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Pifl ’81 Day 24: The Babylon (Part 2)

Tuesday, January 24th, 2023

The first spa was built by the de Pifl family in the 1750s to encourage the aristocracy to visit the town to take the airs. It was designed in the gothic revival style. Within ten years they had decided it was too small and lacked many features they wanted to incorporate so they had it knocked down and in a dispute with the workers the rubble was dumped in the sea.

The next spa was the first to incorporate accommodation for guests to stay in as well as the neo-classical style popular with the senior members of the family. It was quite successful. For reasons that remain unclear it was bombarded from the sea by vessels in 1812. To this day it is unclear if the attackers were Pirates, Privateers, French, American, Dano-Norwegian or British Royal navy. What is known is that they caused a section of the cliffs and the buildings above to collapse into the sea.

Construction of a replacement began almost immediately. The opening was delayed after a visit by members of the Pifl family to Brighton who decided to remodel it in the Indo-Saracenic style of the Royal Pavilion. Described by Ruskin in most unflattering terms it collapsed into the sea during a storm since its lower parts had not been designed to carry the weight of the many domes that had been put on top of them.

Not to be deterred a far more conservative spa was created. This time it was built set back from the cliff and the major works inland from the tip of the point. This magnificent Italianate complex lasted almost a century. During the Great War a battery of guns was stationed on the point. The spa was requisitioned by the army and munitions for the battery stored in some of its buildings. One night an accident caused the magazine to explode in a freak accident that completely disintegrated the building but left no crater. Local rumours persist that experimental weapons research had been underway at the spa and that a “ray gun” of some sort had caused the destruction.

After the war the Pifl family built the last of the spa hotels on the site. This one, which stands to this day, is a fine example of 1920s art deco. While the government paid for much of the scheme as compensation for the loss of the previous spa the Pifl family invested a considerable sum too. By the 1960s the families decline forced them to sell the complex to its current owners.

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