During Jane Austen’s time, Brighton, a town along the south Sussex Coast and seen above in a John Constable painting, was the popular resort destination. Bath’s desirability had plummeted among the Ton, as it had gained the reputation of being a stodgy tourist attraction for the elderly and infirm. By the time the Prince Regent’s fashionable set frequented Brighton, it had grown from a sleepy seaside village of 3,000 in 1769 to a booming tourist town of 18,000 by 1817-1818.
The lengthening of the formal season helped in establishing Brighton as a holiday destination. By 1804 the season started late July and lasted until after Christmas, and by 1818 it had been extended until March. Visitors of note were always mentioned in Brighton’s newspaper, and there were a host of them. (Illustration below is of Fashionables in Brighton, 1826)
The first notables were both members of the Royal Family, the Duke of Gloucester in 1765, and then the Duke of York in 1766. From 1771 the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland were regular visitors and the town’s popularity with his uncles might have been one reason why the Prince of Wales came in 1783 and why he stayed for eleven days.
The Prince of Wales, after he became Prince Regent, began to spend enormous sums of money refurbishing Brighton Pavillion to his own fanciful specifications, using John Nash’s designs. Click here for my post on this beautiful palace.
In the early 18th century visitors were left to their own devices to find entertainments, but by 1810 guide books pointed out sites of interests in surrounding villages, amusements to be had, and picturesque walks. The sea was also used for entertainments such as yacht races and water parties which were watched from the shelter of the Steine. Military manoevres on the Steine and the Downs were popular.
- For a later history, click on A History of Photography in Brighton
Quotes: Georgian Brighton, 1740-1820, Sue Farrant, University of Sussex Occasional Paper No. 13