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.
(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
‘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
‘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
‘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
A Digital Woolfian ‘Ode’
24 July 2018
By Dr Bryony Randall, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, University of Glasgow
Just over a year ago, on 14 July 2017, an innovative new digital edition was launched of a short work by Virginia Woolf, rejoicing in the name Ode Written Partly in Prose on Seeing the Name of Cutbush Above a Butcher’s Shop in Pentonville (surely the longest name Woolf gave to any of her works). The six-page typescript of this work is one of the most fascinating items in the Monks House Papers, the archive of Virginia Woolf’s papers held by the University of Sussex Special Collections at The Keep, and was selected for republication by the New Modernist Editing Network, or NME.
The NME (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council) brought together people involved in or with an interest in the scholarly editing of modernist texts, including academics, publishers, editors and book artists, in the light of the many new editions of modernist writers currently underway. One of our aims was to produce an interactive digital edition of a modernist work, and to showcase some of the issues and challenges faced by the editor of a modernist text by handing over as much control as possible to the reader. The new edition, produced collaboratively between Network members, can be found here, and we would be delighted to get feedback from anyone who’d like to explore it!
This digital edition of the ‘Ode’ shares many features with existing digital editions of literary texts. For example, we were able to reproduce facsimile images of the original typescript, alongside a transcript. This was particularly important since, in common with the vast majority of the short fiction Woolf wrote, the ‘Ode’ remained unpublished during her lifetime. So we are not dealing with something that Woolf necessarily saw as a finished work, and we wanted to convey this to the reader. What’s more, Woolf’s typing was not particularly accurate, so her editors often choose to ‘correct’ the typescripts they have quite substantially in published versions. By presenting the facsimile and interactive edited version side by side, the reader can clearly see – and if they wish, disagree with! – the editorial ‘corrections’ made.
Another feature common to many digital editions is the presentation of explanatory notes as pop-up windows which appear when you click on an underlined word, rather than having to turn to the back of a book as one would with a printed edition. But we also used this feature to show a range of alternative possible readings of Woolf’s handwritten insertions, some of which are more or less illegible – even to experts with years of experience of reading Woolf’s handwriting! In addition, Woolf herself revised the typescript in both ink and pencil; the digital format means that readers are able to view a transcript showing the pencil revisions only, or ink revisions only.
However, one important feature of this text makes it particularly intriguing and distinctive as the subject of a new digital edition. Although the use of the term ‘Ode’ in the title, to some extent the quality of the language, and the layout of the type on the page, may collectively indicate that this text was intended to be set out with line breaks like verse, there is also evidence to the contrary. For a start, the title indicates that the text is indeed ‘partly in prose’. In addition, a number of Woolf’s typescripts from around the period that ‘Ode’ was typed have a similar appearance to this one, with a very wide left hand margin taking up almost one third of the width of the page. For that reason, we felt that the question of whether to preserve the line endings of Woolf’s typescript remains moot, and invite the reader to experiment with the effect of each version – whether presented as verse, or as prose.
In the year since its launch, this edition has been used for teaching in a number of universities across the UK and beyond. We’re delighted that it’s proving useful in introducing students to some of the issues facing the scholarly editor, and hope it piques further interest within and beyond academia. The idea of ‘textual editing’ might evoke images of the solitary scholar buried in a dusty archive ploughing through arcane manuscripts; our hope is that this digital ‘Ode’ not only showcases Woolf’s own lively and dynamic writing, but does so in a way that brings out the lively and dynamic aspects of the work of the textual editor!
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.
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.
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.
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.
What is the SPRU Oral History Project – and why does it matter?
16 March 2018
By Ângela Campos
In 1966, history was quietly being made at Sussex University. The Unit for the Study of Science Policy (quickly renamed Science Policy Research Unit) was officially founded thanks to the vision and tenacity of the then Vice Chancellor Asa Briggs and the commitment of a pioneering group of people who thought the ‘Sussex ethos’ and its ‘new maps of learning’ provided the ideal conditions for this project to germinate. Core founders Chris Freeman, Geoff Oldham and Jackie Fuller started their experiment in the uncharted territory of the science policy field. Informing their academic rigour and theoretical and methodological breakthroughs was a simple yet firm commitment to transforming the world into a better place, much in the wake of J. Bernal’s notions of science with a social conscience.
The next five decades are ripe in examples of how successful the founders and succeeding interdisciplinary, international SPRU teams were in implementing and extending such principles, whilst establishing pathbreaking research directions – and in the process putting Sussex University on the map and unofficially becoming a finishing school for generations of policy makers across the Globe.
However, SPRU’s major and numerous contributions to the science policy field are not within the scope of this blog post. Our focus is on the importance of investigating the wider historical identity of this rather idiosyncratic research unit. Is there a tangible SPRU spirit indissociably linked with – and forged at – Sussex? Where can we capture the legendary SPRU collegiality? Catalyse the continuing echoes of inspiring pioneering figures like Chris Freeman, Geoff Oldham, Marie Jahoda and many others? How, from their Sussex base but firmly steeped in a wide-reaching international arena, has this problem-driven unit (able to straddle academia, industry, and policy making) contributed to change the world we live in today? And why does all of this matter now?
In 2014, close to the critical 50th anniversary juncture, Professor Johan Schot, then recently appointed (and current) Director of SPRU, recognised the need to tap into five eventful decades of SPRU history. As often is the case, the Unit’s development and achievements were at points better known from afar than at home, as crucial institutional DNA amassed during decades remained at risk of being overlooked or lost through staff change and archival loss.
Part of the response to this challenge resulted in the development of the SPRU History Project (2014-2016), which encompassed the recording of oral history interviews with a diverse sample of relevant individuals about their SPRU-related experiences. Recently archived at The Keep, the resulting SPRU Oral History Project collection, comprising 26 narrators, over 53 hours of recordings and 105 GB of audio files and supporting documentation, has just now been made available via its Special Collections.
Despite certain acknowledged limitations in representativeness – project constraints determined a focus on the 1966-1986 period – the collection illustrates how oral history is a powerful means of engagement with institutional memory, providing answers to many of the unique questions emerging from SPRU’s trajectory, as well as valuable standpoints for surveying the last fifty years and inspiring the future.
Packed with fascinating research material of unexpected breadth, the SPRU Oral History Project collection encapsulates a nuanced understanding of the vibrant academic and social life of the Unit since 1966. It highlights little-known angles on the development of the science and technology policy arenas in the UK and internationally, as well as the expansion of SPRU’s research and teaching as typically breaching great divides: qualitative and quantitative, conceptual and empirical, constructivist and positivist. The collection also conjures the portrait of a global unit at the forefront of international collaborations (pursuing links with the IDRC, OECD, UN, Harvard University, and many other partners). It includes inspirational reflections on academic leadership and governance, evolving gender issues in academia, and navigates 50 years of highs and lows in higher education from a Sussex perspective. On a human level, we access rich narratives by mostly warm, charismatic personalities interspersed with humour, pathos, inspiration and congeniality – and certainly a lot of fond memories!
What is done with these materials, which lend themselves to such a wide range of research purposes, is up to researchers. The Special Collections team at The Keep look forward to welcoming them to discover why the collection matters!
To find out more about SPRU and outputs of the SPRU History Project, visit: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/spru/about/history).
Ângela Campos is a Research Associate at SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit) at the University of Sussex. As an oral historian, she developed work on the qualitative angle of the SPRU History Project (2014-2017), having collected and processed the SPRU Oral History Project interviews for archiving at The Keep.
Brighton As It Could Have Been – unbuilt plans from our archives
17 January 2018
By Andrew Bennett
Whilst carrying out preparatory work for the move to The Keep, I came across a beautifully illustrated architect’s impression of a brutalist conference centre proposed for the Pavilion Gardens, Brighton, dating from the late 1950s. The building was not unattractive but its positioning was controversial and, almost without exception, everyone I have shown it to has reacted with horror. Not long after that discovery, I came across plans drawn up in 1965 for the Skydeck, a very tall viewing platform situated on Brighton seafront, which would have dominated the skyline and bears a passing resemblance to the i360. There are many other examples of town planning that may have looked forward-thinking in the 1960s but look like eyesores in 2018, and other plans that look ahead of their time. There are others that must have seemed ambitious when they were proposed and remain puzzlingly eccentric.
It is easy to forget that every project, whether realised or not, needs plans in order to be approved or rejected. It is also very difficult to search for plans of abandoned projects – how can you look for something you didn’t know existed? As I came across more of these examples of these plans, it occurred to me that they would make a great book. Unfortunately, the time-consuming nature of resolving copyright and ownership issues has always put me off starting such a project, but my technologically able colleague Ben Jackson, who works for the University of Sussex, suggested that we could make an ebook to display the plans. This ebook was put together for our Open Day back in September and is available to view on ipads at The Keep by prior arrangement (we are not publishing it in electronic format for the reasons mentioned).
The earliest of the plans was drawn up in 1799, when sea water bathing was in vogue, and shows the route of a proposed pipeline taking sea water from Brighton to Lambeth to provide Londoners with access to sea bathing. The majority of designs date from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when town planners were considering how to use new building materials such as concrete, and how best to integrate huge numbers of cars into our town centres. The designs were often radical and usually provoke a strong response.
These plans offer an interesting insight into the aspirations and practical considerations of architects and town planners in Brighton and Hove over the past 200 years. Whilst you may breathe a sigh of relief that a flyover wasn’t ploughed through North Laine, you may wish that you could have a beauty treatment at the handsome Summer and Winter Palace that was planned for the seafront just west of the West Pier!
If you’d like to have a look at the ebook, please email us at email@example.com to arrange a convenient time.
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…!
‘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
Meet the Volunteers: Friedel Hermann, translator
6 June 2017
‘Translating is a compulsive activity. You enter into the personality of the writer and delve into the whole social and historical context’
‘I’m a proper hybrid. I was born in Namibia (previously a German colony, South West Africa, to which my grandparents had emigrated before the First World War) of German parentage and had English schooling, but including the language Afrikaans (Cape Dutch), so life from childhood was bilingual. As an adult, I moved to Cape Town, raised a family, and studied part-time at the University of South Africa, eventually qualifying as a Sworn Translator, which sets high standards of accuracy and confidentiality. I am registered with the Supreme Court & Hague Convention and have been engaged in professional work for state departments, lawyers and publishers in Europe and South Africa for decades. Now I’m semi-retired but still do some work from home.
‘Some years ago, I was approached to translate a collection of family letters in German, originating in Austria just before and during WWII. They were addressed to a young girl who had been sent to England with the Kindertransport; I helped arrange them into a book for the descendants, who no longer spoke German, so that they could re-establish the family chain. I started taking a personal interest in that particular historical period and when I moved to the UK some years ago, it struck me that I might use my skills here, too. However, it was only last year that I found an email address on the internet and contacted Diana Franklin at the Centre for German-Jewish Studies at the University of Sussex and offered to do voluntary work. She handed me on to Samira Teuteberg and I quickly felt involved, especially after a tour of the archives.
‘My first tasks involved the translation of some correspondence in the Ehrenberg Papers, originating in Germany in the 1920s and 30s, which revealed quite a lot about the social position of middle-class German Jewish women at the time. They were usually expected to marry men their parents had picked for them; in general, they were apparently happy with the arrangement. This came as quite a surprise to me. Recent work dealt with the Federmann family of Berlin and included identification documentation for a corpse in the First World War which was repatriated to the cemetery in Berlin.
‘I’ve also been working on letters from Germany dating from just after the Second World War, when people could reconnect. I felt moved by these exchanges, particularly where non-Jewish family friends tried to explain how caught up and terrified they themselves had been by the criminal regime, and that they were helpless witnesses when close friends were detained and transported to concentration camps.
‘Translating is a compulsive activity. You enter into the personality of the writer and delve into the whole social and historical context. I’m learning all the time, which I love. Some texts are disturbing, but I keep a clinical mind and concentrate on relating facts accurately.’
Interview by Lindsey Tydemann
Meet the volunteers: Monica Birchall, volunteer for Mass Observation
1 June 2017
‘Volunteering provides a wonderful opportunity to mix’
‘I’ve volunteered in many situations and until recently, I was a volunteer with CAB, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, counselling people on debt. But that was very stressful. This is different; it keeps my mind going and has put my life in perspective.
‘When my husband died I decided to do a part-time degree which then turned into a Master’s in Life History and Oral History. My primary research resource was the material in Mass Observation (MO) at the University of Sussex; I was overwhelmed by its depth and range. I fell in love with it! So much of the general history we read deals with the “great and the good” but these were the words of ordinary people, describing their lives and giving their views.
‘That was over six years ago. After finishing my MA, it seemed natural to apply as a volunteer for Mass Observation and I’ve been driving here from my home in Crowborough once a week ever since. The work? Well, I could be doing something as basic as helping with mailouts, or sorting through recently donated archives, removing paperclips and staples, or wrapping photographs.
‘Most of my day, however, is spent at the computer. When we receive replies to directives or special reports, it’s my job to input the basic data into the catalogue, such as titles, keywords and writers’ numbers, so researchers can see at a glance which directives specific writers have responded to. It’s not too technical and you don’t need an academic background to do it; however, you do need to have computer skills. Like many people, I found, when I returned to the workplace – albeit as a volunteer – that I needed to do a basic computer course! When I started here I thought that the older MO writers would be sending in handwritten responses while the under fifties would send emails, but no. There are writers in their nineties who prefer computers, and some in their twenties who use pen and ink. Maybe they sit at a screen for work all day and this is a form of light relief! I enjoy reading the handwritten responses, though; it gives a further layer of personality to the writer.
‘Volunteering provides a wonderful opportunity to mix, and at The Keep there’s a large staff working on a diverse range of projects. I’m always chatting to younger people, to academics, or simply to other volunteers with an interest in social history. Feeling needed is always a good feeling, and when you’re over a certain age, it’s even better!’
Interview by Lindsey Tydeman