From open fields to Bohemian quarter
Before anything else, please be aware that this area is always called The North Laine. It’s never called the North Laines! It has no connection with the area of the Old Town popularly known as The Lanes. There is no North Lanes; nor are these two areas ever referred to as The Old Lanes and The New Lanes. These are all popular misconceptions, usually with estate agents!
The North Laine is the district immediately north of the Old Town. Historically, it was much larger than today’s conservation area. In the past its borders were Church Street, the Valley Gardens, Ditchling Road, Viaduct Road and New England Hill, returning along Centurion Road and St Nicholas Road.
Five large open fields before 1780
Before about 1780, most of the town’s housing and services were located in the Old Town. The rest of Brighton’s parish was arranged as five large open fields (laines) owned in strips (paul-pieces) by a multiplicity of landowners. The North Laine was the area that most of the storage and manufacturing trades moved into as demand for land rose in the Old Town.
The North Laine becomes a major manufacturing area
By the middle of the 19th century, the North Laine was a major manufacturing area for the retail outlets in the Old Town. It was also the area most used for saw-mills, foundries, stabling, slaughter-houses and food processing. The housing was mainly for skilled artisans and the local unskilled workforce.
During the period after WWII there was a steady decline in the manufacturing base of the area. The whole area was generally run down, leaving it as a typical inner-city, post-industrial neighbourhood.
The area today
Since the mid 1970’s, the North Laine area has seen a major turnaround in its fortunes. This stemmed from the decision by the borough not to proceed with a large and destructive stilted highway that would have ripped through the heart of the area. The residents’ forum that saw off the scheme became instumental in the formation of the conservation area, and is the focus of a strong urban conservation movement that has largely preserved the urban fabric of the Laine south of Trafalgar Street.
The success story of the town
The North Laine is one of the great success stories of the city. A rundown post-industrial, inner-city district has turned into one of the most colourful and vibrant neighbourhoods. It styles itself the ‘Bohemian quarter’ but is undergoing intensive gentrification and ‘loft style’ living.
Yuppies, students and underground
North Laine is the city’s yuppie heartland, full of shops selling things you don’t really need….but which are nice to have! (Cissie Mo and the Bead Shop spring to mind.) The paradox is that it is also ‘student Brighton’ with ethical shops (Infinity Foods, Vegetarian Shoes); foodie Brighton (Debs Deli, and the Cheese Shop); underground Brighton (a large collection of tattoo and piercing shops); and…where else can you find a shop called ‘Klick Klick Whirly Whirly Beep Beep’…?