Where's the Sand?
A B Granville was a doctor and essentially a travel
writer with a specialism in the spas of Europe, having previously published
books on the spas of both Germany and St Petersburg. He obviously new
Brighton well and in his book of 1841 gave a rather uncomplimentary view
of the beach.
The failing fishing town of the first half of the eighteenth
century had been revived by the 'discovery' of the health-giving benefits
of drinking seawater and of swimming. But Brighton's growth from small
town to large town threatened with pollution the very thing - the sea
- which had led to its revival.
pipes for surface water debouched directly on to the beach. But
these rain water sewers were often polluted with all sorts of nasties,
which then ended up on the beach. Granville refers approvingly
to attempts to improve the problem, but it was not finally solved until
the building of the famous intercepting sewer in 1871-4.
The town's foul water
sewerage was dealt with by cesspits. As late as 1859 10,000 houses were
still using cesspits, the majority of the town's housing stock. Cesspits
in porous chalk were yet another pollution threat, this time to the town's
supply of drinking water.
Another source of beach pollution was coal. Although
Brighton was in law recognised as a port, it had no harbour. As a growing
town it needed bigger and bigger supplies of coal, which had to be either
docked at Shoreham and moved by wagon to Brighton. Or ships had to land
cargo on the beach - a dangerous activity. Many coal ships were wrecked
on the beach resulting in yet more pollution.
In the 1820s as many as six ships a year were wrecked
on the beach. The arrival of the railway in 1841 solved the problem of
coal supply to the town.
Granville Opinion of Brighton's Beach
Here's what Granville had to say of the beach. Sea bathing
was "not bad, but it is indifferent." He goes on:
"From the east end of Arundel Terrace, Kemptown,
to the west end of Brunswick Terrace in the King's Road, a line of shore
measuring more than two miles and a half in length, exposed to the south,
south-south east, south, and south-south west (no better aspects than these)
[these were important health considerations for the medical profession
in the early nineteenth century] there is not so much as a palm of good
clean sands to bathe upon at high water. The bather, for this purpose,
must wait until low water has uncovered such sands as lie at the distance
of nearly a quarter of a mile from the shore, where the bathing machines
are ready to receive him. The shore itself, strewed with shingles, sinking
and heavy, is in parts abruptly shelving and deep; a circumstance which
deters hundreds of people from bathing where the sea covers the beach;
added to which the water is always foul-looking, from the number of seaweeds
that are constantly being thrown on the coast."