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We looked out for each other

James Gray's text says: In the year 1850, not long after the coming of the railway, building commenced on arable land between London Road and the railway. The houses, intended primarily for railway workers, were built with little regard to density per acre, the chief object seemingly being to build as many houses in a small a space as possible. A century later this area was designated clearance Area No 1 by Brighton Corporation, for slum clearance. This photograph was taken in June 1954, is from the south end of Boston Street, with a glimpse of New England Road and the Viaduct.
Image reproduced with kind permission of The Regency Society and The James Gray Collection

No electric or hot water

I was born in 1951 and lived at number 5 Boston Street until the area was cleared for redevelopment. Our house comprised a basement, ground floor, and first floor. Our living quarters were in the basement which had an outside loo; we had a steel bath hung on the yard wall. We only had cold running water; I remember mum boiling large pots of water for bath nights. The house had no electric, our lighting was gas, and we had two gas lights over the fire place in the living room in the basement. When we went to bed we had to use candles. The basement had two rooms; a living room and the scullery, with a door leading out into a small yard. We had a chicken pen and rabbit hutch; the animals were kept as a food source.

A close knit community

The family were my mum, her second husband, me and my two sisters, my step brother, my grandmother, and mum’s brother my uncle Bob. I find it hard now to imagine how we all fitted in, but we did. Just a few doors down in Boston Street, were my Aunt Liz and Uncle John Smith. My mother’s brothers, Jimmy, Bobby, Billy and their family, lived in and around New England Street. Our next door neighbours were a family call Boxall. We were a close knit community in those days; we looked out for each other. Those were the days that you went out leaving the front door unlocked, and everything would be alright. 

Pips for ice-cream

When I was a young boy, my mates and I would go over to The Level to play on the swings. In those days they had a big pond with a bridge and we would sail our boats. Those were the days when parents could let children go out on their own. On the way back home we would go into ‘Pips’ in Oxford Road for ice-cream. More often we would play in our street; I would play with my cousin Robin who lived next door to us. His mum was my Aunt Nell; they were moved to Carden Avenue.

Watching the steam trains

Boston Street had a high wall opposite the houses and above that was the railway. I have fond memories of seeing the steam trains go by. I think at that time it was the location of the shunting sheds. In New England Road you can still see the small brick building with steps leading up to the railway; I think then it was for the night watchman where rail staff would clock in. As a child I went to St Bartholomew’s School before it was rebuilt in Ann Street; the site today is now a car park at the back of London Road

Do you remember?

Did you live in Boston Street? Can you remember your neighbours? How many people lived in your house? If you can share these or other memories with us, please leave a comment below.

Comments about this page

  • Hi, I just wondered if anyone can recall Albert Young who lodged at Boston Street in 1940? Thanks for reading this and thanks in advance for any information. Regards

    By Shauna (27/07/2014)
  • I was very pleased to find Dave’s account of Boston Street. My mother was Gwen (Winnie)  who was adopted by the Smith family. John Smith had worked at the railway yard and had developed lead poisoning leaving his hands flaccid and almost useless. As a result he got the sack but as far as I know there was never and compensation paid. The family consisted of John, his wife, a son who was killed at Dunkirk, elder sister Laura, sister Liz (later named Gallant) and my mother. We would visit the Boston Street house often until around 1947 when John died (his wife had already passed). I would go to parties at the Prince house and I agree with Dave that there was a great atmosphere of sharing even amongst such poverty. I remember the house seemed crowded with furniture, dark and smelled of gas lights. I don’t know when electricity was installed. My mother’s legs had been run over by a brewery dray when she was about six, playing in the street. Wearing callipers she was bullied by the local lads  (I know who you are!) and they would make her run while they laughed. I recently visited the paint merchants in what was the street and asked an assistant what he knew of Boston Street. He said he had never heard of it. A slice of history hits the dust.

    By Ian Tracy (29/12/2014)
  • My dad was a choir boy at St Barts and used to polish the candle sticks.

    By Susan (12/04/2020)
  • Loved the description of Boston Street. I’ve been writing stories on my Ancestry and my Grandmother and new born Aunt lived in Boston Street in 1901, so 50 years before that description. It was number 3 then (if numbering remained the same). Her husband, my Grandfather, was in Sussex County Hosptial where he had his leg amputated after an accident. So a hard life made even harder. He became a ‘beggar’ playing a Street Organ (would love to find a photo).
    My Grandmother lived with another family of 6. The Weekes I think their name was. So the description of the basement is very good as I suspect that’s where my Grandmother and Aunt lived. By 1902 they were living in New York Street. They probably moved there once my Grandfather was discharged from hospital in June 1901. Sadly my Grandfather died in 1940, so never met him, nor my Grandmother who died in 1951. A year before I was born in Ringmer Road where we never had hot water to begin with either and I remember my Mum boiling pots for that tin bath placed in front of coal fire.
    I know my Grandparents would have loved to have had todays so called ‘hard life’!

    By Ivor WIlliams (25/08/2020)

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