I once had two shops in North Laine

Photo:Lyons Carpets usesd to be on the corner of Sydney Street and Gloucester Road

Lyons Carpets usesd to be on the corner of Sydney Street and Gloucester Road

From Jackie Fuller's collection

Photo:Paul can remember Bakers, the butchers!

Paul can remember Bakers, the butchers!

In Sydney Street and Bond Street

By Paul Milton-Lyons

The history

In or around 1946, the year I was born, my father John Lyons opened a carpet and linoleum shop in Brighton at No 133 Islingword Road. It was next to my grandmother’s furniture shop at No 132. After leaving school at 16 I joined the family business. By then, as we all lived in the maisonette above the shop, I was quite used to working, part time, assisting my father with sales of linoleum and ‘oilcloth’ (as the cheaper end was sometimes referred to). After the shop closed in the evening I helped my father with the fitting of this floor-covering for customers in the local area. At first there was no vehicle to transport the rolls of ‘lino’ so we used the bus. It was not until the late 1950s that the first van was purchased, a Morris Minor.

My parents bought the freehold

At some time in the 1960s my parents decided to expand the business and purchased the freehold of No 108 Gloucester Road. The corner property was divided into three units: two units in Gloucester Road and one unit in Sydney Street. Prior to this division I believe the shop was an electrical retailers. By this time my father was employing contract fitters to fit the carpets, tiles and sheet floor coverings.

A corner retail premises

The end of the 60s and early 70s were still difficult trading times but my parents decided to take advantage of purchasing No 109 Gloucester Road and No 1 Sydney Street, which had just been put on the market. At that time it was a toy shop and, as we also purchased the remaining stock, we had great fun selling it off over the Christmas period and even purchased more toys to boost turnover. The partition walls were removed and once again the property reverted back to a corner retail premises with showroom, storage and office space on the first floor. 

Expansion into Bond Street

Further expansion of the business in the 70s bought about the leasing of a shop at No 31 Bond Street stocking the usual range of floor coverings including the lower quality end of broadloom carpets.

Rugs Gallery

Economic gloom was still with us. My efforts to increase turnover in Bond Street to a more up-market ‘rugs only’ shop, which I named Rugs Gallery, failed to work. A decision was therefore made to pull out and concentrate on the more profitable Sydney Street business. 

Downturn in the business

By this time the Islingword Road shop had closed and had been turned into flats. My father passed away in 1977, one year after my marriage, and the business was left to be run by myself, my mother and my wife Susan. One salesman and two fitters were also on the payroll. Downturn in the business was relentless, partially as a result of a large carpet multi-national opening up near Brighton Station. This had an adverse effect on our turnover and eventually in 1985 Lyons & Sons finally closed down. This was a turning point for one of our fitters. He opened a flooring shop in Sydney Street and it is still flourishing to this day!

My memories

Certainly during the late 60s and 70s I had so many fond memories of the Sydney Street community. Its traders, shoppers and the general ambience encapsulated the special character and ‘buzz‘ of the North Laine area. Lyons & Sons concentrated on the cheaper end of floor coverings in line with other traders who recognised the potential of the bargain market. In those days there were several butchers shops in Sydney Street and I certainly remember the Christmas period when people were walking along holding onto whole turkeys over their shoulders.

We closed for lunch

Along with my father and the staff we were all well spirited. In those days we closed for lunch, something that would be completely unthinkable today. We played board games in the back room and generally had a jolly time. Retrospectively this was one of the activities that made us take the eye off the ball and unwittingly our business suffered as a result. 

Shops I remember

Our neighbours in Sydney Street were ‘Recollections’, an antique and curio shop where we had a good relationship, as we did with many other traders such as ‘Gunns the Florists’, a travel shop and dental surgery opposite us. 'Forfars' bakery shop, which was then on the corner of Kensington Street and Gloucester Road, was a daily visit for me as it was where I bought my cream doughnuts! I must not forget ‘Bakers' the butchers, a name that really sticks in my memory. 

Traffic congestion

There was always a lot of traffic congestion (what’s new?) especially with our shop requiring a regular feed of floor coverings and rolls of broadloom carpet. It took around ten minutes to unload, much to the frustration of traffic building up in Sydney Street and Trafalgar Street. Yes, we had traffic wardens even in those days but on the whole they were quite understanding.

I did some photography

During the early 1980s the top floor changed use from a carpet showroom to a photographic studio, which was my main interest rather than the shop. I had a few clients, mainly connected with the theatre where I specialised in portraiture. This did not last and at one time I let it out to another photographer who I found was using it for rather questionable purposes!

Other memories

Other tit-bits included my grandfather falling down into the cellar when a trap door was open and left unattended; constantly cleaning the carpet remnants left outside the entrance, which dogs preferred to lamp posts; sun bathing on our flat roof by receptionists and nurses from the dental practice opposite; and the domino effect of several rolls of floor coverings falling over and through the plate glass windows (Health & Safety was little heard of in those days). There was also a serious consideration from one of the dentists to lease the second floor and build a bridge to join onto his surgery opposite. Luckily he didn’t pursue that idea for long.

Conclusion

To sum up the period of Lyons & Sons in Sydney Street it could be described as more colourful than profitable. It was a major part of my life and of course that of my parents. Even today I meet people who remember the shop and can recall their shopping experiences in the area at that time.


[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 207, November/December 2010]

This page was added on 16/12/2010.
Comments/reviews:

In the above article Paul can remember the antique and curio shop 'Recollections'. It used to sell a lot of items in copper. I've been trying to track down a photo of this shop. Does anyone have one?

By Jackie
On 19/12/2010

I remember Recollections from when I opened my own shop in 1986. The owners Peter and Bruce were a great pair. I remember Bruce telling me how they came by the freehold. The landlord was an old Jewish gentleman who told them "I've taken a shine to you boys" and agreed to sell them the property. It didn't close down so long ago so perhaps Peter and Bruce still own the place. Neither of them were in the best of health when last I saw them, however, and that was about 10 years back.

By Geoff Ellis, Brighton Bead Shop, 21 Sydney Street
On 14/06/2011

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