SEA LIFE Brighton, the world’s oldest operating aquarium, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. 

SEA LIFE Brighton, the world’s oldest operating aquarium, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

To commemorate this incredible milestone, SEA LIFE Brighton has planned a year-long celebration of exciting events and activities, to pay tribute to both the history and evolution of the aquarium since its opening 150 years ago.

Kicking off the celebrations, SEA LIFE Brighton will be treating guests to a special event on the evening of 1st April, with drinks, canapes, and a tour of the site. Theperfect evening to mark this historic occasion, and the start of a series of historical and behind the scenes tours of the aquarium on selected dates throughout the year.Guests will be able to look back at the history of the attraction, whilst learning about the amazing sea creatures that now call it home, getting an insight into the day-to-day tasks of the staff who work there.

If you love a bit of local history, you may know that the aquarium was imagined and invented by Eugenius Birch, the famous pier engineer who also designer Brighton’s West Pier. The iconic Italianate building cost £133,000 and was opened formally to the public on 10thAugust 1872, by Brighton’s mayor Cordy Burrows. When it first opened, the attraction proved to be a huge hit with Brighton’s fashionable society and received many visitors from the royal family. Among the early inhabitants were an octopus, sea-lions and lobsters and by 1888 the aquarium even housed organ recitals,lectures and exhibitions for locals and tourists, with concerts being performed in the building’s conservatory.

As the world entered the 1900’s, the aquarium opened its doors to film showings and became a popular place to visit during the First World War. After running into financial difficulties, the establishment was obtained by the Brighton Corporation and in 1927 the building closed its doors for a £117,000 modernisation. The distinctive clock tower was demolished, with a ballroom, bandstand and other small buildings being added to the attraction. The site was then reopened in 1929 by the Duke of York.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the aquarium was requisitioned by the RAF, as the city became a target for the Germans. Then as the ’60s arrived, the aquarium was home to the Montagu Motor Museum, which hosted a large collection of vintage motors and sports cars. During 1970-1991 the building became home to regular dolphin and seal shows, however the captivity of these clever mammals came under scrutiny.

Subsequently in 1991, SEA LIFE Brighton was born, as Merlin Entertainments acquired the aquarium and rehabilitated and released the captive sea mammals back into the wild. It then worked on a £1.5 million restoration of the building, to turn it into the conservational and educational site you can visit today.

Since operating as a SEA LIFE centre, the 150-year-old building has received an investment of over £10 million in the last 20 years, to ensure the historical architectural building remains intact and prominent within Brighton’s community.

SEA LIFE Brighton has certainly seen life in the city evolve, and to reflect this they will be celebrating their grand old age in late August with a Victorian Extravaganza Fun Week. The 5-7 daylong events will consist of staff led activities throughout the site and guests will be encouraged to dress up in Victorian outfits to celebrate the era when the aquarium first opened its doors. There will also be Victorian sweets and prizes to be won throughout the week.

On September 30th and October 1st, SEA LIFE will continue their celebrations with some very special theatre performances. A child-friendly adaption of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ will be performed by local theatre company, Brighton Little Theatre, throughout the attraction. This will be an immersive production encouraging the audience to participate with actors throughout the show, paying homage to bygone days when the venue was used as a theatre.

The celebrations will then wrap up during the holiday season, with SEA LIFE Brighton hosting Victorian Christmas Markets during the week of 19th December – a great chance to visit the wonderful sea creatures, and get a festive fix at the same time.

Neil Harris, SEA LIFE Brighton’s General Manager said: “Here at SEA LIFE Brighton, we’re proud and honoured to hold the title of the world’s oldest operating aquarium. With this being our 150th anniversary, we want to host a range of activities throughout the year for guests of all ages to enjoy, so we can showcase the amazing history behind our attraction.”

Do you have memories of SEA LIFE Brighton that go back to past decades? They would love to hear fromguests who have visited the aquarium in years gone by, to share their memories, photos and any other content they have. These will be set up in a display to celebrate the many years of wonderful memories that have been created in this historic and much-loved aquarium.

To be involved in SEA LIFE Brighton’s celebratory events throughout the year, make sure to follow the attraction’s social channels and monitor its website.