New shopping district continues to impress

Despite only existing for a few years, Hanningtons Estate has earned its place as one of Brighton’s most loved shopping areas. Occupying the north-east corner of the historic Lanes, this extensive site has seamlessly complemented the iconic neighbourhood with a range of innovative and vibrant businesses, and even homes for over 300 people. “There are some really fantastic and creative local brands here,” says Chris Baker, Portfolio Director for the site’s owners, Redevco UK. “So, visitors can shop small and local at Hanningtons Lane for the very best in stylish homeware, quirky accessories, handmade local jewellery, accessories and art, whilst enjoying a coffee, cocktail, ice-cream, brunch or dinner.”

The story of Hanningtons Estate can be traced back to 1808, when Smith Hannington opened a draper’s shop at No 3 North Street. Just at this time, Britain was becoming entranced by fashion. New materials and dyes were flowing into the nation via newly established trade routes, which changed the way we dressed and shopped, forever. Trends had always evolved over time, but that pace quickened as a dizzying array of choice started to present itself.

As we entered the Regency period, Hanningtons had expanded. Brighton was fast becoming a tourist destination, helped in some part by the Prince Regent’s love for the town. The shop had expanded and soon received a Royal Warrant, establishing its position as the premier store on the south coast. Soon it would start offering different departments, offering a huge range of goods to the well-heeled or aspirational. 

Hannington’s son took the store forward once more with the acquisition of two more buildings on North Street. The entire property was remodelled to create one extensive shop. Now housing a range of in-store concessions, each area offered its own identity and goods. It became the building which we recognise today, a landmark on a level with the Royal Pavilion, Palace Pier and Clock Tower.

With growing competition from other department stores, which had begun to spring up around the town, Hanningtons began to expand its own offerings. These included everything from funeral and chauffer services to perfumery and furniture. And, of course, there was its legendary tea shop. It remained one of the most popular places to shop in Sussex, welcoming everyone from average housewives to celebrities, all attracted by its attention to detail and personal touch.

The store relied heavily upon this reputation. But there comes a point where traditional is in danger of becoming old fashioned. It had survived wars, collapsed sewers and fires, but the one thing it couldn’t confront was rapidly changing retail trends. Like many other independent stores, it suffered with the introduction of retail parks on the edge of town, and eventually a new shopping centre in its midst. Eventually, everything was closed down in 2001.

But rather than the site being bulldozed to make way for a typical faceless development, plans were drawn up which proved it is possible to honour the past without being parochial, and that you can look to the future without ignoring tradition. A scheme initially costing £150 million revamped the entire site. Alongside the refurbishment of the retail spaces facing North St, Hanningtons Lane was created, which connected that road with Brighton Place and Meeting House Lane – turning the largely derelict area between into an inviting and innovative space.

“From the beginning, our vision at Hanningtons Lane was to turn a disused service yard into a community of like-minded, independent and creative businesses and residents,” says Baker. “Whilst on North Street we aimed at a long-term improvement of the tenant mix, quality of retailing and the general experience of spending time in this part of Brighton.  

“On North Street and East Street, since we have completed work on these units, we have welcomed Watches of Switzerland, Lulu Lemon, Rituals, Hotel Chocolat, Oliver Bonas, Joe & the Juice and Astrid & Miyu, to name a few. The whole Estate is very close to fully let for the first time and we have an engaged and exciting line up of tenant partners. It is really exciting to see our plans come to fruition.”

One of the most positive aspects of Hanningtons Lane is that it manages to bring modern retail to the centre of Brighton’s oldest neighbourhood, while making almost no impact on its historic aesthetic. But it does so without being a cheap pastiche of its environment. While many other towns have suffered the indignity of uncaring Brutalist buildings landing square in their centre, just as many have hosted the affront of carless mimicry, as newbuilds have put the minimum effort into matching their surroundings. 

Baker tells me the original design for Hanningtons Lane, conceived by local architect Morgan Carn, sought to respect the site’s significant place in retail history as ‘The Harrods of Brighton’ as well as that of the surrounding Lanes. It paved the way for a new era of retail and leisure, creating places where modern businesses and people wanted to work, live and shop. “There is a real focus on sustainability in Hanningtons Lane too,” he says. “Which will contribute towards the future of Brighton. The buildings incorporate modern technology and materials, contributing to a lower carbon footprint. And we have more plans in the pipeline to turn the Estate into a truly circular community.”

To create something which is modest, balanced and sensitive, yet still playful and intriguing, Morgan Carn has designed every unit to have its own presence. The local materials used throughout create a sense of belonging, with colours and styles carefully deployed to not just reflect the wider neighbourhood but to highlight the individuality of the businesses they house. In fact, they sit so comfortably amongst the nearby streets, and with plants maturing and shops settled in, you’d be forgiven for not realising this is a comparatively new set of buildings.

But not everything is brand new. The remodelling and modernisation of the buildings has had the effect of uncovering and preserving several important elements of Brighton’s history. Darren tells me he knew someone who worked in the shoe-menders once standing on the site. “One day he showed the view from the back of the shop,” he says. “I was amazed that there was this beautiful old cottage, which was just abandoned. It must have been hidden away for decades.” A 17th century house might have proved an obstacle to wider plans, but Hanningtons Lane adapted to instead celebrate this 300-year-old treasure. Now named Puget’s Cottage, it’s been freed of the buildings which once surrounded it for 150 years, and lovingly brought into the 21st century. Further adding to the continuity with the surrounding neighbourhood, the iconic Sussex brick paving has also been adapted.

While the site has been transformed into a shopping destination, there’s still an ambition to evolve with customer needs. Redevco are now consulting retailers about the next phase of improvements, which will likely include enhanced signage, lighting and planting, to endow Hanningtons Lane with a truly unique sense of identity, and even a few surprises. There’s also plans to install a stage, which will host regular pop-up events, to further draw in visitors and enhance the area’s vibrant atmosphere.

“While Hanningtons Estate concentrates on giving everyone the best possible customer experience, it doesn’t neglect the needs of the traders,” says Baker. “Whether it’s a seasonal pop-up or the biggest brands in the world, there’s an extensive range of flexible and interesting spaces to suit almost any purpose.”  Recent additions include houseplant experts Hugo & Green, sustainable fashion & products from The Fair Shop and fabulous pre-loved apparel at Detour Vintage.

The story of Hanningtons Estate is not just how you can redevelop a disused service yard, it’s about how there is the potential to create a space which brings in life and people. As shopping habits change, we’ve been shown how you can revitalise city centres by honouring the past and being prepared for the future. 

Visit www.hanningtonsbrighton.com for further information

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