Kensington Place, a detailed history

Photo:The eastern side of Kensington Place

The eastern side of Kensington Place

Photo by Peter Crowhurst

Photo:Aerial view of Kensington Place

Aerial view of Kensington Place

Photo by Henry Bruce

Photo:The 1792 terrier map showing the division  of land in between Trafalgar Street and Gloucester Road

The 1792 terrier map showing the division of land in between Trafalgar Street and Gloucester Road

From the collection of Terry Etherton

Photo:Nos 28 & 29 Kensington Place

Nos 28 & 29 Kensington Place

Photo by Henry Bruce

Kensington Place, Brighton

Developed from the late 1820s

By Peter Crowhurst, North Laine resident

The development of the street

Today Kensington Place is an attractive street close to the railway station, with two distinct sides.  The western side was developed initially from the late 1820s and has the unusual feature in the North Laine of having front gardens, whilst the eastern side was developed from the 1840s and with its rusticated features and Ionic pilasters is on the Council's list of special buildings. Indeed many of the houses in the eastern terrace are Grade II listed buildings.

The third furlong

Kensington Place lies in what was once the third furlong of the North Laine. The third furlong was sub-divided into strips of land known as paul pieces, of which there were 262, and these paul pieces were owned by about 12 landowners who through the 18th century had managed to consolidate their land so that they had their paul pieces in a block of land that made it easier to farm.

Buying and selling

By the beginning of the 19th century the land that today comprises Kensington Place had changed hands a number of times. The western side of Kensington Place had once been owned by Thomas Attree and then let to Edward Dudeney, whilst the eastern side was owned in turn by a variety of the largest land owners in Brighton including Philip and Joseph Mighell, Benjamin Scutt, John Friend and Israel Paine. To develop each side of the street required, through purchase, the acquisition of twelve paul pieces of land. Given that in the third furlong most of the land at the end of the 18th century was held in blocks of two or four paul pieces, some buying and selling was required before anyone had a block of twelve paul pieces together.

Brighton's industrial and commercial suburb

As Brighton expanded in the early years of the 19th century, being the largest growing town between 1811 and 1820, land was needed and as the centre of town was used up for resort accommodation and facilities for visitors, the North Laine was to become Brighton's industrial and commercial suburb with housing for those providing the goods and services that a rapidly expanding resort town needed. Whilst most of the industry was to be sited in the first and second furlongs (between what is now Church Street and Gloucester Road), the third furlong was to be used for residential housing with some industry.

The 19th century

Although there was some development within the third furlong in the early years of the 19th century, most of the land continued to be used for market gardens, growing of crops and for stabling until the 1820s. Pigot's map of 1826 shows the most westerly part of the third furlong being used for market gardens, whilst the eastern part was a mixture of market gardens and artisan housing. On Kensington Place there is the beginning of development on the eastern side of the street in the 1820s and this land was sold off in plots to developers who built houses themselves or employed builders to build houses for them. This was speculative development and was how both sides of Kensington Place were built. Rarely was the owner of the property the occupier. Land was bought to sell off for a profit.

The building of Nos 28 and 29

The history of No 29 illustrates this perfectly, because the land now occupied by 28 and 29 Kensington Place was sold leasehold in 1830 by John Field to Michael Smith, who was a builder and built two houses (Nos 28 and 29) and then took up residence with his family (wife Mary and two children). Eventually John Smith was able to buy the freehold of the property in 1877 with his neighbour, William Wood, buying the freehold to No 28. The rest of the western side would have been developed in this way with local entrepreneurs who had money to invest buying land in order to make more money.

The development of the eastern side

The eastern side of Kensington Place was developed by Henry Schilling, who in 1846 acquired the land (twelve paul pieces) needed to build houses and also widen the street.  Henry Schilling was a typical Brighton entrepreneur and speculative builder. He had been born in Jena, eastern Germany, and then emigrated to England. By 1846 Schilling owned a mineral water factory in Middle Street, living above the factory with his wife, Martha. Within a year of buying the land that would become the eastern side of Kensington Place he was selling off plots of land to developers who built the houses. Given the uniform nature of the terrace it is possible that Schilling included a clause in the agreement that stipulated that the fronts should all look the same. Schilling had bought the land for £925 and plots of land were being sold off for £70. Those who bought and built on the plots were doing so to create a speculative income for themselves. In the case of No 37 the land was bought by Benjamin James Smith, who was a licensed victualler who then rented the property for an income. Within twenty years the houses built on the eastern side were worth £250 and were rented for £26 a year (50p a week). Even with the cost of building this was a good investment.

Who owned the properties and who lived there?

From the evidence available it is clear that those who owned the properties in Kensington Place did not live there. In the case of No 29, Michael Smith bought, leasehold, sufficient land to build two properties but did not buy the property he was living in until 1877. Indeed it wasn't until the 1870s that skilled artisans were beginning to buy their own homes. Henry Schilling was selling off plots of land for development as soon as he acquired the twelve paul pieces necessary for the building of houses and the widening of Kensington Place (to thirty feet). Those he was selling to were buying for the same reasons as he - to rent the property and build up an income. It was in the 1870s though that residents began to acquire the freehold of the houses they lived in. In the case of No 37 ownership passed in 1874 to William Rich who, although he didn't live in the property himself, passed it on to his son who was living in the house at the time of the 1891 census. Similarly with 41 Kensington Place, the property was owned in 1867 by John Sinnick and rented out, but by 1871 it was being inhabited by his wife (John having died). George Crowson moved into the house later in the 1870s and bought it for his large family of daughters by the end of the century. George was a coach builder, working at the railway works and was typical of those who were moving into Kensington Place. He had a trade and wanted to get on in life.

Trades people and their occupations

Up to the development of the eastern side of the street in the late 1840s, there were just over 150 residents, who were mainly trades people who rented their accommodation often with two families living in one house. The most common occupations were shoemaking, carpentry, bricklaying,  painting and tailoring and this reflected the continuing growth of North Laine as an area that serviced the town and processed wood, meat and drink and the need for trades associated with the building of new houses. The majority of these trades people were born in Sussex.

Even white collar workers lived here

With the growth of Kensington Place along the eastern side the population had increased to 262 by 1851. The houses on the eastern side were larger than on the western side and had a better outlook, facing land being developed into Tidy Street rather than the sawmill that backed onto the western side. With larger houses which had quite large gardens, Kensington Place began to attract not only trades people but also members of a growing middle class. According to the 1851 census shoemaking, carpentry, labouring and painting were still important but there were now school teachers in the street including William Moon, who was master of a Blind School.

William Moon - a famous resident

Moon was living at 46 Kensington Place with his wife and two children. By 1851 when he was living in Kensington Place he had invented his system of reading for the blind and was producing documents for the blind as well as being master of the Blind School in Church Street. He was most likely the first inhabitant of No 46 and would have rented the property for his family. Later he was to make 104-106 Queen's Road his business and home address and the Moon printing works operated there until 1960.

Also living in the street at the same time as Moon were the clerk to the Governor of the Workhouse and the Minister of a local chapel. Many of the women described themselves as dressmakers and this remained the most common occupation for the women of the street into the 20th century. The street probably had the greatest variety of occupations of any street in the North Laine, for in addition to the above there were paupers, porters, bakers, plasterers, coopers, milliners, brass finishers, engineers and sawyers.

Population increase

The average size of a household at this time (1851) was just over six, with many houses having two families and with many families taking in lodgers or boarders.  As the eastern side of the street was completed in the 1850s, the population increased to just under 300 and the tendency of the street to attract members of the lower middle classes continued. In 1871 there were representatives of all the main skilled occupations but with more white collar workers than had existed in 1851. There were now photographers, musicians, actors, dentists and nurses, as well as the Manager of a local soda works and the Superintendent of the local baths. A number of residents also earned their living from property.

High occupancy

By 1901 the population of the street was 269 with the average being 5-6, although there were houses with 8 or 9 residents and one house (No 45) with 13 residents. Most of the residents were born in Sussex but 10% were born in London and a small handful had emigrated from elsewhere: Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Italy and the United States. The street was very much a working class street with many of its residents active in service trades: dressmaking, millinery, servants and railway clerks but with all the local trades well represented: bricklaying, watch making, tailoring, glassblowing, and with many working at Brighton Station.

What was the main business in the street?

Kensington Place remained throughout the remainder of the century and into the 20th century as a place for skilled workers but also where the growing middle class felt comfortable. Many of its residents had purchased the freehold of their homes by the turn of the century and along with Pelham Square was regarded as a desirable place to live. It was for the area a quiet street and, although it was mainly residential, it did have a number of businesses operating from the properties.  At No 17 there was a small public house, the Hearts of Oak, which operated as a public house from at least 1846 when it was mentioned in the Trade Directory of that year. It must have been a place of entertainment for many in the street.  Next door at No 18 from 1890, in the back yard, there was a photographic studio run by Alfred and Hannah Wright. It must have been Hannah who was taking most of the photographs because Alfred was employed full time as a cellarman at the Smither brewery in Kemptown. The Wrights took portraits of local people, charging 10p for large photos and 5p for smaller ones. There was also another photographic studio at No 11 run by William Walls and then his daughter Rosetta from at least 1869 until after 1881. As well as these businesses there were a number of day schools run by residents at various times. At No 34 Kensington Place a ladies school was run by Edward and his wife Sarah for over thirty years from at least 1861 until the 1890s. In addition to these businesses many houses took in lodgers or boarders to supplement their income.

Into the 20th century

Although Kensington Place was one of the quieter streets of the North Laine in the years before World War One, there was plenty of industry locally to remind residents that they were part of Brighton's industrial and commercial centre. To the west of the street was Butt's saw mill and in Trafalgar Street was the Goods Yard for Brighton Station. To the southwest stood Foundry Street with its foundry, soap manufacturers and various warehouses. The smoke and smells from these various enterprises would have acted as a reminder to the residents of Kensington Place that local industry was not far away.

Demolition threat to North Laine

The North Laine remained Brighton's industrial and commercial centre until the Second World War, after which industry began to relocate into the outskirts of the town and by when working people were seeking the cleaner air of the estates being built at Patcham, Moulsecoomb, Whitehawk and Hollingbury. The North Laine was threatened with large scale demolition in the 1970s but the Wilson Plan, which would have required the demolition of many streets in the area to make way for a link road from Preston Circus to Church Street, was rejected and instead the North Laine Conservation Area was created. Since that time (1977) the North Laine and indeed Kensington Place has prospered and it is today one of the most attractive streets in the area.

[Also published in the North Laine Runner, No 208, January/February 2011]

This page was added on 18/09/2009.

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