Audrey Simpson obituary

Other lives: Entrepreneur and activist who played a powerful role in the public life of Brighton

My friend Audrey Simpson, who has died aged 83, was a powerful voice in Brighton and Hove, which she had made her adopted city after leaving London in 1978.

Without any previous experience, she bought a small, run-down, 12-room guest house, the Granville, overlooking the West Pier on the seafront, and transformed it into one of Brighton’s first boutique hotels. Later, in an adjacent space, she created a restaurant, Trogs, which met with equal success and became a gourmet mecca.

In addition to bringing up her family, Audrey played a powerful role in Brighton’s public life. A local magistrate for nearly three decades, she also, at various times, chaired the Chamber of Commerce, the mayor’s combined charity committee, City College and the Regency Society. She was, in addition, a trustee of the Gardner Art Centre at Sussex University, the West Pier Trust, the Sussex Beacon (offering a service to people with Aids) and the Martlets (offering end-of-life care).

Always immaculately turned out, she cut an elegant figure as she propounded her forthright views. Some of these opinions were decidedly unconventional. She believed, for instance, that the conservation of historic architecture was best achieved through the encouragement of continuous new development. Her customary direct and fearless approach ruffled local feathers but her enthusiasm for her causes won her many admirers.

Audrey was born in Crewe, Cheshire, the middle of three children of Thomas Hallam, an insurance broker, and his wife, Winifred (nee Roberts). Because she suffered from tuberculosis as a child, Audrey was unable to attend school until the age of 11, when she started at Edleston school, Crewe. She left school at 16 and worked as a receptionist in hotels in Manchester and Guernsey.

In 1958 she married David Simpson, also from Crewe, who had just graduated from Nottingham University. She then started studying again and got her A-levels. The couple moved to London in 1960 and had two children.

Believing that her childhood circumstances had prevented her from being properly educated, she obtained a BSc in social anthropology at the London School of Economics and in 1972 she became a lecturer in general studies at Bromley College, south-east London. Meanwhile, David represented Labour on the Greater London council and was a lecturer in history and politics at Croydon College. They moved to Brighton in 1978 to fulfil Audrey’s dream of buying and designing her boutique hotel.

Audrey is survived by David and by her son, Karl, and daughter, Rebecca.

Derek Granger

The GuardianTramp

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