Brighthelmstone Part 1

Whitehawk Camp is one of Britain's earliest neolithic monuments. The hill was chosen some 5,500 years ago as the site for a series of circular ditches and banks which marked the hill as an area for feasting, burials and other activities of a ritual nature.
Whitehawk Neolithic Camp, Brighton 1935
This is a depiction of Brighton under attack. It is by the court draughtsman Anthony Anthony, who would have worked from locally supplied information. It shows the French attack on Brighton in 1514.
Brighton Town Hall was erected over the ruins of St Bartholomew's Priory garden which had been destroyed by the French in 1514.

Brighton is a much older place than many people suspect. There was a site on the Race Hill some 2,000 years before Christ. It was a settlement of Stone Age savages.

The lines of this entrenchment can still be traced.

The Whitehawk Camp

The site is now known as The Whitehawk Camp. A number of excavations were carried out in 1929 and again in 1932. These excavations threw some light on the people who lived there. During the dig, a number of interesting articles were found. These included some broken pottery, a few flint implements a few snail shells, some animal bones as well as a few human bones. These were all properly recorded and threw some light on the people who were the inhabitants of that period.

The bones of two young women aged between twenty and thirty years were recovered from the ground which is now used as part of the ‘pulling–up ground’ during the races. One of these women had been buried amongst the domestic refuse in a ditch while the other one was buried with the remains of a new born infant.

Childrens Skulls

Also found at this point was pieces of skulls of five young children, these had also been buried amongst the domestic refuse. Some fragments had been charred by fire and these two were amongst the refuse.

These ditches seemed to have been divided amongst the functions of the houses, a domestic rubbish tip and what remained that of a cemetery.

French Attack Brighton

In 1514 occurred the biggest disaster that ever befell Brighton. At that time the most feared French Admiral was Admiral Pregent de Bidoux. He made an attack on Brighton at night. From what appears to be a ‘large fleet’ sailed across the Channel to attack Brighton. It was described as being ‘A large fleet with great basilisks and other artillery,’ a large force landed and slaughtered men, women and children. They seized their goods and set their houses on fire burning them to the ground.

However, before the day dawned the countryside had been aroused and the raiders had to return to their ships faster than what they had intended.

There were six Archers who kept watch and who followed prior John down to the sea. These six Brighton Archers chased the French raiders into the sea and were shooting as fast as they could. The arrows being true to their aim and many of these French raiders never saw their homes again… The Admiral was struck in the cheek by one of the arrows and struggled in great pain to board his ship.

These six Archers tried to board one of the French boats but were repelled by some French pikemen. It seems a remarkable thing for six Archers to repel such a large force. Paintings and drawings show that there were large groups of soldiers heading for Brighton from Lewes and Poynings at this time.

Brighton attack France in retaliation

There were State Papers sent from Calais, and dated 5th June 1514 that shows an attack was being planned from England by Sir John Wallop to invade this part of France in response to the attack on Brighton when Brighton was completely destroyed. During this attack the only building left standing was the walls of St. Nicholas Church and a portion of the Priory of Bartholomews. This name has been applied to the Square where the present Town Hall is situated.

It was agreed that Sir John Wallop would invade France with a large fleet and so well did he achieve this attack. In total his forces burned to the ground 21 towns and villages in Normandy, in fact he razed them to the ground.

Wallop is to Thrash Well

Legend says that the name ‘wallop’ which means to ‘thrash well’, owes its origin to the name of this 16th century commander.

From the attack by the French in 1514 the town must have been built again quite quickly as in 1544 the ‘Trynyte of Brighthelmstone’ is recorded as carrying the iron shot to be used at the siege of Boulogne.

In the early days of the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st a blockhouse was built at Brighton. However, at that time, the main enemy was the sea and by the middle of the 18th Century the sea had won. The cliffs on which the Blockhouse stood were washed away and there is nothing left to show where it once stood.

In those days the town was large enough to have two quarrelsome factors, namely the landowners and the fishermen. These were firstly, the men who lived above the cliffs and the fishermen who lived under the cliffs. These quarrels became so fierce that a special commission was set up to deal with these outrages. Two wardens were appointed, one for each side. At that time the Parish Church of St. Peter then had three wardens. One had been appointed by the vicar while the other two were chosen by the townspeople.

Pirates of Brighton

In 1565 another problem appeared that of piracy.  Evidently Brighton housed a ‘nest of pirates,’ and in later times Brighton became notorious for the pirates that were based here.

At one stage the piracy became so bad that local men were sent to Parliament with a petition. The local vessels were constantly being attacked by pirates from Dunkirk. In one attack 30 local vessels were seized by these Dunkirk pirates. During another attack, a Dunkirk ‘Man-of-War captured five barques.

On a certain Sunday in February 1630, Brighton got its revenge against the Frenchmen. A Dunkirk warship with 78 men and armed with ten guns was chased and ran aground at Brighton. The ship was stormed by the local inhabitants. What happened to the crew is not clear but was probably killed. The ten guns were taken from the ship and set up for the defence of the town.

St. Pauls Cathedral

It has been recorded that ships from Brighton carried the Portland stone for the work on building St. Pauls Cathedral in London. All of the ships crews who were engaged in this work were presented with Indigo Jones Certificates rendering them free from any unpleasant attentions of the various ‘Press Gangs’ that operated in those times.


These facts are taken from the N.U.T. Conference Souvenir Book of 1934 when they had their conference in Brighton.

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