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Archive for the ‘Brighton Walks and Talks’ Category

Woodvale Cemetery

Posted by Sara on February 3, 2012

A while back, I was lucky to attend a fascinating talk on Death and Mourning in the Victorian era, hosted by Sarah Tobias at the beautiful Extra-Mural Gothic Chapel in Woodvale Cemetery.

The good news is that Sarah has contacted me to say more of these tours are planned for the upcoming year, with a Cemetery walk on July 1st 2012 and the Victorian Death & Mourning tour taking place as part of the Brighton Festival on Bank Holiday Monday 7th May and Saturday 19th May 2012.

I can’t recommend these enough; the cemetery is a beautiful Brighton landmark worth exploring in its own right and Sarah’s talks bring the history of this place to life in such a fun and evocative way.

For more information please visit her website, Sarah’s Events, which is updated regularly and full of other exciting events, including an intriguingly sounding ‘Hidden House’ tour going behind the scenes at Preston Manor.

 Sarah’s Website can be found here: Sarah’s Events

The not so good news is that she has also informed me that The Centre for Community Engagement at Sussex University is being closed down with the loss of 231 associate lecturers plus all other staff.

This centre offers part-time and flexible learning for people from all walks of life and it would be such a sad loss to the community if it was to go. Please sign the petition to keep it open! The petition can be signed HERE (and is also accessible through Sarah’s web page).

Posted in Brighton Bits and Pieces, Brighton Underground, Brighton Unexplained, Brighton Walks and Talks | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

A Stroll in the Extra-Mural Cemetery

Posted by Sara on November 5, 2009

There’s another great chance to wander the grounds of this glorious cemetery and to learn more about it’s history and beautiful buildings, with a free guided walk scheduled for this Saturday.

A Stroll in the Extra-Mural Cemetery:  7th November 10:00am. Meet at the
Extra-Mural Cemetery gate 116 Lewes Road at Vogue Gyratory.


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Heritage Open Day

Posted by Sara on September 13, 2009

Stained Glass Detail - Middle Street Synagogue

Stained Glass Detail - Middle Street Synagogue

There has been loads going on this week as part of the Heritage Open Days, in which interesting and historic local buildings open their doors for (free!) public viewing. Visiting relatives and work commitments meant  we couldn’t take full advantage of all we wanted to this year but we did manage a few visits nonetheless.


Sussex Masonic Centre

The Sussex Masonic centre is one such place I walk past all the time, wondering what it’s like inside – so what a treat to be able to visit for a very interestng tour and talk, hosted by the building’s curator, Reg Barrow. The centre, first bequeathed to the Masons in 1897, has grown over the years and has  merged with the buildings on either side so it is very spacious inside and comes complete with all the usual features associated with this sort of ad hoc development – including wonky floors and tempermental plumbing and electrics; there are even passages that run right under the pavement, complete with grills allowing one to look out on to Queens Road. We were shown two of the Temple Lodges, including the very grand and beautiful main Lodge on the top floor. There is lots of masonic memorabilia on display and throughout the tour we learnt about the history of freemasonry and the role it plays today.  Charity is one of the fundamental tenets of modern masonry and anyone involved in a local charity was invited to make contact. I was struck at how big the place was, in contrast to how it looks from the outside, and I thought the central staircase was particularly striking.

Main Lodge Sussex Masonic centre showng part of the beautiful wooden domed ceiling depicting the signs of the zodiac

Main Lodge Sussex Masonic centre showng part of the beautiful wooden domed ceiling depicting the signs of the zodiac

Next up was another place  I have long been curious about – the Middle Street Synagogue, consecrated in 1875. What a splendid building, I was in stained glass heaven! The mosaics on the eastern wall and the ornate ironwork railings were also very beautiful and contrasted nicely with the clean, classical layout of the synagogue’s interior. The synagogue has a Grade 2 listing and has been officially described as “an extremely sumptuous example of late 19th Century craftsmanship.”


Stained Glass Detail - Middle Street Synagogue

An interesting feature is the wonderful stained glass wheel of the zodiac above the main door, which we were told is a very unusual feature to have in a synagogue and co-incidently the same was said about the zodiac featured on the ceiling in the Lodge at the Masonic centre – so maybe this proclivity for all things astrological on historic buildings is a unique Brighton thing!

Middle Street Synagogue

Middle Street Synagogue

Last but not least was the wonderful twilight tour of the Woodvale cemetery, with a chance to explore its beautiful mausoleums and to enjoy some stunning views over the grounds at sunset. ..


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Victorian Death and Mourning

Posted by Sara on May 6, 2009

angelBank Holiday Monday. While most of Brighton was busy rioting away on the seafront we  were peacefully ensconced up in the blissfully tranquil Woodvale cemetery and crematorium for an illustrated talk on Death and Mourning in the Victorian era.The venue was the Extra-Mural Gothic Chapel, built in the 1850’s and our speaker was the wonderfully informative Sarah Tobias.

windowthumbnailUnlike today, death was very much a matter of fact part of every day life in Victorian England and with big families and high mortality rates, many people were often in constant mourning. Mourning itself was an intricate and symbolic affair filled with ritual and lasting for up to two years (Queen Victoria herself was in mourning for forty years). As such it spawned a whole industry dedicated to remembering the dead – including clothing, photos, jewellery, death masks and casts of limbs. The talk was illustrated with slides featuring all aspects of Victorian undertaking, including dress fashions, accessories and memento mori. For added atmosphere we were joined half way through by two mysterious figures kitted out for the occasion in full Victorian mourning dress.

We were told about some of the fascinating aspects of this part of  Victorian life, as well as some of the more unsavoury – like the rise of the resurrectionists who made their living robbing graves to supply the medical industry (That dastardly duo Burke and Hare being a famous example) .Particular reference was also made to local history and Extra Mural cemetery itself. In the mid 19th century the dead were buried in local churchyards but disease and overcrowding led to the creation of large rural cemeteries. These new cemeteries, of which Brighton’s is one of the most beautiful, were called Necropolis – City of the Dead and were laid out as cities complete with avenues and streets.


We learnt about the two stages of mourning, and the etiquette involved in visiting the dead -including the importance of the Victorian death bed and why the use of narcotics was discouraged so as to keep the dying more lucid – in the hope their last dying words would contain something revealing and enlightening. Bodies could be laid out in the home parlour for up to 12 days (though this practice was frowned on for health reasons and 5 days deemed more sanitary) and during this time, straw would be strewn on the road outside to muffle the noise of the horses. The correct etiquette in dress was very important; though men  need only worry about the correct width of hat band, women were required to be cloaked top to toe in dull black fabric for at least a year and a day, with nothing allowed to shine lest the souls of the departed catch their reflection and become confused.


This was a fascinating talk full of interesting and revealing insights into Victorian life. There is another date scheduled for this talk on 16th May. Coming up in July, Sarah will be conducting a guided walk through the Victorian part of the Extra Mural cemetery. This cemetery is a beautiful place steeped in history and the grounds are vast and enchanting – full of grand mausoleums, beautiful stone statues and some nice examples of 19th century Egyptian-style funerary monuments  – all surrounded by ancient trees and wonderful wildlife. The Great Cemetery tour will be taking place on July 5th at 11am from the Bear Road entrance.

If you can’t wait tilll then there’s the Original Brighton Cemetery Tour Special taking place Surndays 10th, 17th and 24th May as part of the Fringe Festival. Starts at 1.30pm at Woodvale Lodge, off Lewes road.

For more information about what’s going on at a cemetery near you – click here.


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Easter Path

Posted by Sara on April 24, 2009

As lovers of all things Mystic and Otherworldly here at thee Nook we wanted to try something a bit different this Easter, so on Good Friday we went on the Easter Path walk around Brighton. Organised by Beyond, the walk was a contemporary interpretation of the Easter message, loosely based on the Stations of the Cross, using a series of art installations set up in shop and church windows across Brighton.

Our first stop was outside the Brighthelm centre, where a digital photo montage was used to illustrate the betrayal of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. I think most of us can in some small way relate to that ‘lying awake all night completely alone and dreading the next day’ feeling – as the rest of the world sleeps on oblivious. Somewhere during this dark night it is said that Jesus was in such agony his sweat was as great drops of blood falling to the ground. I wonder what that must have felt like?

station11The photo montage itself started life in Glasgow during anti war demonstrations; Jesus is shown in the garden surrounded by modern images of authority while he considers the cup of suffering that lies before him. He is alone in his awareness of what is to come while Judas is represented as a dark shadow behind him.

station1b2‘Jesus is Condemned’ was the title for the next piece at Sydney Street Bikes in the lanes. The image displayed here was of a pair of waxen hands bound in rope and this shop was chosen specifically for the iron railings permanently guarding the shop window.  Our guide, Martin, explained that the image of a God being bound and restrained by human hands is a very powerful one that shows us how cruel the human race can be and how much power we have. This got me thinking about Jesus as someone who had been judged to have broken the law and the way we punish crims in our own society.

handsWe then made our way to Daves comic shop for the display called Jesus receives the Cross. This consisted of a cross made  out of comics from a series called Final Crisis, featuring a force known as the God Killer. I don’t know much about this series myself but the location seemed a good one in as much many good comics feature similar themes involving redemption, death and resurrection.

Framework was the shop used for the next installation, Jesus Falls Three Times; a contrast to the invincibility of comic shop heroes, as we were once again reminded of the frailty of Jesus as he stumbles through tiredness. Still in the lanes we then made our way to Bell, Book and Candle for the next stop, called ‘Jesus meets his mother’. The exhibit in this window was a simple but thought provoking one, highlighting how it must have felt for both sides to meet in this way. I think most of us  close to someone who has been bullied, mistreated or beaten up often feel terrible at what their loved one has endured and here we were left to wonder what his mother must have felt at seeing her son treated like this.

In all there were twelve stations on the walk and at each one we were given time and a chance to reflect on different events leading up to the crucifixion. The walk finished at Fishtail Neon, a wonderful place on the seafront dedicated to all things neon that creates, among other things, light installations from recycled fairground rides and displayed here were some fantastic multicoloured crosses celebrating the resurrection.

cross1I thought this walk was a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon the Easter message and what I liked best about it was the unscripted spontaneous feel that came with trying to ponder on Deep Stuff while surrounded by the hustle and bustle within the sights and sounds of a busy city. Scattered as they were across Brighton, tucked away in shop windows, each one of the displays brought a life of their own to the Easter story in a very open and accessible way.

bigntallFor those unable to make the walk, all the exhibits from the Easter Path plus a few extras are being brought together to be exhibited at the Old Market on April 26th from 7pm, with bar open from 6.30pm. There will also be a visit from Siku, the artist who created The Manga Bible and he will be talking about his work.

For more information: www.beyondchurch.co.ukeasterpath

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West Pier

Posted by Sara on March 1, 2009

Piers, Proms and Palaces; The West Pier and Brighton Seafront Story


We love the West Pier! Even in its current state of ancient, delapidated decrepitude it is a magnificent and magical structure. Last Sunday 21st February we were lucky enough to go on a free taster tour of the West Pier and seafront promenade, organised by the Brighton West Pier Trust.

It was a beautiful sunny day (for a change!) and our guide for the tour was Geoffrey Mead. The tour lasted about and hour and a half, during which we learnt about the architecture and stories behind Briton’s most famous pier and of seaside piers in general.

Construction on the West Pier commenced Easter Monday 1864 and was designed and engineered by Eugenius Birch. Looking across its rusted shell outlined against the ocean’s horizon, you can really appreciate the beautiful symmetry of the structure which is all the more remarkable when you learn all the pylons were placed by eye and put in by hand.


The main purpose of the Pier was to see and be seen and throughout the 1800’s and early 1900’s various structures were added to enhance this Victorian catwalk. As we made our way along the seafront to the Brighton Fishing museum, we learnt more about Brighton’s transient population and fishing heritage; a town that has evolved from a nocturnal culture built upon tidal patterns and worked by the moon, unlike its more heliocentric, agriculturally based neighbours.


The story behind the West Pier’s decline also provides a fascinating insight into changing fortunes of the British seaside and as we finished up in the Fishing Museum we were told more about the future plans for the Pier, including the i360 and restoration options. This still continues to be a contentious issue, and for another side of the story click here.


There was an opportunity to ask questions at the end and to find out more about the work of the West Pier Trust. Our guide’s enthusiasm and knowledge of Brighton’s geography and the Pier in particular really brought its history to life. This particular walk was a one off but from March 8th 2009 tours will be taking place every Sunday at 11am. Tickets will cost £5.


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Brighton & Hove Archaeological Society Walk

Posted by Sara on February 7, 2009

stnicks1January 25th

The last Sunday in January we went on an interesting and absorbing winter walk around Old Brighton, courtesy of the Brighton Archaeological society. The walk began on a wet (very wet!) Sunday afternoon outside St Nicholas Church on Dyke Road. This church is the oldest building in Brighton and its ancient cemetery provides the final resting place for a few of the city’s well known historical characters, including Phoebe Hessel and Martha Gunn.

From the St Nicholas we made our way to another churchyard, this time belonging to the Brighthelm centre on North Road, where we learnt that it was here, during a recent building works, where developers unearthed a vast underground set of catacombs, believed to be a mass burial site for cholera victims. We then continued down Church Street, a very lively and popular area of Brighton that was a haven for thieves, prostitutes and pick pockets in the 18th and 19th centuries. Pausing briefly at the corner of Jubilee St, the site of a lot of new development, we were told of the old stables and factory that used to belong here and how this was traditionally a farming area. This is hard to believe as you take in the surrounding ultra modern architecture, including the fantastic Jubilee library, but there are still traces of the past still visible, including an old farmhouse tucked away on Jubilee Street.

Victoria Gardens

Victoria Gardens

royal-pav2As we made our way to the Lanes and Brighton’s ‘Old Town’, pausing briefly to hear about the secret passages and underground tunnels in the Royal Pavilion, we learned of the archers who practiced the long bow nearby, of the rise and fall of the fishing industry and how the city’s fortunes were restored in the 1750’s by Dr Russell, who wrote a book extolling the virtues of bathing in sea water. We finished off by the Town Hall in Bartholomew Square, the site of a small chapel and priory dating back to 1100’s.

The walk lasted approximately 90 minutes during which our guide, John, was a mine of information on Brighton past and present. We would definitely recommend this walk to anyone who wants to learn more about local history and the Brighton and Hove archaeological society run a varied lecture programme of lectures and guided walks based on local history and sites of archaeological interest. More can be found about them on their web page:http://www.brightonarch.org.uk.

Victoria Gardens

Victoria Gardens

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Burning the Clocks 2008

Posted by Sara on December 22, 2008

Same Sky

Same Sky

Sunday 21st December – To celebrate the shortest day we head down to the lanes to catch the start of the Burning the Clocks. This is a very popular annual event in Brighton and features a fantastic array of handmade paper and willow lanterns that are paraded through the city and culminates in them all being burnt on the beach as part of a huge bonfire and firework display as a token to mark the end of the year.

This is the fifteenth year for the Burning of the clocks and it’s a special one for organizers Same Sky as it is their 21st birthday.

funny clock

funny clock

samba-manWe catch the beginning of the parade up near Ship street and, helped along by at least three samba bands and some great acrobatic dancers, we follow the procession as it slowly snakes its way through the narrow streets down to the beach. On the seafront off Madeira drive a huge clock shaped pyre beckons and there is much merriment and dancing around.

Those of us too slovenly to make a lantern this year aren’t left out as there are lots of nice men wheeling shopping trolleys full of fluorescent light sabers we can buy to wave around and look silly with.

elephants never forget

elephants never forget

This is a very popular event and with a crowd of 20 thousand in attendance we decide to chow on some hot chestnuts and wander back to watch the fireworks from the pier. Each lamp is hand made and as they are thrown into the fire the lantern bearers make wishes for the coming year. A firework display on the beach marks the end of the event. The perfect antidote to a consumer led Christmas and very magical way to greet the solstice.


happy solstice!!

happy solstice!!

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The Lanes Ghost Walk

Posted by Sara on December 21, 2008

Brighton Lanes Ghost Walk

sign113th December 2008 – It was on this damp and windy night we found ourselves outside the Druids Head pub in the lanes waiting for our host to lead us into the darker corners of Brighton’s past.The Ghost Walk of the Lanes runs every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from May till December and starts prompt at 7.30pm.

Our guide was the splendiferously attired Rob Marks. Unfortunately our camera ‘mysteriously‘ failed on this excursion so we are unable to provide any decent photo’s of him decked out in all his Victorian finery accompanied by his macabre props. Instead you will just have to make do with a poster and some photos taken a few days later.

From the Druid’s head, reputed to be the most haunted pub in Brighton and built near a stone circle,town-hall we traversed to the Town Hall to learn of ghostly monks and gruesome murders. We were then led to Old Steine, an area of open land near the sea front dominated by a gloriously grotesque huge Victorian fountain. This is the favourite haunt of what must be one of the most horrifically mutilated ghosts to ever flutter around this earth – the poor old John Robinson, an 18th century adventurer whose eyes were burnt out with hot irons in Persia. Destitute and destined to a life left begging in Tehran he eventually made it back to his home town in Brighton only to die soon after. It is rumoured that those who see him never forget the sight of the Arabic looking man, with eyes “gouged out so deep the bone of his skull can be seen with maggots still eating away at the rotting flesh on his face”.

Those kindly folk in the 1800’s even had a ditty for him which goes:

“Don’t ye dally, darling dear, in Brighton‘s city clear

The ghost of old John Robinson is waiting for ye there.

If ye look into his face, you’ll end your days that night.

For he’ll steal your eyes from you to give a beggar sight.

Our next stop was Dr Brightons and then on to the Northern Lights, a very convivial Scandinavian bar haunted by an even friendlier ghost. We were led upstairs and, for the bargain price of £1, were each treated to a shot of ‘fishermen’s friend’ – a special beverage concocted in honour of the fisherman who now haunts the place. The warmth from the fire and the alcohol were a welcome break from the cold outside and it was with some reluctance we left Northern Lights to make our way back to the lanes, reputably Brighton’s most haunted quarter.


the bricked up doorway in the lanes

Twisting and turning through Black Lion and Meeting House Lanes we were regaled with tales of amorous ghosts and mysterious nuns haunting bricked up doorways and cottages dating back to the 1500’s. Our last stop was the Cricketer’s Arms pub, where Graham Greene wrote much of Brighton Rock, and once thought to have housed one of Britain’s most notorious murderers – Jack the Ripper. Robert D’onston is one of the prime suspects in the Ripper case and hospital records show he resided here back in 1888. On several occasions a pale man wearing a long black cloak has been spotted by the manager and the pub is said to be the site of poltergeist activity including bottles and glasses falling off shelves, slamming doors and the sound of footsteps climbing the stairs.

From there it was a short stroll back to the Druids Head for a well deserved drink at the end of the tour. Although we didn’t see any ghosts that evening we all found it great fun and a cracking way to learn about the history of the area. The walk itself covers a relatively short distance and lasts approximate 70 minutes. A bargain and definitely recommended.

**STOP PRESS** What great news to find out this event is still going strong in 2012! I have been sent a recent update by Rob Marks which reads – 

Join actor and master storyteller, Rob Marks, as the mysterious Silas the Ghost Hunter, for a 70 minute walk around Brighton’s most haunted quarter. Take in the history and the spine-chilling tales whilst visiting seven of the area’s most haunted sites. Silas and his fellow storytellers, Jasper and Ebenezer, perform in full Victorian attire complete with Gladstone bag, which holds a few surprises!

The show runs every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday from outside the Druid’s Head pub, Brighton Place (The Lanes). Seven nights a week throughout June, July and August!

Private bookings can be for any night of the week. £8 Adults, £4 Children, £5 Seniors & Students, Family Ticket £20 (2 adults, 2 children).

•     Name:Ghost Walk of the Lanes

•     City:Brighton

•     Telephone:01273 328927 / 07522 605524


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The Lit Lit Trail

Posted by Sara on November 23, 2008

Clock Tower - Toxic Love

Clock Tower - Toxic Love

Lit Lit Trail

What did we do with the extra hour when the clocks went back this autumn? We went for a walk of course, courtesy of the very first White Night in Brighton and Hove. The Lit Lit tour was part of a series of events being held across Brighton to mark the end of British Summer Time and promised to be a ‘trip through the city’s psyche, geography and history at night through 11 revelations’. We met outside the library in Jubilee square at Midnight and from there a group of about thirty of us followed our guide to specific locations across Brighton.

The theme of the evening was Love and each location had been chosen for a specific story it could tell. The Clock Tower, pictured above, was the location for the scenario entitled Toxic Love; for it was near here, in a sweet shop in West street, that Christiana Edmund bought the sweets she laced with poison in order to win the love of the handsome Dr Beard.

Each location had been illuminated to match the story and the effects, from the deep pink bejewelled town hall pictured below (which I thought featured the most movingly poignant story) to the more subdued but incredibly evocative candle lit grave in St Nicholas’ churchyard, were dazzling. All in all the walk was an amazing experience; not least due to the story telling skills of our guide who really brought the tales to life, despite the many interruptions from puzzled drunks and passers by!

Town Hall - Everlasting Love

Town Hall - Everlasting Love

For more info check out http://whitenightbrightonandhove.com/

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