Helena Normanton – from Brighton classroom to King’s Counsel
31 January 2019
By Kate Elms
Sifting through material at the end of last year for our archive-inspired Advent Calendar, we opened a box containing a Christmas card from Helena Normanton. We didn’t include it in the calendar (competition is fierce for those festive slots), but it piqued our curiosity. Who was Helena Normanton? The card was within the archives for Varndean School and it became apparent that at the end of the 19th century, she had been a pupil at Brighton’s York Place School, which later became Varndean School for Girls.
Among the papers there was also a photograph of her wearing a barrister’s wig and gown and some newspaper cuttings referring to a distinguished legal career. During last year’s Suffrage Centenary, we highlighted the lives and work of some of the pioneering women represented in our archives, but we’re delighted to start this year sharing Helena’s story, particularly as 2019 marks the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, a piece of legislation that allowed women to practise law, among other professions, for the first time. We discovered not only that Helena was quick to take advantage of this opportunity, but also that she broke new ground for other women and championed equal rights throughout her life.
Born in London in 1882, Helena moved to Brighton with her mother and younger sister a few years later, after the death of her father. She was admitted to York Place School of Science in October 1896. Records held at The Keep suggest she was a talented student, moving swiftly through the Standards in the class for the brightest pupils. Her achievements often popped up in the Girls Pages of the school magazine and in July 1900, she pursued a well-trodden path, becoming a pupil teacher at one of the local Board Schools.
From 1903-1905, Helena attended Edge Hill teacher training college for women in Liverpool, the first non-denominational college of its kind in the country. She followed this with a Diploma in French language, literature and history at University of Dijon (1907), and a first-class degree in History at the University of London (1912). A vocal supporter of many causes, including female suffrage and equal pay for men and women, she pursued a teaching career while also becoming known as a charismatic speaker.
She made her first application to the Middle Temple in 1918, immediately after the Equal Franchise Act gave some women the right to vote, but was refused. Although she immediately challenged the decision, the 1919 Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed before her appeal could be heard, and the following day, 24 December 1919, she reapplied and became the first woman admitted as a student to the Bar.
In 1921, she married Gavin Bowman Watson Clark and, in keeping with her independent nature, retained her maiden name. Reflecting on the reasons many women changed their name on marriage, she was direct and unequivocal: ‘They seem to think they have got to. There is no got to about it. A woman only becomes Mrs Bill Jones by habit…’ When she was called to the Bar in 1922, the Lord Chancellor tried to persuade her to take her husband’s name but again she refused, stating in an article published in the Yorkshire Post, ‘I could see that if a Lord Chancellor was interested, I must have been exercising an important liberty.’ When invited to travel to America to give a series of lectures, she became the first married British woman to be issued a passport in her maiden name. News of her visit, and her uncompromising stance, was splashed across the New York papers: the New York Times described how she visited lawyers at the Foreign Office when her initial request was refused at the UK passport office, while the Evening Post described her as an ‘English Portia’, succeeding where her American counterparts had failed.
Helena was not the first woman to be called to the Bar but she was the first to practise as a barrister, and racked up a number of other ‘firsts’ in her career: she was the first female counsel in the High Court of Justice and the Old Bailey, the first woman to obtain a divorce for her client and the first to lead the prosecution in a murder trial. In 1949, she and Rose Heilbron were the first women in England to be appointed as King’s Counsel.
Despite the fact that she lived in London, Helena remained attached to her old school and to Brighton and the surrounding area. In 1947, she attended a special reunion of the Varndean Old Girls Association to mark 21 years since the school moved to new premises. She recalled the early days in York Place and, in school magazine The Varndean Chronicle, observed that ‘a school is not a building, a place or a staff, but the whole living, breathing texture that moves on through generations.’ She returned in 1950 to give the address and to hand out certificates at the school’s Speech Day, and the following year was guest of honour at a dinner held by the Hastings & District branch of the National Council of Women. At that event, she spoke of her fondness of Sussex, observing, ‘You can go and see the Alps and the Andes, but where do you see anything as sweet as the rolling Downs?’
It should come as no surprise that, when a fund was established in 1956 to create a new university in the county, Helena was the first to contribute. She supported the idea with great enthusiasm and conviction during her lifetime, and set up a trust fund to benefit the University after her death in 1957. The University of Sussex is one of The Keep’s partners, and it seems appropriate that its Special Collections are kept under the same roof as the local archives that have been used to research this blog. It is also fitting that, 100 years after Helena’s admission to the Inns of Court and the legislation that made it possible, 218 Strand Chambers in London will be renamed Normanton Chambers on 31 January, making Helena the first woman to have a Chambers named after her. Over 60 years after her death, she’s still a trailblazer.
Onward and Upward: York Place to Varndean, 1884-1975 by Tony Allt and Brian Robson
Helena Normanton and the Opening of the Bar to Women, Judith Bourne, 2017, Waterside Press
Papers of Helena Normanton, relating to her career and other interests are held at the Women’s Library at LSE, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE.
First 100 Years is a history project celebrating 100 years of women in law.
(Not) A Very Merry Christmas!
18 December 2018
By Lindsey Tydeman
Christmas isn’t always the perfect family time we like to think it is… sometimes illness, arguments, unexpected tasks, family tensions and catastrophes get in the way. We’ve selected some memories from the diaries in the Mass Observation archive of Christmases past which didn’t quite go according to plan…
‘My brother is a policeman and the most reactionary person I know; also he is stoically heterosexual, with two rather colourless children and a wife who thinks women should be paid less than men. It had always been a problem for me to relax among them. The last Christmas I spent with them was agonising. ..There were too many rows. I said ‘Never again’. And I never returned to that house, even for a visit.’
M, 45 SXMOA2/1/20/3
‘A nice short service but the ‘Te Deum’ was bloody awful… Read ‘National Velvet’ all afternoon… Gram on all evening, bed 10.30.’
M, 24 SXMOA99/51
‘Rob told me he had had a very severe bout of food poisoning…he thinks on reflection, it was the antipasto. He was violently sick all night and part of the next day…Meanwhile, he told me, Ruth had started to feel ill… As we spoke, upstairs in my bedroom she was violently sick, into a plastic carrier bag, it seems.’
F, 60 SXMOA99/14/4/15
‘The only misfortune was the Aran sweater that my aunt knitted for Elizabeth. The thank you letter is going to take a lot of careful phrasing as the sweater was far too small and had one sleeve an inch longer than the other… If only she’d rung for measurements!’
F, 53 SXMOA2/1/20
‘Karen helped both Marjorie and me to get up out of our seats and to be lowered gently into them! At 86 and 89 both movements need a strong arm to prevent a struggle or undignified collapse… I told Karen to be wary of handsome boys who tend to be demanding and arrogant… I have seen quite a few of them married for six or eight years and then going off with another woman and bringing another family into existence… I didn’t tell her that a billion pounds had not been paid to the first deserted families. Women have had the worst of the sexual revolution.’
M, 89 SXMOA99/85/1/10
‘Eventually cooked a turkey steak, potatoes, green beans and sprouts and was having it as it got dusk. However Jane had brought Sweep across to be here as a refuge because they had visitors and he was unhappy and restless, going to the door, clawing at the carpet etc so I let him out. This deterred me from my dinner and it got a bit cold and I didn’t enjoy it much.’
F, 71 SXMOA99/92/18
‘When I got home Bob went out to ‘do his kiosk’. He takes part in the BT ‘Watch the Box’ scheme which aims to prevent vandalism and ensure speedy reporting of faulty (telephone) kiosks. His particular box is about three-quarters of a mile away and he had reported the coin slot as jammed on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day he decided to take a screwdriver and see if he could free the jammed coins as he did not think the coin box was full. He also made sure he had his BT identity card in his pocket in case someone thought he was a vandal. In fact, the slot was jammed with two 5p pieces stuck together (a trick to try to get £1 worth of phone time, apparently) and he freed it easily with the screwdriver.’
F, 53 SXMOA2/1/20
‘Christmas shopping and preparations begin for me any time after the summer. I make out lists of people to whom I send things, averaging, over the past four years, 45. I keep past lists for about three years so that I may check up and avoid repetitions… on the other hand I don’t like festivities. I am unsociable and avoid them.’
F (no age given) SXMOA1/3/25/1
‘Xmas was a day of gloom in our family, my father hated it and did his best to make it a day of misery my mother being religious tried to jolly it up so we had these two opposing forces battling it out, and the shadow of the marital war-games stills hangs over the 25th for me… A gay Xmas is much nicer and less trouble.’
F, 50 SXMOA16/1/1/64/12
‘Christmas at home consists of washing up (one maid and about seven in the house); sitting in the lounge (there are no comfortable chairs) and watching my father go to sleep after lunch; perhaps a walk round suburban roads in the morning and on Christmas morning a ridiculous ceremony of opening presents… I particularly dislike my sister and do my best to conceal it.’
F (no age given) SXMOA1/3/25/1
‘A went to bed for his usual siesta. I watched The Reluctant Dragon, which I had recorded and which, in 1941, I had given top rating. Why? I was very unimpressed and bored by it all and even the cartoon was below Disney’s then high standard…. We are both very relieved when Twelfth Night has passed and it can all be abandoned. I enjoyed my childhood Christmasses and our carol services at boarding school, but that was then; this is now.’
M, 68 SXMOA16/1/2/18/12
‘Continued typing a letter begun yesterday to a dear gay friend in Australia. He’d sent me a tea towel with lots of little Koala bears on it, and a sexy Xmas card. At page five-and-a-half I smelt burning. The peas! Mostly blackened; I salvaged a few and got some more out, scoured the black pan, boiled it clean again and set it boiling again; this time winding up my very useful timer clock to remind me in five minutes.’
M, 66 SXMOA16/1/2/18
‘I spent all Xmas Day in bed coughing due to a flu virus, waited on hand and foot by my mate who had had it a little earlier but was still coughing. Luckily we have two different coughs, she sounding like a trombone, I like a cat being sick.’
F, 50 SXMOA16/1/1/64/12
‘Shopping – I leave that as far as possible to mother. Services – never attend them. Emotions – disgust. Interest – nil. Parties – never go to any. Dances – don’t dance…. Christmas I know from past experience will be a bore, it always is. For example, Christmas Day, spent at home with parents and a widow of some 75 years who always visits us at that time. Dinner is late and mother gets irritated because of the extra cooking. After dinner sit around and eat chocolates and nuts and play some damn fool card game.’
M, 28 SXMOA1/3/25/2
‘I cycled to church… a lovely ride through West London. The church was a tiny one in Petersham. I wore trousers but no-one in my family complained. It was the first time I had darkened the doors of a church for ages…..We had Christmas dinner at half past six. My sister had provided a chestnut and apple roast as a turkey substitute for me and the other vegetarian in the family. My other sister asked me to wear a skirt for the meal. I declined but I don’t think she really expected me to anyway.’
F, 25 SXMOA16/1/2/3/11
‘The evening buffet started with soup served in the dining room but – Someone Had Blundered and the buffet was not yet laid out in the Turpin Room and we had to wait. Profuse apologies from the waiter.’
F, 77 SXMOA99/92/18
The Long Journey Home: Edith Cavell and the “Cavell” Van
27 November 2018
by Emily Manser
The Recording Remembrance project is aiming to record all world war one memorials across East Sussex. Volunteers across the county can record the condition, physical nature and inscriptions of memorials and report them to the website: Recording Remembrance Website.
Memorials recorded by the project can be crosses, plaques or more unusual objects such as the Cavell Van found at Bodiam Railway Station, commemorating Nurse Edith Cavell.
On 15th May 1919, a South Eastern & Chatham Railway Van left Dover on its way to London, carrying a very important passenger. Her name was Edith Cavell and, after a long and arduous war, she was finally being brought home to be laid to rest.
Edith Cavell was an English nurse, working in Belgium at a Red Cross hospital. Between 1914 and when she was arrested on the 5th August 1915, she had helped over 200 allied soldiers escape. She was shot by firing squad on October 12th 1915. She was 49 years of age.
Following her journey home from Dover to London, railway vans of the same type became known as “Cavells”. The fully restored railway van now sits in a siding at the rear of Bodiam Station. Inside, a single coffin sits in the centre, an eerie reminder of the cost of war.
This memorial, along with many others, is recorded on the Recording Remembrance database. With the help of the public, we are working hard to ensure that these physical representations of the sacrifice of war are preserved for future generations.
For more information on this, or any other HER record, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The expansion of Hove: a house – and garage – for everyone
6 November 2018
By Lindsey Tydeman
A devastating war may have come and gone but through it the register of planning applications in the Borough of Hove Surveyor’s Office was maintained faultlessly, the only evidence of the national trauma being a 50 per cent decrease in planning applications between 1914-1918. After the war, although local industries and shops continued to grow and modernise, there was a very slow start to house-building despite the temporary subsidies available under the Housing (Additional Powers) Act 1919.
It was to take ten years before confidence in the building industry returned. 1928 seems to be the key year in Hove’s expansion northwards into Hangleton, Blatchington and the surrounding downland farms. The roads between the railway line and the Old Shoreham Road were filled with large-scale developments (ie ‘45 houses, Amherst Crescent and Aldrington Avenue’) and the success of this was the cue for huge projects of new roads, sewers and housing north of the Old Shoreham Road which was only interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939. Braybons the builders cornered the market in Hangleton as they had done in Brighton; they began building 103 houses in Elm Drive, May Tree Walk and Rowan Avenue in spring 1933, and started again building 80 houses and 38 garages on Hangleton ‘Estate Road No 4’ in early 1936. A garage was now considered essential; everyone who had bought a house without one or builders who had started constructing houses without them remedied their errors in the 1930s. The value-for-money option was the pre-fabricated garage from Booths Portable Buildings Ltd.
There was obviously rapid profit to be made in large estates of smaller semi-detached houses, and, later, of semi-detached and detached bungalows. The impression from the register is of developers, individually or in groups, being determined to start building as soon as land became available, often putting plans before the Borough Surveyor and Improvements Committee even before a specific plot had been identified on a new road and necessitating a measurement from the nearest landmark or building in order to plot it on the office map. A handful of local architects and builders maintained a firm grip on the developing housing market and, by 1937, some of them had been there since the 1890s, handing on the business through the family. Several names – Marchant, Nye, Parsons and Sons, Braybons, Cook, Callaways, Denman and Draycott – are still associated with the building industry and working in Brighton and Hove today.
After the First World War, the rich no longer came en masse to spend their summers in Hove. Some families sold their grand houses in Hove’s premier roads leading from Church Road and Western Road to the seafront, but others kept them, converting them into flats for rental income. Initially, each floor of a large house would become one flat, the architect’s plans rarely exceeding four in one building. However, in 1938 owners began to see the potential in ‘tenements’ (as the planning register called them), or ‘flatlets’ (in the words of the architect). Perhaps those at 9, 11 and 13 Holland Road were Hove’s first studios. The party walls separating the large terraced houses were demolished, making them ‘all intercommunicating’. The rooms were divided by a partition wall to create a living space with a ‘kitchenette’ in the corner. A shared bathroom was at the end of the landing or on the next floor. In August 1940, plans were submitted to make 16 flatlets and caretaker’s quarters out of the single house at 44 Brunswick Place.
Hove still remained the town of choice for wealthy individuals and retirees. The latter could move into one of the luxury, modern purpose-built flats occupying prominent positions on the Kingsway. In August 1936, Viceroy Lodge at the bottom of Hove Street was designed with its own servants’ quarters and every flat in St Aubyn’s Mansions had its own maid’s bedroom. In 1932, Hove’s first private swimming pool had been designed by the architect Mr S Clough. Designed for satisfying length swimming, it filled the entire back garden of number 8 Third Avenue and came with 2 diving boards, a terrace and, for privacy, a thick conifer screen at the back.
In 1939, Hove’s main industries were still those of 50 years previously and they were in the same place, banked up against the Brighton to Shoreham railway line. Dubarry’s had bought out the Standard Tablet Company in 1924 and was installed in the factories and warehouses south of Hove Park Villas. Brighton and Hove Omnibuses were still in Conway Street and the laundries in Arthur Street were expanding and updating; in 1922, dry cleaning was offered at Channel Laundry. The newly-created industrial estate to the west of Newtown Road was dominated by the head office of Clarks Bakery, whose delivery men on bicycles, and later vans, supplied the local shops. Improvements in 1933 placed woodblock-floored offices, a telephone booth and boardroom around the strongroom, with a three-bedroomed flat upstairs. Green’s, makers of dessert and cake mixes, had been on its site between Portland Road and the railway for over 20 years and had its own spur line to the factory. The machine tool factory CVA Jigs, Moulds and Tools lay on the north side of Portland Road opposite Glebe Villas and had expanded from its ‘temporary building’ in 1917 to a full iron foundry works in 1930. Smelting work was carried out there until the early 1970s.
Away from Hove’s many pubs or ‘hotels’ as the planning register termed them, entertainment came in the form of football, greyhound racing and cinema. The Goldstone football ground had a new North Stand in 1930, to be followed by a clubhouse, improved lavatories and two ‘temporary’ bars, owned by Tamplins, in 1937. The nearby greyhound stadium, new in 1929, went from strength to strength; improved and extended during the early 1930s, it received a ‘totalisator’ building for betting in April 1936, additions to the grandstand in late 1938 and extensions to the east stand in January 1939. Hove Ice Rink, which lay alongside the railway at the top of Denmark Villas, was a huge temple-like building with a high-ceilinged entrance hall, orchestra pit, restaurant, board room and tea lounge. However, it lost popularity soon after opening in 1929 and was reopened as the Hove Lido cinema in 1932.
Dr Hart of 47 Cromwell Road was the first civilian to apply for permission to build an air raid shelter in his garden in January 1939. This threw the Planning Committee into a dilemma; as it was ‘a structure not provided for in their Building Bylaws, the Borough Surveyor suggests that the Council accept no responsibility in respect of the proposals’. They didn’t have long to wait before instructions from the War Office took the responsibility away from them. Only two organisations, the Brighton and Hove Omnibus Company and Boots Chemists, were proactive when it came to protecting their employees in the months before war became official, the former building two air raid shelters in Conway Street, one with a gas-proof door, and the latter providing shelters at all three of its shops in Boundary Road, George Street and Church Road.
Regarding the book itself, 1939’s planning register, purchased in June 1937 from Combridge’s Stationers at 56 Church Road, is a duplicate of Hove Borough’s first planning register of 1885. Its layout and listing style were unchanged, reflecting, one suspects, the procedural continuity of the council committee meetings at which the Borough Surveyor approved new buildings. Ink pens were still used although the writing was no longer standard nineteenth-century copperplate and formalities were important. The word ‘Messrs’ always preceded a company’s name and two or more unmarried sisters living together were termed, ‘The Misses…’. It was business as usual in the Surveyor’s Office right up to 24 December and again after 26 December. It would be 35 years before 1 January became a public holiday.
Life in Postwar Hove – insights from the Borough Minute Books
15 October 2018
By Lindsey Tydeman
In 1914, Hove was a grand town. It had been a regular retreat of Edward VII, the front page of the local paper carrying the latest on ‘The King’, and where the King had walked, the wealthy London elite still followed. The Brunswick Estate, Hove Lawns and the wide roads surrounding Grand Avenue made a most elegant seaside environment, with the ‘working classes’ tucked firmly away in mews cottages or in terraced housing to the west. Today, we know that the 1914-18 War changed British society irrevocably but in 1918-19 the Mayor, Alderman and Burgesses of the Borough of Hove saw no such portents. The minutes of Hove Borough’s myriad Committees show how they coped with the challenges of the peace while attempting to maintain the status quo.
As with councils today, finance – the need to conserve money and curtail unnecessary spending – was a predominant issue on every committee, from Small-Holdings and Allotments to Town Hall and Entertainments. Wounded soldiers returning home and unable to recommence their work in Borough departments were a worry. Lance Corporal Emsley MM and Bar, discharged from the army as unfit for service and declared not fit to return to work ‘for a considerable time’, was receiving a war pension but also half-pay from his job as a cemetery worker. The Parks, Baths and Cemetery Committee reviewed his case every month, only granting him half-pay on regular evidence from a doctor. With no regular wage reviews, it was up to municipal employees to request wage rises or increased War Bonuses, and it was only after a certain amount of pressure, for example the mass meeting of the Municipal Employees Association in February 1919, that committees would agree to ‘confer’ over the issue. Wounded soldiers and their charities were given consideration but there were increasing limitations to compassion where finances were at stake. In 1919, shell-shocked soldiers were allowed individual free use of the swimming baths, but the previous year Sir Arthur Pearson only had exclusive use of the Swimming Bath on Sunday mornings from 10.30 to 12.30 ‘on the understanding that (he) pays to the man left in charge the sum of 5/- per Sunday’. In 1919, the Parks, Baths and Cemetery Committee was very concerned about how long it could continue waiving burial fees for soldiers and sailors. Hove War Memorial Fund, set up in June 1921 to assist families of former soldiers in extreme need with money or clothing for children, declined to help the family of W. Butcher as he ‘was not a Hove man within the definition given in the Trust Deeds, therefore ineligible for assistance’.
The minute books provide much information on women’s roles during the War and beyond. With men serving in the military, women were used as a labour source throughout the town’s municipal departments. They were particularly useful as labourers in Hove Cemetery, where they cut the grass and cleaned the walks. Always termed ‘temporary’, their pay went up from 4d to 5d per hour in March 1918 (they received no War Bonus) and in May an extra six were taken on. In the Rates Department, Miss Springer and Miss Winter had been doing the work of Messrs Cheverton and Bolton, but when these gentlemen returned from military service, the Town Clerk was instructed to ‘give one month’s notice to Miss Springer and Miss Winter to terminate their engagements’. In April 1919, following a Home Office circular which recommended that ‘women auxiliaries may be of great assistance to the Police when dealing with cases in which women and children are concerned’, the Watch Committee decided ‘to expend the sum of £15s’ on the appointment of two Policewomen, ‘and in addition the cost of necessary uniform, including boots’.
In February 1920 Miss Basden, Honorary Secretary of the Joint Housing Committee of the Brighton and Hove Branch of the National Council for Women, asked for two women to be co-opted on the Housing Committee. The Committee’s reply was abrupt: there were already two ladies on the Committee. In May, Miss Basden wrote again, this time using the term ‘working women’ and referring to the recent Circular of the Ministry of Health, which recommended that ‘where women are co-opted upon a Housing Committee, the claims of working women who have had experience of bringing up a family and doing all the work of their home should be specially considered’. She gave the names of Mrs Aldridge of 21 Shakespeare Street and Mrs Standing of 22 Molesworth Street, as recommended for co-option and the Committee resolved that the Council be recommended to co-opt them ‘to hold office until 9 Nov next’.
The provision of affordable rented housing for working people was a huge issue and Councillors felt the pressure of expectation from both central Government and individuals in the Borough. A new estate fronting Portland Road had been earmarked for development and Housing Committee minutes chart its slow progress, with discussion of various house types and arguments over sizes of kitchens and sculleries – the women had a voice here. Costs were regularly restructured, with expenditure shaved from kerbs (replaced by boundary stones), roads (gravel instead of macadam in some areas) and economies on roadside planting. The cottages were estimated to cost £1000 each, with an ‘economic’ rent working out at about 35/- per week. The Housing Committee had been set up in 1919 and one of its first tasks was to read a circular from the Local Government Board asking for a survey of the town’s empty houses ‘which might be converted into flats or tenements for the working classes’. There was such a list, submitted by the Assistant Borough Surveyor, which he had obtained from the Rate Collector. ‘It appeared that most of the empty premises were the larger residential houses, situated in Palmeira Square, or localities of that character. The Committee are of the opinion that in view of the position of the empty houses… it would not be advantageous to the Borough for such premises to be converted into flats or tenements.’ They duly replied to the Local Government Board ‘that there are no houses in the Borough at the present time which would be suitable for conversion’.
The dry bureaucracy of Hove’s collection of Committee Minutes provides an unexpected insight into the local human cost of the War. In March 1918, the Parks, Baths and Cemetery Committee heard from the Town Clerk that ‘questions had arisen’ regarding the portion of Hove Cemetery which had been reserved for the burial of those ‘whose deaths had occurred in connection with the war’. Now it appeared that relatives wished to be buried in the same grave as those they had lost … ‘the Committee agreed that permission be granted’. In September 1919, a Mrs Oliver wrote to the Committee asking if she could pay to have the path from the Cemetery Chapel to her son’s grave asphalted at her own expense, as it was in a bad state of repair. The Committee replied that this work was in hand along with other paths in the Cemetery. Two months later, Mrs Oliver wrote again; she wanted to leave £1,000 in her will to the Borough ‘for the perpetual upkeep of her son’s grave’. The Committee replied that it would be much better if the money be paid over now and a Trust created during her lifetime.
The minute books give a sense of daily life in Hove in 1919, and also of the changing face of the town at the end of the War. Large sections of Hove Park, Hove Recreation Ground and Aldrington Recreation Ground (Wish Park) had been turned into allotments and notice was given in January 1920 to the allotment holders that their tenancy would be terminated the following December. Flag days, collections and fairs in the parks had been almost weekly events during the War, all on behalf of the military; even after the Armistice the Committee was loath to give other charities permission to make collections without permission from the Government. There were still military camps at Shoreham and Portslade, so buses from Brighton to Portslade were continually overcrowded. This caused general ill-feeling and, particularly, anxiety during the influenza outbreak in 1918; however, after an equal vote the Watch Committee decided against asking the bus company to keep to its licensed number. Similarly, they decided they did not have the powers to ask cinemas to stop admitting children under 14, despite the fears that back-to-back performances and lack of ventilation increased children’s susceptibility to infection. Local Government Board regulations would soon limit entertainments to a maximum of three hours with a requirement for ventilation.
The Minute Books from the Borough of Hove’s scores of Committees and Sub-Committees are a resource in waiting, not only for the local historian and researcher but also for those interested in the broader context, how a community and its individuals fitted into the national framework of post-war Britain in 1919.
German-Jewish history and identity: exploring the Ehrenberg-Elton Papers at The Keep
24 September 2018
by Anika Wagner
‘Alles Erleben ist eine Episode. Auch Hitler war eine Episode. Daß er nur eine Episode bleibt, liegt an Euch.’
‘Every experience is an episode. Even Hitler was an episode. That he remains just an episode is up to you.’
Eva Ehrenberg, Sehnsucht – mein geliebtes Kind, p67
I’m a Librarian Master’s student from Berlin/Leipzig, Germany and, earlier this year, I joined The Keep for a nearly nine-week internship. This is not my first time abroad; during my apprenticeship as Library Assistant and my Bachelor study I’ve already been in London, Baltimore and Vienna to work in different libraries. So the procedure in preparation for this internship was nothing new to me. In November 2017, I started to write to lots of different libraries in the UK, asking for the possibility to intern with them. Luckily, I got a positive reply from the University of Sussex Special Collections at The Keep. After this, I applied for financial support from ERASMUS+ and my University’s Friends’ association (both of which I got, hooray), booked my accommodation and finally the flight as well.
Still, it was exciting: a new house, a new city, a new workplace and new colleagues. Everyone was really welcoming and tried their best to make me feel comfortable! During the first few days, I was introduced to all the staff here (unfortunately I’m not good at remembering names), had a tour of the building and got familiar with the collection I was going to work with over the next few weeks.
My work here focused on the Ehrenberg-Elton Papers. I checked the collection box by box, folder by folder. In six weeks, I got through the first 33 boxes, which contain a lot of different materials, from letters, photographs, passports and medals to newspaper cuttings and even hair. With each folder, I compared the catalogue entry with the real material. Was everything in the folder? Was the number of pages identical? Did the description match? Sometimes I had to give the material a new title to make it more meaningful. Last but not least, I tried to fit the material into a new, revised classification. Some objects needed new packaging, so I got new folders for them or wrapped them in tissue paper and made a label with their reference number and title on it. It felt a bit like wrapping Christmas presents.
While doing this, I had the chance to read the odd letter or literary manuscript. This was really fascinating and I had to watch out to not just read all day long. With every folder and box, I got deeper into the Ehrenberg family. When I reached the boxes with the family’s photo albums and loose photographs, I already knew so much about the people, what their past had been and what become of them in the future. It’s saddening when you read next to a portrait the simple caption ‘Hans im Konzentrationslager’ (Hans in concentration camp), although you already know he survived. I got most emotional about the photos of Eva Ehrenberg in her later years, as she reminded me of my grandmother.
I was told me on one of my first days that I may need to write a family tree while working on that collection. First this advice puzzled me a bit, but soon I did so. In the end I had at least five family trees interweaving different strands of the Ehrenberg family.
The Ehrenbergs, especially Eva, were in contact with so many different people that I easily got lost. Even if it turned out that they were related, I still had to work out which side (Eva or Victor) they belonged to. Luckily there is already material about that in the collection itself. One of my most exciting objects in this collection was a book about an old German legend (I had never heard of before) which was dedicated by the late Kaiser Wilhelm II to Eva Ehrenberg’s father Siegfried Sommer.
In my last two weeks, I did some research in preparation for a collaboration with the Leo Baeck Institute in New York. They also hold material by and about the Ehrenberg family, which they have already digitised. I checked their digital archive to see if what they hold is also in the Ehrenberg/Elton Papers collection at The Keep, so it can be later linked into the catalogue.
As The Keep is a partnership of different institutions, I was introduced to their staff, their work and their different kinds of materials. I also had the opportunity to join a lot of sessions and events of different kinds. These included a workshop called ‘Refugees in Times of Crisis, 1938-2018’, which reminded me that history sometimes repeats itself, and the 12 May Day Diary, with fun activities like badge-making. I didn’t know that so much could be done for outreach in an archive. Most of the sessions were for students to show them what an archive is and the kinds of materials are held here. It was really impressive to see how enthusiastically the colleagues spoke about their work and collections!
I’m really sad that my time in Brighton and The Keep ended so quickly. I would have liked to spend more time here and finish my work on the Ehrenberg-Elton Papers. Whilst working here I learnt a lot: about archives in general and The Keep’s collections in particular, about British life, emigration and identity, and about German-Jewish history. Of course, in school we often talked about this dark episode in German history but my own country’s history became more graspable to me, working with all these authentic and personal materials. Especially at a time when right-wing populists are regaining power in so many countries, it is important to know the history and prevent repeating it.
I would recommend to anyone who is interested in the work of archives to join The Keep for an internship or work experience. It was my most enjoyable internship, and I’ve done eight so far!
Pioneering women: Margaret Bondfield, 1873-1953
6 August 2018
By Kate Elms
Did you know that the UK’s first female cabinet minister started her working life in Sussex? Margaret Bondfield, elected Minster for Labour in 1929, was born in Somerset in 1873 but, at the age of 14, she moved to Hove where she was offered work at Mrs White’s ladies’ and juvenile outfitters in Church Road.
This seems initially to have been a positive experience. In a biography written by Mary Agnes Hamilton, a pioneering woman in her own right, Margaret is quoted as saying,’I was apprenticed to one of those old-fashioned businesses where the relations between customer and server were of the most courteous and friendly, and the assistants, of whom I was the youngest, were treated like members of the family.’
During this time, she was befriended by Louisa Martindale, a customer of Mrs White’s and a well-known local suffragist. Louisa had moved to Brighton to ensure her own daughters, Louisa, born in 1872, and Hilda, born 1875, received a good education and the opportunity to pursue fulfilling careers, and she opened up her home in Stanford Road to young working women on Saturday afternoons. Margaret had grown up in a family that valued social justice, and this chance to mix with like-minded people helped to develop her political ideas.
When Mrs White retired, Margaret moved to Hetherington’s, a much larger establishment in Western Road. There she had a different experience of working life, with long hours and cramped living conditions. In the 1891 census, she is listed as the youngest resident (aged 18) in a household of eight female draper’s assistants, none from the local area, in a small house owned by William Hetherington in Stone Street, Brighton. It has been said that the Victorians invented late-night shopping – premises were often open until 10pm at night and young staff worked up to 74 hours per week, while the ‘living-in’ system gave them no privacy or freedom.
Moving to London in 1894, Margaret seems to have drawn on her own experience, becoming active in the Shop Assistants’ Union, campaigning for equal pay and better conditions for workers. She joined the London District Council of the Union and began to contribute articles to Shop Assistant, a publication launched in 1896. In the same year, she was asked by the Women’s Industrial Council to investigate the pay and conditions of shop workers. Her subsequent report and elevation to Assistant Secretary of her Union meant that by the age of 25, her political potential was being noticed in wider circles. She was recognised as the leading authority on shop workers, giving evidence to parliamentary select committees and was often the only female delegate to speak at conferences.
In 1908, she turned her attention to the Independent Labour Party and some of the broader issues it faced, including healthcare and pensions. She was involved with numerous organisations, including the Women’s Co-operative Guild, the National Federation of Women Workers and the Women’s Peace Council; supported equal suffrage for men and women, which put her at odds with the Women’s Social and Political Union; and continued to campaign for equal pay.
In 1923, she was elected as MP for Northampton and became the first female chair of the TUC. And in 1929, she became Minister of Labour in Ramsey Macdonald’s government, the first woman to hold a cabinet post. It was a difficult time, defined by the depression following the Wall Street Crash, and Margaret became a controversial figure who was seen by some to have betrayed the principles of her own party. She retired in 1938 and died in 1953.
Family History and Beyond – talks and courses at The Keep
30 July 2018
By Kate Elms
One of the perks of working at The Keep and, in particular, being involved in the planning and delivery of our public events programme, is having the opportunity to attend most of the events themselves. I’ve learnt a huge amount from the fantastic speakers who have given talks here, and also from colleagues who have helped curate displays of relevant original archives, enabling us to showcase some of the remarkable material in our care.
Family historians are among our most dedicated users, and earlier this year, we were delighted to collaborate with the Sussex Family History Group (SFHG) on an introductory session for those inspired to start tracking down their ancestors. SFHG volunteer Roy Winchester gave a presentation that covered all the basics, from how to draw up a family tree to how to interpret the data to be found in census returns and parish records, as well as shedding light on alternative sources of information that can be found at The Keep, such as electoral registers, street directories and newspapers. The event concluded with coffee and biscuits and a lively question-and-answer session.
For those hoping to go ‘beyond the family tree’, we recently piloted a six-week creative writing course led by author and life historian Shivaun Woolfson. A group of ten participants met on Saturday mornings to share their ancestors’ stories and explore different ways of presenting them. Finding a balance between historical accuracy and storytelling was important; within families, much can be left unsaid – for all sorts of reasons – so using contextual information and personal experiences to fill in the gaps is part of the process. Many of the writers were inspired by a family heirloom – an object, photograph or letter – and the course included advice from The Keep’s conservator on caring for family collections as well as research tips and guidance from our archivists.
The participants read their work aloud at the last session, to which friends and family were invited. Each story was unique and personal – and all the more powerful for that – but the issues touched on were universal, from infant mortality, the impact of war, poverty and life in the workhouse to marriage, loss and the position of women. There was a strong sense of place, too, with locations ranging from Vancouver to Victorian Rodmell. The final morning concluded with a plea for us to repeat the course next year, with longer sessions and more of them! Watch this space…
Anyone interested in family, local or social history should make a point of delving in to what archivists refer to as the ‘parish chest’. We were thrilled earlier this month to welcome Elizabeth Hughes back to The Keep to share her expertise on this subject and to draw attention to some of the little-known gems in the parish archives.
Parishes were the main unit of local government until the mid 19th century, and Elizabeth highlighted material relating among other things to education, charity and, in particular, relief of the poor. These records illustrate vividly what life must have been like for those with no wealth or status who were dependent on the parish when they fell on hard times. Rigorous settlement examinations, for example, were recorded with care and can provide extraordinary detail about the lives of named individuals who would never have appeared in the history books. The process itself – of trying to establish the right to settle in a particular place and quite frequently being refused – has uncomfortable parallels in the present day, making it more relevant than ever.
The Keep holds an extensive range of material to support family history research, and volunteers from the Sussex Family History Group are on hand at from 10am – 4pm, Tuesday to Friday, to provide help getting started. For more information about future talks and courses, please see the Events page of our website. If you would like to receive news of forthcoming events, you can sign up to our monthly e-newsletter via our website.
A Digital Woolfian ‘Ode’
24 July 2018
By Dr Bryony Randall, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, University of Glasgow
Just over a year ago, on 14 July 2017, an innovative new digital edition was launched of a short work by Virginia Woolf, rejoicing in the name Ode Written Partly in Prose on Seeing the Name of Cutbush Above a Butcher’s Shop in Pentonville (surely the longest name Woolf gave to any of her works). The six-page typescript of this work is one of the most fascinating items in the Monks House Papers, the archive of Virginia Woolf’s papers held by the University of Sussex Special Collections at The Keep, and was selected for republication by the New Modernist Editing Network, or NME.
The NME (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council) brought together people involved in or with an interest in the scholarly editing of modernist texts, including academics, publishers, editors and book artists, in the light of the many new editions of modernist writers currently underway. One of our aims was to produce an interactive digital edition of a modernist work, and to showcase some of the issues and challenges faced by the editor of a modernist text by handing over as much control as possible to the reader. The new edition, produced collaboratively between Network members, can be found here, and we would be delighted to get feedback from anyone who’d like to explore it!
This digital edition of the ‘Ode’ shares many features with existing digital editions of literary texts. For example, we were able to reproduce facsimile images of the original typescript, alongside a transcript. This was particularly important since, in common with the vast majority of the short fiction Woolf wrote, the ‘Ode’ remained unpublished during her lifetime. So we are not dealing with something that Woolf necessarily saw as a finished work, and we wanted to convey this to the reader. What’s more, Woolf’s typing was not particularly accurate, so her editors often choose to ‘correct’ the typescripts they have quite substantially in published versions. By presenting the facsimile and interactive edited version side by side, the reader can clearly see – and if they wish, disagree with! – the editorial ‘corrections’ made.
Another feature common to many digital editions is the presentation of explanatory notes as pop-up windows which appear when you click on an underlined word, rather than having to turn to the back of a book as one would with a printed edition. But we also used this feature to show a range of alternative possible readings of Woolf’s handwritten insertions, some of which are more or less illegible – even to experts with years of experience of reading Woolf’s handwriting! In addition, Woolf herself revised the typescript in both ink and pencil; the digital format means that readers are able to view a transcript showing the pencil revisions only, or ink revisions only.
However, one important feature of this text makes it particularly intriguing and distinctive as the subject of a new digital edition. Although the use of the term ‘Ode’ in the title, to some extent the quality of the language, and the layout of the type on the page, may collectively indicate that this text was intended to be set out with line breaks like verse, there is also evidence to the contrary. For a start, the title indicates that the text is indeed ‘partly in prose’. In addition, a number of Woolf’s typescripts from around the period that ‘Ode’ was typed have a similar appearance to this one, with a very wide left hand margin taking up almost one third of the width of the page. For that reason, we felt that the question of whether to preserve the line endings of Woolf’s typescript remains moot, and invite the reader to experiment with the effect of each version – whether presented as verse, or as prose.
In the year since its launch, this edition has been used for teaching in a number of universities across the UK and beyond. We’re delighted that it’s proving useful in introducing students to some of the issues facing the scholarly editor, and hope it piques further interest within and beyond academia. The idea of ‘textual editing’ might evoke images of the solitary scholar buried in a dusty archive ploughing through arcane manuscripts; our hope is that this digital ‘Ode’ not only showcases Woolf’s own lively and dynamic writing, but does so in a way that brings out the lively and dynamic aspects of the work of the textual editor!
The Many Hats of Mass Observation
19 July 2018
By Lindsey Tydeman
A lady wearing a hat to complete her outfit is an unusual sight in 2018, unless she is on her way to Ascot or a high-end wedding. But in 1939, at the start of what would become World War 2, the subject of hats and their wearing were felt to be important by the people at Mass Observation. There was anxiety on the topic, and, although definite fears were unspecified, the interest of MO in women’s fashion in general showed that the subject was considered to be an indicator of, and an influence on, the state of female civilian morale. ‘What happiness for the millions, who in this way can escape from their sooty street so gardenless, by buying a hat with flowers in front, ‘as good as any lady in the land’,’ wrote MO’s founder Tom Harrisson. A woman could be, ‘a Duchess for 3/11.’
In December 1939 an MO Observer was sent to a fashion gala at Grosvenor House attended by the wealthy and aristocratic. He reported that, ‘standards of fashion generally were quite up to pre-war standard’, with women ‘only too glad to go back to ultra-fashionable dress. Hats particularly take this turn.’ There was, ‘Obvious approval when told by the commentator that it is more patriotic to buy new clothes than not to.’
That was reassuring, but what about most women? Fewer seemed to be wearing hats as the war went on and observers were regularly sent into the West End and East End of London to note exact numbers. They also drew and described hats in shop windows. In 1944 a hat count taken by an observer standing at Whitechapel Station recorded that out of 300 women, 94 were hatless, 128 wore hats (nearly half of them in black felt), while the remaining women wore scarves and ‘pixies’.
By 1947 Harrisson was worried about scarves. He set out to discover ‘if the scarf has become a permanent menace to the hat trade’ and reported that women were willing to sacrifice two clothing coupons for a scarf although hats were coupon-free. An observer in London one Sunday in October 1947 found that out of 20 women, 7 wore hats, 5 wore scarves and 8 went bareheaded.
It was a sign of things to come. In the early days of the War, MO had noted that 82 per cent of women over 40 were wearing ‘a proper hat’ compared with only 45 per cent of the under 40s. As time went on it was the younger women who were the quickest to lay their ‘proper’ hats aside while the older group clung on to theirs the longest. Harrisson, beginning a survey designed to prompt the reawakening of the British hat industry in October 1947, stated that, ‘It must be of great interest to the hat manufacturers to find out the present day attitude of the general public.’ However, the ensuing MO survey was to reveal that the general public, especially women, didn’t care half as much about hats as Harrisson did and they were certainly not prepared to spend large amounts of hard-earned money on them. MO has been quiet on the subject ever since.