The United Nations in Brighton & Hove

On the eve of the 75th anniversary of VE Day, the United Nations (UN) has issued a 6.7 billion dollar appeal to help at risk countries through the coronavirus crisis and avert possible famines. Since its formation in the aftermath of the Second World War, the UN has strived to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, and promote social progress, better living standards and human rights.

Within weeks of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, Brighton welcomed delegates from all over the world to the latest International United Nations Conference. From 16 June to 9 July 1953, an ‘International Parliament of the Air’ gathered under the flag of the UN to discuss matters affecting the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and operation of worldwide air transport.

Buildings comprising the Royal Pavilion Estate including Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Dome and Corn Exchange were chosen as the venue.

Brighton Corn Exchange during United Nations conference, 1953

The Royal Pavilion too was requisitioned for the purposes of the conference, only after many of its contents were removed and stored safely away – quite the challenge for museum staff we suspect! The Duke of York’s and the Duke of Clarence’s bedrooms now became offices for the president of the ICAO.

Duplicating machines and a typing pool were set up outside the Prince of Wales’s bedroom. The King’s apartment was occupied by the UN’s Assistant Secretary General, the Minister Transport and Aviation.

Photographs taken by the Ministry of Works give an insight into how some of the buildings were used. Seeing the museum’s galleries laid out with tables and chairs complete with jugs of water and ashtrays is probably enough to give some of our conservation staff nightmares.

In all, 59 nations were represented at the conference. This reportedly rose to 60 when the Soviet Union sent a two-man observer team at the last moment,
apparently ignoring an invitation to attend in the months previous.

The city continues its associations with the UN. The Brighton, Hove & District United Nations Association Branch campaigns to promote the work of the UN and many organisations across the city celebrate Human Rights Day on 14
December, the day the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The University of Sussex has its own Model United Nations which simulates
debates that occur in the UN and alumni of the city’s two universities have gone on to work for the organisation.

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