After living in Brighton for so long, I’ve been making more of an effort to rediscover the city, see it through new eyes, and little by little I’ve been stumbling upon local gems I’d never thought to explore before.
One of my recent favourite discoveries is the most whimsical museum you’re likely to come across in Brighton, called the Mechanical Memories: Brighton’s Famous Old Time Penny Arcade, a vintage amusement arcade set in a little seafront arch under the main promenade out of the wind. Hits of the 50s blast out of some speakers (Great Balls of Fire when I happen to visit…), as you step inside this time machine to a simpler childhood.
From ‘What the Butler Saw’, ‘The Laughing Sailor’, working models to puppet machines, skill games and fortune tellers, this museum has a collection of some of the rarest penny arcade games you’ll find. What’s so good about is you don’t have to pay to get in and for £1 you get 12 real old-fashioned pennies to use on the machines. Unlike the games on the Palace Pier, you can actually win here, so you won’t feel ripped off.
The current owner, Jerry, (that’s him above, looking out to sea, pondering life from inside his ticket booth…), told me the museum has been open since the 1930s and the collection contains machines dating from 1900 up to 1960. He says he’s always on the look out for interesting additions to the collection which he curates from auctions around the country.
I love the sound of the Magic Machines dating from 1948 that perform tricks and illusions. There are two classics – the ‘Disappearing Disc’ and ‘String Cutter’ tricks, and the less well-known ‘Magic Spirals’, an optical illusion. I put in my penny, turn the handle and watch as the spirals appear to change colour as they pass through two tubes.
I lose Mr Ellie & Co for a moment, but soon find him… at the 1950s What the Butler Saw-type “Peep Show 3-D Beauty Parade”…
Warning: Parental Advisory – Here’s a quick peek inside…
Opposite, I find two more peep shows dating from around 1920 that turn out to be a little less risqué than the 3D Beauty Parade the mister discovered, and that actually tell a story. I put my penny into ‘Scrappily Married’, turn the handle and watch the funny story unfold like a flip book. Gerry tells me these machines are thought to be the earliest motion picture devices and that they dominated the peep show business, popular in British seaside arcades at the time.
All around, the walls are hung with old photos of Brighton beach and vintage advertising posters reminding us of times gone by. I spot this notice which tells us what we could buy with our money back in 1950… if I’ve calculated right, a pint of beer was about 7.5p and a night in a B&B just 50p!
We’ve still lots more pennies to spend, and use up a lot trying to win Zig Zag, an addictive game of skill which involves sliding a penny carefully side to side from the top of the machine, into the winning slot at the bottom without it disappearing down the side… (Picture shows Dan on his fifth go…)
Before I leave, I visit Mystic Meg to find out what the future holds, and thankfully it’s good news so I leave this slice of nostalgia behind and hit the real world in a good mood.