Discover North Laine on foot
From Brighton Museum to North Road
by Peter Crowhurst
This text is taken from the leaflet, Discover the North Laine on foot, available at Raining Books, 28 Trafalgar Street, and the visitor point at the top of Trafalgar Street, underneath the archway.
Royal Pavilion Estate
The Royal Pavilion as we see it today was the result of a development which began in 1786 when the Prince of Wales's Clerk of the Kitchen acquired the lease to Kemp’s farmhouse. The Prince then had Henry Holland transform it into the Marine Pavilion, a classical two-storey villa in the shape of the letter E, timber framed with mathematical tiles. A domed saloon with ionic columns stood at the centre.
The Prince was charged an annual rent of £1,000, eventually buying the house in 1807 for £17,000. By 1801 he wanted alterations to the house and Holland drew up an oriental plan. So two new oval-shaped wings were added and the Prince had the whole interior decorated in Chinese wallpaper.
Construction of the stables began in 1803, and in 1805 the grounds were laid out.
On becoming Prince Regent in 1811, the Prince required something grander, befitting his new status, and employed John Nash to transform the Marine Pavilion into a new royal palace.
Grove House was bought and connected to the Pavilion via a tunnel, and from 1815 the interior was re-modelled. In 1817 two new square wings with pagoda roofs were added, and then the music room and large onion shaped Indian domes. By 1818 the interior and eastern facade were finished, although the north front was not completed until 1821.
The Prince became King George IV in 1820 and moved into his new home in 1821 but stayed there for only three months, as he disliked the prying tourists. William IV, who succeeded his brother to the throne in 1830, stayed more often but Victoria, who became queen in 1837, did not take to Brighton at all and made her last visit in 1845, eventually selling the Pavilion to the town for £53,000, having first removed all the furniture and fittings. The town decided to have a referendum as feelings for and against the Pavilion were running high. Just 36 votes, 1,343 to 1,307, decided the issue.
The Dome was originally built as the stables for the Prince from 1803-5 by William Pordern, who based his design on the Paris corn market. The Dome was one of the largest in the world at the time and could accommodate 44 horses with ostlers’ and grooms’ quarters in the galleries around the stables. The West Wing, now the Corn Exchange, housed the Riding School.
An underground passage was built in 1822 from the stables to the northern end of the Pavilion. When Brighton Corporation bought the estate in 1850 the Dome was let as cavalry barracks before being converted to a concert hall in 1867. Later the building was fitted out in Moorish style, opening in 1873.
The western lawns gardens were acquired by the Prince in pieces from 1795 until about 1819. After the estate was bought by the corporation in 1850, the public was admitted for the first time. The cafe at the western end is run by the Sewell family and is popular with North Laine residents. Brighton Art College ran a competition to design the present café and construction began on the winning student’s design in March 1950. This Art deco-style building took seven months to complete at a cost of £1,000.
In 1803 the Town Commissioners allowed the Prince to close off that part of Great East Street which ran in front of the Pavilion, as long as a replacement road was constructed as a replacement. New Road was laid out in 1805 under the supervision of William Pordern and was built over the next 10 years.
Construction of the Theatre Royal started in 1806 soon after the building of New Road began. It was completed for Hewittt Cobb for £12,000 and consisted of three storeys with a Doric colonnade. The current Theatre Royal building dates from 1894 when it was rebuilt after Brighton Corporation demanded safety improvements.
The Unitarian Church was built as Christ Church in 1820 by AH Wilds. The building, with its fluted Doric columns, was modelled on the Temple of Theseus at Athens.
Corner of New Road and Church Street
The Waggon and Horses was originally built by Sake Mahomed in 1848 as a gym, hence the first floor is larger than the ground floor.
The Mash Tun was originally called The Volunteer and reflects the fact that infantry barracks stood at the bottom of Church Street. They were established during the Napoleonic era and later became headquarters of the Sussex Artillery volunteers. The pub once housed the Prince’s stable boys and was built in about 1805.
The building on the western corner of New Road and Church Street opened as the Regent Hotel before becoming Crabbs Wine merchants from 1808 to the 1980s. Beneath the building and running the length of Dockerills next door in Church Steer are huge wine cellars.
Demolition of the National School
Carluccio's Italian restaurant on the corner of Church Street and Jubilee Street stands on the site of one of Brighton's best Regency Gothic buildings, the Central National School which operated as a school from 1829 until 1967. It had two shops on the ground floor with the master’s residence. It became the Central Church of England school and eventually the Central Voluntary Primary school. It closed in 1967 and was shamefully demolished in 1971 before a protection order was received during a postal dispute.
Jew Street is where Brighton’s first synagogue was built around 1792, It moved in about 1808, to a site off West Street before finding a permanent home in Devonshire Place.
Bond Street (together with King Street) was the first road built north to link North Road with North Laine. Its buildings date from the late 18th century. Originally called Bond Street, it was renamed New Street by the Town Commissioners in 1794 before reverting to its original name in 1805 once New Road was started.
There are listed buildings at numbers 2-3 and 4-7. No 35, the back door to the Theatre Royal, is from the late 18th century. A few former warehouses dating from the 19th century still exist, of which number 18 is the best example.
This block of flats was built about 1852 by Dr William Kebbell in response to the poor condition of Brighton's housing. Dr Kebbell was chairman of a charitable trust, The Brighton Association for the Improvement of the Industrious Classes which built the Model Dwellings and Clarence Yard in the 1850s. Trusts like these became quite popular in Victorian England – the Peabody Trust was set up in London in the 1860s.
Dr Kebbell was physician to the Brighton dispensary, and author of a paper on the town's climate. In 1848 he published his Popular Lectures on the Prevailing Diseases of Towns in which he observed that ''the streets and districts of the poor, both in filth and general untidiness, and the squalor of the inhabitants, are a disgrace to any civilised people.'' In 1847 Kebbell reported that 40 per cent of all deaths in Brighton were of children under the age of five.
Each of the 15 flats had a living room, two bedrooms and a scullery which had a meat safe, WC and a sink. However, the Model Dwellings movement did not catch on as it was not possible to provide a five per cent return on investment.
Tichborne Street and Pimlico
The area opposite Model Dwellings, based around present day Tichborne Street, once housed one of the worst slums in England, known as Pimlico. Built from 1808, the dwellings of the Pimlico area (Orange Row, Pym's Gardens, East and West Pimlico and Robert Street) were in narrow streets and courts and were, for the most part, ill ventilated, badly drained if at all, and grossly overcrowded. Many of these houses were built with inferior bricks or with bungaroosh, and inferior mortar made of sea sand. They were so damp the walls were covered with lichen. Several reports called attention to their miserable condition.
It was not realised that behind the glittering facade of the seaside, there were streets that equalled the worst of those in manufacturing towns of the north. Even as late as the 1890s, houses of working class people in northern industrial cities were not as overcrowded as those in Brighton.
In Thomas Street, most of the houses were lodging houses where beds were shared and sexes were not separated. Between 1840 and 1860, the area was the subject of several reports into sanitation and the condition of its people.
This area was full of lodging houses. A common lodging-house is a Victorian term for cheap accommodation where inhabitants who are not members of one family are lodged together in one or more rooms for eating or sleeping. The slang term flophouse is roughly the equivalent of a common lodging-house. The nearest modern equivalent is a hostel.
It was not until the 1890s that new regulations ensured regular inspection of premises by council officials. The new regulations required the landlords to limewash walls and ceilings twice a year and mixed sex accommodation – frequently a cover for a brothel – was abolished. Proper beds and bedding also had to be provided, instead of mattresses and worse on the floor.
Jenk's Report in 1840 on the sanitary conditions in the town maintained that: "Pyms Gardens was the worst, a very narrow, badly ventilated court lined by very poor, cramped buildings. The surface gutter down the middle was always filled with sludge or filth and the single roomed tenements were often flooded as rainwater could not run away easily." Jenks noted that "Pimlico was a street of tiny two roomed dwellings that were let at between 1s 6d a week and 2s."
There were 75 properties in Pimlico in 1861, occupied by 385 people– over five per house. At No 71, 12 people lived. Most of these residents were fisherman, hawkers, shrimpers and labourers, and the women were washerwomen, dressmakers, charwomen, laundresses or ironers.
Orange Row had 19 houses in a court 12ft wide. 130 occupants lived in 17 properties (7.65 per house), although No 9 contained 20 residents. Here four families shared the property.
This was an area in which 175 dwellings were packed amidst dung heaps, pigsties, open pools and privies, and no drainage. Jenks reported that one in 15 of Brighton's population received poor relief and one in 18 were paupers.
In 1849, in his report on the health and condition of the inhabitants of Brighton, Edward Cresy paid particular attention to this part of Brighton. Of the nearby streets in North Laine, he wrote:"Orange Row, Pimlico, Foundry Street, Spring Gardens and Thomas Street were areas where diseases prevailed, often the result of sulphurated hydrogen which arises from the excrement retained in cesspools. It pervades all the breathing places found at the back of buildings. Many of the houses are wretchedly damp, constructed with inferior bricks and mortar made of sand. No methods are available for getting rid of the rain water. The walls are covered with lichen, and with the decomposition of vegetable matter the inmates seek the imagined restorative powers of the public house."
The 1860 Commission of Inquiry
In 1860 an inquiry into the government of Brighton resulted in adoption of the Local Government Act. During this investigation it was shown that drainage in parts of the town was deplorable. There was an inadequate supply of water – in 20 streets there were 2,391 persons who had no means of supply of water at all, and in some parts of town the wells, sunk into chalk were distributed among cesspools and ashpits. The Local Government Act enabled the Corporation to provide cheap means of sewerage and drainage, making new streets and regulating slaughter houses.
At this time the sewage of Brighton was discharged into the sea through eight separate outfalls, one of which entered the sea near the Royal Albion. The outfalls were below the low-water mark. These outfalls caused much nuisance and a new intercepting sewer was built between 1871 and 1874 with an outfall near Rottingdean. As late as 1882 medical publication The Lancet attacked the condition of Brighton and a fund was started to repudiate the accusations. In less than a week over £6,000 was collected. Some of the biggest donors were owners of the 150 schools in Brighton concerned that the accusations might damage their ability to attract pupils. It was at this time that Winston Churchill was attending a school in Brunswick.
As you walk down Orange Row, on your right you will see the backs of the houses in Gardner Street built from 1808. These houses are constructed of bungaroosh, as are most North Laine homes. Houses needed to be built quickly and cheaply because they were speculative developments. However you spell this concoction, it is the mixture which makes up many of the structural walls of Brighton and is responsible for much structural instability, dry rot, dampness – and probably plague and pestilence as well. It is the sort of cobbled-together material that emerged from those desperate days of cowboy (shepherd?) builders, hurried and financially rocky developments, and a lack of adequate building regulations, that characterise the Georgian and Victorian eras.
Up to the time when Brighton became fashionable, most houses seem to have been constructed reasonably soundly in the vernacular tradition. These include timber framed (partly weather boarded, tiled or rendered), flint cobble in courses, or knapped flint from the fields.
Perhaps learning from the speculative builders of London, the builders of Regency Brighton concentrated largely on front elevations. These were often brick — sometimes London stocks, other times grey glazed or brown multi bricks, probably from the brickfields towards Hove. The party walls, however, seem invariably to be bungaroosh. Often the rear wall was bungaroosh too and, if an owner was singularly unlucky, the front wall could be as well underneath the elegant render facade.
The material is basically a freely interpreted flint rubble. A lime mortar was made up, and poured into shuttering, and anything else that came to hand was bunged in too. This could include old bricks, bits of flint, odd lumps of wood, lumps of chalk, in fact anything solid. The spacing of the shuttering even seems to have regularised after the coming of the railways, since sleepers were conveniently available!
Lengths of bungaroosh walling were usually supported by brick piers at intervals, although not always on lesser houses. Chimneys and flues were always brick.