OUR OWN story began in 1988, with an opening scene that felt like something out of a late Victorian novella. I was handed two scruffy paper carrier bags by a member of the Environmental Health Department at Brighton Council. …
I had no idea what I would find in them. To my amazement I discovered a set of beautiful photos of Brighton streets demolished in the 1930s.
We had heard of these photographs for several years, but when we asked if we could see them we were told they had been lost.
We kept asking whether they had been found, but without any luck. Unexpectedly, after a couple of years, we received a phone call to say that the photographs had re-appeared, and that I could come and collect them.
We were curious to find out more about the people who had lived in these houses so we asked the local newspaper to publish an article asking readers who had lived in these streets to get in touch with us. Several people did come forward, and we asked them whether we could interview them, or whether they would prefer to write their own account.
Most people asked to be interviewed, but some wrote gripping stories of their lives in these neighbourhoods. We collected their memories together, under the names of the streets and added, by way of contrast, text from some of the official documents of the time to create our first book – ‘Backyard Brighton’.
‘Backyard Brighton’, published in 1988, was inspired by this collection of so-called ’slum’ photographs.
The Lewis Cohen Urban Studies Centre at Brighton Polytechnic in co-operation with QueenSpark Books printed 2,000 copies which sold out in six weeks, then another 2,000; a few years later and yet another 1,000 were printed.
Our own story began with a most dramatic opening. By the end of chapter one we found ourselves with a best seller in the bag.