Brighton in the 16th and 17th Centuries

On Saturday 29th Jan went to an afternoon talk by Dr Sue Berry at the Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society’s Local History Group meeting near George Street, Hove. Very engaging – I made pages of notes – but just an outine here. The talk was on Brighton during the 16th and 17th centuries. At the beginning of the 16th century the whole of the Brighton area, from Portslade to Rottingdean, and up to the top of the Downs was sheep and cereal with a handful of villages (Brighton, Portslade, Falmer and Rottingdean) and some smaller hamlets such as Preston, Hangleton and Hove.
Excess population was sent away from the farming villages, and the only place to go was Brighton, which had the undesireable and dangerous trade of fishing available to the poor and dispossessed. Farmers saw extra people to their needs as a threat, and a financial burden, so best be rid of them. And they were increasingly got rid of as gentlemen farmers began to buy and build estates for their hunting and leisure activities.
Benfield House was one of the first, built by a wealthy Wealden family to serve as a hunting lodge. The house was demolished in the 19th century. The Bellinghams Courtiers from the North of England, bought and demolished Hangleton Old Manor (beside the church) and built Hangleton Place, but had to sell in 1599, when they fell out of favour with the Crown. It was bought by the Wests, later the Sackville-Wests.
Patcham Place was new in 1530-50, and some of it exists within the existing built fabric (probably). It was the heart of a 1000 acre estate in the mid 17th century.
Preston Place (now Manor) was first built c1617, but was completely rebuilt by a family called Western to its current plan. That family owned lots of land on the west side of town and gave their name to Western Road, honest.
This new breed of landowner had income from elsewhere, often the Court, and so farming was not for a living, more a gentlemans pleasure, and exta peasants spoiling the hunt had to go. Thus Brighton, and its fishing industry grew.
Brighton soon had a bigger fleet than Hastings, although both communities did their fishing in the North Sea. Each open, shallow, tublike boat set out with a crew of 8 sharefishermen, and sailed round to Scarborough for cod in the summer and Yarmouth for herring in the autumn and early winter.
Brighton soon had a population of 3500, of which only about 100 families were in farming. 1660 saw 600 masters and men in fishing in Brighton. In addition the east side , near the Steyne, was home to hemp retting (a smelly process of controlled rotting of hemp stems to release rope fibres), and the front had rope winding machinery for making ropes and the basics of nets for the fishing trade.
But then more changes. The big shingle beach where the nethouses stood, and boats could be safely pulled up away from storms, was gradually lost. At the same time Dutch fishermen did a better commercial job, with bigger boats and better quality control they took much of the market, so fishing was shrinking. By the late 17th century the population of Brighton was down to 2000.
The fishermen may have tried coastal tramping, sailing from port to port seeking a cargo, but many went into the navy, either Royal or merchant.
The town stayed poor and unpopular until the growth of Tourism in the mid-18th century.
I hope I have found the core of what Sue Berry said. You’ll be able to check when the book comes out in 2013.

This entry was posted in Brighton and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Brighton in the 16th and 17th Centuries

  1. Ah, Sue Berry. I like her a lot, and see quite a lot of her, since she lives in Lewes and we both use the Brighton History Library a lot. I refer to her fabulous book on Georgian Brighton a lot and recommend it to my students. It always seems to be available at Sandpiper in Kensington Gardens for a mere £7. Total bargain. Really looking forward to her new book. Alexandra

  2. Linda Taylor says:

    Thanks for the review of this talk. I had this penciled in (my mind not my diary) to go along but completely forgot about it until the 30th! So cross with myself. Anyway I am grateful for your notes -sounds fascinating.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s