Discover North Laine's industrial heritage on foot

Photo:A former warehouse in Foundry Street

A former warehouse in Foundry Street

Photo by Henry Law

Photo:Once the site of the Gloucester Brewery

Once the site of the Gloucester Brewery

Photo by Peter Crowhurst

Photo:Ironwork produced by the Star Foundry, Bread Street

Ironwork produced by the Star Foundry, Bread Street

Photo:A stables and bacon smoking business in Foundry Street

A stables and bacon smoking business in Foundry Street

A history trail

By Peter Crowhurst, North Laine resident

North Laine was Brighton's industrial quarter for over 150 years and this tour shows visitors how and why this happened.

Begin at the Museum

Begin the tour at Brighton Museum and if you have time have a look at the local history section on the ground floor. As you exit the Museum the Royal Pavilion stands before you. This symbol of Brighton's past and present was begun in 1786, by which time Brighton had already become a resort. Once the Prince of Wales began to visit Brighton, coming for the first time in 1783, the success of Brighton was assured. At the time he was 21, handsome and with a zest for life that Brighton was to help him fulfil. When the Prince first came to Brighton it was already fashionable, with all the facilities that a modern seaside resort needed. It had ballrooms, libraries, indoor pools, hot baths, and decent accommodation to entertain the young Prince and his entourage who came for the annual season, which was in early autumn.

Brighton became fashionable

Brighton developed into a resort in the years before the Prince arrived. By 1770 it was fashionable as a result of having good links with London and having cheap land available, whilst the traditional resorts (Margate, Weymouth, Scarborough, Tunbridge Wells) had become too expensive for many.

In Sussex, Lewes was the social centre of the local gentry and Tunbridge Wells the fashionable spa but by 1750 Brighton had acquired a growing reputation amongst the rich who liked to seek out seawater cures for their ailments or just enjoy the facilities that were provided for them.

Dr Richard Russell

The publicity generated by three doctors in the late 18th century helped to make Brighton a premier seaside resort. The best known of these, Dr Richard Russell, produced a book in 1750  called The use of Seawater in the Diseases of the Glands. The publicity produced by these doctors helped to establish Brighton's reputation as a place where the climate, seawater and spring water could help improve one's health.

The centre of social life

The centre of the social life of the aristocracy who began to come to Brighton was the Steine, where you could show off. The Steine was the place to be seen and to show off the latest fashions. Libraries were built in the area and it was to these places that you came when you arrived in town. You arrived in town and you then signed in at one of the libraries and this announced your presence.

Now begin your tour

Walk through the North Gate  and you will find yourself opposite Marlborough Place. Originally known as North Row when the first buildings appeared in 1772 (the name changing to Marlborough Place by 1814) this was the first development outside the town proper.

One of five laines

At the time North Row was built, North Laine was just one of five laines (large fields) that surrounded the small town of Brighton. Farming methods had not changed for centuries, with the land organised in strips (paul pieces), with paths (leakways) giving access to one's land. These leakways now form the main routes through the North Laine and subsequent development could only happen when several adjacent paulpieces were bought together.

The County Courthouse

Proceed up Church Street and to your right you will see the former County Courthouse (a red brick building), which was built in 1869 following the closure of the former barracks which had occupied the site of the current swimming pool from 1796.

Formerly the 'Volunteer'

Stop outside the 'Mash Tun' public house. This was once known as the 'Volunteer', named after the 1st Sussex Artillery Volunteers and 1st Sussex Rifles, who used the infantry barracks until they were closed down.

Site of the Central National School

Opposite the 'Mash Tun' is the 'Wagon and Horses', which was built in 1848 by Frederick Mahomed as a gymnasium before becoming a public house in 1852. Carluccio's, on the corner of Jubilee Street, was built on a site once occupied by the Central National School from 1871 until 1969. One of the town's earliest schools, designed in a Regency Gothic style, it had two shops on the ground floor with the master's residence. It became the Central Church of England School and eventually the Central Voluntary Primary school. It closed in 1967 and was shamefully demolished in 1971 before a protection order, that was in the post, could be received.

A mineral water manufactory

At the corner of Regent Street and Church Street there used to be a mineral water manufactory, possibly owned by Henry Schilling, who bought up a lot of land in the North Laine in the 1840s for development.

Model Dwellings

Walk up Church Street to the corner of Jew Street. On the corner you will see the Model Dwellings which were built about 1852 by Dr William Kebbell, who was chairman of a charitable trust. A number of societies were founded in the country to improve the condition of workers' housing, including in Brighton an affiliated association to 'The Metropolitan Association for improving the dwellings of the industrious classes'.

The idea was to build decent quality accommodation at a reasonable rent and the fifteen flats here had three rooms with separate scullery and WC and ample supply of water.

By the time the Model Dwellings were built (1852) North Laine was fully developed up to Preston Circus. Housing for visitors was built along the coast, whilst North Laine was developed to meet the industrial needs of the town. At first arable fields gave way to market gardens (with greenhouses), stables, paddocks and small workshops but by 1825 the market gardens were being used for industrial development.

Former drill hall

Walk up Church Street until you come to the empty site at the corner of Portland Street. Opposite you is the former drill hall of the Volunteer Rifles of the Royal Sussex Regiment. They had been formed in 1859 when there was fear of war with the French. At first the volunteers met in the Church Street barracks and then in the Town Hall before moving here in 1890. Colonel Tamplin secured the move. The volunteers won many prizes in shooting competitions and were one of the first units to use cyclists as messengers.

The heart of industrial North Laine

Walk along Spring Gardens.  It is hard to imagine you are in the heart of what was once a centre of dirt, grime, blood and noise. In 1876 the area around Spring Gardens contained two foundries, several malt houses, a coach building business and several slaughterhouses.  The slaughter trade was particularly unwholesome, with pigs being kept in pens at slaughterhouses whilst cattle were brought from the Downs to pens north of the Steine and then walked into North Laine. Fat from the animals was sold for candles, soap and margarine. The carcass was cut up and sold to bone mills for marrow to be extracted for glue and the rest ground up for fertiliser. A candle factory using the fat from the slaughterhouses was on the corner of Spring Gardens and North Road.

On the eastern side, now occupied by a Seeboard building, was built a power station that was Brighton's main supplier until 1906 when Southwick Power Station was opened.

Site of the Grand Theatre

At the end of Spring Gardens, where LA Fitness now stands, once stood Brighton's largest theatre, the Grand. When it opened in 1891 the theatre had space for 5,000. On opening night, a foul evening of wind and rain, it cost 5p in the pit and there  was a large orchestra and a circus troupe of 200 horses, including elephants, tigers and lions plus 20 clowns. The building burnt down in 1961.

Brighton's worst slum area

Walk down North Road passing Cocovino, once the home of Brighton's first Coop shop, and turn into Orange Row on your right. North Road was redeveloped in the 1870s after the Council acquired many of the old properties to knock down. The road was widened and new houses built, hence the mixture of large and smaller buildings.

As you walk down Orange Row you are entering what was once Brighton's worst slum area. One thousand people lived in the area between Gardner Street and what is now Tichborne Street. There was no running water or sewage and water came from wells often contaminated by the nearby cesspools. What is now Tichborne Street used to be Thomas Street at the southern end, a street full of lodging houses with four houses known to be for 'women of the worst character' and at the northern end two alleys together known as Pimlico.

Diseases prevailed

Two reports into the health and sewage facilities in this area were produced in the 1840s and they paint a dismal picture. In 1849 Edward Cresy wrote that "Orange Row, Pimlico, Foundry Street, Spring Gardens and Thomas Street were areas where diseases prevailed, often the result of sulphurated hydrogen which arises from the excrement retained in cesspools. It pervades all the breathing places found at the back of buildings. Many of the houses are wretchedly damp, constructed with inferior bricks and mortar made of sand. No methods are available for getting rid of the rain water. The walls are covered with lichen, and with the decomposition of vegetable matter the inmates seek the imagined restorative powers of the public house."

Site of Preece's Buildings

Continue out to Church Street and then down Church Street to Regent Street. Walk along until you can see the back of Gardner Street on your left. Squeezed between the two streets was once a courtyard for about ten cottages and a few businesses named Preece's Buildings. There were communal wash houses and toilets, with the wash houses used on a rota basis. They were demolished in the 1930s. Try and get hold of a copy of Backyard Brighton in which there is a description of life in Preece's Buildings that brings to life what it must have been like to live there.

No 12 was the Swan Downer School

Return to Gardner Street and walk along this now popular street full of boutiques and restaurants. It was once the lifeblood to North Laine's residents, providing a vast array of services. Gardner Street was developed by John Furner by 1805 on the site of his market garden. It runs between North Road and Church Street and is lined with small shops, with store rooms or flats above.

No 12 was formerly the Sussex Arms. It was erected as the Swan Downer School in 1816. The school was founded for the education of 20 or more poor girls. It moved to Windsor Street in 1859.

No 51 was formerly Beal's Cork Shop, opened in 1883, the last such shop in the country when it closed on 1st October 1983. The shop's façade can now be seen in Brighton Museum. A factory used to be at the back of the shop, which backed on to Preece's Buildings.

The Komedia was once the site of a small, Tesco which was demolished to make way for a larger Tesco (nothing changes). At the end of the street where Infinity Foods now is was once the site of Weston's, a gentleman's outfitter, and later c. 1914, a Marks & Spencer bazaar. Opposite Infinity Foods on the corner of Kensington Gardens was once a Freeman, Hardy & Willis shoe shop.

Site of the former barracks

Walk down North Road to Barrack Yard near the bottom. Notice the sign of the former 'Red Lion' pub still visible at the corner of Vine Street.

If you look down Barrack Yard you will see the site of the former barracks. When first built by 1796 they were intended to be temporary but when the government realised that the threat from Napoleon was more continuing the barracks were made more permanent by improving the foundations. The barracks developed into a walled enclosure containing a row of timber clad huts on low brick foundations, alongside a range of stables, barns and a veterinary surgery. Their flimsy construction made them totally unsuitable as living accommodation and conditions were most unpleasant for the soldiers billeted there.

As numbers fell in the 1830s the only remaining accommodation block was in the NE corner near North Road. In this block were 18 rooms with 16 soldiers in each room accommodated in 4 bunk beds, with soldiers sleeping 2 to a bed.

When the Royal Pavilion was sold to the town in 1850 the soldiers had little to do and the barracks were abandoned. Renewed trouble from France in the late 1850s though brought renewed occupation for a short time only. Conditions in these barracks were always awful and the soldiers billeted there often suffered from depression; fights and the occasional murder were a symptom of the conditions. In 1862 John Flood killed John O'Dea in 1862 as a result of the conditions and bullying. He was subsequently given a life sentence, having been reprieved by the Queen.

By the 1860s the barrack block was an eyesore and the block was demolished, allowing the Council to take it over for a highway maintenance department and the slipper baths. Nowadays a nursery stands on the foundations of the former barracks. Baths were built in 1895 and subsequently knocked down (in 1979) to be replaced by the current pool in 1981.

The second furlong of the North Laine

Cross North Road at this point and walk down Cheltenham Place. You are now in the second furlong of North Laine, North Road being the former leakway that divided the first from the second furlong. Halfway down Cheltenham Place on the right there is Blenheim Place, once the site of Ashby's Malthouse and now retaining the original wall. After World War I it served as a provisions store, then until 1966 Alfred Button & Co smoking bacon and until 1994 a T-shirt printing business. The building was demolished in 1994 and housing was built, but the cast iron grilles still exist.

A former grain store

Go back into Cheltenham Place and walk down to Gloucester Road. Just to the right at the end of Cheltenham Place is the Grain Store. In the 1850s there was  a ginger beer manufacturer here, later a  millers, rag merchants and corn merchants (owned by William Wood, a Hurstpierpoint farmer). Notice the  monogram WM1880 (although William Wood had been there since 1864).

The artillery volunteers

Walk slowly up Gloucester Road. 'The Eagle' has been 'The Eagle' since at least 1864 (apart from a brief spell as 'The George Beard' in recent years). Nos 121-123 were built on the site of the former Gloucester Brewery and next door we can see the shell of the former drill hall for the Sussex Artillery Volunteers, formed in 1859 at the time of the French invasion threat. There had been the Eagle Iron Foundry on the site but this was refurbished for the volunteers, with an officers' mess, rest rooms and similar facilities for the sergeants and NCOs. The gunners were also to have a recreation room although their smoking was restricted. Initially the complex included a canteen and a house for the sergeant major but when Colonel Hannington retired these were removed. At this time there were 560 volunteers and by the 1880s 4 16-pounders. The artillery volunteers were responsible for the organisation of the yearly (Easter) training exercises in Sheepcote valley.

Robert Street

The western corner of Robert Street was until the 1960s dominated by the Canteen Pub and the tall building on the eastern side of Robert Street was the former Jireh Chapel opened in 1846 as a Calvanistic chapel. The 2nd floor was added at a later date but it closed in 1902 and became a furniture warehouse. Reference to it appears in the 1949 Street Directory as a bedding manufacturer and upholsterers.

Former printing works

Along the whole of the western side of Robert Street is what was once the Argus newspaper building, known now as Argus Lofts. After the Argus moved out of the building, ownership changed hands several times. A serious fire took hold of part of the roof area in December 1999 whilst initial renovation was taking place. A 2001/02 conversion added a new frontage to the North Road end and an extension on what had been a parking area fronting onto Gloucester Road. The ground floor was converted into office/workspace and the upper floors to apartments. Prices for the new apartments in 2001 ranged from £120,000 to £385,000. Southern Publishing appeared on the Robert Street site in 1915 and printing moved there in 1926, where it stayed until 1992 when the Argus opened its new headquarters in Hollingbury.

Kensington Gardens

As we continue our walk up Gloucester Road you will see on your left Kensington Gardens, developed from about 1808, the first street northwards from North Road. Originally the houses did have gardens and the fronts were added later, as you can see. No 5 was the Institute for Working Men.  Anita Roddick had her first Body Shop here, marked recently with a blue plaque. As you walk up Gloucester Road you will pass on your right Tidy Street and Queen's Gardens, both residential streets built in the 1840s.

Foundry Street

Further up on the left hand side, turn into Foundry Street, which still retains many of its former industrial buildings. The area behind the western side of the street, where the post office now stands, was once dominated by the Regent Iron Foundry, the town's largest employer for much of the 19th century. The foundry opened in Regent Street and moved to Foundry Street in 1823, possibly for the larger premises it needed, for it was then making much of the ironwork needed by the Chain Pier, being built at the time. The foundry continued to make cast iron products for the town until it eventually closed in 1912. The building was demolished in 1921 and the Post Office was built on the site in the mid 1930s.

Other interesting buildings in Foundry Street include No 27, which was a former lead pipe works, and No 28, once a bone mill and rag warehouse.  No 32 was a soap works and No 35 a stables and a bacon smoking business side by side. Notice the pediment containing the initials W & L (Walter and Lynn), who had the building built in the 1890s.

End of tour

Your tour ends here but, if you have time, explore the alleyways and terraced streets of North Laine's third furlong between Gloucester Road and Trafalgar Street.

This page was added on 18/01/2009.

I live in Perth, Australia, and I have been researching my family history through the usual ancestry channels. I am presently focusing my attention on my paternal family line. The Dowling family were long dwellers in Brighton. My Great-great-great grandfather was John Dowling (1807-1876). He was a ginger beer and soda water brewer in Brighton and he owned the Gloucester Brewery listed asĀ in Gloucester Square and Gloucester Lane and also in Gloucester Road. I do not know the relationship of these places. However, I am keen to find out more about his brewery. He had two sons, John and Henry (my great-great grandfather), who were both also ginger beer brewers, so I assume they were involved with their dad at the Gloucester Brewery. John also had a brother Henry, born 1808, who was a Fly Proprietor in Brighton. One of the only references to the old Gloucester Brewery that I have been able to find is in the above walking tour, where that address is mentioned in the section on the Artillery Volunteers and where it says that Nos 121-123 Gloucester Road were built on the site of the old Gloucester Brewery. I am very keen to find out more about the Brewery and I was wondering if anyone reading this might know where I could find this information (eg history of the Brewery, dates of operation, operators etc). I would appreciate any help to put me on a fruitful path.

By Sarah Dowling
On 28/11/2009

Sarah, I will try to help you with your enquiries. Gloucester Road was called Gloucester Lane until at least 1856. I know from trade directories and old maps that the Gloucester Brewery was located at 122 Gloucester Lane/Road and in 1864 was owned by J Dowling. He also ran the Ginger Beer Factory at 128 Gloucester Lane/Road in 1856. By 1900 the brewery was being run by Isaac Dean. I will try to find out more information for you. Watch this space.

By Peter Crowhurst
On 03/12/2009

Sarah, from my list of occupation of each property in Gloucester Lane/Gloucester Road over the years, drawn from trade directories, I see that John Dowling 'soda water etc maker and brewer' is listed in 1862, and then J Dowling, Gloucester Brewery from 1864-1898 at 122 Gloucester Road.

At 121 Gloucester Road, Henry Dowling appears in the trade directories 1887-1895. Thereafter a procession of other names took over the brewery: H Withyman 1903-1905, John Walsham 1906-1910, Albert Edward Marchant 1911-approximately 1917, Thomas WIndham 1919-1931.

I will continue looking to see if we might find, for instance, an advertisement but for the moment that is all I have on file.

By Maureen Brand
On 04/12/2009

I am researching my paternal family history. Their name was Newman and they lived in No 4 North Road (?) cottages in 1861 and No 1 in 1881. I did not realise there were any cottages on North Road as I know it.  One was a baker and one a cattle drover - can you tell me where the cattle lived or came from? My other side lived in 47 Spring Gardens from 1881-1891 and were a farm labourer and a fish hawker named Sullivan. This is the best article I have read about Brighton for a long time.  Thanks, Anne (Newman).

By Anne Ball
On 04/03/2010

I am also trying to find out more information about the Gloucester Brewery. My Great Grandfather Albert Edward Marchant owned the brewery from 1911 to 1917 and ran it with my Grandmother Ada Marchant. They had previously owned pubs in the Brighton area, but as yet I have been unable to find out which ones...

By Graham Marchant
On 14/11/2012

i own an old pewter tankard with the inscription H Dowling Gloster Brewery. Maybe someone is interested? I could send a picture. (I live in Munich, Germany.)

By Colin
On 19/03/2013

I think my 3x Great Grandfather worked at the brewery in Gloucester Lane. He was listed as Brewer's labourer, and living at 104 Gloucester Lane in 1851.

By Denise Cross
On 03/03/2014

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