5 min read

Childhood Memories: Black Rock, Brighton rock, and falling through the slats

Rosy Gee recounts her fond childhood memories of family visits to Brighton in the 1960s.
Childhood Memories: Black Rock, Brighton rock, and falling through the slats
Source: The Brighton Seagull 

I love Brighton and I have so many happy childhood memories of my time there, writes Rosy Gee. My mum was born in Patcham and both of my parents had family there–my grandparents lived in Hove, and my dad's sister in Hollingbury. Since I have lost both of my parents, who died in their early 50s from cancer, I cherish the happy times that we spent there together as a family.

I was born in 1959 and, during the long school summer holidays, my dad would make the drive to Hollingbury in his clapped-out Cortina. The handbrake wasn't the best, so he would send me and my brother off to search for a brick or a boulder to wedge under the car tyres to stop it from rolling away down the steep hill outside my aunt’s house.

My brother, cousin, and I would keep ourselves amused through those long, hazy days before making our way back up to my aunt’s house for a feast of Smash potato, sausages, and baked beans. We spent all day cavorting around at Black Rock Lido, messing about, splashing around in the pool, making friends, and having fun without a smartphone, tablet (not the kind you swallow), or any other space-age technology to distract us from enjoying the great outdoors.

A view of Black Rock and the sea wall
Source: The Brighton Seagull 

Sometimes we would clamber aboard the 26B bus which took us into the town centre and wander around, visiting the aquarium and spending our pocket money on sweets. My brother always brought a stick of Brighton rock and I spent my threepenny bit on sherbet dabs and flying saucers. If I saved up for two weeks, I could buy a jamboree bag for 6D.

In the winter–it seemed to snow most winters when I was a kid–we used to sledge down the hill with just a metal tray between us and the packed snow beneath. I don’t think my aunt ever found out how we used her lovely stainless steel trays with handles strategically placed so that we could hang on for dear life as we hurtled down Rotherfield Crescent at great speed. They were happy, carefree times.

We would also visit my grandparents in Brunswick Place. It was a beautiful building, and I can remember climbing the granite steps in the poorly lit but very wide stairwells. When we reached the landing below my grandparents’ flat, there was a bathroom containing a stainless steel bath on legs (in vogue now but not so back then), a white porcelain sink, and a loo with a pull-chain cistern on it. All I can remember about that bathroom, which was (can you believe it) part of my grandparents’ flat and for their sole use, is that it was absolutely freezing. Up another short flight of stairs and to the right there was a tiny kitchen, after that my grandparents’ bedroom (with the door directly on the communal landing). Through a door to the left, there was my uncle's bedroom straight ahead, and, to the right, an enormous high-ceilinged room where my gran had a big wooden table and chairs, a huge dark brown sideboard, a sofa, and a couple of basic armchairs. I suppose it was the sitting room but it never felt very homely because of the high ceiling and spartan furniture.

I can remember my gran walking miles through the streets of Brighton to save a halfpenny on a bag of sugar and stocking up on household items that she could save a penny or two on–I suppose it stemmed from having lived through rationing after the Second World War. When she died, my mum found an incredible hoard of packets and tins of food stashed away.

Brighton Palace Pier with backlit with an orange sunset. A seagull flies above it.
Source: The Brighton Seagull 

One of the strongest memories I have of my family in Brighton is walking along the pier as a very young child and begging my dad to pick me up because I thought I would fall through the slats into the sea below. It seems silly now, but I imagine that I was so small that my feet only just covered the gaps in the pier. Almost 60 years later, I cannot walk on any pier without that memory flooding back.

If we were well-behaved, we might get a stick of candy floss or a toffee apple, and be rewarded with a ride on the brightly coloured horses on the carousel when we reached the end of the pier. I can still hear the tinny fairground music as the horses sped around and I hung on to the pole for dear life as the magical creatures hurtled round and round and up and down and I imagined we were jumping over rainbows. All too soon the ride came to an end and we would pester our parents to go on another ride, but things were tight back in the 60s and my brother and I were rationed to two rides each. If I wanted to go on the helter-skelter, I insisted that dad came with me because as we rounded the bends, I thought I would hurtle off into the sea!

My dad was also a particular fan of The Lanes, which always reminded me of going into a labyrinth. I can remember mum nervously waiting in the wings wondering what my dad would buy as he rummaged around in the old antique shops full of weird and wonderful objects, half of which I’m sure ended up in our house! It felt mystical, like being transported into a different world.

The annual London to Brighton vintage car run was another firm family favourite. I can remember standing on the seafront and clapping as car after car sped past, the occupants of the open-air contraptions dressed in strange leather helmets, goggles, and long scarves which would trail behind them in the wind like W. E. Johns' pilot hero Biggles.

I still love to visit The Royal Pavilion and must have visited a dozen times over the years; I am in awe of the opulence of this magical place and I love the stories of tunnels used by George IV to visit his lover, Maria Fitzherbert, in the nearby Steine House which he had built for her.

While I have never lived in Brighton, it will always have a special place in my heart because of all the wonderful times that I spent there as a child, and the enduring memories that I have of this enchanting seaside town.