Why our streets are where they are

Laines, furlongs, paul pieces and leak ways

By Sue Berry

North Laine - from farmland to suburb

By the early 1770s Brighton was unable to accommodate all the visitors that came at the peak of the season in the early autumn and so visitors were staying in the market and county town of Lewes eight miles away. The need for accommodation and for space for essential services resulted in the development of the arable land and began the transformation of North Laine.

Development of lodging houses

The majority of the fashionable visitors who did manage to find accommodation preferred to stay on or near the Steine, where they could group together. This aspiration resulted in the development of lodging houses along the margins of North Laine right up to Oxford Place (now just north of St Peter's Church). Many of these distinctive houses that were built before 1830 still stand. If they go, an irreplaceable piece of urban landscape, unique to Brighton, will be replaced by yet more 'national anytown' designs.

Vital urban facilities

The inner part of North Laine was used for a range of vital urban facilities such as mews, market gardening, stables, kennels, a candle factory and an iron foundry, which are just some of the land uses traced between 1771 and 1820.

Laines, furlongs, paul pieces and leak ways

In 1771, when the development of North Laine began with the building of North Row (latterly Marlborough Place - where the King & Queen pub is) all of the land within the parish, but outside the resort, was farmland.  Five large arable fields called 'laines' surrounded the town on its landward sides, four of which - Little, Hilly, North and West - had boundaries impinging on the Steine or the old town (see maps at the bottom of this page). All the Laines were subdivided into smaller fields called furlongs. Each furlong was subdivided into long and narrow strips of land that ran the entire length of the furlong called paul pieces. In 1792 all of the 7,000 paul pieces in the five laines were surveyed to assist urban development.

Layout of streets  - paul pieces and leakways

Developing on a laine was a challenge. The developer needed to find a group of paul pieces to buy in order to have enough width to build on. Paul pieces were often very long (more than 450 feet was not uncommon) but too narrow to build on.  Some were only 12.5 feet wide and so not deep enough. Normally the developer had to assemble between two and five paul pieces to be able to build.  They had to be bought or leased from three or four owners. This made development slow and expensive.

If there was sufficient width of land to allow for two rows of houses and a road, the developer would lay out the road along the centre of the long plot.  If only one row of houses and part of a road could be squeezed on, then the next building project would face the new road and its developer would be expected to widen it by dedicating part of his land as road.  The long narrow roads were laid between the leak ways between the furlongs. For example, North Road and Trafalgar Street are leak ways (access tracks) and the roads that link the two were laid out on paul pieces between them.  The leak ways consequently became the main thoroughfares in North Laine as they are today.

So when you walk along the streets which run north to south you are walking along the line of the paul pieces. When you walk down to the Steine or up to Queen's Road, then you are walking along leak ways.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: To find out more see: Sue Berry, Georgian Brighton, Phillimore, 2005)

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 178, January/February 2006]

Photo:The five laines in the mid 1700s

The five laines in the mid 1700s

Photo:This map shows the boundaries of the laines and furlongs, as well as the lie of the paul piece boundaries within the furlongs

This map shows the boundaries of the laines and furlongs, as well as the lie of the paul piece boundaries within the furlongs

Map drawn by Ron Martin

This page was added on 21/06/2008.

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