Christmas at Brighton Dome

Brighton Dome’s heritage volunteers have been delving into archives to discover fascinating stories, memories and traditions of Christmas at Brighton Dome throughout our 200-year history. Read on to discover their findings…

If you have any fond memories or interesting stories you would like to share with us, we would love to hear them. Feel free to get in touch here. 

Mr Botham’s Christmas Dinner

Image credit: Sussex Photo History

In December 1872, The Brighton Gazette announced that Mr Botham, the proprietor of the New Oxford Music Hall, had hired Brighton Dome to present a ‘People’s Concert’ on boxing night.

The Botham family philanthropy continued into the 1890s, organising benefit performances at their Oxford Theatre of Varieties to raise money for an annual ‘Christmas Dinner for the Poor’.

In 1885, the benefit performance included fencing and boxing by the Franktom Boxers, a performance by the Shawdowgraphs, stand-up comedy by Tom Pleon and ventriloquism by Professor Heno. The proceeds from the performances enabled 570 people from Brighton, Preston and Hove to enjoy a Christmas Dinner at the Corn Exchange on Christmas Day. The project continued to be very successful, and throughout the years they were able to provide Christmas Dinner and entertainment for more than 1000 guests at the Corn Exchange. 

Researched by Alison Dawson 

Dome Mission at Christmas

Image credit: The Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove 

The Dome Mission was founded in 1907 by Reverend E. Aldom French and continued into the late 1990s. During this time, The Dome Mission was responsible for several philanthropic activities in Brighton.

In 1911, The Dome Mission handed out 500 Christmas puddings in basins decorated with an illustration of Brighton Dome.

In the early 1900s, The Dome Mission invited thousands of children from low-income families for Christmas dinner at Brighton Dome and the Corn Exchange. The children feasted on 280lb of bread, 30lb of butter, 170 gallons of tea, 20 gallons of milk, 40lb of sugar and a whooping 300lb of cake! The children enjoyed entertainment such as gymnastics performances, magic shows, ventriloquy and music.

Researched by Laura Connell  

'60s & '70s Christmas Concerts

Since being converted into a performance venue in 1867, we have had iconic musicians perform Christmas gigs on our Concert Hall stage.

In 1967, Jimi Hendrix performed The Jimi Hendrix Experience with The Move and Pink Floyd. The setlist included, Foxy Lady, Purple Haze and Hey Joy and Wild Thing. A newspaper article described how Jimi Hendrix: “strolled on stage playing his guitar with one hand only. He played it with his teeth, on the floor, and behind his back”. 

In 1971, Elton John joined us with Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson and in 1972, Led Zeppelin joined us at Brighton Dome on their 1972-1973 tour, and tickets cost just £1! 

Researched by  Laura Connell

Queen Victoria and Brighton

This festive scene shows Queen Victoria, the Duchess of Kent and the Princess Royal in the Queen’s sleigh, driven by Prince Albert. The Royal Pavilion can be clearly seen in the background. During a trip to Brighton in February 1845, Victoria and Albert ventured as far as Patcham and Clayton in their sledge. Writing in her diary, Queen Victoria noted “We went along the London Road, a good way beyond Patcham, and the sledge went delightfully”.The dark red and gold sledge was lined with red velvet and the harnesses on the horses were decorated with ostrich plumes and silver bells. “The bright blue sky and sunshine, together with the sound of the bells, had a very exhilarating effect”.

New Year’s Day Children’s Dinner 1891

On New Year’s Day 1891, over 3,000 children and young people from poor families were invited to the Dome for a delicious meal courtesy of the Brighton Aldermen and Town Councillors.

London Illustrated News published an article in January 1891 stating: “Dinner for the little people, on a great scale, was ready at one o’clock in the Dome and Corn Exchange, where nearly 3,700 children sat down to the feast, the quarts of soup, the roast or boiled meat, the hundred and more plum puddings, the oranges, lemonade, syrups, or ginger beer. It was a very pleasant sight. Four hundred gentlemen and ladies, as carvers and writers , served these young guests with brisk activity, the Mayoress of Brighton sharing the agreeable task. Gifts of warm clothing, books and toys, were distributed to all the boys and girls as they went away” 

Wartime Christmas 

 Did you know in 1942, Bing Crosby's White Christmas was one of the top hits? 

 The themes of home and nostalgia struck a chord when the dance halls were full of servicemen. The cinema, music on the wireless and popular bands in the dance halls like Brighton Dome helped England through the war, the Blitz and the Battle of Britain.  

 Homegrown talent like Joe Loss and his Orchestra flourished in the Big Band era of the 1940s and American bands such as Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey were also popular during this time.  

Researched by Judy Woodman  

Roller-skating at Brighton Dome

Corn Exchange used as a skating rink in 1874

Image credit: The Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove

From the mid-1870s Brighton’s dedicated followers of fashion enjoyed the Victorian craze of roller skating. 

The Illustrated London News reported a skating soiree in 1876, saying: “This roller-skating is a most healthful amusement; it combines the pleasure of the ballroom with the advantages of the gymnasium and is a delight to both young and old.”  

The fashion originated in the USA when inventor James Leonard Plimpton patented a safer type of skate in 1863, with two parallel pairs of wheels allowing the skater to turn and steer. Word spread to Europe about this popular pastime which had captured the American imagination, and it caught on in Britain with 50 rinks operating in London at the height of its vogue.  

In Brighton, in 1875 the mayor, aldermen and burgesses leased the Corn Exchange to Percy Robinson at 10 guineas a week for use as a roller-skating rink on weekdays between 10am and 10pm. From about the same time, there is a wood engraving showing the Corn Exchange Skating Rink, lit by three chandeliers with a crowd of people in fashionable bustles and tailcoats roller skating to the music of a small orchestra.   

Researched by Judy Woodman 

Circus at Brighton Dome

Race Horse Company Super Sunday at Brighton Dome

Image credit: David Levene 

Over the years, we have welcomed audiences in the lead up to Christmas to enjoy jaw-dropping circus shows, including notable performances such as HOME by Pirates of the Carabina in 2018, and Super Sunday by Race Horse Company in 2019. 

Looking into archives there is evidence that circus troupes have been visiting Brighton to entertain locals for hundreds of years, including Franconi’s Cirque National de France, which was performed in the Royal Pavilion Riding School in 1851. 

Researched by Laura Connell 

Children’s Fancy Dress Ball and Christmas Dinner

In 1903, the Mayor and Mayoress of Brighton welcomed around 900 children to the Royal Pavilion for a Fairyland fancy dress ball during Christmastime. The Royal Pavilion rooms were decorated in colourful flowers and silk, where guests dressed as fairies, highlanders, cowboys and soldiers enjoyed an evening of entertainment. The children also took part in a procession in Brighton Dome and the Corn Exchange. 

In an article published on 8 Jan 1903, The Brighton Gazette described the event: “As the whole floor became filled with the little ones it presented the appearance of a surging sea of pretty colours which had an indescribably, dainty and charming effect quite beyond the power of words to paint.” 

These days, thousands of children from across the city take part in a fancy dress procession each spring; the annual Children’s Parade which opens Brighton Festival.

Researched by Laura Connell 

Ballet at Brighton Dome

Sleeping Beauty

For many families in Brighton & Hove, attending the ballet at Brighton Dome has become a Christmas tradition. In recent years, we have seen interpretations of classic stories such as Sleeping Beauty, The Snow Queen and The Wizard of Oz.

One of the most famous Christmas ballets is The Nutcracker. Originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, the Nutcracker tells the story of a young girl called Clara who, with the help of her favourite Christmas present — a toy Nutcracker, is taken to the Kingdom of Sweets and introduced to a host of colourful characters, including the Sugar Plum Fairy.

The first performance of The Nutcracker in 1892 was not deemed an immediate success, with the choreography described by various critics as ‘confusing’ ‘ponderous’ and ‘insipid’. However, it has gone on to become one of the most successful ballets of all time and a staple of nearly every major ballet company’s Christmas season.

The score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is one of the best-known pieces of classical music in western culture and has been used countless times in film, TV and popular media. 

The Nutcracker was last performed at Brighton Dome in 2013 by Ballet Theatre. 9-year old Pasha Taylor-Hanson described the performance: “It was a magical experience and gave me a very good impression of ballet. You never know what is going to happen next. The whole thing was a spectacular show.” 

Researched by  Rami Mansour  

Community Christmas Concerts

One of Brighton Dome’s popular Christmas concerts is the annual Brighton Gay Men’s Chorus concert. The community-led chorus has performed in the Concert Hall over the last ten years, raising money for local charities. In the past, they have joined us on stage with special guests including June Brown, Claire Sweeney and Strictly Come Dancing winner Joanna Clifton.

In the recent years, they have also performed alongside The Choir with No Name, a community-led choir for homeless and marginalised people, who are best known for their annual Big Christmas Singalong held in our Concert Hall. 

Researched by Abigail Ayres

Discover more heritage stories and find out more about our future.