A leisure area since Regency times

Photo show the Level west side looking north 1974.
Image reproduced with permission from Brighton History Centre

This has been a popular area for leisure and public events since Regency times. Originally it included the area now covered by Park Crescent, which was laid out as a cricket ground for the Prince of Wales in 1791, and is commemorated by the Bat and Ball public house in Ditchling Road.

Nissen huts in Union Road
The northern half, to the south of Union Road, was used as a wartime extension to the Royal Engineer’s Record Office in Ditchling Road. The accommodation was in nissen huts which remained until the mid fifties.

Site of the town’s bonfire
On Good Fridays the traditional game of bat and trap used to be played and on November 5th the Level was the site of the town’s bonfire. The rose walk across the centre was the site of the Open Market in the 1920s. The children’s playground to the south was laid out in 1927 and the small building at the south western corner was a branch police station from 1865 to 1919.

Comments about this page

  • This wonderful grassland right in the town was the venue to many local events in the summer, people just enjoying themselves in the summer sunshine, my route home from the North Laine pubs on an evening (and quite often a resting place too), and the source of the name of the famous band the Levellers. Was safe as houses to walk across in the dark, and often a flame juggler or two in the middle (1990s).

    By Anon (01/01/1900)
  • Ah, how I remember the Level as a kid. It used to have shallow ponds, about a foot deep, but I understand that these have been filled in now.

    By Bill Taylor (23/03/2003)
  • The Level was laid out with 1,000 elms of two species, Dutch elm (Ulmus x hollandica ‘Hollandica’) and English elm (Ulmus procera); today just over 10% of the original number remain. In 1988 I carried out a survey of the older elms there and found 80 Dutch and 50 English elms. The two species are very much the same, the best way to tell them apart is to observe them in spring. In April, English elm comes into leaf first. The Dutch elm also has very corky orange-brown branchlets and small square fissures on its bark. The original 1,000 trees were planted in two lines on the east, north and west sides. Planting was started on November 4th 1845. All the trees were a gift from the Third Earl of Chichester, Thomas Pelham, who lived in nearby Stanmer Park. The idea of planting trees aroud the Level was first met with much anger from the town councillors; but eventually (thankfully) the councillors accepted the proposals. Today the Level is possibly the only double avenue of Dutch and English elms left in the world; and a solemn reminder of how the many miles of park and country lanes once looked.

    By Peter Bourne (10/09/2003)
  • I heard rumours of a considerable scrap between anti-facists and skinheads on the Level yet in all the heritage sites I have visited it does not seem to be mentioned. I appreciate it isn’t exactly ‘heritage’ but it is an interesting part of Brighton’s history that appears to have vanished, could anyone tell me more?

    By Curious George (13/05/2006)
  • I first learned to ride a bike in the early 1930s on the two asphalt paths that bisected the Level. I recall clashes between the Blackshirts of Sir Oswald Moseley and the Socialists. An ardent member of the latter were the DeLacy family who had a used furniture store on Lewes Road midway between Hartington Road and the arches at Upper Lewes Road. I also remember coming home from Brighton Intermediate School during the same period and seeing many adult men playing football with a tennis ball. It wasn’t until much later that I realised these men were the victims of the Great Depression and had nothing else to do. Very sad days in retrospect.

    By Eric Feast (18/07/2006)
  • I was told, many years ago, by a local octogenarian, that the quarter of the north side of the Level with no grass was designated as a Speaker’s Corner in the same way as the one in Hyde Park. Anyone know any more on this?

    By Anonymous (03/08/2006)
  • Does anyone know whther Bat & Trap is still played on the Level ever, or if not, when it last was? I remember it from the 1960s and early 1970s. I think the last time I would have been there, on Good Friday, was probably about 1973 or 1974.

    By Ken (09/02/2007)
  • I have just visited the Level on my way into Brighton today (Good Friday 2007) and witnessed a game of Bat & Ball taking place. I have even taken several photographs of the game in progress.

    By Andrew Mills (06/04/2007)
  • The Level was the place to go in the 1940s and 1950s on Guy Fawkes night. The place was quite crowded with kids throwing fireworks around. Had one go down my Wellington boots which burnt a big hole in my socks. I remember the swings and roundabouts and slides and a pond with a wall around it. I have a photo of my brother and I taken in 1937 on the boxed swings. It was a great place for kids to play.

    By Jennifer Goddard (nee Norrell) (29/04/2007)
  • My mum’s name maiden name was De Lacy. She has two brothers John and Terry (Terry passed on last year) and a sister Grace, they lived in Tidy street as children.
    Her dad and mum owned a junk shop below the house,no
    2 Tidy Street, but I think there were more members of the family that had furniture shops in Kensington Gardens, maybe Gus and Oscar? might be the same De Lacys? I think it probably is.

    By BOB THORPE (13/09/2008)
  • I run around the level every evening, its quite enchanting at night when the stars are out and the trees are lit up by the lampposts. Does anyone know the length of the path running all around the outside?

    By Blondie (29/10/2008)
  • My Uncle told me about the ‘Battle of the Level’ where Oswald Mosley’s fascists suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of an organisation of Jewish ex-servicemen and other anti-fascists (my uncle included). There’s little record of it that I can find, but apparently, sometime in June 1948, the fascists attempted to march through Brighton. They’d only got a few yards when they were set upon and roundly beaten (story goes, the token number of police sent to guard the march conveniently turned a blind eye.) Mosley’s fascists gave up in Brighton after that and I have a feeling it may have been the last march of its kind that they attempted.

    By Louise Thomas (19/01/2009)
  • I think I can help Bob Thorpe with his enquiry but I am puzzled about which branch of the DeLacy family his mother is from. You are quite right to remember Gus and Oscar as the older DeLacy brothers but there was also Tom, married to Peggy. They were all friends of my family, particularly Tom and Peggy, who had four daughters. The second-hand furniture shops were in Kensington Gardens and were run by the three brothers. I can only guess that your mother, Bob, was a cousin of the four girls.

    By Ian Tracy (10/06/2009)
  • Could be great, shame about the drunks and drug users that use trees for toilets. Tried playing bat and ball but got too much attention from the drunks’ dogs. Should ban alcohol as this is the only way to deter the drunks, drugs were illegal last I heard.

    By K Holden (04/11/2009)
  • Hello Ian. I am not able to talk to my mum at the moment as it’s two in the morning , but I believe her mother’s name was Nellie? And her father was Percy? He bumbed about in the states for years- I think he was in the 1926 San Francisco earth quake. As I said earlier they owned two Tidy Street. My mum’s name is Sonia. She had two brothers, Terrance and John and a sister Grace.

    By Bob Thorpe (24/04/2010)
  • Hi, Bob, I don’t recognise the branch of the DeLacy family you mention but the furniture shops in Kensington Gardens were definitely run by Gus, Oscar and Tom. Coincidently, my father, Eddie Tracy, also hoboed around America during the depression. On his return to Brighton he was involved with the DeLacys in demonstrations against Mosley’s facists who would use The Level for meetings. For a period before the last war Brighton council banned the Communist party from hiring public buildings for meetings while they provided police protection for the fascists when they attended their meetings at the Dome etc. During the war my father, on a motorcycle and sidecar, would drive through the blackout bringing copies of The Daily Worker (now The Morning Star) for sale in Brighton.

    By Ian Tracy (02/05/2010)
  • Hi Ian, my mother Sonia was Gus, Tom and Oscar’s cousin. Her father, Percy was their uncle. She remembers the name Tracy but can’t put a face or  name as at the time she was a child. Percy, her dad, also had brothers Alfred, Charlie and 4 others evidently. That’s about all I can ascertain.

    By bob thorpe (14/05/2010)
  • There is an interesting article and photographs in issue number 83 of League Sentinel magazine entitled ‘The Battle of Brighton’, which recounts the story of the clashes between Sir Oswald Mosley’s post-war Union Movement and the anti-fascist 43 Group and Communists at the Level, on Saturday 5th June 1948.

    By Robert Best (14/08/2010)
  • We used the Level as our main hub in the 60s and 70s. All the kids from the district used the place, it was a magnet. I remember the 20-a-side 3 hour football matches involving teams on both main sections; the tradition of “bonfire night” when the community built its own huge bonfire out of timber waste over a two week period; the twice yearly funfairs; the punch ups between the mods and greasers; kids swimming (yes) in the ornamental ponds which in winter time froze over giving us kids an impromptu skating rink for one weekend or two, dozens flocked, skidding on their worn plimsolls. Some of the kids: the Astons, Simmonds, Picketts, Mears, Chands, Cass’s, Wrights, Frys, even Jared Harris, the late Richard Harris’ son, used to get down there. Many memories.

    By Chris Gargan (06/05/2012)
  • In the late ’50s as a kid, The Level would be our main weekend daytime playground, as it was full of swings and slides and a large bell thing that we could all get on. There was a pond which we would sail boats on. I was walking past one day, and an unaccompanied pram with a baby in it was rolling toward the water. I ran forward and stopped the pram at the edge and wheeled it back to two women who were still nattering together in the shelter. One woman put her hand on the pram handle and they carried on talking, they hadn’t even noticed it had been missing! I waited for my hero’s accolade but, alas, it was not to be and after a couple of minutes, turned and walked off into the sunset unnoticed!

    By Richard Godden (06/09/2012)
  • I have enjoyed reading the memories. I understood that years ago and I dont know how many that a house stood in the level and that when the owner died that the land was left to the children of Brighton.Am I right or wrong? If I am indeed right then where does the money go when the fairs etc use the land?

    By christine baker (02/01/2013)
  • Hi, I lived in Park Crescent in the 50s and 60s. How we all survived the play things at the Level? I still have nightmares about the bell!

    By Tony Cheal (23/07/2016)
  • The Level was the venue for my very first date.  I think it was a Labour Club festival of some sort.  As I recall, it wasn’t very interesting and the date didn’t lead on to anything more!

    By Phil Back (28/01/2018)

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