Meet the Volunteers: Diana Hansen, Secretary and Trustee of the Friends of The Keep Archives (FoTKA)

1 June 2018

‘Volunteering at The Keep is completely different from what I normally do. It’s intellectually challenging, absorbing, personally rewarding – and very worthwhile as well.’

‘I completed a History degree at Sussex University in the 1960s and went on to work for the Civil Service in the Treasury and then the Ministry of Defence. After retirement, we came back to Brighton and I decided to do an MA in History. This included a course on palaeography taught by Christopher Whittick, now County Archivist at East Sussex Record Office (ESRO), which is based at The Keep. Naturally I became interested in archives, and Christopher, well, he’s a very persuasive man! Before long I became one of his volunteers at ESRO in Lewes. I’m currently working on the archives of the Ashburnham Estate. I especially enjoyed cataloguing sketchbooks of a Grand Tour to Italy, Greece and the Middle East, with fine portraits of exotic warriors and elders enjoying a shisha. Before that, I worked on letters from Louisa, a daughter of the Elphinstone family of Ore Place, and her quarrelsome husband Robert, finding out much about the family in the process – how their fortunes went up and down and how they ended up living cheaply in Europe like many poverty-stricken aristocrats of the time. It was entertaining stuff!

‘I joined the Friends of East Sussex Record Office as a trustee ten years ago. Now my roles at FoTKA have changed slightly. I’m Secretary and Trustee – it sounds onerous but it isn’t. I inherited from the late Pam Combes the editorship of the six-monthly newsletter, which is something I can do from home, while being a Trustee involves attending four meetings a year, ensuring agendas are relevant and that minutes are written up.

‘Friends of The Keep pay a moderate membership fee and this goes towards financing new acquisitions for the archive – they might be postcards, documents, letters, maps – costing anything from £10 to £1,000. Recently, the unique collection of lantern slides detailing the construction of Beachy Head lighthouse between 1900 and 1902 was purchased with funding from the Friends, together with contributions from other grant-giving bodies and residents of Eastbourne – it was a good example of a community working together. If you’re interested in East Sussex and its historic buildings, becoming a Friend brings excellent benefits. We organise privileged visits to houses and places of interest which are often not open to the general public, accompanied by speakers with unrivalled knowledge of the area.

‘Much of my volunteering is done in the autumn and winter; I try to come to The Keep every other week for a morning or so. I also love sailing so I’m usually doing that for six weeks in the summer – my FoTKA colleagues have been known to panic when I haven’t answered an email for several days! When I was at the Treasury and MOD, I loved working with the army and meeting all sorts of different people and this happens here, too. Friends of The Keep come from many different backgrounds but we all share a love of the history and buildings of East Sussex. I hope more people join us!’

Interview by Lindsey Tydeman

For more information about the Friends of The Keep Archives, including details of how to join, please visit the FoTKA website.

Artists in the Archives – Ravilious and Friends

23 May 2017

By Kate Elms

2017 is proving a good year for Sussex artists. We have seen Sussex Modernism celebrated in an exhibition at Two Temple Place in London, while at Dulwich Picture Gallery, a Vanessa Bell retrospective is entering its final weeks. And opening in just a few days at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne is Ravilious & Co: the Pattern of Friendship, focusing on the artist and his network of friends and collaborators.

At The Keep we have a special interest in this exhibition, not just because Ravilious and many of his circle are represented in the archives held here by East Sussex Record Office, but also because some of this material features in the exhibition. A Ravilious cartoon (full-scale preparatory drawing) of his friend and fellow artist Edward Bawden, for example, has been repaired and preserved by our conservator Melissa Williams for inclusion in the show.

A letter from Peggy Angus to Eric Ravilious discussing paintings of the cement works near her Sussex home, RAV 3/3/1

A letter from Peggy Angus to Eric Ravilious discussing paintings of the cement works near her Sussex home, RAV 3/3/1

The key facts of Ravilious’ life story are well-known: born in 1903, he moved to Eastbourne as a boy and was educated there at the Grammar School and later at Eastbourne College of Art. From 1922-25, he was a student in the design department of the Royal College of Art in London, where Paul Nash was one of his tutors and Edward Bawden and Peggy Angus were among his friends. After graduation, he returned to teach part-time in Eastbourne and it was there that he met and fell in love with Tirzah Garwood, often described as his most talented student. They married in 1930 and in the early 1930s shared a house in the village of Great Bardfield, Essex, with Bawden and his wife Charlotte. In 1934, Ravilious rediscovered the Sussex Downs and, in subsequent years, was a regular guest – often with Tirzah, his lover Helen Binyon or other members of his extended circle – at Furlongs, Peggy Angus’ cottage near Glynde.

These stages of the artist’s life are reflected in his body of work – the murals produced with Bawden at Morley College in London, the watercolour of Tirzah and Charlotte Bawden in the garden of their home in Great Bardfield, and the paintings of Furlongs and the surrounding area, where he seemed to feel so at home. Correspondence in our archives reinforces the picture of an extensive network of friends and collaborators who cared enormously about each other and liked to keep in touch.

Letters to Edward Bawden, for example, discuss both professional and personal matters, from the acceptance of their designs for the Morley College murals (commissioned in 1928), to Ravilious’ relationship with Tirzah: ‘Let me earnestly recommend the married state,’ he wrote from Cornwall. ‘Marrying TG was the best thing I ever did, no doubt of it.’ Other correspondents include Percy Horton, Douglas Percy Bliss and Cecilia Dunbar Kilburn – all RCA alumni – and the contents of their letters range widely, from discussions of work in progress and future plans to the more sensitive subject of Ravilious’ affair with Binyon.

Peggy Angus also sent and received many letters, her own often illustrated with playful little sketches. Again, there is a mix of the creative and the everyday; in one letter written to Eric in February 1934, she talks politics – ‘Do you feel any pains in the stomach over the unholy horror in Vienna? You see, I know the places they’ve been blowing up…’ and goes on to discuss renovations at Furlongs. A couple of months later, she focuses more on work in progress – ‘I have finished the oil painting of the cement works,’ – before going on to say, ‘Percy has gone too now – so Helen and I are alone.’

Edward Bawden Working in His Studio by Eric Ravilious, from the Royal College of Art collection

Edward Bawden Working in His Studio by Eric Ravilious, from the Royal College of Art collection

The Ravilious archive includes many papers relating to the artist’s working life, such as invoices from framers, details of teaching appointments, and commissions from publishers and other clients, including Wedgwood and London Transport. And in some cases, the personal and professional overlap: one letter from the Zwemmer Gallery, dated 2 July 1935, congratulates Eric and Tirzah on the birth of their son John, then moves swiftly on with, ‘About those lithographs…’ On a much more sombre note, there’s a letter from the Admiralty, dated 23 December 1939, asking Ravilious, along with John Nash, to consider taking on the role of war artist.

Returning to the cartoon loaned by East Sussex Record Office to the Towner Gallery for Ravilious & Co. It’s a preparatory drawing for a painting of Edward Bawden in his studio; the painting itself, which is tempera on board rather than Ravilious’ usual watercolour, is part of the Royal College of Art collection and will also feature in the Towner exhibition. There are a couple of changes to the original cartoon: the preening cat seems to have been a late addition (and in the subsequent painting has been moved on to the rug), and one of the curtains has also been pasted on.

As if to reinforce the significance of the pattern of friendship’, the drawing is part of the Peggy Angus archive, now held at The Keep. Found in very poor condition, it required extensive treatment in our conservation studio to be fit for exhibition. ‘It was falling to pieces, very dry and “friable”,’ recalls Melissa, The Keep’s conservator. ‘It was also very sooty, perhaps because of gas lighting at Furlongs, where it had been stored.’

After microchemical testing, Melissa embarked on a series of processes, first mechanically cleaning the drawing with a soft-bristle brush and then a smoke sponge (designed to treat fire-damaged documents). Next, she cut tiny wedges of eraser that she used to remove the dirt between the pencil lines, a painstaking task that took about 40 hours. Humidifying the paper to relax the fibres and enable it to lie flat was the next challenge; this involved the creation of a polythene-enclosed chamber in which the drawing was placed on a sheet of Bondina polyester fabric which itself lay on a wet blotter. Once dry, the torn, missing areas were filled in using paper of the same type and thickness, colour matched with watercolours and secured in place with wheat-starch paste.

The Ravilious cartoon (PEG 12/4) alongside the painting from the Royal College of Art collection, in the Towner Gallery exhibition

The Ravilious cartoon (PEG 12/4) alongside the painting from the Royal College of Art collection, in the Towner Gallery exhibition

The transformation has been remarkable, and we look forward to seeing the drawing in situ when the exhibition opens!

Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship – English Artist Designers, 1922-1942, is at the Towner Art Gallery, Devonshire Park, College Road, Eastbourne BN21 4JJ, from 27 May – 17 September 2017.

We’re delighted that Andy Friend, co-curator of the exhibition and author of the accompanying book, will be discussing his research at a special event at The Keep on Tuesday 27 June at 5.30pm. Tickets, which include a glass of sparkling wine or a soft drink, cost £10 and must be booked in advance. Please call 01273 482349 for further details and to reserve your place.

The Keep will also be hosting a talk by artist Carolyn Trant about Peggy Angus and British Women Artists, which will include a display of archive material, on Wednesday 12 July at 2.30pm. Tickets cost £3, advance booking recommended. For more information, please see the events page of our website.




An Artist’s Life in Wilmington – Harold and Lilian Swanwick

11 May 2017

By Anna Manthorpe

Harold Swanwick outside his studio at Twytten House, Wilmington, c1914, AMS 6785/7/06

Harold Swanwick outside his studio at Twytten House, Wilmington, c1914, AMS 6785/7/06

Harold Swanwick (1866-1929) depicted agricultural life on the Downs in his paintings of Sussex, some of which are held by the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, and is one of the local artists represented in our holdings at The Keep.

Joseph Harold Swanwick was born in Cheshire but moved to Wilmington soon after his marriage to Ethel Lilian Heatley (known as Lilian) in 1907. The couple rented accommodation in Crossway House in Wilmington from early 1908 until August 1909, then moved to Street House Farm, Wilmington, which they purchased in 1912 from Robert Lambe; they renamed it Twytten House and remained there for the rest of their lives.

In 2005, we were donated the diary of Lilian Swanwick for 1908, and in 2011 that for 1909 arrived. Written in the early days of the marriage, the diaries give a detailed account of the couple’s life in Wilmington. Much of their leisure time was spent walking on the Downs, motoring farther afield, particularly on shopping trips to Eastbourne, or to places to paint (Lilian was an amateur artist). There was frequent correspondence between Lilian and her family, and friends stayed with them regularly. And there was considerable suspense in waiting to hear if work had been selected to hang at the Royal Academy!

The same donor later asked whether we would be interested in taking some letters written by Lilian to her brother Hugh (Harry) Heatley. Harry emigrated to Kenya in 1903, where he led a flamboyant lifestyle, but went bankrupt and returned to Arlington, where he lived for nine years, before moving to Wales. He was financially dependent on Lilian for the latter part of his life. Lilian’s letters were written during the early part of the Second World War and give a vivid account of the war effort in Wilmington. We hear about the planned evacuation of London children to the village (reversed once it was realised that the south coast was the likely invasion area), the fitting of gas masks, an attack from a German bomber, fortunately with no casualties, and a visit by Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother).

The archive has recently been further increased by scans of negatives held by the family. A researcher into the life and work of Harold Swanwick mentioned he hoped to borrow them, and I offered to do the scanning at The Keep and provide him with copies. The 30 negatives had deteriorated in some cases, but most came out well after adjustment of the light levels. Harold was a keen photographer who taught Lilian to develop photographs, and the images are doubtless the work of one or the other. Harold is depicted shooting, fishing and gardening, in addition to painting. He seems to have been a lively individual and is shown dressed up as a clown with a group of friends. Lilian is photographed in a bathing-dress in the sea, with the Seven Sisters in the background, as well as during a painting expedition on the Downs, with her paints and portable stool. Both seem to come very much alive in these pictures, which are a fascinating addition to the archive.

Andrew Forrest will be giving a talk Perspectives on Harold Swanwick at the Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, on Sunday 21 May at 12.00 (£6.00 or £5.00 concessions; online booking advisable).



Theo Ward, musical director of the Eastbourne Orchestral Band

16 February 2017

By Anna Manthorpe

Portrait of Theo Ward, c1900 (AMS 7205/1/2)

Portrait of Theo Ward, c1900 (AMS 7205/1/2)

Music is not well represented in our holdings and it was good to receive an interesting group of papers relating to Theo Ward (1863-1935), who was appointed musical director of the Eastbourne Orchestral Band in 1899.

Born in Marylebone, London, Robert Theophilus (Theo) Ward’s early life is rather mysterious. Despite claiming in an interview that that his people were all engaged in the medical profession and he had been destined to become a doctor, in fact his father, Theophilus Frederick Ward, was a photographer who died in 1875 aged 39, when Theo was 12. His mother Louisa seems to have possessed an indomitable spirit and in 1881 was enumerated as landlady of The Welsh Harp, 47 Chandos Street, together with Theo, described as a hotel servant, and his five siblings.

Theo claimed that he did not receive a music lesson until he was 18, and entered the Royal Academy of Music the following year. He was certainly a student there in 1889, when a Royal Academy orchestral concert included a piece composed by Theo, described as a most promising pupil (Pall Mall Gazette, 18 April 1889). Theo was already active on the London musical scene, and his appearances included an organ recital at the International Inventions Exhibition at South Kensington on 4 November 1885.

Theo Ward's 'Devotion', dedicated to his wife, 1904 (AMS 7205/3/7)

Theo Ward’s ‘Devotion’, dedicated to his wife, 1904 (AMS 7205/3/7)

In 1891 he met Charles Wyndham and was offered the conductorship of the Criterion Theatre in London, where he remained until 1893. He then went to India with Mrs Brown Potter and Kyrle Bellow, who were performing a number of Shakespearian revivals, and Theo worked with a large Indian orchestra. He was in India for around a year, and upon returning, revived a burlesque The Babes for Willie Edouin at the Strand Theatre. He was also appointed musical director of the Princess’s Theatre in the same year. In the late 1890s Theo was engaged as musical director of the Blackpool Winter Gardens for the season, and then returned to the Princess’s Theatre.

On 5 May 1899 the Pleasure Grounds Committee of Eastbourne County Borough unanimously agreed to appoint Theo Ward as Bandmaster of the Town Orchestral Band at £350 a year, subject to him providing the necessary music. It was the heyday of bandstand music, and unthinkable that the ‘Empress of Watering Places’ should lack such an amenity. The need to make economies became apparent, however, and in September 1906 Theo wrote to the Eastbourne Pleasure Grounds Committee regretting the dismissals of three of his bandsmen in the municipal band and orchestra: ‘it is impossible to produce the proper effect without suitable material’. A cartoon in the archive depicts him as a one-man band busking on the seafront.

On 16 August 1907 the Pleasure Grounds Committee reported that notices had been served on the conductor and members of the municipal band to terminate service as from 17 November and 31 October respectively. It seems that Theo was offered the chance to continue on a reduced salary, but left Eastbourne in November. Theo certainly did not leave under a cloud. The Mayor and Corporation provided him with a sealed testimonial expressing their appreciation. He was clearly very popular and the locals were sorry to see him go; the Eastbourne Chronicle reported that he was besieged by people anxious to shake hands and extend best wishes for his future at his final evening concert. The Eastbourne Gazette published a poem which commenced with the optimistic refrain:

Cartoon of Theo Ward, 1906 (AMS 7205/1/5)

Cartoon of Theo Ward, 1906 (AMS 7205/1/5)

If you’ve resigned your baton here,

Don’t hang your head and all that;

Your future lot you need not fear,

You’ll get a Band and all that!

Theo did obtain a prestigious post in 1911 when he became musical director at Buxton Gardens in Derbyshire, and later in his career undertook a musical tour titled Masterpiece, for which the publicity stated that he was hailed by critics as being the greatest pianist of the day. He was certainly very accomplished as a conductor, pianist and organist, as well as being a prolific composer, and the archive contains a number of examples of his published works which demonstrate his love of comic opera and song.








Digitisation news: one thousand parish registers, and counting!

12 August 2015

Eighteen months after beginning work scanning the parish registers of East Sussex, volunteer John Phillips has scanned his thousandth register. ‘I have to keep a thorough count in case I’m given the same one to do twice!’ he commented. ‘It’s an achievement but now I’m working towards the next thousand.’ The scanned parish registers are available for visitors to consult on the digital image viewers in The Keep’s Reference Room, allowing us to conserve the original documents while still providing access to the handwritten records. ‘A thousand digitised volumes saves a thousand trips to the storeroom,’ said John.

Pictured below right is a page from the thousandth volume, a 1939 confirmation register from St Anne’s Church, Eastbourne.





Stories from the Collections: weather

PCA B/120: Brighton: rough sea at Palace Pier (23 Jun 1909)WINTERY WEATHER

We’re all obsessed with the weather aren’t we?  Will we have a white Christmas?  Will the summer holidays have good weather?  Will it flood again?  Well, our ancestors were just as concerned.  As with today’s farmers, the weather can make a huge difference to the harvest, and weather could be a matter of life and death.  So the records people left behind them often include references to weather.



The great hurricane of May 1729

Henry Phillips of Hastings kept diaries which included notes on the weather and its effects.  Being on the coast, he noted the effect of high winds on ships.  On 2 February 1825, for example, he noted a high wind which brought 5 sloops ashore and broke up one of them called The Active.

An account of this appeared in a pamphlet of the time.  It began at Bexhill and made its way east past Battle for about half an hour and then blew itself out.  It was probably actually a tornado, as it is described as pulling up trees, taking off a gate or a thatched roof but missing areas on either side.  “A hog pound and sty, covered with a roof and thatched, in a very unaccountable manner had all the middle part taken away from top to bottom, and only the two gable heads remained standing with the thatch entire…The whole quantity of timber trees blowed up by the roots and broke down upon Sir Thomas Webster’s Battle estate is computed at least to thirteen or fourteen hundred trees…[William Wallis’s house blew down] partly owing to a large apple tree brought out of a neighbour’s orchard, over three hedges, with the earth and roots about them, that fell upon his house…[At Collier’s Green] ..a child that sat in a chair at the foot of the bed was carried in his chair and set in the fire place; and the gravel stones from the highway and glass from the windows were brought in with such violence as to stick in the chairs etc like shot discharged from a fowling-piece.”

The Keep’s catalogue includes numerous references to hurricanes, including, of course, that of 1987.



The Met Office reckons that it rains an average of one day in three.  It certainly was certainly more than that in the 1820s.  Henry Phillips recorded days of rain in his diaries for 1825-1829.  If it had rained one day in three, it would have rained on 122 days.  In 1826 it rained 163 days (the lowest year) and in 1828 a massive 202 days.

Of course, the rain (not enough or too little) was and still is of great concern to farmers.  Thomas Brook of Salehurst recorded how the weather affected him at the end of the 18th century.  “1799.  The weather was very wet the most part of the summer which damaged the hay very much and the harvest very bad.  Did not cary oats till the latter end of October.  Wheat crop very thin and blighted.  Hops in some parts very good and some places very bad and sold very dear.”]



AMS 6236/4: Portfolio of photographs of the exterior and grounds of Leighside House, Lewes with a brief note on the history of the house by A M HodgkinI’m not a great lover of snow and ice, but children see it differently. A Lewes schoolboy’s diary (H T Jenner, aged 13) tells us of the weather in 1891.  It snowed in early March and drifted to 6 feet in Lewes.  He made a special visit to Kingston to see the 8 foot drifts there.  In January the lowest temperature was 17°F (15°F below freezing) according to his measurements.  The river at Barcombe had frozen over and he went skating.  He also skated on ice specially created at the swimming pool at Lewes by the Fire Brigade flooding it.

Did they have more white Christmases in the past as we all think they did?  Diaries from the 19th century do record one or two such Christmases.  Charles Wille lived in South Street in Lewes and witnessed a great disaster that struck at Christmas in 1836, and which he recorded in his diary. It started snowing on Christmas Eve and carried on throughout Christmas Day and night, causing huge drifts.  Many roads were filled to the tops of the hedges and some drifts got to 15 or 20 feet, even to 25 feet in Buxted.  Lewes was cut off for several days.  The wind had deposited a ridge of snow 15 feet thick along Cliffe Hill overlooking South Street and it was in danger of falling on Boulder Row, the houses run by the parish for the poor.  The inhabitants were advised to leave but refused to go.  The snow did fall and buried the 7 end houses.  8 of the 15 people were killed.  One boy was dug out after being buried for 6 hours.  The Snowdrop Inn commemorates the event.

“Dec 25 1836.  Very cold and snowing most of the day from NE, drifted the snow very much particularly on the edge of the hill over our yard – in the evening a great fall from the drifted snow came into the yard driving the upper saw house nearly to the front of the yard – breaking down the upper end of the shed.

“Dec 27 1836.  Between 10 and 11 in the morning a great fall of snow took place opposite Bolder Row (the parish houses) forced them down burrying in the ruins fourteen persons 8 of whom were taken out dead.

“Dec 30 1836.  Seven of the eight who perish’d in the fall of the houses were buried at Malling – about 40 relations follow’d – it was indeed a heap of sorrow and grief to the spectators.”

To end on a cheerier note, did you know that the highest monthly total on record of sunshine in Britain is 384 hours in July 1911 at Eastbourne?


Published 13th February 2015

Written by Elizabeth Hughes, County Archivist




Stories from the Collections: Aubrey Beardsley

20th June 2014

The Keep offers many easily accessible local history resources, including reference books, periodicals, and historic newspapers that can viewed on microfilm. These provide a fascinating glimpse into the past, whether you’re interested in a specific event or date, or a more general overview.

In June 1887, for example, Brighton Grammar School published a charming illustration in its magazine Past And Present. Entitled The Jubilee Cricket Analysis, it offered a witty interpretation of some of the jargon associated with the game – A Good Bowler is depicted as a hat, Caught shows a man grabbed by the scruff of his neck by a policeman, and Square Leg is a man whose legs are as short as they are wide. It was the work of one of the school’s 14-year-old students; his name was Aubrey Beardsley.

Born in Brighton in 1872, Beardsley had a peripatetic childhood but moved back to the town in 1884, where he lived with his great aunt in Lower Rock Gardens. At Brighton Grammar School, he immersed himself in all things creative, reading voraciously, sketching, writing poetry and performing in school plays.

Beardsley was not known for his cricketing skills, but Sussex has a long connection with the county game. In June 1836, the Brighton Gazette reported that a Cricketing Fund had been set up to establish a proper county club and three years later, also in the month of June, Sussex played – and lost – its first county match against the Marylebone Cricket Club at Lords. In the mid-19th century, games were played at a number of grounds in Brighton and Hove but in 1871, the current county ground was acquired; the inaugural first-class match was played there on 6 June the following year.

Tennis – very much in the news at this time of year – also has historic links with East Sussex, in particular with Devonshire Park in Eastbourne. The game has been played there since 1880, when it would have cost one shilling and sixpence to hire a grass court (tennis balls included). Tournaments were held from the early days, attracting top players such as Fred Perry, who represented Great Britain in Davis Cup ties held in Eastbourne in the 1930s.

For the past 40 years, however, Eastbourne has been best known for the international women’s competition held in the run-up to the Wimbledon fortnight. In 1974, when the event was first staged (it was known then as the John Player Championships – how times have changed), a young Chris Evert beat University of Sussex graduate Virginia Wade in the final, before going on to win Wimbledon itself. This year’s tournament, which features both men and women, concludes this weekend – will the new champions also go on to glory in SW19?