The Long Journey Home: Edith Cavell and the “Cavell” Van

27 November 2018

by Emily Manser

Cavell Van HER ref MES24717

The Recording Remembrance project is aiming to record all world war one memorials across East Sussex. Volunteers across the county can record the condition, physical nature and inscriptions of memorials and report them to the website: Recording Remembrance Website.
Memorials recorded by the project can be crosses, plaques or more unusual objects such as the Cavell Van found at Bodiam Railway Station, commemorating Nurse Edith Cavell.

On 15th May 1919, a South Eastern & Chatham Railway Van left Dover on its way to London, carrying a very important passenger. Her name was Edith Cavell and, after a long and arduous war, she was finally being brought home to be laid to rest.
Edith Cavell was an English nurse, working in Belgium at a Red Cross hospital. Between 1914 and when she was arrested on the 5th August 1915, she had helped over 200 allied soldiers escape. She was shot by firing squad on October 12th 1915. She was 49 years of age.
Following her journey home from Dover to London, railway vans of the same type became known as “Cavells”. The fully restored railway van now sits in a siding at the rear of Bodiam Station. Inside, a single coffin sits in the centre, an eerie reminder of the cost of war.

This memorial, along with many others, is recorded on the Recording Remembrance database. With the help of the public, we are working hard to ensure that these physical representations of the sacrifice of war are preserved for future generations.

For more information on this, or any other HER record, please contact

Meet the Volunteers: Tim Smith on recording iron sites on the Historic Environment Record

4 June 2018

‘We feel it important that the location of these sites be known to prevent destruction’

‘I began volunteering with the Historic Environment Record Office in 2016 to correlate Wealden Iron Research Group (WIRG) sites with those recorded in the Historic Environment Record (HER) database. The HER based at The Keep holds records of East Sussex and Brighton & Hove’s heritage. My role involves comparing the records held in the WIRG database with those held by the HER and cross-checking these against primary and secondary sources.

Tim working on the HER at The Keep

Tim working on the HER at The Keep

‘I am a member of the WIRG, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Past and current members use documented records and field-walking to record the locations of iron sites that date from the Iron Age to the 19th century. We have an online database of some 1,000 sites across the Weald of Sussex, Surrey and Kent. East Sussex has the greater number, with 686 recorded to date and we are still finding more.

‘I spend one day a week using ArcGIS mapping software to locate sites mentioned on the WIRG database. Having located a site, I search WIRG’s online bulletins and newsletters for any information about the site gained from previous field visits, as well as copies of the two ‘bibles’ of Wealden iron, Straker’s Wealden Iron published in 1931 and Cleere & Crossley’s The Iron Industry of the Weald 1995, which, now being out of print, WIRG have had digitised. At The Keep, I have access to the Sussex Archaeological Society publications as well as primary sources of information, such as historic maps through the East Sussex Record Office, which together enable me to check and add information to the HER records.

A typical Wealden blast furnace, copyright WIRG, 2018

‘We have few extant remains of furnaces on the Weald, the main evidence for sites being slag – the waste material from iron making – and the bays (dams) that held the ponds for the water-powered blast furnaces and refining forges that first arrived in 1490. We feel it important that the location of these sites be known to prevent destruction, or, if to be lost, that a full archaeological survey be completed prior to undertaking modern work.

‘I started volunteering after retiring from my job as editor of a steel publication and found the work ethic at The Keep familiar to me, even to the extent of having to complete a Health & Safety assessment to use the computers. But I do dispute the answer to the one and only question marked wrong – a backpack is far better than a luggage trolley to carry a laptop in!’

To view and download the publications from The Wealden Iron Research Group, please visit

The Keep will be hosting a talk by Jeremy Hodgkinson, Vice-President of the Wealden Iron Research Group, on 10 October 2018. Further details will be posted on the events pages of our website nearer the time.

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


Meet the Staff: A day in the life of our Historic Environment Record Officer

4th September 2015

Sophie Unger, our Historic Environment Record Officer, is interviewed by Emma Johnson

The majority of my work is computer based, which may seem strange for an archaeologist! I am part of a team of 3 who deal with the County’s archaeology; where my work surrounds the database Sophieside of things, they work on planning developments.

I undertake searches on the Historic Environment Record database to check if there are any archaeological finds on a site before any buildings or developments can be constructed. The data is then given to an archaeological consultant who synthesises the data to make an assessment of the likely archaeology to adequately plan to excavate or avoid potential loss. Last year we had 395 enquiries, but this year there has been 319- and we’re only in September!

This year I have also been focusing on advertising the Recording Remembrance project, which is running from 2014-2018. The project is collecting together stories, memories and events commemorating East Sussex’s role in the First World War. We need more volunteers to help us record the county’s war memorials, collecting as much detail on them as they can. We currently have 100 memorials recorded on our website, but have about 700 to go, so if you’re interested in helping us, let us know!

Recording Remembrance

My favourite part of my job is interacting with members of the public and helping them to enjoy their local archaeology. It’s important for people to know that I am available to consult with and that a limited version of the Historic Environment Record is available on The Keep website.



Digital Developments: Historic Environment Record

20th August          2015                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Sophie Unger

By Sophie Unger

‘Have you ever found any treasure?’ is usually the first question I am asked as a professional archaeologist. My answer is usually ‘it depends on what you term ‘treasure’. As an archaeologist based at The Keep, I manage the Historic Environment Record (HER) which is database recording the known sites, finds, historic buildings and archaeology (including treasure) of East Sussex and Brighton and Hove.

A large part of my role is to provide searches of the HER database to commercial archaeologists ahead of developments which may damage existing archaeology. Another aspect to my role is the work with The Keep to ensure that information within historical documentary records is also included in the database. Part of the project is to record information from the 16th-19th century estate maps which are housed at The Keep. I am currently digitising the geographical index of the estate maps from a series of historic Ordnance Survey maps on to a geographic information system with the aim of enabling the maps to be found digitally in the Reading Room at The Keep rather than using a hard copy index.


Terrier MapDigital database


This development will be welcomed by the staff and visitors to The Keep to find out more easily what maps exist in areas of interest. We are a third of the way through the digitisation project so watch this space for further developments…

If you have questions about the project or would like to know more about the HER, please email:

Behind the scenes: the new Asa Briggs Intern

Emma1st September 2014

By Emma Johnson – Asa Briggs Intern

My first day as the new intern at The Keep was thoroughly enjoyable and filled with information. Once I had managed to navigate my way into the building, I received a warm welcome from Fiona Courage, Special Collections Manager & Mass Observation Curator. To start, I was given a tour of the building and was introduced to all the friendly staff that I will have the pleasure to work alongside for the coming year.

I assisted Abby, my fellow Asa Briggs Intern, with cataloguing and getting to grips with the CALM cataloguing system that I am sure will become very familiar to me as my time at The Keep progresses.

Abby was kind enough to show me her work on The Keep’s blog and her work on the Mass Observation Education ‘suitcase’ and how this can be used by primary and secondary schools for inter-disciplinary purposes. I then began to plan and write up sociology based teacher’s notes, using Mass Observation as the basis for students to understand the strengths and weaknesses of various research methods.  I was fortunate to use the Mass Observation Archive during my third year at university, so it was interesting to see how Mass Observation is also being made accessible for younger pupils. A big thank-you to Abby for her support and for being so friendly and welcoming to a new face!

On my third day I received some Historic Environment Record training and then attended Senior Archivist Christopher Whittick’s In Focus talk on ‘Crime and Punishment’ which was fascinating and allowed me to see how the work carried out  at The Keep can be made accessible and engaging to the public. The following day was spent receiving Health and Safety training and training on how to access and use the repository. Adam Harwood, The Keep Systems Administrator, was a very good teacher and explained everything very clearly.

On Thursday I familiarised myself with the University of Sussex Special Collections and composed a six page document briefly outlining the collection, which I hope will be a useful document for the coming weeks and months. I then shadowed Abby in the Reading Room and learnt how to issue and return items.

Today I plan to continue to assist Abby with publishing on the blog and shadowing her in Reception. I will then begin to research and write up a ‘Places’ page for the website.


Although there is a great deal for me to learn, I am very excited to be working alongside an efficient, organised and friendly team. Stay tuned!




The Keep News: First World War CPD day for teachers and a visit from PACA

27th June 2014

The Keep was buzzing with local teachers on Monday, who were here to find out more about the First World War resources available in our collections, and elsewhere in the county. The Sussex Schools’ 1914 World War I and Christmas Truce Project Meeting offered an exciting programme of activities, enabling teachers to get hands-on experience of how to access archive material, as well as an opportunity to network with local interest groups. A great day was had by all, with presentations, workshops and displays from Sussex Family History Group; Geoff Bridger, military historian; Heritage Learning; South East Grid for Learning; National Children’s Football Alliance, Chris Kempshall, The East Sussex World War One Commemorations Project Officer, and the East Sussex Historic Environment Record.

PACA FinalOn Tuesday, the Mass Observation Education and Outreach Team had a great day exploring diaries with children from Portslade Aldridge Community Academy. As well as looking at a range of diaries from the Mass Observation archive, students also searched for their house and school, using maps of Portslade from ESRO’s archive. Comments and discussion revealed that the students had really got to grips with different diary styles; from long reflective entries to short snappy observations. When looking through Henry Hudson’s agricultural diary, they were also surprised to discover a few shocking entries, including one about a dead body being discovered in a hedge!

In other news…
We’ll be sad to see Alice Gibson, one of our Archive Assistants, leave this Saturday. Alice will be moving on to exciting new pastures at The National Archives, where she’ll be working as a Transfer Adviser. We wish her all the best in her new job.