Brighton and Hove is known for seaside fun along with its thriving dining scene, vibrant nightlife and all-round cool vibes. However, it is also home to some engaging museums. From the iconic Royal Pavilion to the slightly eerie Booth Museum, there is something for everyone in this buzzing seaside city. Here are eight museums in Brighton and Hove worthy of a visit:
The Royal Pavilion
The domes and minarets of the Royal Pavilion appear to have been randomly transported from the exotic east. Built for the pleasure of hedonistic Prince Regent, later King George IV, the Royal Pavilion seems at odds yet fitting in a city that is known for its eccentricities. Built in 1787, the pavilion combines Regency grandeur with ornate Indian and Chinese style.
Following its days as a royal party pad, the building was sold to Brighton Council by Queen Victoria. During the First World War, the pavilion was converted into a hospital for Indian troops. A few years later, it was restored to its former glory. The grand kitchen now appears much as it back in its heyday. Furthermore, after an arson attack in 1975, the music room was also restored. The Pavilion is surrounded by lush gardens and is an ideal spot for a picnic on a sunny day.
The Toy and Model Museum
This museum may be small, but it packs a punch. A treasure trove of delights, it focuses on British and European toys and models made up until the mid-20th century. It is, in fact, one of the best museums of its kind in the world. With ten thousand exhibits, it’s a delight for both children and adults. Indeed, for adults, the antique toys provide a trip down memory lane. For children, it’s an insight into an unknown bygone era. The building is tucked beneath the Victorian arches, underneath Brighton Station.
The Toy and Model Museum is home to some beautifully presented model train collections. Puppets, teddy bears, radio-controlled aircraft and construction toys are among the other collections on display. Additionally, there are a wide range of Corgi and Dinky vehicles together with an impressive Lego exhibit. Another fun feature are the antique slot machines that visitors can play on (take along some 10p coins!) The friendly staff are happy to answer any questions about the exhibits.
Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
Situated in the Pavilion Gardens, the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery is home to a hotchpotch of art and history exhibits. Showcasing Brighton through the eras, it’s a sometimes random, but nevertheless engaging look at Brighton’s history. As well as permanent exhibitions, the museum also hosts temporary presentations throughout the year. One of the newest of displays is the archaeology gallery. Focusing on the Stone Age to the Anglo Saxons, the star feature is the Amber Cup, which was found in a Bronze Age burial mound in Hove in the 1850’s. There is also a room devoted to ancient Egyptian history with over 1,300 exhibits on display.
From dressing-up clothes to puzzles, there is plenty to keep the kids busy. Puppets from around the world along with Japanese woodcuts and art deco furniture are just a few of the eclectic exhibits on display. Furthermore, there are exhibits dedicated to LGBTQ history as well as the mods and rockers who are intrinsically connected to Brighton’s history.
The Booth Natural History Museum
This Grade II listed building was built back in 1874 to house the collection of Edward Thomas Booth, the ornithologist. It’s a classic Victorian museum, a gallery lined with display cases on either side. Old fashioned and musty, the museum has a large taxidermy collection and a slightly austere vibe. In addition to birds, there are a few animals on display including a cheetah. Additionally, there are butterflies along with fossils, minerals and dinosaur bones.
The museum has an area for temporary exhibits and study and regular talks and events are held throughout the year. Although signage is limited, a visit to the museum can nevertheless be educational experience for children. Indeed, there are various activities in place for young visitors such as hunting for butterfly pictures and colouring. There aren’t many museums left like this one – a visit to the Booth Natural History Museum is akin to stepping back into another era.
Old Police Cells Museum
Located in the basement of Brighton’s town hall, the Old Police Cells Museum offers an insight into some of the crimes committed in the city’s past. Corruption, robbery and murder dating back to the 1820’s are all on the agenda and guided tours are available. Learn all about the Chief Constable, who was murdered in his own office in 1844 and visit the gloomy cells in the depths of Brighton’s subterranean world.
Although the police station was condemned as unfit for use back in 1929, it continued to be used until 1968. Indeed, some of the mods and rockers who fought on the beaches in 1964 were locked up here. Exhibits include ID picture kits and evidence from the Brighton Bombing in 1984. The walls are covered with information outlining the history of the cells, which are known to be haunted.
Hove Museum and Art Gallery
The building in which Hove Museum is housed has had a varied past. It was built in the 1870’s and at that time was a family home. In the First World War, it was used to keep German prisoners of war. In 1926, the building was bought by Hove Council and then opened as a museum. The upper section of the museum is devoted to crafts including textiles, ceramics, woodwork, metalwork and jewellery. Another section focuses on film making through the ages and has several interactive exhibits.
The Hove Museum and Art Gallery is very family-friendly and there is a toy section as well as puppets, a dressing-up box and colouring books to keep the children busy. The Jaipur Gate is situated in the grounds. Built for the Maharajah of Jaipur in 1886, it was a gift to Hove from the Imperial Institute and is made of Bombay teak. An inscription reads ‘From the East comes light’ and ‘Where there is truth – is victory’. Entrance to the museum is free.
Brighton Fishing Museum
This city by the sea was once a small fishing called Brighthelmston, centred around the area now known as the Laines. Brighton Fishing Museum is located between two arches on Brighton seafront a fishing boat is on display in front of it. The museum opened in 1994 and is dedicated to the history of fishing and the seaside.
On entering, the visitor is transported back to 1890. The photographs and memorabilia hark back to an era when fishermen would offer ‘pleasure trips’ to local tourists and tells the story of how Brighton transitioned from a fishing village into a modern tourist resort. It doesn’t take long to peruse the museum, but it’s worth a look-in if you happen to be in the area. Furthermore, entrance is free.
Preston Manor can be found on the grounds of Preston Park, Brighton’s largest green space. A visit provides an insight into life in the Edwardian era. The original structure dates back to the 13th century. It was re-built in 1738, although part of the original building remains inside. In 1905 the building was renovated. During Edwardian times, the house was owned by the Stanfords, the most wealthy family in Sussex. A visit reveals the contrast between life upstairs and downstairs – the elegance of the furnishings and décor upstairs compared to the basic servant’s quarters downstairs.
Another interesting aspect of Preston Manor is that it is known to be haunted. Throughout the ages, there have been all kinds of sightings from disembodied hands on the bedposts to ghostly figures seen on the staircase. Also, strange noises have been heard from a clothes cupboard and lights have switched themselves on and off. The TV show, Most Haunted, was, in fact, filmed at the manor and a substantial amount of paranormal activity was present during the recording.