The Lanes: historic heart of Brighton
The Lanes are said to be the most popular attraction in the modern tourist hotspot of Brighton. Hundreds of thousands visit them every year but how many know the history of these ancient streets?
In 1895, the journalist George Sala observed, “The lanes are undoubtedly a very ancient part of Brighton, but their very existence is unknown to the great majority of visitors to the place.” Plus �a change…The attractive narrow streets and twittens which form part of the ‘Old Town’ are collectively known as the Lanes. Built on the open land in the middle of the town known as the Hempshares, the Lanes were partially developed during the late 16th and early 17th centuries as the population of the small fishing town grew with the success of the fisheries. Further building in the Lanes and on the adjacent Knab came in the late 18th century, when the area was developed with workers’ houses to service the more prestigious developments in the Castle Square, East Street, North Street and Steine areas. Most of the buildings now appear to date from the 18th or 19th centuries, but in some cases they may be the original houses rebuilt or refronted. However, the combination of narrow streets, the height of the buildings and the materials used still convey the atmosphere of a medieval town. Until the 1930s, the area was considered to be shabby and unworthy of Brighton.However, by 1975, a survey showed that the Lanes with their fascinating mixture of antique, jewellery and other specialist shops, were the most popular tourist attraction in Brighton, visited by three quarters of all visitors to the town. Dukes Lane is actually a ‘reproduction’ street, built in 1979 by Stone, Toms & Partners. Black Lion StreetDeveloped on the Hempshares from the 17th century, Black Lion Street originally included what is now the southern arm of Meeting House Lane, and was considered a fashionable locality by the late 18th century; the eastern side, backing on to the market, was not so sought after. In 1889, Albert House and several 17th century cottages were demolished for road-widening. It has now been almost completely redeveloped, with Bartholomew House, a 200-space underground car park and the Thistle Hotel on the eastern side, and the extensions to the Old Ship Hotel and Moore House on the western side. One of the few remaining old buildings is the Cricketers Arms, now the oldest public house in the town centre and a listed building. It is said to date from around 1545, when it was known as the Laste and Fishcart, a ‘laste’ being a measure of 10,000 herrings. In 1790, a Mr Jutton became landlord and, being a keen cricketer, gave the pub its present name. Its most famous publican was Winnie Sexton, famous for her floral frocks and camp sense of humour. Famous theatrical customers included John Geilgud, Ralph Richardson and Brighton resident Lord Olivier. The pub gets a name-check in Brighton Rock and the upstairs room is now The Greene Room, with memorabilia associated with the writer. Below is the Green Yard, an area used as an animal pound as late as 1882, which still has part of a securing chain and a list of stable charges. The pub has had its share of ghostly occurrences, including objects falling off shelves, gas cylinders and lights turning themselves off, and ‘hands’ stroking the forehead of a customer in the women’s toilets.Adjacent to the Cricketers is the Black Lion pub, a recent reconstruction of the Black Lion Brewery. Named after the Black Lion of Flanders, tradition has it that this brewery was established in about 1546, together with the Black Lion Inn, by Flemish immigrant Deryk Carver, who grew hops on the Hempshares. Carver was the first Protestant to be martyred under Mary I. He and several others were arrested in October 1554, for reading the Bible in English, and he was taken to Newgate Gaol in London, where he was found guilty of heresy. Refusing to recant he was sentenced to death and, on July 22 1555, was burned in a barrel outside the Star Inn in Lewes High Street, flinging his Bible into the crowd as a final gesture. A memorial to 16 Protestant martyrs was erected on Cliffe Hill at Lewes in 1901, and this event lies behind the burning of effigies at the annual Bonfire Night celebrations in Lewes.Boyce’s StreetThis narrow thoroughfare between Middle Street and West Street was probably developed by the mid-17th century, and still retains some interesting late 18th or 19th century houses. No. 2 has two bows, glazing bars and unusual Ionic pilasters; it was the home of the Sussex and Brighton Infirmary for Diseases of the Eye from 1832 until 1846. The Full Moon at no. 8 was built in 1843.No. 10 is a very narrow house with a ground floor bow, mathematical tiles, and a steep tiled roof; no. 13 also has a steep roof with a brick and cobble first floor; nos. 15-16 have good fanlight doorways. No. 14 is the former premises of R Fry’s Mineral Waters. Some old flint cottages on the northern side were demolished in 1875 to make room for extensions to the Middle Street School. The Fiddler’s Elbow at no. 11 was originally the Stafford Arms, then Beckett’s Head. It was the first pub in Sussex to have cold flow Guinness (sold on draught, two degrees below normal temperature).East StreetForming the eastern limit of the built-up area until the late 18th century, East Street was possibly developed from the 14th century. By the mid-18th century, it was the most densely populated part of Brighton, and had a gateway, the East Gate, which led down into Pool Valley; this was removed in 1760. Further growth was stimulated by the opening of the Castle Inn in 1755 and, by the turn of the 19th century, East Street was a commercial thoroughfare, servicing the large houses of the Steine. Formerly known as Great East Street, the roadway continued past the Prince of Wales’s Marine Pavilion as far as Church Street, to form the principal approach to Brighton from Lewes. The part to the north of Castle Square was closed in 1805 at the Prince’s request, when New Road was constructed. East Street retains several interesting buildings, although many on the eastern side were rebuilt in the 1880s. On March 5 1990, cars were prohibited in East Street between Steine Lane and Avenue; the pedestrianisation was formally inaugurated on April 28, 1990. The Sussex Arms is said to be sited on the edge of what was once a small harbour. The area is surrounded by a group of attractive listed buildings, nos 26-31 and 33-36, which date from the late 18th or early 19th centuries. The Sussex itself was known as the Spread Eagle until 1816 and was a coaching house said to have been used by smugglers. No. 36, Fishy Fish restaurant, is a three-storey house of the late 18th century, once the home of Queen of the Dippers Martha Gunn. No. 69, now Indian Summer, was formerly Booth’s confectioners, a favourite shop of Virginia Woolf. No. 12 is C & H Westone the gunsmith’s, established in 1819. Nos. 16-19 (now Gap Kids, once a Liberty’s store) are facsimiles rebuilt in 1989 and won a council planning award. Other interesting buildings include the cobble-fronted nos. 5-6; nos. 8 and 12, faced with mathematical tiles; the former Hanningtons store of 1883, with a bridge to the North Street building constructed in 1989; the tall, decorated no. 63 of 1888; and no. 68, which has fluted Corinthian columns and pilasters. This was once the Rising Sun pub, demolished in 1869 to make way for Brill’s Baths, as was the White Horse at no. 65. This inn was used for the old County elections, inquests and meetings. The Fish Bowl pub at no. 74 was formerly The Greyhound; the original inn probably dated from at least 1658, when it was the Blue/Blew Anchor, but it was known as the Greyhound by the end of the 18th century. At the end of the road is The Greyhound and the elegant Clarendon Mansions, formerly the Clarendon Hotel, built in 1870 by Charles Brill on the site of his domed baths (originally Lamprell’s). For many years, the upstairs bar was a popular gay venue, nicknamed ‘The G’.
Market StreetThis street is named after the market that was held on the Bartholomews in front of the old Town Hall from about 1730, but the northern part, once known as Golden Lionn Lane, was partially developed around the 17th century with further growth in the late 18th century. Building in the southern part was stimulated by the presence of the market, and was further encouraged by the new market hall that opened in 1774.Market Street then came to be the principal street for food shops, particularly meat and dairy produce. In 1984, the southern half was completely obliterated by the construction of Bartholomew Square and the Hospitality Inn, but the northern part of Market Street, together with Brighton Place and Nile Street, was pedestrianised in 1989. That part to the north of Brighton Place, the former Golden Lion Lane, is lined with late-18th and early 19th-century buildings. The Market Inn changed its name from the Golden Fleece in 1990. A four-storey, listed, brick building with two first-floor bow windows, it was once known as the Three Chimneys, as the owner was the Prince of Wales’s chimney sweep. Nos. 3-7 are faced with mathematical tiles, and the 18th-century nos. 48-48a are also listed. At the junction with Brighton Place, Market Street widens out to form one of the most attractive parts of Brighton, and is lined with late-18th and early 19th-century listed buildings. No. 11 has a bow window and is faced with mathematical tiles with flint on the eastern side. The Pechell Arms stood at nos. 17/18 and was named after Admiral Sir George Pechell, Brighton MP from 1836-60. The mid-19th century no.47, unusual in red and grey chequered brick, is also listed. The Pump House, nos. 44-46, dates from at least 1776, possibly from much earlier, and is named after the pump house that took sea water to William’s Baths; the present fa�ade of black mathematical tiles and bow windows dates from the early 19th century. Middle StreetThis was the earliest street to be developed in the middle of the Old Town, and built up by the 16th century. A number of interesting listed buildings remain, including the former Hippodrome. At the corner of South Street was the Sea House public house, originally known as the Ship-in-Distress, and dating from the 1790s. Until the construction of King’s Road in 1822, the Sea House stood at the cliff edge, but it was rebuilt and renamed in that year. The large public room was used by the magistrates and town commissioners for several years. In September 1830, William IV visited Nelson’s widow Viscountess Bronte there, and the inn became the Royal Sea House. When it was rebuilt in the 1870s, the inn business was restricted to the corner of South Street only, the southern part being converted to a toy and fancy goods repository; the pub closed in the early 1980s. Ship StreetNamed from the Old Ship Inn, this street was developed from around the start of the 17th century and was known as the ‘street of the Hempshares’ in old documents. By the mid-18th century, it was the most prosperous street in the town and, with the economic boom that followed the establishment of the health resort, it became a centre for professionals, especially solicitors and lawyers who remain in large numbers. Other business included Hamilton’s ‘Invalid Specialities’, at nos. 45-46, which sold hop pillows, adjustable beds, tables and trays, and ‘Grasshopper Couches’, and Vokins, at no. 43, which had small bedrooms and a communal lounge for live-in staff on the top floor. Nos. 8-9 Ship Street are the offices of Howlett Clarke, the oldest solicitor’s practice in the town.The firm was founded in 1773 by William Attree. The firm took Somers Clarke into partnership in 1829 and become Howlett and Clarke in 1887. It was combined with the firm of Cushman in 1989. The Book of Ancient Customes is preserved in the offices. Nos. 4-6 were the New Ship Hotel, established by 1636, and one of the town’s principal coaching inns. It also served as a booking office in the 18th century for cross-Channel journeys on the packet-boards. On October 22, 1792, it managed to accommodate a party of 37 French refugee nuns, who refused to sleep two to a bed; the Prince of Wales and Mrs Fitzherbert started a public subscription to pay for their stay before they moved on to Brussels. The inn was rebuilt in the early 19th century with three storeys and first-floor bows, but was replaced by the present building in 1933. It was once Hennekey’s Bar then the Lanes-Caf�-Bar, and is now the Hotel du Vin, a 37-bedroom boutique-style hotel, a large rendered building in Tudor style. The �6million hotel opened in November 2002, and retained many of its original features, including stone gargoyles. The former Holy Trinity Church (now Fabrica) was originally erected in 1817 in Greek Doric style with a four-column portico and square tower. The church closed in December 1984 and is now a listed building. No. 27, the Seven Stars, is notable for its extraordinary late-Victorian architecture, with Corinthian columns and pilasters, recessed balconies, and much decoration. For many years the building bore the inscription, ‘established 1535’. On June 24, 1901, it was the venue for the meeting that formed Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club. In the 1970s, it was known as Flanagans, and was re-launched as an Edwardian theme pub, with marble-topped tables, sawdust on the floor. It was decorated with adverts for haircuts and shaving, and black pudding, pies with faggots for 3d and 6d, as well as jellied eels and fish and chips in paper. Another attraction was 26-stone pianist Fingers Calder and his nine-inch long moustache.This article is an abridged extract from the entry on The Lanes in the New Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Rose Collis, based on the original by Tim Carder. It may be bought at any library or good book shop in Brighton & Hove, from the VisitBrighton offices or on Amazon. It retails at �20.