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Mermaid Tales and a Bird's Eye View

By Rosanna Lowe


So, you want to hear some stories?...

Plonk yourself down on the pebbles. Or perch like a seagull on the balustrade. Sit swinging your legs on the end of the pier.

Sit yourself wherever, m’hearties.

So long as you’re near the sea.

See me?


Swimming near that swirl of seaweed by the sunken skeleton of the pier. Breaking the surface of the water, as I flick the twist in my tail.

You see me?

Squirming squids, do you have to gawp? Brighton is full of curious creatures. Ain’t you never seen a mermaid before?

Did you think a mermaid was a lusty, busty creature? Like that marina mermaid statue, all boobs and blondness?

Well, there ain’t no flowing locks on me, I’m as bald as a pebble turned by the tides. I’m a shriveled old carp, a haddocky harridan, buggered by the waves and barnacled by time. I’m as old as the sea, as old as the stones and I’ve seen the tides turn a billion times.

I was here when there was just me and the fishes.

I was here when there was just a fishing-town and the sea was heaving with hoggies and jugs[1].

I was here when The Fashion flopped into the sea like fish and the whole town octopussed outwards.

I was there in 1891 when Ginnett’s Circus held their massive water carnival. In only half a minute, 25, 000 gallons of water flooded the ring. I feared that they’d want a real live mermaid, but they plumped for a giant steamboat.

So you see, I know this place like the scales of my tail. I’ve an ocean of fishy tales and salty stories - some to warm the cockles of your heart and some to make you weep salt tears.

If I swim that way, I see Mr Volk’s railway. And over there is where he had his Daddy Long Legs, a huge metallic monster that carried sightseers into the sea on its giant spindly legs…

And if I swim this way, to Palmeira Square, I see the ghost of a great glass dome…

Do you know that story?

The year was 1833 and in the mind of Mr Henry Phillips, a brilliant botanist, the seed of an idea had started to blossom.

He’d build a giant greenhouse, the biggest dome the world had seen. A crystal palace for tropical plants, Palmeira’s Paradise. He’d call the dome The Anthaeum. (that’s the Ancient Greek for flower).

I saw it growing, little by little, iron girder by iron girder. I saw the glittering glass put in place, winking golden in the August sun. No central column held it up, just a giant curve of glass.

And I was watching from the waves, as the last of the workmen made their way home, the day before the opening of this little Eden by the sea. Inside, just the superintendant, a lone nightwatchman in a sea of plants.

I was drifting off on a soft-curved wave, when a strange noise snapped me back awake. An ominous creak of iron. And then the superintendant’s squeak, as he rushed out from the dome.

I’ve heard many a wavecrash in my time, many a storm roar round this shore, but never have I heard such a mighty smash as that great glass dome coming thundering down.

That poor old bugger Mr Henry Phillips. Next day, I saw him walking through Palmeira Square, the fragments of his shattered dreams crunch-crunching underfoot. Tears in his eyes, in his beard, on his cheek, like tiny little pieces of broken glass.

So shocked by the vanishing of his vision, Mr Henry Phillips went blind…



You’ve probably seen me, on the seafront, strutting my stuff along the promenade. I’m the Big Daddy Gull, Il Padrino as it were, the Gullfather, the Don Corleone of the Brighton Seagull Mafiosi.

Some think we’re just a bunch of Hooligulls. Sure, we like to ruffle a few feathers, rifle through the rubbish and spread it through the streets, sit on your roof and squawk all night, have a little crap on someone’s picnic. We have to show those humans who really rules this roost.

But we’re not just a bunch of birdbrains. Oh no. We got our beady eyes on everything, got our beaks in everyone’s pie. We always know what the squawk on the street is. And we got the bird’s eye view of things, from the top of the Downs to the wide open sea.

And being the Gullfather, a truly ancient bird, I got the long, long view as well. I remember things from centuries back.

Take Martha. Martha Gunn, the Queen of the Dippers. Bit of a soft spot for Martha, I had. I always love a cheeky lass who knows how to make a pretty penny.

She used to throw me crumbs from her pocket as she headed down to the sea. And I used to bob up and down on the waves, while she shoved those posh totties into the water. Would you believe they paid her for the privilege? Oh, how I loved to watch them squeal.

One day, I was perched on a windowsill of the Pavilion, getting a good gander at the grub they had inside. Georgy-Boy, Prince Regent, was a man who really loved his food. He had pants the size of the Dome he’d built and every day was a bloody banquet.

And in came Martha, the Queen of The Dippers, who’d wangled herself a royal invitation. Her little eyes lit up with greed when she saw the royal feast.

Now, I still do a bit of ducking and diving myself. Nick a few sarnies off the table in the Pavilion Café, divebomb the daytrippers with their fresh fried fish, whip a few chips from under their noses.

But what Martha did at that royal feast, was the most fantastic feat of filching. With the fastest of fingers and no flicker of feeling, she slipped a slab of royal butter into her plebeian pocket.

A gel after my own heart.

But Fatty-Batty George was keen on his butter and though she’d been far from butterfingered, he knew that Martha was the butter-thief.

‘Dear Martha’ he said, with an oily smile. ‘Let’s chit and chat about this and that. Let’s warm ourselves beside the fire.’

And poor little Martha found herself at the fireside, with her skirts getting warmer and her cheeks getting redder and the butter melting slowly down her legs…


Two stories based on supposed history about Brighton. Who knows whether Henry Phillips going blind and Martha Gunn’s melting butter story are entirely true, or just anecdotes recorded as history!

[1] Hoggies – the type of fishing boat used in Brighton. Jugs – slang for sailors.


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This page was amended on 09/04/2014
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