Helena Normanton – from Brighton classroom to King’s Counsel
31 January 2019
By Kate Elms
Sifting through material at the end of last year for our archive-inspired Advent Calendar, we opened a box containing a Christmas card from Helena Normanton. We didn’t include it in the calendar (competition is fierce for those festive slots), but it piqued our curiosity. Who was Helena Normanton? The card was within the archives for Varndean School and it became apparent that at the end of the 19th century, she had been a pupil at Brighton’s York Place School, which later became Varndean School for Girls.
Among the papers there was also a photograph of her wearing a barrister’s wig and gown and some newspaper cuttings referring to a distinguished legal career. During last year’s Suffrage Centenary, we highlighted the lives and work of some of the pioneering women represented in our archives, but we’re delighted to start this year sharing Helena’s story, particularly as 2019 marks the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, a piece of legislation that allowed women to practise law, among other professions, for the first time. We discovered not only that Helena was quick to take advantage of this opportunity, but also that she broke new ground for other women and championed equal rights throughout her life.
Born in London in 1882, Helena moved to Brighton with her mother and younger sister a few years later, after the death of her father. She was admitted to York Place School of Science in October 1896. Records held at The Keep suggest she was a talented student, moving swiftly through the Standards in the class for the brightest pupils. Her achievements often popped up in the Girls Pages of the school magazine and in July 1900, she pursued a well-trodden path, becoming a pupil teacher at one of the local Board Schools.
From 1903-1905, Helena attended Edge Hill teacher training college for women in Liverpool, the first non-denominational college of its kind in the country. She followed this with a Diploma in French language, literature and history at University of Dijon (1907), and a first-class degree in History at the University of London (1912). A vocal supporter of many causes, including female suffrage and equal pay for men and women, she pursued a teaching career while also becoming known as a charismatic speaker.
She made her first application to the Middle Temple in 1918, immediately after the Equal Franchise Act gave some women the right to vote, but was refused. Although she immediately challenged the decision, the 1919 Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed before her appeal could be heard, and the following day, 24 December 1919, she reapplied and became the first woman admitted as a student to the Bar.
In 1921, she married Gavin Bowman Watson Clark and, in keeping with her independent nature, retained her maiden name. Reflecting on the reasons many women changed their name on marriage, she was direct and unequivocal: ‘They seem to think they have got to. There is no got to about it. A woman only becomes Mrs Bill Jones by habit…’ When she was called to the Bar in 1922, the Lord Chancellor tried to persuade her to take her husband’s name but again she refused, stating in an article published in the Yorkshire Post, ‘I could see that if a Lord Chancellor was interested, I must have been exercising an important liberty.’ When invited to travel to America to give a series of lectures, she became the first married British woman to be issued a passport in her maiden name. News of her visit, and her uncompromising stance, was splashed across the New York papers: the New York Times described how she visited lawyers at the Foreign Office when her initial request was refused at the UK passport office, while the Evening Post described her as an ‘English Portia’, succeeding where her American counterparts had failed.
Helena was not the first woman to be called to the Bar but she was the first to practise as a barrister, and racked up a number of other ‘firsts’ in her career: she was the first female counsel in the High Court of Justice and the Old Bailey, the first woman to obtain a divorce for her client and the first to lead the prosecution in a murder trial. In 1949, she and Rose Heilbron were the first women in England to be appointed as King’s Counsel.
Despite the fact that she lived in London, Helena remained attached to her old school and to Brighton and the surrounding area. In 1947, she attended a special reunion of the Varndean Old Girls Association to mark 21 years since the school moved to new premises. She recalled the early days in York Place and, in school magazine The Varndean Chronicle, observed that ‘a school is not a building, a place or a staff, but the whole living, breathing texture that moves on through generations.’ She returned in 1950 to give the address and to hand out certificates at the school’s Speech Day, and the following year was guest of honour at a dinner held by the Hastings & District branch of the National Council of Women. At that event, she spoke of her fondness of Sussex, observing, ‘You can go and see the Alps and the Andes, but where do you see anything as sweet as the rolling Downs?’
It should come as no surprise that, when a fund was established in 1956 to create a new university in the county, Helena was the first to contribute. She supported the idea with great enthusiasm and conviction during her lifetime, and set up a trust fund to benefit the University after her death in 1957. The University of Sussex is one of The Keep’s partners, and it seems appropriate that its Special Collections are kept under the same roof as the local archives that have been used to research this blog. It is also fitting that, 100 years after Helena’s admission to the Inns of Court and the legislation that made it possible, 218 Strand Chambers in London will be renamed Normanton Chambers on 31 January, making Helena the first woman to have a Chambers named after her. Over 60 years after her death, she’s still a trailblazer.
Onward and Upward: York Place to Varndean, 1884-1975 by Tony Allt and Brian Robson
Helena Normanton and the Opening of the Bar to Women, Judith Bourne, 2017, Waterside Press
Papers of Helena Normanton, relating to her career and other interests are held at the Women’s Library at LSE, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE.
First 100 Years is a history project celebrating 100 years of women in law.
The Long Journey Home: Edith Cavell and the “Cavell” Van
27 November 2018
by Emily Manser
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 email@example.com
The expansion of Hove: a house – and garage – for everyone
6 November 2018
By Lindsey Tydeman
A devastating war may have come and gone but through it the register of planning applications in the Borough of Hove Surveyor’s Office was maintained faultlessly, the only evidence of the national trauma being a 50 per cent decrease in planning applications between 1914-1918. After the war, although local industries and shops continued to grow and modernise, there was a very slow start to house-building despite the temporary subsidies available under the Housing (Additional Powers) Act 1919.
It was to take ten years before confidence in the building industry returned. 1928 seems to be the key year in Hove’s expansion northwards into Hangleton, Blatchington and the surrounding downland farms. The roads between the railway line and the Old Shoreham Road were filled with large-scale developments (ie ‘45 houses, Amherst Crescent and Aldrington Avenue’) and the success of this was the cue for huge projects of new roads, sewers and housing north of the Old Shoreham Road which was only interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939. Braybons the builders cornered the market in Hangleton as they had done in Brighton; they began building 103 houses in Elm Drive, May Tree Walk and Rowan Avenue in spring 1933, and started again building 80 houses and 38 garages on Hangleton ‘Estate Road No 4’ in early 1936. A garage was now considered essential; everyone who had bought a house without one or builders who had started constructing houses without them remedied their errors in the 1930s. The value-for-money option was the pre-fabricated garage from Booths Portable Buildings Ltd.
There was obviously rapid profit to be made in large estates of smaller semi-detached houses, and, later, of semi-detached and detached bungalows. The impression from the register is of developers, individually or in groups, being determined to start building as soon as land became available, often putting plans before the Borough Surveyor and Improvements Committee even before a specific plot had been identified on a new road and necessitating a measurement from the nearest landmark or building in order to plot it on the office map. A handful of local architects and builders maintained a firm grip on the developing housing market and, by 1937, some of them had been there since the 1890s, handing on the business through the family. Several names – Marchant, Nye, Parsons and Sons, Braybons, Cook, Callaways, Denman and Draycott – are still associated with the building industry and working in Brighton and Hove today.
After the First World War, the rich no longer came en masse to spend their summers in Hove. Some families sold their grand houses in Hove’s premier roads leading from Church Road and Western Road to the seafront, but others kept them, converting them into flats for rental income. Initially, each floor of a large house would become one flat, the architect’s plans rarely exceeding four in one building. However, in 1938 owners began to see the potential in ‘tenements’ (as the planning register called them), or ‘flatlets’ (in the words of the architect). Perhaps those at 9, 11 and 13 Holland Road were Hove’s first studios. The party walls separating the large terraced houses were demolished, making them ‘all intercommunicating’. The rooms were divided by a partition wall to create a living space with a ‘kitchenette’ in the corner. A shared bathroom was at the end of the landing or on the next floor. In August 1940, plans were submitted to make 16 flatlets and caretaker’s quarters out of the single house at 44 Brunswick Place.
Hove still remained the town of choice for wealthy individuals and retirees. The latter could move into one of the luxury, modern purpose-built flats occupying prominent positions on the Kingsway. In August 1936, Viceroy Lodge at the bottom of Hove Street was designed with its own servants’ quarters and every flat in St Aubyn’s Mansions had its own maid’s bedroom. In 1932, Hove’s first private swimming pool had been designed by the architect Mr S Clough. Designed for satisfying length swimming, it filled the entire back garden of number 8 Third Avenue and came with 2 diving boards, a terrace and, for privacy, a thick conifer screen at the back.
In 1939, Hove’s main industries were still those of 50 years previously and they were in the same place, banked up against the Brighton to Shoreham railway line. Dubarry’s had bought out the Standard Tablet Company in 1924 and was installed in the factories and warehouses south of Hove Park Villas. Brighton and Hove Omnibuses were still in Conway Street and the laundries in Arthur Street were expanding and updating; in 1922, dry cleaning was offered at Channel Laundry. The newly-created industrial estate to the west of Newtown Road was dominated by the head office of Clarks Bakery, whose delivery men on bicycles, and later vans, supplied the local shops. Improvements in 1933 placed woodblock-floored offices, a telephone booth and boardroom around the strongroom, with a three-bedroomed flat upstairs. Green’s, makers of dessert and cake mixes, had been on its site between Portland Road and the railway for over 20 years and had its own spur line to the factory. The machine tool factory CVA Jigs, Moulds and Tools lay on the north side of Portland Road opposite Glebe Villas and had expanded from its ‘temporary building’ in 1917 to a full iron foundry works in 1930. Smelting work was carried out there until the early 1970s.
Away from Hove’s many pubs or ‘hotels’ as the planning register termed them, entertainment came in the form of football, greyhound racing and cinema. The Goldstone football ground had a new North Stand in 1930, to be followed by a clubhouse, improved lavatories and two ‘temporary’ bars, owned by Tamplins, in 1937. The nearby greyhound stadium, new in 1929, went from strength to strength; improved and extended during the early 1930s, it received a ‘totalisator’ building for betting in April 1936, additions to the grandstand in late 1938 and extensions to the east stand in January 1939. Hove Ice Rink, which lay alongside the railway at the top of Denmark Villas, was a huge temple-like building with a high-ceilinged entrance hall, orchestra pit, restaurant, board room and tea lounge. However, it lost popularity soon after opening in 1929 and was reopened as the Hove Lido cinema in 1932.
Dr Hart of 47 Cromwell Road was the first civilian to apply for permission to build an air raid shelter in his garden in January 1939. This threw the Planning Committee into a dilemma; as it was ‘a structure not provided for in their Building Bylaws, the Borough Surveyor suggests that the Council accept no responsibility in respect of the proposals’. They didn’t have long to wait before instructions from the War Office took the responsibility away from them. Only two organisations, the Brighton and Hove Omnibus Company and Boots Chemists, were proactive when it came to protecting their employees in the months before war became official, the former building two air raid shelters in Conway Street, one with a gas-proof door, and the latter providing shelters at all three of its shops in Boundary Road, George Street and Church Road.
Regarding the book itself, 1939’s planning register, purchased in June 1937 from Combridge’s Stationers at 56 Church Road, is a duplicate of Hove Borough’s first planning register of 1885. Its layout and listing style were unchanged, reflecting, one suspects, the procedural continuity of the council committee meetings at which the Borough Surveyor approved new buildings. Ink pens were still used although the writing was no longer standard nineteenth-century copperplate and formalities were important. The word ‘Messrs’ always preceded a company’s name and two or more unmarried sisters living together were termed, ‘The Misses…’. It was business as usual in the Surveyor’s Office right up to 24 December and again after 26 December. It would be 35 years before 1 January became a public holiday.
Pioneering women: Margaret Bondfield, 1873-1953
6 August 2018
By Kate Elms
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.
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.
Mary Dring – an 18th-century businesswoman from Brighton
11 July 2018
By Madeleine Dickens
To mark the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which extended the franchise to some women, we have been looking at some of the extraordinary women represented in our archives, both before and after the suffrage campaign. Genealogist Madeleine Dickens discovered records relating to Sussex-born Mary Dring (née Widgett, later Kirby) while working collaboratively with one of her clients, Wayne Jackson from Canberra. Here, she tells her story.
Mary Dring was a successful businesswoman in 18th-century Brighton. Although remarkable in her own right, her success was not unprecedented; she was one of many enterprising, determined women with ambition to succeed. By her own assessment, ‘[she has] by her care and assiduity established a considerable share of custom by which she has been enabled to support herself and her three children by her late husband William Dring.’
Baptised in 1747 at West Tarring, Sussex, Mary married William Dring on 12 October 1770 at Finsbury St Luke, London. They had several children, including a son John, before moving to Brighton, where they ran a grocery business. They had several more children, of whom only two, William and David, survived infancy.
Mary was one of four siblings and the entrepreneurial spirit clearly ran in the family. Her sister Elizabeth ran Miss Widgett’s Library on the Steine up to about 1779, publishing a guide book to Brighton in 1778. Diarists of that era referred to her as ‘the milliner and library woman’. Another sister, Ann, was almost certainly the Miss Widgett who, in partnership with Miss Wayte, opened a Boarding School for young ladies in West Street in 1785.
William Dring died and was buried on 27 September 1779 at St Nicholas’ Church in Brighton. Despite her loss, a week later Mary advertised that she would continue to run her late husband’s grocery business. By 1784, she had added the running of a ‘house, coach-house and stables’ to her portfolio in North Street, Brighton’s principal trading street. According to rating valuations, her properties were among the most valuable in the town.
One of the documents held by East Sussex Record Office at The Keep details the debts incurred by William Dring that Mary settled following his death, and gives an idea of the standing of the family. The debts incurred and settled amounted to nearly £2,000 (modern day equivalent, at least £250,000). There are also several inventories of her possessions and stock (drawn up at the time of her husband’s death) which give an even clearer idea of her relative wealth.
Mary married for a second time to John Kirby, in St Nicholas’ Church on 20 July 1784. It was the Deed of Settlement she had drawn up prior to this marriage that marked her out as an unusually independent and determined woman. It could best be described as an 18th century pre-nuptial agreement, and suggests that Mary was aware that the law at that time would not allow her to retain control of her business on remarriage (it was only with the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act in 1870 that married women were granted any legal rights to their own property).
The extract below gives an idea of the strictures imposed on Mary’s second husband: she had two main objectives – to ensure he met with her exacting standards and to generate the necessary returns to protect her own and her children’s futures.
‘…that the said trade or business during the continuance thereof shall be managed and carried on and all purchases, sales, bill, notes dealings and transactions which shall be made, given or taken for any matter concerning the same to be taken, exercised and entered in the joint names Kirby and Dring and also that the said John Kirby shall bestow his whole time and attention on the said Trade or Business and endeavour by his utmost skill, care, diligence and attendance to advance and promote the same; shall not deal or trade with any other than that of grocer or enter into co-partnerships or engagements in the business or any other with other person/s whomsoever; and that all goods, wares and merchandise monies payments and securities and all dealings relating to the business shall be daily charged and entered by him in proper books to be provided for that purpose in such manner as other persons of the same Business usually do or ought to do whereby the fair and clear amount of the said trade and the true state thereof may appear and in particular that a book may be kept for the said William Gifford, Thomas Hudson and Edward Widgett [the carefully selected trustees] or the survivor/s of them, their executors and ads and administrators, shall be at liberty to resort at all times have the sight, perusal and examination of and to take copies or extracts without any Let or Denial whatsoever. And also that the said John Kirby shall not nor will at any time or times during the time or term of aforesaid without such consent and approbation and so testified become Bail or security for with or to any person by Bond Bill Note promise or otherwise….’
Mary may have had another pressing motivation to have such a document drawn up – it’s likely that she was pregnant prior to her marriage. The couple were married on 20 July 1784 and their first child was baptised on 12 March 1785. A woman who valued her standing in society, however independent, would not have risked the consequences of having the child on her own.
There are many surviving documents relating to Mary’s life and business, but unfortunately the document trail dries up after her second marriage. We know more about her three sons from her first marriage, whose interests she had done so much to protect. Aged 14, John went up to Oxford University (a possibility only the wealthy could consider). He completed his MA in 1794 and took up a series of ‘livings’ as a vicar. William and David went into the grocery business together but were declared insolvent in 1802.
Tragically, all Mary’s sons predeceased her by some years – John was the first to die in France in 1804, William in Brighton in 1806, and David, who had travelled to the West Indies, in 1807. A very sad end to all Mary’s driving enterprise and maternal force. Her only grandchild, David Dring junior, appears to have inherited his grandmother’s formidable character. He became a master mariner who traversed most of the globe, making a particular contribution to the early development of Western Australia and the West Coast of America, both on sea and land.
Sadly, no will for Mary has been located so we have no idea of the estate she might have left behind or the outcome of her efforts to preserve her and her children’s independence.
When living on benefits meant wearing a pauper’s badge
2 July 2018
By Lindsey Tydeman
Inskipp, Maplesden, Langridge, Harriott, Muggridge… these are just a few of the Sussex names which feature in two parchment-bound books recently acquired by East Sussex Record Office (ESRO). They are parish record books and contain details of payments and benefits given to the poor in East Sussex over 250 years ago. Archivists at ESRO consider themselves fortunate to have bought them through two private sales, before going to public auction. The books come from the parishes of Catsfield and Battle and were kept by the small group of men who had been nominated to the two-year post of parish overseer, a time-consuming and often difficult role which involved doling out cash and assistance to the parish’s poorest individuals as well as monitoring their welfare and behaviour.
James Markwick and Thomas May, the Overseers of the Poor of Catsfield parish, began their Account Book in April 1764. A heavyweight affair, it was to last the parish until 1809 and its cost, 12 shillings, roughly the equivalent of 12 weeks benefit for an individual pauper, can be seen on the fifth page. Typical entries are, ‘one month’s rent’, ‘four weeks’ pay’, cash to individuals ‘in need’, faggots for fuel or clothing for children. As well as distributing funds and services, Markwick and May had to collect regular payments from everyone in the parish who paid rates and balance the books annually. The overseers would give out work such as spinning and mending to those who could do it, organise doctors’ visits and even arrange fostering placements for children and young people with nowhere to live. Understandably, parish overseers went to great lengths to confine benefits to those already settled in their parish. Paupers were given the parish’s ‘P’ pauper badge which had to be sewn onto their outer clothing to identify them as dependent solely on their particular parish for subsistence.
Battle’s Small Vestry Book covers the shorter time period of the ten years between 1778 and 1788, but completes a series which runs from 1757 to 1835. It records the decisions made at regular meetings in Battle church vestry to distribute ad hoc cash payments, benefits or services to families and individuals who must have been on the verge of starvation or destitution. On 9 October 1782, for example, seven of the overseers agreed to allow Martha Pins ‘one upper coat, one under coat, a pair of stays and an apron’. Pauper women received an extra allowance during their ‘lying-in’ – when they gave birth – and bastard children were provided for. The overseers had also to rein in those who perhaps liked the perks of their job too much. In February 1784, it was agreed that ‘John Skeath the Governor of the Workhouse do pay to the overseers the sum of six pounds and nine shillings and fourpence being a deficiency in his account of spinning and other things… And also that the said John Skeath shall not sell any garden stuff or other things without the express leave of the parishioners…’
Taken together, the Overseers’ Account Book and the Small Vestry Book reveal how two Sussex parishes managed their sick, destitute and aged members. Every parishioner would have been known to the overseers, and, while it may have been humiliating to be identified as dependant on the parish for subsistence, it was also highly unlikely that an individual would have been left wholly without food or shelter, while there was enough food and resources to go round.
County Archivist Christopher Whittick commented, ‘These documents are wonderful finds. They chronicle almost half a century of assistance given to the poor and helpless people of two rural parishes. Every aspect of their lives, and of the suppliers, tradesmen and professionals who provided the services, is recorded in minute detail. Whether your interest lies in family history, Sussex in the 18th century or the parishes of Catsfield or Battle and its important market town, this volume will be of huge interest. We are most grateful to Bellmans of Wisborough Green and to Eastbourne Auctions for withdrawing these long-lost parish records from sale and arranging for us to buy them for preservation with the other papers of these two parishes at the County Record Office.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 http://www.recordingremembrance.org.uk/help
New display celebrates Women’s History Month at The Keep!
8 March 2018
By Eleanor King
For Women’s History Month this year, a display has gone up in our reception area highlighting some of the lesser known heroines of our collections. Pictured below, the display loosely takes the themes of ‘a woman in a man’s world’ and the power of the female voice and friendship. The women featured all created something unique in their lifetimes and all have contributed to the place of women in the 21st century. To gather these women together, I put a call out to the ladies of The Keep for their champions and unsung heroines, and sure enough the call was answered.
A women whose archive I‘ve wanted to explore in more detail for while is that of the remarkable Dr Rosey Pool, whose scrapbooks of her time working with African America poets in the United States I have had the pleasure of being able to leaf through in teaching sessions. Dutch-born Dr Pool studied in Berlin until the expansion of the Nazi regime forced her return to Amsterdam, where she became a teacher, counting Anne Frank among her pupils. She had formed an interest in African American poetry at university and during the war continued to seek out and collect works by poets and artists. Following the war, Pool spent time in America, lecturing and speaking out in favour of civil rights, desegregation and championed the work of unknown African American poets and artists. Her archive includes a wealth of poetry from the middle of the 20th century, as well as much of her own writing. A recent display at The Keep featured a book from Rosey Pool’s archive that underwent conservation last year. A piece written by Special Collections Supervisor Rose Lock about this book and its conservation can be found on the University of Sussex library staff blog.
Another woman I knew I had to feature was Tilly Edinger, an eminent scientist whose pioneering work led to the discovery of ‘paleo neurology’. It was Samira Teuteberg, archivist for the German-Jewish collections held at The Keep, who told me about Dr Edinger; knowing my interest in all things ‘Jurassic Park’, she knew a woman who pioneered the study of dinosaur brains was always going to pique my interest. Tilly Edinger led me to Eva Ehrenberg, her cousin and a translator and writer. I came across a photograph that, for me, embodies the phrase ‘a woman in a man’s world’, featuring Eva Ehrenberg at work at her desk in an office alone, on one side of the room whilst a group of men sit around at a desk on the other side of the room. The two parties could be occupying entirely separate spaces; Eva is isolated and ignored, working alone while the men appear to be deep in discussion. A copy of this photograph is now part of the display, alongside material related to the work of Tilly Edinger.
Despite Tilly’s move to America to pursue her career, she and Eva maintained a correspondence and a friendship. This got me thinking about the importance of female friendships and how empowering they can be, and I wanted to find other examples in our collections.
It was Rose Lock who alerted me to the incredible women of the Cooperative Correspondence Club, the CCC, who, following a call for help from a lonely mother in Nursery World magazine, created a publication written by the women, for the women and only to be read by CCC members. The magazine ran from 1935-1990 starting with 24 contributors who all wrote under pseudonyms and formed close friendships over the years. The power of being given a voice cannot be underestimated, and the CCC offered women across the country a chance to have their voices heard and their opinions counted in a world where they may have otherwise been ignored or undervalued.
In keeping with the theme of female friendship and comradery, East Sussex archivist Anna Manthorpe directed me to the Women’s Institute records we hold from chapters across the county. These include reports, minutes and record books, and we also hold several scrapbooks created to celebrate key events such the Golden Jubilee. On display are some images taken from the Falmer WI scrapbook from 1965 that feature a run-down of the year’s activities, including thoughts on the impact the new university will have on the village. Community groups such as the WI provided a space for women to work beyond the male gaze and their domestic arrangements, forming friendships and contributing to their local communities.
Other women who feature in the display include Mrs Mary Philadelphia Merrifield, a Brighton-based writer and translator from the 19th Century. She took herself off to France and Italy to study the Old Masters and later studied marine life, becoming a leading algologist (seaweed expert). A blog about Merrifield written for International Women’s Day in 2016 by archive assistant Emma Skinner can be read here. Brighton and Hove colleague Kate Elms and archive assistant Lindsey Tydeman also provided me with the names of many great women, including politician and activist Margaret Bondfield, pioneering physician Dr Helen Boyle and women’s rights campaigner Barbara Bodichon, all of whom have local connections but have made an impact historically.
The archives at The Keep are full of fascinating, remarkable and extraordinary women; from scientific pioneers to outspoken activists, to housewives seeking friendship. We hope you will inspired to come and find out more, or perhaps to discover your own family heroine? In 2018, the female voice is being heard perhaps louder than ever before, let’s keep it up!