When Trafalgar Street had its own cricket field

Photo:Trafalgar Street in the late 19th century

Trafalgar Street in the late 19th century

Extract from 'A Peep into the Past' and other memories

By Elaine MacDonald, former North Laine resident

It is very rare to find references to North Laine in Brighton histories. Now and again, however, a book does offer an enticing glimpse of how this area used to be.

Cricket in Trafalgar Street

From A Peep into the Past, published in 1880, we find that:

“Between 1830 and 1840 Trafalgar Street could boast of a cricket field -  Shoosmiths, who kept the ‘Union Inn’, Glo’ster Lane, from the front of which Inn the field ran to Trafalgar Street. At that time also Trafalgar Street had little else on each side but gardens enclosed by elder hedgerows, and only six streets ran from it.  [Glo'ster Lane was later renamed Gloucester Road.]

There were one or two better class houses at the bottom of the street, as Mr Carter’s and Mr D P Hack’s. Higher up (Frederick Place) were Mr Ross’s villa and the residence of Lady Hamilton; but at the top Hudson’s black mill ‘towered in its pride of place’ over the corn fields in its vicinity.”

The railway, which came in 1841, soon changed that scene of semi-rural solitude.


Another way that North Laine’s past is revealed to us is through the recollections of people who have grown up in the area. They are able to describe North Laine at the turn of the 20th century

Mrs Jessie Merley was born in 1903 and lived above the shop at No 86 Trafalgar Street. Her father, John Fileman, was a pawnbroker running a business that had been the family’s for generations and was only finally sold in 1946.

Mrs Merley's memories

Mrs Merley wrote:

“The shop was really four shops, the jewellers being on the corner of Trafalgar and Whitecross Streets, then came the plated goods and new clothes section, then the IN and OUT shop (second-hand items, where people could browse). Then our side door to the rooms above the shops, then a passage which led to the pawn shop, then the pawn shop window where we sold new and second-hand tools.

We had two pledge signs, one high over the top of the front shop, the other over the pledge shop. My brother says that in my grandfather’s time the head sign was lit and could be seen out to sea and the sailors would know where there was a pawnbroker.

I can remember people queuing on a Monday morning for our pledge shop to open at 6am and the very real poverty which existed.”

More from Mrs Merley

“...Mr Tyler’s smithy in Whitecross Street and Mrs Boyce’s leather and grindery shop in Sydney Street. In Trafalgar Street, opposite Red Cross Street, was a butcher’s shop. Freddie Rowe’s was the usual butcher’s shop of those days, with the slaughterhouse at the side beyond a cobbled yard. I cannot tell you where the animals came from. In the main I think they were sheep and young calves; the bullocks were always in closed vehicles.

Freddie Rowe and my father were called the heavenly twins and Freddie Rowe used to make puppet shows from clothes pegs for a hobby. Opposite our shop was a shoe shop, Lacey’s, where they soldl up to size 14 in men’s shoes and on the opposite corner of Whitecross Street and Trafalgar Street was the Beehive Public House.”

Probably in 1979 many people still remembered the shops that Mrs Merley was describing.


[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 20, June/July 1979 and reprinted in No 217, July/August 2012]







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