Napoleon the Third in Brighton

Napoleon the Third was well established in Brighton from the mid-1850s and was there for nigh on one hundred years.  That is to say, a beer seller, Arthur Hollingbrook at 13 Cheapside, decided to celebrate the coming of the second French Empire and its emperor by renaming his beer house as the ‘Napoleon the Third’. 

Is it a coincidence that, following the fall of the French empire at the Battle of Sedan in September 1870, by the time of the April 1871 census, Arthur is described as a ‘general shopkeeper’.  No point in flying the flag for a deposed emperor.  However, in his enthusiasm, Arthur (or the brewery which supplied him) had had the following deeply incised onto the first-floor wall of the house: 


The property was demolished in the early 1960s and on the site was built the new tower block for Brighton Technical College (now the Greater Brighton Metropolitan College).

Hove could not be left out.  There was also a ‘Napoleon the Third’ at 15 Cross Street, Hove. No grand carved lettering on the walls of this tiny pub, but the name appears in street directories until 1929.  Presumably not so much in honour of a deposed emperor as a commercial decision to keep the identity of the pub alive.

In 1881, the landlord, Martin Troubridge, was fiercely defended by a Mr Lamb against his neighbour.  The neighbour did not want the licence renewed “on the ground of a nuisance committed on his [Mr T’s] premises next door”.  Mr Lamb staunchly held that “there was plenty of accommodation in the public house, but they could not prevent people committing a nuisance outside.”  T’was ever thus.

Martin died, aged only 52, in 1885, but his widow Janet took over the licence and ran the pub until her own death in 1909.  She must have been a formidable woman.  Whereas her husband left only £149 in his will, Janet left £633.  Given that there was virtually no inflation between 1885 and 1909, Janet had clearly had a successful career as a publican.

Today, 15 Cross Street houses Oliver’s Clock Shop.  A treasure trove of the horological arts.

And what of the ‘real’ Louis-Napoleon III, friend to Queen Victoria?  He seems to have visited the town only once, arriving on 13 August 1872, by which time he was an ex-emperor. The Grand, opened just eight years previously, was his choice of hotel. 

Louis-Napoleon had been staying in Bognor.  It has not been recorded what he thought of Bognor… apart from the reports that he found it “dull” and, alas, that it “did not agree with him”.

His ex-imperial majesty arrived in Brighton, by train, at 3.30 pm.  He liked the room at The Grand he was shown, but, with great affability, let it be known that:

“the lace hangings and pretty bed which adorned the apartment intended for himself were … just the thing for the Empress and … Napoleon chose another and less attractive room.” 

Napoleon’s wife, Eugenie, arrived in Brighton at nearly midnight on the same day.  She and the couple’s son, the teenager formerly known as the Prince Imperial, had travelled down from Scotland by train. When the family was spotted on the way from Brighton Station to the hotel, some passers-by shouted out Vive l’Empereur (the English always appreciate an underdog).  Unfortunately the hoi-poloi also caught wind of distinguished guests at The Grand.  The Brighton Gazette was not amused by a large part of the crowd outside the hotel as it:

Brighton people love to see a celebrity.  They did in 1872 as well.  On the same day, 15 August, the London Daily News reported that the police had indeed been called to disperse “a dense crowd of starers” outside the hotel.  They were on the very steps of the hotel. Some even had opera-glasses.

“ … one young clergyman with a large field glass who had with some difficulty kept front places on the kerbstone for himself and a lady, complained bitterly that he had waited two hours in the burning sun.”

During their stay, the imperial family-in-exile were able to benefit from the sea air, from soirées arranged by the aristocracy, they even attended a lecture by Mr Henry M Stanley at a meeting of the British Association.  Mr Stanley was the man of the moment as he had “found” the lost explorer Dr Livingstone just nine months previously. Maybe the Peince Imperial, pictured here in 1872, was not as enthusistic as his father.

The manager of the hotel hoped his esteemed guests would stay for about a month.  In the event, they did not stay more than a week.  They set off for Cowes on the Isle of Wight before eventually settling in Camden Place, Chislehurst.  Louis-Napoleon was dead within five months of his visit to Brighton.  His wife outlived him by 47 years only to endure the tragedy of the death of her only child.    The man who was never to become Napoleon IV of France died as a British military officer in the Zulu war of 1879.  He was 23 years old.

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