Seven Dials

Introduction to the area

By Geoff Mead

This district sits on a hilltop ridge northwest of the city centre. It takes its name from the seven roads that radiate out from the hub of 'The Dials'.

The housing in the area is mainly mid to late nineteenth century with some enclaves of interwar 'tudorbethan'.

Urban fringe
Seven Dials had a typical 'urban fringe' existence in the nineteenth century, being home to agriculture (market gardens), food processing (a range of windmills), industry (brickfields), services (a large open air laundry run by a Mrs Watts...Mr Watts was a coal merchant!) and new housing developments.

Upwind of the smoke
After the opening of the railway in 1841, the area's location, upwind of the smoke, ensured it had a rosy middle class future. The breezy ridge with its sandy clay surface saw pines planted, and substantial terraces and villas built across brickyards and laundry drying grounds. Windmills were moved, grammar schools were opened, and parks were laid out; by a tortuous route the horse bus network linked the area to the rest of the town.

Racketeering landlords
During the interwar period and after, some parts of the district fell into disfavour. St Michaels Place became a byword for racketeering landlords; Vernon Terrace was used as a DHSS 'holding area'; student bedsit land was established along Montpelier Road; and heavily increased road traffic made the Seven Dials area seven times more polluted.

By the 1980's, things were changing with the rapid growth of house prices in the city. Whole blocks were 'done-up' for private sale, the area acquired delis, a wine bar,a gallery, a flower shop, a smart restaurant, cafes, and "LifeStyle" shops. Like much of the city, there is an easy mix of trendy and suburbia, private ownership and rented sector, bedsit and Victorian villa.

This page was added on 22/03/2006.
Comments about this page
I lived in Goldsmid Road in 1936; I was 2 years old so don't remember that time. My dad had a pet shop in Dyke Road. Magnus Volk used to bring his pet rabbit in for minor treatment (which was legally available from pet shops in those days). Mum and Dad had many somewhat Bohemian friends from the Dials area. Later Dad had a greengrocery in Prestonville Road, and in the late 40s I used to deliver fruit and vegetables by trade's bike, even pedalling up to Dyke Road Avenue with 112 pounds of potatoes in the carrier! (It was great coming back!) The shop was later owned by Harry Barton. I had piano lessons with Marian Mennich in Stanford Road. She was then in her 80s and told interesting tales of Brighton in Victorian times. Her brother, Lewis Mennich, taught violin and singing and was the organiser of the Brighton Competitive Music Festival. She had another brother, Karl, who taught the violin. All three were single. Miss Mennich had some deeds which purported to be for the land the Regent stood on. Her father sold them to her for 5 pounds as a long shot speculation but she never tried to establish ownership of the site. I'd love to know what happened to them.
By Tony Hill (07/02/2004)
I recently opened a music shop in Prestonville Road, the shop is very distinctive with round windows. An older resident told us that for years the shop had been the local cobbler's shop. He also mentioned that a local writer used to write books in his treehouse in a tree that now stands in a car park attached to the pub which backs on to Prestonville Road. The author concerned wrote Brigthon Rock - so he must have been Graham Greene.
By Bob Whitmey (12/05/2004)
I lived in Alexandra Villas, just round the corner from Seven Dials, from 1938 until 1951. I went to school at Stanford Road School and I too had piano lessons from Miss Mennich. I was very frightened of her; she lived in a dark, gloomy house with her brothers and her cats - they were all very eccentric. During the war we were once bombed coming home from school. I think I was about 7 years old, I was dragged into a shop at Seven Dials and the bomb exploded very near. The shop disintegrated around us and we were lucky to be unhurt. I remember my mother running down the street crying and I was amazed at people who were taking stuff out of the shops that had been damaged. I spent many happy childhood years playing in the parks and the streets collecting shrapnel and free as a bird. I am 73 now and those days seems to me as if they were yesterday.
By Jocelyn Everest (24/03/2006)
My parents' parents ran a tailor's shop in Prestonville Road under the name of Best which was situated by the bridge and when I stayed there as a child you could hear the trains thundering beneath you. A suit then cost 2/6 to make! I also lived in Buxton Road and ran the Brighton School of Music and Drama from there for 18 years. A special and exciting place to live.
By Carole Nina Best (02/05/2006)

Does anyone remember Stanit who used to own the newsagents/sweetshop on the corner of Old Shoreham Rd (opposite Hamilton Rd) in the 60's / 70's?

By Samantha Holland (20/02/2007)

I remember Cardwells very well in the 40s and 50s. It had a very interesting smell - mostly the paraffin perhaps. We got all our hardware supplies from there as we lived nearby in Addison Road. As for the other comments above, Lewis Mennich was a very significant figure on the music scene and the power behind the competitive festival. The story was that their father or grandfather had come over from Germany to Brighton to play in the Prince Regent's orchestra. Brother Karl was an eccentric figure. He was very old when I knew him. I doubt if he went out much and pottered around in his pyjamas with an old tuxedo over the top. He had a battered bible in his kitchen opened at the book of Jeremiah. I used to practise the cello there - too noisy for home!

By Pat Benham (14/07/2007)

I have lived in the Seven Dials for 14 years. The first flat I rented and then bought was in Vernon Terrace. It was a tiny attic flat but I spent 10 years in it. Even going to the extent of making major renovations, not as major as my neighbours but that's the backwards thinking Brighton and Hove council for you. One rule for some, one for another - 'slip us a monkey son'.  The Seven Dial restaurant was my branch of Lloyds Bank when I moved down here then it became Burger King... I am so pleased the restaurant continues to be a success!  The Tin Drum was a Happy Shopper - well kind of. The owner was a rotund character in a grubby vest and there was usually a 'youth' serving at the cash register.  For such a large premises it didn't have an awful lot to buy but there were tubs of feta...alas my palate was unsophisticated in those days!  I liked the rough and ready charm of Brighton in those days.  It was barely 'Fur Coat No Knickers'!   The brutalist concrete shopping centre was a no go - well why would you, there was nothing behind the high street stores other than Habitat and the Tesco down the escalators.  I sold my flat because the managing agents never maintained the property despite legal attempts to make them do so. Only when the first floor balcony fell off taking the one next door and the original railings below were they finally forced to address the problem (2008!). They still haven't touched the back - Lord knows what has to break or fall off before they do.
I moved to Stanford Road 5 years ago. The buildings are large and I have great views over Brighton from the back. I really love the flat I live in.  Unfortunately it has to be one of the dirtiest places I have ever lived. Brighton and Hove Council introduced 'green wheelie' bins into the streets 3 years ago. They are highly inappropriate for this area taking up much of the pavement. Coupled with recycling boxes that are never taken in off the streets and as a consequence serve as 'open' litter bins, the street resembles an inner city suburb.  The church on the corner has only exacerbated the problem as they are constantly leaving refuse on the pavement. This year they decided to cut down and remove the privet hedge around the church - I guess the chore of cutting it (which they never did) twice a year was too much. They removed the only green thing in the street. I can't help think that they aren't very 'community' focused.  Now my neighbour has cut down the largest tree in his garden. His garden backs onto around 80 other people's gardens. The tree gave privacy and absorbed the sounds of all those houses backing onto each other. I wish he'd actually been here more than 4 months before he'd done it. He will have a bigger patio this summer but at all our expense.  If you live in my street and are tired of it resembling an inner city suburb why not tell CityClean (!) what you think.

By Simon Eaton (24/02/2008)

Hello from Canada. I went to StanfordRoadSchool from 1939-1947 when I went up to Varndean. My name is Diana Anstead nee Bowyer and I and my parents and 4 brothers lived on Compton Road. My particular interest is finding out more about the miniature railway that was in the garden opposite the Infants entrance of StanfordRoadSchool. The garden itself was the last garden on that side of the road. I used to climb the small wall to peek through the black railings to see the engines going around. It was quite an attraction especially for the younger children. Does anybody have any details on this garden? Many thanks.

By Diana Anstead (nee bowyer) (09/03/2008)

Can anyone tell me when Dyke Road Mansions was built?

By Aileen Hill (17/12/2008)

I remember Stanit. I used to live in Old Shoreham Road not far from the shop,

By Beryl Thompson (13/02/2010)

I remember Prestonville Road very well. I married in 1961 and had my first flat over the chemist shop- it was opposite the shoe shop. I also remember the parrafin shop, the butchers and all the others. I had some happy times living there but it has all changed now.

By Beryl Thompson (13/02/2010)

I also used to have piano lessons with Miss Mennich in Stanford Road, her house was very dark and old fashioned, but the worse thing was the smell of boiled fish! She fed it to her cats and I just hated it and didn't continue with my lessons for very long, something which over the years I regretted. The shops mentioned by others here I remember well, as I used to walk past them at least twice a day on my way to school at Stanford Road, especially the little sweet shop at the corner. I lived in Chatham Place from the age of 2yrs until I left to marry aged 25yrs.  Sadly the Seven Dials looks extremely run down these days but then iIloved living there, so near to the London and Western Roads, the beach and the Devil's Dyke. I am always struck by nostalgia when I see it still 45 years later.....

By Iris Taylor (Panther) (17/07/2011)

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