North Laine History

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Home General Histories Buildings Streets People Talks and Walks The Conservation Area

The apartment block in Gloucester Place that was hit by a German bomb killing seven residents.

The red dots mark where bombs landed in North Laine during World War 2

The memorial at Tyne Cot

The Loos Memorial

Soldiers of the BEF off to France

North Laine at War, Part 2

The Great War

he Great War of 1914-1918 was waged at a huge human cost and many North Laine residents lost their lives fighting.

The summer of 1914 had been hot and Brighton continued in festive mood until the first casualties began to arrive. With the stories of German atrocities in Belgium and the heavy losses of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) at Mons and then the Battle of the Marne, the reality of what was happening slowly began to hit residents.

On 1st September 1914, 300 soldiers of the Royal Sussex (part of the BEF) arrived in the town to be sent to the Grammar School, Dyke Road, which had been transformed into a hospital. The loss of much of the regular army in August and September led to a nationwide campaign to recruit more soldiers and soon local residents began to join up.

One of the first recruiting events in Brighton took place at the Dome on 7 September 1914. Sussex resident Rudyard Kipling packed out the Dome and the Corn Exchange to make an impassioned appeal for soldiers to help defend France and Belgium and local men like North Laine residents, Harry Harman and Fred Briggs, heeded Kipling's call to arms and joined up to do their duty.

Harry Harman of Blackman Street

Harry Harman was brought up at 3 Blackman Street (part of the original North Laine), one of six boys. His father was a fisherman and his mother died when he was a teenager. When  he left school at 14 he became an apprentice watchmaker at Lawson's in St James St. When war began he volunteered at the age of 19,  joining the 8th Battalion of the Sussex Regiment.

After training his battalion crossed to France on 24th July 1915 and moved to the front line taking over trenches at Mametz on the Somme. Just two months after arriving in France, Harry was killed at the age of 20, on 25th September 1915 at Loos. On that day 183 men of the Regiment died and few survived from Harry's platoon. His body was never found and he is commemorated on the Loos memorial.

William Clark of Frederick Gardens

William Clark was brought up at 5 Frederick Gardens, one of eight children and one of four brothers all of whom served in the Great War. William had joined the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1906 serving in the colours and the reserve, and when his time had expired in 1914 he emigrated to Australia. When war broke out he saw it as his duty to come back straight away and rejoin the Royal Sussex which he did on 1st November 1914.

He went to France in January 1915. He died in fighting in Polygon Wood during the third battle of Ypres on 26 September 1917. His body was never found and he is commemorated on the wall at Tyne Cot. Of his brothers James was also in the Royal Sussex winning the Military Medal in France but he did survive the war. Meredith the youngest brother was in the Royal Army Service Corps, was sent to India and whilst there was accidentally killed on 7th May 1919.

Fred Briggs of Gloucester Terrace

Fred Briggs was brought up in Gloucester Terrace and in 1916 enlisted in Hove. At the time he was 23 and married with two children. Fred served with the Royal Sussex and then with the 6th Battalion, the Queen's, with whom he was serving near the front line near the town of Albert when he died on 30 August 1918. He is buried close to where he fell in Daours.

Fred's wife, Florence heard of her husband's death by telegram the same day. During the war she worked on the trams first as a conductress and then as a driver on the Lewes Rd route. On his death she got a pension of 50p for herself and 65p for her children. At the end of the war she lost her job on the trams and took jobs at a dance hall in Gloucester Place as a dance hostess earning 2d a dance and also taught dancing. Florence later remarried, having met a soldier from the Preston Barracks, and had a further nine children.

The Second World War

The Second World War had a much greater effect on the town than the First World War had had. Whereas the 1914-1918 war saw more military casualties and left deep scars on those involved, the 1939-1945 war took a heavy toll on civilians. Between July 1940 and 22nd March 1944 Brighton suffered 56 air raids, during which 381 bombs were dropped on the town killing 198 people and seriously wounding another 357. More than 280 houses and businesses were destroyed and 894 badly damaged.

Bombs with heaviest impact were not in North Laine

The raids that had the heaviest impact were raids on the Odeon Cinema, Kemptown, and the viaduct across London Road, neither of which impacted on North Laine directly although the Odeon bombing was a huge moral blow as it happened early in the war on 14th September 1940. A total of 52 people died in these raids. A German Dornier became separated from its squadron and was being chased by a Spitfire when it dropped its bomb load of 20 bombs to gain height. Two bombs hit the cinema with 300 people inside, killing eight children and six adults.

Viaduct hit in 1943

The viaduct was hit on 25th May 1943 when a bomb was dropped which landed in a nearby road and then went into and out of a window of a house before hitting one of the piers of the viaduct destroying one of the arches. Rails and sleepers were left hanging across a gap but no-one was hurt. Within a day steel girders allowed vital traffic to move again and within a month the arch had been rebuilt.

Gloucester Place apartments hit

In North Laine the raid that had the heaviest impact was on 29th March 1943. The clinic in Circus Street and an apartment block in Gloucester Place were both hit. The clinic at the time was full of children visiting the dentist and pregnant women visiting the pre-natal clinic whilst at 21/22 Gloucester Place  seven North Laine residents (Florence Bettersworth, Philip White, James Eade, Muriel Eade, Hugh Miller-Mackay, Eliza Parr and Verena Newgeritz) were killed. The block was rebuilt after the war and the site given to the Royal Sussex Regiment with all proceeds going to the Regiment's Benevolent Fund.

The station was a target

This bomb was the only bomb to land on North Laine that killed anyone. The station area was a target but only five bombs landed. Kathleen Harman (whose husband Alfred lost a brother in the First War) remembers one of these for at the time she was working at the station unloading goods from trains. One day she was loading jam onto a train and just as it left the station a bomb hit it. Kathleen had to clear up the sticky mess when the train returned to the station. Kathleen lived in Blackman Street just below the station and because her brothers worried about her living so close to the station she agreed to move in with one of them in Carden Avenue. She was soon back in Blackman Street though as her sister-in-law did not make her welcome, and then a few days later a bomb hit Carden Avenue.

A bomb in Elder Street

A bomb also landed in Elder Street near Preston Circus but it must have caused little damage as in an interview for 'Backstreet Brighton' Harry Mitchell just mentions a bomb damaging the street without mentioning any casualties.

Muted celebrations after end of war in Europe

When war in Europe ended on 7th May 1945 there were muted celebrations. The war in the Far East was still going on and people were tired of war. There were, however, some street parties in the area, notably in Upper Gardner Street, but attended mainly by women and children.

A street party held in Upper Gardner Street to celebrate the war’s end