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The hovels of Gerard's Court

Gerard's Court pre 1936. On the left, the way in from King Street and on the right, the way out into Church Street. Twelve cottages were grouped around a small central area. The date they were built is unclear, but they are mentioned in the Brighton Directory for 1855.
Image reproduced with kind permission of The Regency Society and The James Gray Collection

Our back ‘garden’

In the rear of our house at 37 King Street there was the lower back yard and, above that, the ‘garden’. It may sound grand, but in fact there was about one and a half-square metres of black soil where all the soot from the ‘chimbleys’ was dumped. Above the lower back yard was the “real”, brick-paved yard and a brown stained open drain where we emptied the teapot. The south side of this yard was a flint-wall which always seemed to me to be twelve feet high, but of course was really only half that height. As a consequence it always seemed to me that Mr Staples, our neighbour, spoke to us from an almost God-like level in his seemingly high garden. Manny Staples was an old Dorset man with a thick accent and a girth to match; quite a character.

Families living in real hovels

A narrow lane called Gerard’s Court ran from Church Street along the back of our side of King Street. It turned right past a tiny square of four fishermen’s cottages, and entered King Street a few doors below us. In this area, in real hovels, lived the Peters, the Martins, the Guys and the Eiders among others. The Martin and Eider kids were the bane of my life, especially when I delivered papers to those of Gerard’s Court who could afford the Argus. A favourite trick of one of the Martin boys, a thin-faced cross-eyed little bugger, was to open the door to my knock, take the paper from me, and then spit in my face before shutting the door. ‘Spudger’ Eider, a big kid, often threatened to bash me, but never did, although he did bash my friend George Walthoe one day.

Too poor to pay the rent

Over the back wall was a tiny two-roomed cottage with its front door in Gerard’s Court. This was part and parcel of the Wood ‘estate’, and was rented to some very poor people who rarely paid the ten bob weekly rent. From time to time Mum used to cajole me into going round to the cottage to try and collect. Occasionally I was lucky, but mostly was met with excuses, promises, threats or just no answer.

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