History notes and photo gallery

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.

Forming the eastern limit of the built-up area until the late eighteenth century, East Street was possibly developed from the fourteenth century as the town spread onto the cliff top. By the mid eighteenth century it was the most densely populated part of Brighton, and had a gateway, the East Gate, which led down into Pool Valley ; this was removed for the construction of the battery in 1760. Further growth was stimulated by the opening of the Castle Inn in 1755, causing infilling of spaces on both sides of the road, and by the turn of the nineteenth century, East Street was a commercial thoroughfare servicing the large houses of the Steine. Formerly known as Great East Street, the roadway continued past the Prince of Wales’s Marine Pavilion as far as Church Street to form the principal approach to Brighton from Lewes, but that part to the north of Castle Square was closed in 1805 at the Prince’s request when New Road was constructed. Still one of the principal shopping streets of the town, and one of the more select, East Street retains several interesting buildings, although many on the eastern side were rebuilt in the 1880s. On 5 March 1990 cars were prohibited in East Street between Steine Lane and Avenue; the attractive pedestrianisation was formally inaugurated on 28 April 1990. {10,14,123}

In front of the Sussex Tavern the street widens out to form an area which it has been suggested was once a wharf alongside a small inlet from the sea; there is no evidence for this, but the area is surrounded by a group of attractive listed buildings, nos.26-31 and 33-36, which date from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. The Sussex itself has a bow window on the western (Market Street ) facade while the East Street frontage has one more floor and a wide bow. Known as the Spread Eagle until 1816, it is said to have been used by smugglers. No.36, Al Forno Restaurant, is a three-storey house of the late eighteenth century, with a cobbled front and bow window, which was the home of the famous bathing woman Martha Gunn .  {15,16,44}

The bow-fronted nos.15 and 22-23 are included on the council’s local list of buildings of special interest; nos.16-19, Libertys store, are facsimiles rebuilt in 1989 and won a council planning award. Other interesting buildings include the cobble-fronted nos.5-6; nos.8 and 12, faced with mathematical tiles; Hanningtons store of 1883, with a bridge to the North Street building constructed in 1989; the tall, decorated no.63 (The Reject Shop) of 1888; and no.68, which has fluted Corinthian columns and pilasters.

The Greyhound is an attractive building at the corner of Pool Valley with first-floor bow windows. The original inn probably dated from at least 1658 when it was the Blue Anchor, but it was known as the Greyhound by the end of the eighteenth century {15}. At the end of the road is the former Restoration public house and the elegant Clarendon Mansions, formerly the Clarendon Hotel. Built in 1870 by Charles Brill on the site of his domed baths (originally Lamprell’s), the building is listed and has a scrolled doorway, but the balconettes have been removed in its current state of disrepair {26}.

Between Pool Valley and the sea-front once stood the Rising Sun, one of several inns demolished for the erection of Brill’s new bathing establishment in the late 1860s. It was reputedly haunted by ‘Old Strike-a-Light’, a seven-foot high figure with a black cloak, conical white hat, and flint lighter which would illuminate the whole building with its spectral glow. In the sixteenth century a Brighton fisherman, Swan Jervoise, investigated the light and was literally frightened to death by the apparition. However, before he passed away, Jervoise was able to relate to Father Anselm of St Bartholomew’s Chapel how the apparition had pointed to the hearth of the inn. The monk found some treasure under the floor which was quickly conveyed to the mother priory at Lewes, and also some human bones which were reburied in the churchyard; Old Strike-a-Light was then never seen again. {6,15,89,91}

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.

Comments about this page

  • Re: Clarendon Mansions. This is said to have been built by Charles Brill in about 1870, but he and his family were already living at Clarendon Mansions, East Street, in the 1851 and 1861 censuses. Was this the former Clarendon Hotel, re-named, or is the present building in fact older than suggested? I am descended from one of Charles Brill’s brothers, so have been researching the family.

    By Karin Proudfoot (16/11/2007)
  • I am descended from Charles Brill (b. 1815) through his daughter Catherine Rosa Brill. The swimming baths that Charles inherited from his uncle were originally on this site, and from what I’ve gathered he re-built the present structure in 1870, but it was called Clarendon Mansions.

    By Emily Rose (09/02/2008)
  • This used to be W. & A. H. Fry the photographer at 68 East street. I have a photo dated 1895.

    By Paula (08/03/2011)
  • Was this the site of John Hamlins Store in the early 1900s? I wonder 

    By Alan Spicer (22/06/2011)
  • Does anyone remember the ‘John Beal’ store in East Street? It became ‘Sussex Stationers’ then closed a few years ago. It had a fabulous little record department that you accessed down some stairs just inside the front door. It remained the same from when I was only about six or seven years old right up to when it closed as ‘John Beal’ which must have been in the 80s. There was no trace of it when it became ‘Sussex Stationers’ as the staircase disappeared. When I was about seven in 1964 I can remember buying my first LP record there ‘Always Yours’ by ‘John Leyton’- I’d saved up my pocket money for months and it cost me 33s and 11d (approx £1.70). I still have it to this day.

    By Paul Clarkson (07/03/2013)
  • Anybody remember the Pearl shop in East Street? It was a very expensive jewellers and they only sold items with real pearls. My aunt knew one of the ladies who strung the pearl necklaces on the first floor and one day she took me to see how it was done. Just fascinating seeing thousands of different sized pearls being laid out in little ‘pleats’ of paper ready for stringing.

    By Maureen Sweet (31/03/2013)
  • It was also Cresta Silks later Cresta from 1930/31 to 1978/79. The shop was designed by Wells Coates. 

    By Catherine Brittain (10/02/2018)
  • My grandfather Robert Todd used to have no. 23 as a tobacconists shop. He came from Blaydon near Gateshead but moved to Brighton for his health in the late thirties. My mum lived in the flat upstairs but the family relocated during the war to Addison Road in Hove. There was another tobacconists round the corner in Castle Square I think, so smoking was a popular activity in those days.

    By Phil Back (27/12/2019)

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