Somewhere for a weekend retreat?

Kensington Place, Brighton
Kensington Place, Brighton

Houses first began to appear in Kensington Place in the 1820’s. A glance at J.Pigot.Smith’s 1826 map of Brighton shows a number of houses on the west side of the street. These are what the Brighton Encyclopaedia describes as ‘small terraced houses and cottages’. The west side has a mixture of these small houses and taller three storeyed buildings, typical of the mid-Victorian period. The east side was constructed mainly in the 1830’s and consists of a terrace, decorated with Ionic pilasters and now mostly grade 11 listed.

The residents of the street have generally been skilled artisans. The 1851 census refers to drapers, beer shop keepers, tailors, bootmakers, printsellers, cabinet makers, laundresses, general servants whilst the 1883 census makes reference to the Hearts of Oak beer house at no. 17 and a lodging house at no. 8. The street has always had its share of teachers with the 1900 census mentioning a teacher of music at no. 31 and a day school at no.34.

The link with culture and education at no. 34 was to last into the 20th Century for this was the home of the famous West End literary agent, Peggy Ramsey, who had a weekend home in the street from the 1960’s. Peggy was to be made famous in the 1987 Alan Bennett-scripted film ‘Prick Up Your Ears’, about the life and death of the playwright Joe Orton. It was Peggy who discovered the talent of Joe Orton and then helped him in his career before finally identifying his battered body in 1967.

Weekends away
Peggy would spend many a weekend in Kensington Place, leaving London at 4pm on Fridays to travel down by train. She did not involve herself in the literary scene in the town (not liking one of the town’s leading lights of the time-Laurence Olivier) but instead busied herself around the streets of the North Laine.

She must have enjoyed the bric-a-brac shops of the area, (they still give a particular charm to the area) for her house was reputedly filled with what Joe Orton described as clutter. In his diary entry for 29th July, 1967, he says ”We went to Peggy’s house……’her little place’. It was a nice old house in a back street. Built mid-nineteenth century. Peggy had it filled with bric-a brac. All of it interesting but really there was too much….She took me downstairs and showed me the garden…I liked the garden. Cluttered gardens are fun. Cluttered houses I’m not fond of.” Two weeks later Joe Orton was to die.

Behind Kensington Place there is a little lane, Trafalgar Lane, where Peggy had bought a small cottage (which she called her hut) which she let her clients use. David Hare write most of ‘Licking Hitler’ here as well as ‘A Map Of The World’. Having no telephone and being so close to London was ideal for writers.

Notable residents
Other notable residents of the street include William Moon, who published books for the blind and was Master of a Blind School in Church St. Moon lived for a short time at no 44 Kensington Place.

Kensington Place continues today to be one of Brighton’s most attractive residential streets. It has been chosen as the set for TV dramas (in 1980 the street was used as the set for a TV serial ‘ A Little Silver Trumpet’) and it now has a number of houses(on the eastern side ) that have been given grade II listed status by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Census (1851), (1881).
Pigot Smith, J. (1826) Map Brighton History Centre.
Cresswell, D. Peggy’s Little Place.
Chambers, C. Peggy: The Life of Margaret Ramsey.
Trade Directories, (1883), (1901), Brighton History Centre.

Comments about this page

  • I wonder if the little cottage in Trafalgar Lane is the one I remember from the 70s as a violin workshop? The door was often open and the craftsman was totally absorbed in his task. It always seemed such an interesting lane with the big timber merchants on one side and the violin maker opposite, and in the same section a furniture upholsterer, a real sense of scale in the wood trade!

    By Geoffrey Mead (11/10/2005)
  • Kensington Lane was known to the local children as ‘Bogey Alley’. It was our local playground in the late 40s into the 50s,with hopscotch being one of our favourite games. The smell of new wood still reminds me of it. I lived in Blackman St. The shop in Trafalgar St, just around the corner from Bogey Alley, was where we used to buy our sweets, a couple of old penny’s worth, and where my dad would send us to buy his packet of 5 Turf cigarettes.

    By Glenys Roberts (14/02/2006)
  • Hello Glenys Roberts. You evoked a memory regarding Trafalgar Lane. I never heard it called ‘Bogey Lane’. I remember it for the wood yard, John E. Butts, where I used to buy a large sack of sawdust every so often for my rabbits. The night of Sunday 25th August 1940 was when the woodyard was hit with incendiary bombs and caused an enormous fire. But Trafalgar Lane will always be remembered because it had a beautifully smooth asphalt surface all the way along and we used to roller skate there. I lived around the corner over what was then Whale and Co. tobacconist. It is now a second hand bookshop, No. 44. Next door to that was what was referred to as the ‘greasy spoon’, terrible place. Used to stay open till all hours and usually ended up full of drunks after the pubs had closed. I remember the ‘sweet shop’ on the corner together with its ‘Penny Punch’ where you pushed a small rod in a hole and a coloured ball came out. The colour of the ball depended on what you won. I lived there from 1937 to late 1946. We may even have met. Ah!! Happy days.

    By John Wall (28/06/2006)

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