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1980s Brighton – people and places

19 November 2010 9 Comments

We saved the best till last…Peter Chrisp shares his photos and memories of Brighton in the 1980s, when a Greek cargo ship ran aground next to the Palace Pier, the Anti-Nazi League marched against the National Front and the IRA blew up the Grand Hotel where the Conservative leadership was staying for the party conference.

Brighton Conservative conference 1984

Politics was simple in the 80s. We had an extreme right-wing Conservative government, and everyone knew that the Tories were evil. Although they were unpopular in Brighton, they regularly came here for their party conferences. I took this photo outside the Conference on 10 October 1980. There was a right-to-work march that day and the Tories were protected from the demonstrators by a massive police cordon, surrounding the Brighton centre and lining the seafront.

Brighton Conservative conference 1984

My friend Trevor O’Clarey and I thought it would be funny to make it look like a one-man demonstration. In those dark days, one man stood alone…

Bomb at Brighton Conservative conference 1984

On 12 October 1984, the IRA blew up the Grand Hotel where the conservative leadership was staying during that year’s conference. We watched live TV footage of Norman Tebbit being carried out, feet first, from the rubble. I took this photograph the next day.

National Front march Brighton 1980

The late 70s saw a resurgent National Front which drew support from young working-class skinheads. Opposing it, there was the Anti-Nazi League and Rock against Racism. On 29 March 1980, the NF held a ‘march against Sussex Reds’. Here NF skins gather outside St Peter’s Church, protected by the police from the much bigger Anti-Nazi march.

National Front march Brighton 1980

The NF was pretty much a spent force by 1980, when these were taken. Britain had just elected a right-wing government, and the new Prime Minister promised to curb immigration, and talked about people’s fears of being “swamped by people with a different culture”.

Greek ship Brighton 1980

The Athina B was a Greek ship, loaded with pumice, which ran aground to the east of the Palace Pier on 21 January 1980. Big crowds went to see it, and Volks railway opened specially to take visitors there. I took this on 2 February. On 21 February, she was towed away and scrapped. You can still see the ship’s anchor on the seafront.

Greek ship Brighton 1980

The hull of the ship was turned into a huge blackboard, which Brightonians wrote their names on – an early outbreak of ‘tagging’. The child on the second left is writing ‘Good Luck’.

Old folk Brighton seafront 1980s

Here’s a 1981 picture of the shelter on the seafront opposite the Old Ship Hotel. Like lots of run-down seaside towns, Brighton was full of old people, and elderly ladies wore headscarves.

And a couple from the 1970s…

Hanover street party Brighton 1978

It’s 10 June 1978, and a street party is being prepared in Ewart Street in Hanover. I can’t remember why it was held, but it looks like the sort of polite, well-organised, street party people had at the end of World War Two. The houses were drab coloured back then, and many weren’t painted at all. Hanover streets had yet to be filled with cars parked on the pavements.

Platform shoe on Brighton bus 1978

For my generation, the defining cultural event was punk, whose cleansing fires swept away our flared trousers, stack-heeled shoes and record collections. Here’s a moment from the transition from pre to post punk, captured furtively, in June 1978, on the top floor of a number 25 bus. This chap has maintained the stack heels, but lost the flares which ought to be covering them. It reminded me of Ian Dury’s line about “shoes like dead pigs’ noses”.

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  • Ian Smith said:

    Great stuff! There was a cafe named after the Athena B, which became more esoteric as years passed, and I had the strange pleasure of being billeted with the Volks (yes, the real family home, just happened to be cheap on the B&B list) when I left my mum and dad for the town of sin at the tender age of 19 in ’78. The whole Grand Hotel bomb thing (in practical terms) meant that I couldn’t walk home to Montpelier road from the Zap Club after my late shift that night. Mind you, I generally couldn’t anyway….

  • Sarah LH said:

    Awesome pictures. Love the Ewart Street street party. It’s not nearly so civil any more!

  • Twitted by cpev said:

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  • pete fraser said:

    EWART ST party looks a lot like the Queen’s Jubilee knees up in 1977 . . .

  • Julia said:

    Can anyone tell me the name of a very old hotel in queens road on the right coming down from the station, towards the top. Closed in the 1980s …thanks in advance!

  • Hayley collins said:

    That’s my dad in his police uniform standing outside the Brighton Centre after the Grand Hotel bombings..!! It’s lovely seeing this old photos..!!

  • Mel said:

    I’m trying to find if “the railway hotel” in Surrey street still exists and if it does is it the same building but been renamed? Would appreciate any information. Mel

  • Steven Knight said:

    I was a punk in Brighton in the Sussex reds I was 15 just nationial front died out by 1982 in Brighton

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