Thursday, July 09, 2009
Maria Fitzherbert's house
The Bones reports that the YMCA in Brighton was set on fire making 60+ people homeless. The house which is on the edge of this parish on the Steine has an interesting history, it belonged to Maria Fitzherbert and was the first place Mass was celebrated consistantly in Brighton since the Reformation, there was a small chapel in the house.
Even so this house along with the nearby Royal Pavillion are responsible for Brighton's reputation as a place of unconventional living.
It was Brighton that Charles II after being handed on from family to family along the Catholic underground negotiated his passage to exile in France. It was the last little town along the coast before the more heavily watched harbour at Shoreham, and it was most probably here that many of the recusant priests landed from ships bound for Shoreham. Where people were smuggled so were goods, like many Sussex towns there was a tendency to make up ones own laws. It is interesting that Tom Payne the French revolutionary and American rebel was actually a revenue officer in nearby Lewes, the County Town of Sussex, this part of Sussex was capable of discretion and turning a blind eye.
The Prince Regent gentrified Brighton but it was really to live with, or rather close to Maria Fitzherbert, who was known as the Prince's mistress. However, there is pretty good evidence that they were actually married, the marriage was secret, she was a good Catholic girl, but the appearance was that he was his mistress. This "appearance" of unconventionality in their relationship gave rise to a loosening of morality amongst the Regency Court. Contact with Brighton leads Jane Austin's Lydia to downfall. Brighton was a place for the mistresses and for unconventional living, it was Brighton (well ultimately Hove actually) that led to Parnell's downfall in the arms of Kitty O'Shea. With the coming of the London-Brighton railway Brighton became the place for keeping mistresses, many of the grander houses have access to gardens through narrow discreet alley ways.
By the end of the 19th prostitution seems to have become almost an industry second to tourism, many cheap hotels and boarding house hired rooms by the hour, with clean sheets extra. In the 20th century increasingly the town became the home of many people involved in the entertainment world, whose lives off stage brought as much entertainment in the yellow press as did their on stage antics. Along with this, the contrast of wealth and poverty gave rise to an under current of crime and violence that we see in Brighton Rock.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake