North Laine History

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The flagpole on the Drill Hall

The former Argus Building in Robert St

The Drill Hall

5 Kensington Gardens

North Laine in 1826

Kensington Gardens was developed from 1808 when it was at the very edge of the town. It was the first street northwards from North Road. Originally the houses did have gardens as can be seen by looking at the houses on the eastern side which were built after the western side. No 5 was the Kensington Gardens Institute for Working Men from 1865 until 1920 and it still retains its early c19th bow windows. Nos 7-11 also retain original facades. The street has always been a shopping street and at the beginning of the c20 much of the street was owned by Peters who had several furniture shops from where many local residents bought their home furnishings. The White Rabbit, formerly The Kensington was Brighton's first beer house, called The Abode of Love. No 22 (now Specs,  was where Anita Roddick opened her first shop in 1976 much to the annoyance of the funeral parlour opposite. She raised £4,000 from the bank and found a herbalist in the Yellow Pages.

Gloucester Road

Just 50 years ago you would have found 58 different trades in the street.

Juju was once the Charleville Arms and after that Gigins, a bread and cake shop. Now known

as the Zebra Shop it would make the former Manageress of Gigins turn in her grave if she hadn’t have been cremated.

The Military in Gloucester Road

North Laine has been a home for the military ever since in 1796 barracks were built between North Road and Church St. The former barracks were built from 1796 at a time when there was a danger of invasion from Napoleon’s forces. The barracks were wooden huts built on brick foundations and within a walled enclosure. Conditions were pretty grim and the soldiers often suffered from depression and got into fights. The soldiers acted as a guard for George IV but after 1830 the barracks fell into disuse and were eventually demolished in 1869. For the last ten years of its existence the barracks were occupied by the Sussex Artillery Volunteers that had been formed in 1859 when there was a scare of war with France when English radicals has conspired with Orsini to assassinate Napoleon III of France.

The castellated building  was originally the Eagle Foundry but after its closure Lieutenant Colonel Hannington of the Sussex Volunteer Artillery, needing new accommodation after being told that the barracks in Church St were being sold off, acquired the building and in 1869 it was refurbished for use by the artillery volunteers. The volunteers were regarded as a joke by the govt at first but eventually grants for kit were given. Because of this attitude they were usually funded by local businessmen.

Colonel Hannington lived in Hurstpierpoint having bought an estate in the 1840s on the basis of the money he was making from the family department store.  His son James, famous as the first Anglican missionary in East Africa was a major in the Sussex Volunteer Artillery and two other sons also were commissioned officers in the Volunteers, Captain P Hannington and Captain S Hannington. Charles made available the land on which St Lawrence was built. Lieutenant Colonel Hannington did a great deal for the Artillery Volunteers and even after he retired in 1872 the regimental band would go and play outside his home in Hurstpierpoint. In 1873 as a recognition to his services he was given the title of Honorary Colonel in Chief of the First Sussex Regiment of Volunteer Artillery. The hall was associated with the Royal Artillery until after WW2 and would have been where soldiers bound for the military conflicts assembled. The Sussex Volunteer Rifles also had a home in North Laine establishing their drill hall at the top of Church St in 1890.

Robert Street and Printing

On the eastern side of Robert Street is a long row of three storey terraced houses built from the mid 1830s with full development by 1851, in the middle is what once was the Jireh Calvinistic Baptist Chapel, which opened in 1846. It later became the Central Auction Room, then a bedding manufacturer and upholsterer and in 1998 was converted into flats.

Along the whole of the western side of the street,  is what was once the Argus newspaper building, known now as Argus Lofts. Southern Publishing appears on the Robert Street site in 1915 and printing moved there in 1926 where it stayed until 1992 when the Argus opened its new headquarters in Hollingbury.

Beermaking in the Gloucester Road area

Brighton was known as the Southern Queen of Watering Places (Scarborough was the northern equivalent) and North Laine was doing its bit to ensure it kept the title.

The Beer Act of 1830 did much to encourage the proliferation of pubs enabling any ratepayer to pay 2 guineas and then open up a beer house. The applicant did not have to show good character or financial stability. The act abolished beer duties and established opening hours; 5am to 10pm. In 1869 beer houses came under the same licensing regulations as pubs and taverns and the 1872 Licensing Act gave magistrates powers to grant licences, fixed closing times from 11pm to 6pm and prohibited the sale of spirits to under 16s..

By the early 1890s there were nearly 600 licensed premises in Brighton but the numbers fell between 1900 and 1935 (the result of WW1 and DORA). DORA required that  beer be watered down, opening  hours cut and the banning of rounds of drinks.

In North Laine in the mid-c19th there was a thriving beer industry with many malthouses and breweries. In the Gloucester Road area there was a brewery on the site of the Gloucester Yard flats and in Vine St there is the sole remaining building that houses a brewery at No 25. In Blenheim Place there remains the shell of a former malthouse for the North Street brewery whilst at No 127 Gloucester Road, there was a ginger beer brewery owned by Mr Dowling who owned the Gloucester Brewery. The building was later (by 1876) taken over by William Wood of Hurstpierpoint who used the building as a grain store, the current name of the building. You can still  just see the letters WW on the building. Was William Wood who wrote 'A Sussex Farmer ' a relation'? perhaps a son?

The  Basketmakers was occupied by a T. Knight, a basket maker in 1854 who then took out a beer licence and called his premises The Broker’s Arms and then by 1864  changed the name to the Basketmakers, so from 1864 this has had the same name.  The Eagle pub was named after the foundry and the brewery and stands on the site of an earlier police station .

The Great Eastern Pub

This pub at the bottom of Trafalgar Street has a rather fine sign giving us a clue as to when it was built.  'The 'SS Great Eastern' was an iron sailing steam ship designed by Isambard Brunel. She was by far the largest ship ever built at the time of her 1858 launch, and had the capacity to carry 4,000 passengers from England to Australia without refuelling. With five funnels (later reduced to four), she was one of a very few vessels to ever sport that number. Brunel died in 1859 shortly after her ill-fated maiden voyage, during which she was damaged by an explosion. After repairs, she plied for several years as a passenger liner between Britain and North America before being converted to a cable-laying ship and laying the first lasting transatlantic cable in 1866. Finishing her life as a floating music hall and advertising hoarding (for the famous department store Lewis's) in Liverpool, she was broken up in 1889. Perhaps the pub was named in honour of Brunel shortly after he died?

Pelham Square

The three-storey houses on the western side and the two houses on the outer-most southern sides were erected in the early 1840s, possibly 1842, on the old North Hall estate, and were originally designed as a terrace called Pelham Terrace. The three-storey houses on the eastern side with small front gardens were erected c.1866. In 1867 the five two-storey houses on the inner-most southern side were added, blocking off Pelham Terrace, and thus creating Pelham Square in the shape we have today. The garden was used by York Place school as a recreational area. Now known officially as the Queen Mother's Garden, it was landscaped in 1980 to celebrate the Queen Mother's 80th birthday. The telephone boxes are on the Council's list of buildings of historic interest.

15-16 Trafalgar Street and the the Meat Industry in North Laine

The one remaining building associated with the meat industry in the c19th can be found at No 15-16 Trafalgar St. This building with distinctive green tiles was once an abattoir and later a garage. During the c19th every stage of the meat processing industry as carried out in North Laine. There were literally dozens of slaughter houses. In Vine St alone there were seven slaughter houses in 1850 out of the 50 in Brighton whilst the 1873 OS of the area shows several in the Spring St area. Animals would be brought in from the Lower Goods Yard or walked in from the Downs to the slaughter houses of North Laine. Pigs would be kept in back yards and also slaughtered locally. After slaughter all of the animal would be used. Meat would go to local butchers, bones to the bone mill for use as fertiliser or porcelain with the extracted marrow being used to make glue and fat would go to the tallow chandlers or the soap works. It was the custom early in the c18th for all waste from the slaughtering process to be thrown down the local cess pits thus producing a contamination of the local water supply. By 1894 all North Laine slaughter houses had been closed down in an effort to improve the general hygiene of the meat industry.

Redcross St

As you walk up Trafalgar Street glance at City College through Redcross Street. Just a few houses remain of what was once one of many terraced streets stretching north from Trafalgar St.

Kensington Place

Houses first began to appear in Kensington Place in the 1820s. A glance at J.Pigot.Smith’s 1826 map of Brighton shows a number of houses on the west side of the street.

The land for Nos 28,29 was bought by Michael Smith from John Field in 1830. Smith, a builder, built two houses and then took up residence with his family. By 1877, Smith was able to buy the freehold of the property jointly with his neighbour, William Wood, who bought the freehold to No 28.

The cottages on the western side were built in the 1820s whilst the land on the eastern side was acquired in 1846 by Henry Schilling for £950. Schilling had been born in Jena, Germany and subsequently migrated to England where he settled in Brighton where he developed a mineral water factory in Middle Street. Within a year of buying the land he was selling on plots of land for £70 a plot.

The residents of the street have generally been skilled artisans. The 1851 census refers to drapers, beer shop keepers, tailors, bootmakers, printsellers, cabinet makers, laundresses, general servants whilst the 1883 census makes reference to the Hearts of Oak beer house at no. 17 and a lodging house at no. 8. The street has always had its share of teachers with the 1900 census mentioning a teacher of music at no. 31 and a day school at no 34.

The link with culture and education at no. 34 was to last into the 20th Century for this was the home of the famous West End literary agent, Peggy Ramsey, who had a weekend home in the street from the 1960’s. Peggy was to be made famous in the 1987 Alan Bennett-scripted film ‘Prick Up Your Ears’, about the life and death of the playwright Joe Orton. It was Peggy who discovered the talent of Joe Orton and then helped him in his career before finally identifying his battered body in 1967.

Peggy would spend many a weekend in Kensington Place, leaving London at 4pm on Fridays to travel down by train. She did not involve herself in the literary scene in the town (not liking one of the town’s leading lights of the time-Laurence Olivier) but instead busied herself around the streets of the North Laine.

She must have enjoyed the bric-a-brac shops of the area, (they still give a particular charm to the area) for her house was reputedly filled with what Joe Orton described as clutter. In his diary entry for 29th July, 1967, he says ‘‘We went to Peggy’s house¼¼’her little place’. It was a nice old house in a back street. Built mid-nineteenth century. Peggy had it filled with bric-a brac. All of it interesting but really there was too much¼.She took me downstairs and showed me the garden¼I liked the garden. Cluttered gardens are fun. Cluttered houses I’m not fond of.’’ Two weeks later Joe Orton was to die.

Behind Kensington Place there is a little lane, Trafalgar Lane, where Peggy had bought a small cottage (which she called her hut) which she let her clients use. David Hare write most of ‘Licking Hitler’ here as well as ‘A Map Of The World’. Having no telephone and being so close to London was ideal for writers

Other notable residents of the street include William Moon, who published books for the blind and was Master of a Blind School in Church St. Moon lived for a short time at no 44 Kensington Place. Also Robert Shelton lived in the street for a time in the 1980s. Shelton was a music critic whose claim to fame was that his review of a Dylan gig in Greenwich village led to his getting a recording contract to record 'Blowing in the Wind'.

Kensington Place continues today to be one of Brighton’s most attractive residential streets. It has been chosen as the set for TV dramas (in 1980 the street was used as the set for a TV serial ‘ A Little Silver Trumpet’) and it now has a number of houses(on the eastern side ) that have been given grade II listed status by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Prince Albert

The Prince Albert public house is a listed building of the 1840s with three storeys, round headed windows, and Corinthian and Ionic pilasters, the capitals highlighted in gold paint. Now famous for the portrait of John Peel and the a copy of the former Banksy 'kissing policemen'. Probably one of the oldest public houses still existing in this part of Brighton, the Albert is a listed building dating from the 1840s or 1850s. Standing on the corner of Frederick Place it formerly had a neighbour on the other corner, where the tall commercial is seen. This was the Holly Bush Inn, probably of about the same age.


In the climb up to  Brighton Station you will find on the right hand side the Toy Museum which is also an official information point.

A Self-Guided Walk from Kensington Gardens to Brighton Station

A typical North Laine pub, the Basketmakers

The former ginger beer brewery, later a grain store

The Great Eastern

Pelham Square

15-16 Trafalgar St

Kensington Place, east side

Kensington Place, west side

The Prince Albert