North Laine History

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The North Laine by 1826 showing development throughout the first three furlongs

North Laine 1808 with the first furlong being developed

The crofts between North St and Church St

Brighton in 1788

A General History of North Laine

North Laine as a Large Field

Lambert's print of Brighton in 1765 (above right) shows a town that is being developed as a resort for the wealthy class. Seen in the foreground is Thomas' Circulating Library, one of the new facilities for the resort. North Back Side (now Church St) is clearly seen with Kemp's lodging house on the site of the Royal Pavilion and Kemp's farmhouse in North Laine. The lane in the foreground is Elm Grove.The North Laine is just one of Brighton's large fields used for the growing of wheat, barley etc to feed its relatively small population of c2,500.


Brighton had developed into such a resort between 1750 and 1780. By the 1750s sea bathing for leisure and health was firmly established among the wealthier classes. Four factors were important in this development: Catchment, access (good communications), an economy (often in decline) which welcomed the development into a sea resort and recommendation through local contacts. Brighton had all of these and with the publishing in  1750 (in Latin) of Dr Richard Russells book  'A Dissertation into the use of seawater in the diseases of the glands’ a book which made Brighton the target of many a doctor keen to impress his clients, its future was assured.


Brighton in 1778

By 1780 Brighton had all the facilities that a resort for the  rich was expected to have: a promenade area (in the Steine), bathing machines, spas, medical men, medicinal baths, a chalybeate spring (at St Anns), leisure facilities, assembly rooms, libraries, coffee houses and theatres. This was all before the Prince arrived in Brighton for the first time.


The 1788 map even has a key showing the location of the most important of these facilities as if to emphasise Brighton's suitability as a resort. There are places of worship, theatres, schools, taverns, a post office and a custom's house.


Amongst these facilities the Steine was the key to Brighton's success in attracting visitors. Every seaside resort was expected to have a promenade area, preferably with shelter and some sea views. When visitors came to Brighton during the late 18th century there was no seaside promenade but there was the Steine which provided shelter. The seafront had eroded away in the 16th century and it wasn't until after 1820 that a seafront road was built but the Steine was tucked away from the prevailing winds and could be easily reached from the lodging houses and other resort accommodation in the old town. Furthermore there was space around the Steine for more resort accommodation and additional facilities.


The old town has become a centre of services for the visitor with some lodging whilst the area between North Street and Church St is made up of gardens (some formal and some market gardens established to produce fruit and vegetables for the town's visitors. North Laine itself has not changed apart from a development of resort housing on what is now Marlborough Place (called North Row).


 The Expansion of the town 1778-1788

In just ten years the crofts between North St and Spring Walks as Church St was then known were being used for paddocks, stabling, small workshops and housing for tradesmen. Two roads have been created, King's St and New Street (now Bond St) to enable access to further north and as this access is there it becomes possible to develop the land north  which is North Laine. Already some of the land in North Laine is being converted to market gardens for the resort.


The Early Development of North Laine to 1808

North Laine was adjacent to the town and as the town expanded and land in the town was given over to the requirements of a seaside resort so the North Laine came to be used for fringe activities-limekilns, stables, market gardens, paddocks, cow houses, fruit growing and even greenhouses. The land was gently sloping and adjacent to the town so was ideal for development. Because of the topography of the land paul pieces were arranged north-south, so making building of houses to face the sea difficult. North Laine lay between routes leading out of the town and being close to where existing industrial and commercial premises were sited it was an obvious place for further development.


The coming to Brighton of the Prince Regent for the first time in 1783, and his establishing a semi-permanent presence in the town together with the fact that from 1793 Brighton became effectively a military camp gave an enormous boost to the town. Its population shot up from c3,400 in 1780 to c10,000 by 1808


To provide for a rapidly increasing population all the available space in the town is used up, moving out paddocks, stables, market gardens etc to the area to the north and building more accommodation to the east of the Steine and along the eastern cliff. The market gardens that were established gave North Laine some of the familiar names we have today. In 1805 a row of buildings stood along the east side of what is now Tichbourne St (then Thomas St) and Gardner St was under way before 1806 on land which had been bought by Thomas Furner, a gardener, and some building had started at the eastern end of the 2nd furlong along what is Cheltenham Place. Development in North Laine is also along Spring Gardens, and around Jubilee St and Orange Row. We therefore have development of housing, workshops, market gardens and traditional crops such as wheat-truly an area in transition.


There is even a military presence in North Laine with infantry barracks being built.

The first army presence was in 1793 when Britain and France declared war against each other and in that year there were four army camps which trebled Brighton’s population. By 1796 there was the beginning of a more permanent camp being built in Church St initially in the form of huts. Development though is haphazard as it depends on people being prepared to take a risk with buying land and finding owners willing to sell.


Expansion of North Laine to 1826

Pigotts map of 1826 shows North Laine in a period of transition. The most northerly parts of the Laine are still farmland whilst the first furlong has been almost fully developed into artisan dwellings, industrial and commercial premises.


During the Regency of George, Brighton was the fastest growing town in Britain, growing from 12,000 in 1811 to 24,000 in 1821. As Brighton expands, North Laine continues to expand and becomes the area for industry to locate itself. Market gardens, stabling, paddocks continue to be displaced northwards and more housing is built to accommodate the increased number of permanent residents.


By 1826 all of the first furlong has been developed with the street pattern we know today.  Most of the second furlong is still market gardens (giving rise to the current street names of Vine St, Gardner St, Spring Gardens, Kensington Gardens),  but the Regent Iron Foundry has been built (originally along Regent St) as has Kensington Gardens and Frederick Gardens. There is also sporadic development in Kensington Place.


All of the eastern border facing St Peter's and the Steine has been developed for resort housing, having a view of the Steine and the new St Peter's church (1824-28).


The Coming of the Railway

After 1826 development in North Laine began to slow down but the arrival of the railway in 1841 resulted in an economic boost for the town and especially North Laine. By 1850 there were 50 trains a day arriving from London bringing 50,000 visitors a year and this went up to 73,000 visitors soon after. The arrival of the Goods Yard and the engine works gave a further impetus to development. The Goods Yard was laid out in the 1840s, 30ft below the level of the station. Initially it was accessed from the Shoreham line via a tunnel below the London line, necessitating two reversals from the main line. This arrangement changed in 1852-4 by a new track which left the main track at Lovers Walk and crossed New England Road on an iron bridge to the east of the New England Road viaduct. The tunnel still exists below the station and has recently been used as a rifle range.


Brighton Station was designed by David Mocatta in Italianate style and opened in time for the opening of the London to Brighton line in September 1841. Much of the original frontage remains but is hidden behind the canopy. The bridge over Trafalgar St was built in 1845 when Queens Rd was constructed to improve access to the town. The impressive canopy to the station was added in 1882.


The opening up of the Brighton line was to completely change communications to Brighton. There were soon six or seven trains in either direction taking from two hours to complete the journey. By 1853 there were 12 daily trains with an express doing the journey in 80 minutes. Day return tickets cost 15s/75p. Excursion trains were soon bringing thousands to Brighton. One train in 1844 consisted of four engines and carried 1,100 passengers. By 1850 tickets for these trains cost just 3s 6d. There were plans to bring the railway into the heart of Brighton - in 1869 there was a plan to have the railway go to the Royal Pavilion with a station near Marlborough Place or Church St.


The Goods Yard was laid out in the 1840s, 30ft below the level of the station. Initially it was accessed from the Shoreham line via a tunnel below the London line, necessitating two reversals from the main line. This arrangement changed in 1852-4 by a new track which left the main track at Lovers Walk and crossed New England Road on an iron bridge to the east of the New England Road viaduct. The tunnel still exists below the station and has recently been used as a rifle range. The Lower Goods yard was used by British Rail until 1970 and by National Carriers until 1980 when it finally closed.

Carriages were manufactured from 1848 until 1912 when the works moved to Lancing and Locomotives were manufactured from 1852 until the last one was made in 1957. Maintenance was carried on for a further year and then the site alongside Boston St was used for the assembly of Isetta cars for a short time. The buildings were eventually demolished in 1969.


The establishment of the Goods Yard, the carriage works and the locomotive works created a good deal more work in the town and led to the migration of thousands for workers from all over the country. To house these workers the land north of Gloucester Rd was developed until all the North Laine was developed for housing by the late c19th. These streets of small terraced houses are a feature of North Laine today - streets that were largely residential but with a sprinkling of commercial premises, especially public houses and corner shops. Lower Goods yard was used by British rail until 1970 and by National Carriers until 1980 when it finally closed. Carriages were manufactured from 1848 until 1912 when the works moved to Lancing. Locomotives were manufactured from 1852 until the last one was made in 1957. Maintenance was carried on for a further year and then the site alongside Boston St was used for the assembly of Isetta cars for a short time. The buildings were eventually demolished in 1969.


In March 1957 the Southern Locomotive works on New England Street finished its last railway job and six weeks later, re-opened to assemble Isetta's, employing 200 local Brighton workers, most of whom had worked in the locomotive works on the railway vehicles. As the factory had no road access, all the parts had to be brought in by railway, and the assembled vehicles had to be sent out by the same method. At the height of production 300 cars a week were made which averaged out at one and a half per person. The Isetta factory made its last vehicle in 1964, the Isetta having been made extinct by the BMC mini, and the bubble car era came to an end.


North Laine 1931

By 1931 North Laine was still the centre for industry in Brighton although some industries were relocating to the edges of town like Lewes Road. Some industries had disappeared or closed down (slaughter houses) and there had been some slum clearance in the North Road area resulting in the widening of North Road which was one of the main shopping streets in the town. Trams flowed through the area and new industries had arrived. In particular the printing industry was to find a home in North Laine with Southern Publishing who published the Argus moving their printing works to Spring Gardens around 1890 and then moving to premises in Robert St where they remained until the 1990s.


Decline and Demolition in the late c20th

In the post war period the North Laine entered a period of decline. Industries began to move out, seeking bigger and better premises whilst the quality of the housing stock, neglected by private owners and the Council alike, was such that in 1957 the Medical Officer for Brighton and his representatives began visiting houses in the Blackman Street area, telling the inhabitants that their homes were unfit to live in. A Ministry of Housing Enquiry in 1959 upheld the Corporation’s proposals to acquire the area (Blackman Street, Redcross Street, Wood Street, Whitecross Street and parts of Station Street and Pelham Street) for educational and industrial purposes. The Council then proceeded to buy up most of the properties, move out the tenants and in 1962 to begin the demolition and clearance of the area.


All this came at a time when councils throughout the country were trying to deal with the shortage and poor quality of the housing stock that had been caused by the loss of housing through bombing in the war and the neglect of Victorian terraces. Inner cities were seen as places of grime and dirt where sunlight never penetrated and whose Victorian houses were in decay. The answer for many local authorities was in the construction of tower blocks, concrete buildings that symbolised progress and were cheap to build. Moreover, because they could be put up quickly on sites within the city, the tax base and the voters could be kept. From 1958 the central government even gave subsidies for every layer built over five storeys.


Within four years of the demolition of the Blackman Street area, Theobald House, a Council tower block of 19 storeys, had been built and that was followed by the Technical College (now City College) which was opened in January 1971. With support for the tower blocks in many a city hall went support for a built environment based on the motor car. In 1967 Brighton County Borough Council commissioned nationwide planning consultants, Hugh Wilson and Lewis Womersley, to prepare a plan (‘The Brighton Central Area Study’) for the town centre. The interim plan of 1968 proposed a scheme that would encourage the car and develop the town centre in a way that would enable as many cars as possible to access the centre, with a spine road that went from Preston Circus southwards through the North Laine to large car parks which would serve the station and the town centre. From Gloucester Road southwards the road would be elevated and lead to a car park for 1600 cars south of Church Street. 130 houses in Kemp Street, Foundry Street, Queen’s Gardens and Tichborne Street would be demolished along with 21 in Jubilee Street and 59 in Windsor Street, King Street and Bond Street.


The Brighton Central Area Study (Wilson Plan) was considered by the full Council on December 17th 1970 but the plans submitted on that occasion were incomplete and the Council instructed Hugh Wilson to complete the scheme with an elevated spine road. That delay gave local residents time to galvanise and organise opposition. Council Planning committees were monitored throughout 1971 and 1972 and when the  date for objections to the plan was published (March 6th 1973), pamphlets were hurriedly organised and delivered to every household in  North Laine asking people to write into the Council to object. Meetings with Councillors were organised and a petition of 1500 signatures was collected. At a subsequent public meeting on March 27th 1973, a residents group, the North Road Area Association, was formed to resist the Wilson Plan. This group later merged with the newly formed Brighton Society in May 1973. In 1976 the North Laine residents Association was formed and campaigned to improve the quality of the built environment and in particular to fight against the Council's policy of benevolent neglect  -allowing its properties to fall into disrepair so that they could then be demolished. In 1976, Ken Fines who has spoken at one of the early NLCA meetings in April 1976 revealed his recommendation that North Laine become a Conservation Area. Conservation Area status from 1977 was to save North Laine and people began to believe in its future and invest in their properties with the Council eventually offering grants for property renovation.


The arrival of the railway in 1840 brought a spurt in development in North Laine

The development of the third furlong by 1850

North Laine by 1898

The Argus moved their printing works to Robert St in 1926.

This building in Station St with its trade of ‘Ironfounders’ marked on the wall is all that is left of the the industrial North Laine in the fourth furlong.

Theobald House was built in 1966 on the site of the terraced streets  that had been built following the opening of the station in 1841.

Ken Fines, the Borough Planning Officer who suggested the naming of the new Conservation Area, North Laine.

The Isetta was built in North Laine from 1957

The ‘Highway in the Sky’ would have  destroyed  North Laine