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.
b) LAINES: Until the early nineteenth century the downland surrounding the Old Town of Brighton was used mainly for agricultural purposes and was divided into five ‘laines’. Laine, a word of Anglo-Saxon origin meaning ‘loan’ or ‘lease’, was the local term for the open arable fields common in medieval agriculture before enclosure, the freeholds of which belonged to several people but which were let in small portions to tenant husbandmen. Each field was divided into ‘furlongs’ which varied greatly in size and were known either by numbers or by individual names; these were further subdivided into many ‘paul-pieces’, the basic land unit of about one-eighth of an acre and often rented in groups known as ‘yardlands’. The furlongs themselves were separated by paths known as ‘leakways’. This feudal system lasted many years longer in Brighton than the surrounding parishes, due mainly to the number of landowners involved and to the town’s principal interests in fishing and coastal trading, agriculture playing a lesser role.
The pattern of laines, furlongs and paul-pieces greatly influenced the development of the town in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as land was usually sold and developed in blocks of paul-pieces. Main through routes such as St James’s Street , Edward Street , Eastern Road , Carlton Hill , Sussex Street , Cheapside, Ann Street, York Hill, etc. were developed in a direction away from the central valley and along the leakways between the furlongs as the smaller side streets were built up in the perpendicular paul-pieces. Thus a very regular pattern of streets was established in the laines to the east and west of the central valley. In the West Laine however, land was acquired in larger blocks before being developed and the streets do not follow the same pattern.
There were five laines in the parish of Brighton, viz.: the East, Hilly, Little, North and West Laines. Surrounding parishes also had named laines. Other downland was ploughed up in the period 1739-92 at Scabe’s Castle, White Hawke, Round Hill and Black Rock , but most of the rest of the downland was given over to sheep (see below). The name ‘North Laine’ (q.v.) has been revived for the conservation area which lies between Trafalgar Street and North Street .
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.
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