In 1888, the 4th edition of Conty’s guide to London was rushed onto the streets of Paris so that any M. and Mme Dupont could venture safely across la Manche [the English Channel]. As part of their trip, Conty strongly recommends that they spend a day in Brighton.
[To leave London without having seen Brighton (pronounced Brahaictonne) and its splendid aquarium would, in our minds, make for an incomplete trip.
Let’s just note for the record that Brighton, the land of pretty English girls, is the Dieppe of England and that, on a sunny November day, it reminds us somewhat of our beautiful town of Nice.]
Is that what they call a back-handed compliment?
Now, as we have seen, M. Conty, is an expert in English pronunciation, so M. and Mme Dupont should read the instructions below and learn:
[About the English language. – The foreigner who goes to London without a word of English, or who has learned English from books or at school, without knowing the proper pronunciation, finds him or herself in a difficult position; so we find ourselves obliged to initiate the traveller with certain common English words.]
Conty start them off with the numbers. After all, they are going to find it hard enough to get used to those awful £sd (pounds / shillings / pence), so he wants to give them a very accurate way of speaking and deciphering those number. Here they are:
There is definitely a trace of Received Pronunciation by the time the list reaches Faïve.
If the couple decide to visit Brighton, they must go to either Victoria Station or London Bridge station and then find the right platform. Conty has one main piece of advice for them about train travel:
[Note. – Choose a site on the left of the carriage with your back to the engine.]
As a route, this one is of only marginal interest given the speed of the train. We should note, however, the magnificent 37-arch viaduct between Balcombe and Hayward’s; the tunnel at Klayton (2km) and the curving viaduct on the London-Brighton line which you glimpse before you arrive in the station.]
One excellent piece of advice, but oh! so many errors. Yes, it is wise sit “back to the engine” to avoid getting sore eyes from all the coal smuts. Yes, he can be forgiven the spelling of Klayton, but really – he should have checked that the Brighton viaduct carries the Brighton to Lewes line. But no matter, at least when M. and Mme arrive in Brighton they will be impressed by the magnificent station:
[Arrival in Brighton.- On arriving at the station, the glass roof which has all the appearance of a veritable lattice or fretwork, you will find magnificent cabs and carriages, but as the beach and the promenade or only a few steps from the station, we urge you to walk, using the following itinerary.]
Conty then guides the visitors down Queen’s Road bordée de troittoirs en brique [paved with brick] and tells us that on our left we will see a cemetery (the garden of Brighthelm) and on our right l’église St-Martin, ressemblant un peu à la Tour Saint-Jacques à Paris. [St Martin’s Church which looks a little like the Saint-Jacques Tower in Paris]. If you know Brighton better than Conty, you will have spotted that it is St Nicholas not St Martin who give his name to our former parish church . It is true that if, from Queens Road, you look up Church Street you will see the church. However, the tower is barely visible at that angle and at best is usually described as “low”. La Tour Saint-Jacques soars to over 50m. A flattering if erroneous comparison.
M. and Mme are then advised to turn right at the promenade to take in the West Pier on the itinerary. This attraction does not particularly interest Conty, and he glosses over it. On the other hand, he has harsh words for Regency Square which he describes as froid et glacial en raison de son uniformité [bleak and icy on account of its uniformity.]
By now it is lunchtime. Mutton’s Restaurant at 80 et 83 Kings’ Road, une maison avec balcon en fer [a house with an iron balcony]. Don’t try to look for Mutton’s in the 21st century. The restaurant closed in 1929 and the building vanished when the Brighton Centre was built. Conty calls Mutton’s essentiellement recommendable but he warns us about some odd English habits. For example, napkins are not generally provided. However, he does show his readers how to ask for one:
There are other places to eat in Brighton, of course.
[Grand Hotel, a veritable palace, built in imitation of the grandest houses. Comfort fit for a prince. The hotel is particularly recommended for its expert organisation and its exclusive clientele.
Royal Albion. Opposite the grand aquarium. A family hotel recommended for its model respectability and its suites, both large and small. – Luxurious and comfortable. Impeccable service. Good cooking.
Crystal Palace. The best advice I can give travellers who go to the Crystal Palace it to abstain from taking any meal there.]
Oh, M. Conty. Whatever gave you the idea that the Crystal Palace was in Brighton? Was it perhaps because, when you were looking at the galley proofs of the guide, you saw that the Crystal Palace was on the London Bridge to Brighton route? Was it because one of your minions had incorrectly labeled a very splendid illustration of the Crystal Palace as:
Whatever happened, M. Conty must take the ultimate blame for providing false information. How did he do on the rest of his information about Brighton. Well, not too badly.
After lunch at Muttons he recommends going to the Aquarium – very different from the present-day Sealife Centre, mainly because it would appear that most of the exhibits were dead and stuffed and that a great deal of the building is taken up with a library, concert rooms etc.
Next. M. and Mme Dupont must quickly inspect the Chain Pier, then gallop back to view les jardins de la Reine [Pavilion Gardens]. Coming from the Chain Pier, the French visitors are clearly being recommended to start their walk at the south-east corner of the Old Steine (Harry Ramsden’s fish restaurant in 2019).
[Leaving the Chain Pier, and with the Royal Albion Hotel in front of you, retrace your steps back past the aquarium. Go past a red bollard, then follow the route of the Old Steine keeping a square on your left and shops on your right. After the first square, where you must follow the railings, turn left in front of the statue of George IV [the site of the Brighton War Memorial since 1922] and walk up Castle Street [Castle Square] which is in front of you. When you get to an open space with a pointed bell tower in front of you [Princes Place and Chapel Royal] turn right next to a bank and cross the Queen’s garden (Royal Pavilion). As you go in on the left is a statue of Sir Cordy Burrows and a round building with a dome which is used as a concert and exhibition hall.
Leaving the palace gardens (exiting under a dome), follow the grand avenue in front of you which has a square to its right, and you arrive at Marlborough Place. Take the first left turn, North road, which, with a slight curve leads you back to the main street Queen’s Road, and to your right is the station.]
Why no attempt to visit the Pavilion? Because already by the mid-1850s, Queen Victoria had stripped it of its contents and sold off the building to Brighton Corporation … who really did not know what to do with it. By 1888 the Royal Pavilion was being used intermittently as an exhibition space, a concert hall, town museum and Mayor’s office. The interior was thought to be of little or no interests to day trippers to the town.
And so, M. and Mme Dupont reach the station, weary but happy after their trip to Brighton. They board the train, remembering to sit with their backs to the engine, and like many present-day visitors, doze happily until they return to London… provided there are no leaves on the line.
For a contemporary view of Sir Cordy Burrows statue in the Pavilion Gardens visit the James Gray Collection Volume 10 Image 098