The North Laine affair

Photo:The North Laine Video Group practising a shoot, 1981

The North Laine Video Group practising a shoot, 1981

Black and white video made in the early 1980s

A short black and white video about the North Laine area has recently been unearthed, made by an NLCA group in the early 1980s. A North Laine Video Group had been set up at that time under the auspices of the association, facilitated by the Brighton Barefoot Video Group. The members were making their first attempt at making a video using technology available at that time – very cumbersome by today’s standards and all in black and white.

Reason for the title

Although naturally very amateurish it is nevertheless an interesting historical document. In the first part of the recording an elderly lady [sadly since deceased] is interviewed by Tim Curran [still a North Laine resident]. She says: “Since the North Laine affair has come into being, people have got to know each other more.” After that statement it hadn’t been necessary to look any further for a title for the film – it had to be ‘The North Laine Affair’!

What North Laine once looked like

A view of sheep grazing follows, explaining what North Laine might once have looked like. Peter Warburton, a member of the Video Group at that time but now living in Ireland, then gives a brief historical summary of the development of the North Laine area.

Saturday market

Much of the film focuses on the colourful Saturday market in Upper Gardner Street. One of the then traders was interviewed and said:

“I first started pitching in Upper Gardner Street market in 1930 and I’ve been here every since. It was very hard in them days. We had to be up at 5.00 in the morning to get to the market and buy the cheapest stock possible because it was always a cheap market, which then consisted entirely of nothing but fruit stalls. There were no antique stalls like today. It wasn’t licensed.

Mr Harry Cowley was in charge of the street and he ran the street properly as it should be run. We used to work at night – till 10 or 11 at night – with the old naptha lamps. And since the war it’s simply deteriorated. It’s not the market it was any more and I don’t think it ever will be. In the days I’m talking about, originally if you had as much as £1 stock money you had a fortune but today, to buy the same kind of commodity, you want something in the region of £60-70 and you can’t earn any kind of money like you could in the olden days. The olden days were very bad, very difficult, but everybody came down here and they got something very cheap and everybody was pleased and since those days the market has kept going. But unfortunately since those days it’s been take over completely by antique dealers."

[The film shows many shots of the market traders, including some pitches in an area on the east side of Upper Gardner Street that has since been infilled with terraced housing.]

Interview with Kelvin MacDonald

After this Kelvin MacDonald, at that time Secretary of the NLCA but now living in a different part of Brighton, is interviewed about the early days of the Association.  He says:

“It’s hard to say really why the Association took off so quickly and became such a force. Everyone who turned up to that first meeting came for different reasons but I think there are two threads running through it: first, that everybody thought it was a marvellous area to live or work in; and second, that somehow they thought the area was under threat. There wasn’t any particular threat at that time. Four years earlier there had been the threat of a motorway coming through the area but that had gone. But it was just that to the north of us there’s the station and Theobald House, a massive tower block; to the south of us there are a row of car parks and offices; and either side of us there are offices – and this was a residential area in the heart of Brighton that was gradually being encroached upon by all these other types of uses. And also the houses in the area were run down a lot of them  - a lot of them were derelict. There were a lot of vacant sites in the area and more and more sites were becoming vacant. It was as if the residential part of Brighton was slowly being sucked out of the centre, so we felt a general threat and we wanted to save the area because we liked it."

First meeting in the Boys Club

He continues:

"This is the room [in the then Boys Club in Upper Gardner Street] where the North Laine Community Association held its first meeting in December 1975. The meeting came about because one of the East Sussex community workers dropped a lot of notes through a lot of people’s doors in the area and said if you feel that this area needs an association, then come to a meeting at the Boys Club - and about 20 people turned up to that first meeting and it really took off from there and was taken over by the residents. The community worker soon dropped out apart from a parental eye on the proceedings and we had our first proper meeting in the January of 1976.

The further thing we wanted to do was obviously to enjoy ourselves and to bring people in the area together, to get them to meet each other, and we soon thought of the idea of having a street party."

First street party

[Then follow scenes of an early NLCA street party in Upper Gardner Street.] Kelvin says:

"And this was the year before the Jubilee and before street parties once again became fashionable, so when we started asking the Council whether we could have a street party they had no idea and they had to look up all the rules and regulations. But we got round that and so we had our first street party in the summer of 1976 and street parties have been held every summer since then.”

Interview with Tessa

The next person to be interviewed was Tessa Millis [now Tessa Gunputh, still a North Laine resident}. She said:

“Well, I’ve lived in Brighton for about five months now and I suppose if someone asked me to sum up the place in a couple of words, those words would have to be ‘varied’ and ‘colourful’. It’s a very colourful way of life here – the market is very colourful on a Saturday and also why it’s ‘varied’ is the people. For example I only know about one person really who comes from Brighton. Everyone else comes from many different places. I for example am a northerner and yet seem to fit in reasonably well here, but everybody comes from a different way of life, comes from a different part of the country, and yet just mixes in nicely to make a lovely varied big colourful mixture.”

The last word

Finally an elderly male resident is interviewed. He says:

“I happen to live in the North Laine area and I think you do quite a good job for all of us and that’s about all I can say. There you are!”

Nothing more to be said really.....

To obtain a copy

If any North Laine resident would like a DVD of this early film, please apply to NLCA Chair Peter Crowhurst at:

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 214, January/February 2012]

This page was added on 08/02/2012.

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