Wartime Entertainment at Brighton Dome
3 Dec 2019
While we’ve been transforming Brighton Dome for the future, we have recruited Historical Research Volunteers to dig into our past and uncover stories from our 216-year long history. Heritage volunteer, George Meredith uncovers one of many fascinating stories...
During World War I, Brighton Dome operated as a hospital for wounded soldiers from India. However, this military function did not mean that the building ceased to host entertainment. From organ recitals to magic tricks, discover more about the performances put on during their recovery.
In January 1915, the recently formed Brighton and District Organists’ Association put forward 24 organists to entertain the patients. On 1 Feb 1915, the first recital took place. The patients gathered and Mr. Frank Butler, the organist at All Saints Church in Hove, took his seat at the Brighton Dome organ.
Initially, two concerts a day were scheduled, one in the Royal Pavilion and one in Brighton Dome, but this was soon dropped to bi-weekly performances. Clearly, there was only so much organ that the patients could take!
Organ recitals were just one part of the programme of entertainment that was organised for the patients. Garden parties were held in St Ann’s Well Gardens, trips to the theatre were arranged and concerts were put together. There was even a theatrical offering from the Indian Art and Dramatic Society, which included conjurers, musical invocations and dancing.
The use of Brighton Dome as a hospital meant local performers needed a new venue. The Brighton Municipal Orchestra, who had typically played at Brighton Dome on Wednesday evenings and during the Brighton Musical Festival, moved to the Aquarium. The Brighton Sacred Harmonic Society moved their annual Good Friday performance of Messiah to the Hippodrome.
The organ recitals continued until December 1915, when the Indian soldiers were moved from Brighton. On their departure, the commanding officer at Brighton Dome wrote a letter to the Brighton and District Organists’ Association to thank them for their work.
By that time, some 12,000 Indian soldiers had been treated in the Royal Pavilion, Brighton Dome and Kitchener hospitals.
Written by George Meredith