St James’s Street

Western Road, West Street, North Street, Eastern Road, King’s Road and London Road have all been widened over the years. One major street escaped though and is all the better for it.

St. James’s Street was developed from the 1790s and probably takes its name from St. James’s Palace on Pall Mall in London. Although it would today be considered part of Kemp Town, it is technically not. It was in fact built as a shopping street to serve the flourishing East Cliff development before Thomas Kemp’s Kemp Town of Sussex Square, Lewes Crescent and surroundings was even conceived.

Widening a road isn’t solely about increasing the width of the carriageway and decreasing the width of the pavements – it’s principally about demolishing buildings. This is why there are so many Art Deco buildings on Western Road and West Street; each was widened during the 1920s/30s. St. James’s Street may not have been widened but one-way traffic was introduced in 1968 instead to cope with congestion.

All of Brighton’s trademark architectural styles are represented on St. James’s Street – Georgian, Regency, Victorian and even a bit of Art Deco (Red Roaster Coffee House). Quite rightly, many are Grade II Listed. My personal favourite is No. 126/7; a Victorian red-brick symmetrical masterpiece with a fierce dragon guarding a central ornate downpipe. Various Regency buildings include the usual trademark features of the period including bow windows and classical capitals. A St. James’s Church once existed on the Chapel Street corner. It was built in 1810-13 on land granted by Thomas Kemp’s uncle, Nathaniel Kemp. Despite being rebuilt in 1874-5, it was demolished in 1950 and became a Co-Op.

There was uproar earlier this year – protests even – when Starbucks Coffee opened a branch on St. James’s Street without the necessary planning consent from Brighton & Hove City Council. Although several chain stores already operate on the road, the traders are predominantly local. It’s not so much that a coffee shop owner got one up on the Council that’s causing so much frustration: it’s more about the helplessness faced by individuals when fighting unwanted giants.

The relationship between pedestrians and vehicles is an interesting one. When priority was given to people over cars on New Road in 2007, the road really came alive. A similar result is expected on Black Lion Street when work is complete. St. James’s Street may well benefit from a similar scheme.