North Laine History
As part of the book launch of a novel set in 1950s Brighton (My Policeman) I was asked to give an introductory talk on the background to the local setting. The author had no specific year in mind but gave 1957 as a starting point. Having searched through the Brighton & Hove Gazette for that year, week by week, I selected a range of news material, both serious (eg Brighton police corruption hearings) and less so (eg Ken Dodd appearing at the Hippodrome).
Article on public lives
As anyone who has ever done such research will know, there is ample opportunity for the topic to spread and the mind to wander through the curious world of 1950s Brighton. Inevitably there were items of North Laine interest that caught my eye. One such was an article ‘Public Lives’ which looked at local people (not as today just ‘celebrities’). In May of that year it featured Mrs Lucy Orchard.
Mrs Lucy Orchard
The article read:
“Mrs Lucy Orchard started work in Sayers electrical shop, North Road, in 1914. In 1957 at the age of 68 she is still going strong as Brighton’s leading electrical ‘character’ and she has no intention of retiring. She is director of the firm now but she still works a 14 hour day, six days a week, gets down to some bookwork on Sundays and is often seen at seven o’clock in the morning cleaning the steps of the shop. She has a special interest in the place because she lives with her husband over the shop. Known as ‘Orch’ to the regular customers -
Points worthy of comment
There are several points worth commenting on here.
At that time North Laine was still a major factor in the town's employment structure. In the immediate area were the station and railway goods yards, many grocery warehouse distribution depots, the GPO sorting office and of course the publisher and printer of the Gazette in Robert Street. Backing up the main employers were a myriad of small, often family concerns, of which Sayers was but one, reminiscent of today’s North Laine. Sayers, ‘electrical engineers and contractors’, was located at 13-
The hardware store Bennetts was also in North Road
The area was cleared for redevelopment but lay between North Place and Jubilee Street. Nearby was the well-
Other interesting enterprises in the road
Further along the road were the myriad enterprises which made the area then so distinctive and were a forerunner of its attraction to 21st century Brighton & Hove. Within a short walk, just on North Road alone, were G T Geary wool stores; the Foreign Birds & Tropical Fish Company pet stores; and rather alarmingly next door E Williams fish fryer! Amongst myriad dining rooms, public houses and second-
Different kinds of food traders
A direct link with that period and a nice example of landscapes having ‘continuity and change’ is the enterprise at 73 North Road: Misses W & J Diplock, truck proprietresses. This is now Diplock’s Yard, a prime example of the contemporary city ‘foodie culture’, but in 1957 the repository of the street traders’ trucks, rented out weekly to the barrow-
North Road was typical of the area
At that time the term North Laine was known only to a tiny handful of historians. What we now know as North Laine was generally termed the ‘North Road district’ and this article does in some way reflect that the two terms could be transposed, as much of the character of the present North Laine can be discerned in the trading pattern of North Road in 1957.
[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 219, November/December 2012]
A Snapshot of North Laine in 1957
By Geoffrey Mead
From the Brighton and Hove Gazette, May 1957
Blackman St 1957
Jubilee St 1960
Jubilee St 1957
The corner of King St and Church St 1955
The Grand following the fire in 1961
All of the above photos are used with the permission of The Regency Society of Brighton & Hove