French Cinema in Brighton (2) 1907-1914

Until early 1909 there was not one single hall or theatre in Brighton dedicated to moving pictures.  Patrons could see “exhibitions” of animated images as part of a variety performance or as a novelty on the Palace Pier or the Alhambra on Kings Road.

The first “cinema” in Brighton was the Electric Bioscope Theatre in Western Road, just a few yards from the corner of Montpelier Road (where Waitrose stands in 2023). It opened on Saturday 13 February and was immediately successful.  The Pathé film of the disastrous 1910 floods in Paris was one of the myriad of French films shown in Brighton before the outbreak of the Great War.


A postcard showing an image that might have been seen in an early version of the Pathé newsreels which were a staple of British cinema until the 1970s. Wikimedia Commons

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Brighton seen by Albert Millaud – 1873

When Albert Millaud boarded the ferry in Dieppe bound for Newhaven he found that: sur le bateau où je me suis embarqué, tout le monde était anglaise. [everyone on my boat was English.]


Paddle Steamer Alexandra sailed the Dieppe-Newhaven route from 1863 until 1883. Millaud would have travelled on P.S. Alexandra or P.S. Paris.  Image courtesy of “Our Newhaven” / Derek Longly / Del White.

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French cinema in Brighton (1) 1896-1907

School-friends Jemima and Annabel are swapping their experiences of a new invention.

Albion House,

135 King’s-road,


Saturday, 4th July, 1896

My Dearest Jemima,

How I love being on holiday in Brighton!  We’re staying in Mr Hockley’s boarding house on the corner of Preston Street and my room has a view of the sea and the West Pier. Everything is so exciting but last night was really special.  I cut out the advertisement for you from the Brighton Gazette on Thursday.  Mother, Father and I just had to go and see what it was all about.

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French elections – Brighton style 2022

For four days in 2022, part of the Unitarian Church in New Road, Brighton became a little bit of France.  Look hard and you will see the “writing on the door”.  On a background of the French tricolore is the single word Élections.

Image: S. Hinton

Sunday 10 April was the day of the first round of the French les présidentielles [presidential election]. The several thousand French voters in the Brighton area and wider afield (postcodes BN, PO and SO) seemed to have preferred to stay in bed.

Only 25% of those registered to vote in Brighton voted. Few came to Brighton.  Not surprising.  Many roads were closed for the Brighton marathon and movement around the city was difficult.   Of the 25%, some had already voted by post; a very large number had opted to vote via Internet.  Several Brighton residents were registered to vote at polling stations in other parts of the UK (London, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and Leeds, Aberdeen, Edinburgh or Glasgow).  Perhaps more significantly, there were 12 candidates on the list.  No one candidate was likely to take an outright win.  Voters would have to return to les urnes [the ballot box] for le deuxième tour [second round].

That was indeed the case:  in the first round, Emmanuel Macron (of La république en marche – a “centrist- liberal” party) gained the support of 44% of that small band of voters, followed a considerable way behind by left-winger Jean-Luc Mélenchon (24%). 

Environmentalist Yannick Jadot came third in the ballot with a respectable 9%. (Brighton is, of course, noted for its “Green thinking” population) Finally came the two extreme right-wingers:  Eric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen (both around 4%). 

The second round of voting was a run-off between incumbent president, Emmanuel Macron, and Marine Le Pen.  On April 24 just over one third (34%) of local eligible French voters cast their vote.  And there was no doubt about their decision:  M. Macron clocked in at just over 88% while Mme Le Pen trailed far behind at just under 9%. Pity the poor French voters in our area.  No sooner had they been asked to turn out for les présidentielles than on 12 June they were invited to come and vote in les législatives [parliamentary elections]. 

North-west Europe sends one député [M.P.] to the French Assemblée Nationale [lower house of parliament / House of Commons].

The first round of voting attracted less than 3% of local French voters into Brighton in person.  It is not surprising, then, that two of the 12 candidates received 0% votes at the Brighton polling station.  And back again the voters had to come on 19 June for the second round.  This time nearly 5% of them came to do their civic duty (bearing in mind that the majority had a postal or internet vote).  And surprise, surprise, many of the roads were again closed – this time for the British Heart Foundation London-Brighton Bike Ride.

In the second round, the incumbent, Alexandre Holroyd , a close ally of M. Macron, was opposed by Charlotte Minvielle of Europe Écologie Les Verts [a Green party].  Alexandre Holroyd kept his seat.  But no thanks to voters in Brighton. Nor to those in any other of the nations which form the 3rd circonscription [constituency].

French voters in Copenhagen, Dublin, Edinburgh, Helsinki, Oslo, Reykjavík, Riga, Stockholm, Tallin and Vilnius all gave Mme Minvielle a majority – Reykjavik massively at 75% as opposed to a mere 25% for M. Holroyd.  “London” (i.e. all the English polling stations) voted overwhelmingly for M. Holroyd (60%).  And “London” has, of course, far more French voters than practically all the other constituent nations combined (31,000 as against, for example, 97 in Riga).

However, these statistics hide what happened in Brighton.  In the second round, Charlotte Minvielle outstripped Alexandre Holroyd.  She won 54% des voix [of the votes] to 42% for the sitting member.  Again, Brighton’s “Green” credentials came to the fore.


So what would greet you as you walked into the Unitarian Church Hall?  Smiling faces and a relaxed atmosphere.  A good start. 

Next you will spot la table de décharge [the issuing table]On the table are the registers of voters, a pile of envelopes and two piles of cards.  Today, for the deuxième tour des législatives, one pile contains blue and white cards. They are those bearing the name of Alexandre Holroyd. The other pile is of green and white cards. They have Charlotte Minville’s name on them. 

Image: Deuxième tour des législatives, Brighton June 2022 © Frédéric Laloux

After showing a form of identity, you will be allowed to pick up one card from each pile and a blue envelope (which will be the identical shape or colour whether you are in Oslo, Paris, Nouméa, Fort-de-France or Canberra – Vive Napoléon and uniformity).

[Note: if there are 12 candidates, as is often the case in a first round of elections, there will be 12 identically sized cards, each card with the name of one candidate.  Voters must pick up a minimum of two cards and up to a maximum of however many candidates there are.]

Next you will move into an isoloire [voting booth].  It is very unlike the very casual and largely open British booths.  You would do well not to suffer from claustrophobia. Once inside, you will choose one card (and one card only, otherwise you spoil your vote), put it into the envelope and leave you hidey-hole.

Image: Image: © Ceridwen Creative Commons

When you emerge from the isoloire you will be asked to place your envelope in the urne [ballot box] and sign your name on the register of voters.  And voilà, you have cast your vote.

Image: Brighton polling station.  Image: © Frédéric Laloux

Many thanks to M. Frédéric Laloux, Honorary French Consul for Brighton and Newhaven for supplying the photographs and all of the information about the Brighton Polling Station.

Caen Stone: Part Three – 20th and 21st centuries

Once they became mined out, the underground quarries of Caen stone generally presented no problems.  They were excellent for producing mushrooms on a commercial basis.  However, with pressure to build for an expanding population in the mid-20th century, many of the voids had to be filled in before building could take place.  Several quarries, however, played an important and very positive role in the 1940s.  During the bombardment of Caen by the Allies in 1944 these quarries provided safe refuge.


Refugees (including dogs) from Allied bombing on Caen in June 1944. Image courtesy of “Le Parisien” newspaper.

Although nearly 2000 inhabitants of the city died within two months of the D-Day landings on 6 June, many hundreds more owed their lives to the redundant quarries where their forefathers may have worked for many generations before them.

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Comte et Comtesse de Flahaut

French diplomat Auguste-Charles-Joseph de Flahaut de La Billarderie, comte de Flahaut had the characteristics of a Don Juan and those of a courageous soldier in equal parts. With his charm and tact, he must have been a popular visitor to Brighton.  It is not entirely clear whether the same can be said of his wife.

Portrait of Charles de Flahaut c. 1864 Source:”>MOSSOT

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Caen Stone: Part Two – 19th century

In the 11th century, the honey-coloured French limestone used in Sussex may well have come from quarries beneath the centre of the town of Caen itself. William of Normandy had his own quarry at the foot of his castle in the town.  Other quarries opened and closed over the centuries. 

Today there are over 250 hectares (600 acres) of mined galleries beneath the streets of Caen and its suburbs. In a somewhat unpatriotic statement, an inhabitant of the town has compared the area to a certain Swiss cheese: Le sous-sol de Caen est devenu un véritable gruyère constellé d’anciennes carrières. [Underground Caen has become a veritable gruyere cheese, with its constellation of ancient quarries.]

Rouen Norwich Club

A quarry somewhere in Normandy in 2017. Image courtesy of the Rouen Norwich Club.

Being a “monumental” stone, the variety from Caen was rarely used during the 18th century or early 19th century in Brighton. Neither the Royal Pavilion (completed 1823) nor St Peter’s Church (1827) originally contained any Caen stone.  When the construction of these two building was first planned, the Napoleonic wars had barely ended and it was probably thought more patriotic to use render on brick (Pavilion) or Portland Stone (St Peter’s).

A few years later, however, Caen stone became very fashionable in Brighton. There seem to have been two reasons for this: first, the development of the ports of Shoreham and Newhaven and the railway lines from these two ports to Brighton (opened in 1840 and 1847 respectively); second, the fact that import duty on the stone had been lowered in 1845. 

Brighton is fortunate in its close sea links with Normandy.  It was relatively easy to import the stone by ship.  This was not always without mishap.

In the afternoon of Sunday 5 October 1852 the 150-ton schooner Honoria left Caen “laden with a cargo of stone”.  The next day‚ Brighton “was visited with a tempest of unparalleled violence.  During the whole of the day the rain descended in torrents”.  And that was just on land.  At sea, the Honoria was battling the elements “her sails all torn and hanging in tatters from her mast.” By 8pm she had lost her battle, having been out of control and driven onto the rocks at Blackrock just east of Kemp Town. 

The vessel suffered catastrophic damage. The crew lost everything except their lives.  Fortunately all five of them were saved.  But what of the cargo? “Her cargo being stone, will, in all probability, roll out when the ship goes to pieces, and the greater part of it recovered when the tide goes down again.”

Just one month later, the Brighton Gazette carried this advertisement:


The mid-to-late 1800s were a boom time for the use of Caen stone in Brighton, coinciding with a spate of church building to cater for the still rapidly expanding population.  The following examples are the tip of the iceberg:

1846:     Cornices and parapets of the London Road Viaduct topped out in Caen stone.


Image courtesy of Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove.

1847:     St Paul’s West Street Brighton: “In the south aisle of the church is an octagonal font of Caen stone, with a beautifully carved panel on the eastern side representing the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ in the river Jordan. The exterior of the church is built of flint and dressed with Caen stone.” 11 November 1847 Brighton Gazette

1850:     In St Peter’s Church, Brighton, there is a memorial to Emily Jane Crozier: “over the north-east aisle … a gothic Caen-stone monument has been placed; and in the niche is a white marble female figure … weeping over an urn.” 13 June 1850 Brighton Gazette

1851:     Royal Pavilion:  On 14 September 1850, the Pavilion Committee of ten local male worthies made a major decision.  The committee would accept the designs of sculptor John Thomas for “Chimney Pieces in Caen Stone for the two Galleries in the eastern front & the breakfast room.”  Mr Thomas’s estimate for the work at £120 was also accepted. At the same meeting it was “Resolved That Messrs Cheeseman do supply Caen stone Chimney pieces … to the Long Gallery.” In all, the committee was to authorise six new chimney pieces in Caen stone.

Banqueting room Chimney Piece 1987

© Royal Pavilion and Museums Review, 1978 Number 2

I am indebted to David Beevers (Keeper of the Royal Pavilion) and Alexandra Loske (Curator (Royal Pavilion Estate and Archives) for information about the fate of these replacement Chimney Pieces:

“The two in the Banqueting Room are still in place and there are two in the Red Drawing Room. The North Drawing Room was renamed about 20 years ago and is now called the Music Room Gallery. It has two Caen stone chimneypieces.

The Music Room chimneypiece was replaced in 1987-8 with a fibrous plaster replica of the original The South Drawing Room is now called the Banqueting Room Gallery. This room no longer has its Caen stone chimneypieces. They were removed in the 1980s and replaced by replicas of the originals.”

The sad news is, according to Mr Beevers and Dr Loske, that not only are the 1850s Chimney pieces “now at Buckingham Palace” but that also “one is in pieces in the basement, and in about 2005 the other was placed in an upstairs room called the Prince Regent Gallery.”

1852:     All Saints Church, Compton Road, Brighton: “The walls are externally of cracked flint, with dressings of Caen stone; internally of the same stone dressings, with plaster.” 12 August 1852 Brighton Gazette.

[By 1904, the building was in need of much repair: “Messrs Jacob Elliott and Sons, Patent Stone Manufacturers, Hastings, have just restored in their Patent Stone Composition the Decayed Natural Stonework (Caen Stone) to the west side of All Saints’ Church, Brighton … Some of the stonework was so badly decayed as to be thought to be beyond repair being decayed to a depth of five inches.” This report in Hastings and St Leonards Observer confirms the general observation that only the very best and hardest Caen stone is suitable for outside masonery.  All Saints’ Church was built to serve the railway workers from the nearby Brighton station and loco works.  Had it been built on the cheap? The church was demolished in 1957.]

1861:     St Mary Magdalen Church, Brighton: “Internally the walls are stuccoed, and Caen stone is adopted for the pillars, arches, windows ,&c.” 24 July 1861  Brighton Guardian.

1871:     St Anne’s Church, Kemp Town: “A reredos carved out of a block of Caen stone 8ft. long and 4ft. high, weighing nearly 20cwt. And bearing a representation of the Last supper.” 30 May 1872 Brighton Gazette. The church was demolished in 1986.  The reredos could not be saved.

1878:     St Mary the Virgin Church, Kemp Town, Brighton “the Caen stone pulpit at the north-east corner of the nave with panels [depicts] Biblical subjects including: Satan and the Tree of Knowledge and Christ with the Woman at the Well; carvings by Bennett and Nicholls costing 202 pounds.” Historic England listing.

St mary's pulpit with flash sized

Pulpit, St Mary’s Church, Kemp Town Photo: S. Hinton

Caen stone can be found across the city in many other forms such as the Memorial tablet to 1st Duke of Bristol in St Mark’s Church, Kemp Town (1860) and the columns flanking the proscenium arch of the newly reconstructed (1866) Theatre Royal in New Road.

So popular did Caen stone become, especially in England but also in the United States, that by the late 19th century, nearly all the quarries were exhausted.  Was Brighton ever to use Caen stone again?

To be continued …

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