Brighton & Hove Revisited

Soper's, North Street

By Peter Groves

The advertisement for Soper's Emporium dates from the late 1800's. It would seem even then, advertisers used enhancement, however unlike today with digital technology able to do almost anything to improve a photo, it was then down to the skill of the artist.

I feel sure Soper's was never quite as grand as its been depicted, however the right hand side of the building still bears some resemblance to the beautiful old drawing.  If you click to open a large  version in a new window, then click again on the image, the detail on the drawing is amazing, articles hanging in the shop window come into view.

Photo:Soper's, late 1800's

Soper's, late 1800's

From the private collection of Rev. Anthony Martlew

Photo:A view of what was then Leesons Store, at the top of North Street, during the summer of 1954, shortly before the business was sold, and the shops cleared. So ended a business that had lasted for almost a century.

A view of what was then Leesons Store, at the top of North Street, during the summer of 1954, shortly before the business was sold, and the shops cleared. So ended a business that had lasted for almost a century.

Image reproduced with kind permission of The Regency Society and The James Gray Collection

Photo:Top of North Street, Brighton 2013

Top of North Street, Brighton 2013

Photo by Peter Groves

This page was added on 23/04/2013.
Comments about this page

If my memory serves me right, I think that this building was called Leessons in the fifties, there was an electric train layout in the basement which could be operated for the sum of one old penny. To go into this store was like going back in time as it had a very personal atmosphere about it, if my observations are wrong, please feel free to correct me.

By John Wignall (24/04/2013)

Hi John, its seems to me that Sopers, Leesons, Hanningtons, and Vokings were somewhat linked (I was going to use a different word). I am going through the Rev. Anthony Martlew's collection now, and trying to get to the bottom of who was where, when! I will post some more, with beautiful drawings soon!

By Peter Groves (24/04/2013)

Hi John / Peter, forgive me repeating my comments made in answer to a previous query on Soper's Western Road shop, but it does appear to address John's comment. Samuel Henry Soper opened a drapery store at 80, North Street at the start of the 1860's. By the 1880's the business had not only greatly expanded the original shop, but had also opened a Fancy Store at 58, Western Road. By the 1890's a partnership named Soper & Wheeler were listed as Wholesale Stationers and Paper Bag Manufacturers in North Road. The whole business appears to have collapsed in the mid 1920's, the Drapery thereafter being run by W.T Leeson for a short while. 'Leeson & Vokins' had been another drapery business trading at 21-22, North Street since the 19th century. After closing Soper's North Street Store it was resurrected again as a Drapery Store, still carrying the Soper name well into in the late 1930's until after WW2, after which it was named Leesons (Brighton) Ltd. Leesons lasted until it was sold off around 1954 and after closing its doors, the premises was sub-divided amongst a number of retail outlets.

By Andy Grant (24/04/2013)

Hi Peter/Andy it was good to see your comments so soon. I am afraid that I only knew Leeesons from after the War so knowledge is limited. I am hoping that some fellow Brightonians will remember the model railway layout and the model of Tin Soldiers Parade and will post a comment here as to what happened to these items once the store closed.

By JOHN WIGNALL (27/04/2013)

In the late 1960s, the tiny shop on the left (of the modern picture) was Ziggy's shoe shop (or boutique?) and the one on the right was American Express, as I remember.

By Renia (01/05/2013)

Ziggy's! What a shop. In the late '60s, I had worked for a while in South London for Sainsburys, living above the shop [literally] at Church Hill, Croydon, but came home at weekends. Although only 40 miles away, south London was seemingly light years ahead of Brighton in 'youth culture' fashions. I was taken with the skinhead fashions that my shop mates sported and felt a 'country cousin' coming from Brighton [still do...!]. One weekend I saw in Ziggy's some thick- soled black lace-up brogues, all the rage at the Top Rank Suite, Croydon. I bought them, but had a little shoe repairers at Preston Circus [next to the Hare & Hounds] put on an extra sole so doubling the thickness. Did I feel a 'cool dude' or what! I bought several pairs of brogues from Ziggy's including one pair that I transformed with some Woolworths white shoe dye, into co-respondant 'gangster' shoes. Ah, happy days.

By Geoffrey Mead (08/05/2013)

Hi folks, Peter thank you for this. I have been trying to find out more about Soper's over the past few years as Alderman Samuel Henry Soper (1837-1892) was my g.g.g.grandfather. He died quite suddenly from a brain haemorrhage at the Fisher's Hotel in Pitlochry, Perthshire in 1892 on a trip to Scotland which had been intended to improve his health. It seems that he had been suffering the effects of overwork after his year as Mayor of Brighton and died just a fortnight after celebrating the marriage of my g.g.grandparents his son Samuel Henry Soper, jnr. (1861-1914) to Katherine Elizabeth Bertha Polack, a German immigrant.

Family legend has it that Samuel, jnr. blew the Soper family fortune in a something of a flash, gambling on horses and living the high life after his father's passing and died in his early 50s from TB, leaving his wife and young family (including my then 7 year old g.grandmother) in fairly dire straits. I have found probate records and a bankruptcy report on Samuel, jnr. from the London Gazette in 1908 which mentions Soper's "unjustifiable extravagance in living". Samuel, snr., had left a fortune of £33,532 17s 5d in his will, his son died leaving effects to the value of just £206.

Quite something to imagine a direct ancestor of mine built and owned the building in that top illustration. Needless to say Peter I'd be thrilled to hear of anything further that turns up in relation to the Soper's in your research. See also: http://www.sussexpostcards.info/publishers.php?PubID=379 for a good write up.

By Jamie Yates (18/12/2013)

Jamie, I have uncovered a tad more from an article written in 1911 about S H Soper.  If you email me pedrogroves@googlemail.com I will scan in the article and send you a copy.

By Peter Groves (26/03/2014)

In 1737, this land was occupied by Philip Mighell from his landlord, Sackville Tufton, 9th Earl of Thanet, son of the 8th earl and his wife Mary, nee Sackville. This was the demesne farm and yard of the manor of Brighton-Michelham, and was eventually sold to Thomas Kemp, father of Thomas Read Kemp who developed Kemptown before going bankrupt. Between 1797-1802, Kemp sold it to Simon Wisden of Brighton, who was a blacksmith, and he left it to his children. His son, William, inherited 1-2 Farm Yard and son George, inherited 81-83 North Street and his granddaughter, Maria Mighell inherited 79 North Street. In 1858, 80-83 North Street, 1-2 Farm Yard and 23-24 Upper Russell Street, were sold at auction to Samuel Henry Soper, the draper. 23 Upper Russell Street was then described as a shop and premises occupied by James Jupp and was renumbered as 36 Upper Russell Street.

By Renia (29/11/2015)

I don't know if we are talking about the same train, John Wignal, but I do remember a model train set in at least one shop when I was a kid. Would that have been Hanningtons or a shoe shop? So many memories.

By Angela Borochov (25/02/2016)

Leesons, now there's a name to be conjured with. My grandfather, Fred White, worked there before WW1, and then from his army discharge in 1919 until his retirement in 1947. I have his retirement presentation, a leather wallet which sadly as a youngster I used, together with the accompanying letter, in a box. His main claim to fame was that he was Leesons Father Christmas for donkeys' years. I have a photo of him from the old Brighton & Hove Herald in that role. Coincidentally one of the children he 'Santa'd' later became my aunt, after marrying one of his sons - my Uncle John.

By Dave White (10/12/2017)

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