Straitened Times: Western Road, Brighton (north side) 1926 – 1936

By the 1920s Brighton Borough Council was becoming increasingly concerned about the high volume of traffic using Western Road. In fact, one particular section of the road was so congested that it had been nicknamed ‘The Dardanelles’ after the narrow strip of water in Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara.

Between 1926 and 1936, the north side of Western Road from Hampton Place to the North Street junction was completely rebuilt to allow for road widening.

Stafford's 1934
Stafford’s 1934

Stafford’s (stationery and fancy goods) was the first store to be rebuilt. The new store opened in November 1926 and boasted a restaurant with a sea-view. The decoration was described as being in ‘soft shades of blue and pink, while the furnishings are in black and tangerine’During the rebuilding, they moved to the site of the former Bon Marche store at 150 – 156 Western Road. Boots and later Wades, house furnishers, were also to use the premises as temporary stores during the construction of their new buildings.

Boots Cafe 1934
Boots Cafe 1934

1928 witnessed yet more changes. Boots opened a new store in November which included a ballroom and a café. The Golden Cross pub on the corner of Marlborough Street was also under reconstruction at this time, as were the Marks and Spencer’s premises at 186 and Brigdens, motor car showrooms, at 187, on the corner of Regent Hill.

Boots advert 1934
Boots advert 1934

By the end of the year, new buildings intermittently stretched from Spring Street to Regent Hill. The view along the north side of Western Road presented a jumbled scene of brand new buildings, which had been set ready for road widening, contrasting with the older properties which in many cases projected in front of them.

Johnson's 1931
Johnson’s 1931

Wade’s drapery store on the corner of Regent Hill and Johnson’s, house furnishers, had been rebuilt by September 1930 and set back from the original street line. In the same year, Fowlers at the junction of North Street and Dyke Road was demolished and the site surrounded by bill boards. During 1931, the former Bon Marche store and other shops were cleared for a new building for British Home Stores.  Photographs from the period show how the original houses of Western Road were ‘revealed’ as the single story shop fronts were demolished. By 1932, Marks & Spencer had moved to new premises at 195 – 199, and the relatively new façade of their original building had been demolished and re-fronted, allowing the street to be widened. Woolworths had also opened a brand new store on their old site.

Two years later demolition commenced on properties from the new Marks & Spencer store to the site of Fowlers. Part of the work involved the demolition of the south side of the Imperial Arcade, which had been constructed in 1923 and incorporated part of the structures belonging to the former Smither’s brewery.

By the time of George V’s Silver Jubilee in May 1935, Western Road resembled much as it does now, although some of the shops still had shop fronts pre-dating the newer buildings behind. Number 200, was an oddity, sticking far out into Western Road. But by the following year, this shop had been demolished; Mitre House (a large block of flats and shops, partly leased to International Stores) had been completed on the old Bon Marche site and the road widening was finally complete.

[slideshow]

Paul Jordan, Senior History Centre Officer

The photographs in the above slideshow are taken from The Regency Society’s James Gray collection. Volume 19 contains over 160 photographs of Western Road.

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