Brighton’s Madeira Drive & Terrace -125 years on. What is there to celebrate?

P1020979P1020981Dilapidated and neglected, sadly reflecting Brighton’s less salubrious underbelly reputation of dossers, scroungers and drug addicts: forgotten and ignored, patched up, disintegrating and unsafe. Is the splendid Victorian development along Madeira Drive being left to die a slow and unsightly death?

Two extremes can clearly be seen either side of Brighton Pier- the opulence and extravagance of the i360 on one side; poverty and lack of foresight on the other. How does this benefit the economy and reputation of our City-all glitz and glamour and cutting edge up to the minute design versus crumbling Victorian heritage?

Metal barriers have continued to appear along the half mile length of Madeira Drive, from the Aquarium to the Shelter Hall, providing a visible commentary on this Cinderella side of the seafront. The arches and terrace have been closed off, piece by piece, as their cast iron supports finally give up.

125 years ago on 24th May 1890, Queen Victoria’s 71st birthday, the Madeira Lift and Shelter Hall and a stretch of Terrace either side were opened by the Mayor, with much celebration. It was a busy, sunny Whitsun Bank Holiday.

The Lift, a unique example of Victorian engineering, was originally powered by water: its Oriental design reflects the style of the Royal Pavilion. It was built to provide an easy way to get to and from Marine Parade to Madeira Drive where Magnus Volk’s revolutionary electric railway ran along the seafront. The Shelter Hall provided refreshments, public toilets and a Reading Room, and the covered walkway provided relief from sun, wind and rain.

The Madeira Drive Victorian seaside development is an important part of Brighton’s character and heritage. Will it become a skeleton eyesore like the West Pier? What sort of backdrop will it provide to the proposed development of Volks Railway, and to the many events that are held every year on Madeira Drive? Predictions are that it will be left for ‘many years’ in this deteriorating state – apparently there is no plan or money for its rebuilding and preservation.

It deserves to be resuscitated-not to become another casualty of ‘modernisation’-gone forever…..

What are we going to do about it?


Footnote: about the author
In May 1990 in conjunction with the Lewis Cohen Urban Studies Centre at Brighton Polytechnic I arranged an exhibition of photos and architectural drawings to celebrate the Centenary of the official opening of the Lift, Shelter Hall and Terraces with support from Brighton Borough Council and James Longley and Company, the builders.

I had discovered the Lift when, with two small children, I was researching my idea for a leaflet for new parents and visitors to provide information on ‘Places to Take the Under Fives’*

My interest was in making available information that would be helpful and interesting on places which were free, or cost very little to use or enjoy: information which was not easily or generally available to the public. (No internet then!)

The Lift was a much easier way of getting up and down from Marine Parade to Madeira Drive with a baby, buggy, and/or a toddler than using the steep flights of steps at either end of the Terraces. In addition, it was ideal for the elderly, disabled and wheelchair users, and there was the added bonus of public toilets in the Shelter Hall.

I found that many people, even Brightonians, did not realise the kiosk on Marine Parade was the entrance to the Lift, nor how useful it was, nor did they realise its historical importance as an integral part of the Victorian Madeira Drive seafront development.

With the 125th Anniversary of the opening of the Madeira Lift, Shelter Hall and Terrace I have turned my attention back to the task of publicising this fascinating, functional and forgotten gem, which is now in desperate need of support………..

‘Madeira Lift 1890-1990’ Lewis Cohen Urban Studies Centre 1990
Brighton & Hove News  May 2015
‘Places to Take the Under 5s’ Lewis Cohen Urban Studies Centre 1986

Copyright © Denise Whittington 2015


3 thoughts on “Brighton’s Madeira Drive & Terrace -125 years on. What is there to celebrate?

  1. Good article Denise…worth mentioning the role of the green wall in attracting people along the seafront, and providing such a wonderful backdrop to the shelter hall and terraces which were added later. James, Building Green.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think attention will need to be given to the whole of the Victorian seafront. The collapse of one of the arches at the bottom of West Street last year should be a warning of the potential chaos and disruption if the historic infrastructure is not maintained. Visitors will just not come to Brighton.

    Liked by 1 person

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