Development of North Street since the 14th century

North Street has always been one of the town’s main commercial thoroughfares, and is lined with many shops, banks and offices. It represents the northern limit of the medieval town, and was probably developed in the fourteenth century by the landsmen whose barns stood on the northern side of the street with fields and crofts stretching northwards to Church Street.

The principal commercial street of the town
With most coaches from London entering the town via Dyke Road as Brighton first grew as a resort, North Street developed rapidly in the eighteenth century, and by 1770 there were eighty-eight buildings in the street. From about 1780 shops also began to spread up North Street from Castle Square, and it gradually became the principal commercial street of the town. A number of squalid courtyards were built off North Street in the early nineteenth century, and by the 1840s names such as Durham, Petty France and Air Street were counted amongst the worst slums in the town; most were cleared for the construction of Queen’s Road in 1845. Until the 1950s North Street extended up what is now Dyke Road as far as Upper North Street.

Haphazard development plans
Development of North Street itself was haphazard and the buildings projected into the narrow roadway somewhat, but it was widened in 1874-9 below Windsor Street, again in 1927-36, and finally in the early 1960s. Only a few buildings therefore survive from before the mid nineteenth century, mainly to the west of Ship Street and to the west of New Road. Large-scale redevelopment of the northern side has resulted in many large bank and office buildings, the most impressive of which is the pink-granite Leeds Permanent on the corner of New Road.

Comments about this page

  • I have been looking for any reference to ‘Petty France’ or ‘Lewis Buildings’ in Brighton. It is as I thought. They were slums and were cleared long ago. My great-grandfather was a sweep living and working in that area in 1841.

    By Jennifer Davies (15/08/2006)
  • My great, great grandfather was also a sweep living in Lewis’s building according to the 1841 census. So if you have any more information about the Lewis buildings that would be great.

    By Joanna Gander (20/01/2007)
  • I have a fisherman William Campbell at number 2 Lewis Buildings on the 1891 & 1901 census. The 1901 census shows it next to Ship Street Court.

    By Josie Campbell (09/03/2007)
  • Petty France was a courtyard off North Street, located roughly where Queen’s Road is now situated. It was cleared to make way for Queen’s Road when it was built in the mid 1840s. Lewis (or Lewes) Buildings is an ‘L’ shaped twitten, running from 22 Ship Street to 29 Duke Street, and ending at Duke’s Court. It still exists today if you get a high enough resolution map.

    By Andy Grant (29/03/2007)
  • Very interested to know any more information regarding ‘Petty France’. Given the name ‘Petty France’ I wondered if there was a French community there or some other connection to France. I am trying to trace my Great Grandfather, Francois Bonnot. Research to date suggests he was a French immigrant and that he was involved in mainly catering, possibly some fishing and he lived around the seafront area for a period of time.

    By Sarah Green (23/09/2007)
  • My great grandparents apparently worked at 16 North St, Royal Marine Beer House, according to 1901 census. Any info regarding the pub, brewery etc. much appreciated. Family name Hemsley, my grandmother was living there, possibly born there 1896.

    By Gwen Macfarlane (28/06/2008)
  • In reply to Sarah Green’s comment about ‘Petty France’, I would hazard a guess that the name has nothing to do with any French community in the area and everything to do with contemporary attitudes towards the French and their perceived lack of cleanliness. There are a lot of ‘French’ this and ‘French’ that urban place names and they seem to denote a certain scruffiness and/or bohemian flavour of an area more often than the presence of actual French people. I shouldn’t imagine that the original developers gave the area the name of Petty France.

    By Oliver Tate (05/08/2010)
  • Hello Josie, we’ll be cousins then 🙂 William Campbell is my 5x great-Uncle. I’m searchable under my name on, hope to speak there.

    By Christine Reeves (29/02/2016)
  • Trying to find information on No. 18 North Street, Brighton. I have an old painting with part of a label on reverse of the frame, has address but name of shop missing.
    Possibly late 1800s or early 1900s
    Could it have been a picture framer?, art gallery?
    Would love to find out more info.

    By peter cucurullo (11/09/2021)
  • Kelly’s 1914 shows 18 North St to be G.Biddle & sons picture frame makers.

    By Dr Geoffrey Mead (12/09/2021)

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