'Caramella', the sweet shop in Kensington Gardens, celebrated its 20th anniversary in December 2007. Here John Barber describes his many links with North Laine.
I opened this shop on 14th December 1987 and very few of the shops which were in the street at that time still remain.
Born in the town
Although I no longer live in Brighton, I was born and raised in the town (of course not then a city). I lived in Brighton throughout the Second World War, which was quite an experience. My links with North Laine and Kensington Gardens go back many years. My father and his brother (there were 11 other brothers and sisters at home!) worked for a time in a dairy shop in Kensington Gardens. It was just across the street from where 'Caramella' is now situated - No 6, I believe. He told me he used to clean the milk churns with a hosepipe, in the street outside the shop. This would have been around 1918-20, when householders collected a jug of milk from a dairy shop or from the milk roundsman. My Dad lived with his family in Centurion Road, near St Nicholas Church. Not much of Centurion Road now remains.
Penny for the guy
In the mid 1940s two friends and I, prior to Guy Fawkes Day, would collect a 'penny for the Guy'. We would start with a pitch in Western Road and finish in Kensington Gardens. I remember clearly our best ever day: 24 shillings, ie 8 shillings each (40p). We could go to the cinema for 7 old pence (less than 3p) at the Duke of York's or the Arcadia, known as the Scratch, in Lewes Road.
Coffins against the wall
An undertaker in Kensington Gardens in those days used to display his coffins, empty of course, in the street, leaning them against the wall.
Both my grandfathers were born in North Laine: one in Jubilee Street (1875) and the other in New England Street (1880).
Regular shopping route
The daily/weekly shopping route for many people, for many years, was to catch a bus to the Open Market, walk through the Market or Baker Street, continue along the southern part of London Road (Marks & Spencer on the west side and Bellman's on the east), and go through Woolworth's (then a two-floor store situated on the corner of London Road and Cheapside). Woolworth's had a rear entrance/exit in Providence Place, where a man, whose name was George, sold fruit and vegetables from a market wheelbarrow. He used a nearby ex-stable for storage. This part of Providence Place no longer exists.
From Cheapside people proceeded through Sydney Street, Kensington Gardens, Gardner Street and Bond Street, moving on to North Street and Western Road. Thus the footfall through these narrow streets was always very heavy - and it still is. North Laine, although not known by that name at the time, was always busy, interesting and often exciting. This remains the case today and it is a great place in which to work, to browse and to relax.
[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 190, January/February 2008]