History notes

When you drive in the car today round the Old Steine, you perhaps tend to rather miss it. But it was, in Brighton’s early days, very much the social centre of the town. An open green area with a stream running through it, it was the place that the fishermen traditionally laid out and dried their nets. When the first fashionable visitors were coming down in the late 18th century to the town, it naturally became the fashionable centre.

First building on the eastern side
The very first building in fact built on the eastern side of the Steine in 1760 was a circulating library built by a Mr Baker. Now this wasn’t a library as we would think of today. When you, as a fashionable Regency visitor, came to the town towards the end of the 18th century, the first thing you would do was go to one of the circulating libaries so that you could sign on. You paid over a sum of money, and in return you were allowed to sign on in the Master of Ceremonies’ book. The Master of Ceremonies made sure that the balls that were being held in the Castle Inn didn’t clash with balls that were being held in rival establishments, like the Old Ship. He made sure that your name was known to other visitors in the town. It meant that people would know that you were in town and would know to call upon you or invite you to the various social activities that were going on.

Fishermen and their nets
From a very early stage, this area that had been used by the fishermen to dry their nets started to be encroached upon by these fashionable visitors. From the mid-1770s, railings were going up round the Steine, so that it became more of a controlled area. In fact, the Eastern Lawns of the Royal Pavilion were originally part of the Steine. The enclosure of the Steine continues throughout the nineteenth century. It’s only really as the century wears on, and you get alternative promenading areas provided, that the fasionable area moves away.

A mini revival
When you move into the twentieth century, the Royal York and Royal Albion hotels are revived through the work of Sir Harry Preston. In a sense, the Steine has almost a mini-revival, becoming as popular as it was once before.

Comments about this page

  • I love the Old Steine Road area, as this is where my great grandmother’s father operated: Thomas Lawson & Son Watch Makers.

    By Andrew Wiber (14/09/2004)
  • I have a travel manicure set in silver from Lawson and Son in Brighton. I would love to know more about this jeweller. I would love to know the history of his two shops!

    By Miranda Hall, in Perth Western Australia (18/10/2006)
  • My Great Great uncle was Thomas Lawson of Lawson and Sons, Old |Steine, Brighton. My Grandmother was Doris Lawson.

    By Rosemary (28/08/2011)
  • To Rosemary. Thomas Lawson had two children (Fenton and Emily) born approx. 1845. Emily married our Great Grandfather James Nisbet Blyth (of the Blyth & Sons, London) and died in 1934 in Birmingham. Would be interested in hearing if you can provide any other information on the family. From what we’ve learned so far is that the business (Thos Lawson became Lawson and Son) and continued on through to approx. 1930 – or that is as far as we’ve been able to trace. Andrew Wiber

    By andrew wiber (23/02/2012)
  • Hi I am looking for the sheet music written by Charles Coote, it was a quadrille composed for the opening of the fountain and gardens in the Old Steine around 1870 / 1890. If anyone has any ideas or tips that would be most appreciated. Best regards

    By Jo Goddard (15/08/2012)
  • Hi Jo, the piece of music you refer to was composed by Charles Coote much earlier than the dates you give – the fountain was inaugurated 25th May 1846 for Victoria’s 21st birthday and it was composed especially for the occasion. I believe there is a copy in the Brighton Library, as I have a book that features the front cover of the sheet music attributed to that source. Regards

    By Andy Grant (16/08/2012)
  • Any other information about the Lawson family would be very helpful. We can see they retailed jewellery, clocks, barometers and as we know decanter and smoking related items. I have read that they started 1850 – 1930 could this be confirmed? The item will be added to our website prior to exhibition all being well or soon after. Look forward to hearing any other information, kind regards Mark Goodger.

    Editor’s note: Your post has been edited as we do not allow advertising of any kind. Thank you.

    By Mark Goodger (24/01/2013)
  • Does anyone know who laid the Old Steine Thoroughfare? Doing a treasure hunt and this question came up. Can’t find it. Thank you in advance for your help!

    By Kim C (25/06/2014)
  • Hi Kim. The decision to build a roadway across the Old Steine and an approach from the north was made by the town commissioners after submission by the Steine Improvement Committee and subsequently approved by the Vestry on 27th March 1834. John Colbatch (owner of the Albion Hotel) and others made objections to the plan, but it would seem that by Monday 31st March, the commissioners had thwarted the objections by blitzing the site with workmen and completing the work and running the first carriages across it in a single day. I regret that no single person could be identified with the decision to lay the thoroughfare.

    By Andy Grant (27/06/2014)
  • I am not too sure what is meant by ‘Thoroughfare’, but if that refers to the road running across from North Street to St James’s Street then I believe that it was laid out in the 1840s, prior to that the traffic ran around the south side of the Steine. I know of no name actually connected with it, but Andy will have the definitive answer I am sure.

    By Geoffrey Mead (27/06/2014)
  • I am the manager at the Regency Restaurant at 131 Kings Road, Brighton which was originally one of the jewellery shops of Thomas Lawson and sons. The other shop was at number 16 the Old Steine, Brighton. In the basement of the restaurant we still have the original walk-in safe installed by the Lawsons. In fact, I have a picture of the shop in its full glory when it was a jewellery shop in the mid ’20s.The shop still has all of its original and very unique features today as it did then. The only difference is that it is now a restaurant. If you email I can email back a number of pictures of what it was like then.

    Editor’s note: Hello Emilio – thanks so much for your offer of pictures – that would be terrific. You can contact me at jennifer@mybrightonandhove.org.uk


    By Emilio Savvides (06/05/2015)
  • Does anyone have a photo of the Thomas Lawson hallmark?

    By Olwyne Pitcher (13/06/2017)
  • Just to add a minor detail to all this, for many years earlier in the 20th century the south corner of St James Street was always referred to as ‘Lawson’s Corner’, that is where the redbrick 1930s building St James Mansion is that currently has Subway on the ground floor.

    By Geoffrey Mead (15/06/2017)
  • I have just purchased an 1897 gents pocket watch made by Lawson and Son Brighton.

    By Neil (26/09/2017)
  • Hi, I have just bought a beautiful wooden wall clock made by Lawson’s & Son. I shall be visiting the Regency Cafe/ Restaurant to look at those wonderful photo’s of yesteryear.

    By Jozef Kis (01/10/2018)

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