Death and the City

Despite a right royal snub from the greatest mourner in British history, Brighton’s connection with the macabre epitomises the cheery subject of death more than anywhere else in the country. At least, that’s what historian Rose Collis asserts in her latest book, Death and the City.

I’ve written about a variety of different graves, tombs, crypts and graveyards in this very column over the past few years. In fact, my piece on the city’s most breathtaking graveyard, the Extra-Mural Cemetery above the Lewes Road, came about following a tour with Rose. But monuments and buildings say so much less about death than the act of dying itself.

It was of course Queen Victoria who famously mourned for nearly 40 years following the death of her beloved Albert in 1861. And it was Victoria who disposed of the Royal Pavilion in 1850 (which Rose knows all too well as author of The New Encyclopaedia of Brighton). Brighton’s connection with death is certainly not through Queen Victoria but instead via a series of bizarre coincidences and connections that span every element of this queasy topic.

Within Death and the City, Rose points out that the first person ever to die in a car crash was from Brighton. This presumably refers to Mrs Bridget Driscoll who was hit by an automobile at the Crystal Palace in 1896. The first motorist to be killed was actually Henry Lindfield who died of shock in 1896 when he crashed his electric car on the way from London – to Brighton.

I have no idea how this is actually known but the first Allied soldier to fire shots during the First World War came from Brighton (and the man who sent the telegram to end the war came from Hove).

From a tour of Brighton Town Hall some years back, I recall that Henry Solomon, the first Jewish Chief Constable, was the first Chief Constable to be killed at work. He was hit with a poker by a carpet thief whom he was interviewing at the time.

To this day, gruesome history is still being made. It wasn’t long ago that Brighton & Hove was drug death capital of Europe (an accolade that we were happy to lose) with the highest suicide rate in England and Wales.

Rose puts the flesh on the bones of these stories and more in Death and the City. Read if you dare.Death-and-the-City---cover-smallx

Hanover Chapel Vaultsx