Brighton then and now: the "ordinary" history at your fingertips

Curious about Brighton’s past? MOOP volunteer Jordan Taylor reveals a top resource for exploring the individual histories of the city’s buildings – from your flat to your favourite sushi restaurant

Clock Tower redevelopment in the early 1960s

Clock Tower redevelopment in the early 1960s

If, like myself, you are insatiably curious about the unknown histories around you, then there are ways you can find out more. Brighton is a treasure trove of social history and many organisations in this area have accumulated collections that can help even the most amateur historian discover more about those who stood before them.

For example, The James Gray Collection. Born in 1904, James Gray was a local Brighton man who worked in insurance. A chance acquisition of photos depicting Western Road in the 1950s set Gray on a mission that was to define the rest of his life: collecting one of the most comprehensive groups of photos depicting Brighton and the surrounding area.

Owned by The Regency Society – which runs campaigns to protect Brighton’s heritage – the beauty of this archive lies not only in its breadth and depth, but in its ability to help researchers track down lesser known histories of the city. In the most simple way, you can scroll through the collection to potentially find your own house – what it looked like, who lived there, On a more complex level, the archive can be used to track land developments and to see how the landscape of Brighton has changed through the years.

The entire collection –  totalling a staggering 7,500 images – has been digitised and put into thirty nine volumes, separated into areas of the city. Gray took care to accompany some of the photographs with handwritten annotations describing the area or scene depicted, whilst for those without any description a team of volunteers continue to track down and identify what is shown.

A great example is displayed here - looking across Middle Street towards The Spotted Dog, now known as The Hop Poles. By comparing this image with Google Maps (a more modern, but no less useful tool), one can see that the building to the right has since been replaced, now home to the restaurant Sushimani, whereas the pub is almost unchanged. Browsing the images in this fashion gives one a sense of how Brighton has found itself at the crossroads of old and new.

The collection is available, free of charge, at the website of The Regency Society, or you can view the physical photos at The Keep archive.

For more information about James Gray, The Regency Society and the collection, visit