Crown Street Memories

Photo:Dorothy Wiltshire with her eldest daughter Yvonne, 1946

Dorothy Wiltshire with her eldest daughter Yvonne, 1946

Photo:Dorothy on her roof garden at Crown Street, mid-1990s.

Dorothy on her roof garden at Crown Street, mid-1990s.

Dorothy Wiltshire and Yvonne Dedman

Dorothy Wiltshire (née Randall) was born in Brighton in 1919 and lived all her life in the same house in Crown Street until her death in September 2010. Crown Street Memories was a collaboration between her and her daughter Yvonne, which was read at her cremation service and is reproduced here (a longer version appeared in CMPCAnews 22 in December 2010).  

My family moved to Brighton two months before the start of the First World War in 1914 and five years before I was born. Like most people then, they rented accommodation and their first home was in Spring Street. Soon after moving in, the war started and they had three Scottish soldiers billeted with them for whom they received five shillings [25 pence] per man. My mother slept with her mother, and she thinks that her uncle slept with their father, but cannot imagine how they managed to fit the soldiers in – a total of eight people in a small house. Around this time there was a disaster when the piano crashed through the ceiling into the room below, and it was after this that they moved to Crown Street where the family have remained ever since.  

I was born in 1919 just after the war ended. My mother was taken to a small maternity hospital in a house at the bottom of West Street with just four beds for urgent cases, and it was here that I was born by Caesarean section, weighing just 3½lbs. I was not expected to live, but here I am having just passed my 89th birthday and still in the same house!  

School days

My first school was right next door to the house, Crown Street School which was at the top of the cul-de-sac. I started at age 3½, and remember sitting on little chairs in circles to learn numbers and the alphabet. The teaching took place in one large room, and how proud I was when I was old enough to move to one of the desks on raised steps at one end of the room where I graduated from a slate to pencil and paper. I think the teachers were called Miss Black and Miss Brown and they lived together at either 22 or 23 Crown Street. The school did not have a playground so we did our gymnastic exercises in the street, and that may be the reason why the school was closed down when I was eight years old. So, for a few years I attended St Stephen’s School in Borough Street. This had separate entrances for the boys and girls, the south one for the girls has now been converted to a window, and the north one, still a door, was for the boys. From there I went to Christ Church School in Montpelier Road for four years until I was fourteen, after which I left and went to work for Johnsons, the furniture shop at the bottom of Marlborough Street in Western Road, to train as an upholsterer.  

Mr Stafford, landlord and shopkeeper

The house in Crown Street, like the previous one in Spring Street, was rented from Mr Stafford who, in the 1930s, owned a big shop called Staffords. This occupied the block between Crown Street and Dean Street, fronting onto Western Road. You can still see the ‘S’ for Staffords on some of the first-floor shields above the old wall torches. It was a general store selling china in the basement, all sorts of general items including books on the ground floor, and upstairs was a restaurant where a three-piece band played for tea-dances. At Christmas, I was taken to see Father Christmas there.  

Sainsbury's was different then 

Sometimes I was sent to buy food from Sainsbury's on the other side of Western Road. Of course, this was before it was self-service and I didn’t like this as you had to queue at every counter for whatever you wanted, and because I was so small I was often ignored. The mahogany and glass counters ran up each side of the long narrow tiled shop, with eggs in baskets on top of the counters. You could buy just as many as you needed for a few pennies (old money), and they were put into brown paper bags – I’m not sure how I got them home unbroken! Butter and cheese were cut from huge slabs, with the butter shaped into rectangles with large grooved wooden paddles. After you had collected all your items, you took a chit to the paying desk at the end. Looking back, it seems a very trusting system as it would have been easy to hide some purchases, or walk out without paying! But things were different then. Another thing that was different is that none of the shops ever seemed to change. My friend, Renée Shulman and I can still name almost every shop between Preston Street and the Clock Tower, the hat shop, the corset shop, the jewellers and all of the others.  

And so were home deliveries

Sometimes, the shopping came to us! A greengrocer delivered vegetables by horse and cart once a week to Crown Street. The street was empty of cars then, so he’d turn the cart sideways across the middle of the street and give his horse a nosebag of food whilst all the women came out to buy from him. After he’d gone, the pigeons and sparrows would fly down to eat the seeds that the horse had dropped. The milk was also delivered like this, but you took your own container out for the milkman to fill. A great treat was on Sundays when the winkleman came up and we would buy a bag of winkles – I loved fishing the winkle out of its shell with a pin. The coal was tipped down the coalhole under the front bay window directly into the cellar, but my mother preferred it when this was closed up and the coal was then carried through the house to the cellar – she could count the number of bags and make sure that she was receiving the right amount.


I remember, when I was about three or four years old, watching every evening in the winter for the gasman to come up the hill with his long pole to light the gas lamps. And, of course, all the houses were gas lit – my job was to go to the general hardware store, next door to the wool shop at the bottom of Crown Street in Western Road (the opposite corner to Staffords), to buy the gas mantles for them. Electricity didn’t come to the street until about the 1920s–30s.  

Traces of the past

The north wall in the garden is very high and, at one end slopes down following the shape of what was probably once the roof of another house, long since gone. And in the cellar there is an old wall which stops just short of the ceiling and may have been the wall of another house which was once on the site. On the other side of the garden wall, there used to be a passage which ran from the school to the caretaker’s house in Dean Street.  

Interesting neighbours ...

Most of the people in Crown Street were ordinary working-class people, although in the 1930s, Mr Stafford was living in Sea View House [previously called Crown Hall] at the top of the street next to the school. I remember when I was at school there, being taken into the front garden of this house to see the old bricked-up entrances to some underground tunnels, and when the new mews houses were built in the early 1990s, the builders found them whilst digging the foundations. Other people that I can remember in the street included a chef who worked at Buckingham Palace at number 10, a tailor who sat cross-legged in the window of number 19, and at number 21 was a carpenter who also made coffins. These were made in the cellar and carried out through the side-door, now the main front door. The Botting family, builders and decorators, were at number 27, and an elderly man lived at Number 25. After he died, I saw the funeral procession outside his house with his coffin, covered with a Union Jack flag, mounted on a gun carriage pulled by four black horses wearing black plumes.

... and a frisky cat 

When I returned home from school, my cat would be waiting for me up on the roof of Staffords. As soon as we saw each other, we’d race up the hill together, him by way of the roof, and me down below, but however hard I ran, he always ran through the back window, down the stairs, and arrived in the hallway before I did – I wish I could run like that now!  


Dorothy Emily Wiltshire (née Randall) Resident of Crown Street, 1919–2010  

This page was added on 26/03/2011.
Comments about this page

I live on 10 crown street now (2012) and have done since 2003. We have a school essay from the previous owner from 1972 when the building at the top of the street was a sweet factory.

By Delia Yates
On 09/04/2012

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.