North Laine History
Today North Laine has some of the best pubs in Brighton and the area has become an eating and drinking destination for the rest of the town.
All of its current pubs (not including bars, cafe bars or licensed restaurants) date from the 19th century when Brighton was a major brewing and malting area and North Laine was Brighton’s industrial suburb, which it remained until after the First World War when industry began moving to the fringes of town.
Every street had a couple of pubs
We may think there are plenty of pubs today in North Laine but in the middle of the 19th century what we have is just the tip of the iceberg. Every street had a couple of pubs, usually one at the end of the street on the corner and at least one pub in the middle of the street in what had been and is once again a family house.
Throughout the 19th century Brighton was the major malting and brewing town in Sussex. In the early part of the century it was the fastest growing town in the country and as its population grew (from 7,339 in 1801 to 40,634 in 1831) the number of breweries increased from 8 to 18.
Resurgence of breweries
By the 1890s the bigger brewers began buying up smaller breweries and their malthouses and tied pubs but the increased consumption of beer amongst the population meant that in North Laine there were still several breweries in the latter part of the century. There is no longer any malting taking place but there has been a resurgence of beer making in the last twenty years so that Brighton is once more host to several breweries and North Laine has one brewery.
Malt is produced from barley
Malt, the brewer’s main raw material is produced from barley, and soil suitable for barley growing is found on the South Downs. In the malthouse the barley is first steeped in a cistern of water and after the water has been drawn off it is spread on the floor and allowed to germinate. The resulting malt is finally dried in a kiln at various temperatures.
Malthouses were either owned by the brewer and sited close to the brewery or sold to local customers, mainly local brewers. Although no malting is now carried out in Sussex, malthouses have survived and there is one in Blenheim Place, easily recognised as a malthouse by its rows of small ventilation windows.
Made in a mash tun
Beer is produced by the brewer adding hot water to malt in a mash tun and then boiling the resultant wort in a copper with hops. The liquid is then cooled and the wort is then fermented with the addition of yeast before the beer is put into casks.
A lot of water required
Both the malting and the brewing of beer require large quantities of water and therefore the malthouse and brewery need to be located by a good source of water. East Sussex was in the 19th century a main area for the production of hops, even more so than Kent, and Brighton was therefore ideally located for the production of beer, being close to the South Downs where there was barley and not too far from East Sussex where there was a plentiful supply of hops.
An early malthouse was in Bread Street
Brighton’s greatest period of growth was between 1811 and 1821 and it was in this period that, as Brighton expanded, the processing of meat, wood and beer for the town came to be based in North Laine. An early malthouse was located in the Bread Street area when George Wigney had his stables and malthouses for his brewery in Ship Street. The Bond Street brewery was founded in 1822 by Theophilius Pollard and brewed beer for the developing and rapidly expanding area of industry and residential accommodation to the north of Bond Street.
The Beer House Act of 1830
In 1830 the Duke of Wellington’s government passed the Beer House Act. Intended to reduce the excessive consumption of spirits, it had the effect of increasing the number of premises selling beer and thereby increasing the consumption of beer. The Act allowed any householder who had acquired a licence for two guineas to make and sell beer on their premises. The act also abolished the duty on beer and set opening hours at 5am to 10pm except for Sunday service times.
Proliferation of beer houses
The situation remained unchanged until the 1870s during which time there had been a proliferation of houses selling beer in the North Laine area and a growth in the making of beer, with both malthouses and breweries growing in number in the area. In 1830 there were about ten beer houses or pubs in North Laine but by 1846 there were 36.
Most of North Laine’s existing pubs date from the time when the Beer House Act operated. The Gloucester and the Dorset were already in existence by 1830 but in the next forty years The Great Eastern (by 1839), the Mash Tun (1839), North Road Inn (1839), the Prince George (1843), the Prince Albert (1843), Brighton Tavern (1848), Lord Nelson (1848), Green Dragon (1848), Eagle (1848), Waggon & Horses (1852), The Foundry (1854), Heart & Hand (1854) and the Basketmakers (1856) were all selling beer. In many cases householders had decided to give up their existing means of making a living and turn to selling beer.
Mr Knight started The Basketmakers
At No 12 Gloucester Road lived a Mr Knight, who was a local basketmaker. He decided to buy a licence to sell beer and called his establishment the Broker’s Arms. Within a couple of years he had changed the name of his beer house to that of his former profession, calling his house the Basketmakers and the existing pub retains his name.
Railway led to expansion of industry and population
The arrival of the railway in Brighton (1840) produced another spurt in Brighton’s population and particularly in North Laine’s population, as the industrial suburb expanded as far as Preston Circus on the very fringe of Brighton. With the expansion of industry and population in the North Laine area there was a greater than ever demand for beer. Not only were numerous beer houses opening up throughout North Laine but more malting and brewing was being done in the area.
Traces of the malthouses and grain store
In the 1850s Ashby & Co, who owned the Bedford Brewery in Silwood Street, built a malthouse at 40 Cheltenham Place, which continued to produce malted barley until 1913. The remains of the malthouse can still be seen in Blenheim Place as can the grain store at 127/128 Gloucester Road.
Various factories using water
A malthouse needs a plentiful supply of water and there must have been a good underground supply because nearby at 36a there was a mineral water producer and at the end of Cheltenham Place in Gloucester Road there was a ginger beer factory at 127/8 Gloucester Road from 1856 until the 1870s. The ginger beer factory was owned by Mr Dowling and about the time he sold 127 Gloucester Road to Mr Wood, a farmer from Hurstpierpoint, he opened up a brewery (called the Gloucester Brewery) at 122 Gloucester Road, now occupied by Gloucester Yard flats. The brewery continued to brew beer for North Laine’s many pubs and small beer houses until it was sold by John Dowling’s son Henry around 1900.
Double the number of pubs in Gloucester Road
In 1876 when Mr Dowling embarked on his beer making venture at the Gloucester Brewery there were double the number of pubs there are today in Gloucester Road. Now closed, there was the Sherwood Forest (No 17), Charleville Arms (24 – now Ju*Ju), Union Inn (28/29), Wick Inn (41), Sea Serpent (83), Nightingale Tavern (96) and the Canteen (115).
Breweries in Station Street, Vine Street and Jubilee Street
In the 1880s William Carter, a former corn merchant and the owner of the Coachmakers Arms at No 76 Trafalgar Street, established a brewery in Station Street. He then moved his brewery to new premises at 24 Vine Street, where he continued brewing for just a few more years and ceased trading by 1890. Another North Laine brewery that continued for a number of years in the last quarter of the 19th century was the Crown Brewery, which operated form 28 Jubilee Street but, like all the other North Laine breweries, did not survive into the 20th cenury.
No more beer brewing until the late 20th and early 21st centuries
For nearly 80 years of the 20th century, North Laine had no connection with brewing and then in 1979 the Raven Brewery was set up at 35 Vine Street, a former slaughterhouse, by Vincent O’Rourke who owned the Coachmakers Arms in Trafalgar Street. At its peak the brewery was producing 150 barrels a day but unfortunately it did not survive the 1980s. In recent years brewing has been reintroduced to North Laine by North Laine Brewhouse that brews and sells on the site of one of Brighton’s oldest hotels, the Gloucester, and keeps North Laine’s tradition of beer making alive.
Beer Making and Selling in North Laine
The Albert, Trafalgar St
The Waggon and Horses
The former Nightingale pub on the corner of Gloucester Rd and Kensington Place
This building in Vine St was a brewery at the end of the c19th
The Foundry pub in Foundry St
The remains of the former malthouse in Blenheim Place
‘Ju Ju’ in Gloucester Rd, the site of the former Charleville Arms
The former Blue Posts pub in North Rd
The Waggon and Horses
The former Nightingale