as she slowly recognised the buff and blue livery of his servant, the buff and blue paint of his carriage, and, finally, the blue cloth of his coat, his buff breeches, and cockaded hat, a picture of perfection and in great contrast to the one which the girls presented.
Lydia scrambled to her feet, aware not only of her unkempt hair poking under her bonnet but of her general appearance of dishevelment, now that her white muslin was covered in grime and dust. She bit her lower lip, tasting the salt encrusted there, and cast her eyes down to the floor in the vain hope that he would not recognise them.
“Dear ladies,” Captain Trayton-Camfield declared, leaping to the floor and bowing before them, “forgive me, I did not see you. I hope you are well. Please tell me that you are not injured at all, for I shall never forgive myself if you are harmed in any way.”
“Please, sir, do not be alarmed, and thank you for your concern,” said Harriet, “but we are just returned from a little sea bathing, and I am afraid that in our haste to return to our inn, we did not see you.”
“Would you allow me to insist that you rest awhile in my chariot or may I escort you to a safe haven? Are you staying near? Please let me take you to your home,” the Captain entreated.
“Sir,” replied Harriet, “we are entirely at fault. It is we who should be apologising to you, sir. Pray, do be easy; we are not harmed in any way, though a touch shaken, to be sure, but nothing that a little rest in our rooms over the way will not cure.” Harriet brushed at Lydia’s gown and thrust her forward.
Captain Trayton-Camfield looked across to the Ship Inn. “I should have known that two such genteel ladies would be accommodated in refined surroundings. Please, may I beg your permission to introduce myself. I insist that it is quite the thing in Brighton to dispense with the formality of waiting for Mr Wade to perform the introductions! Indeed, I feel I know you already as I never forget a pretty face; haven’t we already met on the Brighton Road?”
Lydia was inclined to giggle at his forthrightness. I must admit, I like his open manner, she thought. But Harriet had suddenly become more than a little reticent in her replies. She clearly thought the Captain was overstepping the bounds of propriety and was keen to make her escape. She dismissed him as politely as she could; he took his leave, jumped onto his seat, and with a wave of his hat, cantered off in the direction of the Marine Parade.

Extract from Lydia Bennet’s Story published by Sourcebooks Copyright Jane Odiwe

From the My Brighton and Hove website
As the popularity of sea-bathing grew so a new profession developed, with some of the town’s fishermen and their families turning to bathing visitors for a living. Ladies were bathed by so-called ‘dippers’ and gentlemen by ‘bathers’; in both cases the subject was plunged vigorously into and out of the water by the bather or dipper.

By 1790 there were about twenty dippers and bathers at Brighton and they continued in business until about the 1850s. The ‘queen’ of the Brighton dippers was the famous Martha Gunn. Born in 1726, she was a large, rotund woman and dipped from around 1750 until she was forced to retire through ill health in about 1814.

She was a great favourite of the Prince of Wales who granted her free access to his kitchens; an amusing story relates how she was given some butter on one of her visits, but was cornered by the Prince who continued talking to her while edging her nearer the fire until the butter was running out of the poor lady’s clothes.

Martha died on 2 May 1815 and is buried by the south-eastern corner of St Nicholas Church.

The portrait above was donated by one of her descendants to the Brighton and Hove Museum.

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I love using pictures and prints for inspiration. When I was writing Lydia Bennet’s Story, I drew on many that I was able to find in museums and books. These prints of contemporary scenes in Brighton by the seaside helped me to write a scene where Lydia and her friend, Harriet Forster, are interrupted by the attentions of a certain gentleman.

The following afternoon found Harriet and Lydia taking a turn along the seafront. They were standing watching some ladies riding on donkeys when Lydia was startled by a voice in her ear which seemed to come from nowhere. “Mr Wickham,” she cried as she turned to face him, “whatever do you mean by pouncing on young women in such a manner?! You quite frightened the life out of me.”

“Forgive me, Mrs Forster, Miss Bennet, but you were so engrossed, I could not resist making you jump. I declare, Miss Bennet, that I never saw you in such studied contemplation since I saw you outside the milliner’s in Meryton!”

Lydia could not help herself; she struck him on the arm for his insolence. “As it happens, we are whiling away a pleasant afternoon by watching the fashionables on horseback. It is vastly entertaining. Look over there; that poor creature can hardly stand for the two comely dames he has on his back.”

“Ah, yes, that is most amusing, though for myself, there is nothing so delightful as a horseback ride for two in my opinion, especially if you can share a saddle. Now wouldn’t that be a prospect, Miss Bennet? I am sure you would enjoy a ride with me above all else!” Mr Wickham twirled his cane with a flick of his wrist. “However,” he went on, “press me not, I am unable to oblige today. I have important matters to attend, and in any case, I have promised Miss Westlake a turn in a donkey cart first.”

Lydia regarded Mr Wickham’s countenance, so smug and self-satisfied. He presumed too much if he thought that she would instantly say yes to his suggestion. She was most vexed to be considered only as an afterthought to Miss Westlake. He was full of his own importance, she decided, and determined right there and then that, if he ever should suggest they go out on horseback or in a donkey cart for two, she would refuse immediately. She was on the point of answering with a cutting retort when he started again, leaving her to gape with her mouth wide open.

“No, I must go,” he announced, clicking his heels. “I can spend no longer standing here in idle chatter; our Colonel awaits me! I look forward to tomorrow evening, and Miss Bennet, if you stop scowling and smile pleasantly at me, I shall engage you for the first two dances. Good day, Mrs Forster.” With a short bow he set off at a march along the promenade before Lydia had a chance to answer him. She left her friend in no doubt of what she thought of his behaviour.

“Well, of all the conceited, arrogant…good Lord! That man is the end! He thinks he has only to say the word and I shall jump. Well, I will not! I shall endeavour to dance all night with Denny and Chamberlayne or indeed anyone who might wish to partner me but Mr Wickham!”

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Phoebe Hessel was born in Stepney in 1713. A colourful character in and around Brighton in her later life, she enthralled passers by with her tales of being a soldier in her youth. Phoebe disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the British army to be with her lover Samuel Golding according to the stories told about her. It is believed that she served as a soldier in the West Indies and Gibralter. She and her lover both fought and were wounded in the battle of Fontenoy in 1745. Eventually, she admitted to the Colonel’s wife that she was indeed a woman, which led to their being discharged in order for them to marry. They moved to Plymouth where they had nine children, none of whom survived Phoebe.
After Golding died, she moved to Brighton to marry Thomas Hessel, a fisherman. After he died, leaving her a widow at 80, she made a living by selling fish. Later Phoebe became something of a celebrity in Brighton amusing people with her tales as she sold oranges, toys and gingerbread on the corner of the Steyne and Marine Parade. In 1808 the Prince Regent granted her a pension of half a guinea a week. Phoebe was the grand age of 108 when she died and is buried in St. Nicholas churchyard in Brighton.
The inscription on Phoebe Hessel’s gravestone reads:

In Memeory of PHOEBE HESSEL who was born at Stepney in the Year 1713. She served for many Years as a private soldier in the 5th Reg. of foot in different parts of Europe and in the year 1745 fought under the command of the DUKE of CUMBERLAND at the Battle of Fontenoy where she received a Bayonet wound in her Arm. Her long life which commenced in the time of QUEEN ANNE extended to the reign of GEORGE IV by whose munificence she received comfort and support in her latter Years. She died at Brighton where she had long resided December 12th 1821 Aged 108 Years

This gravestone was paid for by the local pawnbroker, Hyam Lewis, shortly after her burial, and was later restored by the Northumberland Fusiliers, who considered Phoebe a member of their regiment.

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Phoebe Hessel was born in Stepney in 1713. A colourful character in and around Brighton in her later life, she enthralled passers by with her tales of being a soldier in her youth. Phoebe disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the British army to be with her lover Samuel Golding according to the stories told about her. It is believed that she served as a soldier in the West Indies and Gibralter. She and her lover both fought and were wounded in the battle of Fontenoy in 1745. Eventually, she admitted to the Colonel’s wife that she was indeed a woman, which led to their being discharged in order for them to marry. They moved to Plymouth where they had nine children, none of whom survived Phoebe.
After Golding died, she moved to Brighton to marry Thomas Hessel, a fisherman. After he died, leaving her a widow at 80, she made a living by selling fish. Later Phoebe became something of a celebrity in Brighton amusing people with her tales as she sold oranges, toys and gingerbread on the corner of the Steyne and Marine Parade. In 1808 the Prince Regent granted her a pension of half a guinea a week. Phoebe was the grand age of 108 when she died and is buried in St. Nicholas churchyard in Brighton.
The inscription on Phoebe Hessel’s gravestone reads:

In Memeory of PHOEBE HESSEL who was born at Stepney in the Year 1713. She served for many Years as a private soldier in the 5th Reg. of foot in different parts of Europe and in the year 1745 fought under the command of the DUKE of CUMBERLAND at the Battle of Fontenoy where she received a Bayonet wound in her Arm. Her long life which commenced in the time of QUEEN ANNE extended to the reign of GEORGE IV by whose munificence she received comfort and support in her latter Years. She died at Brighton where she had long resided December 12th 1821 Aged 108 Years

This gravestone was paid for by the local pawnbroker, Hyam Lewis, shortly after her burial, and was later restored by the Northumberland Fusiliers, who considered Phoebe a member of their regiment.

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In Lydia’s imagination, a visit to Brighton comprised every possibility of earthly happiness. She saw, with the creative eye of fancy, the streets of that gay bathing place covered with officers. She saw herself the object of attention to tens and to scores of them at present unknown. She saw all the glories of the camp – its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and, to complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once. From Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
The reality of life for the officers was most certainly quite different to that of Lydia’s imagination. Like Wickham, many of the officers lived well beyond their means and were in debt. The entertainments were very tempting, including gentleman’s clubs where fortunes could be lost at the gambling tables. Ragget’s was typical of this type of establishment and in Lydia Bennet’s Story George Wickham is a frequent visitor. The officers seldom rose before midday and then spent their time drinking, dining, attending the theatre, races and balls. Their horses were of great interest to them in the same way that cars are fascinating today. There were numerous opportunities to strike up liasons with the local girls-I can quite see why Jane Austen sent her most wayward character off to Brighton! What were Mr and Mrs Bennet thinking? I think the answer is that they weren’t thinking at all-dreadful parents, the pair of them! Lizzy Bennet tried to warn her father but he did not really pay any attention. Even taking into account her knowledge of Wickham’s character, Elizabeth is clearly wiser than both of her parents, don’t you think?

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In Lydia’s imagination, a visit to Brighton comprised every possibility of earthly happiness. She saw, with the creative eye of fancy, the streets of that gay bathing place covered with officers. She saw herself the object of attention to tens and to scores of them at present unknown. She saw all the glories of the camp – its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and, to complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once. From Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
The reality of life for the officers was most certainly quite different to that of Lydia’s imagination. Like Wickham, many of the officers lived well beyond their means and were in debt. The entertainments were very tempting, including gentleman’s clubs where fortunes could be lost at the gambling tables. Ragget’s was typical of this type of establishment and in Lydia Bennet’s Story George Wickham is a frequent visitor. The officers seldom rose before midday and then spent their time drinking, dining, attending the theatre, races and balls. Their horses were of great interest to them in the same way that cars are fascinating today. There were numerous opportunities to strike up liasons with the local girls-I can quite see why Jane Austen sent her most wayward character off to Brighton! What were Mr and Mrs Bennet thinking? I think the answer is that they weren’t thinking at all-dreadful parents, the pair of them! Lizzy Bennet tried to warn her father but he did not really pay any attention. Even taking into account her knowledge of Wickham’s character, Elizabeth is clearly wiser than both of her parents, don’t you think?

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I found this extract from a satirical poem which paints such wonderful pictures in the mind of Brighton in the late 1790’s. It’s taken from ‘A Moral Epistle from the Pavilion at Brighton to Carlton House’ by Anthony Pasquin.

‘Tis the rage but to walk on the Steyne in the eve,
When the dew falls as rapid as sand through a sieve;
Till their clothes hang dependent absorbing a damp,
More fatal than steams from an African swamp:
When the blast’s south or east the spray rides in the gale,
Till you’re crusted with salt like Dutch herrings for sale;
And when north or east, the impertinent wind
Incessantly cuts, like a razor behind:
If the nerves are too fine, the pedestrian decays;
If not he’s lumbago’d the rest of his days.

If you’ve ever walked near the seafront in Brighton you will know how true this rhyme is to this day!

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