The West Hill pub, dramatically perched at the bottom of Buckingham Place, used to be called the Belle Vue Inn. It was built as a public house in 1852 by local builder Edward Hilder Ade and was owned by Vallance Catt and Company brewers.
The name would still be fitting today. Look up and the city lights glisten all the way to the top of Elm Grove. Directly in front of you is the magnificent station roof.
Back in the 1850s, public houses were hugely popular amongst the working people of Brighton. As described by Rose Collis, author of ‘Brighton Boozers’, pubs were somewhere to drink, talk, sing and socialise with friends and neighbours. Local publicans also began to provide entertainment for patrons in the form of singing, dancing and comic sketches. People could watch and listen to a show while enjoying a hot meal and drinks until late into the evening.
Fast forward to 2006 and former barmaid Nicola Benge recalls some heady days at the Belle Vue:
“It was a crazy place to work, run by a very gregarious couple. It was a late night boozer at a time when pubs still closed at around 11pm, so it would often be really quiet until 10pm or so and then start to fill up from midnight through to 4am. It would be absolutely heaving with people drinking and shouting over the music. I don’t think the neighbours were huge fans. We used to close up at 5am and have a shot or two of Slippery Nipple before shuffling home. It was nuts but I really liked it.”
Today the West Hill pub is a calmer affair, closing at 11pm most nights. Staff are friendly and relaxed and there’s an easy-going atmosphere. The décor is an eclectic mix of antique furniture, leopard skin print and wine bottles dripping with candle wax. There are nooks and crannies, a pool table and a covered courtyard at the back for smokers.
And finally, after a long period of uncertainty, there’s a new manager at the pub. Originally from Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, Mark moved to Brighton 17 years ago. He started out in the restaurant trade at 16 and progressed to running pubs. He has an air of friendly sophistication about him. He’s a jazz lover and Wilbur Smith fan (and his favourite tipple is Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc).
Since his arrival, Mark’s hosted live music and a 1970s-themed New Year’s Eve party. Sunday roasts, using locally sourced ingredients, have made a welcome come-back (from noon until they sell out). Karaoke is once a month on Saturdays (next is April 23rd) and a French speaking group meets on Wednesday evenings. He’s hoping to re-introduce the Sunday night quiz soon.
Mark is keen to make the pub more accessible to the community and is open to any suggestions from locals. So why not pop in and say hello? For regular updates on what’s on, follow The Westhill on Facebook.
Thanks to Nicola Benge, The Regency Society of Brighton and Hove and Philip Bye, Senior Archivist, East Sussex Record Office.
Amy Swift is a freelance writer based in Brighton: swiftcopy.wordpress.com