From countryside to town

Photo:Map of Brighton c.1740 showing the 5 laines

Map of Brighton c.1740 showing the 5 laines

Development of North Laine in the 19th century

Until the early 19th century the arable land surrounding Brighton was divided into five large open fields. These fields had been farmed in the same way for centuries and whilst other farming communities in the country had modernised and enclosed their land into large fields capable of using modern equipment, Brighton had not. North Laine was one of these large fields and covered an area bounded by Church Street to the south, New England and Viaduct Roads to the north, St Nicholas, Buckingham and Clifton Streets to the west and Victoria Gardens and Ditchling Road to the east. The present London Road and Queen's Road cut through the original North Laine.

Derivation of 'laine'

The word 'laine' derives from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning 'loan' or 'lease' and was always the local word for these large open fields which covered the length and breadth of Britain until the agrarian revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. These large open fields lasted longer in Brighton because the main activity in the area was the port and then tourism from the late 18th century.

Furlongs and paul-pieces

Each field was subdivided into furlongs and then further divided into 'paul-pieces' - the basic unit of land. These paul-pieces are easily recognised in North Laine because, when the area was developed in the first half of the 19th century, the paul-pieces, often owned by the same person, were developed at the same time. The street layout we have today reflects the layout of the former paul-pieces.


The furlongs and paul-pieces were themselves divided by walkways called 'leakways'.. As the area was gradually developed builders arranged streets along the whole width of the furlong so that today we can see in the present layout of the streets the medieval layout of North Laine. Whilst the laines were farmed, the downland beyond was largely given over to the grazing of sheep.

Popularity and expansion

In the latter part of the 18th century, Brighton had mushroomed in size due to the popularity of three men - Dr Richard Russell, the Duke of Cumberland (the King's brother), and the Prince Regent - the future George IV. As the town expanded, with North Street becoming the commercial hub of the town, so the area to the north of North Street (North Laine) began to develop as a service area for the town.

Building started in Church Street

About 1800 building started on the north side of Church Street - in the North Laine. Gradually the area began to be developed, with the farmers selling their holdings. John Furner developed Gardner Street in the early 1800s on the site of his market garden. Slowly over the next thirty years the area was developed street by street. A spurt to development was provided by the opening up of the Brighton Railway Station in 1840, and many of the streets in North Laine were built in the period 1840 to 1850 when the town was one of the fastest growing in the land.

This page was added on 27/02/2008.

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