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The Brighton Aquarium, Marine Parade, Brighton

Brighton's Theatres Index

The Aquarium & Marine Parade, Brighton - From a postcard sent in 1926

Above - The Aquarium & Marine Parade, Brighton clearly displaying a Vaudeville sign - From a postcard sent in 1926

Eugenius Birch designed the first English recreational aquarium for a site on Brighton sea front; it opened in August 1872. It was a large and influential structure costing £130,000, and at the time was given as an exemplar in the architectural journals when such buildings were discussed, which was rarely. Not only were resorts by definition provincial, but entertainment buildings had an ephemeral image in comparison to ecclesiastical work or public buildings.

A Sketch showing two Corbels, depicting Night and Morning, in the Conservatory of the Brighton Aquarium - From The Building News February 1873.

Above - A Sketch showing two Corbels, depicting Night and Morning, in the Conservatory of the Brighton Aquarium - From The Building News February 1873. The caption for this image reads:- 'We give as one of our illustrations two Corbels, taken from the Conservatory in the Brighton Aquarium. The subjects symbolise "Night" and "Morning," the types being in one case an Owl, surrounded by the poppy, ivy, and other objects associated with night. In the other case, "The Cock, the herald of the morn," forms the leading feature. The remaining carvings throughout the building include an almost endless variety of marine animals, shells, and plants, selected with appropriateness to their situation, designed and executed by Mr. H. R. Pinker, of Grafton-street, London. The architect of the Aquarium is Mr. J. S. Nightingale, the engineer being Mr. Birch.'

Birch, whose Brighton West Pier was completed in 1866, was inspired by the aquarium at Boulogne and other continental examples to suggest the erection of a similar structure in England. A Parliamentary Act was procured in 1868 to obtain the site needed by the Brighton Marine Aquarium Company, and work began in 1869. Birch’s original design included a number of towers and turrets, but this was rejected because of the deleterious effect on sea views; in the final plan the Aquarium was set into the cliff face and topped by a promenade. Its terracotta facade was Italianate in style, and its decorative though dim interior soon became a popular meeting place, where ladies and gentlemen could talk, lunch, read the papers, listen to music and even study the fish.

The above text is courtesy Lynn Pearson from 'The People's Palaces, Britain's Seaside Pleasure Buildings 1870-1914.'

The Brighton Aquarium with Mr J D Hunter's Burlesque Company on the Bill, and to the right the old Chain Pier, replaced in 1899 by the Palace Pier - From 'Round the Coast' by George Newnes, Ltd, 1895.

Above - The Brighton Aquarium with Mr J D Hunter's Burlesque Company on the Bill, and to the right the old Chain Pier, replaced in 1899 by the Palace Pier - From 'Round the Coast' by George Newnes, Ltd, 1895.

The small pictorial book, 'Round the Coast' by George Newnes, Ltd., published an image of the Brighton Aquarium, which is shown above, in their 1895 edition, along with the following text:- 'Dr. Russell published a treatise on the advantages of sea-bathing, recommending Brighton very strongly at the same time. By the way, it is amusing to note that Dr. Johnson visited Brighton in 1770, and declared the country "so desolate, that if one had a mind to hang oneself, in desperation at being compelled to live there, it would be difficult to find a tree on which to fasten the rope."

The Aquarium is situated between the Steyne and the Chain Pier, and is one of the principal attractions at Brighton; it was erected by a joint stock company at a cost of £130,000, and was opened in August, 1872. We rather think it is more of a promenade than an aquarium, with its elegant corridors, conservatory, and saloons provided with newspapers, periodicals, and the latest telegrams for the use of visitors. There are forty-one fish tanks, which are arranged in two of the corridors; and the length of the whole building exceeds 700ft. The sea water is pumped by steam into reservoirs, capable of containing 500,000 gallons.

The Chain Pier was commenced in 1822 and completed in the following year, under the direction of Captain Sir S. Brown, R.N., at a cost of £30,000. It is 1,136ft. in length, 15ft. in width, and is supported by four spans, which stand upon piles of oak driven 10ft. into the solid chalk.

The ordinary Brighton season is from July to January, becoming more fashionable towards the end of the year. The town is situated just midway in that curve of the coast which extends from Beachy Head on the east to Selsea Bill on the west.'

The above text in quotes was first published in 'Round the Coast' by George Newnes, Ltd., 1895.

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at the Brighton Aquarium in 1881, 1886, 1887, and 1889, see an advertisement for him and his wife Katty King playing there below.

An advertisement from the Era Almanack for Arthur Lloyd and Katty King at the Aquarium, Brighton in the Pantomime "Prince Brilliantine, or The Little Beauty and the Big Beast" (Written by Arthur Lloyd), from Christmas to February 11th 1889 - Courtesy Jennifer Carnell.

Above - An advertisement from the Era Almanack for Arthur Lloyd and Katty King at the Aquarium, Brighton in the Pantomime "Prince Brilliantine, or The Little Beauty and the Big Beast" (Written by Arthur Lloyd), from Christmas to February 11th 1889 - Courtesy Jennifer Carnell.

The Brighton Aquarium in 2009 - Courtesy Stephen Ashby

Above - The Brighton Aquarium in 2009 - Courtesy Stephen Ashby

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