North Laine History
Many North Laine residents will remember the Pianola Shop in North Road, where the Fountain Head pub now stands. There was a wonderful sign on the side of the building, in Cheltenham Place, which was still there many years after the Pianola Shop closed. The owner of the shop, Mary Belton, recently passed away in a nursing home at the age of 98. I did an interview with Mary in 2000 when she was living in a flat above what had been the Pianola Shop and below are some extracts from that interview.
Mary's father worked for the Aeolian Company
Mary discovered the pianola from her father, who worked for the famous Aeolian Company at their English factory in west London. The Aeolian Company had produced the first grand piano pianola in 1904 and became in the early decades of the 20th century what the CD is for us today. The pianola allowed people who were not good piano players to listen to the classical music of the day by buying the music rolls which the pianola played. Information for each note was stored on the roll by means of holes -
Here are some extracts from what Mary told me:
“I was born on 20th January 1914 in London. I later married Eddie Belton, who was a heating engineer at 33-
She slammed down the money
“I went around the corner to Dutton, Briant & Watts in Marlborough Place and I slammed the money down and said 'I'm taking that place'. I moved just like that and that day or the next morning I moved by myself. I worked all night and at 4am I had to have a bath. I took a chance lighting this old copper gas geyser. I lit the thing and got into the bath and looked around and thought 'What a lovely place -
“We had the two shops. Eddie did the office work in one. Now it's called Total Percussion but I call it 'Total Concussion'. The shops were side by side and we knocked a hatch through the wall. I had my showroom in the big shop and Eddie had piano rolls in his shop and two pianos where people would come and tit-
Tony Mancini, the 'trunk murderer
“I got into the [pianola] trade because my father worked for the Aeolian Company in London. When I left school I couldn't find any job so I just ran away with a fair for six months. We had a bus to sleep in and one day I awoke on Newcastle Town Moor and I looked out of the window and there was this little tiny tent and it said on it, 'Tony Mancini -
Mostly wholesale in North Road
“North Road then was mostly wholesale. There were twelve shops of Bennetts. I used to get my glue from there -
Upper Gardner Street market
“I remember gas flares from the time before I moved to North Laine, but that might have been my imagination, I'm not sure. They were a poor lot then. There was Harry Cowley -
Coronation Cinema, bottom of North Road
"The Troxy was a fleapit. If you went there, you knew all about it when you got home. In 1910 my father was a painter and decorator with his father and he told me that when the Coronation was being built, he painted it and he couldn't understand why the men tied up their trousers at the bottom with a piece of string but when he got to his lodgings he found out why -
Following the death of Mary, in 2012 Maureen Brand who knew her well wrote, ‘It was sad to read that Mary Belton had died. Mary and her husband Eddie opened and ran the pianola music shop from 1963 until 1987 when the shop closed. They employed one full time technician and two part time piano tuners and I understand that at one time the business had the largest stock of pianola rolls in the UK. After the shop closed, Mary continued to live in the flat at the rear and above. She loved to have visitors and when I lived in Cheltenham Place I sometimes called in and she would offer a cup of tea and talk about her days in the shop. She would often dive into a corner to find an old print of Brighton and she played me one or two of the pianola rolls. In recent years she lived in a nursing home in Hove.
The Fountain Head pub, formerly the North Rd Inn
The sign advertising the Pianola Shop that was for many years on the Cheltenham Place wall
The Coronation Cinema was at the bottom of North Rd. The current buiding’s design is based on the original building.