The Brighton Encampments
After war was declared against the French in February 1793, several military encampments were set up along the south coast.Over the following years the fields surrounding the area became enormous tented army camps filled with Militia from all over the country.
A plan of the first encampment was printed on the fabric of a lady's fan, which was probably produced as a souvenir and can still be seen in Worthing museum.
The Prince of Wales, who was the Colonel in Chief of the 10th Light Dragoons had a tent far superior to any ever seen before on a battlefield. It had several ante rooms and even a kitchen. The newspapers often reported that the Prince took his duties very seriously, suggesting he did his share of night watch. However, his comfortable home often tempted him to abscond and on 2nd September 1793 a huge storm swept away many of the tents leaving those who rushed to his rescue to think they need not have bothered.
The 1794 encampment was on top of Brighton's Race Hill.When a message came to say that the French had landed on the seashore, panic ensued and the soldiers rushed down to the beach to defend the coastline. As they appeared in unfamiliar uniforms, the fishermen and bathing women set about them mistaking the soldiers for the enemy. It turned out the message had been nothing but a false alarm, sent by the Prince who thought it would be a huge joke.
'Brighton Camp' was written in 1796 and became a popular song and dance of the day. I imagined Lydia Bennet hearing it played by the military fifes and drums during parades.
I'm lonesome since I crossed the hill, and over the moor and valley,
Such a heavy thought my heart do fill, since parting with my Sally.
I seek no more the fine and gay, for each does but remind me,
How swift the hours pass away, with the girl I left behind me.
With the girl I left behind me.
There were regular encampments at this time between the years 1793-1803 and Jane Austen must have thought there could be no place more likely to tempt her wayward character, Lydia Bennet.
'She saw herself the object of attention to tens and to scores of them at present unknown. She saw all the glories of the camp-its tents stretched forth with beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and to complete the view, she saw herself beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with six officers at once.' From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Lydia Bennet's Story available on Amazon