North Laine History

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The Swan Downer School

No 12 Gardner Street, now the Vegetarian Shoes store, was built as the Swan Downer School in 1816. Just barely visible behind the shop sign is an inscription to the Swan Downer School, which was founded by the bequest of a wealthy London merchant for the education of 20 girls. It moved to Windsor Street in 1859, after which the building became a pub, the Sussex Arms.

The school was funded privately under the will of Mr Swan Downer,(a Brighton man who made his fortune from trade in London) stating “The children of such parents as do not receive parish relief are to be the first objects of the charity”. The school instructed its 50 pupils in “needlework, reading and writing” and each girl had “two suits of clothes when first elected and a cloak as often as the Trustees shall think fit”. Downer had left £7,000 for the endowment of the school and £5,000 to provide clothes for 48 poor men and women. The schoolgirls wore a uniform of blue frocks with white collars and cuffs.

The school moved to Windsor St in 1859 and to Dyke Rd in 1867 where it remained until 1939 when the remaining girls were transferred to St Nicholas Memorial School.