Immortalised on a bus

Several North Laine personalities have their names there

By Jackie Fuller, North Laine resident

There are several famous North Laine historical personalities who have their names on Brighton buses. Who will be next?


Photo:Peggy Ramsay has her name on a No 7

Peggy Ramsay has her name on a No 7

1. PEGGY RAMSAY

PEGGY RAMSAY, probably the most famous theatrical agent of her era, is now on a No 7 bus. Peggy first came to Brighton in the 1960s and bought a house in Kensington Place, which she often visited.

She started by reading scripts

Born in 1908, Peggy Ramsay started her career reading scripts and was then encouraged to set up an agency. Her first discovery was Robert Bolt. In the 1950s and 60s she represented many leading playwrights including the prolific Alan Ayckbourn and she was able to buy out her partners in 1963.

A great love of the theatre

Among her clients were Windsor Davies, Simon Callow, Günther Grass, John Lennon, Colin McInnes, John Mortimer and Muriel Spark. Ramsay was particularly proud of having discovered the darkly humorous Joe Orton, whom she rescued from penury. She had a great love of the theatre and dedicated her life to finding talent for the stage, mainly in London. She prided herself on being able to spot a good play on a first reading. Her fame was such that she was eventually portrayed on stage herself in Alan Plater's 'Peggy for You'.

A plaque on her former house

She liked to retreat to her house in Kensington Place at the weekends and kept her private life well apart from her professional life. She died in 1991 leaving £1.5 million in her will and a plaque was placed on her home in 2009 by the Peggy Ramsay Foundation which helps aspiring playwrights. It was unveiled by Simon Callow.


Photo:Dame Anita Roddick on a No 12

Dame Anita Roddick on a No 12

2. DAME ANITA RODDICK

ANITA RODDICK started her first Body Shop in Kensington Gardens and took only a few years to develop it into an international cosmetics company.

A Jewish/Italian background

She was born Anita Perilli in Littlehampton in 1942 to a poor Jewish family which had come to England from Naples at the start of the Second World War.

She married Gordon Roddick

After attending local schools in Littlehampton and college in Bath she married Gordon Roddick in 1970. They opened a restaurant and a hotel before Anita joined the United Nations and travelled extensively.

Her first shop in Kensington Gardens

In 1976 when hard up and the parent of two small children, she started her first cosmetics shop in Kensington Gardens. Despite its small range of products, it was an immediate success mainly because it was based on strong ethical premises such as not testing anything on animals.

Rapid expansion

There was a rapid expansion until 30 years later it had more than 2,000 shops worldwide and millions of customers. Its main UK base was established in her home town of Littlehampton.

Sold to L'Oréal

Roddick then sold out to L'Oréal, causing controversy because that company did not profess to have the same ethical principles. But she said it would learn to adopt them.

Charitable work

Anita Roddick carried out a great deal of charitable work including starting The Big Issue magazine, raising funds for homeless people, and Children on the Edge for orphans. She donated millions of pounds to the Littlehampton Community School.

A plaque erected

Created a Dame in 2003, she endured some ill health during the last decade of her life including contracting hepatitis C. She died suddenly from a brain haemorrhage in September 2007 and a blue plaque was erected on the site of her first shop in Kensington Gardens.


Photo:Tom Sayers on a No 6

Tom Sayers on a No 6

3. TOM SAYERS

TOM SAYERS has been on both a No 2 and a No 6. Tom was a working class hero who became one of the best heavyweight boxing champions in the world. He was born in Tichborne Street, then part of a slum area called Pimlico, in 1826, the youngest of five children. He was educated at Middle Street School.

Won heavyweight title in 1857

Sayers started to box while employed as a bricklayer working on the London Road viaduct. He began his career in 1849 and won the heavyweight title of England in 1857, defeating William Perry. Small for a heavyweight, he stood 5 feet 7 inches high and his weight was only 11 stone. When in 1860 he fought the American, John Carmel Heenan, for the world championship, Sayers gave away 6 inches in height and 42 pounds in weight. He seemed to have the advantage after 42 gruelling rounds lasting 2 hours 20 minutes but the fight was ended then as a draw.

Huge crowds for his funeral procession

Sayers’ supporters raised £3,000 so that he could retire in comfort but his finances and health declined. He died aged only 39. Huge crowds lined the streets on the route to Highgate Cemetery for the funeral procession.

A plaque erected

A plaque was erected opposite the end of Orange Row to commemorate Tom Sayers.


Photo:Jack Tinker on a No 5A

Jack Tinker on a No 5A

4. JACK TINKER

JACK TINKER lived in Queen’s Gardens. He was widely believed to be one of the best journalists ever to have worked in Brighton. In the 1960s Jack Tinker was theatre critic of the Evening Argus. He became a notable provincial film critic too and his work was always both perceptive and beautifully written. Tinker also undertook a series of star interviews for the paper under the name of Luke Leavis.

Achieved national fame

Eventually he went to work for the Daily Mail, where he achieved national fame. He also occasionally appeared on the stage himself, thoroughly enjoying doing so. It was a shock to his many friends when he died in 1995 from a heart condition.


Photo:Harry Cowley on a No 49

Harry Cowley on a No 49

5. HARRY COWLEY

HARRY COWLEY is also added in this list because, although he didn’t actually live in North Laine, he had strong connections with it, especially Upper Gardner Street. He was the champion of the ordinary man and was Brighton born and bred.

Harry was a chimney sweep and became indignant when after both world wars many servicemen were not properly housed in their own town. Cowley and his so-called vigilantes occupied empty houses so that these men would have somewhere to live. He also ran the Upper Gardner Street market with a fist of iron and campaigned for the rights of traders. In the 1930s he led a successful fight against the Fascists of Sir Oswald Mosley, who held meetings in the town.

Cowley also spent a lot of time in successfully arguing that three local men were innocent of a murder charge.

With his trademark bowler hat and bow tie, Cowley became one of the best known men in Brighton and continued to fight for causes until his death.

In his later years, he set himself up as the champion of old age pensioners and he also joined squatters during their campaigns in the 1960s. Although on the side of working people, he never allied himself to any political party.

People would know he was going to fight against an injustice when he declared: "This don’t come right to me." Called The Guv’nor, he attracted one of the largest crowds since the war when his funeral was held and on the coffin was a bowler hat in flowers.

Harry Cowley has been on several different buses, including Nos 1A, 26 and 49.


Photo:Kenneth Fines on a 50A

Kenneth Fines on a 50A

6. KENNETH FINES

KEN FINES (as he was usually known) is left to last because, even though he is probably the most important one of all (see below), there is already a lot of information about him elsewhere on this website.

There is probably no-one who has had more impact on Brighton - and North Laine in particular - than Ken Fines, even though he didn't live in North Laine.

He turned North Laine into a Conservation Area

Ken became planning officer for Brighton in the 1970s. Before he arrived the council was considering widespread demolition in our area so that a road on stilts could be built leading to an enormous car park in Bond Street. Fines persuaded councillors this would not be a good idea and the scheme was rejected in 1973. Later he suggested that the district near the station should be turned into a conservation area. The idea was controversial as conservation areas had previously only included grand houses. But the North Laine area, named after an old street pattern, worked well as all current residents know only too well. Fines also ensured that the demolition of listed buildings in Brighton became a rarity rather than a regular occurrence.

He wrote a history of Brighton & Hove

Ken Fines himself lived for many years in Hove and after his retirement bitterly opposed plans for hundred of flats on the King Alfred site on the seafront. He also found time to write a well received history of Brighton & Hove. It was the first one to couple the two towns together.

His permanent memorial is North Laine itself

His permanent memorial is the North Laine area itself, where he personally helped to plant a tree in Sydney Street sponsored by the NLCA in his honour.  But also he has his name on a bus – see photo.

 

MORE INFORMATION

There is more information about all these well-known historical figures elsewhere on this website....


[Most of the above previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 217, July/August 2012 and the last section in No 218, September/October 2012]

 

This page was added on 03/08/2012.

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