Earliest development of the Old Town

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.

p) MIDDLE STREET : Middle Street was the earliest street to be developed in the middle of the Old Town , on the area between East Street and West Street known as the Hempshares; it was built up by the sixteenth century {2}.
A number of interesting listed buildings remain in Middle Street . On the western side, no.19 has a pedimented doorway but unfortunately one bow has been removed; the passageway on the southern side once led to the ten Hayllar’s Cottages, the subject of a 1937 slum clearance. The adjacent no.20, a bow-fronted, yellow-brick house with a fluted Doric porch, dates from the early nineteenth century and was the home of William Friese-Greene (1855-1921), pioneer and patentee of many cinematographic devices. He carried out many of his initial experiments there, and erected one of the first film ‘studios’ in the garden. He died in poverty, but has a monument by Lutyens in HighgateCemetery and was the subject of a 1951 film tribute, The Magic Box.
On the eastern side, no.60 is an attractive town house probably of the eighteenth century; it was rendered with stucco in the nineteenth century, but its original knapped flint facade was restored in 1989. No.69 is a new, brick building but retains the original Doric doorway of a plain but listed eighteenth-century house, an example of nominal conservation. Nos.74-76 are four-storey, early-nineteenth-century buildings with bows and glazing bars. {44,296,311}
Brighton Synagogue, no.66, was built in 1874-5 by Thomas Lainson in Byzantine style. It was consecrated on 23 September 1875, and further improvements and enrichments were made until 1914, largely through the munificence of the Sassoon family. It was also the first synagogue to be lit by electric light. The yellow-brick building has a very large pediment with Composite pilasters, and Corinthian columns on the doors and windows. However, it is listed because of its sumptuous interior which has galleries on three sides supported by red marble columns bearing capitals of fruits mentioned in the Bible. The windows are decorated with late-nineteenth-century stained glass, and there are also splendid iron and glass railings. {44,66}
Also listed is the former Hippodrome , which opened in 1897 as the Brighton Ice-Rink but was enlarged and converted into a circus and theatre by Frank Matcham in 1901 and renamed. The Hippodrome became the town’s principal variety theatre, playing host to many stars, and was enlarged again in 1939 by taking in two houses to the north. In October 1964, concerts by the Rolling Stones and the Beatles both attracted capacity audiences of 4,000, but the theatre closed the following year and after a brief period as a television film studio became the Mecca Bingo Club in 1967. The building has arched doorways, pediments and decorations above the side doors, but the exterior is otherwise rather plain, in contrast to the highly-decorated horseshoe-shaped interior. {5,44,123}
At the corner of South Street stands the former Sea House public house, originally known as the Ship-in-Distress. Until the construction of King’s Road in 1822 the Sea House stood at the cliff edge, but it was rebuilt and renamed in that year. The large public room was used by the magistrates and town commissioners for several years. In September 1830 William IV visited Nelson’s widow Viscountess Bronte there, and the inn became the Royal Sea House. When it was rebuilt in the 1870s, the inn business was restricted to the corner of South Street only, the southern part being converted to a toy and fancy goods repository. {15}
Other interesting buildings in Middle Street include no.25, Vesuvio’s Restaurant, the home of the Brighthelmston Dispensary from 1819 until 1849, and of the Y.M.C.A. from 1854 until about 1872. Annie’s Restaurant, a cobble-fronted house at the end of a passageway opposite no.43; nos.43-45, an attractive pair with glazing bars and a bow window, probably dating from the eighteenth century; nos.46-47, three-storey red-brick houses with classical doorways, date from a little later.
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

  • I didn’t see a picture of Middle Street School?? where I attended.  We used to go into the basement of the Hippodrome during air raids during the Second World War.  I went now and again to the Synagogue there as a child.  I remember my mother and friends going to the Sea House occassionally on a Saturday night. (Love the site!)

    By Anita (28/01/2008)
  • I used to collect autographs at the Stage Door of the Hippodrome in the 1950s (eg Alma Cogan). Nearby was a wood supplier – as kids we bought wood to build 2 canoes – anyone remember the name of the wood yard?

    By Don Grant (29/01/2008)
  • Does anyone know anything about Parker’s Hotel, which I believe was on the corner of the front and West Street.

    By Lee Stein (10/06/2008)
  • I remember seeing Frankie Vaughen coming out of the garage next door. I walked back with him to the stage door. I recall he was carrying a bag of fish! Someone took a photo…  I would love to see it.

    By Jennifer Tonks (nee Smith) (26/08/2008)
  • The timber supplier in Middle Street was Peerles & son. Between the timber yard and the Hippodrome was a garage called The Dreadnought which later became Wadham Stringers.

    By John deFuszard (28/01/2009)
  • My grandfather Rudolf Pratschke operated a boarding house or small hotel at 35 Middle Street from about 1910 to about 1914. On a recent visit to Brighton, I was not sure where this house would have stood in relationship to the school buildings or indeed to the other buildings in the street. I would very much appreciate any help in identifying where 35 was (or is).

    By John L. Pratschke (21/02/2009)
  • Does anyone recollect a restaurant called Twickenham’s in Middle Street circa 1969. I can’t found any info on the web.

    By Steven Mills (12/09/2011)
  • My parents, Renzo and Rita Passi, opened the first Italian restaurant in about 1957 at 5 Middle Street. I was the youngest of four children and we lived above “Rossi’s Ices”. Mum and Dad used to be given free tickets for the Hippodrome, Unfortunately I was too young but my oldest brother and sister got to see the Beatles, the Stones and many others. I was allowed to see Billy J Kramer – I was about 5 years old and yes it was because I loved “Little Children”. We had a Mod thrown through a plate glass window during the battle of the mods and rockers. My parents were the first to serve spaghetti bolognese in Brighton but they said that customers would not order it, most did not know what it was and if anyone did try it they complained about it saying it was foreign muck. We were there till I was 9 years old in 1968 and we then moved to Hove.

    By Teresa Murray (nee Passi) (11/02/2012)
  • To answer John L. Pratschke: Number 35 was on the west side of Middle Street, approximately half way between Boyces Street and Duke Street. Google Street View should help you get a better feel for this.

    By Diana Linden (11/03/2012)
  • Thank you so much Diana for your information; it will make my next visit to Brighton even better. Sorry for the long delay in noting your informations.

    By John L Pratschke (19/02/2013)
  • My mother, Winifred ‘Winnie’ Summerford (as she would have been then), was ‘in service’ to Mrs Williams who owned the Sea House pub in Middle Street – this was in the 1930s. She often spoke about her time there with great affection for this Jewish family who treated her like a daughter. She left (I think) in 1939/40 when she married my father, James Jeffery.

    By James Jeffery (18/08/2013)
  • Hello John. I am looking for photographic records of the Dreadnought garages that spanned Middle Street and Ship Street. It was a very large garage that was the major Austin dealer for the area, as I understand it. Do you have any more info on the garages? Thanks Ben

    By Ben (20/05/2016)
  • Does anybody remember Chick’s Club in 1966? He was a window cleaner by day and a club owner by night, God knows when he slept. The club was at 6 or 7 Middle Street. There were 4 snooker tables and 6 or 8 card tables with a small coffee bar. It was always open till the small hours of the mornings. It was a busy place with a mix of different people including knocker boys and gamblers. Good atmosphere.

    By George (10/07/2017)
  • I recall the Beatles appearing at the Hippodrome. I was driving my minivan down Middle Street towards the Seafront when my van was surrounded by youngsters who obviously thought that I was”smuggling” the Beatles toward the stage door. It was quite scary at the time but eventually I was “allowed” to proceed.
    Regarding the Fab Four. In 1965 I was playing in the ship’s orchestra on the P & O liner Iberia. When we arrived at Teneriffe, I went for a walk and was accosted by two young lads. As I must have looked English, one of them spoke to me in broken English and asked me “Do you know the Beat less”.

    By John Snelling (08/10/2019)

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