Laine or Laines?

Not as clear-cut as all that

By Graeme Davis

The North Laine community is quick to correct the mistake of turning North Laine into North Laines. Laine is perceived as a unique Brighton name for several fields around the old Brighton village.

What it says in the dictionary

Yet the matter is far from clear cut. The Oxford English Dictionary, considered authoritative for English, gives both laine and laines as names for individual fields. The major dictionary of the Sussex dialect by Rev W D Parish - A Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect (1875) - gives the word only in the plural form laines. This suggests that Rev Parish was unable to find anyone calling any of the fields by the singular laine, and that laines was universal in the spoken language of Brightonians of the Victorian age.

Does it derive from an Anglo-Saxon word?

Writers about North Laine tend to assert that it is from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning loan or lease. Yet we have no record whatever of the name the Anglo-Saxons might have called the area on which North Laine now stands. There is an Anglo-Saxon word laen which indeed means loan. Why the fields might have been called loans is a matter of guesswork, while trying to make laen into laine won't work. We know a lot about how Anglo-Saxon words changed their pronunciation as English developed, and laen becomes loan, never laine. Whatever its origin might be we can be sure that laine is definitely not derived from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning loan or lease.

Does it just mean 'lane'?

Most plausibly laine is simply a variant of lane, and little more than a spelling variant at that. Applied to land it means simply a long, thin strip of land, of the sort characteristic of the mediaeval field system. In the case of Brighton we know that this system of sub-divided, large fields was used long after it was abandoned in most other areas - and so a name for the strips was remembered. A single strip of about 1/8th of an acre is a laine. A field of laines to the north of Brighton was called North Laines, with similar names applied to other fields around Brighton.

Some documents use the singular form

But it's not quite that simple. There are documents which appear to use the singular form laine to refer to North Laine and other fields around Brighton. Doubtless this is what prompted the lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary to record both singular and plural forms. Plausibly an official heard North Laines when he asked the name of the field but, being unable to account for the plural for what he saw as one field, "corrected" it to North Laine. There is a further complication in that there is record of another name for the strips of land, the laines, being used in Brighton - paul pieces. As far as I can see this term is unique to Brighton and may well be a purely local usage.

'North Laine' is the modern correct form

A twentieth century administrative process resulted in the registration with Brighton Council of the name North Laine, and by virtue of this process North Laine must be considered the modern, correct form. The traditional form North Laines is now lost, but perhaps we should be sympathetic to people who by mistake stumble upon what is really the correct form.

This page was added on 31/10/2008.
Comments/reviews:

Sorry, but most people just stumble and get it wrong. Do we talk of Kemps Town, or Hangleston? Let's just get it right - North Laine.

By Maureen Brand, North Laine resident
On 18/08/2008

No, but if Kemptown had been called Kemp's Town until it got changed by mistake, then you could argue about which was right and which was wrong.

By Paul
On 31/03/2011

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.