Friday, December 3, 2021

Brighton in diaries

A decade ago this month History Press published Brighton in Diaries, a collection of diary extracts about the city, one of Britain’s most vibrant seaside resorts. This was my first published book about diaries, and is still available new or secondhand. Essentially, it consists of cameos of people, famous and ordinary, young and old, serious and cynical, but with Brighton always setting the scene: like a play, perhaps, in which, despite a medley of brilliant actors and a plot full of intriguing story-lines, it is the set, the backdrop that really steals the show. The idea for the book came out of writing these articles for The Diary Review.

Many legendary writers - including Walter Scott, Arnold Bennett and Virginia Woolf - inhabit the book’s pages, often appearing in their most unguarded guises. Here also are less well-known characters, such as William Tayler (a footman), Gideon Mantell (a surgeon and dinosaur bone collector), and Xue Fucheng (an early Chinese diplomat). There are also several diarists whose writing has never appeared in print before: Olive Stammer, for example, who kept a diary during the Second World War; and Ross Reeves, a young gay musician whose diary extracts are very recent.

Brighton in Diaries includes a chapter (one of 26) with some diary entries of my own relating to Brighton, starting in 1977 when I first went there and slept in a cemetery. The photo above is of my parents on the Palace Pier in 1951. Having just met, they’d gone there for, what is now referred to as, a dirty weekend! For a little more on the book see the feature published in The Argus.

Brighton in Diaries can be purchased directly from The History Press, from book stores in and around Brighton (such as City Books), and from online retailers such as Amazon. Here are a few extracts:

3 September 1778, Peregrine Phillips
‘A monstrous fish, called a Tunie, but not much unlike a shark, lays on the shore, wearing two double rows of large masticators: it has broke the net, and, towards mending same, the fishermen collect money of the curious.’

13 September 1778, Peregrine Phillips
‘Took the liberty of surveying all the bathing-machines. Fine ladies going - fine ladies coming away. Observe them at the instant of bathing. How humiliating! They appear more deplorable than so many corpses in shrouds.’

14 December 1818, John Croker
‘After breakfast Blomfield called to scold us for not going to the Pavilion at once, and to command us on the part of his Royal Highness to come there. We went there and walked through the rooms again and visited the offices. The kitchen and larders are admirable - such contrivances for roasting, boiling, baking, stewing, frying, steaming, and heating; hot plates, hot closets, hot air, and hot hearths, with all manner of cocks for hot water and cold water, and warm water and steam, and twenty saucepans all ticketed and labelled, placed up to their necks in a vapour bath.’

19 July 1837, William Tayler ‘There are numbers of old wimen have little wooden houses on wheels, and into these houses people goe that want to bathe.’

11 January 1910, Arnold Bennett
‘Grand rolling weather. Foamy sea, boisterous wind, sun, pageant of clouds, and Brighton full of wealthy imperative persons dashing about in furs and cars. I walked with joy to and fro on this unequalled promenade. And yet, at this election time, when all wealth and all snobbery is leagued together against the poor, I could spit in the face of arrogant and unmerciful Brighton, sporting its damned Tory colours.’

30 August 1940, Olive Stammer
‘Fights between planes over Bton, Hove & Patcham. Spitfire down in Portland Road. House tops damaged. Pilot killed. They could only find his hand.’

26 February 1941, Virginia Woolf
‘The fat woman had a louche large white muffin face. T’other was slightly grilled. [. . .] Brighton a love-corner for slugs. The powdered the pampered the mildly improper.’

21 April 1995, Des Marshall
‘I believe Brighton has more disturbed people in relation to the size of the population, than any other town in the country. There’s a sort of unreality about the town. It’s too frivolous. People don’t really listen to each other. They seem very excited and distracted. [. . .] People wear such odd clothes that don’t really match. Could be, sort of punk, with a bit of hippy thrown in, or mohair with greatcoat, or a collar and tie man, with shorts of different colours, possibly even with a bowler hat.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published in December 2011.

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