Alice’s sisters:  Edith, Sybil, 'Gossie' and Olive

Alice at her book launch

Alice Reynolds has written a fascinating book about her life - from her birth in Frederick Street in 1916 to her return visit to Brighton in 2008 92 years later.  The sections on her childhood in Brighton, and particularly in Over Street, are probably of most interest to North Laine residents but she also gives a very personal account of her whole life, including nurse training at Southlands in the late 1930s, a spell of private nursing in Rochester and Worthing, her war time nursing service and life in Cornwall, Mile Oak, Southsea and Littlehampton during and after the war and up to the present day.

Bringing to life her day to day world

Alice brings to life the day to day world of her family and friends in North Laine from 1916 to the 1930s.  There are extracts from the developing manuscript elsewhere on this website and now the published book (A Penny for the Gas) provides the context for these extracts.

A short book

It’s a short book (135 pages with lots of pictures) and a quick read and, although it hasn’t got an index,  the chapter headings - ‘pubs’, ‘churches’  and ‘schools’ for example, make it easy to scan the book to find topics of interest. And it’s full of amazing facts.  Did you know, for example, that there was a baker in Kemp Street where people took their Sunday roasts to be cooked if they didn’t have ovens in their homes?

All change and no change

Alice’s history is of particular interest for me because I’ve known the house she lived in – No 11 Over Street - since the late 1970s and lived in it off and on from 1979 to 2009.  It is really curious to read what the house was like in the 1920s and to know that until it was done up in 2003 it remained much the same.  Sometime between the 1930s and the 1970s the scullery was made into a kitchen and what Alice calls ‘a slip room’ on the first floor became a bathroom but otherwise the house had hardly changed. When Alice looked round the ground floor in 2008, she was still able to recognise her old home. And in writing this article, I should declare an interest – at the end of the book I feature as the ‘very pleasant lady’ who let Alice look round that day.

A local history resource

For people with a more general interest in local housing and history, ‘A Penny for the Gas’ is a great addition to the rich vein of reminiscences about North Laine and should also be a useful source of local information.  Alice tells anecdotes about the people she knew as a child, so if you are researching your family history, it might be worth a look to see if a relative is mentioned here.

Life in No 11 Over Street

An early section of the book describes the layout in No 11 Over Street and how the rooms were furnished and used by the family. This anecdote about Alice’s grown-up sisters gives a feel for how she mixes description and anecdote to give a real flavour of how they lived in the house:

 ”On the top of the piano stood Daisy.  She was a plaster bust of a girl reading a book, and had been brought back from Dieppe by one of the girls when they had a day trip to France on the paddle steamer which went from the Palace Pier, Brighton.  Daisy provided a convenient place for hats – the girls always took their hats off and put them on top of Daisy, so she would end up with perhaps four modern hats piled on top of her head.”

Alice also recounts how, when her sisters left home, the first floor of their three storey house was let out as a flat, with the family continuing to live on the ground and second floor, and later on under the heading ‘Shared House’ she tells how pressures on housing after the First World War meant that many houses in North Laine were in multiple occupancy.

Family life in the 1920s

The book provides a wealth of detail about life in North Laine in the 1920s - how her father’s work was affected by the Great Depression, her sisters’ work as lounge waitresses in the Metropole Hotel, and how her mother coped financially. It includes the bad times and the good. We learn about excursions - a Sunday school treat by train to Burgess Hill, a surprise holiday in Plumpton, and a trip to Hurstpierpoint which included a ride on a horse bus – and also how her sisters funded a temporary removal to Patcham to give her mother (who was not well) a rest and a change of air.

A good read

This description of A Penny for the Gas  just skims the surface but I hope it entices others to read the book.  I enjoyed it – and it reminded me that we should all write down what we remember of our childhoods because ’the past is another country’.  They did ‘do things differently there’ [L P Hartley, The Go-between, 1953] and it is the information about day to day life that gets lost if we don’t make a special effort to record it.

The book

A Penny for the Gas – the personal history of a nonagenarian , by Alice Reynolds, Railway Cat Creations, PO Box 299, Rainham, Essex, RM12 8XT,2011, price £5.99 plus UK p&p £1, or

[Previously published in the
North Laine Runner, No 211, July/August 2011 and part of the NLCA Archive]

‘A Penny for the Gas - the personal history of a nonogenarian’

A review of the book about Alice Reynolds, former resident of Over St, in the 1920s, by Anne Fletcher

North Laine History

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