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When famous and fashionable people flocked to Brighton, the impression was given that Britain’s leading resort was a place of prosperity.
So it was for George IV and his retinue, living in the fabulous Royal Pavilion and Regency houses which sparkled in the sunshine.
But for most Brightonians it was a different story. Huddled in their primitive houses, they were out of sight from most visitors, and out of mind too.
Many gave up the unequal struggle to eke out a meagre living in the storm-lashed town and threw themselves on the mercy of the workhouse.
This grimmest of institutions started in the centre of town and later moved to a site near the racecourse.
Decades after the workhouse had gone and the building had become Brighton General Hospital, many older people shuddered when they went by because they recalled how awful the old place was.
Now author James Gardner has written about their sad lives in a book about the workhouse, its inmates and the people who ran it.
He says: “Behind the town’s façade there was a squalor equalled only by working-class areas in industrial cities.”
Dr William Kebbell, a caring physician, said in 1848: “The streets and districts of the poor, both in filth and general untidiness, and the squalor of the inhabitants, are a disgrace to any civilised people.”
There were prominent people in Brighton who cared about the paupers in the workhouse. Among them was Ellen Nye Chart, owner of the Theatre Royal, who arranged for them to visit the pantomime for free each Christmas.
In their thanks to her one year they described the panto as “one of the bright spots in the necessarily dull routine of workhouse life”.
Even the guardians responsible for the workhouse were often either indifferent or hostile to the inmates.
What made matters worse was that, in the early days of the workhouse, many guardians wined and dined themselves at the expense of the parish and some handed lucrative workhouse contracts to their friends.
Meanwhile, conditions in the workhouse were so bad some paupers said they would rather be in prison.
Many pauper children were sent to industrial schools built at Woodingdean where conditions were equally harsh.
In 1879, a government inspector described the infirmary there as terribly overcrowded and stuffy.
Children were given inadequate meals and there were two baths, neither of them operating properly, for more than 250 youngsters.
There were more than 4,000 paupers in Brighton in the 1870s receiving some form of relief and this was offered only in extreme cases. More were offered places in the workhouse but often refused to go there.
As a new century dawned, conditions remained dire in the house on the hill.
The First World War, in which inmates were transferred to other buildings as the workhouse became a hospital, made matters worse.
Even in the early 1930s, the building was chronically understaffed and it was not until 1935 when it was renamed the Elm Grove Home that conditions really started to improve.
The formation of the National Health Service forced further improvements from 1948 onwards and only pensioners will recall the workhouse now.
But there is still hidden poverty in Brighton, a low-wage resort where times remain tough for thousands of poor people.
* A History Of The Brighton Workhouses by James Gardner (£19.95) can be obtained from City Books or Waterstones or direct from the author at his website: www.jamesgardnerauthor.com