In the beginning...
The Cafe was originally a refreshment hut owned by Herbert Tennent in 1930, offering hospitality for public use by the Palace Pier. He had two kiosks, one selling teas and pies, and the other selling drinks and ice-cream. Herbert Tennent (known locally as “Mr.T”), learnt the trade from his parents who sold fresh seafood underneath the arches the mid 1920’s. The refreshment hut inspired the development of two more kiosks situated along the coast, as far up as the West Pier. Please read on for some of our historical highlights since then.
In June 1940 Herbert Tennent was given notice (see above) to quit his popular seafront café location by the west side of Palace pier groyne. This was from Town Clerk on behalf of the Officer commanding troops in Brighton. This followed the evacuation of Dunkirk with the probability of Hitler’s impending invasion. The beach area had to be fortified with barbed-wire, mines and guns and so all businesses had to cease trading along the seafront.
One bright idea
Whilst walking among the Canadian troops, who at the time were in the Pavilion Gardens, Herbert Tennent thought of an idea that could set his family up for generations. He approached the Brighton Corporation to seek permission for a café in the Royal Pavilion Grounds. Following this, a concrete plinth was constructed upon which Herbert re-erected his wooden previously used on the seafront. The re-erected Cafe stayed open until 8pm most evenings. This was to the establishment of the Pavilion Gardens Cafe to what we know it today.
Deck Chairs were moved into the gardens as the beach was fortified in 1940. They placed across the gardens which conveniently offered some great business for Herbert over the next following years. During the war a customer remembered a Spitfire being parked by the Royal Pavilion entrance.
The hut was open during the day, into the evening and up until Christmas. Though there was limit to rationing, Herbert baked all his own cakes and supplied tasty refreshments for Mayors’ garden parties and events.
It was decided that a more permanent café in the gardens should be built and Brighton Art College ran a competition to design the new café. Construction began on the winning student’s design in March 1950 on the present site. This Art Deco-style building took seven months to be completed at an estimated cost of £1000 (Argus Oct 1950).
Mr. T also hosted many children’s parties for our family birthdays and that of our customers. One such party took place on 1st September 1966 (see photo) for Andrew Madsen’s first birthday. Andrew was Mr. T’s American grandson by his youngest daughter Ann who lived in San Francisco. 1969 Nina Tahsin started work at the café at the age of 33 and is still working now at the age of 73. Her loyal service typifies the continuity at the café.
Douglas and June Sewell (Mr. T’s son-in-law and daughter) took over day to day running of the café as Mr. T semi-retired, but he continued to bake his famous rock cakes. Douglas Sewell had been a highly skilled diamond cutter in Brighton and Hatton Garden in London for over 30 years.
David Sewell, grandson of Mr. T started working at the café full time with his parents. He now runs the café with his wife Vanessa. The famous October hurricane of 1987 devastated the trees in the whole of the Pavilion Estate and surrounding areas. The Cafe was miraculously unharmed throughout the storm and only some minor damage was sustained to some wooden slatted chairs.
Mr. T baked his famous home-made cakes for almost 50 years at the café until the end of the 1987 season. Sadly he passed away after a short illness early in 1988. His zest for life, love of ballroom dancing and following the Albion would be missed by all his family and many Brighton and Hove people he had known over the years. We had a London Plain tree planted adjacent to the café in his memory.
Our family celebrated 1991 raising over £1700 for Patcham House Special School throughout this year to go towards activities. We donated a penny for every rock cake sold. The events we held included an exciting rock cake competition judged by Adam Trimingham (Argus), Tim Cuttress (Forfars), John Henty (Ex Radio Brighton) and the Manager of the Northern Rock Building Society.. Forfars Tim Cuttress brought a special anniversary cake (see above) in his old vintage van. We also held a well attended children’s party with Billy Bubbles entertaining. We concluded this memorable year with a Grand Raffle drawn by Mary Conlon (Eastenders) and compared by John Henty.
June Brown opened our Childrens Funday raising money for the Trevor Mann Baby Unit. We raised a total of £1100 for the special care baby unit at Royal Sussex County Hospital. The photograph above is of my son Alex on the left with June Brown and three children of my wife’s best friend.
During early December the Council Tourism Department hosted a Winter Wonderland sponsored by Seeboard in the gardens adjacent to the café. Numerous snow machines were positioned high up in the elm trees and artificial snow fell amongst the happy children. On Saturdays a brass band played, there were period horse-drawn carriage rides, carol singers in Regency costumes with lanterns singing carols.
During this time we hosted an annual Funday with Magic Rabbit, for the Trevor Mann Unit. Since 1996 we have raised over £8500 for this very important special baby unit.
In April 2001, the Queen and Prince Philip visited the Royal Pavilion as part of the granting of City status to Brighton and Hove. As their Rolls drove through the Gardens we were privileged to be able to watch from near the café. We celebrated our Diamond Jubilee in the Royal Pavilion Gardens.
The café held free Children’s entertainment in August 2004 on Pavilion Lawn. With Donald Sellar, Max the Magician and Jonathan Cann (Punch and Judy).