This week, to commemorate Remembrance Day, our Heritage Volunteers have been exploring what life was like for ordinary people in Brighton during the First and Second World Wars and the part that Brighton Dome played in their stories.
Are you missing the cultural highlights usually on offer in our city? How do our current restrictions compare to those imposed 80 years ago during Brighton’s 1940 Blitz, with gas masks, blackout regulations and rationing all a part of normal life?
Nowadays we may have to take face masks out shopping, but imagine carrying a gas mask at all times, never knowing when the sirens might sound. Brighton endured 56 air raids, including one on Saturday 14 September 1940 which hit the Odeon Cinema in Kemptown.
Today, we are able to enjoy livestreaming online but in 1940, television broadcasting was suspended for the duration of the Blitz. Instead, people listened to radio news bulletins minus any weather forecasts, which might have helped enemy aeroplanes.
Sporting activities were also curtailed. Cricket matches were suspended between 1940 and 1944 and the Football Association only permitted fixtures with limited crowds, provided they didn’t interfere with national service. Sea-swimming was out of bounds because the beaches were mined to prevent invasion and were closed off by barbed wire.
One glimmer of hope was that Brighton Dome’s Concert Hall stayed open throughout the Second World War for regular Saturday night dances appropriately known as Dome Dancing, with soldiers and local residents offered the chance to “Dance Away Your Dumps At The Dome”.
Dance halls raised morale amongst men in uniform as well as the local population. At Brighton Dome, free dancing lessons were organised and dance music, especially American swing bands, enjoyed great popularity.
By June 1941, clothing coupons were introduced. Fabric for dressmaking was scarce because much was diverted to produce uniforms. Utility clothing went on sale, cheap but well-made to strict regulations. A dress had no more than two pockets, five buttons and no superfluous decoration and even the turn-ups on men’s trousers were banned.
So how did people manage to look their best for Dome Dancing? If they could afford it, then people might have used some of their annual allocation of 66 clothing coupons. Five coupons were needed for a pair of women’s shoes, eleven for a dress and two for stockings. Making your own clothes was cheaper or people would make adjustments to their existing wardrobe.
Written by Brighton Dome Heritage Volunteer Judy Woodman