First Base: 1766 – 1814

The Castle Inn Assembly Rooms

1777Built in its current form in 1766, our building originally stood where the Royal Bank of Scotland stands today on the Old Steine.

It was built as the new assembly rooms to the Castle Inn which was one of Brighton’s first and most fashionable establishments.  The Castle Inn was owned by Samuel Shergold, an Inn Keeper from Lewes and a shrewd businessman. In 1754 Samuel Shergold opened Brighton’s first assembly rooms at the Castle Inn and began to hold assemblies during ‘the season’. This was a huge risk because at this time Brighton was still small, poor town and he was totally dependent on visitors.

The first Castle Inn assembly rooms were the only ones in Brighton until 1761 when the Old Ship Inn opened their new assembly rooms. In the Gentlemen’s Magazine in 1761, a Dr Awister wrote that not only had the town a ‘bold and clean shore’ but also two assembly rooms, ‘one almost the best in England except York.’ He was almost certainly referring to the Old Ship’s assembly rooms.

Perhaps it was this review which prompted Shergold to rebuild and upgrade his rooms in so he could compete.  He wanted his new assembly rooms to be the height of fashion so he commissioned John Crunden, a leading architectural designer to decorate the rooms which opened in 1766.


Crunden’s revamp provided an assembly room 80 feet long by 40 feet wide with a curved ceiling and ornate cornices and pillars.

The ancillary rooms that Crunden decorated were also large. The tearoom was 56 feet long and 30 foot wide and the card room 40 feet by 28 feet. They could accommodate 450 people for a dance.

The ballroom originally had light red frieze and door cornices, the pillars were painted lilac, then yellow when they were redecorated a few years later, and the doors and woodwork were oiled and painted dead white.

The room was furnished with maroon sofas and mirrors were strategically placed opposite each other, with three lights to each glass, those lights would be reflected from one glass to the other.  We know the mirrors cost in excess of forty guineas each. Crunden also chose the girandoles to correspond with them, which cost 20 guineas each. In other words no expense was spared to create an opulent, fashionable space. Other descriptions tell us that the walls of the ballroom were decorated with plaster reliefs like Wedgewood cameos, with delicate moldings and scrolls.

The Demise of the Castle Inn


Advertisements in local newspapers show that from 1761 Shergold and Hicks co-operated and held assemblies alternately, and by 1780 the routine had settled to a ball on Mondays at the Castle and one on Thursdays at the Old Ship.

Card evenings were held on Wednesdays and Fridays at the Castle and on Tuesdays and Saturdays at the Old Ship.

However, Samuel Shergold died in 1791 and his business partner, Tilt, died in 1809. Meanwhile, The Old Ship was sold at auction in 1802. Historian, J.G Bishop tells us that rivalry between the Ship and the Castle increased under new management of the Old Ship. Assemblies started to be held on the same evening rather than alternate evenings.

Bishop also quotes a contemporary publication which stated: ‘The Castle’, fronting The Steine, and almost adjoining the Prince’s Palace, has in no other point of view whatever the advantage of the situation of the Old Ship, which inn is more centrally situated in the town, in Ship Street, and though the rays of royalty but seldom irradiate the premises, the first families of nobility resort thither.’

Shergold’s successors did their best to improve the Castle’s facilities. But fashion was changing. The publics taste was drifting away from assemblies towards concerts and entertainments, which the Old Ship was quick to provide. Despite a renovation that gave the ballroom a new organ, the Castle’s popularity sagged so much that only 20 people attended the opening of its redecorated premises, whereas over 500 guests flocked to a ball held the same evening at the Old Ship.

It is not surprising then that 1814 the ballroom was closed.

To find out more about the Old Ship Hotel please click here: