Mod Town Legends: The Lambretta in Brighton Museum and Art Gallery

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Amy Matthews, BA History of Art and Design, selects an item from Brighton Museum that links to local history.

Tucked in the corner of Brighton Museum and Art Gallery’s Images of Brighton gallery is an original model of a red Lambretta Li 150. This scooter tells a story of Mod culture in the 1960s and the infamous ‘Battle of Brighton’ that took place there in 1964.

Photo of Lambretta scooter in gallery with photo of fighting Mods and Rockers behindThe scooter has a red and white body; attached are many wing mirrors. It has various stickers on the front and a headlight and visor with a small GB flag printed on to it. Displayed behind the scooter are two enlarged black-and-white photographs. One shows a group photograph of Rockers standing together and the other depicts a mass of Mods on Brighton beach.

The Mods and Rockers were two rival youth culture groups in the 1960s. Mods dressed sharply, they rode scooters such as this one and they cared about their appearance. Their name derived from Modern Jazz, a new musical genre. Rockers, who also cared about their appearance, wore leather jackets, liked 1950s Rock and Roll and rode motorbikes rather than scooters.[1]  Not only did the two groups’ vehicle of choice differ, but also their tastes in fashion and music.

The so-called Battle of Brighton was a violent clash between Mods and Rockers. The events inspired the 1979 cult classic film Quadrophenia, filmed in Brighton. The film follows an angst-ridden London youth, Jimmy Cooper, who escapes the drudgery of his job as a postal worker by becoming a member of the Mods, riding his scooter to Brighton and taking part in the fighting that occurred.[2]

The Battle occurred on 17 and 18 May 1964, a Bank Holiday weekend in the Whitsun holiday. Saturday was relatively peaceful, with only a few scuffles, but Sunday saw fierce fighting as the town was ‘invaded’ by an estimated 3000 youths.[3]  Brighton police were prepared for trouble as there had been clashes at other seaside towns such as Clacton and Hastings during Easter.

In Brighton, fighting centred on the beach and the seafront near the Palace Pier (now known as Brighton Pier). Violent scuffles took place between the police and the rioting groups, windows and deckchairs were smashed and some 26 youths were apprehended and sentenced to juvenile prison. Nothing on this scale was ever repeated, and although the media massively exaggerated the goings-on, Mods and Rockers will always be remembered for their violent clashes on Brighton beach that year.

The scooter not only reminds us of the Mods and Rockers, but of Brighton itself. Large numbers of scooters and motorbikes still flock to Brighton, lining the seafront on weekends and bank holidays.[4]  It is certain that ‘bike culture’ is part of Brighton’s cultural identity; therefore the Lambretta scooter in Brighton Museum is important, as it not only tells a story about a legendary event in the 1960s, but it also illustrates the story of Brighton as a ‘Mod town’ to this day.

This blog post was previously posted on the Brighton Museum blog: https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/2019/03/27/the-lambretta-scooter-mods-and-rockers-in-brighton-museum/

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