Brighton Town Hall

Brighton Town Hall
Tony Mould
Parochial Offices in Princes Street, behind Old Steine , used 1986-89 as a magistrates' court.
Photo by Tony Mould

The Town Hall was built between 1830-1832 when Brighton had a population of about 40,000 and was the 15th largest town in England and Wales.

It was designed to be in the shape of a Greek cross, however once the work was in progress the council realised that it had failed to purchase sufficient land and ended up with a sort of oblong on its hands.

When the Brighton police force amalgamated with Sussex in 1968 the population was about 164,000.

Dave Brenchley has unearthed a copy of   BLACK’S GUIDE BOOK for SUSSEX,  dated 1896 and describing Brighton Town Hall:

“The Town Hall, with the market opposite, stands in a square near the bottom of the Steyne.  It is a heavy building, not much admired; but a local Guide assures us that the police cells below are “ light, spacious, and comfortable,”

This building was built on the site of the previous small town hall with a black hole or lock-up, where the accused could be held until they could be examined by a magistrate. This in turn had been erected over the ruins of St Bartholomew’s Priory  garden which had been destroyed by the French in 1514.

Naturally, not content with razing the priory to the ground the French slaughtered all the monks, and their ghosts are believed by many to roam the site to this day.

Although the police cells were condemned for a second time in 1929 they remained in use until 1967. You can still see a couple of windows with Police written on them around the side of the building. The windows were preserved during the Second World War by sandbags and although they could cope with Goering’s Luftwaffe they were no match for the invasion in 1964 of the mods and rockers.

From 1285 the town was considered large enough to warrant its own constable.


Constable comes from the latin ‘comes stabuli’, count of the stables. In England the office of constable was introduced following the Norman Conquest. Usually the constable would be in charge of the defence of a castle.

In 1854 the town obtained its first charter of incorporation and the government was vested in the mayor, twelve aldermen, and thirty-six councillors representing the six wards, named the Pavilion, Pier, Park, St. Peter’s, St. Nicholas, and West wards. The corporation controlled the new police force; a coroner was appointed and a commission of the peace with a separate court of quarter sessions established.

In 1580 the Town House stood on the east side of the Blockhouse and was held by copy of court-roll from the lords of Brighton-Lewes. In 1665 the churchwardens paid an annual rent of 1s. for the Town House.  In 1825 the Town Hall stood in the Bartholomews and was described as ‘a small mean insignificant room’, where the magistrates had sat until 1821, when they moved to the Old Ship Inn.  The old workhouse, built in 1733 in the Bartholomews,  seems temporarily to have served as a court room, but in 1824 the poor-law authorities sold the Bartholomews to the town commissioners,  who had included the scheme of building a new Town Hall in their programme of improvements, certainly since 1810. The new hall in Market Street was built by the commissioners in 1830 at a cost of £60,000, largely at the instance of Thomas Read Kemp.

This page was added by Paul Beaken on 02/05/2012.