New display celebrates Women’s History Month at The Keep!

8 March 2018

By Eleanor King

For Women’s History Month this year, a display has gone up in our reception area highlighting some of the lesser known heroines of our collections. Pictured below, the display loosely takes the themes of ‘a woman in a man’s world’ and the power of the female voice and friendship. The women featured all created something unique in their lifetimes and all have contributed to the place of women in the 21st century. To gather these women together, I put a call out to the ladies of The Keep for their champions and unsung heroines, and sure enough the call was answered.

A women whose archive I‘ve wanted to explore in more detail for while is that of the remarkable Dr Rosey Pool, whose scrapbooks of her time working with African America poets in the United States I have had the pleasure of being able to leaf through in teaching sessions. Dutch-born Dr Pool studied in Berlin until the expansion of the Nazi regime forced her return to Amsterdam, where she became a teacher, counting Anne Frank among her pupils. She had formed an interest in African American poetry at university and during the war continued to seek out and collect works by poets and artists. Following the war, Pool spent time in America, lecturing and speaking out in favour of civil rights, desegregation and championed the work of unknown African American poets and artists. Her archive includes a wealth of poetry from the middle of the 20th century, as well as much of her own writing. A recent display at The Keep featured a book from Rosey Pool’s archive that underwent conservation last year. A piece written by Special Collections Supervisor Rose Lock about this book and its conservation can be found on the University of Sussex library staff blog.

Eva Ehrenberg, a woman in a man's world; SxMs96/14/1

Eva Ehrenberg, a woman in a man’s world; SxMs96/14/1

Another woman I knew I had to feature was Tilly Edinger, an eminent scientist whose pioneering work led to the discovery of ‘paleo neurology’. It was Samira Teuteberg, archivist for the German-Jewish collections held at The Keep, who told me about Dr Edinger; knowing my interest in all things ‘Jurassic Park’, she knew a woman who pioneered the study of dinosaur brains was always going to pique my interest. Tilly Edinger led me to Eva Ehrenberg, her cousin and a translator and writer. I came across a photograph that, for me, embodies the phrase ‘a woman in a man’s world’, featuring Eva Ehrenberg at work at her desk in an office alone, on one side of the room whilst a group of men sit around at a desk on the other side of the room. The two parties could be occupying entirely separate spaces; Eva is isolated and ignored, working alone while the men appear to be deep in discussion. A copy of this photograph is now part of the display, alongside material related to the work of Tilly Edinger.

Despite Tilly’s move to America to pursue her career, she and Eva maintained a correspondence and a friendship. This got me thinking about the importance of female friendships and how empowering they can be, and I wanted to find other examples in our collections.

It was Rose Lock who alerted me to the incredible women of the Cooperative Correspondence Club, the CCC, who, following a call for help from a lonely mother in Nursery World magazine, created a publication written by the women, for the women and only to be read by CCC members. The magazine ran from 1935-1990 starting with 24 contributors who all wrote under pseudonyms and formed close friendships over the years. The power of being given a voice cannot be underestimated, and the CCC offered women across the country a chance to have their voices heard and their opinions counted in a world where they may have otherwise been ignored or undervalued.

In keeping with the theme of female friendship and comradery, East Sussex archivist Anna Manthorpe directed me to the Women’s Institute records we hold from chapters across the county. These include reports, minutes and record books, and we also hold several scrapbooks created to celebrate key events such the Golden Jubilee. On display are some images taken from the Falmer WI scrapbook from 1965 that feature a run-down of the year’s activities, including thoughts on the impact the new university will have on the village. Community groups such as the WI provided a space for women to work beyond the male gaze and their domestic arrangements, forming friendships and contributing to their local communities.

Portrait of Mary Philadelphia Merrifield, ACC 8642/1/19

Portrait of Mary Philadelphia Merrifield, ACC 8642/1/19

Other women who feature in the display include Mrs Mary Philadelphia Merrifield, a Brighton-based writer and translator from the 19th Century. She took herself off to France and Italy to study the Old Masters and later studied marine life, becoming a leading algologist (seaweed expert). A blog about Merrifield written for International Women’s Day in 2016 by archive assistant Emma Skinner can be read here. Brighton and Hove colleague Kate Elms and archive assistant Lindsey Tydeman also provided me with the names of many great women, including politician and activist Margaret Bondfield, pioneering physician Dr Helen Boyle and women’s rights campaigner Barbara Bodichon, all of whom have local connections but have made an impact historically.

The archives at The Keep are full of fascinating, remarkable and extraordinary women; from scientific pioneers to outspoken activists, to housewives seeking friendship. We hope you will inspired to come and find out more, or perhaps to discover your own family heroine? In 2018, the female voice is being heard perhaps louder than ever before, let’s keep it up!


Women of Sussex – Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827-1891)


Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, Collotype, 1861, after Samuel Laurence © National Portrait Gallery, London

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, Collotype, 1861, after Samuel Laurence © National Portrait Gallery, London

8 March 2018

By Lindsey Tydeman

When one thinks of 19th-century feminist pioneers, the name Barbara Bodichon does not spring to mind. History associates her neither with medicine (Elizabeth Blackwell), the vote (Millicent Fawcett), health and hospitals (Florence Nightingale), secondary education (the Misses Beale and Buss) or higher education (Emily Davis). Yet at different stages of her life she committed time, energy and huge amounts of money to all of these in the name of the ‘freedom and justice we English women struggle for’.

Born in 1827 in Whatlington, near Robertsbridge in East Sussex, Barbara Leigh Smith was always going to experience the chill of social exclusion as well as the freedom and privilege of wealth. Her father Benjamin Smith was the son of William Smith, the abolitionist and Unitarian spokesman in parliament. Benjamin inherited the family’s commitment to social improvement, particularly education, and founded an infant school in Westminster which also provided food, sewing lessons and baths. Although Ben Smith was committed to Barbara’s mother, a milliner called Anne Longden, they never married and his children were not publicly acknowledged by his married siblings and their families. After Anne Longden’s early death in August 1834, Benjamin Smith rented a house in Pelham Crescent, Hastings, and provided tutors, governesses and riding masters in a free-thinking environment where the girls enjoyed early independence, received drawing lessons and mixed with visiting and local artists. Art and ‘the sisterhood’ would the dominating themes of Barbara’s life, often intertwining but sometimes pulling her in different ways. In 1862, she acknowledged the temptation of art; it was much more enjoyable than these, ‘dusty dirty attempts to help one’s fellow creatures’ with, ‘long sojourns in stifling rooms with miserable people’.

On reaching the age of 21, Barbara received an investment portfolio from her father which gave her financial independence. It may have been a mixed blessing; while she could now afford to spend time painting, writing and organising projects of political and social reform, the need to earn a living, which was acting as an impetus for several women who would later be at the forefront of feminist initiatives, had been removed. She also learned that her father had a second illegitimate family with a woman he had met after her mother’s death. These children were not acknowledged by Barbara and her siblings.

Letter written by Barbara from her family home in Hastings about a donation to a local hospital building fund; AMS 7031/1

Letter written by Barbara from her family home in Hastings about a donation to a local hospital building fund; AMS 7031/1

In 1848, Barbara had her first article published in the Hastings and St Leonards News. ‘An Appeal to the Inhabitants of Hastings’ wished that reformers would give the same energy to social health issues as the Church of England did to the distribution of Bibles. This was followed by pieces denouncing the enforced ignorance of middle-class women, the foolishness of feminine fashion (particularly tight corsets) and ‘The Education of Women’, pleading with parents to let their daughters follow their interests in art or politics ‘unmolested’. The following year she attended drawing classes at the new Ladies College in Bedford Square, Bloomsbury, and enjoyed unchaperoned art trips with friends through Germany and Europe.

Barbara’s A Brief Summary, in Plain Language, of the Most Important Laws concerning Women of 1854 was her summary of Wharton’s 550-page Exposition of the Laws relating to the Women of England, published in 1853. The short book was meant to be read in a single sitting, with salient points highlighting the propertied single woman’s inability to vote and the married woman’s legal state of being ‘absorbed’ by her husband. In November the same year, her much-cherished project, that of a progressive infant school where social classes mixed together, Portman Hall School, opened near the Edgware Road in London.

In 1856, Barbara drafted a petition for the reform of laws affecting women which secured 3,000 signatures and was presented in parliament the same year. She produced the pamphlet Women and Work, an argument for the right of middle-class women to have professions without losing gentility or perceived ‘femininity’, and became a founding member of The Society of Female Artists, creating a space in which women could display and sell their works. She was instrumental in securing lecture halls and local receptions for Elizabeth Blackwell’s first lectures on ‘Medicine as a Profession for the ladies’. The same year, having narrowly escaped a sexual liaison with her publisher Chapman – which would have undoubtedly ruined her socially – her father took his daughters to Algiers for the winter where Barbara met and soon married the eccentric and philanthropic French doctor Eugène Bodichon. Future years would be divided between Britain and Algiers. In Sussex she would paint; in London, from her home and political base in Blandford Square, she would organise reforming committees; and from Algiers, in-between art expeditions, she would direct funds and instructions back to London.

Census return showing Barbara living at Scalands Gate, near Brightling, just before her death in 1891

Census return showing Barbara living at Scalands Gate, near Brightling, just before her death in 1891

In 1858, Barbara and her childhood friend Bessie Parkes established a new magazine, The Englishwoman’s Journal. Its headquarters in Langham Place had a ladies reading room, a luncheon room, and, briefly, a women’s employment exchange. She was at the height of her campaigning energy. In 1859 she headed a petition of 39 women artists to force the Royal Academy to admit women students to its schools; in 1866, she was instrumental in the campaign for extending the franchise to female householders. In 1872, she put down the first £1000 towards what would eventually become Girton College, Cambridge.

Photograph of a book cover from the Bodichon Lending Library, AMS 7031/2

Photograph of a book cover from the Bodichon Lending Library, AMS 7031/2

In later years, Barbara Bodichon drew fulfilment from more personal projects which brought immediate results. She supported several women through higher education, assisting their families financially to free them to attend university colleges. After retirement to her house at Scalands Gate in Sussex following a stroke, she asked Gertrude Jekyll to design an addition to the house which would serve as a reading room, library and night school for young working men who could not read or write. She donated liberally to local hospitals and charities. After her death in June 1891, the Sussex Agricultural Express reported that around 50 members of the night school preceded her funeral cortege on its journey from Scalands Gate to the church at Brightling. ‘The basis of Madame’s character,’ wrote J Piper in his History of Robertsbridge (1906), ‘was a sense of abstract justice.’

Further reading

Pam Hirsch, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon 1827-1891: Feminist, Artist and Rebel (1998)




William Moon, pioneering teacher and author of Light for the Blind

13 December 2017

By Kate Elms

Our disability history display, with Moon's Light for the Blind in the centre of the middle shelf

Our disability history display, featuring William Moon’s Light for the Blind

The Keep’s reception area has been transformed this year by the arrival of three glass display cases, giving us the opportunity to show more of the wonderful material in our care. For conservation reasons, we often use scanned copies of documents or photographs in our displays, but under certain circumstances – after discussion with our conservator – we are able to feature original archives for short periods of time.

The display created to mark Disability History Month includes a first edition from our rare book collections of Light for the Blind, written by William Moon and first published in 1873. Moon was a Brighton man who played a key role in improving literacy for blind and visually impaired people in the 19th century through the development of his embossed ‘Moon’ alphabet.

Born in 1818, William Moon lost sight in one eye at the age of four, after contracting scarlet fever. The sight in his other eye was also affected and it gradually deteriorated until, by the age of 21, he was totally blind. By this time, Moon had moved to Brighton, where he abandoned his original plan to become a minister and, instead, dedicated his life to helping blind adults and children learn to read.

The Asylum for the Blind, which opened in Eastern Road in 1861

The Asylum for the Blind, which opened in Eastern Road in 1861

While his sight was failing, Moon had begun to familiarise himself with the embossed reading codes that were available in England in the 1830s. Before long, he assembled a group of blind or partially sighted pupils, which later evolved into a class within the Brighton Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in Egremont Place. After a number of years, and changes of address, a more permanent home for Moon’s teaching groups was found at the Asylum for the Blind in Eastern Road, which opened on 22 October 1861.

The existing embossed reading systems were complex and Moon found them difficult for some of his pupils to grasp, particularly those whose hands were calloused and insensitive from manual labour. So he set about creating a simpler Moon ‘alphabet’ based on modified Roman letters. This, he claimed, was so effective that, ‘a lad who had in vain for five years endeavoured to learn by the other systems, could in ten days read easy sentences.’

Not content with teaching, Moon was also producing embossed books, including the Bible, at his home in Queen’s Road. In 1856, his friend and benefactor Sir Charles Lowther, who was also blind, laid the foundation stone for a printing press next-door. These premises were subsequently expanded and used for the production of not just text, but also illustrations and maps, giving those who were blind from birth a means to visualise things that they would never have seen. Queen Victoria’s portrait is said to have been a particular favourite.

The Moon alphabet, a simple embossed system

The Moon alphabet, a simple embossed system

Books were also printed in foreign languages and sent to libraries around the world. Sir Charles Lowther himself took 2,000 volumes to New York for distribution across the US. Alongside this impressive enterprise, Moon developed Home Teaching Societies; these operated in the UK and Ireland as well as Australia, America and elsewhere, and involved trained teachers of Moon’s methods visiting the blind who were isolated in their own homes, and teaching them to read.

The collections held at The Keep by the Brighton’s Royal Pavilion & Museums feature an interesting mix of material relating to William Moon, including books, pamphlets, annual reports, newspaper cuttings and ephemera. 19th-century bookseller W J Smith, whose own premises were just down the road from Moon’s, in North Street,  recorded many of Moon’s milestones in one of his wonderful scrapbooks, alongside information relating to other local individuals and institutions from the same period.

Although the Moon alphabet was overtaken in popularity by Braille, William Moon is remembered for his pioneering work concerning the welfare and education of blind people. He died in October 1894.



Meet the Volunteers: Sam Allen, Beyond Boxes ‘buddy’

30 November 2017

‘When I began volunteering for the Beyond Boxes project, I did not know what to expect. However, I have since learned that it is about far more than helping service users with registering or using our services at The Keep. The Beyond Boxes project allows people to explore their own stories, histories and interests, with a helping hand nearby should they need it. As a volunteer, I feel enriched by my time spent at The Keep, not just in terms of guiding users through how to use the catalogue or interpret historical documents, but also in getting to know our users and their stories.


I believe the key to encouraging access to the collections at The Keep is getting to know our users, by exploring what they are looking for in the archives or simply by listening to their stories. Everyone who comes to The Keep has a story or is looking to fill in the blanks of one, be it of their family history or to aid academic research. In this way, I believe that the Beyond Boxes project sits hand in hand with Mass Observation. It appears that people are increasingly looking to inform their own knowledge of the past. As a matter of observation, it is interesting that people of our time are interested in looking back as the world is getting bigger through technology. As part of that process, I am more than glad to lend a hand where I can in helping people to find and record their stories, even if that simply means showing them how to access software on a computer or helping hunt around the Reference Room for a book or index.

Buddy volunteer Sam Allen, right, with David Dent, senior IT instructor at Blind Veterans UK, in the Reference Room at The Keep

Buddy volunteer Sam Allen, right, with David Dent, senior IT instructor at Blind Veterans UK, in the Reference Room at The Keep

Recently we welcomed a group from Blind Veterans UK to The Keep, and their enthusiasm for our collections and resources was warming and enlightening. In a recent acquisition to meet user needs in terms of accessibility, The Keep has installed a wide range of IT equipment designed to enlarge, filter and enhance our digital resources to meet the needs of visually impaired or partially sighted users. It was exciting to hear what the Blind Veterans group thought of these new innovations, and it was also an education for the buddies and staff present. The whole day was a great experience for everyone involved, as tales of lost relatives and past experiences were shared and explored. Better still was that these endeavours were led by the Blind Veterans themselves, all of whom I hope left us with a healthy appetite for what The Keep offers (beyond the inter-session tea and cake). Many that I spoke to eagerly shared their plans to return.

My hopes as a volunteer and participant in the Beyond Boxes project is to share and reflect the excitement that our users bring with them to The Keep, particularly those who may not normally seek out our services. Often, it is in the experiences of these users that the most interesting stories are found. These contemporary voices shape our local and cultural history, and each and every one deserves to be heard, recorded and celebrated.’

If you would like the support of a ‘buddy’ volunteer to access the technology in use at The Keep, please contact us by email ( or telephone (01273 482349) to make an appointment. If you are interested in volunteering as one of our buddies, please email Suzanne Rose (



Henry Fawcett and Millicent Garrett Fawcett, campaigners for female suffrage

8 March 2017

By Kate Elms

It might seem strange on International Women’s Day to focus on a married couple, Millicent Garrett Fawcett and her husband Henry Fawcett. It’s certainly true that Millicent’s achievements and legacy speak for themselves – she was an early and active campaigner for female suffrage and for higher education for women, and the Fawcett Society, founded in 1866 to fight for gender equality, is named after her. But Henry Fawcett, Brighton’s Liberal MP from 1865 to 1874, was equally committed to the idea of votes for women and encouraged Millicent in both her campaigning and her writing. Theirs appears to have been an equal partnership, which seems worth celebrating.

Henry Fawcett and Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett by Ford Madox Brown; oil on canvas, 1872, NPG 1603, copyright National Portrait Gallery, London

Henry Fawcett and Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett by Ford Madox Brown; oil on canvas, 1872, NPG 1603, copyright National Portrait Gallery, London

Millicent Garrett was born in 1847 in Suffolk into a large family in which freedom of speech and political debate was encouraged. At the age of 12, she was sent to boarding school in London, where her elder sister Elizabeth was studying, and it was there, in 1865, that she first heard the radical MP John Stuart Mill speak on women’s rights. Mill was one of the first men to argue against the subordination of women and, in 1866, presented a petition to Parliament on behalf of Elizabeth and a group of women known as the Kensington Society, demanding the right to vote. The petition failed, but it had gained a significant number of signatures as well as the support of certain MPs, suggesting that some men agreed with them. Henry Fawcett was one of these men.

Born in Salisbury in 1833, Fawcett was educated at Cambridge and initially planned a career in law. He was blinded in a shooting accident at the age of 25, but pursued his studies, becoming Professor of Political Economy in 1863. Two years later, he was elected MP for Brighton. A man with profoundly liberal views, he joined Mill and other radical members of parliament in campaigning for equal rights for women, which brought him into contact with Elizabeth Garrett and her circle.

In 1865, he proposed to Elizabeth but she turned him down, choosing instead to focus on her medical studies (she later became Britain’s first female doctor). Henry then met and fell in love with Millicent, Elizabeth’s younger sister, and the pair were married on 23 April 1867. Their meeting was described in Fawcett’s biography A Beacon for the Blind as, ‘the beginning of a rare understanding between two strangely harmonious and independent natures … their affection rested on a strong foundation of common principles and interests and of the love of freedom and justice.’ The couple had one child, Philippa, who was born in 1868.

Millicent assisted her husband in his work as an MP, while he encouraged her in her career as a writer. In 1870, she wrote Political Economy for Beginners and, in the same year, delivered a lecture at Brighton Town Hall on the ‘electoral disabilities of women’ which was reported at length in the local press.  She became a well-known speaker, not just on women’s issues but on political and academic subjects too, at a time when few women expressed their views on public platforms.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett's lecture advertised in the Brighton Gazette, 17 March 1870

Millicent Garrett Fawcett’s lecture advertised in the Brighton Gazette, 17 March 1870

Meanwhile, Henry supported Mill’s proposed (but unsuccessful) amendment to the 1867 Reform Act, which would give women the same political rights as men, and campaigned for equal access to further education and employment. In 1872, he and Millicent co-produced Essays and Lectures on Social and Political Subjects, and the couple had their portrait painted by Ford Madox Brown; the finished artwork was bequeathed to the National Portrait Gallery in 1911.

Henry Fawcett remained MP for Brighton until 1874, after which he represented Hackney. He was appointed Postmaster General by Gladstone in 1880, and in this role he continued to champion women’s rights, extending their employment opportunities and, after taking advice from his sister-in-law Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, appointing women doctors to care for them. He died in 1884 at the age of 51.

Millicent was only 37 at the time of her husband’s sudden and premature death, and within a short time, she was back at work campaigning for women’s suffrage, among many other things. She became leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, the main Suffragist organisation in the country, with far more members than the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union. Committed to a pragmatic, law-abiding approach, she distanced herself from the more violent campaigning inspired by Suffragettes such as the Pankhursts in the early years of the 20th century, but she acknowledged the impact their actions had on the overall movement, and is said to have commended the bravery of the women who faced imprisonment.

Millicent died in 1929 and until the end of her life she fought for equal access for women not just to the right to vote, but also to education, employment and divorce. Fittingly, she was present in the gallery of the House of Lords to see the Equal Franchise Act passed in 1928, more than 60 years after her first involvement in the struggle, one of the few women involved from the beginning to end.








12th May and Mass Observation

9 November 2016

By Jessica Scantlebury

12th May (2)Regular readers of The Keep’s blog will remember reading about the Mass Observation Archive’s project to collect diaries written on the 12th May 2016. Over 1,000 diaries were received and you can now view them in the Reading Room at The Keep.

I have been reading through many of the diaries that were sent to us and made some interesting discoveries about the day, from how much tea was consumed to how many people thought about the forthcoming EU Referendum. You can find out more by clicking on the infographic shown on the right.



12 May 2016: Capture this day for the Mass Observation Archive

12 May 2016

By Jessica Scantlebury, Senior Archive Assistant for the Mass Observation Archive

On the 12th May 1937, the newly founded social research organisation, Mass Observation, famously requested day diaries written by the public from across Britain. This date was chosen to capture the public’s mood on the day of the Coronation of George VI: an event thought to be worthy of study by the organisation following the public’s and press’s reaction to the so-called ‘Abdication Crisis’. This year, on Thursday 12th May 2016, the Mass Observation Archive is repeating this call for people from across the country to submit an account of their day to the Archive.

In 1937, hundreds of Coronation diaries from people of all walks of life, albeit a greater number from the left leaning middle classes, were sent to Mass Observation’s headquarters in London. may12thDiarists wrote about everything, from waking in the morning to going to sleep at night. Some wrote about standing on The Mall and summarised the mood of the crowds who had gathered to watch the Coronation; many wrote about celebrations in their local area, whereas for others it was just an ordinary day. The diarist worked as “meteorological stations” which Mass Observation hoped would enable them, and other social scientists, to compile a “weather map of popular feeling.” (Mass-Observation, 1937, p30)

“6.30 a.m. was woken by phone. Felt particularly sleepy, and disagreeably aware that I had to attend on duty, in charge of boys from my school. As I got up I thought how nervous the King and Queen must be. My wife and I supposed that the young princesses must be nearly off their head with excitement. I decide to wear my old socks with a hole in the heel, rather than change them.” (man, 27, schoolmaster, London, ‘inactive Left’) (May 12th, 1987, p119)

Recent 12th Mays, compared to that of 1937, have been on relatively ordinary days, apart from the first call in 2010 which, by coincidence, happened to be the day that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government was formed. As a result of this, many of the diarist behave like rolling news citizen-journalists ruminating on the new cabinet in real time as it was announced.

At 12.20 it is lunchtime. For the first time since starting at this school, in February, I decide that I want to go for a cigarette. I walk down the school drive, away from the school, and into the nearby Cemetery. I can’t help but think about the recent death of a friend. I sit on a bench and smoke a cigarette. I wish it didn’t- but it helps. Text message from J about the appointment of Theresa May as Minister of Women and Equality: “Theresa May!! The gays are gonna’ get it. Urgh”. (MT/2010/94, PGCE student, woman, aged 27)


Since 2011 we have worked with different groups in order to promote the 12th May to a wider audience. The most successful one of these has been our work with UK men’s prisons. The Archive has collected almost 300 diaries, from male prisoners, in varying institutions from youth offending and open prisons to Category B security institutions. In these diaries the writers detail their daily routine, frustrations at their life and the prison system as well as hopes and fears for the future. The diary collection acted as a springboard for further activities, including several writing workshops at Lewes Prison, three anthologies of the writing, and a research project led by the University of Sussex.


“It’s nearly tea time, Monday’s teas are alright because we get our packet of shorty biscuits, one packet to last a week. Also, we get Association for 1hr 10min I think I’m going to clean my cell out and get a shower. Being clean means the world to me because theres a lot of people in here who don’t care to shower or keep clean.” (Man, aged 31, Lewes prison)


This year, we are continuing our work with prisons, schools and community groups and would welcome any proposals of new groups to publicise the project to. In particular, we welcome suggestions of ways to encourage participation from members of the LGBTQ community. These diaries would complement the material collected by the National Lesbian and Gay Survey (NLGS) between 1986 and 2004. During the week of the 12th May (starting daily on 9th May), this collection is the subject of a BBC Radio 4 drama, written by the performer Christopher Green, called ‘The Experience of Love’. The timing of the broadcast is a happy coincidence, which we hope will help solicit a greater response.

The resulting diaries will be stored at The Keep archive centre just outside of Brighton. They will be used by a wide range of groups for both research and teaching and will also be used to engage new and older learners in school and community outreach sessions. Details of how to take part in the project can be found on the Mass Observation Archive’s website.

A version of this blog post appeared on the History Workshop  Online blog.


Marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death: #Shakespeare400

23rd April 2016

By Emma Johnson

‘All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women mere players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…’ – As You Like It

23rd April 2016 marks the 400 anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare- a dramatist so skilled with words that his work continues to make an impression upon us. Most will be familiar with his plays such as ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Macbeth’, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘Twelfth Night’. Whether we are attracted to the traditional Tudor/Jacobean settings, or more modern adaptations, Shakespeare’s writing explores themes such as love, friendship, betrayal and jealousy that resonate with us in any era. The National Archives are celebrating the 400 anniversary by hosting an exhibition which will explore Shakespeare’s life in London, as well as talks and events throughout the year.

Here at The Keep, our collections also have links with the great bard. In the care of the East Sussex Record Office, there is an account book of the Rye Chamberlain, showing that the Lord Chamberlain’s players were paid for a performance:



Paid for a reward given to my lord Chamberlens Players at the assignement of Mr maior (ie the mayor) xxs (i.e. 20 shillings).

The University of Sussex Special Collections also holds a number of Shakespeare volumes in their rare books collections. Below is an extract from ‘Macbeth’:



The words, works and life of Shakespeare continue to excite us, amuse us and inspire us- even 400 years after his death.

For more information on talks, exhibitions and events taking place across the country to mark the 400 anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, visit:


Clare Sheridan – A Woman Ahead of Her Time

22 March 2016

Nestled in a few boxes at The Keep are many photographs and negatives (dating from around 1915 to the 1950s) of the fascinating sculptor, photographer, journalist and writer Clare Consuelo Sheridan (nee Frewen).
Jenny Geering, who has been digitising some of this material, writes about this extraordinary woman.

Early Years

Clare was born in 1885 to Moreton Frewen, a man of good gentry who suffered some financial misadventures, and his wife Clarita, the daughter of an American financier. She had a varied and interesting childhood, enjoying trips to London, seeing her cousin Winston (Churchill) and spending time with her mother and aunts. There were also visits with King Milan of Serbia (he doted on Clare, calling her ‘darling’, and brought all the children gifts; he may also have been her mother’s lover). There was a sense of loneliness too, as her parents did not have much time to spend with their children; they were left under the supervision of a nurse and subsequently a governess.

Clare Sheridan photography

Examples of Clare Sheridan’s photography

At the age of 14, Clare was sent to a convent in Paris but this was a miserable time for her. Despite speaking fluent French, she was not able to relate to other girls of her own age and they bullied her for being English. After Clare declared that she wanted to be Catholic, not Protestant, so that she could fit in with the other girls, her mother withdrew her from the convent and sent her to live with a Protestant family in Darmstadt. After some time being ‘finished’ (going to opera and museums), she returned home to her parents.

Becoming an Independent Young Woman

In May 1903, Clare met a young man named Wilfred Sheridan at her first ball and was instantly smitten with this charming and handsome man. He too was taken with her but was aware of her family’s financial problems. Other ‘suitable’ men showed interest in young Clare, but she did not reciprocate. Her cousin Winston stayed in touch via letter and when she shared the fact that she’d like to write a book herself, he supported her dream of finding independence for herself.

At this point, Clare and her parents lived mainly at the beautiful Brede Place in Sussex and they entertained famous characters of that time, including Rudyard Kipling and Henry James. These authors encouraged Clare with her literary pursuits and passions. Soon after this, Clare befriended the Prime Minister’s daughter, Violet Asquith, who asked if she would write an article on her behalf for the National Review; Clare took to this with great gusto and earned her first income.

Romantic Pursuits

Despite a proposal from a kind, older suitor, Clare could not escape thoughts of Wilfred. Her Aunt Jennie invited both Clare and Wilfred to dinner and , hearing of her prior proposal, Wilfred himself proposed and Clare accepted. In October 1910, they were married in a large ceremony attended by members of the royal family and the Cabinet.

Children and the First Sculptures

Clare gave birth to a first daughter, Margaret, in 1912 and her second daughter, Elizabeth, in 1913. Sadly Elizabeth became ill with tuberculosis and passed away in 1914. Wanting to create a memorial for Elizabeth’s grave, Clare learned how to sculpt with clay and relished this creative outlet. At the same time, she took many photographs of Margaret, their home and her family and spent time creating sculptures of the heads of her friends’ children.

When the First World War broke out, Wilfred left Clare, who was pregnant again, at home whilst he went and fought. At the end of September 1915, Richard ‘Dick’ Sheridan was born and a few days later Wilfred Sheridan was lost in battle.

Her Own Income

By 1919, Clare’s independence and income were growing – she was able to earn hundreds of pounds a year but it still was not quite enough. Thanks to a very large donation from an American colonel who admired her work, Clare was able to focus more on her bust bronzes – her subjects included her friend Princess Patricia of Connaught, former prime minister Herbert Asquith, and writer HG Wells. In mid-1920, Clare was invited to travel to Russia to sculpt busts of revolutionaries. The British government objected to her going but, being the stubborn, determined young woman she was, she went anyway, and stayed for a couple months, allegedly having affairs with a few of her sitters. Cousin Winston discovered her exploits and was livid, as were many people back in England. Soon after, she left for America.


Initially Clare spent time doing publicity (which she resented) for her new book Mayfair to Moscow but soon she was arranging an exhibition of her art and taking commissions again. She had to stand up to her father (who was never very supportive) and to justify herself as a mother to her own children, but things improved and Clare’s writing became well known across America. She was offered a trip to LA at the expense of MGM Studios as Charlie Chaplin was eager to meet her after reading Mayfair to Moscow. Clare and Charlie got on wonderfully, despite having incredibly different backgrounds, and even little Dick adored him. However the press put pressure on their relationship and it soon came to a close.

More Travel

She spent the next few years travelling through Europe as a journalist and, after returning to London in the mid-1920s, published two novels on travel in quick succession. During the early 1930s, Clare visited Africa, where she took many photographs, but at around this time Dick became heir to the Frewen House at Frampton, which the family needed to sell.

Tragically, Dick died of complications from appendicitis in 1937, and Clare was inconsolable. Her loss did not stop her travelling, however; she set off for America, where she joined an art colony on a Native American reserve. Here she started carving wood into beautiful art, which she later exhibited.

Second World War

Once war started, Clare returned to Brede Place. By 1942, Winston had asked her to do another bust of him, possibly to represent a time of such prominence for him. After the war, Clare converted to Catholicism and moved to a Franciscan convent in Ireland. Clare still expressed herself with her sculpture whilst living here, moving in to her own house but still visiting the convent. Life had begun to quieten down for Clare by the end of the war but she still wrote and released a book called To the Four Winds. At this point, Clare had really rejected England but still travelled and made her way to Greece, where she began to carve in marble. Clare came down dysentery after visiting Biskra and seeing no improvement, returned to England as she sensed the end was imminent. Clare Sheridan finally passed on, on 31 May 1970 aged 84, leaving a legacy of art, writing, photographs and stories behind her.

The Clare Sheridan material held at The Keep forms part of the Frewen Family Archive. It includes photographs and glass-plate negatives, drawings and illustrations, newspaper cuttings, letters and family papers. The material is currently being catalogued and is not yet available to order, but watch this space for future updates!


International Women’s Day: Mrs Mary Philadelphia Merrifield (1804-1889)

8 March 2016

By Emma Skinner

ACC 8642/1/19 Mary P MerrifieldMrs Mary Philadelphia Merrifield was one of only a handful of women who established themselves as experts in their field at a time when science and academia were dominated by men. An accomplished linguist, a specialist in Old Master paintings and having written on topics such as colour pigmentation and the art of dress, Merrifield was a diverse and ambitious scholar. By the end of her life she was considered an authority on seaweeds and had papers published in various scientific journals including the Annals of Botany and Journal of Linnaen Society. Her interests reflected the Victorian sense of enquiry towards understanding the natural world and curiosity for collecting.

Commissioned by the Royal Commission on Fine Arts under Robert Peel’s government, Mary undertook research trips to France and Northern Italy accompanied by her son, Charles Watkins Merrifield, who assisted with transcribing and copying manuscripts from some of Europe’s most prestigious libraries. The results of these trips were consolidated in 1845 for her book The Art of Fresco Painting in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, which consisted of an introduction to the chemical structure of colour pigments and translations of extracts from well-respected historical writers on Renaissance art and architecture including Vitruvius, Leon Battista Alberti and Vasari. In 1847 Mary was made an honorary member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, awarded for her research into Italian art history.


Her influence on local history is equally remarkable. During her travels, Mary wrote regularly to her husband and parents back in England. Here at The Keep we hold ten booklets of transcripts of the surviving letters sent to 4 Grand Parade Brighton, which can be ordered to view in the Reading Room. When she returned to the Sussex coast she wrote Brighton, Past and Present: A Handbook for Visitors and Residents which was full of lively Regency anecdotes and, in 1860, her study of the county’s flora and fauna entitled A Sketch of the Natural History of Brighton and its Vicinity. In this quotation Merrifield’s admiration for the South Downs is unequivocal:

In their general outlines, the Downs, like all mountain ranges of the chalk formation, are rounded in their forms, and though in their natural state destitute of trees, they possess a beauty peculiarly their own, in the long serpentine lines into which they fall, the variety and harmony of their colours, passing from blue in the distance through grey, to the warmer tints of green, broken orange and russet. (A Sketch of the Natural History of Brighton, 1864, p.21)

There was a decisive shift in her curiosity after this date from the visual arts to botany and marine life. Mary assisted in the display and arrangement of the natural history exhibits at Brighton Museum and some of her seaweed specimens are now in the care of the Booth Museum.

An extract from 'A Sketch of the Natural History of Brighton'

An extract from ‘A Sketch of the Natural History of Brighton’

A newspaper from 1857 reported that she was awarded a civil-list pension of £100 per year ‘in consideration of the valuable services she has rendered to literature and art’, and in tribute to her contribution to the advancement of late nineteenth century marine biology a species of marine algae was named after her. After the death of her husband John in 1877, Mary moved from Brighton to Cambridge and remained there until her death. Her correspondence relating to botany was donated to the Plant Sciences library in Cambridge. Mrs Merrifield’s extraordinary legacy lives on through her herbarium which now resides at the Natural History Museum in London and in her many published books, many of which can be viewed here at The Keep.

For the Merrifield family papers see our online catalogue and browse the hierarchy.