Saturday, 31 October 2015

A brief history of Brighton, part 3

Brighton grew from a village with a population of about 400 in 1086 to a sizable market town by about the 14th century.  The main industries were still farming and fishing, although the geographical size of the town may well have diminished.  The coast was constantly being eroded by the sea and in 1340 a writer said that the sea had recently 'swallowed' 40 acres of farmland.

The first map of Brighton - or Brighthelmstone as it was then known - was made (it is thought) in 1539 - although it depicts an event that occurred 25 years earlier!

This was an attack on Brighthelmstone by the French under the command of Prior John.  They burnt the town completely, including the Priory of St Bartholomew.  Or nearly completely.  The church of St Nicholas can be seen on the map, standing on a hill just to the north-west of the town.  That church survived, possibly because reinforcements arrived to drive the French away before they reached St Nics.  Although the town was almost completely destroyed, it was rebuilt along the lines of the original streets, and the layout of the Lanes still reflects the shape of the town prior to the raid.

The French Protestant church
I think it is fair to say that the people of Brighton have forgiven the French for that raid.  Indeed, there are probably very few residents, even those whose families have been born, lived and died in the town for generations, who are even aware that it took place. 

Until very recently there was a French protestant church in the town, the only Huguenot church in Britain outside London, but that has now been converted into a house as the congregation dwindled and was unable to maintain the building.

The French Apartments
The town even has its own Loire-style château!  This was built near the end of the 19th century as a convalescent home for patients from the French hospital in London but was sold in the 1980s and converted into flats called the French Apartments.

St. Nicholas church dates from the mid-14th century, although there may well have been an earlier church on the site.  I wrote earlier this year about the Lady Edona watching from the churchyard for her sweetheart to return - it's here if you would like to see the story.

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