The British Empire 
                                                              1815-1914

The Historical Development of

North Laine

North Laine Today

North Laine today is one of the success stories of modern Brighton. It has become an area promoted by the town for its independent shops and its cafe culture. The area has about 300 independent shops although not all of them are indeed what we might term independent. Many are parts of small chains owned by London companies. The shops have a charm and a character different from the uniform facades on the High Street associated with national chains.


Much of this charm derives from the historical character and architecture of the shops which area small scale due to the restrictions imposed by the Conservation Area status.

Without the protection afforded by Conservation Area status and Article Four, many of these small shops would have been acquired by national chains, demolished and given a uniform corporate look. One look at Jubilee Street will give an idea as to how North Laine would have looked without planning protection.


As it is North Laine is a mix of residential, commercial and retail use although the success of the area is threatening the traditional mix of uses which has been a historic feature of the area. Boutiques and cafes abound whilst the area in the evening has become a destination area for drinkers. The area is no longer a peaceful haven in the evenings and the impact of the late night economy is driving away some residents.


The Development of North Laine as Brighton's Industrial Suburb

Ruff's print, above,  of North Laine c1850 shows the area as a mix of residential, industrial and commercial buildings. It had become the town's industrial area and would remain so until  industry and residential accommodation began to move out of the centre to new larger premises on the edges of the town from the 1920s. Seen in Ruff's image are St Peter's Church, Brighton Station, Evershed's soapworks to the south of the station, Butts & Sons timber yards in Trafalgar Lane and the Regent  iron and brass foundry in Foundry St. Not visible are the numerous other commercial and industrial premises which included many slaughter houses, malthouses, breweries, stables, ginger beer and mineral factories, bone mills etc. Many of the premises used for industrial and commercial purposes are still in existence today in the heyday of the area are still there to be seen and is partly why the area became a Conservation Area in 1977.


Why North Laine?

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 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.


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.


A Brief History of North Laine


Brighton in 1765

Lambert's print of Brighton in 1765 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 (givng rise to the cuttenr 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. These excursion trains brought thousands to Brighton and boosted trade. Brighton now began to develop as a resort for the middle classes with new hotels being built on the sea front. The railway also brought work in the works around the station.


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 Goods yard, Carriage and :Locomotive Works created much more work

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.


North Laine today

In this print of Brighton in 1765, North Laine is on the far right, still agricultural land.

In this map of 1778, all the land south of North St has been developed whilst the land between North St and Church St is used for paddocks, stables, market gardens and promenade gardens.

This is the 1792 terrier showing the five Laines and the layout of the furlongs and paul pieces. North Laine had 10 furlongs and 1542 paul pieces.

The home furlong in North Laine showing the individual paul pieces which are numbered, the number corresponding to the owner shown on a different chart.

By 1778 the area between North St and Church Street is being developed with housing and development has started on North Laine with the erection of resort housing on what is now Marlborough Place.

An 1808 map of Brighton showing the North Laine beginning to be developed with industry and housing for artisan workers as well as barracks for some 500 soldiers based here during the Napoleonic wars.

North Laine by 1826 with development reaching Trafalgar St and beyond. The area is in an interim stage with agricultural land, market gardens feeding the resort, industry and housing.

By 1850 the railway has arrived and a branch line built to Lewes.

Brighton station opened up in 1841

The Isetta car made from 1958 on the site of the former  locomotive works.

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