'The North Laine Book'

Photo:Saunders map of Brighton, 1841

Saunders map of Brighton, 1841

Photo:Upper Gardner Street, 1981. Having been cleared for demolition, nature took over in one house!

Upper Gardner Street, 1981. Having been cleared for demolition, nature took over in one house!

Photo:VE Day party in Upper Gardner Street, May 1945. One of the book's reminiscence contributors, Pat Strudwick, is in the back row.

VE Day party in Upper Gardner Street, May 1945. One of the book's reminiscence contributors, Pat Strudwick, is in the back row.

Photo:Gloucester Road, 2nd September 1939, the day before World War II was declared, showing the Drill Hall (now converted into flats)

Gloucester Road, 2nd September 1939, the day before World War II was declared, showing the Drill Hall (now converted into flats)

Photo:A class at Pelham Street Infants School in the late 1930s

A class at Pelham Street Infants School in the late 1930s

Photo: Illustrative image for the ''The North Laine Book'' page

Now available to buy

By Peter Crowhurst, North Laine resident

The long awaited book on North Laine was  launched on Thursday 15th September 2016 at Brighthelm. The evening was a great success with over 100 books being sold and contributors to the book describing their experiences of living in North Laine in the 30s, 40s and 50s. A packed audience listened to speeches by Chair of the NLCA, Francis Clark-Lowes and book co-ordinator Peter Crowhurst before past and present residents Pat Lettres, Pat Strudwick and Terry Etherton stole the show with tales of aspidistra plants, buying day old chicks to rear in back yards and the heady smells of North Laine in the 50s.

Comprehensive look at North Laine

It was more than five years ago that Brighton Town Press approached the North Laine Community Association (NLCA) with the idea of collaborating together to produce a book about the history of North Laine and the lives of its residents, past and present. No such book on North Laine exists. There are pieces on North Laine’s history, notably in Sue Berry’s ‘Georgian Brighton’,  and the North Laine Runner (Runner) has published numerous articles on North Laine’s history as well as reminiscences of residents, but there is no book which takes a comprehensive look at North Laine. The NLCA was therefore more than happy to work with Brighton Town Press to produce a book to fill the gap that existed.

Where can I buy the book?

The book is available from Raining Books, 28 Trafalgar Street, and Brighton Books, 18 Kensington Gardens, at the price of £12.99.

Collecting reminiscences

Once we had agreed to go ahead with the project, a group of interested local residents was formed. The first task was to collect reminiscences about life in North Laine that existed in the Runner archive. There were literally hundreds covering every aspect of life over the last century so our first job was to divide them into themes and then circulate them for general reading. There followed many meetings at which the merits of different reminiscences were discussed and gradually the best pieces emerged.

Some material had to be cut out

It was agreed that the book should be divided into two parts: one focusing on the history of North Laine and one on life in North Laine. Each part would have several chapters with an introduction followed by reminiscences. It soon became apparent that not only did we have too much material but we had too many chapters for the space we had. Some chapters had to be jettisoned and we now have enough material for a second book.

We then wanted introductions

Having eventually decided on our chapters and having allocated reminiscences to them, we wanted introductions to each chapter to put into context the contributions of local residents.

Some eminent writers

We have been fortunate in having found a number of eminent writers, including historian Dr Sue Berry and landscape historian Dr Geoffrey Mead, who were willing to contribute articles to the book for which we are most grateful. Sue Berry has written a piece on the early development on North Laine including an explanation on the origins of Brighton’s laines, whilst Geoffrey Mead has traced the transformation of North Laine from an agricultural area into Brighton’s industrial suburb.

Chapters on the post war period

As well as these two chapters there are chapters on the post war period when North Laine was seemingly destined for demolition, the rejuvenation of the area when the NLCA was set up, and thematic chapters on home life, education, entertainment, shops and North Laine today.

Reminiscences from residents past and present

For all but the first chapter we have some wonderful reminiscences from residents past and present. What comes through in these is how successive generations of residents have found a real sense of community in this area. We have stories from residents who grew up here in the 40s and 50s and despite all the changes still feel a real affinity with North Laine.

Some excerpts from the book

Here are some excerpts from the book to give you a sense of what the book contain:

 "For the last 150 years the North Laine area of central Brighton has played a crucial role in Brighton’s development. It was Brighton’s industrial and commercial centre from the 19th to the early 20th centuries, with rows of modest houses for local workers cheek by jowl with a wide range of shops, workshops and small manufacturing premises.

Since regeneration in the 1970s it has become an important cultural centre and tourist destination and its Victorian terraced homes are today highly sought after.

North Laine today is a conservation area because it retains that mix of land and building use typical of the Georgian and Victorian eras. Although it lacks the grand Regency architecture of the seafront, its rows of houses and industrial buildings reflect its Victorian past."  (Sue Berry)


"North Laine’s position next to the main highway south into Brighton made it a suitable place to bring in animals for slaughter and processing, and for storage of grain, to feed the increasing population. Slaughtermen virtually took over Vine Street which had an eighth of all the slaughterhouses in the town. There was a large bacon curer’s in a yard off Jubilee Street, and the sides of pork hanging in the smoke house often created a major fire hazard when the fat-soaked walls caught fire. Warehouses owned by Wealden farmers stored grain for Brighton’s bakers and brewers."   (Geoffrey Mead)


"Where the Post Office building is now there was a steel foundry and at the Gloucester Road end Ind Coope had a brewery. During the First World War the works were used as a depot for ambulances that picked up the war wounded from Brighton Station. We kids used to call the brewery site the ‘boneyard’ because it was rat infested."   (Ernie Longhurst)


"A Ministry of Housing inquiry in 1959 upheld Brighton Corporation’s proposals to acquire the area for educational and industrial purposes. The Council then bought up most of the properties, moved out the tenants and began demolition and clearance. Some streets disappeared altogether. Belmont Street was demolished and Wood Street was wiped off the map and replaced in 1966 by Theobald House, a council tower block of 19 storeys."  (Peter Crowhurst)


"After the war we still had to have a bath outside. ’Cos my father owned the property, he could have built a bathroom at the top of the stairs but they couldn’t afford it in them days. My nan lived in Regent Street. That was a lovely street. Nice people, very clean, they all did their brasses and their white steps. I don’t know why those houses were knocked down."       (Pat Strudwick)


"The years after 1973 saw a renaissance in North Laine's fortunes. The Council developed a new attitude away from monolithic, car-based planning towards allowing small-scale redevelopment and sensitive improvement in this unique area, with its mix of early Victorian terraced housing, small-scale industry and workshops, shops and pubs." (Kim Curran and Barry Leigh)


"The first public meeting took place in Upper Gardner Street on 21st January 1976. Undoubtedly a major worry of the people present could be summed up in the phrase, ‘environmental degradation and blight’. What was the Council doing to redress this state of affairs? someone asked: and it turned out that, to the contrary, Council has contributed to blight by demolishing and boarding up old houses, allowing empty spaces to become overgrown, or by leasing the gaps between houses as car-parking space." (Ken Fines)


"Many smaller North Laine houses were made of material known as bungaroosh, a term rarely heard outside Brighton, which was largely whatever came to hand to build cheaply. Bungaroosh walls are a mix of flints, pieces of brick, chalk and lime mortar. Yet, however poor the quality of material, these houses still stand."   (Maureen Brand)


"Our house had three storeys. Stairs faced the front door and each floor had two rooms with matchwood partitions, which must have been a terrible fire risk. Outside was a concrete yard and a flush loo which we called the dub. In the corner of the yard was a coal-fired, brick-built copper boiler. Mother had two half barrels kept in the yard for washing and laundry. There was an old range in the kitchen and the fire was stoked up to heat water for us to wash in the half barrel. Several of us shared the same bath water."    (Emmi Howard)


"The North Laine is an urban village and cultural quarter situated in the English south-coast town of Brighton. The North Laine, as an instance of urban space, displays a highly distinctive and colourful aesthetic style. Many of the shops and retail outlets in the North Laine also offer some form of alternatives to mainstream capitalism and high-street retail, by selling products that are concerned with environmentalism, vegetarianism or fair-trade; or where the business has been founded as a workers' cooperative." (Chris Yuill)


This page was added on 25/10/2016.

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