Brighton Festival 2019Public booking opens: Fri 24 Feb, 9am

The History of Brighton Festival from 1814–1967 by Phillip Morgan

Long-standing employee of Brighton Festival, Phillip Morgan presented a special talk on our history at our Taster Day earlier this month. Phillip shares ten interesting facts about the Festival...


1. The first ever Brighton Festival was held in 1814, the festival took place on the Prince Regent’s birthday at the Level and was very different to the Festival we know today. The event was a free, but ticketed, dinner that guests were required to bring their own cutlery to and be cleanly apparelled for.

2. The dinner that was served at the first Brighton Festival was with the true old English fare of roast beef and plum-pudding, garnished with a suitable number of hogsheads filled with ale and brown stout.

3. There were 7,930 attendees at the first ever festival, they were seated at sixty-five double rows of tables, adapted for the one hundred and twenty-two guests at each.

4. One notable attendee of the festival was Phoebe Hessel who was the oldest person there at ninety-nine years old! Phoebe is known for having had disguised herself as a man to serve in the British Army, she lived to the age of 108 and there is now a monument to her in St Nicholas churchyard!

5. The day ended with a well-attended show at the theatre, where God Save the King verse and chorus made up part of the performances.


6. In 1869 the Brighton Festival that we know today began to take shape. Austrian pianist, composer and promoter Mr Kuhe gave a series of fifteen grand orchestra concerts at the Grand Theatre, then in 1870 the shows were moved to the Dome and named as the Brighton Festival.

7. Unfortunately, by 1883 the festival was to be terminated as Kuhe was unable to make a profit off the shows, however he continued to produce individual concerts in Brighton.

8. Fifteen years later in 1908 Joseph Sainton was appointed as the musical director of a new municipal orchestra that consisted of forty permanent players. The Brighton Corporation decided to establish a festival once the new orchestra was created and it ran until 1914, being one of the very few British festivals to continue after the outbreak of war.

9. The last of Sainton’s festivals in 1914, included a commission by composer Hubert Parry, a symphonic poem entitled From Death into Life.


10. The Brighton Festival was reopened in 1967, the opening of the Festival featured Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius. which had also opened the 1909 Festival when the concert had been hugely popular, causing excited queues of patrons to gather right down to the promenade, hundreds of which had to be turned away. The Brighton Gazette said of the concert: “It seemed the realisation of a musical apocalypse the rendering in music of the vision of St John the Divine. It is hard in mere words to justify such a statement but there were many, for all that one knows a majority, in that great audience who for once felt themselves carried out of themselves by some influence which transported them far above the confines of this earth.”

Find out more about Phillip Morgan’s fondest memories of Brighton Festival or learn more about our history