Developed during the 16th/17th centuries

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.

k) THE LANES: The attractive narrow streets and twittens which form the heart of the Old Town , principally Meeting House Lane , Union Street and the modern Brighton Square, are collectively known as the Lanes. Built on the open land in the middle of the town known as the Hempshares (see ” Fishing Industry “), the Lanes were partially developed during the latter sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as the population of the small fishing town grew with the success of the fisheries. Further building in the Lanes and on the adjacent Knab came in the late eighteenth century when the area was developed with workers houses to service the more prestigious developments nearby in the Castle Square , East Street , North Street and Steine areas. {8,10,14}
Most of the buildings now appear to date from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, but in some cases they may be the original houses rebuilt or refronted; the combination of narrow streets, the height of the buildings and the materials used still convey the atmosphere of a medieval town, however. Until the 1930s though, the area was considered to be shabby and unworthy of Brighton; indeed, plans advocated principally by Sir Herbert Carden were made to erect modern buildings on the site. By 1975 however, a survey showed that the Lanes, with their fascinating mixture of antique, jewellery and other specialist shops, were the most popular tourist attraction in Brighton, visited by three quarters of all visitors to the town. Recent developments on ‘eyesore sites’ at Brighton Square and the impressive Dukes Lane nearby have admirably enhanced the character of the area. On 31 May 1979 Queen Elizabeth II toured the Lanes. {8,14,123}

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 have two particular memories of The Lanes from the fifties when I was a small child. These concern two musical items in antique shops in the square just off East Street, or it might have been the same shop? Anyway, one had outside its door an automaton, a mechanical stuffed bird in a cage, which when a penny was inserted would start to twitter realistically and turn its head from side to side. The other featured a symphonion, a wondrous machine of which I have only ever seen one other example, at Beamish Museum in County Durham. This was in effect a giant musical box with a glass case containing a great shining steel disc about three feet across, carrying hundreds of tiny pegs. When a penny was introduced it would start to turn slowly and the pegs would activate tiny reeds which played a complex tinkling tune with full harmony, like a fairy orchestra. (Anyone not lucky enough to have seen a symphonion – and there can’t be many of these machines left – can get a flavour if they obtain the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s seventies album Symphonion Dream, which apart from being a fine album also plays out with a superb symphonion montage.) If anyone is aware of the whereabouts of any working symphonions in the Brighton area or in the south of England, I’d be delighted to hear about them:

    By Len Liechti (23/02/2009)

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