The Hobbs Album


In the third of a series of articles looking at historic photos found in a 100-year-old album belonging to the Hobbs family, local historian Richard Arnopp presents a selection of images of the Hobbs in Brighton

In 2017 I acquired an album, dated 1896–1907, containing just over 100 photographs taken by members of the Hobbs family. In the last article, we looked at the home of George Wilson Hobbs, in what was then the quiet, lower-middle-class suburb of Forest Gate.

George’s wife, Fanny (née Viner), came originally from Brighton, and it was there that they were married in 1865 in St Nicholas’ Church. Thereafter, the couple and their growing family led a rather peripatetic existence before settling in Forest Gate around 1880. However, their family album shows that they maintained their links with Brighton, and photographs of their visits show the Victorian seaside resort as well as more traditional scenes of fishing boats and rural Sussex life.

In the early 18th century, Brighton had been a declining fishing town, suffering from a fall in demand for fish, coastal erosion and a series of natural disasters. Salvation had come from an unexpected quarter: in the 1730s, a local doctor began to extol the medicinal qualities of seawater and the virtues of sea bathing. Over the following decades, the town became a fashionable resort, attracting wealthy visitors during the summer season. From 1771, these included the Duke of Cumberland, a member of the Royal Family. In 1783, he was joined by the young Prince of Wales, who was later to become the Prince Regent and King George IV. The prince enjoyed his stay, and in 1786 rented a farmhouse and began to spend much of his time in Brighton, where he set up a discreet establishment for his mistress, Mrs Fitzherbert (whom he had secretly, and illegally, married the previous year). The farmhouse was gradually transformed into the fantastical Royal Pavilion, still Brighton’s greatest attraction.

The railway came to Brighton in 1840 and brought Brighton within the reach of daytrippers from London. The Royal Family now felt too hemmed in to enjoy the town, and Queen Victoria sold the Royal Pavilion to the town council in 1850. However, although the new visitors mostly lacked the wealth or glamour of their Georgian predecessors, they more than made up for it in numbers, and the town continued to grow and prosper. Fanny Viner’s family were beneficiaries of this tourist boom – her father Henry was for nearly 40 years landlord of the Eagle Inn. Located in Charles Street, off Marine Parade, the pub was well-located in a busy area with numerous boarding houses. The building still stands, though it ceased to be a pub in 1927.

In the later 20th century, Brighton, in common with many other British seaside resorts, lost much of its popularity and became rather dilapidated and seedy. However, these photographs from around 1900 show it at the height of its late-Victorian popularity.

To view Richard’s Wanstead Image Archive, visit wnstd.com/imagearchive