North Laine :: Shared Description

The North Laine is an area of central Brighton named after a former field and is home to what some refer to as the Bohemian quarter of the city and also refers to the four main shopping streets of the area; Bond Street, Gardner Street, Kemsington Gardens and Sydney Street. A laine was a Sussex term for a large field often but not exclusively bordering downland and regularly split into smaller holdings known as furlongs which themselves were split into even smaller strips known as ‘paul pieces’. This medieval set up survived within the old parish of Brighton well into the 19th century and was to have a profound influence on the street patterns established by the rapid expansion of the town from the 1840s onwards. The original boundary of the field called North Laine ran along what later became Church Street to the south, what are now the Old Steine and London Road (A23) to the east, New England Road the (A270) to the north and the crest of the hill to the west which contains St Nicholas’ church. The North Laine itself was split into smaller rectangular fields known as furlongs which were both numbered and named, First, Second, Third and Small Furlong for example. Within the furlongs were strips of land maybe 500 ft long but little more than 12 to 20 feet wide known as paul pieces which were farmed by individual lease or freeholders many of whom owned more than one but more often than not these were not contiguous. In order to access these individual strips paths between the furlongs existed known as leakways and often ran east to west.

As Brighton began expanding northwards in the 1820s these strips began to acquire a value as developmental land and were purchased and built on as and when they were acquired, to build a whole street required two adjacent paul pieces though often a developer would build one side of a street then await the sale of the land on the opposite for himself or another developer to complete. Furthermore, the existence of the leakways meant developers need not wait for land to become vacant in a specific order. For example, Kensington Gardens was constructed in the 1820s in the middle of the Second Furlong and remained surrounded by fields for a couple more decades. The leakways themselves became streets; North Road separates First and Second Furlong; Gloucester Road, second and third; Trafalgar Street, third and fourth; Cheapside, fourth and short; and Ann Street, short and crooked.

The slow move northwards was given huge impetus by the arrival of the railway and resulting works in the 1840s onwards which required housing for the new workers and within a decade the whole of the former North Laine had been developed into tightly packed streets that followed the old pattern of the former medieval field system. For many decades the area was a working class district containing workshops, small industries and the odd slum, part of the north west was demolished to make way for the new locomotive works and goods yard but little else changed with much of the area surviving the first large scale slum clearances of the 1930s before that was bought to a halt by the Second World War. It was in the postwar era when the more progressive elements within the town planning sphere decided that the housing stock had reached the end of its natural life and needed replacing. During the 1960s the whole neighbourhood bounded by the goods yard, London Road, New England Road and Trafalgar Street was demolished with many residents dispersed to new estates on the edge of town or into Theobald House a high rise block immediately to the north of Trafalgar Street with the rest of the area given over to office blocks, multi storey car parks or small business premises.

The planners then moved their gaze onto the rest of the North Laine and began plans to demolish much of it in order to build more multi storey car parks as well as a new flyover to bring the cars to them. It was at this point that residents and traders organised themselves and put their foot down and the name of North Laine was reborn appearing in the title of the community association that was set up in 1976. The brave new world of planning from the 1960s had given way to the less confident 1970s with the desire to preserve greater by those having witnessed the destruction and loss of the previous decade as well as influencing many of those within the decision making processes. By 1977 the local council had renamed it the North Laine Conservation Area and thus began a new chapter in the life of this part of Brighton. Initially the shops in the area still served local concerns and those following the route that linked the two main shopping areas of Brighton, the town centre and London Road. The threat of demolition had also meant the area was cheap to rent and attracted many small operators starting out (famously Anita Roddick began the Body Shop in Kensington Gardens) and others forced out through high rents elsewhere – the antiques trade in particular were forced into the area from The Lanes due to this. The North Laine traders have also fought tooth and nail to keep the main chains out of the area which they by and large have succeeded in doing though some such as Starbucks and Tesco have gained a small foothold through the new Jubilee Street development. Gradually, the retail trade has moved away from the butchers, bakers and greengrocers and the needs of everyday life towards the lifestyle based desires and services.

The North Laine remains a popular destination today for students, out of towners and locals looking for items not normally found on the high street and still retains the anything goes atmosphere that has been built up over the last thirty years or so.

FURTHER READING
Sue Berry - Georgian Brighton (Phillimore, 2005)
Tim Carder - The Encyclopedia of Brighton (Brighton Libraries, 1990)
by Simon Carey
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149 images use this description. Preview sample shown below:

TQ3104 : 34 Gardner Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 36 Sydney Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 5 Gardner Street Mosaic by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : Trafalgar Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 3 Gardner Street Mosaic by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 39 Sydney Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 39b Sydney Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 9 Gardner Street, Old Advertising by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 50 Gardner Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 29 Sydney Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 54 Gardner Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 26 Sydney Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 47 Gardner Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : Cheltenham Place by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 4 Gardner Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 11 Gardner Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : Site of 1 Gardner Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 17 Gardner Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 31 Sydney Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : Gloucester Road by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 43 Sydney Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : Blackman Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 76 North Road by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : 27 Sydney Street by Simon Carey
TQ3104 : Tichborne Street by Simon Carey

... and 124 more images.

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Created: Tue, 26 Jul 2011, Updated: Tue, 29 Sep 2015

The 'Shared Description' text on this page is Copyright 2011 Simon Carey, however it is specifically licensed so that contributors can reuse it on their own images without restriction.

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