What’s in a street ? Not much when it is merely a facilitator for our journey from one place to another. There must be so many highways and byways that we regularly pound to get to work or social occasion, but I’m guessing that, for the most part, we never stop to think of the consequences of that avenues existence on our own lives, let alone its own history.
The other day, when gazing out of the office window (the one I frequently refer to gazing out of, and which may cause readers to question as to whether I do any work at all) my eyes happened upon Dorset Gardens, one of those roads sandwiched between St James’s Street and Edward Street. One of the side streets in town that everyone seems to know the location of, but rarely make reference to. I then realised how Dorset Gardens is a place of much history, both historically and personally. It’s actually quite an interesting place.
So at lunch I took another walk there, the first thing striking me being the age of the houses, the style and architecture clearly dating them amongst the early Brighton constructs. A little research has them around the pre-1800 mark, although I have learnt much about the town’s development and architectural periods to the point that I can normally get a date quite close. I actually thought that Dorset Gardens would have been just after 1800 though, so it appears that development north of Jimmy Street was afoot before then. You’ll notice that the picture I have taken of number 7 shows an old style cobbled front. I was drawn to this house as I am convinced that these frontages are amongst the oldest and original in the town. It gives the closest examples of how a place would have looked all those years ago. I can only assume that richer folk would have dwelled in what is now mainly flats and bedsits.
Looking south down the road, the Brighton Wheel is clearly visible in the distance. A reminder of how the old sits, generally comfortably, with new in this town. I imagine what the street would have looked like 200 years ago, and if I could go back, just for a day.
Dorset Gardens Methodist Church is another constant feature of the district. A place where old has indeed become new, and probably one of the most well known churches of the area. This is where my own history intertwines with that of the street. The original building was constructed in 1808, and once stood tall from the corner of St James’s Street, being knocked down around the turn of the millennium to create a residential development at the church that presently stands on the site. My parents were married at the church in 1966 by the late Dr Leslie Newman, a man who they often spoke fondly of. In 1973, at relatively late age of 4, I was christened there too. I vaguely recall the service in the old building. I seem to remember that I was fearful of being dunked under the water, although reassurances were only fully comforting was the event was finally over. The photos of me in my blue velvet trousers are still a family favourite.
I recently visited the church for the World Aids Day service at the start of December. The service was warm and inviting, although it takes me a while to get used to modern church buildings. I have been there on some other evening occasions and the congregation is small. I think this is perhaps a symbolism of church attendance in society generally, but I can see Dorset Gardens Methodists are engaged in many a good work in the area. I wish them well.
Occupying much of Dorset Gardens on the west side is the Peace Park, named so in the late 1980s, probably to the disgust of many on the right. I love the name and am often slightly confused by the parks lack of populace. I think it gets used during the Brighton Festival, and perhaps Pride, but each time I walk past there is only ever a few, if any, folk walking dogs or enjoying its environs. People often bemoan the lack of green spaces in towns, so I would have expected folk to have made more use of it. The space itself is pretty much at it was in 1966 when my parents had their wedding photos taken there. It does seem a little weird walking past the spot they stood on for the photo that adorns the dining room sideboard in the family home.
So yep, I think it pays to stop and look around now and then when rushing from A to B. It seems to me that even the most unattractive of streets has something that attaches us to history, be it the street itself or a personal memory. For me, Dorset Gardens is a fascinating little street that I seldom walk through without thought, and I’m sure that, if we think about it, there are very few local streets that don’t invite a second glance in some way.