How they were

Richmond Hill, January 1935
Claremont Row on the left was dwarfed by the high buildings of Claremont Road on the right. c.1935

I regret the passing of the slums of Brighton. They were draughty, dark, poorly ventilated, had no sanitation, and were made out of inferior materials. They certainly weren’t very nice to live in. But they were a reflection of the way people lived.

The slums of Brighton were certainly a scandal. One particular area that comes to mind is Air Street. If you can imagine Oliver Twist, you can imagine Air Street. It was a ghetto. The census and police would never go into the area unless they were heavily escorted. Prostitutes carried out their trade in shop doorways. Fortunately the Air Street slum was removed.

Many of the people in the Carlton Hill district moved out in the 20s to Whitehawk. Carlton Hill was given over to herring-smoking and you can imagine what the atmosphere was like. Eventually those buildings were torn down and new buildings were put up, which themselves went into a state of decay later on.

What makes a slum?
A place is made a slum by inferior standards of building. Other buildings in Brighton were built with exactly the same materials, but the funding was there to ensure there was adequate mortar between the bricks. This is why buildings have survived that on the outside look very similar to the slums, yet other buildings fell into such decay that there was no alternative but to pull them down.

Predominantly, the slums were due to be cleared circa 1935. Only the war and the change of interest in the town saved these buildings. Although many were demolished afterwards, we’re fortunate that many still survived and were modernised.

Comments about this page

  • “WHAT MAKES A SLUM?” Whilst I would readily agree that a slum is assisted in its making by the quality of the buildings, I aver much more strongly in the direction of unemployment and the harshness of those who possessed the financial where-with-all to dominate anyone living in their properties. Witness what occurred when people moved out into the outlying districts that were created, such as Whitehawk and Moulsecoomb. Being born at North Moulsecoomb of parents who, like their neighbours, had insufficient funds for an average living standard, I can well remember the times when food itself was non-existent in the home. The constant striving for a better standard of living by all and sundry could only be helped by the provision of a weekly wage packet. People even died because there was no money to pay for doctors at an early stage when illness occurred. Yes, baths and electric cookers etc., were no doubt sold off but looking deeper into the situation makes one realise that the immediate purpose was to gain food and clothing. Prison would have had no preventive effect because it would have been preferable to home life! I don’t think many of today’s population could come anywhere near to realising those harsh conditions.

    By Ron Spicer (15/10/2009)

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