Road Widening in Central Brighton

The most ambitious road projects that we see locally today tend to involve changes to a pedestrian crossing or modifications to a cycle lane.

Over one hundred years ago though, a series of grand schemes to deal with traffic in the centre of Brighton were dreamt up and actioned. Each involved the demolition of many fine buildings. I can only imagine the reaction, and cost, to similar plans being released today.

On Western Road for example, Brighton Corporation began buying buildings on the north side, east of Hampton Place, in 1906. Similarly, all of the buildings on the west side of West Street, except St Paul’s Church, were earmarked for demolition as were a number of buildings on the north side of North Street. The works took place during the 1920s and 30s.

Photographs of the buildings which were pulled down form part of the James Gray Collection which is easily viewed on the Regency Society’s website. Although I shudder when I look at what was demolished, I do feel that it was somewhat of a blessing in disguise. The 20s and 30s were great decades for architecture and I particularly like much of what was constructed at that time on the north side of Western Road, such as the huge Art Deco edifice that is currently home to Primark. On North Street, Prince’s House, built in 1935/6 to the designs of H. S. Goodhart-Rendel, is impressive also.

There were many earlier schemes though. Duke Street and West Street, were widened during the 1860s. North Street was widened during the 1870s which resulted in huge changes being made to the Chapel Royal. I recently wrote about the vaults beneath that church and thought it strange at the time, bearing in mind that the building’s entrance is on the south side, that the five parallel chambers below ran from east to west, rather than south to north.

I believe that this can be explained by the fact that the entrance was originally on the east side. The removal of a building directly to the south during the road widening works left an entire flank of the church exposed. The exterior was totally rebuilt and a distinctive tower was added. With the main entrance now located on the south side, it is clear that the church was essentially rotated by 90º.

After all that, North Street was again widened during the 1960s.