Words by Greg Stanley. Images by Greg Stanley and Matt 'Brickcellphone' Leppier.
Satan’s been to Brighton. But he got fed up and left...
It was a while back now, long before I took residency in the seaside city. That was 2014, and according to local folklore the Devil passed through around the 7th century - so at some point between Christianity arriving in the area and me starting my degree at Sussex University.
The story goes that Satan was so fuming about the religion rocking up in this particular corner of the South East of England, that he started to dig a valley from the the countryside down to the sea in an attempt to flood the churches. He would wash them all away in a salty swathe of anger.
And so he started clawing at the soil furiously, ripping up Sussex underneath him with hand and foot. It was only when he stubbed his toe on an enormous gold stone, that he got so frustrated that he gave up and headed elsewhere. Somewhere on the Thameslink line, no doubt.
What he left behind was Devil’s Dyke, a dramatic, falling v-shape of lush hills that, for the price of a bus ride from the city centre, frames the whole town better than a 360-degree-viewing platform ever could. Up there in the Sussex Downs, free from urban strife and British Airways adverts, you’re free to run, roam, ramble and, if you’ve visited Brighton & Hove as a tourist or a resident, you can reflect on your time spent in the city.
From up there, you’ll see the places you’ve weaved in and out of: the best pints you had in Hole in the Wall, the coffee you slurped underground at Twin Pines, the obscure funk you found in Uptight Records. You’ll point at morning pastries from LOAM, happy hours at Presuming Ed’s, sunsets on the pebbles below Hove Lawns and New Year's Eve seafront fireworks.
And then you’ll fuck off elsewhere like Satan, himself.
Because historically, Brighton & Hove is a place people visit, not stay. Despite there being more small businesses in this city per person than in any other in the UK, this is a place where people study, experiment, holiday and turn the word summer into a verb. Whether it’s three days or three years, there is an ebb and flow to Brighton’s population that bubbles over every time another new building for students to live in pops up, and sinks every time a small music venue closes down and the landlord hikes the rent up.
In the nine years I have lived here, I have seen iconic music venue Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar close its doors and the once world-famous Hippodrome never open theirs. I’ve seen cutting-edge promoters, DJs and artists perfect their craft via the likes of Rialto Theatre, Platform B radio and AudioActive, only to move on up to London in search of grass that may be greener if you can find a place to pitch your tent - or better still find a flat to rent.
With the capital city being just over an hour away, why wouldn’t you try your luck in the big smoke? We’ll just cross our fingers and wait around for the next class of culture-defining creative types to start making their mark. Let’s just hope they do it before Wolfox turns the entirety of Brighton & Hove into one big expensive coffee shop.
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But until that happens, if you’re weighing up a visit to an oddly sunny, famously relaxed city with sea views, why not visit Brighton?
Tourists visit all year round but the summers are famous. Whilst hotels are more expensive then, the good weather, city-wide beach and well-kept outdoor spaces mean you can save money elsewhere. Preston Park is a sprawling bit of green out in the open, whilst St Ann’s Wells Gardens is a lesser-known picnic haven in Hove. Visit the pier, sure. But don’t settle for a space on the beach within a mile of either side of it. Head west or east for quieter space on pebbles - if you hit the King Alfred Leisure Centre or Brighton Marina then you’ve gone too far.
Colder months can be very harsh in Brighton, particularly since double-glazed windows, like Christianity, apparently arrived late in the city. But that only makes being inside with others all the more rewarding and this place has a frankly absurd number of public houses (over 340, 11 per square mile). A list of pubs with condensation-heavy windows that you want to be inside of include; the aforementioned Hole in the Wall, The Heart in Hand, The Hand in Hand, The Caxton Arms and The Edinburgh, where you’ll get European-style table service if it’s busy.
Places beloved by locals are not hard to find since the city is small and residential all-over. Look up and you’ll see living rooms and houseplants above vintage shops and restaurants in The North and South Laines, or sweeping regency housing curving around green spaces like Palmeira and Brunswick Square. The playful architecture of the city is everywhere, even if some of the most quaintly designed facades now decorate the likes of a Wetherspoons on North Street. More hilariously, off of Western Road, there is a Taco Bell that is metres away from the purpose-built ‘Mini Pavilion’ where well-known Regency architect Amon Henry Wilds lived until 1857.
That one is a secret gem, not unlike the fact that the best two fish and chip shops are Bardsley’s (Baker Street) and Wolfies of Hove (Goldstone Villas). But sometimes, you don’t have to be a local to know one of the best spots in town. Maybe those who visit Brighton, only to leave again, had it right all along. Because one of the surprisingly finest spots to sit, for me, come rain or shine, summer or winter, is in the city’s oldest hotel, The Royal Albion.
Whilst reviews for overnight stays are low at best and a shit hole at worst, the satisfaction of this visitor, as he types away in the Aquarium-facing hotel lobby, is very high. Non-branded pint glasses, cheap hot drinks, gaudy furniture and garish carpet. If these chandeliers could talk.
In winter, up to 100,000 starlings dance the dance of murmuration in the skies visible through French windows as the Palace Pier flickers. In summer, three picnic benches on top of a flat roof on the 1st floor is a suntrap in central Brighton where the sun drops behind the eternally falling West Pier.
Whether you come here to stay or plan to kick a few rocks and leave like the devil inside all of us, this city will have a long-lasting effect on us all.