by John Betjeman, The Spectator, 1956

Out of the Southern Electric, into the salt sea air, I went last week to Brighton to recover from influenza. Street lamps shining on pebbled walls reminded me I was in Sussex; coloured lights in oyster bars, shops and public houses reminded me I was in a town of pleasure; along the front the lamps just showed up the white foam and shiny shingle while a lighted window at the end of Palace Pier, that fantasy looking rather like the royal residence of the Empress of Abyssinia stretched on stilts into the English Channel, told me that even so late as this someone was alive out there above the heaving water.

Then there were the warm, almost empty, hotels, with old ladies discussing knitting patterns and retired colonial governors reading ‘The Spectator’. There was the pleasantness of the staffs in shops, hotels and restaurants and public transport. There is a whole race of seaside people, who, whatever may be said about their money-making propensities, are out to be pleasant to visitors and who are traditionally friendly.

How restful it was to go to sleep to the sound of crashing waves and rattling shingle. And in the morning, what pleasure to see the sharp winter sun on a grey season and reflected on creamy stucco terraces and squares, to visit second-hand bookshops and antique shops in the Lanes, to see the Pavilion and Art Gallery and the great Victorian churches, St Bartholomew’s, St Martin’s, St Michael’s, and St Mary’s, four of the grandest churches in England, rising like huge red battleships over the chimney pots and Georgian crescents. Of all the towns in England, Brighton is the one where I can honestly congratulate the Mayor, Corporation, and officials for what they do to keep the character of the town and make it cheerful and welcoming.

[One dreads to think what he would say today – hardly think congratulations would be in order, with the streets littered with rubbish and overflowing communal and recycling bins – Ed]

John Betjeman
John Betjeman

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