Timeline – Madeira Drive through history

A timeline of the major events in the development of Brighton’s seafront – specifically, Madeira Drive in Kemptown.

Note there is now a separate page on Madeira Drive on this website with photos and a longer history.

I’d welcome corrections, additions and comments. A book is a future possibility!

827 Sussex annexed by Kingdom of Wessex. ‘Beorhthelm’s Farm’ recorded, and was a landing place for boats with villagers and smallholders.

1086 Domesday book records Bristelmestune, a settlement of three manors on the modern site of Brighton
1290 – 1340 40 acres of ‘lower town’ old fishing village lost to sea level rise
1640s Sea level rise threatens fishing village on cliffs above foreshore
1514 Fishing village Brighthelmstone burned to ground by French
1703 – 1703 Great storms destroy Brighton lower town and most of foreshore. Cliffs along Brighton are composed of ‘Head’ (or ‘Coombe’) drift, an easily eroded deposit of chalk rubble and flint with a proportion of clay and sand. In front of the Old Town the cliffs were known as Middle Street Cliff, Ship Street Cliff, Black Lion Street Cliff and the East Cliff, and were separated by gaps with steep paths to the beach which people used to carry goods. Below the cliffs was the foreshore, a mixture of sand, shingle and chalk reef of the kind that can now be seen below the undercliff walk between the Marina and Rottingdean at low tide.
1713 – 1722 Town collects funding from churches for sea defences

1723 First sea defences – groynes – raised from these ‘Church Briefs’ taxes. 2 wooden defences in the old town. At £8000 considered by Daniel Defoe to be ‘more than the whole town was worth’.

1773 Brighton Town Act establishes coal tax for ‘building and repairing groyns, to render the coast safe and commodious’. Coal tax continues to 1887.

1780 Georgian Brighton begins from fishing village

1795 Sea wall at Old Steine, built by proprietors of New Steine and East Cliff residents, is a simple flint structure

1808 4 groynes below East Cliff

1823 Royal Suspension Chain Pier built by Captain Samuel Brown, starting 1822 and opening 25 November 1823. Cost £30,000. Embarkation point for cross-channel ferries.

Work starts on Kemp Town estate

1824 First Brighton lifeboat established at Chain Pier. The toll-house was destroyed in a storm on 24 November.

1827-1838 Cement facing on the East Cliff. £100k for 2 miles. Rubble mounds to enhance sea defence which was extended between Old Steine and Royal Cresent in 1830-3. The sea defence was 23 feet thick at the base.

1833 and 1836 Chain Pier damaged by storms but repaired and re-opened.

1851 Magnus Volk, son of clockmaker, born on Western Road

1855 Kemp Town estate completed

1867 First concrete groyne at East Street

1870 A new sea wall faced with stone from the first Blackfriars Bridge in London, demolished in 1863. Madeira Road laid out on the sea wall, using rubble from the old sea defences.

1872 The Aquarium opens. Designed by Eugenius Birch and built in 1869-1872, with extensions in 1874-1876. The exterior was rebuilt in 1927-1929 by David Edwards, the Brighton borough engineer.

1877 Banjo ‘promenade’ groyne built (officially Paston Place Groyne). 270 feet long with 3 feet wide walls.

1870 – 1882 Planting of Japanese spindle and ivy along Maderia Road, including along the bottom of the East Cliff (the ‘green wall’), begins in this period. This was established at regularly spaced intervals, and trained with guide wires to grow up the cliff. The ‘green wall’ made the otherwise barren promenade a more attractive place to be, and a natural backdrop for riders on the future Volks Electric railway.

1880 Wooden railings on the cliff top replaced with cast iron railings present today.

1882 Confirmed record of Japanese Spindle planting (Notes from J.R.B. Evison’s 1969 book ‘Gardening By the Sea’ records ‘Japanese Privet’ planted on the cliff face. Evison was Director of Parks at Brighton 1951 onwards. Evison notes ‘I have only seen it [flowering] on the cliff face at Brighton where plants set out in 1882 are some 60ft high…’). Hedges and lawns are present along the Madeira Terrace.

1883 Volks Electric railway opens, running from the swimming arch near the Aquarium to the Chain Pier.

1884 Madeira Lawns laid out, thanks to the acres of land reclaimed by Banjo Groyne, to provide additional recreational space and a more attractive seafront.

1890 Under the Brighton Improvement Act of 1884, Madeira Terrace [sheltered walk or ‘Colonnade’ and ‘Max’s Walk’], Madeira lift and shelter hall [now Concorde 2] were built. Terrace designed by borough surveyor Phillip Causton Lockwood, who also designed the Brighton ‘birdcage’ Bandstand which was built in 1884. In total 2,837 feet (864.7m) long. The shelter hall was designed as a cafe and waiting room.
…each bay of the entirely cast-iron arcade has an identical elevation: round arches carried on single columns of a fanciful marine order; scalloped-arch intrados; spandrels formed by concentric rings of quatrefoils, forming a pierced sun screen; keystone cast to resemble either a female or a bearded male deity, perhaps Venus and Neptune.” (From English Heritage listing)
The terraces were also designed with a gap to allow the Japanese spindle plants to continue their climb up the cliff face. Seating was designed on the upper terrace, to sit proud of the ‘green wall’. The shelter hall lift was originally powered by water pressure, with the current electro-mechanical lifting mechanism fitted in 1930. The western terrace was added later.

1891 The Palace Pier construction begins. Designed by R St George Moore. A funding crisis caused a halt in construction, which was completed by Sir John Howard in 1901

1894 Construction of Magnus Volks’ Daddy Long Legs track begins by British Thomson-Houston Co. Ltd. 2.8 miles from Banjo Groyne to Rottingdean.

1896 Daddy Long legs railway car ‘Pioneer’ opens 28 November. Tram by the Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Company. Described as a mix between an ‘open-top tramcar, a pleasure yacht and a seaside pier’ for 160 passengers. Deck fitted out with an ornate saloon (complete with leather upholstered seats and exotic palms), promenade deck on top. Helmed by law by a sea Captain. 35 minute journey at 21/2d each way.

First London to Brighton horseless carriage run (the Veteran Car Rally) to celebrate lifting of law requiring man to walk in front of ‘car’ with red flag. Won by a steam car.

Chain Pier destroyed by December storm, Daddy Long Legs badly damaged just a week after opening.

1897 Daddy Long Legs repaired, and re-built with 2ft longer legs. Re-opens in July. Carries 44,282 passengers in the year.

1899 Palace Pier opens in May.

1900 New groynes constructed East of Banjo cause scouring of Daddy Long Legs track bed, and new sea defences would have required moving the line.

1901 Brighton Corporation removes part of track obstructing sea defence works. Line closes, ‘Pioneer’ left to rot at Ovindean pier until 1910, when remainder sold for scrap.

1902 Electric railway extended to Rottingdean, with viaduct

1905 First ‘Motor Race Week’, for which Madeira Road was tarmac’d. Led to annual National Speed Trials, every September since.

1909 Madeira Road renamed Madeira Drive

1936 Black Rock Lido opens

1937 Magnus Volk dies, railway operation passes to Brighton Corporation

1940 Beaches closed in July, protected with mines and barbed wire, and reponed July 1945

1948 Restored track and railway reopened. Carries 1 million passengers a year.

1952 Brighton Corporation open Esplanade and slopes [Duke’s Mound] to public

1971 – 1979 Brighton Marina constructed. Madeira Terraces, walk and lift (‘Arcade with raised walkway, associated buildings and lift tower’) listed by English Heritage in 1971.

1978 Black Rock Lido closes

2000 Concorde 2 opens in the shelter hall.

2009 Madeira lift re-opens following restoration started in 2007.

2013 Madeira Drive Green Wall surveyed, and its value for wildlife identified. First survey shows 69 plants, later further plants are added to the list, making the total 100 species. Candidate local wildlife site in City Plan (to be adopted).

2014 First restoration works at Madeira Drive Green Wall by B&HCC, Brighton & Hove Building Green and Ecology Consultancy. Madeira Drive and the green wall feature at the first International Green Wall Conference.

2015 Marine Drive Terraces are closed to the public due to concerns over the safety of the structure. Management of the green wall by partnership of Building Green and B&HCC continues on the ramp between Madeira Drive and eastern Marine Parade. The first new ideas for the future of Madeira Terraces are drawn up by local planner Michael Doyle, and discussed  in private talks between developers and the Council.

201? Madeira Drive Green Wall adopted as statutory Site of Importance for Nature Conservation in the Brighton & Hove City Plan.











5 thoughts on “Timeline – Madeira Drive through history

  1. Pingback: Madeira Drive Green Wall – our living Victorian history | building green

  2. When was Madeira Drive first used as a race circuit? Was it a ‘purpose built’ race circuit conceived as such?

    • Hi. It wasn’t built for that reason, but it was tarmac’d specially for the first race week in 1905. 4 years later Madeira Road renamed Madeira Drive. The upper terrace walkway proved to be a great grandstand.

  3. The idea for a speed event in Brighton was first suggeted in 1902, however it wasn’t untill three years later in 1905 that local hotelier, Sir Harry Preston persuaded the Town Corporation to lay a motor racing track. A track which used the pioneering material of “Tarmac” as its surface and was in fact the first of its kind.

    The Town Council collaborated with the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland (Which later became the Royal Automobile Club) to organise and event known as “Brighton Motor Week” which ran from the 19th – 22nd July 1905 and consisted of a series of motor races.

    The first event on the 19th July 1905 ran westwards, from Black Rock to the aquarium, the opposite directions to which the race currently runs. It attracted over 400 entries and cars were classified according to rolling chassis prices, i.e. £300-£400. They were timed over a flying start kilometre and were allowed to have the addition of a passenger if they so wished. Motorcycles competed in handicap races and were timed over a standing start mile and were based on engine capacity, weight of machine and weight of rider.

    During this first event 3 world records were broken; 2 by French motorcyclist Henri Cissac, who set a new record for the flying kilometre with a time of 26 seconds and a top speed of 86mph and also for a standing mile which he lowered to 53.2 seconds. The other record was set by Harry Rignold who lowered the flying mile record from 64 seconds to 46.2 seconds.

    The worst luck of the week fell on The Hon. Charles Rolls (later of Rolls Royce Fame) whose enormous four-cylinder 26.5 litre Dufauls started belching flames and smoke and making horrendous moaning noises near the finishing line, terrorising the crowds as it di so! it is alleged that the car was still being built on the channel crossing on its way to Brighton

    The last day of the week was essentially a “Ladies Day” and the best performance by a driver was by Dorothy Levitt in an 80hp Napier.

    This first event drew huge crowds down to Brighton and also included a number of concerts throughout the city and a pre-race banquet!

    In 1906 the Speed Trials were placed under threat when a body of ratepayers obtained a ruling stating that the resurfacing works of the track was “wasteful, extravagant and unnecessary and was therefore illegal” The Brighton Corporation were ordered to pay the bill themselves. But, in 1907 an appeal was won on the grounds that the improvements made would benefit the public and create a smoother surface for all users.

    The next event wouldn’t take place until 18 years later, when the Brighton and Hove Motor Cycle and Light Car Club organised an open event on the 14th July 1923. This time the event ran in the opposite direction and the club decided on a measured half mile with a standing start. Competitors were run in pairs and indivdually timed. The event attracted between 200 and 400 competitors and over 10,000 spectators. The fastest time of the day was recorded by motorcyclist EH Spencer on his Douglas 494cc at 69.29mph.

    In 1925 a police ban on racing taking place on public roads was passed which might explain why no events took place untill 1932. It was then that someone remebered that Madeira Drive belonged to the Town Corporations and was therefore not subject to the ban. The Brighton and Hove Motor Club (as it was now known) obtained permission to use it and switched the annual Speed Trials back to Brighton from Brooklands.

    The 1932 meeting attracted a huge crowd estimated at 100,000. The most outstanding feature of the afternoon was the battle between Sir Malcolm Campbell in his Supercharged Sunbeam “Tiger” and Mr John Cobb in a huge Delage. Although Cobb made the better start, Campbell gracefully reeled in his rival and crossed the finishing line at 120mph, winning by 13 yards and creating a new car record.

    The following year a new course record was set by Noel Pop on a Brough motorcycle. ge covered the half-mile course at an average speed of 80.36 mph. This meant he must have crossed the finishing line approaching 130mph.

    The Speed Trials were once again threatened in 1935 when there was a proposal to put a roof over Madeira Drive and turn it into a covered car park for 3000 cars. Luckily these plans didn’t materialise and the event was allowed to continue up until the war.

    The Speed Trials were restarted in 1946, were granted an International Permit and the course extended to 1 Kilometre. Racing equipment was in short supply afterthe war but there were a number of ingenious constructors who made use of surplus military machinery. One example is Archie Butterworth who assembled his AJB using a Steyr V8 engine from a German military vehicle installed in a jeep chassis with a four wheel drive.

    New classes started to be introduced from 1958 and were initially limited more or less by price. In 1962 further classes were introduced for Saloon Cars 1601cc-4000cc, Sports Racing Cras up to 1600cc and Sports Racing Cars 1600cc and over.

    In 1963 Americans Dante Duce and Mickey Thompson came over to Britain to demonstrate the sport of Drag Racing. They competed against Sidney Allard who ran his home built dragster. Unfortunatly the Dragsters could not perform to their full potential due to the uneven surface and the fact they were not set up to run a kilometre. Dragsters were a popular attaction until 1974 when they were stopped from entering due to safety reasons as instructed by the police and the RAC….

    Long may it continue!

    In 1971 Madeira Drive was completely resurfaced and the distance was reverted back to a kilometre. A year later in 1972, a new innovation was the provision of a standing start 1/4 mile for the motorcycles in addition to the traditional standing start kilometre for the cars

    In 1975 it look as though the Speed Trails was going to have to be postponed due to lack of finance but luckily due to tremendous support from competitors and minor sponsorship from London tobacco merchants Fribourg and Treyer the event was able to continue.

    In 1980 the Speed Trials celebrated their 75th anniversary by reverting to the 1/2 mile standing start; a format first used in the pre war events. This allowed some assaults on the previous records which were smashed by the newer and more modern designs and engineering. The previous record of 22.45 seconds was destroyed by Mark Williams in his Hesketh DFV who knocked almost seven seconds of it.

    Since 1981 competitors have run singularly as a safety precaution initiated by the rising speeds of more modern machines. In 1986 the Speed Trials also saw a change in the class structure into which the cars are divided.

    Despite torrential rain another record breaking day took place in 1987. The seven year old course record for cars was broken by Clive Bracey in a Vebra Cheverolet. His blistering time of 15.23 seconds took him to a speed of 183mph. Twelve of the fifteen class records were also smashed.

    The Brighton Speed Trials made their Television debut in 1989. The event was filmed by BBC Televisison cameras for its Top Gear programme. The programmes presenter , Tiff Needell drove a Lotus Esprit Turbo SE, a TVR 450 SEAC and a four wheel-drive Porsche Carrera. Unfortunately the event was overshadowed by a fatal accident of mortorcyclist John Rich.

    The future of the event suffered even further preasure when the council undertook a rent review of the three arches on Maderia Drive under which Brighton and Hove Motor Club had their headquarters. This was compounded by the introduction by the RAC Motor Sports Association introducing noise restrictions in response to complaints by local residents. The decibel limit for cars was lowered from 115 to 113, which meant that many vehicles would have to be fitted with new or larger exhaust silencers to be able to compete.

    “Frost Cars Ltd” made their Speed Trials Sponsorship debut in 1991. Their support is not only financial they also actively co-operate with the organisation of this unique and famous event.

    In 1994, with safety in mind, two changes were introduced to the running of the event. The Course was shortened to 1/4 mile and the Racing Car classes were limited to 2000cc

    1995 marked the 90th anniversary of the first running of the Brighton Speed Trials and saw an entry of the Semmence; a car which first run in the event in 1938 when it was driven by its constructor, H. Whitfield “Fatty” Semmence.

    In its 90 year history the event saw a number of famous names take park, including Sir Malcolm Campbell, John Cobb, Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorn, Ken Tyrell, John Cooper, Derek Bell, Sydney Allard and George Brown on his supercharged vincent.

    At the turn of the century entries to the Speed Trials reached just under 300 with the event being more popular than ever before amongst the crowds and spectators.

    In 2005 Brighton and Hove Motor Club celebrated 100 years of the Brighton National Speed Trials. A prestigious milestone which saw 370 entries and a record number of spectators. The day went without a hitch a helped cement the clubs position as organiser of yet another successful and increasingly popular event in the motor raccing calender.

    In 2010 a new class was introduced for Electric Cars a sign of the progression in motor engineering. This class continues to increase each year and the development of the vehicles has been fascinating.

    In 2011 the event faced yet another problem when the local council condemned the use of the middle terraces on Maderia Drive due to safety concerns of the ageing structure. This had always been a popular vantage point. The club had to quickly come up with an effective solution which would allow spectators to continue to witness the event in the same way. This was achieved by lengthening the area near the start line, allowing the audience to get closer to the action and see the cars and bikes up close as they race off the start line.

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