I took a stroll through my home town. It doesn’t matter when because in my mind it was the 1840s and I was wandering along beside my descendents in the street where they were born, lived and worked.
Middle Street is situated in the heart of Brighton. Here is a map to show where it is. It is the street leading north from the seafront, on the left of the picture.
I tried to take a photo looking something like the one above. The building on the left corner is looking similar to the one above on the corner where the horse and carriage are wandering past.
This is the street my great-great-grandfather and his wife (John Dinnis and Charlotte Robinson) lived in. I know they were here in 1837 because I have baptism details for their first-born child, Catherine Ann Dinnis. I will be writing more posts with photographs detailing where they were. But for the moment I just wanted to write about how it made me feel as I followed in their footsteps.
It’s not as if I’ve never walked here before, in fact it’s somewhere I come quite regularly as I was born and raised in Brighton. But I haven’t walked these streets with the intention of holding my family in my thoughts, imagining myself to be ‘one of the family’ for a few moments. I never knew them, I never knew of them until recently, but somehow family is family. I love getting to know them, finding out what occupations they had, what the town was like back then. I do feel close to them, and I do love them.
From various documents, the England Census for 1841, baptism details, local directories and so on, I know they were here from at least 1837 – 1849/50. During that time five children were born into the family – Catherine Ann 1837, John Henry 1843, Fanny 1846, Harry 1848 and Charlotte Harriet (baptised in December 1850 when they were living just round the corner in Ship Street).
It’s a very narrow street, with very tall buildings on either side. It faces south, and the sun was shining on this particular day. The narrowness of the street and height of the buildings was reminiscent of Florence. I had felt right at home in the Italian city on holiday, and perhaps this is why. It reminded me of home. You could feel a little suffocated and hemmed in, but I felt snuggled, warm and safe.
I pictured Charlotte walking this street with her little children hanging onto her skirts. John Dinnis was a cook and there are so many pubs and clubs still in this area it isn’t hard to imagine him right here. This is one of Brighton’s streets that probably looks better by moonlight, when it’s all lit up with the pub signs, street lights and looks more magical. In the daylight hours it looks a little tacky, but at night you wouldn’t notice the peeling paint.
It feels so strange imagining my family being here. I begin wondering what I would like to ask them, if I had just one question. When I think of that, my mind goes either blank or fills up with a thousand and one things.
Here is another view of the Fish & Chip shop at the bottom of the road. I wonder if they ate fish and chips in the 1840s? If John Dinnis was a professional cook, would that mean his family were treated to good meals at home? Or was he so busy at work that he didn’t want to cook when he got home? I imagine he worked long hours and maybe wasn’t always home at meal times.
“Am I telling your story the way you’d like it to be told, have I got it right?”
I hope so.