Housing the workers

Photo:Orange Row in 2007

Orange Row in 2007

Photo by Jackie Fuller

Effect of the railway in the 1840s

By Ken Fines

'Prinny' created jobs in Brighton in construction and services when the Royal Pavilion was being built, but he was by no means the only fashionable Brightonian to do this.

Where could the workers live?

As there became more of them there had to be somewhere for the essential workers to live. There was, perhaps at that time, one obvious place - not further along the fashionable seafront, but northwards into the open fields of North Laine.  This development was under way at the beginning of the 19th century and was more or less completed, except for some infilling, up to Trafalgar Street by the time of the next major event to transform Brighton.

Coming of the railway

This was the coming of the railway: in 1840, firstly from the west, and in 1841 from London.  The splendid Italianate station-house, now somewhat obscured, was of course built on a plateau carved out of the hillside just to the north-west of our working-class neighbourhood (the train sheds were not built over the lines at the station until some 20 years later).  Not only were the railways (with the subsequent large locomotive and carriage works) to create even more jobs directly, but also Brighton was transformed again, this time into a multi-class resort, as the workers in increasing numbers could afford to visit the seaside.  Thus both Brighton and Hove expanded even faster from Victorian times onwards.

Before the age of building byelaws

Our working-class neighbourhood, which was not to be formally named North Laine again until 1977, was built before the age of building byelaws and sanitation of the latter part of the 19th century. This had its obvious disadvantages from the public health point of view but it did mean that our legacy is a fascinating variety of streets, from the narrowest of alleys, such as Orange Row, to wider local shopping streets: even to that cute modest version of a classical square - Pelham Square at the eastern end of Trafalgar Street. Although to a much higher density, some of the houses in a modest way even echoed in outer appearance those of the fashionable districts.

The Church Street area

In the mid 19th century the Church Street area, with the narrow alleys and courtyards on the north side in particular, was said to be the "haunt of beggars, drunkards, prostitutes and thieves" (perhaps only the location in the town has changed!).  It is fascinating to study the returns of the National Census, which are available on film in our excellent Brighton History Centre (on the first floor of the Museum). The first of these was conveniently taken in 1841.  Here one can see the names, ages and jobs of all the residents, and even some indication of their place of birth.

Orange Row

The houses in the narrow Orange Row north of Church Street were really tiny and didn't have a square foot of outside space.  Yet the 1841 Census shows that in one of them there were three families with a total of eleven members.  Almost all the workers were recorded as labourers.  One dreads to think of the situation regarding public health and sanitation, particularly as they are thought to have kept pigs and other livestock!  In contrast, in most of the other streets the workers had a variety of jobs as craftsmen, traders, clerks etc, with fewer labourers.

The narrow street on the west side of Orange Row was originally named Pimlico, but strangely in the 1851 Census bears not only this name but also a second - Thomas Street.  I can only suggest that this is in recognition of a former famous inhabitant who may have been born there in 1827 and at the age of 9 was at Middle Street School - Tom Sayers.  He is thought to have moved to London in the late 1840s and went on to become bare-knuckle boxing champion of all England. In 1860 Tom had an epic fight at Farnborough with the famous American pugilist, John Heenan:  after some 42 rounds they both collapsed and the prize fight was declared a draw!

It is interesting to note that most of the houses in Orange Row and Pimlico did not survive the first slum clearance in the 1870s. The tiny buildings in Orange Row became storage units. However, these have now been redeveloped into houses again.  Pimlico, alias Thomas Street, was redeveloped with nice Victorian terraced housing and renamed Tichborne Street, but only a row of the houses on the north-east side of the street have survived more recent redevelopment.

The naming of streets

Another interesting matter is how royal patronage was recognised in naming the streets, particularly in the names of royal titles, palaces or royal triumphs.  Most obvious are: King Street; Queen's Gardens; Regent Street (and Foundry); Windsor Street; Kensington Gardens and Street; St George's Mews; Trafalgar Street and Lane; and of course Jubilee Street.  The latter undoubtedly celebrates the 50th Jubilee of King George III in 1810 and of course continues on in the name of the new award-winning library opened in 2005 as well as a new completely rebuilt Jubilee Street next to it. Perhaps I could suggest that even Orange Row may have had a royal connection in the House of Orange.  Although it ruled in England over a century before, in 1815, when the alleyway might have been constructed, a member of the House of Orange was made King of the Netherlands.

[Previously published in the 'North Laine Runner', No 190, Jan/Feb 2008]

This page was added on 17/06/2008.

In the above article Ken Fines refers to Orange Row and Thomas Street and suggests that Thomas Street might have got its name from the boxer Tom Sayers who lived in the area. However, Tom Sayers was born in 1826 and as it was 1853 when he fought for the Middleweight Championship of England and began to make a name for himself, it is extremely unlikely that Thomas Street was named after Tom.

A map produced by Cresy in his 1849 report into the living conditions of the residents of the area shows that Thomas Street lay where the southern end of Tichborne Street now stands. The northern part of Tichborne Street was built in the 1870s after Pimlico East and Pimlico West were demolished as part of the Council's slum clearance schemes. Thomas Street at the time consisted of a number of common lodging houses, where people from all over the south of England would seek a bed for the night after a day working as a bricklayer, laundress or common labourer.

In his article Ken could have mentioned the Model Dwellings in Church Street just opposite Thomas Street. These Model Dwellings on the corner of Jew Street were constructed in the early 1850s as a project to provide cheap, decent affordable housing for the working classes. The trusts that built blocks like the Model Dwellings set out to show that it was possible to provide more space and better amenities than that which was usually available to the common man and his family. A cooking range with water heater was usually provided along with ventilated larders and sinks with draining boards. Although up to 150,000 were living in model dwellings in London and a smaller number elsewhere, it made only a slight dent in the problem that was highlighted by Cresy and others.

[Previously published in the 'North Laine Runner', No 191, March/April 2008]

By Peter Crowhurst, North Laine resident
On 17/06/2008

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