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|A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton
by Paul K Lyons
15 - A bosom-shaped Noddy car, a queen of dippers, and a love-sick army ladette
The sea and the station, although far off, are definitely the most interesting aspects of this crossroads. Various businesses fill the buildings on each corner: Damart, Manpower, Your Move, Berlitz, for example. The tall and elegant lamp posts, with glass bulb holders suspended from curved upper parts, and old iron railings lining the raised pavement to the west side of road towards the station, look out of place, out of time. Indeed, the raised pavement and railings were originally part of the Hanover cemetery boundary, through which Queen's Road was constructed in the 1840s. There's a lot of traffic buzzing to or from the sea or station, and I don't want to dally here any longer, so I cross over and head west, along more of Church Road. On my left is a modern block of flats, St Nicholas Lodge, erected in the late 1980s on the site of the old Sussex Throat and Ear Hospital. On my right, running up Church Road from the Manpower offices towards Crown Gardens (an alley), are several four storey terraced houses. One of them, number 64, has a funny old white plastic sign sticking out from the wall by the front door. It looks like it might have been illuminated from inside, and it carries the mysterious name 'The Shell'. On closer examination, I see the word 'Hotel' has been blacked out. A bit further up on the left is Kew Street. The houses on the west side are modern, but on the east they are a bit different, quite attractive, set low down from the street level, with two storeys, wood panelling and front gardens. Their entrances, though, are down the alley.
Parked on the road is what looks like a classic car, dating perhaps from the 1950s or 1960s. If I were being a bit unkind, I would say it's shaped like an pale green Bubble Car that has been flattened, drawn out and slightly streamlined. Others have likened it to a bosom-shaped Noddy car. It is, in fact, a Nissan Figaro, a 'retro fashion car' born out of the Japanese 'boutique' movement in car design of the early 1990s. Only 20,000 were manufactured, and demand was so high some had to be allocated by lottery.
Church Road soon brings me to the grounds of St Nicholas Church. The church yard I can see to my left has a few tombstones but is mostly laid to lawn. This morning, someone is bedded down in a sleeping bag. The lawn is higher than the road and is almost level with the top of the cement-faced wall that, on the road side, is about shoulder height. On my right there's more attractive cottages terraced up the hill, mostly painted white with flat roofs. Number 52 has a bright yellow door, and number 49 has sky blue shutters. This latter is called Church Cottage. It has three bedrooms and is for sale at £369,950. The estate agent, Lewis and Co, says it is 'a unique fisherman's cottage', and that it was built within the site of the original medieval village of Brighthelmstone. It also claims there are stunning views across Brighton and the Downs from the master bedroom.
As Church Road is leading me too far north, I can stay closer to the 450 northing by taking the path through the church yard. A sign advises me that Sunday Services take place at 8am (Holy Communion) and 10:30am (Parish Eucharist) and at 6pm (Evening Service). The church is handsome, said to be the oldest in Brighton, dating from the 14th century. The interior, though, was redesigned by Richard Carpenter in the mid-19th century. At the west end, there's a squat tower with an over-sized arrow weather vane. Most of the gravestones have been shifted to line the garden walls, but a few tombstones remain in their original position. Among those buried here are people I've already come across, Amon Wilds and Deen Mahomed for example. But there are two prominent memorial stones, both well looked after, worth mentioning.
The first I pass is for Stephen Gunn. The gravestone reads: 'In memory of Stephen Gunn who died 4th september 1813. Aged 79 years. Also Martha, wife of Stephen Gunn, who was a peculiarly distinguished as a bather in this town nearly 70 years. She died 2nd of May 1815 aged 88 years. Also Friend, their son . . .' Martha is the famous one. Known as the 'Queen of Dippers', she helped fashionable ladies manoeuvre into and out of their bathing machines. She was also a favourite of the Prince of Wales (later George IV). Close by this gravestone, and its protective railings, is a park bench with a small brass plate that reads: 'Mike Collier 1929-99. He loved life, he loved jazz, he loved this church. Presented in fond memory by his many friends in the jazz world.'
And further along the path, I find this gravestone: 'In memory of Phoebe Hessel who was born at Stepney in the year 1713. She served for many years as a private soldier in the 5th Reg of Foot in different parts of Europe. And, in the year 1745, fought under the command of the Duke of Cumberland at the Battle of Fontenoy where she received a bayonet wound in her arm . . .' Yes, nearly 200 years ago Brighton's lasses (well she was born in Stepney, London, but no matter) were already demonstrating their boldness: Hessel pretended to be a man in order to serve as a soldier and be with her lover. She later married, and had nine children, only one of whom survived into adulthood. She seems to have been another favourite of King George, since she attended his coronation, and received a pension from him - one which cost him dear, since she lived to 108!
by Paul K Lyons
A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton - along the 450 northing
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