An Evening of Murders, Mysteries and Mayhem
On a rainy (but atmospheric) evening this week we ventured into Brighton to join a guided tour which revealed some of the dark and ghostly secrets of the city.
We arrived early and had time for a drink at The Victory Inn, one of Brighton's oldest pubs, rebuilt in 1824 to commemorate the victory at Trafalgar in 1805.
We met the rest of the tour group outside the Victory and it wasn't long before we found ourselves in the churchyard of St Nicholas Church, said to be the oldest building in Brighton, dating (in its current form) from the mid 14th century. There are some interesting characters buried in the graveyard including Captain Nicholas Tattersell who helped King Charles II escape to France from Shoreham Harbour in 1651; John Weiss, a surgical instrument maker, who so much feared being buried alive that he devised a metal spike on his coffin lid to puncture his heart when closed, just to make sure he was definitely deceased.
I was most impressed with the story of Phoebe Hessel who lived to the ripe old age of 108. Her life story would make a great movie - best know for disguising herself as a man and enlisting in the army so that she could be with her lover. Amazingly, they served for 17 years before being found out and discharged from service. They then married, moved to Plymouth and had 9 children, sadly 8 of them dying in infancy and the 9th at sea. When her husband died, Phoebe moved back to Brighton and remarried, her second husband dying when she was 80 and so she sold fish, oranges and gingerbread to make a living.
Our tour continued around the town and we heard other stories such as the tale of "The Chocolate Cream Poisoner", ghostly hauntings at the Theatre Royal and two unrelated stories of "The Brighton Trunk Murders" (weirdly enough, as we were standing outside the small terraced house which had been the scene of a murder in 1934 when a woman's body was hidden in a trunk, 2 students then awkwardly walked past us, struggling to carry a coffin-sized cardboard box...)
We found ourselves opposite the Brighton Pavilion, with stories of royalty and secret tunnels.
There are many old public houses in Brighton with lots of secrets and stories to tell. We found it very sad that Deryck Carver of the Black Lion public house was burnt at the stake in 1555 for being a protestant. Originally from Holland, it is believed he was the first brewer in Brighton and he was probably just trying to make an honest living. Since the 1940's, it has been claimed that his ghost haunts the cellar.
Next to the Black Lion, stands the oldest pub in Brighton's Lanes area, The Cricketers Inn. In the past, it was a lodging house and Jack the Ripper prime suspect Robert Stephenson used to stay here and his ghost now allegedly haunts the building. This pub was a favourite of the author Graham Greene who took a room here while writing one of his best known novels, Brighton Rock.
Our tour ended and we felt we needed another drink - and despite the Jack The Ripper connection, we felt drawn back to the Cricketers, which seemed warm and inviting.