Notorious Women of Brighton

Performance: 03/06/18

For so long the history books have been written by men and about men, and Royal Pavilion guide Louise Preskett aims to correct this imbalance with a 90 minute amble through Brighton sharing stories about the pioneering women in this ‘golden triangle of women’s history’.

The tour begins outside St. Nicholas church in central Brighton, where, on this particular Sunday, the sun was out and the bells were ringing. It was the perfect day to celebrate some fantastically eccentric historical figures.

The first stop was at Martha Gunn’s grave. Gunn is one of Brighton’s best-known characters and a famous dipper – someone who helped women bathers in and out of the sea – and her legacy lives on in several businesses still running in Brighton today. From helping to put Brighton on the map as a sea bathing health resort (thank God the NHS doesn’t prescribe drinking two pints of seawater with milk) to being depicted single-handedly saving the English from a French invasion with a mop, using the larger-than-life Martha Gunn as the opening act for the tour certainly set you up for the kind of mad, swashbuckling stories you were going to hear for the next hour and a half. Another notable visit is made to the grave of Phoebe Hessel, a woman who served in the 5th Regiment of Foot for 17 years and lived to over 100 years old. From there, Preskett takes you through the Lanes and to the battered Hippodrome where so many famous faces graced the stage, to the Pavilion and Theatre Royal. Without wanting to completely divulge every fascinating fact from the tour, stories touch upon everything from a woman who brought Russian literature to English-speaking readers, Black history being made in law and on the silver screen, cunning Suffragettes and far from sweet chocolate box poisonings. The stories are as rich and diverse as Brighton remains today.

Preskett creates a relaxed atmosphere throughout the tour, and her vast knowledge of and passion for the city and gentle humour make even the most disturbing stories engaging. While it is a real joy to hear these stories about the visionary female figures of the city, it did disappoint me to realise I had lived in Brighton for 25 years without knowing anything of many of these women. Surely the local schools (I had no idea I had been walking past Mount Everest’s namesake in my school’s churchyard for ten years, for example) should be making more of these brilliant historical figures in their curriculum.

The tour was fascinating from start to finish and Preskett, who also runs tours in Kemptown and Hove, is a brilliant guide and storyteller, with her passion for her subject plain to see.

Originally posted on Broadway Baby.

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