(Not) A Very Merry Christmas!

18 December 2018

By Lindsey Tydeman

Christmas isn’t always the perfect family time we like to think it is… sometimes illness, arguments, unexpected tasks, family tensions and catastrophes get in the way. We’ve selected some memories from the diaries in the Mass Observation archive of Christmases past which didn’t quite go according to plan…

‘My brother is a policeman and the most reactionary person I know; also he is stoically heterosexual, with two rather colourless children and a wife who thinks women should be paid less than men. It had always been a problem for me to relax among them. The last Christmas I spent with them was agonising. ..There were too many rows. I said ‘Never again’. And I never returned to that house, even for a visit.’
M, 45 SXMOA2/1/20/3

Detail from John Leech’s illustrations to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1st edition (Chapman and Hall, 1843) in the Gilbert Foyle Collection, SxGilbertFoyle/22

‘A nice short service but the ‘Te Deum’ was bloody awful… Read ‘National Velvet’ all afternoon… Gram on all evening, bed 10.30.’
M, 24 SXMOA99/51

‘Rob told me he had had a very severe bout of food poisoning…he thinks on reflection, it was the antipasto. He was violently sick all night and part of the next day…Meanwhile, he told me, Ruth had started to feel ill… As we spoke, upstairs in my bedroom she was violently sick, into a plastic carrier bag, it seems.’
F, 60 SXMOA99/14/4/15

‘The only misfortune was the Aran sweater that my aunt knitted for Elizabeth. The thank you letter is going to take a lot of careful phrasing as the sweater was far too small and had one sleeve an inch longer than the other… If only she’d rung for measurements!’
F, 53 SXMOA2/1/20

‘Karen helped both Marjorie and me to get up out of our seats and to be lowered gently into them! At 86 and 89 both movements need a strong arm to prevent a struggle or undignified collapse… I told Karen to be wary of handsome boys who tend to be demanding and arrogant… I have seen quite a few of them married for six or eight years and then going off with another woman and bringing another family into existence… I didn’t tell her that a billion pounds had not been paid to the first deserted families. Women have had the worst of the sexual revolution.’
M, 89 SXMOA99/85/1/10

‘Eventually cooked a turkey steak, potatoes, green beans and sprouts and was having it as it got dusk. However Jane had brought Sweep across to be here as a refuge because they had visitors and he was unhappy and restless, going to the door, clawing at the carpet etc so I let him out. This deterred me from my dinner and it got a bit cold and I didn’t enjoy it much.’
F, 71 SXMOA99/92/18

‘When I got home Bob went out to ‘do his kiosk’. He takes part in the BT ‘Watch the Box’ scheme which aims to prevent vandalism and ensure speedy reporting of faulty (telephone) kiosks. His particular box is about three-quarters of a mile away and he had reported the coin slot as jammed on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day he decided to take a screwdriver and see if he could free the jammed coins as he did not think the coin box was full. He also made sure he had his BT identity card in his pocket in case someone thought he was a vandal. In fact, the slot was jammed with two 5p pieces stuck together (a trick to try to get £1 worth of phone time, apparently) and he freed it easily with the screwdriver.’
F, 53 SXMOA2/1/20

‘Christmas shopping and preparations begin for me any time after the summer. I make out lists of people to whom I send things, averaging, over the past four years, 45. I keep past lists for about three years so that I may check up and avoid repetitions… on the other hand I don’t like festivities. I am unsociable and avoid them.’
F (no age given) SXMOA1/3/25/1

Detail from John Leech’s illustrations to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1st edition (Chapman and Hall, 1843) in the Gilbert Foyle Collection, SxGilbertFoyle/22

‘Xmas was a day of gloom in our family, my father hated it and did his best to make it a day of misery my mother being religious tried to jolly it up so we had these two opposing forces battling it out, and the shadow of the marital war-games stills hangs over the 25th for me… A gay Xmas is much nicer and less trouble.’
F, 50 SXMOA16/1/1/64/12

‘Christmas at home consists of washing up (one maid and about seven in the house); sitting in the lounge (there are no comfortable chairs) and watching my father go to sleep after lunch; perhaps a walk round suburban roads in the morning and on Christmas morning a ridiculous ceremony of opening presents… I particularly dislike my sister and do my best to conceal it.’
F (no age given) SXMOA1/3/25/1

‘A went to bed for his usual siesta. I watched The Reluctant Dragon, which I had recorded and which, in 1941, I had given top rating. Why? I was very unimpressed and bored by it all and even the cartoon was below Disney’s then high standard…. We are both very relieved when Twelfth Night has passed and it can all be abandoned. I enjoyed my childhood Christmasses and our carol services at boarding school, but that was then; this is now.’
M, 68 SXMOA16/1/2/18/12

‘Continued typing a letter begun yesterday to a dear gay friend in Australia. He’d sent me a tea towel with lots of little Koala bears on it, and a sexy Xmas card. At page five-and-a-half I smelt burning. The peas! Mostly blackened; I salvaged a few and got some more out, scoured the black pan, boiled it clean again and set it boiling again; this time winding up my very useful timer clock to remind me in five minutes.’
M, 66 SXMOA16/1/2/18

‘I spent all Xmas Day in bed coughing due to a flu virus, waited on hand and foot by my mate who had had it a little earlier but was still coughing. Luckily we have two different coughs, she sounding like a trombone, I like a cat being sick.’
F, 50 SXMOA16/1/1/64/12

‘Shopping – I leave that as far as possible to mother. Services – never attend them. Emotions – disgust. Interest – nil. Parties – never go to any. Dances – don’t dance…. Christmas I know from past experience will be a bore, it always is. For example, Christmas Day, spent at home with parents and a widow of some 75 years who always visits us at that time. Dinner is late and mother gets irritated because of the extra cooking. After dinner sit around and eat chocolates and nuts and play some damn fool card game.’
M, 28 SXMOA1/3/25/2

Detail from Birmingham Co-operative Society leaflet, 1938, SXMOA1/3

‘I cycled to church… a lovely ride through West London. The church was a tiny one in Petersham. I wore trousers but no-one in my family complained. It was the first time I had darkened the doors of a church for ages…..We had Christmas dinner at half past six. My sister had provided a chestnut and apple roast as a turkey substitute for me and the other vegetarian in the family. My other sister asked me to wear a skirt for the meal. I declined but I don’t think she really expected me to anyway.’
F, 25 SXMOA16/1/2/3/11

‘The evening buffet started with soup served in the dining room but – Someone Had Blundered and the buffet was not yet laid out in the Turpin Room and we had to wait. Profuse apologies from the waiter.’
F, 77 SXMOA99/92/18


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 county.her@eastsussex.gov.uk

Family History and Beyond – talks and courses at The Keep

30 July 2018

By Kate Elms

Family History and Beyond – talks and courses at The Keep

Some of the resources available at The Keep for researching family history

One of the perks of working at The Keep and, in particular, being involved in the planning and delivery of our public events programme, is having the opportunity to attend most of the events themselves. I’ve learnt a huge amount from the fantastic speakers who have given talks here, and also from colleagues who have helped curate displays of relevant original archives, enabling us to showcase some of the remarkable material in our care.

Family historians are among our most dedicated users, and earlier this year, we were delighted to collaborate with the Sussex Family History Group (SFHG) on an introductory session for those inspired to start tracking down their ancestors. SFHG volunteer Roy Winchester gave a presentation that covered all the basics, from how to draw up a family tree to how to interpret the data to be found in census returns and parish records, as well as shedding light on alternative sources of information that can be found at The Keep, such as electoral registers, street directories and newspapers. The event concluded with coffee and biscuits and a lively question-and-answer session.

Participants share their work with family and friends at the end of our creative writing course

Participants share their work with family and friends at the end of our creative writing course

For those hoping to go ‘beyond the family tree’, we recently piloted a six-week creative writing course led by author and life historian Shivaun Woolfson. A group of ten participants met on Saturday mornings to share their ancestors’ stories and explore different ways of presenting them. Finding a balance between historical accuracy and storytelling was important; within families, much can be left unsaid – for all sorts of reasons – so using contextual information and personal experiences to fill in the gaps is part of the process. Many of the writers were inspired by a family heirloom – an object, photograph or letter – and the course included advice from The Keep’s conservator on caring for family collections as well as research tips and guidance from our archivists.

The participants read their work aloud at the last session, to which friends and family were invited. Each story was unique and personal – and all the more powerful for that – but the issues touched on were universal, from infant mortality, the impact of war, poverty and life in the workhouse to marriage, loss and the position of women. There was a strong sense of place, too, with locations ranging from Vancouver to Victorian Rodmell. The final morning concluded with a plea for us to repeat the course next year, with longer sessions and more of them! Watch this space…

Settlement examination of John Davies in the parish of Wadhurst, dated 11 June 1790, ref PAR 477/32/4/34

Settlement examination of John Davies of the parish of Wadhurst, dated 11 June 1790, ref PAR 477/32/4/34

Anyone interested in family, local or social history should make a point of delving in to what archivists refer to as the ‘parish chest’. We were thrilled earlier this month to welcome Elizabeth Hughes back to The Keep to share her expertise on this subject and to draw attention to some of the little-known gems in the parish archives.

Parishes were the main unit of local government until the mid 19th century, and Elizabeth highlighted material relating among other things to education, charity and, in particular, relief of the poor. These records illustrate vividly what life must have been like for those with no wealth or status who were dependent on the parish when they fell on hard times. Rigorous settlement examinations, for example, were recorded with care and can provide extraordinary detail about the lives of named individuals who would never have appeared in the history books. The process itself – of trying to establish the right to settle in a particular place and quite frequently being refused – has uncomfortable parallels in the present day, making it more relevant than ever.

The Keep holds an extensive range of material to support family history research, and volunteers from the Sussex Family History Group are on hand at from 10am – 4pm, Tuesday to Friday, to provide help getting started. For more information about future talks and courses, please see the Events page of our website. If you would like to receive news of forthcoming events, you can sign up to our monthly e-newsletter via our website.


Lights, Camera, Action! Introducing the Richard Attenborough archive

12 June 2018

By Eleanor King

Following an 18-month cataloguing project, the archive of Lord Richard Attenborough, former Chancellor of the University of Sussex, is now accessible to the public here at The Keep. The archive came to the University’s Special Collections based at The Keep from Attenborough’s home and offices in Richmond in November 2015. Two archivists and one graduate archive intern were employed to organise, appraise and catalogue the collection of papers, photographs and memorabilia that span Attenborough’s life and career from his early days as a drama student at RADA to his final film project Closing the Ring in 2008; nearly 70 years.

Whilst much of the material pertains to Attenborough’s film career, both in front of and behind the camera, the collection also covers his other business and personal interests, including his involvement with Chelsea Football Club and Capital Radio. Attenborough was also committed to many charity projects throughout his life, which feature predominantly in the business and personal correspondence that can be viewed here at The Keep. As one might expect with a high profile figure such as Attenborough, there are many famous faces and names (including his brother Sir David Attenborough) scattered amongst the collection’s vast correspondence, and throughout the 25,000+ photographs. Frequent correspondents include Sir John Mills, Bryan Forbes and Sir John Gielgud, as well as political figures such as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and royalty including Prince Charles, Diana Princess of Wales and Queen Elizabeth II.

Correspondence between Richard Attenborough and Dirk Bogarde can be found in the archive

Correspondence between Richard Attenborough and Dirk Bogarde can be found in the archive

Fittingly, one of the largest series in the collection is the material relating to Attenborough’s film epic Gandhi. Although Attenborough’s 20-year journey to make the film is already fairly well documented, what one learns from this archive is the true scale and scope of this project, how close it came to being made in both the 1960s and 70s, and how very different a film it would have been. Examples of the scale of the project include ‘Call Sheet 55’, the call sheet for the day of filming Gandhi’s funeral procession, also known as ‘Operation Rajpath’. For this sequence, over 300,000 extras were used, and perhaps unsurprisingly in this day of CGI, this scene still holds the record for the greatest number of extras used in a film. Attenborough’s personal commitment to the project is also striking, and he directly sought the ear of Indian and British Government officials. Long-running correspondence between Attenborough and figures such as Lord Mountbatten, Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi are indicative of the respect and admiration he inspired throughout his life.

The material relating to Gandhi is just one example of the scale of this fascinating collection, which offers a unique insight not only into the life of Richard Attenborough, but also into Britain in the 20th century. Alongside his personal career as an actor, producer and director, Attenborough was also a pioneer of the British film industry and worked tirelessly to promote and save it. Largely overlooked in most biographical writing, Attenborough also maintained a career in broadcasting and journalism throughout the 1950s, focusing mainly on music journalism. He supported many charities, with a focus on access to the arts for those with disabilities, and was a lifetime supporter of the Muscular Dystrophy Group, becoming its President in 1971. As well as his commitment to charity work at home, he actively supported civil rights causes abroad such as the release of Nelson Mandela and an end to Apartheid in South Africa. In short, this archive offers a unique view of a changing time.

Photographs capture the making of Brighton Rock in 1948, with Attenborough starring as Pinkie Brown

Photographs capture the making of Brighton Rock in 1948, with Attenborough starring as Pinkie Brown

Attenborough’s list of accolades and achievements is impressive, but among the documents relating to these, and the celebrity names and faces, there are also letters and correspondence from fans, listeners, viewers and the public in general, and these have proved an equally enlightening record of this man’s life, work and achievements. So now you can come and discover ‘Dickie’ for yourself – there really is something for everyone in this collection. ‘Keep’ an eye on our website for further updates from the collection and also activities and events that we will be holding in connection with this truly remarkable archive.






Cataloguing Social Services records – putting archive principles into practice

2 May 2018

By Rosemary Lynch

I completed my master’s degree in archives and records management at the University of Liverpool in September 2017. Before that, I had gained experience in the sector by volunteering at The Keep on a variety of small cataloguing projects. I also volunteered as an archives assistant at the Brighton College Archive and in a records management project at the National Maritime Museum. I was delighted to be able to come back to work at The Keep last October for a six-month project arranging and listing a complex collection of modern East Sussex County Council records. The files had been selected for permanent preservation in the archives between 1977 and 2004 but never fully catalogued. Some had been listed over the years, but the 1,500-box-strong collection had never been tackled in a comprehensive fashion.

Christopher and Margaret Whittick sorting County Council files at The Maltings in Lewes, c1985

Christopher and Margaret Whittick sorting County Council files at The Maltings in Lewes, c1985

Some urgency had been lent to the project by concerns about various ongoing national inquiries and investigations which require the use of Social Services records. We needed to make such material accessible to the relevant parties through sorting, identification and cataloguing.

My first task was to work my way through various existing lists and spreadsheets to identify which boxes might contain Social Services material. I also found some clues in the notes of previous managers and archivists, which were written on the physical boxes in the repository. I then began systematically listing the Social Services records, adding the title, covering dates and a brief description to the catalogue. In the end, I catalogued records from 238 boxes, totalling around 1,800 files. The mass of files covered a wide variety of topics, but I was able to make sense of the information by following the archival principle of provenance, always referring back to the individual or organisation which created the items. I traced reference numbers and old handwritten lists to understand the complex and varied administrative history of the Social Services Department and its seemingly endless restructurings and reorganisations, so that I could pinpoint from which person or department the files had originated and categorise them accordingly.

Some of the social services publications that have now been catalogued

Some of the social services publications that have now been catalogued (R/S 123)

Once listed, some documents that were in particularly damaged file folders were packaged in acid-free cardboard, and the collection was packed into 285 new archives boxes, filling almost a whole row of shelves in the repository.

As was expected, many of the files related to children’s homes, residential and day care establishments, mental health and adoption. The majority of these which mentioned individual clients will remain under data protection rules: their most important function at the moment will be to aid the County Council with investigations and subject access requests from the individuals themselves.

The files also contained a great deal of material relating to the social history of Brighton and East Sussex. The Social Services Department interacted with several voluntary organisations across this period, including the Brighton Rights Centre, Women’s Aid Brighton, Age Concern, playgroups, housing trusts, and helped to organise summer and community projects in Brunswick, Hangleton and Portslade. There are also files on the production of Access Guides for disabled people across East Sussex, which was part of a larger initiative to coincide with the International Year of the Disabled in 1981 (see R/S 114/6/55-56 and R/S 104/2/17-25).

One of the more unusual and interesting series in the collection was the files of ESCATA (the East Sussex Consultancy and Training Agency). ESCATA began as an extension of the Media Unit of the Social Services Department, producing low-budget training videos and resources for internal use. It was incorporated as a private company in 1986 but lost £250,000 in only a few years. The operation was scaled back, the company was reabsorbed back into the County Council, and the Director of Social Services was forced to resign. The ESCATA files were transferred to the East Sussex Record Office at a later point.

Adopting a Kirkian attitude to management training, R/S 58/2/14

Adopting a Kirkian attitude to management training (R/S 58/2/14)

There were evidently some keen sci-fi fans in the company in the 1980s; one Star Trek-themed management development video was titled ‘Managing Into The Future: a space opera in five parts.’ Sadly, the video itself has not survived, but the production files can be found at R/S 58/5/12 and R/S 58/5/15. Another video set on a space station, which aimed to teach staff about ‘Unique Selling Propositions’ and change management is at R/S 58/6/18.

The project has been successful in making the records of the Social Services Department more accessible to members of staff and the public. The rest of the County Council boxes have also been categorised by the department from which they originated. This will make approaching any future cataloguing easier.

I have enjoyed the opportunity to work on my own substantial project at The Keep. It has allowed me to employ principles which I studied on my archives course and apply them in a practical setting, including data protection rules, provenance and project management, and has increased my confidence in my knowledge and skills as an archives professional. My next role will be in records management, giving me a wider view of the sector as a whole and an opportunity to expand my skills even further.






Delving into Mass Observation – what the 12th May Day Diaries can tell us about health

24 April 2018

By Kirsty Pattrick

The joy of the day diary is that it catapults the reader into someone’s life for that brief moment. With a fascination of people, their lives and behaviours, this always feeds my sheer nosiness. The 12th May day diaries come from people of all ages across the UK, and they always leave me wanting more. All we know of these writers is their age and gender; that is our only request for the purpose of this collection, although some give further biographical information. I read of the mundane to the life-changing and utterly personal, feeling touched and richer from the experience.

12 May diaries submitted to Mass Observation in previous years

Examples of 12th May day diaries submitted to Mass Observation in previous years

Issues of health and wellbeing arise in so many of Mass Observation’s collections. These diaries capture the minutiae; the small, the repetitive, the routine. Yet what I see in a number of them is how daily events and actions are led by or the result of people’s health and wellbeing.

‘Today was a typical day as far as the last three months is concerned but not for my “normal” life. I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in December 2016. This time it has spread to my neck. The oncologist arranged for me to get a three-week course of radiotherapy. Since then I have suffered greatly with fatigue and can quite easily sleep for 16-18 hours a day.’ Female, 49

In The Keep’s Reading Room, I’m moved as I read of grief, loss and healing, of the value of friendships, of family and loved ones shared. The reflectiveness of those who wrote last year and the changes their lives have seen. For some, life can turn on its head far too quickly.

The 12th May 2017 was a Friday, and a wet day for many. Getting out into the garden was seen as a hobby for some, but a form of therapy for others; for health, for healing and for the serendipitous fun of seeing what food-growing skills they can master. Something I definitely identified with, reflecting on my sweetcorn harvest and cauliflower failure.

‘Life became unbearable due to his alcohol abuse and entanglement with someone else. My garden is my slave and I, its slave – a willing one.’ F,70

I saw similarities in routines: our use of media, commutes to school, work, exercise classes and duties of care, as well as food shopping, diet and financial worries. Yet within this ran a thread of how our daily lives impact on our health, and how our health has an impact on our daily life; from those in bed with colds and coughs, to injuries and then those managing illness, for some life-limiting and life-threatening.

12 May postcard

My friend ‘has dementia and over the past four or five years it has resulted in a personality change, sad. She forgets what she has ordered by the time it arrives, and actually thought she had already had lunch. He is very patient and calm, and lets some of her wilder statements pass.’ Female, 87

I read of cancer, the NHS, carers and the managing of medication along with the exploration of alternative therapies; the hope, the fears and the lifelines given.

‘My husband gave up work 16 years ago because of ME so he holds everything together at home and keeps the ship sailing while I go to work.’ Female, 55

Conversations with family, friends, groups or the local shop owner range from everyday actions, providing pleasure and happiness, to feelings of burden, frustration or an upset. For some, these events provided a beacon of support and a boost of mood.

My friend ‘wanted to introduce me to another friend whose child is self-harming and has recently made a suicide attempt. My older child did the same 5 years ago, so we chatted about that and what had helped in my child’s situation. It was all quite ranty and sweary, and much more fun than its sounds as we were all pretty honest about some quite difficult subjects and it felt quite cathartic.’ Female, 45

‘I sit on a table with three ladies who always make me laugh. I needed that today because my overall mood today was down. I woke up missing my children and my mum and I know I will go to bed feeling the same.’ Female, 55 Sutton Park Prison

‘I wake up at 6. I was feeling pretty low last night – stressed, poor and stretched in multiple directions – and it still weighs on me this morning. I try not to let it show. I sit on the sofa with my two-year-old and dutifully read through the first “Where’s Wally” book (my own childhood copy, it must be about a quarter of a century old)’. Male, 31

The diaries provide multiple windows of observation on the lives of individuals, families, communities and groups on the same date across Britain. They can give an insight into how people’s health and wellbeing, their feelings and emotions can guide their day and their actions. Ways of managing, overcoming and avoiding health issues are explored and explained; from medication and meditation to exercise and regular companionship.

The parallel lives recorded on this one date are compelling. We share a lot of love for porridge, for morning exercise, tea in bed, and for hiding back under the duvet. We are also habitual in grabbing for our devices before we rise, checking the news, emails and Facebook. It was the end of the week for a lot of our writers, and pizza was on the table in quite a few households. Concerns and worries were heavily linked to politics, to the next general election and to Trump’s presidency. In the evening, there were also thoughts and reflections upon the NHS cyber attack that had taken place earlier in the day.

One thread that runs through is the action of recording, of writing, sharing and reflecting. The process itself is cathartic, therapeutic, purposeful and productive for many. As closing time hits the Reading Room, I spend time reflecting on the diverse lives I’ve shared today and, as ever, am in awe of the time our writers dedicate to Mass Observation.

If you’d like to meet the Mass Observation team and hear extracts from 12 May Day Diaries dating back to 1937, do join us on Wednesday 9 May for an afternoon talk, Recording Everyday Lives. You can also bring your friends and family to The Keep on Saturday 12 May, for Writing Your Day with Mass Observation, a hands-on morning of activities. More details and booking info can be found on the Events pages of our website.

Mass Observation has teamed up with Action for M.E. for this year’s 12 May, with the aim of capturing everyday lived experiences of people living with M.E., or those caring for or living with them. Find out more about the project and how to take part on the Mass Observation website.




What did we watch on Christmas Day 1986?

15 December 2017

By Lindsey Tydeman

December 1986 editions of the Radio Times

December 1986 editions of the Radio Times, from our archive

In 1986 the research organisation Mass Observation asked its contributors to keep a Christmas Day Diary. Several hundred people responded, and sent in hour-by-hour descriptions of their day. Each respondent was given a letter and number, to preserve anonymity. They wrote about food, drink, presents, their families, their dogs, and, of course, their televisions. Although many families made the decision to ‘switch off’ on Christmas Day, for others, watching television together after the present-opening and Christmas Day dinner, was an important element of the seasonal ritual. We’re publishing just a few of their responses below to provide a flavour of Christmas viewing 31 years ago.

Viewers had four terrestrial channels to choose from – BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4 – and the battle for ratings was fierce. The BBC decided to show its popular soap EastEnders in two separate parts, at 5pm and 10pm, keeping viewers on tenterhooks as the marriage of Den and Angie finally disintegrated. It drew in a record 30 million viewers.

9pm At last this is where our celebrations begin. We switch off the lights except the tree lights and put the gasfire on instead of the heating. We get out the wine and chocolates, switch Agatha Christie on the telly then watch a video of Seasons Greetings and cuddle up together – this is the best part of Christmas.

Then comes another debate – about what to watch on TV… the situation has become less calamitous since the invention of the video recorder and the decision is to relegate Miss Marple to the VCR and enjoy The Importance of Being Earnest now.. Since it is shown on Channel 4 it has the advantage of intervals for advertisements which makes it possible to prepare biscuits and cheese for all of us who have only recently sworn that we would not eat again for days.

9.35pm More conversation then more TV as we were all waiting for the day’s second episode of EastEnders at 10pm. We all agreed that the Beeb had been very crafty in cornering the market by two showings of the hit soap. My sister was most indignant when I asked her if she watched the series and flatly denied doing so. Aren’t some folks narrow minded?

A phone call for John from Henry in which he fills us in on the first part of EastEnders. We laugh – but agree to watch Part 2… we watch it with much joking and laughter.

Spent the whole evening watching TV until able to make dignified exit to bed at about 10pm. Thanking Heaven that is over again for another year.

Bloated and ready for a sit-down after clearing up and washing up, we flop down in front of the TV to watch The Queen at 3 o’clock. Most of the men folk seem to think this is ‘a bind’ and want to watch something else. But I like to hear what she has to say. I wish she could relax a bit more. This year’s speech was OK, 10 minutes is too short though!

Dinner over we settled for the Queen’s speech, ten minutes later neither of could remember what she had said! What we did remember was that we found the horses distracting and that there was a group of children round her. We both agreed that we much preferred to see her sitting at home to speak to us instead of in the royal stables or wherever it was.


We were watching Only Fools and Horses and it was truly dreadful, we all decided to turn it off. (After Christmas I read a critic’s assessment of this programme who described it as ‘brilliant’. I can’t believe that he and I were watching the same programme.)

I came in from the kitchen halfway through the Queen’s Speech and was confused by the horses in the background instead of the (usual?) sitting room. Everybody thought the speech was massively anodyne and blander than usual but watched it just the same because it was Christmas…

Ate Christmas pudding with cream and sauce in lounge in front of the TV. Watched EastEnders with great glee and everybody determined to watch second half at 10pm.

Annie is addicted to EastEnders, the new BBC ‘soap’ that is so enormously popular. So that went on at 6.35pm. I don’t usually watch it and what I saw then will not lead me to do so in future.

10.20pm Watching EastEnders on TV: glad we don’t normally watch it! (And I went to bed before 11.20 because of the diabolical programme choice on television.)

Mac and I flop on sofa and watch EastEnders. Eat chocolate and watch Only Fools and Horses which none of us found particularly funny and find I am getting more and more depressed as the evening goes on.

Second part of EastEnders. We had expected that Den would break the news of divorce to Angie and that Arthur would crack up completely but not that Pauline would discover that Den was the father of Michelle’s baby. The exit of Angie and Sharon from the pub was superb.

The TV diet is unexpectedly good; first a programme about Aaron Copland’s music, which interests me, then a splendid Miss Marple whodunit, followed by the last 2 acts of The Importance of Being Earnest, with Wendy Hiller doing a restrained Miss Marple.

4.40 The film now appears to be Annie, a show I’ve never seen and as I’m not really watching I’m not getting a full idea of the story. Was anybody, I wonder? Why was it on?

Television was switched on to the Christmas Day concert from Amsterdam (BBC2), mostly to ‘warm’ the set well before the Queen’s Speech as it is 12 years old and temperamental.

I put the television on. Mine is just a small black and white portable set which I rent for £3.90 a month. Mother has her own colour set at home. A James Bond film starring Sean Connery was on called Never Say Never Again. Although I hadn’t seen it, I couldn’t be bothered to get involved in a film. EastEnders, a popular soap, was on BBC. We decided not to watch TV.

After watching the BBC News it is decided we all retire to bed, after a drink of warm milk. Educating Rita, a film my wife and daughter wished to see, is put on the video recorder for watching at a later date.

During the past year, I found myself, increasingly, watching more and more rubbish on the television. It seemed to be that, because it was there, I watched it. My television licence expired yesterday and so I did not renew it. I asked the shop from whom I rented the set, to take it back, so now I am in a minority. In my new guise, I settled down and listened to a murder play on the radio until 9.30pm. It isn’t as easy to listen as it is to watch and, although I don’t particularly miss the programmes on the television, I miss Teletext.

Images from the Radio Times are taken from the Christopher Griffin-Beale Radio Times Collection, which can be consulted at The Keep.



Meet the Volunteers: Sam Allen, Beyond Boxes ‘buddy’

30 November 2017

‘When I began volunteering for the Beyond Boxes project, I did not know what to expect. However, I have since learned that it is about far more than helping service users with registering or using our services at The Keep. The Beyond Boxes project allows people to explore their own stories, histories and interests, with a helping hand nearby should they need it. As a volunteer, I feel enriched by my time spent at The Keep, not just in terms of guiding users through how to use the catalogue or interpret historical documents, but also in getting to know our users and their stories.


I believe the key to encouraging access to the collections at The Keep is getting to know our users, by exploring what they are looking for in the archives or simply by listening to their stories. Everyone who comes to The Keep has a story or is looking to fill in the blanks of one, be it of their family history or to aid academic research. In this way, I believe that the Beyond Boxes project sits hand in hand with Mass Observation. It appears that people are increasingly looking to inform their own knowledge of the past. As a matter of observation, it is interesting that people of our time are interested in looking back as the world is getting bigger through technology. As part of that process, I am more than glad to lend a hand where I can in helping people to find and record their stories, even if that simply means showing them how to access software on a computer or helping hunt around the Reference Room for a book or index.

Buddy volunteer Sam Allen, right, with David Dent, senior IT instructor at Blind Veterans UK, in the Reference Room at The Keep

Buddy volunteer Sam Allen, right, with David Dent, senior IT instructor at Blind Veterans UK, in the Reference Room at The Keep

Recently we welcomed a group from Blind Veterans UK to The Keep, and their enthusiasm for our collections and resources was warming and enlightening. In a recent acquisition to meet user needs in terms of accessibility, The Keep has installed a wide range of IT equipment designed to enlarge, filter and enhance our digital resources to meet the needs of visually impaired or partially sighted users. It was exciting to hear what the Blind Veterans group thought of these new innovations, and it was also an education for the buddies and staff present. The whole day was a great experience for everyone involved, as tales of lost relatives and past experiences were shared and explored. Better still was that these endeavours were led by the Blind Veterans themselves, all of whom I hope left us with a healthy appetite for what The Keep offers (beyond the inter-session tea and cake). Many that I spoke to eagerly shared their plans to return.

My hopes as a volunteer and participant in the Beyond Boxes project is to share and reflect the excitement that our users bring with them to The Keep, particularly those who may not normally seek out our services. Often, it is in the experiences of these users that the most interesting stories are found. These contemporary voices shape our local and cultural history, and each and every one deserves to be heard, recorded and celebrated.’

If you would like the support of a ‘buddy’ volunteer to access the technology in use at The Keep, please contact us by email (thekeep@eastsussex.gov.uk) or telephone (01273 482349) to make an appointment. If you are interested in volunteering as one of our buddies, please email Suzanne Rose (Suzanne.Rose@sussex.ac.uk).



Diary reveals military executions at Hove

29th November 2017

By Lindsey Tydeman

A diary recently acquired by East Sussex Record Office gives an eyewitness account of the execution of two soldiers at Goldstone Bottom in Hove, an area of land which later became Hove Park. In 1795 privates Edward Cooke and Henry Parish were ringleaders of a mutiny which began at Blatchington Barracks near Seaford. Poor food supplies drove 500 hungry soldiers into Seaford where they took supplies from local butchers and traders, as well as stealing 300 sacks of flour from the Tide Mills at Bishopstone.
The writer of the diary, Thomas Harison, a quartermaster attached to the army, drew a plan of the event. He described how, on Saturday 13 June, hundreds of soldiers from 13 regiments were lined up and forced to watch the execution. Cavalry was stationed on the slight rises around the area to surround the ground and curb any thoughts of mutiny.

Watercolour reproduction printed courtesy of Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

First, the six other soldiers who had helped to lead the rising were flogged in the centre of the ground and taken away, after which Cooke and Parish were made to kneel on their coffins. Twelve soldiers from their own regiment, the Oxfordshire Militia, then stepped out from a waiting position behind the ranks to carry out the execution. The rest of the regiment was placed close to the coffins and, ‘divided, that they might more conveniently see the execution’. Afterwards, every regiment was made to file past the bodies.
Thomas Harison was greatly affected by witnessing the executions. Underneath his key to the plan he wrote: ‘The last time I was at Seaford I went to Friston but was struck with such a melancholy that I could not enjoy a thing for a fortnight or more after it.’
The diary was discovered in a box of documents bought at Gorringes Auctions in September by the East Sussex Record Office. County archivist Christopher Whittick commented: ‘This is a wonderful discovery, albeit a poignant one, and demonstrates that important documents for the history of the area are still to be found. The unprepossessing appearance of the notebook in which Thomas Harison wrote his account did nothing to prepare us for the unique story which it contains.’


The key to Thomas Harison’s plan:
A. Royal Cheshire Militia
B. Dorset Militia
C. West Essex Militia
D.D. Oxford Militia divid’d that they might more conveniently see the execution
E. Hereford militia
F.F. Two Battalions of Wiltshire Militia
G.G.G. Squadrons of the Prince’s Own Regiment of Light Dragoons
H.H. Squadrons of Colonel Villars’s First Fencibles
I.I. Squadrons of Cinque Port Fencibles
K.K. Squadrons of Lancashire Fencibles
L.L. Two Brigades of Artillery Consisting of Four long six pounders on the right of the Cheshire and Four demi twelve pounders on the right of the Oxford Covered
l.l. Horses waggons with Ammunition etc in the rear of their respective Brigades
M.M. Flying or Horse Artillery
m.m. Horses etc in the rear of their respective guns
N. Battalion Guns to the Different Regiments the Oxford execpt’d
n. Horses etc to ditto in the rear
O. The men at the time they were flogged NB. they were reconducted to the guard room immediately after the punishment was inflict’d in an ammunition wagon
P. The main with the advance and rear guards which came with the Condemn’d men from Prison
Q. Men of the Oxford who were to shoot the Condemn’d as placed before the Prisoners Arrived
R. The above as stationed at the time of execution, the prisoners being in front kneeling on their coffins, two corporals in the rear as a reserve and the adjutant on the right who gave the signals by waving his cane
S. An ammunition wagon which brought the two coffins from Seaford

Thomas Harison’s diary, AMS 7241/1/7 is available to view at The Keep.
For more information about the event go to http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/ng995.htm


Meet the staff: Karen Watson, University of Sussex archivist

18 November 2017

University of Sussex Special Collections are pretty exciting, and I feel lucky to be their first archivist. They are a wonderful primary resource for anyone studying history, sociology, English or American studies and it’s part of my job to share their possibilities with tutors and their students. People have heard of the well-known collections, such as Mass Observation, which is so important it has its own team of archivists, and the Virginia and Leonard Woolf archives. But these high profile collections are only the tip of the iceberg. We also hold over 80 archival, manuscript and rare book collections, mainly focusing on 20th and 21st-century social, political and literary history.

‘The rare books are particularly beautiful; each of these collections is a history in itself, telling the story of the collector and what led him or her to the books they chose – perhaps the subject matter, author or their beautiful bindings. All these are unique primary sources a ten-minute walk away from the main university buildings!

‘I hold a degree in American Studies and qualified as an archivist in 2010 but I’ve only recently got a professional archivist job. It’s good to be using my qualification in this role as there are always cataloguing tasks. However, the majority of my time is spent teaching and talking; teaching undergraduate and MA students how to access and use the Special Collections, and talking to lecturers and researchers about the resource. It’s a drip, drip, drip approach…!

Karen at work with a group of students at The Keep

Karen at work with a group of students at The Keep

‘We’re trying to expand the knowledge and use of the Special Collections all the time as there are so many disciplines where they could be used. Recently, for example, I ran a photography seminar for art history students using Special Collections and the archives of the Brighton and Hove Camera Club, which is an East Sussex Record Office collection. This really shows the benefits of being at The Keep. At these introductory sessions, we show the short video we made recently about the store itself, and all the shelving and boxes behind the scenes. This helps to demystify the whole process of engaging with primary sources, as well as helping to familiarise people with The Keep building itself. I love showing people around and seeing their eyes widen when I open the door to the first storeroom.

‘Today, I’ve got a Library Assistant from the University of Malta shadowing me, joining me in a tutors’ meeting and then a staff meeting. She’s finding out how we run the Special Collections and also how our staffing structure fits into that of the University Library as a whole. As the Keep building isn’t on campus, it’s important for Special Collections staff to be represented at library events and in library groups. Today I’ve been in contact with with a former Vice-Chancellor who is going to contribute to one of our largest and most interesting collections, the institutional archive of the University of Sussex itself. Actually, former Sussex students regularly offer us their personal academic collections and we are very pleased to accept them if they complement the research needs of the University or its development as an institution.

‘I like people. That’s the attraction of the job – and sometimes one of its challenges! It’s so rewarding to be able to give visitors access to our collections and I sometimes forget just how unique our archives are. I’ve seen an individual become quite emotional on first reading the hand-written diaries and reports about life during the Second World War from the Mass Observation Archive, for example, or the original letters of Virginia Woolf. Researchers don’t usually engage on such an emotional level with their work, but one can’t fail to be moved by documents that are of such an immediate and personal nature.

‘But I also love reading about the University in the 1960s and 70s, and its development as a new institution. Perhaps not surprisingly, staff members were concerned by the issues which preoccupy them today, namely the provision and cost of food in the staff canteen. And I had to smile when I saw the 1971 invitation to the University’s Open Day. It stated that there would be a rail replacement bus service from Brighton to Falmer. That’s continuity!’

Interview by Lindsey Tydeman