Published 29th November 2006
When it comes to hotels in Brighton, there are certainly lots of excellent examples to write about such as the Royal Albion, Grand and Metropole. The Old Ship Hotel, however, holds one accolade that none of the others can top – it is Brighton’s oldest.
The Ship, as it was known until the New Ship opened opposite in 1650, is said to date back to 1559. The Royal Albion, the Grand and the Metropole didn’t open until 1826, 1864 and 1890 respectively. Ship Street was named after the hotel, not the other way around. The hotel probably took its name from the ship timbers of which it was once constructed. The imposing seafront fašade didn’t come until later after various acquisitions and additions; hence the mix of styles and rabbit warren corridors. Its actual address today is 31-38 King’s Road and 73 Ship Street!
During the 1760s, there was great rivalry between the Old Ship and another nearby inn, the Castle. In 1766, the Castle’s owner, Samuel Shergold, commissioned the architect John Crunden to build assembly rooms for grand functions. In 1767, the Old Ship’s owner, John Hicks, employed the architect Robert Golden to build assembly rooms. Both designs were heavily influenced by the architect Robert Adam. Such splendour attracted royalty. The Prince Regent’s Ball was held at the Old Ship and William IV regularly sent for lists of guests so that he could send out invites to dine at the Royal Pavilion. Charles Dickins stayed in 1841. Interestingly, Marlborough House on the Old Steine was built for Shergold in 1765 and was later massively remodelled by the great Robert Adam himself; after Shergold had sold it though.
Today, the Old Ship has 152 en-suite bedrooms and is still one of Brighton’s finest along with being a great asset to the seafront scene. The ugly Thistle and Holiday Inn nearby must come down at some point of course (if I have anything to do with it!). The Old Ship’s assembly rooms are now Grade II* Listed and known as ‘The Paganini Ballroom’ after the virtuoso violinist, Niccolo Paganini, who gave a concert there in 1831.
As a lover of the subterranean, the best bit for me was viewing the Old Ship’s eerie chalk wine cellars. The moody lighting, meticulous hand-written staff records on the shelves and, most importantly, large stocks of wine make it a perfect place for a private party!