Brighton’s North Laine is surely one of the most iconic places in Brighton and certainly one of the most iconic set of roads in the UK. Tourists love it, locals love it, but what do we know about it other than it’s a great place to find a bargain on an old chequered shirt? So, we did a little research and found 10 things that you (probably) don’t know about Brighton’s beautiful North Laine.
1. It Used To Be A Slum
Looking at it now, you wouldn’t be able to guess that the North Laine used to be the slum area of Brighton. During the reign of George IV, William IV and even the first quarter of Queen Victoria’s time on the thrown, the North Laine was known for its squalor, abysmal living conditions and high concentration of slaughter houses. The Royal Pavilion was the epitome of class and in contrast, the North Laine couldn’t be any worse. In one area of the slum, Pimlico, there were found to be 130 people to a mere 17 houses. In the 1860s, however, all that changed with the streets being cleaned up and today we know the North Laine as the cultural, bohemian quarter of Brighton.
2. ‘Laine’ Is Sussex Dialect
The term ‘Laine’ is a traditional Sussex dialect meaning an open tract of land at the bottom of the downs. Even before then it was actually derived from the Anglo-Saxon legal term for a land holding.
3. Brighton Had 5 Laines At One Point
At one point, Brighton actually had five ‘laines’, just one of which was the North Laine. Over time the laines became encircled by multiple municipal roads. Eventually, the North Laine remained and was appropriated as a new settlement and market area.
4. Brighton Railway Station Was Part Of The North Laine
In 1840 a rail hub was set up on the border of the North Laine. That rail hub we now know as Brighton Railway Station.
5. A Famous Boxing Champ Was Born In The Slums Of The North Laine
One of the North Laine’s most famous residents was famous British boxing heavyweight champion, Tom Sayers. The boxing star was born in an alley in the slum in the North Laine, Pimlico. He also trained in the North Laine before moving to London and rising to fame.
6. It Was Saved From Demolition
The North Laine was nearly no more when the council had plans to demolish and redevelop the site in the 70s. Luckily Ken Fines came to the rescue, arguing that the North Laine had a certain charm. Mr Fines pressured the council to retain it after they had been planning to input new high rise buildings, a fly over and a car park. In 1977 the North Laine become a conservation area thanks to the local Borough Planning Officer. There is now a plaque to commemorate Mr Fines and his work, on North Road.
7. Komedia Used To Be A Tesco’s
Back when the Komedia theatre was located in Kemptown, the venue it currently holds in the North Laine was a Tesco supermarket. The Tesco had been closed for some years after the promise of a major redevelopment failed to materialise. Before Komedia moved into the space permanently there was, for a short time, a few indoor market stools.
8. The First Body Shop Was In The North Laine
The first shop of Anita Roddick’s now multi-international business, The Body Shop, was in fact situated at 22 Kensington Gardens, on the North Laine.
9. Roads Close Every Saturday For A Market
Every Saturday Upper Gardner Street in the North Laine will be closed to vehicles due to an on-street market. Stall holders come and gather in an attempt to sell old books, antiques and clothing, every weekend. Most Brightonians probably know this already, but if you haven’t, you definitely ought to pay it a visit!
10. The Library Square Didn’t Exist Until 2005
The City Council redeveloped a ‘gap site’ which is where Jubilee Library and Pizza Express now stand. It became available to the public in 2005 and helped to change the flow of pedestrians coming through the North Laine. Prior to the introduction of the square, footfall had mainly gone straight through the laine, however this improvement helped to create a more two-dimensional flow.