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Shades Bars on the South Coast

‘Something beyond the ordinary trade’ – by David Russell


References to the British pub and prostitution are widespread in pub history. This is not least because of the penalties incurred by landlords and landladies who have allowed prostitutes onto their premises. The relationship between publicans and prostitutes generally, seems to have been harmonious. As Bryan Harrison points out in Drink and the Victorians, “The alliance between publican and prostitute was natural; the publican presided over a meeting place where human relations of all kinds were established, sold a powerful solvent of barriers between individuals, and was generally associated with recreation and gaiety. His house was a suitable ‘house of call’ for prostitutes as for any other trade. Both prostitute and publican became scapegoats

for social evils with much deeper roots; both had the same enemies …”1

Research on the south-east coast shows that apart from pubs, other 19th century licensed premises used by prostitutes can be identified by their use of the name ‘Shades’. Several of Brighton’s Victorian hotels had attached Shades. Among them were the Old Ship, the Brewery, the Crown and the Terminus; 2 also the Bristol, the Golden Fleece,3 the Bedford, the Colonnade and the Pavilion Wine Vaults and Shades, all of which were bars attached to hotels and, except for the Old Ship, dated from the late 18th to the late 19th centuries.

The Old Ship Hotel is Brighton’s oldest licensed premises dating from 1559. An early landlord, Nicholas Tattersell, captained the boat that took Charles II to France in 1651. By the 19th century it had become popular with royalty and the aristocracy.

Old Ship tunnel, Brighton

Other pubs still trading are the Royal Pavilion Wine Vaults and Shades, (now the Royal Pavilion Tavern), the Bedford, the Colonnade and the Golden Fleece (now the Market Inn). The current sign of the Market Inn is taken from a drawing of 1857 of the Golden Fleece. A close inspection of the signage beneath the two bow windows reveals ‘Golden Fleece. Wm. Beard’, ‘Wines and Spirits, Shades’.

 Golden Fleece 1857, Brighton

Shades were also established in other coastal towns competing with Brighton as ‘pleasure resorts’ for the early tourist trade. Eastbourne had the Star Shades 4 and Hastings had the Swan, Saxon, Royal Albion, Queen’s, Hastings Arms and Castle Hotel Shades among others. 5 A very old pub, the Hogs Head in Crawley, East Sussex was also formerly a Shades with a subterranean tunnel running to the George Hotel opposite. The Old Ship, Brighton and the Royal Albion, Hastings also had tunnels linking them to the Shades allowing gentlemen customers direct access.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the term ‘shades’ originated in 19th century Brighton as a synonym for wine vaults 6 but was also a term used elsewhere as ‘oyster shades’ or ‘oyster bar’, signifying the availability of prostitutes (oyster being Victorian slang for vagina).7

Large scale prostitution had its origins in the demands of the military billeted along the south-east coast in the 1790s, awaiting the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte. By 1793 there were 10,000 troops billeted on the South Downs above Brighton and a further 15,000 in Hove.8 Troops were in fact billeted all along the south-east coast (the front line), with further large numbers in Newhaven, Seaford, Eastbourne, Hastings and further east into Kent. The Duke of Wellington celebrated his taking command of the brigade at the Swan, Hastings.

            Star Shades, Eastbourne

By 1796 the sixth edition of The New Brighton Guide could advertise the town as a place “where the sinews of morality are so happily relaxed, that a bawd and a baroness may snore in the same tenement” whilst the motto of the military was ‘Long Live Love and Wine’. Hundreds of female camp-followers, dubbed the ‘Cyprian Corps’ (Venus, Goddess of Love, was said to hail from Cyprus), gathered here. However, after the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 Bonaparte concentrated his efforts elsewhere, the threat of a French invasion receded and troop numbers declined. The Cyprian Corps then turned their attention to fashionable Victorian gentlemen. It seems that the term Shades came into use about ten to fifteen years after the Battle of Trafalgar.

The Royal Pavilion Tavern was established around 1816 near the famous Brighton Pavilion. In Steine Lane, at the rear of the tavern, was located the Pavilion Vaults Wine Bar and Shades. It was upon this building that landlord Edmund Savage erected a sign referring to his public house as a Gin Palace. A resident in Steine House opposite objected to the name and Shades was substituted instead. The name then quickly came into local use for a common tap room or bar attached to a hotel and frequented by prostitutes.

 Royal Pavilion Tavern interior, Brighton

In 1821 an old wretched pub on the beach called The Ship in Distress was pulled down to make way for the new promenade and seawall. In common with one or two other houses in the same situation, it was allowed to build a Shades under the cliff, by which it was connected by a tunnel under the road, 9 which was also an origin of the name. Brighton’s Theatre Royal opened in 1807. From 1853 the Royal Colonnade Hotel and Shades stood within its frontage and became notorious as the haunt of prostitutes at theatre and music hall closing times. One guide book in 1860 pointed out that the theatre was “… close … to a Gin Palace with the usual appendages of plate glass and flaring gas lights where prostitutes resort in order to ply their sinful calling when the theatre dismisses”.10

As noted above, prostitutes used ordinary pubs as well. In mid-19th century Brighton, “the many inns, taverns, beer houses and music halls were notorious as haunts of prostitutes” and the nightly scenes on the beach in front of King’s Road were said “to beggar all description”.11 The judicial statistics for 1859 record 325 known prostitutes in the town plus a large annual influx from London and  97 known brothels.

  Swan Shades 1883, Hastings

1   Brian Harrison: Drink and the Victorians 1971, p50

2   John Beard: Brighton and Hove Pubs Past and Present 1558–1998, 1998

3   Timothy Carder: The Encyclopaedia of Brighton 1990 sections 32, 107, 81

4   Gowland’s Eastbourne Directory 1884

5   David Russell: The Pubs of Hastings and St Leonards 1800–2000, 2009

6   Oxford English Dictionary 1989

7   www.urbandictionary.com

8   Carder op cit. Sections 136c, 148

9   Miriam Maisel: By Their Pubs You Shall Know Them. A Monthly Bulletin. A magazine representing the determination inside and outside      the brewing industry to improve public houses and to maintain an adequate licensing law. December 1962, p181

10 The Graduate: Brighton as it is: Its pleasures, practices and pastimes with a short account of the social and inner life of its           inhabitants, being a complete Guide Book for residents and visitors. 1860

11  Douglas d”Enno: Brighton; Crime and Vice, 1800–2000, 2007, p159

12  Russell op cit. P194


        The Market, Brighton

However, the Licensing Magistrates treated the Shades differently from the public house. Indeed I have not found any record of charges against a Shades for allowing prostitution. A partial exception was the Swan Shades, Hastings, which was criticised and cautioned for letting rooms to prostitutes in the 1860s. However this was only a caution whereas charges and heavy fines against ordinary publicans for allowing prostitution were common.

At the 1865 Hastings Brewster Sessions the chief constable complained about irregularities at the Swan and Castle Shades. He didn’t mention prostitution by name but said: “It was almost impossible for anyone (ie the landlords of the Swan and Castle Shades) to get a living without resorting to something beyond the ordinary trade”.12 It is no coincidence that the Swan was Hastings’s most prestigious public house, hosting all the major town and Cinque Ports functions. One of many great banquets held here was in 1850 for a local man, Thomas Farncombe when he became Lord Mayor of London.

Charges against ordinary publicans were euphemistically described. Various landlords were charged with “Permitting notoriously bad characters to assemble” or “Unlawfully and knowingly permitting and suffering diverse persons of a notorious bad character to assemble in his house against the tenor of his licence”. The only charge I have come across which uses the word prostitute was for “Allowing prostitutes to remain on the premises longer than necessary to obtain refreshment”!

The police were also reluctant to describe prostitutes for what they were, using even more euphemisms: ‘strumpets’, ‘light o’loves’, ‘females of frail virtue’, ‘girls on the town’, ‘nymphs of the pave’, ‘our incorrigibles’, ‘ladies of certain lax morals’, ‘fair sisters of iniquity’ or simply, ‘unfortunates’. The term prostitute is also not found in the occupational column of the census returns.

In 1864 Parliament passed the first of the Contagious Diseases Acts. This legislation empowered the police to arrest prostitutes and force them to have compulsory checks for venereal disease. If they tested positive they were placed in a locked hospital until cured. It was claimed that this was the best way to protect men, particularly in the military, from infected women. Many arrested women, who were not prostitutes, were still forced to go to the police station to undergo humiliating medical examinations. Thus the law discriminated against women when it had no similar sanctions against men. This double standard against women was also it seems applied to publicans who were regularly charged for allowing prostitutes to use their premises. However, this does not seem to have been the case for hoteliers and licensees of the Shades.

  Colonnade interior, Brighton