Until last summer, Middle Street had been home (in one way or another) for about 15 years. My mum, Dee, bought a flat here in 2006 in a new development as it had been her dream to live in central Brighton.
The front gate of the building faced the Hippodrome (whose multi coloured stain glass facade I would admire often) and as she would later find out, the built on the site of an old mineral water factory for ‘R Fry and Co’.
Mum had many different careers, but her work as a writer had been a constant. She devastatingly got diagnosed suddenly with terminal cancer 8 years ago and was given not very long to live. Whatever project she was working on, she would get totally absorbed and obsessed. In the last few years she dedicated her time to local history and very specifically that of Middle Street. ‘One of the earliest streets of Brighton’ she would tell me.
She was passionate about recording all of the stories for this street. Which is quite unassuming on the surface, caught between the racier West St and more well treaded tourist route of East Street. She set about working out the full history of every single building and their many reincarnations. She emassed multiple notebooks, sent many hours in the archives and compiled first hand interviews (including with the Rabbi at the Synagogue to old landlords and performers from the venues). There were also multiple hand drawn maps and layouts she’d created in pen and pencil on tracing paper – where she had meticulously started to piece together it’s history from the very beginning. I remember getting an email when she was excited as she’d stumbled across the holiday let online where we’d hear all the noisy stag and hen dos disappear into, and she was able to get a peak behind those doors. Another bit of her puzzle!
… But one of the top things on her bucket list, when we found out she didn’t have long, was make sure she was able to hand over all her research, so it didn’t go to waste.
So a couple of weeks before she passed a local historian whom she admired, visited and collected it to take it for safekeeping at the local arrive at ‘The Keep’ Falmer. It is all there, if you would like a read!
Her plan was to write a book and also do a walking tour during the Brighton Festival (she’d also done stand up – it would have been great!), so hopefully this will be a small tribute to all of her hard work.
I’ve many fond memories from living on this street. Multiple hours spent in The Hop Poles – which basically became a surrogate family lounge and kitchen for my mum, brother and me – and where I’d end up meeting some my dearest friends behind the bar. Dancing together at Wild Fruit at Creation (which has just been knocked down – and you can see the gigantic space its left – as is reinvents itself again).
Wandering down to the beach with a blanket and some beers to watch the sunset, the novelty of having the sea at the end of the road never wearing off. Or watching the starlings murmerate around the spire of St Peters Church on West St, at the start of each winter. You can also spy the yeti her friend painted on the BT box on the corner near Middle Street school for her…
One of my favourites from the images she shared with me, was of these elephants walking down Middle Street (date unknown). Promoting the circus at the Hippodrome and stretching their legs between performances.
The thought of elephants walking down there, blows my mind. I love all the stories the Hippodrome could tell by itself.
She always said that one of the most important things in life was to ‘be curious’. And when I walk down Middle Street now, it reminds me of just that and her love for Brighton. All you can find under your nose, if you just go looking!
Lisa’s story about Middle Street has been included in the walking tour at Brighton Festival 2022. You can read and listen to the other 11 stories that have been included by clicking here.