Street history - Pelham Square

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Lead researchers: Elaine Fear;  Catherine Page


One of the reasons for the unique quality of the North Laine is that it has not been taken over by large commercial interests.   Its inception was at the beginning of the 19th century when the services it provided were much needed by the grander houses of the Steyne. Sue Berry writes,

"Visitors provided employment for dressmakers, shoemakers, milliners, jewellers, artists and other providers of fashionable services.  Their liking for this town provided employment in the building and furniture trades.  Catering for visitors provided work for butchers, bakers and confectioners as well as wholesalers who supplied livestock, flour and other foodstuffs and her eating houses (restaurants).  Domestic servants were employed not only by the visitors but also by the townsfolk who prospered."(1)

From then until now, although it has gone through financial dips, it has never been taken over by the corporate world.   Instead it still teems with small, independent shops of all kinds, with coffee bars, restaurants, pubs of varying different character, and most particularly with many different people, of all sorts and backgrounds, each with their own story.

One of the hubs of the North Laine is Trafalgar St, at the bottom of which is bustling Sydney Street and then turn the corner and there, suddenly, is the completely unexpected oasis of Pelham Square.


Pelham Terrace (on the West Side of the Square) was the first part to be developed during the 1840s on the old North Hall Estate.  It takes it name from the local aristocracy, the Pelham family; Thomas Pelham was the first Earl of Chichester.  In the 1851 Census there were just ten house on Pelham Terrace and Folthorp's Directory for 1848 and 1850 tell us that the Terrace comprised small private houses.  Their frontage was uniform, leaving the interiors to be individually developed.  This was a common architectural practice.  Every two houses shared one well, and there was an earth closet on the back yard.(2) Now Pelham Square has three sides and the fourth is provided by Trafalgar Street.  In this study we have excluded Trafalgar Street although numbers 98 and 99 are important to the history of the Square as they were owned by the owners and developers of Pelham Square. From the map of 1850 and 1852 we can see Pelham Terrace(3) but it is not until 1867 that Pelham Square makes an appearance on a map(4). The street directory for 1853 notes that houses are being built.  The house numbers have changed to take account of the development of the square, so caution is needed when reading early census and street directory data.    Now, numbers 1 - 12 and 15 -25 are Grade 2 listed, 12 and 13 are the later buildings and are not listed.

The development of the Square itself and the other houses on the South and East side is set out in the documents and plans of 23 October 1856(5).  It seems that the development of the houses and central space which makes up Pelham Square from land on the east side of Pelham Terrace, was the result of a thought out and very conscious decision to bring a garden and a space for peace, leisure and pleasure in to the middle of the noise, smells and trade of the North Laine.   Daniel Hack who lived in a large house with his sisters at 99 Trafalgar Street, and Mr Carter who lived at 98 Trafalgar Street and Mr Lynne, a builder , decided to create from land that they owned, a pleasure garden with houses round it that they would let.   Daniel Hack came from a well established Quaker family and it was within the tenets of Quakerism that a space of reflection and quiet be available to those who resided in the midst of noise. At some time it appears that Carter, a farmer, mortgaged his share to Hack.

Insert map of Pelham Square from Abstract of Deed of Covenant of 23.10.1856

However, strict rules were imposed upon the tenants by Messrs  Hack and Lynne  for  they intended that the square itself should be, "kept, continued and enjoyed as a pleasure garden only".   The Covenant also stated that the use of it was to be just for the benefactors, and if any of the tenants in one of the houses wanted to use it they had to obtain the permission of the other benefactors in writing. They agreed to make all the necessary walks and ornamental plants, shrubs and flowers and to be responsible for the management and upkeep of the garden, with an agreed limit of £12 p.a.  Lynn was to erect an iron fencing, similar to that on the North side on the South and East side at his own expense  and the same could be done on the West side for Pelham Terrace, if they were willing to pay.  It appears that DP Hack also already owned houses in Pelham Terrace.(6)

There was also a restrictive covenant requiring that no vulgar trade should be conducted in the square.   It was to be residential. Specifically, there were to be no shop windows; no pubs; no beer or shop keepers; no butchers nor fishmongers nor furniture brokers.

Despite this, it seems that for some time there was a dairy on the South side of Pelham Square, which remained there until 1986 by which time it had become unsafe and had fallen into the garden of no 9.(7).   Excavation to shore up the floor at no 9 in order to take the weight of an range stove, revealed a pit 8 feet square and just as deep.  This has been supposed to have been an ice store.

In 1867 houses were numbered 1 - 22 and 8, Trafalgar Street.  Number 23 does not appear in the census until 1881, when it was occupied by a general ironmonger and by 1894 numbers 24 and 25 appear.(8) Also, although records are mislaid, we know that in 1870 two houses in the south west corner were recorded in the Borough Engineer and Surveyor's Department in the names of Tutt and Dallimore and again, in 1882 one house in the name of Payne.  In 1892 the street was renumbered(9) to accommodate changes to the Square.  Numbers 12a and 12b, previously Paragon House and Pelham House, became numbers 13 and 14.  These houses are on the south side and set back. Numbers 13 - 23 on the west side were renumbered 15 - 25. However, we might assume that it was a complete the renumbering at some time, since no.1 is now on the east side but the west side houses were the first to be built. 

Insert map - DB/D/27/225

The square was also used by the York Place Elementary and Secondary schools, renamed the Fawcett School for Boys and the Margaret Hardy School for Girls. The schools placed their own fence around the garden, which was not used by the residents of Pelham Square but which was used as a football pitch and recreational area.  During World War II there was an air raid shelter under the Square itself and there are some memories of this on the website, My Brighton and Hove.(10)

Insert ad from Herald 2 Sept 1939

During the ‘60s and ‘70s Pelham Square, like much of the North Laine, became extremely run-down.   It was revamped as The Queen Mother’s Garden in 1981 to celebrate her 80th birthday in 1980, but soon reverted to its former dilapidated state.(11)

At the time of writing (2012), Pelham Square has been transformed: the houses are painted, the square is surrounded by elegant railings (the original had been taken down for the war effort), there are benches, flower beds that are planted out and a notice saying, "no drink allowed".


As previously written, the Square was owned by Messrs Hack, Carter and Lynne.  They developed the houses as far as we can guess and kept the Square for their own private enjoyment.  We have not yet discovered how and when the Square came into public ownership but the author's assumption is that it was in 1906, when numbers 98 and 99 Trafalgar St (the north side of the Square) were conveyed to the Corporation of Brighton for the Schools by the children of Daniel Hack.


Insert caricature of Daniel Hack from Brightonian collection

Pelham Square provided a model of Brighton life; it mimicked the gentility of the terraces of West Brighton (Hove) on a more modest scale.  It was perfectly formed for the people who originally occupied the houses, who were genteel rather than gentlemen: members of the petit bourgeoisie.  Single household occupancy was also more common than in the terraces of poorer North Laine.  So the teeming life of nearby Sydney Street faded into the area of calm and tranquillity envisaged by Daniel Hack.  The first recorded occupation we can find is in the 1851 census, recording the then fourteen houses of Pelham Terrace.  Prior to that, the street directories of 1848 and 1850 record the Square only as ‘small private houses’.  However, in 1851 Joel Cooke, a solicitor’s general clerk was living at No.8 and an English and Classics tutor, John Starling was living at No.9 with his wife, Jane, a flock of seven Starlings and a servant, Ann.  Other occupations were a milliner, post office clerk, confectioner and retired bootmaker.

By the 1861 census the Terrace had become a Square and the residents even more genteel; amongst the residents were a silk mercer, school mistresses, linen draper, soap manufacturer and a fund holder (an archaic way of saying that she living on independent means).  Two households are of particular interest.  At No. 8  lived: Mary Chapman, a  milliner, with her three children, the eldest of whom was a printer-compositor; Edward Krien, a professor of languages who was born, "Rhenish" and his wife, Louisa, born in the Grand Duchy of Baden and their four children; and Marie Howard aged 27, of independent means, and her fifteen day old daughter.  She is listed as the head of their little household; perhaps she was a widow although she is not classified as such.  In all, there were thirteen people living in the house, including five children under 12 and two babies, so we can imagine that it was both cramped and noisy.  For all their aspirational elegance, the houses in Pelham Square would not have provided much privacy.  The privy must have been a place not to linger and the demands on the well, shared with next door, substantial.  Water quality might have been poor, since Pelham Square stands at the bottom of the hill and thus at the receiving end of any foul water draining away further up hill.

Mary Rowell kept a lodging house at No.4 with her sister, Ann Clitheroe.  Lodging with them at that time was a young couple, William and Mary Sawyer, who appeared to be part of the literary life of Brighton.  William was editor of the Brighton Herald, a weekly paper, and Mary listed her occupation as, "authoress" although, sadly, so far, we have not been able to trace any of her writing except some poems published by William in the Herald.  However, they were close friends of an actress living with her mother in New Road.(12)  Mary Seyton, as she was known, lived in Brighton between 1857 and 1860.  She had also started to write poems and other pieces for the Brighton Herald as well as appearing at the Theatre Royal.  Having left Brighton by 1861, Mary Elizabeth Braddon (her real name) moved to London and became the lover of John Maxwell, the publisher.  She had already published two novels but her great success came in 1862 with the publication of  'Lady Audley's Secret'.  She was one of the sensationalist novelists and became known as the, "Queen of the circulating library".  Both Henry James and Queen Victoria were known to be avid readers of her novels and Oscar Wilde was a friend.(13) In 1866 Maxwell created the 'Belgravia Magazine' for her and William Sawyer  was a contributor to that magazine.  The Sawyers seemed to have followed Mrs Braddon to London for in the 1871 and 1881 census they were both living in Pelham Place, Kensington. (What a coincidence; or is it?) By this time William was a successful journalist and author, well thought of in literary circles.  Mary had a profession but we cannot decipher it.  By 1881 she claimed no profession at all.  Sadly, by the end of 1881, Mary was dead and on 24 November 1882, William, now a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, died of typhoid.  The Era, a London paper published an obituary averring that, "In our best literary clubs no member will be more missed, and his memory will ever be affectionately cherished."  Their friend,  Mrs Braddon became Mrs. John Maxwell and lived well into the twentieth century, continuing to publish novels and leading a literary life.

In an annex to this history we have reproduced some of the writing of the Sawyers.  They give a vivid description of Brighton in the mid-nineteenth century and include a supposed interview with a census taker for the 1861 census which is both informative and amusing.  The poem by Mrs Sawyer is a love song in passionate style.

It seems as if the old tradition of the apprentices living with their master still lingered in Pelham Square.  The 1871 census reveals that at No.1 a master grocer, Iden Pavey, and his wife Susan and six children lived with four boarders, a servant and a nursemaid.  The occupations of three boarders is, "assistant" and the fourth is an apprentice.  Similarly, master draper Charles Harris lived with a drapers assistant and a milliner, as well as his wife, two young daughters, a niece, a nursemaid and a servant. By 1881 Harris had seven children;  poor Mrs Harris!

Religion and the stage seemed to dwell side by side in Pelham Square.  In 1871 Thomas Day, Minister of the Jireh Chapel in nearby Robert Street, and his wife Sarah lived at number X?  By 1881 Thomas was married to Ruth and close by were Marion Ellis and Jennie Rich, actresses at Pelham House (now no.14).  In 1891 and 1901 a Baptist Minister and his wife lived at number 12 and in 1911 another Clerk in Holy Orders was living at 19.  Back in 1891, visiting at No. 9 was Frederic Mills, an Australian ventriloquist and his clerk, Albert Wara, was born in New Zealand.  Herbert E Erredge, newspaper editor lived at No16.  Herbert Erredge wrote 'A History of Bramber Castle', published in 1881, which is available on Google Books.(14)  He appears to be the son of John Ackerson Erredge, who wrote 'A History of Brighthelmstone: or Brighton as I view it and others knew it', published in 1862.  The preface to that book describes in dramatic terms the author's death:

"Whilst talking cheerfully to the publisher, the hand of Death was laid upon him, and he fell dead to the ground;-the ink of these pages was still wet whilst the Author was extended on the floor a corpse."(15)

In 1901 there were actors and actresses at no. 20, a theatrical manager at 21, stage workers and musicians at 14 and 15 and a trombonist at no. 11!    By 1911 the mix was still very much the same with the addition of a private detective, Walter Tabraham, who continued to be there until at least 1919.


The deed of 23 October 1856(16) precludes the conduct of trade or business and the installation of shop windows.  It also decreed that there should be, "no Inn Keeper, Tavern Keeper, Victualler, Beer Shop Keeper nor Butcher, Fishmonger nor Furniture Broker".  In 1891 three women at no. 3 described themselves as paper bag manufacturers.

However by the twentieth century the restriction seems to have been removed or ignored.  It seems for some time that there was a dairy on the south side of Pelham Square which remained there until 1986, by which time it had become unsafe and had fallen into the garden of No.9.  Excavation to shore up the floor on No.9 revealed a pit eight feet square and this is supposed to have been an ice store.

No.14 was sold at auction on 1977 in a terrible state, including fleas and in 1097  a little shed, 14a, was added which was used by Rediffusion and then Tilecharm much to the annoyance of the neighbours.  It continued to annoy until 1980 when it was sold to the occupier of No.14 a and became an artist's studio.

Social Life

None is recorded but we might assume some literary and musical evenings, prayer meetings and perhaps some jollity from the musicians and theatricals as well as the pubs in Trafalgar Street.


There was an air raid shelter for the public in 1939.

Insert copy of notice from the Herald 2 September 1939


Pelham Square, like all of North Laine, went through a period of neglect and decay, blighted by possible plans for roads and compulsory purchase.  The Square became a place for drinkers and layabouts but now it has been refurbished and once again provides a haven of peace and quiet in a busy quarter.  Doubtless the residents continue to reflect the gentility of the Square, as well.


(1) Berry S Georgian Brighton (2005)

(2) Wright: 1997: (Wright S. (1997) North Laine Life Lines Great Britain: Sussex Publishing Ltd

(3) Rapkin Map 1850, 1852  Brighton and Hove libraries

(4) Pike and Ivemy 1867 Brighton and Hove Librarys

(5) ESRO ref  R/C/4/461

(6) ESRO ref R/C/4/461

(7) (Wright: 1997: 14)

(8) Towners street directory

(9) ESRO ref R/C/4/461

(10) accessed 10 July 2012

(11) (Wright: 1997: 14).

(12)  accessed 24/04/2012

(13) accessed 24/04/2012

(14)  accessed 7/05/2012

(15)   accessed 7/05/2012

(16) ESRO ref RC/4/461