Brighton and Biarritz have much in common: they are former fishing towns (mackerel for Brighton, whales for Biarritz); their growth depended much on royal patronage; they are successful tourist towns.
The names of Brighton and Biarritz have long been synonymous as holiday destinations:
“… A French countess, with a fixed income of £1000,000 a year, will not spend half so much on her dress as the wife of a New York merchant … Let but the Chevalier Cushing look at the vulgar display made at Saratoga, Newport or Cape May, and compare it with the modest attire of the aristocracy at Baden, Brighton, and Biarritz …” Syndicated article November 1857
By 1876 several newspapers, reporting a duel (in which an Englishman shot dead a Spanish nobleman) were calling Biarritz, “the Brighton of Biscay”.
“At Nice, at Brighton, at Biarritz, or in London, one has shuddered for the sanity of the idle rich…” Coventry Herald 21 November 1914
“Without a Pye radio your car just isn’t complete, and the same goes for your holiday, whether it’s in Brighton or Biarritz.” The Motor May 1962
Biarritz had become a fashionable resort in the mid-1850s once the Empress Eugenie started to spend her holidays in the town. Following the fall of the Second French Empire (1872) it was the turn of the British to give le ton to the town: Queen Victoria stayed there in 1889, her son, the Prince of Wales, had discovered it before her in 1879.
That Prince of Wales became King Edward VII, who loved visiting Brighton and Hove and who also loved a certain Mrs Keppel. The liaison, in the first years of the 20th century, could not be carried on in Hove, bien sûr. What better place for a king to meet his illicit lover for a whole month each year than fashionable and tolerant Biarritz?
Image Edward VII in Biarritz c. 1907 © Suzanne Hinton
Was this following article merely jingoistic?
PREFERS BRIGHTON TO BIARRIZ
Crowded as it is, Brighton offers the King abundant privacy … It is an open secret that Kind Edward, who was once so prejudiced against it, has now become as fond of Brighton as he is of Biarritz.” Eastbourne Gazette 2 January 1910
Or was it a blatant form of whitewashing the king’s character: his liaison with Mrs Keppel (and others) lasted until the very end of his life. [The Eastbourne Gazette should, of course, have cited Hove as the favourite English haunt of the king.]
King Edward VII in Hove c1909 Image courtesy of the Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Notwithstanding his love of Hove, The King was photographed in Biarritz in March 1910, just a few weeks before he died … at home in Buckingham Palace.
Even before the turn of the 20th century, the trickle of British tourists to Biarritz had become a flood. The king was benefactor in the town. The townsfolk loved him, and he appreciated their tact in turning a blind eye to his romantic shenanigans.
On its website, the Biarritz Golf Club, founded in 1888 by the English, bien sûr, even maintain that their very first international competition was La Coupe de l’Entente Brighton-Biarritz. [Unfortunately an error as this competition started only in 1932].
Edward VII was happy enough to hand out prizes on the golf course, but he was no golfer. However, it was golf which, some 10 years and one World War later attracted his grandson, another Prince of Wales. This Prince of Wales was the future uncrowned king, Edward VIII who arrived in Biarritz for the first time in 1920. The glamour that surrounded him added greatly to the stylish reputation of the town.
Come the very late 1920s, Brighton Borough Council was keen to enhance its own reputation as a stylish trendsetter. What better way to reinforce the concept than to prove that Brighton was as glamorous as Biarritz? This could be done by forging closer links with the French town.
This report appeared in the Journal des Débats on 6 November 1931:
Un pacte d’amitié analogue à celui qui existait déjà entre Rouen et Bristol vient d’être conclu entre Biarritz et Brighton. Il a pour objet de multiplier entre les citoyens de ces deux villes les points de contact, les échanges touristiques et intellectuels. Pour donner plus d’éclat à la conclusion de cette union amicale, le conseil municipal de Biarritz a invité une délégation d’une quarantaine de personnes, qui comprendra les représentants du conseil municipal et des principales associations de Brighton …
[A friendship pact along the lines of the one already existing between Rouen and Bristol has just been agreed between Biarritz and Brighton. Its aim is to increase points of contact as well as visitor and intellectual exchanges, between the citizens of these two towns. To give more kudos to the signing of this agreement, Biarritz town council has invited a delegation of some 40 people, to include representatives of the borough council and of Brighton’s principal associations.]
The cost to the ratepayers of Brighton would be £150. The expenditure was agreed on in November 1931 and little comment made apart from a brief: “All this at a time when the country is in as tight a corner as it has ever been.” in the Worthing Gazette. Not really surprising, as this was a mere two years after the Wall Street crash.
So on 6 September 1932, the Brighton group (now of only 30 people), headed by the mayor, Alderman Thomas Braybon, arrived in Biarritz. After the ceremonial welcome, the first duty of the Brightonians was to pay a respectful visit the monument to Edward VII.
That 1932 procession to the monument must in itself must have been a grand affair:
Hier matin, la délégation s’est rendue en cortège au monument d’Edouard VII, précédé de gardes mobiles à cheval, de la fanfare des pompiers, et accompagnée de la municipalité et du conseil municipal de Biarritz, de M. Garat député, maire de Bayonne et de toutes les autorités locales et régionales, des consuls etc. Devant une foule nombreuse, le maire de Brighton et le maire de Biarritz ont déposé des couronnes au pied du monument, aux accents des hymnes nationaux des deux pays, puis le cortège s’est rendu à l’hôtel de ville, où la réception officielle a eu lieu. Le Figaro 7 September 1932
[Yesterday morning, the delegation went in procession to the Edward VII Monument. They were preceded by Garde Mobile and the band of the Fire Brigade and were accompanied by the officers and members of the Town Council as well as Mons. Garrat National Assembly member and mayor of Bayonne, all the other local and regional authorities, the consuls etc. Before a large crowd, the Mayor of Brighton and the Mayor of Biarritz placed wreathes at the foot of the monument to the strains of the national anthems of the two countries. The procession then moved on to the Town Hall where the official reception was held.]
As is often the case in French newspapers, reports could not help commenting on the regalia of the English, so very different from the sober republican garb of French officials:
De nombreux curieux font la haie et regardent avec un étonnement sympathique les grandes robes rouges et bleu des maires et des conseillers municipaux, la magnifique perruque blanche du secrétaire général de la Ville de Brighton, très imposant dans son costumes [sic] des vieux âges.
[Many curious onlookers lined the route and watched with tolerant amazement the grand red and blue robes of the mayors and aldermen, and the magnificent white wig of Brighton’s Town Clerk in his trappings from a previous age.] (see also French_Brighton blog: “Hospitality is the fertiliser of the soul”)
The rest of the visit covered a range of activities: the mayor formally opened an exhibition of Sussex painters; the party watched a round of golf for the challengers in the Coupe de l’Entente Brighton-Biarritz; they learned the intricacies of the game of pelote basque;
The party was wined and dined in generous French fashion. But municipal duties were not forgotten. The Daily Mirror revealed that:
Brighton and Biarritz are fraternising – even over the unromantic dust destructor … The different urban institutions are being inspected, and a visit to the new dust destructor formed an important part of the programme.
The highlight of the visit was the grand banquet on the last evening, 9 September, followed by a ball and fireworks attended by no less a personage than the Prince of Wales and “Judging from the length of his stay [at the ball] His Royal Highness thoroughly enjoyed himself.” The Scotsman 9 September 1932
But what were the advantages of such visits for the two towns? Tourism mainly. The towns would exchange publicity, exhibitions and lectures as well as offing cheap off-season travel between the two. The links were being forged. Would there be a sequel in the uneasy times of the late 1930s? Part 2 next time.