Hotel History - 464 Years in Brief

The Old Ship Hotel is Brighton’s oldest hotel, built on land owned by the Priory of Bartholomew, est. 1120, (now stands Brighton Town Hall) which was damaged by French raiders in June 1514. The priory disappeared completely as a result of the Chantries Act 1547 and the site was then used as a marketplace in the 17th century.

The Old Ship probably derived its name from being partly constructed from ship's timbers (that can still be seen in the original cellars).  For many years, the entrance to the stable included a ship's stern-piece.  It serviced the marketplace on the nearby cliff top, while the street in which it is situated took its name from the inn, Ship Street.  

Ofcourse, in the early days The Old Ship was nothing like the size of the present-day premises - it was just a simple structure called 'The Shippe Tavern' in Brighthelmstone.

1559 – The first record of an inn in Brighthelmstone, The Shippe, a cottage in the Hampshares owned by Richard and John Gilham.

1650 – The Shippe Tavern is renamed The Old Ship Inn when the New Ship (now Hotel du Vin) is built opposite in Ship Street.

1651 – Charles II escapes from England to France (Fecamp, Normandy) in a coal brig, 'The Surprise', owned by a local man, Nicholas Tettersell. 

1670 – George Hackett owned the Old Ship.

1705 – A great storm sweeps away 113 shops and cottages at the bottom of the cliff, leaving the Old Ship Inn in the prominent position

it enjoys today.

1719 – The contents of the Old Ship Inn are valued at £200.00 on the death of its owner, Richard Rodgers.

1723 - New sea defences were created and in due course the Kings Road was built on top of a mighty sea wall.

1733 - William Hicks purchased the Old Ship.  Cock fighting was one of the entertainments he provided.  It was recorded that a

            cock-fight took place in 1746 and it was not until 1849 that the government made it illegal.

1745 – During the summer, a coach ‘The Flying Machine’ leaves the Old Ship daily at 5.30am, reaching London that same evening.

1750’s – Construction of The 'Assembly Rooms' began.

1767 – The Assembly Rooms, now known as the Paganini Ballroom and the Regency Suite are complete. The assembly rooms were    

             built by Robert Golden, with the Adam style inspired by Robert Adam. The assembly rooms contained a ballroom, as well as 

             card and tea rooms, without doubt the most magnificent public rooms in the town they are the setting for many a glittering

             occasions such as the 'RaceBall' and the 'Prince Regent's Ball' in 1819, as well as being used for mundane but essential matters.

1777 - The assembly rooms (up until 1777) hosted the town's post office and was the original site of the Brighton corn market.

1780's - The hotel was visited by Frances Burney (Satirical Novelist, Diarist) and Samuel Johnson (Writer). 

1784 – Mail Coaches are introduced as Brighton becomes the centre of fashionable society. The Old Ship ran a regular coach service 

             to London and other Major cities and was the point of arrival and departure for 100 years. 

1787 - George, Prince of Wales was interested in the development of the assembly rooms.  With his encouragement - if not his money -

            a gracious retiring room for the royal personage was added overlooking Ship Street.

1793 – Hotel guests dined on devilled kidneys and Madeira Wine on the Seafront opposite the Hotel as mock sea battles were fought

             in preparation for a possible invasion by Napoleons troops.

1794 - The building was expanded.

1795 - A court martial was held at the Old Ship, the result of the court martial was that Edward Cooke and Henry Parish of the Oxford

           Militaria was found guilty of mutiny and shot at Goldstone Bottom.

1797 – The Prince of Wales (later George IV) officially visits the Assembly Rooms.

1802 – On the death of its owner, John and Leah Hicks, The Old Ship (now with 70 beds) is sold at auction to William Attree.

1808 - In the summer of 1808, Lord Byron (Poet) (who was living on the seafront in Brighton at 1 Marine Parade) visited the Old Ship

            for functions in the Assembly Rooms.

1810 – First meeting of the Town Commissioners at The Old Ship.

1814 - The assembly rooms hosted card evenings on Tuesday and Saturday's, although the ballroom was later closed in 1814.

1819 – ‘Race Ball’ and ‘Prince Regent’s Ball’ held at The Old Ship.

1820 – As Brighton celebrates the coronation of George IV (formerly the Prince Regent) with beer, bonfires and fireworks, smugglers 

             spirit away 30 kegs of Dutch Gin from the stable yard of The Old Ship.

1821 - The magistrates court was moved to The Old Ship.

1822 – Meeting at The Old Ship regarding the building of the Chain Pier.

1825 - Captain Brown, designer of 'Chain Pier' presented with a piece of plate at dinner at the Old Ship.

1830 – 1836 – King William IV sends daily to The Old Ship for a list of arrivals on the London Coach so that he can select who he

            wishes to invite for dinner at The Royal Pavilion.

1831 – Nicolo Paganini gives a concert in December from the Balcony in the Ballroom which was later renamed after the celebrated

            violinist.  Two hundred and sixty people paid 10 shillings each (equivalent to 50p today) to watch him play his own compositions,

            dressed in black with bushy hair.

1835 - Ship Street corner block was added.  Gideon Mantell (Obstetrician, Geologist) gave a lecture on geology and organic remains

           at the Old Ship.

1840 - The hotel entrance was moved from Ship Street to where it now stands.

1841 – Charles Dickens (Novelist) stays at the Hotel and gives public readings of his work in the Ballroom. The same year he publishes

             ‘Barnaby Rudge' and 'The Old Curiosity Shop'.  On 21st September 1841, a banquet is held at The Old Ship to celebrate the 

              opening of the London to Brighton railway, a venture which was originally planned at the Hotel.  200 guests dine on turtle soup,

              turbot, venison, game & joints of meat followed by various pastries and accompanied by Champagne, Claret & Moselle wine.  

             In 1841 the Old Ship was providing entertainment of a different sort.  A lady was devoting some hours daily to the exhibition of

             a talking canary, apparently 'the little songster warbles, in a perfectly distinct manner, a great number of loyal phrases, such as

             'Long Life to Queen and Prince Albert'.

1846 –  William Makepeace Thackeray (Novelist & Illustrator) stays at The Old Ship, during his stay he was hard at work on

              'Vanity Fair' published in parts during 1847 and 1848.  In this book Amelia Sedley & George Osborne spent their honeymoon

              at Brighton 'having engaged apartments at the Ship Inn'.

1852 – The Bacon family take over the Hotel; it remains in the family for 120 years.

1874 - Hova Ecclesia Lodge - Consecrated and meeting here since 8th April 1874 (Provincial Grand Lodge of Sussex). 

1885 - The assembly rooms had been turned into auction rooms.

1887 – A portrait of Doctor Russell (Physician) is presented to the town of Brighton by the Old Ship owners.

1888 – The celebrated coachman James Selby took the coach ‘Old Times’ from Piccadilly to Brighton and back in 7 hours and 50

            minutes, the fastest time ever recorded.

1891 – Electric lights are installed at The Old Ship Hotel.

1895 – The original front of hotel in Ship Street is demolished and the first modernization of the Hotel takes place.

1906 – The Automobile Club headquarters set up at The Old Ship.

1914 - During the first world war, the military authorities commandeered the magnificent coach horses, including the ones from

           ‘'The Old Times'.

1920 - Lifts installed (the same lifts are still in use to this day), maintained on a regular basis.

1920/ 30's - Telephone booths installed in the lobby.

1927/28 - The garage and stable area were rebuilt. 

1930 – The Veteran Car Club is founded at The Old Ship. Ever since, on the first Sunday in November each year, veteran cars make

            their annual journey from London to Brighton.

1939/1945 – The Old Ship remains open for business whilst other large hotels are requisitioned. Many officers from 'HMS Vernon'

               stay at the Hotel.

1947 - Winston Churchill, regularly stayed at The Old Ship.  During the war he came down to inspect the defences, no one knew of his visits. Churchill brought a chair from his home & left it here for future stays (the chair is located opposite one of the lifts on the ground floor).

            Following the war, he visited the town in October 1947 for the Conservative Party Conference which was then

            held at the Dome. The day before he addressed the Party at the Dome he was at the Royal Pavilion, where he received the

            'Freedom of the Borough of Brighton'.  He visited the town for the last time in 1952 for a visit to Brighton Races.

1952 - The assembly rooms became a Grade II listed building.

1963/1964 -  The East Wing is built at the corner of Black Lion Street, providing an additional 55 bedrooms and a updated 2 storey


1973 - First 'Brighton Gay Pride March' organised by the Sussex Gay Liberation Front in July 1973. We share our pride in those

            trailblazers as we celebrate Brighton & Hove Pride today. The march started in Hove and the day ended at The Old Ship Hotel.

1977 – The 1st Royal Escape Race takes place in memory of Charles II’s escape from England in 1651. Each year in May, some 100 

            yachts from the Sussex Yacht Club retrace his route across the channel to Fecamp (Normandy, France), with the race starting

            opposite the hotel.

1982 - Sir John Betjeman (Poet, Writer) wrote in June 1982 'I often stayed at the Old Ship with my father’.

1984 – A reporter from the Washington Post staying at the Hotel sleeps through the bombing of the Grand Hotel during the

            Conservative Party Conference.

1988 – Centenary Run – George Missman drives the 'Old Times' coach from London to Brighton, a hundred years after its first journey

             to the Old Ship.

1995 - The wine cellars are reinstated in full and made available for private dining and receptions. A unique venue in Brighton.

            A series of smugglers tunnels leading from the beach into the town and as far north as the Royal Pavilion were discovered

            in the basement.

2009 – The hotel celebrates its 450th anniversary.

2017 - Saw the 250th celebrations of the ballroom where 100 guests feasted on a 4-course banquet themed on the taste eras of the 20th

           Century, the guest list included relations of Captain Tettersell.