Beachy Head Lighthouse lantern slides acquired by East Sussex Record Office!

1 December 2017

We were delighted to announce yesterday that East Sussex Record Office has acquired at auction a wonderful collection of lantern slides showing the construction of Beachy Head Lighthouse, taken between 1900 and 1902. The purchase was made possible thanks to funding from the Arts Council/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Friends of the National Libraries, Trinity House, and the Friends of The Keep Archives, plus the generosity of a number of individual donors from the Eastbourne area.

ACC 12988-06

The photographs are thought to have been taken by Sir Thomas Matthews, the son of a borough surveyor who joined the United Kingdom’s lighthouse service, Trinity House, in 1874. He succeeded to the office of Engineer-in-Chief in 1892, and went on to design over a dozen lighthouses for Trinity House. He also worked on illumination systems, notably a lamp designed to burn oil vapour.

Matthews’ most significant achievement was the construction of Beachy Head Lighthouse. Completed in 1902, it was the last rock lighthouse built by Trinity House. The work took two years to finish; it involved building a coffer-dam and an aerial ropeway from the cliffs to transport materials, both of which are illustrated by these slides.

Beachy Head is an iconic feature of the landscape of East Sussex, and a crucial element of its maritime heritage. The site of a naval engagement in 1690 and celebrated by Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) in a watercolour of 1939, it also provides an element of the frieze which decorates the external faces of The Keep, home of East Sussex Record Office. A large collection of lantern slides which minutely record the construction of the lighthouse is an important acquisition, and we are delighted that we will be able to conserve them for future generations and to share them with a wider public.

ACC 12988-08

We currently hold digital copies of 31 of the slides, and these can be viewed on computers in our Reference Room (reference ACC 12988). When the complete collection of slides arrives at The Keep, they will be delivered to our conservation studio, where they will be cleaned by hand, using warm, distilled water, by a dedicated group of volunteers. They will then be dried with cotton buds, and the remaining 40 will digitised, so a complete set of scanned copies will be available to view. The glass plates themselves will then be placed in Silversafe envelopes designed for photographic conservation, packed in custom-made boxes, and stored in our environmentally controlled repository.

It has been wonderful to see the level of local interest in this material, and we’d like to reiterate our thanks to those who contributed or helped publicise our bid. We shall be looking at ways of providing access to this remarkable collection in 2018, both on our website and through our events programme; the possibility of producing a book has also been mentioned. Updates will appear on our blog and social media channels, so watch this space!




New Diary Day marks International Day of People with Disabilities

23 November 2016

By Anthony McCoubrey

As part of International Day of People with Disabilities, the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex is inviting people to get involved and keep a day diary on Saturday 3rd December 2016.

The Mass Observation Archive has been recording everyday life in Britain since 1937 and we have collected material relating to a variety of topics and people’s experiences.  We continue to do this today through our panel of writers and our May 12th Diary Day, when members of the public can contribute their day diary to the archive.

This year, we are holding an additional Diary day on 3rd December as part of our Beyond Boxes project. Funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, this two-year access and engagement project is working to address barriers, whether they be attitudinal, educational, social or physical, that people may experience when trying to access archive collections.

We would like to encourage people to record their day on 3rd December and send it to the Mass Observation Archive, which is housed at The Keep in Falmer, where it will be kept and used by researchers, students and members of the public. All diary entries are anonymised so the diarist’s identity will not be made public, nor will any of their personal details.

By working in partnership with different groups and getting the wider public engaged we hope to ensure that our archive includes and celebrates the diversity of people’s lives and experiences in 21st century Britain.


Please do get in touch if you would like to get involved with the Beyond Boxes project. To record your diary for the Mass Observation Archive on 3rd December 2016, please look at our website for further information, templates and advice on completing and submitting your diary.

Partnership logos




Introducing ‘Beyond Boxes’, a new Mass Observation Archive project

13 September 2016

By Anthony McCoubrey

The Mass Observation Archive (MOA) is working in partnership with Blind Veterans UK, the Brighton Housing Trust and Lewes Prison to open up access to archive collections.

The two-year Beyond Boxes project, which launched last week, is supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project aims to break down the barriers many people face in trying to use archives, be these physical, attitudinal or educational, to ensure that heritage is open and accessible to all.

Beyond Boxes will include a range of activities and events, such as a diary day in December for International Day of Disabled People, along with a programme of outreach and in-house workshops at The Keep. The project will enable participants to explore, debate and learn about daily life in Britain and make contributions to the Mass Observation Archive that reflect their own lives and experiences of life in 21st century Britain.

Anthony McCoubrey, Beyond Boxes Project Coordinator, said: ‘Heritage comes in many social and cultural forms; from historic buildings, to the natural world, to individual possessions.

‘But it is also tradition passed down through personal stories, experiences, or writings. Everyone should have the opportunity to contribute their personal heritage so that it is recorded, represented and made available to a wider audience through the Mass Observation Archive.”

Katherine Bradley, Members Activities Manager at Blind Veterans UK, said: “Blind Veterans UK is excited to be part of this project. It is wonderful that the experiences of the veterans the charity supports will be recorded and available as part of this project, as well as that all records will be accessible for those with a vision-impairment.”

Sara Peskett, at Brighton Housing Trust, said: ‘People who are street homeless face multiple barriers to accessing and engaging with heritage in Brighton and Hove. Despite forming a significant part of the community within the city, the heritage of people who are rough sleeping and their thoughts, experiences and memories are underrepresented. Beyond Boxes is a fantastic initiative providing many opportunities for clients of BHT to engage with and actively contribute to the historical archives.”

Emma Bach, Librarian at Lewes Prison, said: ‘Beyond Boxes will help to remove barriers to our archives and capture voices outside of the mainstream. It can also offer prisoners opportunities to identify where they ‘are’ now, inspire goals for change and hopes for a different future – vital steps in the process of rehabilitation.’

For further information about the project, please get in touch by contacting The Keep on 01273 482349, or contact the Mass Observation Archive at And you can keep updated about the project in the Keep’s blog space.




Get set for a summer of sport!

21 June 2016

By Kate Elms

Did you know that, as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951, a show jumping event was held in Brighton’s Preston Park? Or that a sailing and rowing regatta took place between the Chain and West Piers in 1894? Are you interested in what Mass Observation’s panel of writers made of the 2012 Olympics? Or in the way sport was used to rehabilitate and entertain soldiers hospitalised in Brighton during the First World War? To celebrate the fantastic summer of sport that lies ahead, we’ll be sharing these and other stories from the archive on our blog and social media channels during July and August.

Swimming club poster 2 rotated

We’ve also created a small display of documents (mostly scans of originals for conservation reasons) in our Reference Room, and will be hosting two sports-inspired talks based on some of the wonderful material held here at The Keep: the first will trace the history of Brighton Swimming Club, which was set up in 1860 by a group of hardy sea swimmers, and the second will explore the historic game of stoolball, and the pioneering Victorian women from Sussex who played it.

For more information about our programme of events, please see our website or call 01273 482349.

The Keep News: Sussex Police working with the Historic Environment Record to tackle Heritage Crime

13th January 2016

What is heritage crime? Heritage crime is any offence which harms the value of heritage assets for the current and future generations. Sites that are considered to have a value to England’s heritage include listed buildings, monuments, battlefields, registered parks and gardens and conservation protected areas. The Historic England website provides some excellent information on heritage crime across the country.

In East Sussex, to help prevent heritage crime and to raise awareness, Sussex Police have designated Heritage Crime Officer’s, including PCSO Daryl Holter who covers Rother District. Daryl has pinpointed 3 main priorities to help tackle heritage crime: preventing and detecting crimes, supporting heritage communities to enhance partnerships and improving education about heritage crime.

One of the partnerships that Daryl has forged is with The Keep’s own Historic Environment Record Officer, Sophie Unger. Historic Environment Records (HERs) are sources about and signposts to landscapes, buildings, monuments, sites, places, areas and archaeological finds spanning more than 700,000 years. Based mainly in local authorities, they are used for planning and development control but they also have an educational role. In this instance, the HER also acts as a useful tool in tackling heritage crime, by maintaining a record of all heritage assets (both designated and non-designated).

In recognition of his hard work and dedication to tackling heritage crime in the county, Daryl was awarded a certificate of merit. Daryl’s commitment to his work is demonstratDaryl Holtered in his personal reflection of his report:

We have a choice to defend our heritage, past, present and future. Some take our past heritage for granted; some forget it is amongst our present. We walk on it, drive through it and fly over it. When it falls victim to abuse it is all our moral responsibility to protect our past. It is our future generations that should have opportunity to rediscover experience and interpret the old and the new. We are but custodians of a rich heritage that tells of our journey.’

To see more examples of the cases Daryl and his colleagues have been dealing with, please see the Heritage Crime annual report below:

2015 Heritage Report PCSO Holter



New drop-in service for researchers

5 January 2016

We’ll be starting the New Year at The Keep with a new, free service for those undertaking local or house history research. We realise that the range of material available – to order through our online catalogue and to consult in our Reference and Reading Rooms – can be daunting, both for those starting out and for those who feel they have reached a dead end. So from 13 January 2016, on alternate Wednesday afternoons, our in-house researcher Andrew Lusted will be available for short one-to-one consultations in the Reference Room.

A probate inventory dating from the early 18th century (PBT 1/10/1452)

A probate inventory dating from the early 18th century (PBT 1/10/1452)

For house historians, Andrew will be able to advise which sources might be worth a look, from building plans, street directories and electoral registers to local wills, court books and records of taxation. Where appropriate, he will also introduce the tithe, estate and Ordnance Survey maps held at The Keep. For wider local history enquiries, he may suggest exploring parish material, estate records, local newspapers, or archives relating to schools, asylums and workhouses (bearing in mind that the closure periods for the last three of these can be up to 100 years).

Our aim with this new initiative is not to carry out the research for you (we will continue to offer a separate research service); instead, we can provide a little more time than is usually available (20-30 minutes max) for an introductory chat and some expert guidance. We hope this will ensure you benefit from as wide a range of resources as possible. Our frontline staff will be on hand, as always, for additional help and advice and, for genealogy enquiries, volunteers from the Sussex Family History Group are often here to share their expertise. The sessions will run initially on a drop-in basis, so appointments are not necessary and there may be some waiting time. Please see the What’s On pages on our website for further details.

The Keep News: Palaeography Workshop

This example of 16th-century handwriting was featured in the workshop

This example of 16th-century handwriting (RAF/F 13/1) was featured in the workshop

Our final event of 2015 was a hands-on palaeography workshop led by senior archivist Christopher Whittick. Working with a small group of students, many of whom brought in their own material to decipher, Christopher introduced the writing and language of documents such as wills, deeds and bonds written in England and Wales since about 1550. Among other things, the group learned about the idiosyncracies of Secretary hand, the different methods of dating old documents – and when they were applicable – and some of the words and phrases that were commonly used by the lawyers who would have drawn up the original material.

Numbers were limited to a maximum of 10 to ensure each person got the most out of the session, but if you missed out this time, we will be running further workshops in 2016. Watch this space!



The Keep News: Cringe with Mass Observation

Last week, as part of the Being Human Festival of Humanities, the Mass Observation Archive hosted an event to celebrate teenage diary writing. The event was held in partnership with Cringe, UK who host regular events in London where people read from their teenage diaries. In this blog post, the organiser of Cringe, UK, Ana McLaughlin, reports on the event.

When Mass Observation first got in touch about a potential event, I was thrilled. Cringe nights have been running in the UK since 2009, having been imported by the founder of New York Cringe

Dr Lucy Robinson reads from her teenage diary

Dr Lucy Robinson reads from her teenage diary

Sarah Brown. She had found re-reading her own teenage diaries hilarious and realised here was an enormous untapped reservoir of very funny material that was worth sharing, so she established open mic nights where people could read diaries, rock band lyrics, lists of things they hated about their parents and just about anything they had scrawled during their teenage years. In the six years Cringe has been running in London we’ve been treated to the darkest, most secret thoughts of adolescents writing in the 1990s, 80s, 70s and even the 50s – and we have learned that although cultural reference points and attitudes change, much about puberty is universal: obsessions with fashion and appearance; passions for bands and favourite television shows; sibling rivalry; bucking against parental restrictions; unrequited love. The event with Mass Observation gave us the opportunity to take the show on the road to Brighton and entertain a new audience, hear new readers and most importantly to have academics from the University of Sussex examine the phenomenon of teenage diaries as part of the Being Human festival of the Humanities, which was absolutely fascinating.

It’s always been interesting to note how readers address their diaries. They name them – Yoda, darling Janet, in several cases Kitty (when the writer has just read The Diary of Anne Frank and considers that their own musings on being allowed to watch X-Men and revising for GCSEs will probably have similar historical impact to her diary.) They apologise for not writing enough and ask questions of their diaries; often, they lie to their diaries either unconsciously (claiming they don’t fancy someone they clearly do) or consciously (the boy who implied he might have been ‘blown’ on the French Exchange and, while reading, freely admitted he definitely had not.)

This relationship between diary and writer was fascinating to have the academics examine – Dr Lucy Robinson talked about the confusion of voices she detected in her own diaries. Adolescence is a time when you’re trying on different identities for size, which includes experimenting with your physical look as many diaries intricately detail, but also with your own emerging social and political outlook. (I’m reminded of the reader who solemnly wrote: “Today, we invaded Iraq,” and followed it up immediately with, “My new pens are cool, huh?”)

Many teenage diary writers consider it likely their words will be published when they grow up and do the great things they consider themselves capable of – delusions of grandeur are a common theme – and this was even picked up in one of the readings from a Mass Observation diary written in the 1920s by a girl who wrote, “I want to do great things, to be great.” For all the restrictions placed on teenagers by school rules and parental guidance, it is emotionally often a time when possibilities seem limitless, and this sense that your diaries might one day be pored over as the juvenilia of a statesman, author or rock star (common teenage employment fantasies) can sometimes be seen in the tone – designed to impress, riddled with half-understood long words. The gap between delusion and reality is, in retrospect, what makes adolescent diaries so extremely funny – as the plan for thrashing out world peace in the Middle East is interrupted by a rant on the pettiness of a sister who won’t let the writer borrow their lipstick. Teenage dreams are big, but their actual horizons are necessarily small.

Something else that was apparent from the event was the value of diaries to social historians. Nobody engages more passionately with popular culture than teens, who are tribal about their tastes in fashion, music and literature. Jane Harvell, reading at the event, noted the fluctuating fortunes of Depeche Mode in the singles chart in astonishing detail. Often it’s the cultural reference points that really date the audience – dumping someone in pink Comic Sans font on MSN got an enormous laugh from twenty-somethings at Cringe, and references to the Body Shop’s Dewberry range tickled thirty-something women in the crowd. Teenagers are the ideal filter through which to see exactly what’s going on culturally, and diaries are the place where this incidental detail finds a natural home.

We’ve long enjoyed hearing people read from their secret diaries because it’s hilarious, and partnering with Mass Observation – as well as making for a very funny evening – gave us a new insight into what we’d been hearing all these years. Thank you for having us!

Ana McLaughlin (@Anabooks)

Dr Lucy Robinson from the University of Sussex has also written about the event. You can read her blog post here.

The Keep News: ‘A broken silence? Mass Observation, Armistice Day and ‘Everyday life’ in Britain, 1937-1941

Last week, Dr Lucy Noakes gave a talk on how British people, faced with the prospect of another World War, were commemorating and remembering World War One. Here is the full recording of her talk.


The Keep News: Evening talks

29th October 2015

Although The Keep’s Reference and Reading Rooms close for the day at 5pm, the building often remains a hive of activity in the early evening thanks to our varied programme of talks.

In mid-November, local historian Paul Jordan gave a hugely entertaining talk to an audience of more than 60 people about life in Brighton in the 1920s and 1930s. Focusing on the theatres, cinemas and dance halls of the period – and changes to the shopping streets in central Brighton that we think we know so well – Paul brought the period to life with some wonderful aerial views of the town, as well as images of buildings such as the Aquarium, Sherry’s, and the open-air pool at Black Rock.

The following evening, The Keep introduced the Anna Mendelssohn collection, which is now open to the public. The launch, hosted by the University of Sussex Special Collections and the Centre for Modernist Studies, gave members of the public, as well as friends and family of Anna Mendelssohn, a sneak peek of some of the material included in the archive. Alongside this, visitors were invited to attend a series of talks, and were able to find out more about the material – which includes poetry, drawings and correspondence – from archivist Simon Coleman.

Most recently, in collaboration with the Kipling Society, the University of Sussex English department and Special Collections, Professor Harry Ricketts gave a lecture on ‘What Can Rudyard Kipling do for you?’ He spoke of Kipling’s ability to recognise the ‘two sides of man’ – one that could be xenophobic, misogynistic, and fearful of anyone unlike himself, but also how that same person needs to see beyond one’s own culture: ‘You may end by looking on We, as only a sort of They’ (Kipling’s ‘We and They’ poem). Professor Ricketts spoke about his own journey studying Kipling and how Kipling’s work ‘celebrates the way that childhood and ‘grown-upness’ co-exist in the individual.’

For more information about forthcoming talks, see our website