x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Life in the lanes

Brighton is a refreshing change to many of Britain's identikit cities, writes Rosemary Behan.

Brighton is only 60km from London but it is like a different planet: fresh air, beaches and open spaces.
Brighton is only 60km from London but it is like a different planet: fresh air, beaches and open spaces.

My town Moving to Brighton from East London in 1989 was like moving to a different planet: from a grim, industrial area with few open spaces and no fresh air, I was transported to a land of vitality and fun. These were the same things which had drawn George IV, who was Prince Regent while his father, George III, was mentally incapable between 1811 and 1820. The prince, who later became King George IV, first visited Brighton in 1783, after his doctor advised him that seawater would be beneficial to his gout.

The Prince Regent loved Brighton and decided to build a seaside retreat there. This became the Royal Pavilion, a fabulous palace designed by John Nash and built in Indo-Saracenic style with onion domes, overhanging eaves, domed kiosks and minaret-like towers. The building, gardens and its Indian and Chinese interiors are now open to the public, while the grand stable block houses the recently renovated Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, which has an impressive collection of Brighton memorabilia.

We lived in Hanover, a short walk from the Royal Pavilion and 10 minutes from the bracing seafront, where the Regency architecture continues into Hove with sweeping lawns, grand terraces and gorgeous squares. The ancient fishing town of Brighthelmstone dates from before the Domesday Book, but most of the town was destroyed in 1514 by French raiders during a war between England and France. Only the part of town now known as The Lanes, a narrow maze of shops and houses, many with exposed flint walls and hidden alleyways, survives from this period.

The Lanes and the North Laine area form the centre of Brighton's alternative shopping scene. While most towns in Britain have only increasingly identikit high streets, these areas are filled with independent, family-owned shops selling everything from guns to underwear and draw shoppers from London and beyond. The Lanes have a more conservative atmosphere, although the area does feature such shops as choccywoccydoodah, a highly creative chocolatier in Duke Street. The area was also used in the filming of the 1979 film Quadrophenia, about Mods and Rockers - London gangs who descended on Brighton for annual riots.

The North Laine, which dates from the 1790s, is a collection of small streets containing over 300 individual shops and dozens of cafes, theatres and museums. My favourite street is Gardner Street, which contains the Komedia theatre, the Infinity Foods cafe, Sejuice smoothie bar and one of the world's only vegetarian shoe shops. Gardner Street also contains two excellent coffee shops - The Dorset, on the corner of North Road, has an arty, French-style ambience, while the Komedia cafe, situated halfway along Gardner Street, provides the perfect place to people-watch on a Saturday morning.

Sydney Street, Gardner Street, Kensington Gardens and Bond Street are the heart of the North Laine, and contain such shopping delights as Cissy Mo, which sells quirky gifts, Lavender Room, a boudoir-type shop specialising in all things Lavender, Lulu Rose, a handbag and accessories emporium and Jell-O, a mix of cool fashion labels including Yohji Yamamoto and Vivienne Westwood. The main benefit of shopping in this area is that everything is close together, so you can duck in and out of shops comparing items. Bond Street has become a centre for ethnic homewares, particularly fabrics and furniture, although you can find anything from Mexican tables to African drums and cigars from Cuba. Kensington Gardens houses several trendy photographic galleries and studios selling jewellery, sculpture, ceramics, glass, metalwork and paintings by local artists.

Brighton's trademark specialism, though, is vintage clothes shopping, and there can be few better places to get it. Ever since Covent Garden's American retro store Flip closed down, Brighton has been my most reliable source of cords, denims, jackets and tops from the Seventies and Eighties. My current favourite is To Be Worn Again, two floors of cheap and funky street wear arranged in a warehouse on Providence Place. Ju-Ju's on Gloucester Place has been in business since 1994, and is known by its trademark black-and-white zebra stripes on the building's exterior. Inside is a well-edited and constantly updated collection of T-shirts and vests, skirts, coats and jackets, hooded tops and jeans, although it can be expensive. Snooper's Paradise on Kensington Gardens is a massive indoor second-hand clothing emporium, which can take a while to circumnavigate, scattered as it is with second-hand books, antiques and old records. Upper Gardner Street on Saturday mornings becomes a lively car boot sale with a good collection of musty old clothes and shoes.

Brighton also has an above-average number of charity shops, including a branch of Traid (Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development) in the North Laine, although those used to more conventional outlets need not fear. There are branches of TK Maxx, Topshop and H&M just five minutes down the road. @Email:rbehan@thenational.ae