Brighton Beach has seen its fair share of historical and bizarre events. Some of these events have forever altered the Brighton seafront and the locals’ consciousness. And yes, This transient city has a few old-timers (I mean that most respectfully) that have known Brighton since the 1940s.
8 Bizarre and Historical Events that Occurred on Brighton Beach
But, No matter what your perspective of these Brighton beach events is. They have only added to the vibrant history that this city seafront has and, in many ways, have helped shape the city into what it is today.
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Mods & Rockers Riot of 1964
Two British youth subcultures in England conflicted in the early to mid-1960s and into the early 70s. The Mods and the Rockers found themselves in the centre of national attention after orchestrating several riots in May of 1964. The riots took place in several seaside resort towns. However, the one that caught the most media attention was the riot on Brighton beach.
Some Rockers allegedly cornered the Mods and, despite the police protection, were assaulted by the rivalling group. The riots took place on the beach, Kings Road and part of the Lanes. Eventually, the conflict subsided, and the police restored peace.
However, the event clouded British conciseness and led to fears about the country’s youth. Today the mods still return to Brighton mainly on bank holiday Mondays, and it is a great site to see them in their smart 60s gear, if not to hear them approaching on those hairdryers.
Big Beach Boutique – Fat Boy slim Free Gig 2002
In 2001, Radio One was celebrated cricket and had a stage and sound system set up on Brighton beach, just down from the Grand hotel. There was going to be a night where all the equipment was left there, and a listener rang into radio one and suggested they did a free music gig.
Fat Boy Slim, Brighton local and world-famous house DJ, immediately rang in and said he would do the gig. They named it the Big Beach Boutique, and it was a fun night with about 40,000 people in attendance. In 2002 they decided to do it again. But this time, a quarter of a million people turned up on Brighton beach!
But wow! What a night, Fat boy Slim was on form, timelessly churning out the tunes to an exhilarated and obedient 250,000 followers spanning right back to the Palace Pier. Thank you Norman, that was without a doubt the best night I’ve ever had in Brighton.
The Brighton Wheel
The Brighton Wheel was an idea for a Ferris wheel on the seafront that Paramount Attractions initially proposed in 2009. In the original proposal, the Ferris wheel would have been closer to the i360 location, which had finally received permission to go up in 2016.
The original proposal for a Brighton wheel was rejected by the Brighton and Hove council. However, Paramount Attractions resubmitted the project in March of 2011 with a new wheel design that could be constructed on Madeira Drive. They finally received permission for the installation for five years.
Between October 2011 and 2016, the Ferris Wheel ran right next to the seaside on Brighton beach, where the zip wire is today. This short-lived period in which the wheel was present and operational may seem like a distant memory now.
But the Brighton wheel offered an enjoyable experience at a reasonable price, making it a financially sound investment for all parties. (a little dig at the i360 there!)
Priced at only £8.50 each for a 15-minute ride, you were carried high over Brighton beach to marvel at the Brighton cityscape and beyond. Each pod sat four people and played Steve Coogan’s voice (slipping into this Alan Partage character), giving a light-hearted commentary over the speaker system.
The Brighton wheel took only two weeks to be erected to the uproar of the locals of Kemptown that said it spoiled the seascape. But, The Brighton Wheel also took only two weeks to be taken down, this time to an even louder outcry by the locals at losing their beloved Brighton wheel and what a loss to the Brighton seafront and the city.
Volks Electric Railway
The Volks Electric Railway was opened on 3rd August of 1883 by Magnus Volk. It was a 2ft electric railway that ran for almost a quarter of a mile from the Swimming Arch to the Chain Pier. By April of the following year, it was extended by nearly half a mile.
While this was not the first electric railway to be built, it is still one of the earliest. Today, the Volks Electric railway is the oldest electric railway still in operation. But, perhaps one of the most bizarre aspects of this railway is that it has often be closed down, appearing as it will never reopen again. But it always has.
For example, the railway stopped its winter operations in 1954, only to reopen it again some 26 years later in 1980. They reopened the Volks railway mainly to carry passengers who wanted to look at the Athina B.
This freighter then beached near the Palace Pier.
The Volks railway has in recent years been to a degree completely dismantled and reassembled again. I have delighted to say it is once again open to the public and running trips up and down Brighton beach in the Spring and Summer months.
The Opening of Brighton West Pier
It would be hard to imagine Brighton beach without its piers, but there was a time in the 19th century when these piers were nothing but an idea.
Well, that’s not exactly true. There was a pier of Brighton beach located just where the zip wire is today. But it was in industrial Pier used for loading and offloading shops that came from Diep. It was very fashionable at the time for people to promenade along the Brighton seafront and stroll upon the Royal Suspension pier, otherwise known as the chain pier. Due to the additional strain, this pier received from all these promenading dandies.
The Chain Pier became dilapidated rather quicker than expected. Eugenius Birch, a designer and engineer, wanted to design a pier to accommodate these heavy strollers. At the same time, also overcome the hostile seashore and bring in more visitors to the seaside resort.
The West Pier originally opened up in 1866, and it was Englands first ever promenading Pier and proved very successful for just over a century. The pier had an open deck, six tiny ornamental houses, two toll houses, and glass screens to protect visitors from the summer’s intense wind and even the sun.
While the West Pier was open to the public in 1866, the final construction on the pier wasn’t built till 1916. This construction was a concert hall that attracted even more holiday goers to the Brighton coastline.
The West Pier is perhaps one of the most iconic sites of Brighton, and its opening in 1866 marked the start of a new era of modernisation to the beach of Brighton.
The Brighton’s West Pier Fire
The year 2003 was perhaps the most catastrophic period in the history of the West Pier. On 28th March, the Royal Pavilion Palace was destroyed by an arson attack.
Then 11th May 2003, the West Piers Concert Hall was also set alight. To this day, It remains unknown who set the pier on fire or how it started. But, 10 hours later, the damage the fire had caused was so severe that only the steel structure of the West pier remained along with some smouldering timbers.
This fire was a tragedy for the Brighton coastline, The city of Brighton and The English heritage as a whole. A West Pier Trust was for to have the pier restored. Even saying in a local paper, “That if they only had 1% left of Brighton’s West pier, It could still be restored to its former glory. Sadly, not all agreed, and the Heritage Lottery Fund didn’t give any funds for its reconstruction.
What’s left of the pier today is only a haunting skeleton of a wreck of what was once Britain’s most vibrant holiday pier on Britians most loved vacation beach. It is unclear if the pier will be rebuilt, despite google maps optimism of describing Brighton’s West pier as “Temporarily Closed.”
Brighton Beach Ship Wrecked Athina B
The Athina B was a merchant ship that, on 21st January of 1980, was beached at the seaside resort of Brighton, east of the Palace Pier. The reason for this appears to be an engine failure caused by bad weather, and temporarily the beached ship became a major attraction in the area at the time.
The ship has since been salvaged, but the Athina B anchor remains. Display on a plinth with a bronze plaque, on the Brighton seafront, parallel to where it initially stranded. There is also a painting of the Athina B ship in Brighton Museum. The Athina B ship did not survive the crash, and eventually, she was towed to a scrapyard for dismantling.
The Brighton Beach of the Dead Zombie Walk
The Dead Zombie Walk took place along Brighton Beach for five years until its cancellation in 2013. It may have been one of the more bizarre and, at the same time, entertaining events in Brighton’s history.
The walk initially started in October of 2008, and it soon became a staple event for Halloween lovers in the area. During the Beach of the Dead Parade, thousands of people would wander the streets dressed up as zombies for a few hours. It was in many ways a unique and fun event that quickly became so popular that it was no longer sustainable. While the event is no longer running, its reputation as one of the best Halloween events in Brighton remains.
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