North Laine History

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The Blue Plaque dedicated to Ken Fines (below) on the wall of Infinity Foods in North St.

Ken Fines

North Laine, 1826

The Brighton 1792 Terrier

North Laine as a field in 1788

Before 1790 all the land  outside the  resort but inside the  parish was  farmland

Prior to the expansion of the resort of Brighton in the years after 1790, all the land that lay inside the parish but outside the resort was farmland and divided into five large fields of which North Laine was one. The division of fields around Brighton goes back to the time of King Alfred who ordered that the possessions of the different land owners be re-measured and set out in a document called a terrier. In Sussex these fields were referred to as 'laines'.  The word is of Anglo-Saxon origin meaning 'loan' or lease'. In March 1738 there was made 'A general terrier of the several Lands lying and being in the Common Laines of Brighthelmstone, in the County of Sussex'. Documents and maps relating to Brighton all use the term 'laine' to describe the tenantry lands around Brighton. In 1792 all these fields were sub-divided into smaller fields called furlongs. Each furlong was subdivided into long narrow strips of land called paul pieces and by 1792 there were 7.000 paul pieces in the parish owned by 9 men. These nine owners either let them to tenants or farmed them. The question of enclosure was considered in the 1770s but the owners decided against enclosure as they could not decide on who would get the valuable land adjacent to the Steine.


The System of  Landholding determined the  Layout of the Streets

The system of landholding determined how the land would be developed and the subsequent layout of the streets. The wide paths called leakways which separated the paul pieces later became important east -west roads, like North Road and Trafalgar Street. As Brighton began to expand in the 1770s and new land was needed for development it was important to identify who owned which pieces of land. So it was that in 1792 the owners paid Thomas Budgen to produce a new survey which was produced in book and map form. That survey (terrier) enabled possible buyers to find out more easily who owned paul pieces.


When a prospective buyer identified the owner of land he wanted to buy he had to negotiate with the owners. Freehold land was bought outright for a fixed sum whilst copyhold land had to be registered in the court book of the manor which held the land. This meant an additional cost which could be over £7.


Having bought his long, narrow stretch of land (usually between two and five paul pieces were needed for a street) a developer would lay a road down the middle if there was sufficient space for houses on both sides. A road was usually 15 feet wide and stretched the length of the furlong so that the leakway could be used.


Furlongs and Paul Pieces

The North Laine had 10 furlongs, themselves further divided into paul pieces of which there were 1542. These paul pieces were just 8 ft wide so you needed 4/5 to build on making it necessary to purchase land off several people. Once land was acquired developers built small tenements or small courts as well as light industry. The wealthy wanted a sea view and because the furlongs in North Laine faced north -south, no houses would have a sea view so it was not going to be used for resort accommodation.


The Naming of North Laine

In 1976, following a period of neglect in North Laine with properties left empty and industry in decline,  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, Borough Planning Officer, revealed his recommendation that North Laine become a Conservation Area and suggested in a letter to the residents association that the area be called North Laine. Conservation Area status was granted in 1977 to save North Laine from further decline.  People began to believe in its future and invest in their properties with the Council eventually offering grants for property renovation.




Why North Laine?