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Jubilee Street's journey from empty wasteland to the heart of the city
When excited bookworms flooded into the Jubilee Library for the first time on March 3, 2005, the long wait was finally over.
A century before, Jubilee Street had been a thriving shopping street – but the area had lain derelict for more than 30 years.
The road was built in the early 1840s, on land belonging to Scrase’s farm.
It first gained its royal name in 1809, when more than 2,000 of the town’s poor folk were treated to a feast in the stables in honour of George III’s Jubilee.
But space was tight and eventually some feasters spilled out onto Scrase’s field. After that it was known as Jubilee Field, and became Jubilee Street 30 years later.
Within five years of its creation, the area had a brush maker, cap maker, beer retailer, baker, town crier, coal merchant, vet and shoemaker.
At Number 11 lived the most important man in the street, flymaster John Steers.
In his History of Brighthelmstone, John Ackerson Erredge wrote of a carpenter, John Butcher of Jew Street, who had an accident in 1809 while building the Royal Stables.
He wrote: “Upon his recovery, not being able to resume the heavy work of his trade, he constructed a machine of similar makeup to the sedan chair, and placed it upon four wheels.
“It was drawn by hand while an assistant pushed behind.”
This new mode of transport proved popular with the nobility and a second one was soon built – both vehicles were used by the Prince of Wales and his friends.
Often used for night-time activities, the carts were soon dubbed ‘Fly-by-nights’.
By 1900 there were 108 fly proprietors in Brighton, some drawn by goats.
At that time, Jubilee Street boasted King, Thorne and Stace printers, Mrs Halliwell’s newsagent and Stansfeld and Co brewers.
But during the First World War, one retailer stepped out of line by trying to aid the war effort in an unusual way.
In April 1917, Maria Thomas was sentenced to one month’s hard labour for taking a bottle of stout to wounded soldiers from her home, the Crown Shades.
Thomas admitted the charges, saying: “I did not think I was doing any harm.”
But Major Dingle from the Pavilion Hospital testified in court that alcohol was the “worst thing” for the wounded men, and the judges agreed.
By the 1930s, Jubilee Street was moving with the times and had two motor body builders, wireless dealers, a garage and heating engineers.
During the Second World War, several bombs fell on the street, and this triggered a sharp decline, coupled with the rise of new department stores opening up in Western Road and London Road.
In July 1977, The Argus reported that: “Brighton’s Jubilee Street is slowly disappearing in Jubilee Year.
“Some cynical Brightonians say the destruction of Jubilee Street is the council’s own contribution to the celebrations.
“It looks like something from bombed-out Beirut.”
The look of the area took another nosedive when a furniture warehouse was gutted by fire in November 1984.
Soon the land became a car park used by public and council workers.
Plans for the area came and went over the next 25 years until 1998, when the city’s new Labour-controlled unitary authority announced a new central library was top of its priority list.
Construction on the £50 million development began in November 2002, and three years later Jubilee Street was restored to its former glory.
For more information on Jubilee Street, buy The New Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Rose Collis.
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