Brighton Old Town

"The Town Hall, Brighton" by Edward Fox, showing a view of Brighton Town Hall with figures in the street and a blue sky with sweeping cloud above. c.1840
“The Town Hall, Brighton” by Edward Fox, showing a view of Brighton Town Hall with figures in the street and a blue sky with sweeping cloud above. c.1840

In November, councillors on the economic development and culture committee released for public consultation, a 50-page document, “Old Town Character Statement”  which details the Old Town area’s history and heritage assets. Brighton residents and businesses were asked to get involved in ensuring Brighton’s historic heart is protected and enhanced, as the document and survey will serve as an assessment of what is important about the area, to guide future planning policies and decisions.

The document was on the council website and in local libraries for four weeks during November, and, although the consultation has closed, it is now also on the online version of The Whistler under this article, as it’s such an interesting read about Brighton.

The statement describes how the Old Town – bounded by the seafront, East Street, West Street and North Street – came into being. Evidence suggests the locality had been inhabited since Saxon times (410AD to 1066). Initially there was a settlement on the foreshore below a cliff. This was eventually destroyed by the sea and from the 13th century the town grew just inland.

A high proportion of listed buildings is a feature of the Old Town, a network of narrow streets, alleyways and terraced cottages. Important landmarks include the former Hippodrome Theatre, built in 1897, and Brighton Town Hall of 1832. Other significant buildings are the city’s oldest hotel, the Old Ship, dating back to the mid-1700s and Fabrica art gallery in Ship Street, a former church founded in 1817.

Historic details include doorstep boot-scrapers, a reminder of earth roads; houses clad in beach pebbles; and kerbstones made of Cornish granite.

The Lanes was built on an area known as the Hempsheres, used for growing hemp for rope-making and hops. It was the last part of the Old Town to be developed, mainly from the 18th century.

Brighton became one the most important fishing centres on the south coast. But in 1744 three quarters of the town’s 450 houses were exempted from paying rates because of poverty.

Opportunities for potential future improvement referred to in the Statement include the Hippodrome, a mooted redevelopment of the Old Ship’s large garage, plus better street surfaces with co-ordinated street furniture.


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