An exiled 'Kensington Gardener'

The Kensington now
Photo by Mike Snewin

I lived in Kensington Gardens from my birth in 1947 until 1962, when my family moved out to Patcham on the northern fringe of the town. I lived at number 12 at the north end, which was then a funeral directors business W.A. Stringer & Son. My father was the manager there. The property seemed very old to me at the time – as indeed it was.

Family accommodation
Most of our time as a family was spent in the basement, in our living/dining room and scullery/kitchen at the back. There was no hot water on tap – it all had to be heated up on the gas stove. The ground floor was the ‘reception’ area for the undertakers, an office and the chapel of rest. At the rear we had a small concrete yard and small flower bed, surrounded by high walls. I had to be quiet when I was playing out in the yard if relatives of the deceased were visiting the chapel!

Almost a disaster!
There was a towering wall at the back of the yard, behind which were the backyards of the houses in Upper Gardner Street. One night in 1948 the wall dramatically collapsed. Luckily I was not in my pram in the yard at the time (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this now!) but it did leave the yard floor looking like crazy paving. On the top floor we had two bedrooms, for my parents and for my brother and me. The latter room also doubled as the family ‘parlour’ or ‘front room’. It contained sitting room furniture as well as our beds, to which we repaired on Sunday afternoons and to watch ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’on ITV in the evening.

A very cold bathroom
A rear extension at first floor level led to an unheated bathroom, where hot water was obtained by firing up a rather alarming gas geyser. When we left in 1962, the property was modernised and when I visited it in 2005 found it in basically the same layout, although the shop floor has been lowered and our old basement area is now uninhabitable.

Two undertakers in one street
Kensington Gardens was in my days mainly composed of ordinary, working class shops – a butchers opposite us, a greengrocers and pet shop on the opposite corners with Gloucester Road, a newsagent, an ice cream parlour (del Marco’s, who later moved to London Road opposite St Peter’s Church), a sewing machine repair shop, and shops selling clothes, shoes, second hand furniture from house clearances, and a rival funeral directors down at the southern end of the street. Two undertakers in one street.  Was this perhaps an indication of relatively high mortality in a poor working class area?

A real sense of community
The ‘Kensington’ next door to us was an unpretentious working man’s pub. The newsagent shop, run by Gus in my time, was earlier run by a Mrs Potter. My older brother, born in 1940, remembers brightly coloured Christmas annuals in the window always being a great attraction. In the later stages of the war when flying bombs came over, she would pop across to shelter with my parents and brother in the Morrison shelter we had in the basement. It may be my rose coloured glasses but I do think there was a real sense of community in the street in those days. Certainly my mother seemed to know practically everyone there!

The history of the street?
Does anyone know the history of the street? Has it always been pedestrianised? I know the North Laine area (an expression unknown to us when I lived there was developed in the 19th century along the lines of the mediaeval field patterns. Perhaps KensingtonGardens lies on the site of an old market garden, used to help feed the growing Regency town south of North Street.

An exiled ‘Kensington Gardener’
Kensington Gardens is to my mind a classic and fascinating example of urban social and economic change, as the town around it and indeed the country as a whole developed – a microcosm of urban change, in fact. Someone should write a book about it!  I left Brighton in 1966 to go to university at Liverpool, and have lived in North West England ever since, but, although I now regard myself as an adopted north westerner, at heart I remain a Brightonian and a ‘Kensington Gardener’!

Comments about this page

  • My fourth Great Grandfather, Harry Taylor and his wife Ann Gunn, lived at 34 Kensington Garden back in 1841-1859.  When he died, his daughter Ann was still living there in 1871.

    By Maralyn Eden (25/02/2007)
  • My grandmother Lillian Stringer was born on February 12th 1906 and wrote some memories for us back in 1999. She wrote about her father William Alfred Stringer born August 29th 1866:  ‘I think it was later he bought the Funeral Director business from a Mr Munden and that was how we came to live in Kensington Gardens. Maybe the business is still there as it prospered under him and later became W.A Stringer & Son when Len joined it.
    She would have loved to have seen the photo on your site, thanks.

    By Kathy Smyth (20/11/2007)
  • Hello Kathy. I think I’m related to you as my grandmother was Rosina Stringer.

    By Alison Pickett (03/02/2013)
  • I used Kensington Gardens regularly from 1952, but only on foot or bicycle. Don’t ever recall seeing motor vehicles there. From memory the ground was kind of cobbled in some dark red stones, which sloped from both sides draining into the centre. It was still the same in 1988 when I went to Stringer’s to pay my last respects to my brother

    By Brian Hatley (04/02/2013)
  • My Great Great Grandfather also lived at 34 Kensington Gardens. He was an umbrella maker and had his shop there. My Great Grandfather was born there.

    By Denise Cross (01/09/2013)
  • My grandfather’s family own a funeral directors in Kensington Gardens – the Sinden family. Don’t know much about the history and only seen one photo and it was next to a grocers’ store. I also think they owned a lot of property there back in the day. Would love to see some more old pics, as I live in Australia.

    By Craig Sinden (02/10/2013)
  • As a teenager in the mid 1960s who lived in Sussex it was always a huge pleasure to me to get off the train and walk down through.the North Laine, savouring the sheer variety of houses, shops and people to be seen there. It was just starting to be a bit trendy by then, but scruffy enough to be interesting. The comment about undertakers in Kensington Gardens reminds me: was that not where the original Body Shop was started by Anita Roddick, and did one of the funeral directors not object to such an infelicitously named business being located next to his own?

    By Ian Gates (31/01/2016)
  • My dad and his two brothers had no’s 26-29 which was originally called Parkes and later they renamed it Kensington Furniture. They had the business for about 30 years. The shops were built over some cottages and there were basement areas never used, I was too scared to go down there. Upstairs there were several rooms used to store furniture. Customers included Sir Lawrence Olivier, Norman Hartnell, Donald P and several other famous people. Opposite was Blundells the “Tally shop” or HP shop. Happy days.

    By Marilyn Jones (03/02/2016)
  • My grandparents lived above electrical shop, near to the pub, grandma died in a fire there in the 70s –  would like to find out if anyone remembered them. 

    By Tina Kliszcz (18/09/2016)

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