Pioneering women: Margaret Bondfield, 1873-1953

6 August 2018

By Kate Elms

Portrait of Margaret Bondfield by Bassano Ltd, 10 February 1922. Copyright National Portrait Gallery, London

Portrait of Margaret Bondfield by Bassano Ltd, 10 February 1922. Copyright National Portrait Gallery, London

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.

Extract from Margaret Bondfield's obituary, published in the Brighton Herald, 20 June 1953

Extract from Margaret Bondfield’s obituary, published in the Brighton Herald, 20 June 1953

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.


Celebrating Greater Brighton, 90 years ago today!

30 May 2018

By Kate Elms

Ninety years ago this week, Brighton was in party mood. On the 1 April 1928, thanks to growth that had made the town one of the most densely populated in the country outside London, the borough was enlarged to incorporate the parishes of Preston, Rottingdean and Ovingdean, plus parts of Falmer, Patcham and West Blatchington. To mark the creation of ‘Greater Brighton’, a week of celebration was arranged, starting on Tuesday 29 May. The mayors and town clerks of all the county boroughs in Great Britain and Northern Ireland were invited, plus a delegation from Paris, and a dazzling programme of events was put together for guests and local people. There were grand banquets, sporting contests, firework displays and a pageant involving one thousand performers, to name just a few of the highlights. The culmination of the week was a visit from the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth), who laid the foundation stones for the pylons to be erected at the new borough boundary and unveiled a carved stone seat at Devil’s Dyke, which had recently been acquired by Brighton Corporation.

These celebratory events have been recorded with great care in a scrapbook held in our archives. We can’t be sure of its provenance, but it’s possible that it was compiled by Henry Roberts, who moved to Brighton in 1906 to take up a post at the public library. He subsequently became director not just of that institution but of the town’s museums and art galleries and, after the war, was appointed the first director of the Royal Pavilion Estate. He later added director of the Publicity Department to his cv, and an excellent publicist he was, too. Our collections include a number of scrapbooks that document Roberts’ activities – mounting art exhibitions, attending library conferences, contributing to the local war effort – and this one shows the same meticulous attention to detail. Starting with a series of articles written by the town’s departmental chiefs and published in The Municipal Journal & Public Works Engineer, it includes newspaper cuttings about the Greater Brighton celebrations, correspondence, draft speeches, menus and invitations to luncheons and dinners, and other documents and ephemera that bring the occasion and the era to life.

Clearly this was a moment of great civic pride. The Royal Pavilion, the Dome and the grand seafront hotels all played a prominent role, as did the local piers, theatres, cinemas and dance halls, which laid on gala performances and entertainment for the whole town. Preston Park hosted athletics, horse shows, dancing, a fire brigade display and more, while guests were taken on official visits to Rottingdean, Moulsecoomb and Falmer, part of the newly created Greater Brighton. The proceedings were captured in a wonderful series of photographs, many of which appeared in the local papers. Although much of the focus was on the distinguished guests, the images also capture the carnival atmosphere in the streets and the crowds of local people either taking part in or watching the displays or processions.

Crowds gathered in celebration at Patcham

Crowds gathered in celebration at Patcham

It was reported that a time capsule was buried with the foundation stones of the Pylons, containing coins, a copies of two local papers, the Brighton Herald and the Sussex Daily News, and a book recording the ceremony itself. We don’t keep coins in our archives but we have a wonderful collection of newspapers that includes both titles, and you couldn’t wish for a better account of the celebrations than this scrapbook, which can be ordered by registered members and viewed in our Reading Room. It also contains detailed, visual coverage of the reopening of Brighton’s Aquarium in 1929, but that’s another story!

A second, smaller scrapbook containing programmes and ephemera relating to the celebrations (including an illustrated description of the Pageant) is also available to order and view in the Reading Room.


Meet the Volunteers: Emily Manser on Recording Remembrance and the Brighton War Memorial

3 April 2018

I have been volunteering at The Keep since November 2017. I wanted to volunteer was because I have always loved learning about history and believe that in order to understand our present, we must learn about our past. At The Keep I have the opportunity to help preserve that history so it is available for years to come.

Extract from the Brighton Herald, 23 February 1918

Extract from the Brighton Herald, 23 February 1918

The project I have been working on is Recording Remembrance, which focuses on locating and recording war memorials in and around East Sussex. While looking through copies of the Brighton Herald on the Royal Pavilion & Museums Digital Media Bank for mentions of war memorials, I came across an interesting article (pictured right). It described how the parents of a fallen soldier received correspondence from a lady in Occupied Belgium, four months after his death. The parents were Reverend William Teesdale Mackintosh and Ethel Lawrence Mackintosh of Alfred Road, Brighton; their son was Second-Lieutenant Douglas Fraser Mackintosh of the Royal Field Artillery, attached Royal Flying Corps, and the Belgian lady provided a detailed account of his heroic, yet tragic, death. The following is a partial transcription of the text published in the Herald on 23 February 1918;

‘Two British airmen were brought down in Occupied Belgium,
after a gallant fight with seven of the enemy. The German
aviator who claimed the victory descended close to the spot
and said: “What a pity! They were such heroes! They could have
escaped but preferred to die fighting. Never have I met with
such resistance before.” The Two heroes were buried with
military honours.’

The other soldier mentioned was Second-Lieutenant W R Bishop (pilot); they died on 2 October 1917. Second-Lieutenant Douglas Fraser Mackintosh was 27 years of age.

If the story tells us anything, it’s that even in a time of great suffering and horror, there were acts of compassion and respect, even between enemy and ally. At the end of it all, no matter what side they were on, they were all just men thrown into a war that no one fully understood.

Our aim with the Recording Remembrance project is to link people with memorials and fortunately, upon further research, I was able to do this for Second-Lieutenant Douglas F. Mackintosh. His name, along with 2,599 others, 3 of which were women, is inscribed on the Brighton Memorial on the Old Steine. The memorial stands at the north end of the gardens. Built in the style of a Roman water garden, it features a large memorial pool. A fountain in the centre of the pool provides a sense of calm, something that would have been severely lacking on the battlefields of France and beyond.

At one end of the pool stands a U-shaped colonnade made from Portland stone. In the centre of the colonnade there is a semi-enclosed space and within that space there is a stone altar table; a place for remembrance and contemplation. This area is crowned with a small stone dome.

At the north-west and north-east corners of the colonnade, standing like guards at their post, there are two bronze pylons. It is here where the names of 2,600 servicemen and women of Brighton who fell during the First World War are inscribed. Their names forever etched in history. It is memorials like these that stand as a testament to all those who fought and all those who fell in service to their country. That is why we, with the help of the public, are working to find and record all the war memorials in East Sussex; to ensure that the names of those who served and their sacrifice is never forgotten.

We will remember them.

The Recording Remembrance project was established in 2014 to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War. Its purpose is to record all of the memorials located in East Sussex and Brighton & Hove. Currently there are 832 memorials listed by the Imperial War Museum on the website, however many of these have missing information. We are asking members of the public and local history groups to record information on war memorials in their area, including the location, condition, form and inscription. Once the data has been collated, it will be added to the county’s Historic Environment Record.

Information relating to people named on war memorials, such as name, age, regiment and burial place, can also be added to the Recording Remembrance website. Person records can then be linked to their respective memorials, allowing researchers to find out more about individuals.

With the centenary of the end of the First World War fast approaching, we are asking as many people as possible to get involved with recording the county’s memorial heritage.

Further information can be found at


Belgian Refugees welcomed in Brighton and Hove in WW1

19 October 2017

By Kate Elms

Programme for fundraising lecture at Hove Town Hall, 10 February 1915

Programme for fundraising lecture at Hove Town Hall, 10 February 1915

Brighton’s role as a place of healing and convalescence for wounded soldiers during WW1 is well-known. Prominent buildings, including the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Grammar School, were requisitioned as military hospitals, and our archives include some wonderful material that brings this period to life. Less widely reported is the sanctuary offered locally to Belgian refugees displaced by war. 250,000 Belgian refugees came to the UK after the German invasion of 1914, prompting a huge relief operation. Although the plight of the Belgians was used to build support for the war, refugee relief was also seen as a moral duty at that time; more than 2,000 official relief committees were established around the country, one of which was in Brighton and Hove.

The Catholic community was first to respond to the crisis, with local priest Father Kerwin offering temporary shelter (and the support of the Catholic Women’s League) at the newly built St Mary’s School in Portslade. Before long, however, a committee was set up to raise funds and care for the new arrivals. Accommodation was offered in private houses and residential or convalescent homes that had been made available, and an impressive range of services was established, including free medical treatment, a clothing depot and a school for Belgian children (plus English classes for the adults).

Our collection of rare material includes a scrapbook documenting the work of the local committee. Through news cuttings, photographs, handwritten letters and ephemera, it illustrates the huge effort made by local people to welcome and provide for the Belgians living among them. Newspaper articles describing atrocities witnessed by surviving refugees sit alongside detailed annual reports of the committee’s work and accounts of concerts, lectures and other forms of entertainment. Fundraising events, including a Flag Day held on 2 October 1915, are also covered, while photographs of families, individuals and groups of people, all sadly unnamed, give a moving impression of community, however hastily formed.

A collection of letters has been pasted into the pages at the back of the scrapbook, some written in English, some in French. Most are addressed to Mrs Richardson, honorary treasurer of the local committee, thanking her profusely for Christmas gifts and other acts of kindness and generosity. I became intrigued by Mrs Richardson and tried to find out more about her. Using the family history resources available at The Keep, I discovered that her name was Bertha, that she was born in 1861, (one of 11 children) and had married widower Frederick Richardson in 1912. Bertha, a spinster, was 50 at the time of her marriage, Frederick was 68, and it was Frederick’s home, 4 Adelaide Crescent in Hove, which was transformed two years later into the clothing depot for the Belgian refugees that Bertha did so much to help.

Sadly, their marriage was short-lived; Frederick died of heart disease in February 1917 and, according to an obituary published in the Brighton Herald, one of the many floral tributes at his funeral came from the Belgian refugees in Brighton and Hove, ‘in whose welfare the deceased had always taken the most sympathetic interest’. Another great supporter of the Committee’s work, Reverend Paul-Marie Renkin from Brussels, died in the same year, knocked off his bike and run over by a motor bus while on his way to visit a refugee family in Preston. Bertha, meanwhile, was awarded the Medaille de la Reine Elisabeth, a Belgian decoration created in October 1916 to recognise exceptional service to Belgium and its victims of war. She died in Eastbourne in 1933.

Letter of thanks to Bertha Richardson, December 1915, from one of the refugees

Letter of thanks to Bertha Richardson, December 1915, from one of the refugees

And what of the refugees? By February 1918, the committee’s annual report describes ‘a diminishing output in almost every direction’, with the closure of the clothing depot and one of the residential homes, and a falling-off of local subscriptions. This is interpreted in a positive light, however, ’a sign that the need for much of what had to be done at first has come to an end, and that the Refugees are now much more capable of managing for themselves.’ And although they had been welcomed with open arms at the beginning of the war, refugees were encouraged by both the British and Belgian governments to return home as soon as it ended.

The scrapbook has been digitised and can be downloaded free of charge from the Royal Pavilion & Museums Digital Media Bank using this link. The original (reference BH600786) is held at The Keep and can be ordered by registered members to view in our Reading Room.




Meet the Volunteers: Brian Nash, conservation volunteer

2 June 2017

‘We love coming in and have formed long-lasting friendships with others in the group’

The newspaper archive is one of the most popular and widely used resources at The Keep – and it keeps on growing. Last year, approximately 437 bound volumes of local papers dating from 1831 to 2003 were transferred from Hastings and Battle libraries to The Keep. Brian Nash, a volunteer at The Keep, has begun making bespoke boxes and packaging for each of the volumes, which will protect them from damage and preserve them for the future. He talks to Lindsey Tydeman about his work on the Hastings newspapers and about his wider role as a volunteer with the archive.

‘I was taught to make boxes by The Keep’s Head of Conservation Melissa Williams and now I, in my turn, am teaching others! Today I’m working on a bound volume of the Rye Observer from 2001-2002. I take the measurements of each volume and transfer them to a plan on a piece of card, scoring along the folds before cutting out and folding into shape. Once the volume is inside the box, the box is tied with thick tape. I’m a quick worker but it depends on the size and shape; these are large so I’ll probably make six today. It would be nice to read the newspapers which are going into them but there’s no time for that!

‘Before retirement I worked for Brighton and Hove City Council as a care officer looking after people with dementia. My wife, Jennifer, managed the Search Room at the East Sussex Record Office, based at The Maltings in Lewes. She encouraged me to join her in the office every other week – Thursday evening was known as ‘Volunteers’ Night’ – where several groups worked on different projects. I was involved with transcribing the East Sussex Baptism Index, transferring baptismal records from 16th century church registers in Rye on to cards and creating a card index. Even in normal circumstances this would have been a challenge as the writing of that time isn’t easy to read, but an added complication was the fact that at least ten per cent of births in Rye at this period were to French immigrants, whose names were recorded phonetically or scribbled down quickly by the English parish officials. Sometimes these officials didn’t even bother to try and write the surname but simply recorded the family as ‘French’ or ‘Frenchman’. That accounts for so many people with the name ‘Frenchman’ living in the Hastings area today!

‘When Jennifer and I retired we decided come over from Shoreham once a week to volunteer in Conservation. We knew about the planned move of the Record Office to The Keep, so started work on the thousands of documents which had to be cleaned and packed before this could happen. All of them were filthy and we had to wear masks and protective clothing before tackling them. The whole process took about two years, finishing just in time for our move here.

‘Since then I’ve concentrated on making boxes for a whole variety of archives stored at The Keep. It’s repetitive work but never boring as the archives themselves are changing constantly; you never know what’s going to turn up next. Recently I made a box for the earliest document we hold, a seal and charter of Henry I. It was dated 1101 – I couldn’t believe I was holding it in my hand! Then there were scores of boxes which had to be made for the glass plate negatives of photographs from The Argus. My local knowledge of Brighton proved invaluable here as many of the photographs came without identification, and I could help the archivist identify the places and buildings featured. I also enjoyed being involved with the conservation of the WW2 Book of Remembrance for St Peter’s Church in Brighton. That is beautiful.

‘I’ve lost track of the documents which have passed through my hands in Conservation. If I had been a student I would have taken notes of them all, but, of course, as a volunteer you don’t think about doing that. What we do know is that very little of this work would get done without us. We love coming in and have formed long-lasting friendships with others in the group. All you need is a common link; ours is an interest in local and family history and all the ‘old stuff’ that goes with it!

The collection of East Sussex newspapers at The Keep dates back to the middle of the 18th century, while those for the Brighton area start with the early editions of the Brighton Herald in 1806. The bound volumes recently transferred from Hastings include the South Eastern Advertiser, Hastings and St Leonards Observer, and the Hastings and St Leonards Pictorial Advertiser. The earliest is the Hastings and Cinque Ports Iris; St Leonards Chronicle or Sussex and Kent Advertiser, 1830-1831. Details of these and other newspapers in our archive can be found in our online catalogue and in our Guide to Newspapers. There is also a paper copy of the listing that can be consulted in our Reference Room.




Sporting ambitions in Sussex’s military hospitals

16 September 2016

By Kate Elms

On 16 August 1919, the Brighton Herald reported on a swimming race that had recently taken place near the Palace Pier. A large crowd had gathered to watch the 23 men who took part and, when they had all passed the winning post, silver cups were awarded to the winners. But this was no ordinary swimming race – all the competitors had lost either an arm or a leg during the First World War. According to the Herald, the race ‘must have been the first of its kind in history’. The article went on to say, ‘Storms of cheering greeted each man who finished the course’ while ‘the men…greatly enjoyed the race, and hope for plenty more’.

Extract from a report published in the Brighton Herald on 16 August 1917

Extract from a report published in the Brighton Herald on 16 August 1917

Over the next few weeks, further swimming events for limbless men were reported in the local press, both in the sea and at the local baths. On one occasion 16 men, including three who had lost both legs, contested a pier to pier race. The winner completed the three-quarter mile course in just over 18 minutes, a remarkable achievement.

These events took place nearly 30 years before the first Stoke Mandeville Games for wheelchair athletes, which were held in 1948 and are widely seen as the inspiration for the Paralympic movement. The Spinal Injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville, formerly the Ministry of Pensions Hospital, had opened in 1944 under the direction of neurosurgeon Dr Ludwig Guttman to care for those injured during the Second World War.

Guttman’s emphasis on a positive attitude, the importance of social interaction and the idea that sport could be both beneficial and enjoyable for patients was considered revolutionary at the time, but it mirrors the ethos of the Royal Pavilion Military Hospital which, from 1916 to 1920, cared for men who had lost limbs in the First World War. The motto, ‘Hope welcomes all who enter here’ referred to Queen Mary’s workshops, which were set up in the grounds of the Pavilion to prepare the amputees for a return to civilian life, but it seems also to sum up the general spirit of the place.

Pavilion Blues cricket team, Sept 1917

We have written before on this blog about The Pavilion Blues, the magazine produced by and for the limbless men, but with the Paralympics drawing to a close in Rio, it seems a good moment to reflect on the way sport was used for both recreation and rehabilitation of these seriously injured men. From the hospital’s earliest days, ‘gymkhanas’ featured at least one event that everyone could take part in – egg-and-spoon races for one-armed men, apple-and-flour races for one-legged men, and chair races for legless men, to name a few. These events were clearly about having fun, but reports suggest there may well have been a competitive edge!

The magazine also includes lots of coverage of more traditional sporting activities, such as cricket, croquet and bowls, in which the wounded men were active, determined participants. In August 1917, an article states, ‘One of the greatest surprises to the outside public is the interest we inmates of the Pavilion Hospital take in games and sports . . . we so-called “limbless” men are very far from being the “crocks” that so many suppose us to be.’ In fact, there seems to have been so much going on that the magazine’s writers (patients or staff at the hospital) were unable to keep up: another column declares that ‘the large number of matches played by the “Blues” prevents us from reporting them as fully as we should like to’.

Extract from Major Grantham's diary, August 1917

Extract from Major Grantham’s diary, ACC 4789/105

The ancient Sussex game of stoolball has a strong association with this period. Although widely played by local women and children in the 19th century, from 1917 it was promoted as a sport that injured soldiers could also enjoy. Major W W Grantham was a key figure at the time – as Lord of the Manor of Balneath, he had Sussex connections; his own son had been wounded while serving with the Royal Sussex Regiment, and he possessed not just a passion for stoolball but also, evidently, a talent for self-publicity. In August 1917, the ‘Blues’ at the Royal Pavilion were reportedly ‘being initiated into the mysteries of stoolball’; the following month’s edition featured reports of not just one match but three, plus an outline of the rules of the game and praise for Major Grantham who, ‘is to be heartily congratulated on the results of his very energetic efforts to keep this old game alive’. For his part, Grantham kept a meticulous record in his diaries of the matches he’d arranged and played in.

The Pavilion ‘Blues’ played stoolball with teams from other military hospitals in the surrounding area. In the summer of 1918, for example, they took on the Princess Louise Orthopaedic Hospital at Chailey Heritage Craft School and Hospital. In a talk given as part of the Gateways to the First World War project earlier this year, Dr Julie Anderson from the University of Kent described how Grace Kimmins, founder of Chailey Heritage, pioneered a new approach to the care of disabled children which was also applied to the rehabilitation of wounded servicemen.

A stoolball team from the Princess Louise orthopaedic ward at Chailey, HB 131/7

A stoolball team from the Princess Louise orthopaedic ward at Chailey, HB 131/7

Challenging the prevailing ‘culture of invalidism’ and encouraging people to do things for themselves, she too believed in the importance of sports and games. Boys and soldiers played football together, and as photographs from our archive show, stoolball was a popular pastime.

In 2012, East Sussex Record Office worked on a project with young people at Chailey inspired by the London Paralympics and their own love of sport. Exploring the archive, which is now held here at The Keep, they created an animation which now forms part of The People’s Record of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.







Olympic fever! Celebrating sport in the archive

8 July 2016

By Kate Elms

From our newspaper archive, an advert in the Brighton Herald, summer 1925

From our newspaper archive, an advert in the Brighton Herald, summer 1925

Thinking back to the London Olympics of 2012, some of my most vivid memories are of watching the events taking place in the velodrome – Bradley Wiggins had just won the Tour de France and it seemed the British cyclists flying around the track could do no wrong. So when we started to think about how Olympic sport is represented in our archive, cycling seemed a good place to start. The London to Brighton bike ride is one of the high points of our summer, and has been for the past 40 years or so, but cycling’s connections with the local area go back much further.

James Harrison was a very early champion of the sport, opening his ‘Bicycle and perambulator depot’ in Brighton’s Queen’s Road in the 1870s and setting up the Brighton Bicycle Club, the first of its kind in the town. Thanks to the growing popularity of cycling in the late Victorian era, clubs were soon established in Hastings, Eastbourne and Lewes, as well as many different parts of Brighton. Riding a bike gave both men and women – especially those living in urban areas – a real sense of freedom, and an opportunity to get out into the countryside. By the 1920s, cycling was well established as a leisure activity: in the summer of 1925, an ad in the Brighton Herald, for example, urged readers to, ‘Cycle your way to health and happiness’.

We have some wonderful material relating to bicycles at The Keep, including papers relating to the Brighton Mitre Cycling Club. Named after the Mitre Tavern, where members used to meet, it was formed in 1894 and held its first track championship in Preston Park in 1896. Our archive includes correspondence and minutes, club magazines, and details of competitions such as the ‘Brighton Mitre 50’, a 50-mile time trial which first took place in 1924. There’s also some fascinating ephemera, including menus and invitations to annual dinners, which always seem to capture the spirit of the time.

Elsewhere, the gloriously named De La Warr Cycling Boulevard was built on the seafront in Bexhill in 1896, in an attempt by the eighth Earl De La Warr to attract more visitors to the town. Managed by Percy Young, who had founded Bexhill Cycling Club a few years earlier, it seems to have been quite a social hub. People could hire bikes and have cycling lessons (in 1896, it cost 15 shillings for a course of eight, including loan of machine, or 10 shillings and sixpence if you had your own bike), while the less energetic were able to watch the proceedings from the viewing platform at the nearby Cycle Chalet.

Employees of the De La Warr Cycling Boulevard posing outside the Cycle Chalet, c1896

Employees of the De La Warr Cycling Boulevard posing outside the Cycling Chalet, c1896

The papers that we hold here at The Keep offer a tangible reminder of what must have been an exhilarating new experience for many people and, although the ‘boulevard’ itself was fairly short-lived –  eclipsed by the birth of motor racing on the same spot in 1902 – It’s somehow fitting that the same coastal promenade remains popular with cyclists today.

Fashion in the Archives

22 September 2015

By Kate Elms

A few weeks ago, while looking through back issues of the Brighton Herald, we came across a Hanningtons advert for the store’s Burberry Week, held from 9th to 14th October 1911. Many Brightonians will remember Hanningtons, the family-run department store that traded in the centre of town from 1808 to 2001. Those with an interest in British fashion will also be familiar with the Burberry label, which has an illustrious history too; founded in 1856 by 21-year-old tailor Thomas Burberry, the company went on to design uniforms for the British Army at the turn of the century before developing its classic trenchcoat for military use during WW1.

In an archive such as ours, we’re always interested in unexpected connections, and the link between fashion and both local and social history seems worth exploring further. Brighton has been associated with fashion in a broad sense since the mid-18th century, when the town became a destination of choice for ‘fashionable’ people. Today, its University has a reputation for nurturing designers of the future, while the Fashion and Style Gallery at Brighton Museum showcases both historic and more contemporary dress. Inspired by London Fashion Weekend, which concludes today, we’ve decided to take a look at how fashion is represented in our collections, starting with the glimpses offered by advertising in the local papers.

Pictured here are some examples of the illustrations that can be found in our newspaper archive. The drawings, which are charming in themselves, shed light both on changing hemlines and evolving social mores. The need for women to take a practical approach to dress during the war years, for example, comes across in the ads produced in 1917 and again in the 1940s (more on that period in a future post). In the 1920s and 1930s, there’s more emphasis on glamour and style, from make-up and corsets to hats and fur coats, which were clearly highly desirable. Chipperfield & Butler’s promotion of leather goods in 1922 mirrored the country’s growing love affair with motoring, while in the 1950s, fashion had become more playful, exemplified by advertising for Peter Robinson, ‘Brighton’s London store’, which targeted a more youthful shopper.

Photography has come to dominate fashion advertising, and it’s true that it gives a more realistic impression of the clothing on offer. But for something that captures the spirit of the time, these illustrations and others like them (The Keep holds some wonderful periodicals, while the Hanningtons archive is another great source) are well worth another look.

Tomorrow, Jo Baines will be writing about W.H. Pyne’s The Costume of Great Britain, which is held by the University of Sussex in the Baker Collection of Rare Books and can be consulted at The Keep.



Stories from the Collections: Introducing Mr Smith and his collection of cuttings

16 July 2015

By Kate Elms

Researchers at The Keep are able to consult an enormous range of complementary material, including books, maps and parish registers, architectural plans, diaries and newspapers. For many people, working out which of these resources will provide the most relevant and interesting information is an intriguing and enjoyable part of the research process. There are times, however, when the discovery of an existing collection of documents focusing on a specific theme is most welcome. The series of scrapbooks known as Smith’s Cuttings is a great example, and one that we’d like more of our visitors to know about.

William Joshua Smith was born in Camden in about 1823 and moved to Brighton with his wife Susannah and their five children in 1857. The family lived in Elm Grove and Mr Smith took over an established book shop at 42 North Street. By the time of the 1871 census, both the family and the business had expanded. Mr and Mrs Smith and their seven children were by then living above the shop, which now filled numbers 41 and 43 as well as the original premises at 42. Their eldest sons William and James were assisting in the business, which continued to grow. An advert appearing in the 1899 edition of Towner’s Directory of Brighton described the shop as having ‘the largest stock in the South of England’ and refers to services such as bookbinding and the cataloguing and repair of library collections, as well as the buying and selling of parcels of new and secondhand books.

WJ Smith's business

Advert for Smith’s business in North Street

As if a large family and a thriving business weren’t enough, Smith was involved in many other aspects of civic life, as a magistrate, a lay preacher at Belgrave Street Congregational Church, a member of Brighton Council’s Library sub-committee, and chairman of the board of directors of Brighton Grammar School. Luckily for us, he also appears to have had a passion for local history and a keen eye for material that could bring it to life. His obituary, published in the Brighton Herald on 25 November 1911, reported that, ‘He had been in the habit during the last sixty years of keeping cuttings from newspapers and records relating to the town.’

Smith’s majestic volumes are arranged thematically, bringing together news reports, book extracts, letters, sketches and other fascinating ephemera relating to the history of Brighton from the mid to late 19th century. Cataloguing the individual items within each scrapbook is a work in progress so, for now, for the uninitiated, each volume is full of delightful surprises. Subjects include the Royal Pavilion, the Chain Pier and Aquarium, the Town Hall, Beach and Baths, Churches, Old Buildings, Amusements, the Coast (East and West), Incorporation, Elections, and Great Storms. Smith’s Cuttings themselves can be ordered and consulted in The Keep’s Reading Room, and they’re also available to view on microfilm in the Reference Room.

So what might you expect to find in a volume of Smith’s Cuttings? In some respects, the collection sums up the concerns and interests of the man himself, as well as the times he lived in. The volume on Hotels and Institutions, for example, includes material on Brighton’s dispensaries, hospitals and workhouse – highlighting the desperate poverty experienced by much of the town’s population and the growing need for better healthcare and sanitation. Education is also a feature: the history of Brighton’s new School of Art and Science (or Science and Art, as it was also known) is documented through newspaper reports, from the laying of the foundation stone by Sir Henry Cole in 1876 to the royal opening the following year. There is also some fascinating ephemera, including tickets to the inaugural events and illustrations of the building itself.

The volume relating to the Town Hall contains a wealth of detail relating to police and municipal matters in Brighton, including photographs and biographical information about prominent local men (few women get a mention in this context, although there is a short article about ‘the lady novelists of Brighton’); details of cases heard at the local Assizes – ranging from child murder to embezzlement and sheep-stealing – and printed material relating to the living conditions of the ‘industrious’ classes. There are also some interesting handwritten letters, including one sent from the Town Hall on 31 May 1864, stating that there were about 350 prostitutes in the Borough of Brighton, ‘resorting’ to about 97 brothels.

Dotted throughout the scrapbooks are letters and invitations to Mr Smith, but those who are really interested in him should take a look at the volume about The Steine and North Street. Here, among many other things, you will find architectural drawings dating from 1866 that show the proposed alterations to his shop as the business expanded, as well as a charming drawing of the enlarged premises and, perhaps most interesting of all, a tiny, faded photograph that’s quite possibly of the man himself.

William Smith died quite suddenly on 21 November 1911 and his bookshop closed in October the following year. It’s not known whether he donated the volumes of cuttings to Brighton’s library during his lifetime, or whether they were acquired after his death, when the contents of his shop were sold at auction. Either way, we are very lucky to have them.


Stories from the Collections: Message in a Bottle

The article printed in the Brighton Herald on 2 January 19159th January 2015

By Kate Elms

A couple of weeks before Christmas, we spotted an unusual story in one of the local papers in our archive. Entitled Message from the Sea: Bottle Cast up at Brighton, it described, very briefly, the discovery on Brighton beach of a message in a sealed bottle signed by six British men fighting at the Front in the early days of the World War I. Declaring their wish ‘to return to dear old England in the near future’, the article – little more than a snippet – concluded, ‘This bottle was cast into the sea at 9pm, 13/12/14.’ It was published in the Brighton Herald on 2 January 1915, just over 100 years ago.

We were intrigued. Who were these men? What was their connection to each other? More importantly, did they survive the war? As any family historian will tell you, it can be almost impossible to answer these sorts of questions with any certainty, especially when you have so little to go on. We knew the names of the six men, that they came from different parts of the country – two from Manchester, two from Birmingham, one from Leeds and one from Weymouth – and that they were all part of the Light Car Section. As it turned out, this last clue was significant. Mechanical transport (as opposed to horse-drawn) was relatively new at the start of the war, but the British Army embraced it more than most at the time. The six men, it transpired, shared skills that were in demand as the numbers of vehicles used to transport supplies and munitions grew.

At The Keep we subscribe to the Ancestry and Find My Past websites, which give us access to the service records of many – but by no means all – World War I soldiers. We started our search with the most unusual name, Harry Carres from Leeds, and – incredibly – seemed to find the right man straight away. Harry Carras (not exactly the same spelling, but close enough given the possibility of transcription errors), a 31-year-old motor engineer from Headingly, enlisted on 4 December 1914 and, as part of the Army Service Corps, joined up at the Mechanical Transport training depot at Grove Park in south London. From there, he sailed for France as part of the Expeditionary Force, departing from Avonmouth on 12 December and arriving in Rouen four days later. It seems likely, then, that he would have been at sea on 13 December, when the message was written and thrown overboard.

Next on the list were William Chapman and George Mallen [sic], both from Birmingham. Having joined up on the same day – 7 December – they too were sent to Grove Park. Mallen was a driver, Chapman a mechanic, and records show that they also sailed from Avonmouth to Rouen on 12 December 1914. Richard Hughes from Manchester and Charles Bateman from Weymouth, both drivers, were part of the same expeditionary force, as was Walter Wakefield, who served as an ambulance driver.

A series of coincidences? Quite possibly. There are, after all, many men with the same name and records are not always conclusive; handwriting is often unclear, names can be mistranscribed. But it does seem that this particular group of men may have met in London in December 1914, before embarking together on what must have been a terrifying adventure. Each one of them was awarded the 1914/15 Star, a campaign medal for men who served between 5 August 1914 and 31 December 1915, and the available information suggests that they were all still alive at the end of the War.

Whether, with the experiences that lay ahead, they ever gave their ‘message in a bottle’ another thought is impossible to say, but it is unlikely that they imagined it would be published in a newspaper far from any of their home towns. The idea that researchers might uncover the story, quite by accident, 100 years later would have been even more unexpected. But here we are, still wondering what happened to these men and others like them, still fascinated by their stories.