Brighton's shopping heart

Visitors Admiring Churchill Square, 11 June 1969
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council
The Spirit of Brighton" at Churchill Square, c. 1988
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council
Since the 1980s, increasing numbers of European teenagers have come to Brighton and Hove to improve their knowledge of English language and culture, attending language schools and staying with local families. Churchill Square is a convenient meeting place in central Brighton, as it is served by most buses from suburban Brighton and Hove. Photograph Copyright Evening Argus.
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council

Please note that this text is an extract from a reference work written in 1990.  As a result, some of the content may not reflect recent research, changes and events.

A new shopping and entertainment heart for the town was first conceived in 1935, and the dilapidated buildings of Blucher Place and Upper Russell Street were cleared in 1938; the war prevented any further progress, however, and the vacant site was used largely used as a car-park. Further clearances followed at Artillery Street, Cannon Street and Russell Street in 1957-8.

In 1959 the council decided to redevelop the whole site for shopping and entertainment. Following a public inquiry, ministerial approval was given in January 1963 for a fifteen-acre redevelopment from Western Road to King’s Road, including the Kingswest and Brighton Centre sites but excluding the Grand Hotel which the council had hoped to include. The Top Rank Centre (Kingswest) and the Russell car-park were the first of the new developments to open, and in 1965 work on the main part of the site, Churchill Square, commenced. The first shop of the development, Blackburns menswear, opened in June 1967 but the rest of the sixty-one shops of this phase, on one level only and including two supermarkets, did not open until the autumn of 1968. Churchill Square was formally opened, at a cost of £9 million, by mayor Thomas Taylor on 11 October 1968. The additional multi-level development to the south of the main square opened in late 1971 and 1972.

The complete precinct has some seventy shop premises, and there are 105,000 square feet of offices for British Telecom and the south-eastern headquarters of the Post Office. The offices are known as Grenville House and the underground service road is known as Grenville Street, both reminders of the early-nineteenth-century, cobble-fronted houses of the former Grenville Place which stood on the site. The development also includes Chartwell Court, an eighteen-storey block 298 feet tall completed in 1971 above the Cannon car-park and one of the four modern blocks which unfortunately dominate the sea-front vista. (The original plan had a second block of similar height and a third, thirty-storey, block on the sea-front.) The three multi-storey car-parks, Cannon, Churchill and Russell, provide 1,450 parking spaces; in 1990 construction of a new 572-space car-park was commenced behind the Grand Hotel.

The open area alongside Western Road has become a popular meeting place and street entertainment area, but the whole square and adjacent development, designed by Russell Diplock for contractors Taylor Woodrow, is drab and has dated badly; plans have been made for its improvement. The central square is adorned by a 30-foot concrete sculpture by William Mitchell, the ‘Spirit of Brighton’, which is intended purely as a ‘piece of fun’; it originally had a cascade of water to encourage plant growth, but in reality it epitomises the dreadful concrete redevelopment of Brighton in the 1960s and ’70s. In the adjacent pavement is the square’s inaugural plaque. At the north-eastern corner of Churchill Square, the cul-de-sac Farm Yard is a reminder of more rural days in the eighteenth century when there was indeed a farm yard on the site {18}.

Any numerical cross-references in the text above refer to resources in the Sources and Bibliography section of the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder. The following resource(s) is quoted as a general source for the information above: {123,124}

Comments about this page

  • I was born and bred in Brighton and until last week I never knew that the cul-de-sac at the north-eastern corner of Churchill Square was called Farm Yard, I saw it whilst sitting on a bus at the traffic lights opposite.  Are there any photos on this website of the original farm yard? I can’t believe that I had lived in Brighton over forty years and never noticed that sign on the wall before!

    By Marion Goodwin (02/02/2008)
  • I do miss the old Churchill Square. Spent many happy days down there as a teenager.

    By Jim (09/02/2008)
  • I am really enjoying looking at this site. Two of my memories of the Old Churchill Square are being dared to climb up the Spirit of Brighton on a drunken Birthday evening and having to be rescued by the Police. And who can forget the old Wishing Well it was Brighton’s meeting place and many a romance was formed there. I now live in Melbourne Australia, but I miss Brighton heaps.

    By Steve Turner (15/03/2008)
  • I used to live in Farm Yard for 10 years above a shop.  The front overlooked the Clock Tower.

    By Tim (17/06/2008)
  • I still live in Brighton, have done all my life (34 years) and remember meeting friends at the wishing well.  Have many many memories of the old Churchill Square, I do miss it.

    By Paul (02/05/2009)
  • Does anyone know what happened to the ‘Spirit of Brighton’ when the old, brutalist Churchill Square came down to be replaced by the current pastel paradise?

    By Adrian Baron (06/08/2009)
  • Adrian – I so want to know the answer to that question!

    By Paul Simpson (09/06/2010)
  • According to the following site, the sculpture was demolished by Standard Life Investments in 1992, before the redevelopment of the square 🙁

    By James Thomson (22/03/2011)
  • I used to do my food shopping in Sainsburys at the back of Churchill Square in the early 70s. I used to spend £3 at the weekend and £2 on a Tuesday. It was an open windy area to walk through, but when you go back there now you can still remember – it is exactly as it was back then!

    By Jan (07/02/2012)
  • I have just been looking at the Pathe News website and there is a wonderful clip of the front of Churchill Square in the early 70s. It looks like it is taken from the top of an open top bus and starts by going up North Street. It’s obviously a weekday (or Saturday) as the shops are open but there’s hardly anyone about compared to what it’s like now – and it’s nice weather! As you come back down North Street, look out for that wonderful old bus shelter on the right, should have been preserved shouldn’t it? Go to

    By Paul Clarkson (21/12/2012)
  • Late 70s/80s: Oh come on let’s be honest the whole thing was a horrible concrete mess. And you only went downstairs as a dare to see if you got away with not being knifed or approached by a child molester. How Tesco’s stuck it out so long I will never know – I remember Mothercare didn’t stay too long in flick-knife alley.

    By Vos (17/05/2013)
  • I worked in Ravel in Western Road in the seventies. I was a huge David Bowie fan and used to emulate his style. I’d often be found parading round Churchill Square in my lunch break. My girlfriend at the time worked in the hairdressers in the downstairs of Miss Selfridge which was located in the corner of Churchill Square (where WH Smith’s is now). I used to get my hair Bowie cut and died red there for free by allowing the hairdressers to use me as a model. I remember causing a stir by having this done in Miss Selfridge’s window as a publicity stunt around 1975.

    By Anton Binder (15/10/2015)
  • Wow! A red Bowie, eh? I missed that one then. I too worked at Miss Selfridge but have no recall of your window modelling day. It must have been after I left in April ’75.

    By Sandra Bohtlingk (16/10/2015)
  • This brings me back fond memories of childhood and partly mis-spent youth. I really do miss the old Churchill Square, even though it was a rather ugly concrete jungle.

    Tim who used to live in Farm Yard: if you went to St Paul’s School, you were in the year above me.

    By Waiman Lee (20/04/2020)
  • Does anyone else remember the hot pie counter in Tesco at the back of the Square?

    Their hot pies were the best I’ve ever eaten from any supermarket, pie shop, bakery etc. They were simply the best. My favourites were the chicken and mushroom and beef curry pies. They were always hot with big chucky pieces of meat inside. The beef curry pies were especially scrumptious, it had a spicy greenish curry sauce with succulent chunks of beef.

    I assume that Tesco actually had a baker who knew that those unique recipes and hand made them every day. If only another shop had those recipes. They just don’t make them like they used to.

    By Waiman Lee (23/04/2020)

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