German-Jewish history and identity: exploring the Ehrenberg-Elton Papers at The Keep
24 September 2018
by Anika Wagner
‘Alles Erleben ist eine Episode. Auch Hitler war eine Episode. Daß er nur eine Episode bleibt, liegt an Euch.’
‘Every experience is an episode. Even Hitler was an episode. That he remains just an episode is up to you.’
Eva Ehrenberg, Sehnsucht – mein geliebtes Kind, p67
I’m a Librarian Master’s student from Berlin/Leipzig, Germany and, earlier this year, I joined The Keep for a nearly nine-week internship. This is not my first time abroad; during my apprenticeship as Library Assistant and my Bachelor study I’ve already been in London, Baltimore and Vienna to work in different libraries. So the procedure in preparation for this internship was nothing new to me. In November 2017, I started to write to lots of different libraries in the UK, asking for the possibility to intern with them. Luckily, I got a positive reply from the University of Sussex Special Collections at The Keep. After this, I applied for financial support from ERASMUS+ and my University’s Friends’ association (both of which I got, hooray), booked my accommodation and finally the flight as well.
Still, it was exciting: a new house, a new city, a new workplace and new colleagues. Everyone was really welcoming and tried their best to make me feel comfortable! During the first few days, I was introduced to all the staff here (unfortunately I’m not good at remembering names), had a tour of the building and got familiar with the collection I was going to work with over the next few weeks.
My work here focused on the Ehrenberg-Elton Papers. I checked the collection box by box, folder by folder. In six weeks, I got through the first 33 boxes, which contain a lot of different materials, from letters, photographs, passports and medals to newspaper cuttings and even hair. With each folder, I compared the catalogue entry with the real material. Was everything in the folder? Was the number of pages identical? Did the description match? Sometimes I had to give the material a new title to make it more meaningful. Last but not least, I tried to fit the material into a new, revised classification. Some objects needed new packaging, so I got new folders for them or wrapped them in tissue paper and made a label with their reference number and title on it. It felt a bit like wrapping Christmas presents.
While doing this, I had the chance to read the odd letter or literary manuscript. This was really fascinating and I had to watch out to not just read all day long. With every folder and box, I got deeper into the Ehrenberg family. When I reached the boxes with the family’s photo albums and loose photographs, I already knew so much about the people, what their past had been and what become of them in the future. It’s saddening when you read next to a portrait the simple caption ‘Hans im Konzentrationslager’ (Hans in concentration camp), although you already know he survived. I got most emotional about the photos of Eva Ehrenberg in her later years, as she reminded me of my grandmother.
I was told me on one of my first days that I may need to write a family tree while working on that collection. First this advice puzzled me a bit, but soon I did so. In the end I had at least five family trees interweaving different strands of the Ehrenberg family.
The Ehrenbergs, especially Eva, were in contact with so many different people that I easily got lost. Even if it turned out that they were related, I still had to work out which side (Eva or Victor) they belonged to. Luckily there is already material about that in the collection itself. One of my most exciting objects in this collection was a book about an old German legend (I had never heard of before) which was dedicated by the late Kaiser Wilhelm II to Eva Ehrenberg’s father Siegfried Sommer.
In my last two weeks, I did some research in preparation for a collaboration with the Leo Baeck Institute in New York. They also hold material by and about the Ehrenberg family, which they have already digitised. I checked their digital archive to see if what they hold is also in the Ehrenberg/Elton Papers collection at The Keep, so it can be later linked into the catalogue.
As The Keep is a partnership of different institutions, I was introduced to their staff, their work and their different kinds of materials. I also had the opportunity to join a lot of sessions and events of different kinds. These included a workshop called ‘Refugees in Times of Crisis, 1938-2018’, which reminded me that history sometimes repeats itself, and the 12 May Day Diary, with fun activities like badge-making. I didn’t know that so much could be done for outreach in an archive. Most of the sessions were for students to show them what an archive is and the kinds of materials are held here. It was really impressive to see how enthusiastically the colleagues spoke about their work and collections!
I’m really sad that my time in Brighton and The Keep ended so quickly. I would have liked to spend more time here and finish my work on the Ehrenberg-Elton Papers. Whilst working here I learnt a lot: about archives in general and The Keep’s collections in particular, about British life, emigration and identity, and about German-Jewish history. Of course, in school we often talked about this dark episode in German history but my own country’s history became more graspable to me, working with all these authentic and personal materials. Especially at a time when right-wing populists are regaining power in so many countries, it is important to know the history and prevent repeating it.
I would recommend to anyone who is interested in the work of archives to join The Keep for an internship or work experience. It was my most enjoyable internship, and I’ve done eight so far!
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: Brian Nash, conservation volunteer
2 June 2017
‘We love coming in and have formed long-lasting friendships with others in the group’
The newspaper archive is one of the most popular and widely used resources at The Keep – and it keeps on growing. Last year, approximately 437 bound volumes of local papers dating from 1831 to 2003 were transferred from Hastings and Battle libraries to The Keep. Brian Nash, a volunteer at The Keep, has begun making bespoke boxes and packaging for each of the volumes, which will protect them from damage and preserve them for the future. He talks to Lindsey Tydeman about his work on the Hastings newspapers and about his wider role as a volunteer with the archive.
‘I was taught to make boxes by The Keep’s Head of Conservation Melissa Williams and now I, in my turn, am teaching others! Today I’m working on a bound volume of the Rye Observer from 2001-2002. I take the measurements of each volume and transfer them to a plan on a piece of card, scoring along the folds before cutting out and folding into shape. Once the volume is inside the box, the box is tied with thick tape. I’m a quick worker but it depends on the size and shape; these are large so I’ll probably make six today. It would be nice to read the newspapers which are going into them but there’s no time for that!
‘Before retirement I worked for Brighton and Hove City Council as a care officer looking after people with dementia. My wife, Jennifer, managed the Search Room at the East Sussex Record Office, based at The Maltings in Lewes. She encouraged me to join her in the office every other week – Thursday evening was known as ‘Volunteers’ Night’ – where several groups worked on different projects. I was involved with transcribing the East Sussex Baptism Index, transferring baptismal records from 16th century church registers in Rye on to cards and creating a card index. Even in normal circumstances this would have been a challenge as the writing of that time isn’t easy to read, but an added complication was the fact that at least ten per cent of births in Rye at this period were to French immigrants, whose names were recorded phonetically or scribbled down quickly by the English parish officials. Sometimes these officials didn’t even bother to try and write the surname but simply recorded the family as ‘French’ or ‘Frenchman’. That accounts for so many people with the name ‘Frenchman’ living in the Hastings area today!
‘When Jennifer and I retired we decided come over from Shoreham once a week to volunteer in Conservation. We knew about the planned move of the Record Office to The Keep, so started work on the thousands of documents which had to be cleaned and packed before this could happen. All of them were filthy and we had to wear masks and protective clothing before tackling them. The whole process took about two years, finishing just in time for our move here.
‘Since then I’ve concentrated on making boxes for a whole variety of archives stored at The Keep. It’s repetitive work but never boring as the archives themselves are changing constantly; you never know what’s going to turn up next. Recently I made a box for the earliest document we hold, a seal and charter of Henry I. It was dated 1101 – I couldn’t believe I was holding it in my hand! Then there were scores of boxes which had to be made for the glass plate negatives of photographs from The Argus. My local knowledge of Brighton proved invaluable here as many of the photographs came without identification, and I could help the archivist identify the places and buildings featured. I also enjoyed being involved with the conservation of the WW2 Book of Remembrance for St Peter’s Church in Brighton. That is beautiful.
‘I’ve lost track of the documents which have passed through my hands in Conservation. If I had been a student I would have taken notes of them all, but, of course, as a volunteer you don’t think about doing that. What we do know is that very little of this work would get done without us. We love coming in and have formed long-lasting friendships with others in the group. All you need is a common link; ours is an interest in local and family history and all the ‘old stuff’ that goes with it!
The collection of East Sussex newspapers at The Keep dates back to the middle of the 18th century, while those for the Brighton area start with the early editions of the Brighton Herald in 1806. The bound volumes recently transferred from Hastings include the South Eastern Advertiser, Hastings and St Leonards Observer, and the Hastings and St Leonards Pictorial Advertiser. The earliest is the Hastings and Cinque Ports Iris; St Leonards Chronicle or Sussex and Kent Advertiser, 1830-1831. Details of these and other newspapers in our archive can be found in our online catalogue and in our Guide to Newspapers. There is also a paper copy of the listing that can be consulted in our Reference Room.
Artists in the Archives – Ravilious and Friends
23 May 2017
By Kate Elms
2017 is proving a good year for Sussex artists. We have seen Sussex Modernism celebrated in an exhibition at Two Temple Place in London, while at Dulwich Picture Gallery, a Vanessa Bell retrospective is entering its final weeks. And opening in just a few days at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne is Ravilious & Co: the Pattern of Friendship, focusing on the artist and his network of friends and collaborators.
At The Keep we have a special interest in this exhibition, not just because Ravilious and many of his circle are represented in the archives held here by East Sussex Record Office, but also because some of this material features in the exhibition. A Ravilious cartoon (full-scale preparatory drawing) of his friend and fellow artist Edward Bawden, for example, has been repaired and preserved by our conservator Melissa Williams for inclusion in the show.
The key facts of Ravilious’ life story are well-known: born in 1903, he moved to Eastbourne as a boy and was educated there at the Grammar School and later at Eastbourne College of Art. From 1922-25, he was a student in the design department of the Royal College of Art in London, where Paul Nash was one of his tutors and Edward Bawden and Peggy Angus were among his friends. After graduation, he returned to teach part-time in Eastbourne and it was there that he met and fell in love with Tirzah Garwood, often described as his most talented student. They married in 1930 and in the early 1930s shared a house in the village of Great Bardfield, Essex, with Bawden and his wife Charlotte. In 1934, Ravilious rediscovered the Sussex Downs and, in subsequent years, was a regular guest – often with Tirzah, his lover Helen Binyon or other members of his extended circle – at Furlongs, Peggy Angus’ cottage near Glynde.
These stages of the artist’s life are reflected in his body of work – the murals produced with Bawden at Morley College in London, the watercolour of Tirzah and Charlotte Bawden in the garden of their home in Great Bardfield, and the paintings of Furlongs and the surrounding area, where he seemed to feel so at home. Correspondence in our archives reinforces the picture of an extensive network of friends and collaborators who cared enormously about each other and liked to keep in touch.
Letters to Edward Bawden, for example, discuss both professional and personal matters, from the acceptance of their designs for the Morley College murals (commissioned in 1928), to Ravilious’ relationship with Tirzah: ‘Let me earnestly recommend the married state,’ he wrote from Cornwall. ‘Marrying TG was the best thing I ever did, no doubt of it.’ Other correspondents include Percy Horton, Douglas Percy Bliss and Cecilia Dunbar Kilburn – all RCA alumni – and the contents of their letters range widely, from discussions of work in progress and future plans to the more sensitive subject of Ravilious’ affair with Binyon.
Peggy Angus also sent and received many letters, her own often illustrated with playful little sketches. Again, there is a mix of the creative and the everyday; in one letter written to Eric in February 1934, she talks politics – ‘Do you feel any pains in the stomach over the unholy horror in Vienna? You see, I know the places they’ve been blowing up…’ and goes on to discuss renovations at Furlongs. A couple of months later, she focuses more on work in progress – ‘I have finished the oil painting of the cement works,’ – before going on to say, ‘Percy has gone too now – so Helen and I are alone.’
The Ravilious archive includes many papers relating to the artist’s working life, such as invoices from framers, details of teaching appointments, and commissions from publishers and other clients, including Wedgwood and London Transport. And in some cases, the personal and professional overlap: one letter from the Zwemmer Gallery, dated 2 July 1935, congratulates Eric and Tirzah on the birth of their son John, then moves swiftly on with, ‘About those lithographs…’ On a much more sombre note, there’s a letter from the Admiralty, dated 23 December 1939, asking Ravilious, along with John Nash, to consider taking on the role of war artist.
Returning to the cartoon loaned by East Sussex Record Office to the Towner Gallery for Ravilious & Co. It’s a preparatory drawing for a painting of Edward Bawden in his studio; the painting itself, which is tempera on board rather than Ravilious’ usual watercolour, is part of the Royal College of Art collection and will also feature in the Towner exhibition. There are a couple of changes to the original cartoon: the preening cat seems to have been a late addition (and in the subsequent painting has been moved on to the rug), and one of the curtains has also been pasted on.
As if to reinforce the significance of the ‘pattern of friendship’, the drawing is part of the Peggy Angus archive, now held at The Keep. Found in very poor condition, it required extensive treatment in our conservation studio to be fit for exhibition. ‘It was falling to pieces, very dry and “friable”,’ recalls Melissa, The Keep’s conservator. ‘It was also very sooty, perhaps because of gas lighting at Furlongs, where it had been stored.’
After microchemical testing, Melissa embarked on a series of processes, first mechanically cleaning the drawing with a soft-bristle brush and then a smoke sponge (designed to treat fire-damaged documents). Next, she cut tiny wedges of eraser that she used to remove the dirt between the pencil lines, a painstaking task that took about 40 hours. Humidifying the paper to relax the fibres and enable it to lie flat was the next challenge; this involved the creation of a polythene-enclosed chamber in which the drawing was placed on a sheet of Bondina polyester fabric which itself lay on a wet blotter. Once dry, the torn, missing areas were filled in using paper of the same type and thickness, colour matched with watercolours and secured in place with wheat-starch paste.
The transformation has been remarkable, and we look forward to seeing the drawing in situ when the exhibition opens!
Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship – English Artist Designers, 1922-1942, is at the Towner Art Gallery, Devonshire Park, College Road, Eastbourne BN21 4JJ, from 27 May – 17 September 2017.
We’re delighted that Andy Friend, co-curator of the exhibition and author of the accompanying book, will be discussing his research at a special event at The Keep on Tuesday 27 June at 5.30pm. Tickets, which include a glass of sparkling wine or a soft drink, cost £10 and must be booked in advance. Please call 01273 482349 for further details and to reserve your place.
The Keep will also be hosting a talk by artist Carolyn Trant about Peggy Angus and British Women Artists, which will include a display of archive material, on Wednesday 12 July at 2.30pm. Tickets cost £3, advance booking recommended. For more information, please see the events page of our website.
An Artist’s Life in Wilmington – Harold and Lilian Swanwick
11 May 2017
By Anna Manthorpe
Harold Swanwick (1866-1929) depicted agricultural life on the Downs in his paintings of Sussex, some of which are held by the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, and is one of the local artists represented in our holdings at The Keep.
Joseph Harold Swanwick was born in Cheshire but moved to Wilmington soon after his marriage to Ethel Lilian Heatley (known as Lilian) in 1907. The couple rented accommodation in Crossway House in Wilmington from early 1908 until August 1909, then moved to Street House Farm, Wilmington, which they purchased in 1912 from Robert Lambe; they renamed it Twytten House and remained there for the rest of their lives.
In 2005, we were donated the diary of Lilian Swanwick for 1908, and in 2011 that for 1909 arrived. Written in the early days of the marriage, the diaries give a detailed account of the couple’s life in Wilmington. Much of their leisure time was spent walking on the Downs, motoring farther afield, particularly on shopping trips to Eastbourne, or to places to paint (Lilian was an amateur artist). There was frequent correspondence between Lilian and her family, and friends stayed with them regularly. And there was considerable suspense in waiting to hear if work had been selected to hang at the Royal Academy!
The same donor later asked whether we would be interested in taking some letters written by Lilian to her brother Hugh (Harry) Heatley. Harry emigrated to Kenya in 1903, where he led a flamboyant lifestyle, but went bankrupt and returned to Arlington, where he lived for nine years, before moving to Wales. He was financially dependent on Lilian for the latter part of his life. Lilian’s letters were written during the early part of the Second World War and give a vivid account of the war effort in Wilmington. We hear about the planned evacuation of London children to the village (reversed once it was realised that the south coast was the likely invasion area), the fitting of gas masks, an attack from a German bomber, fortunately with no casualties, and a visit by Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother).
The archive has recently been further increased by scans of negatives held by the family. A researcher into the life and work of Harold Swanwick mentioned he hoped to borrow them, and I offered to do the scanning at The Keep and provide him with copies. The 30 negatives had deteriorated in some cases, but most came out well after adjustment of the light levels. Harold was a keen photographer who taught Lilian to develop photographs, and the images are doubtless the work of one or the other. Harold is depicted shooting, fishing and gardening, in addition to painting. He seems to have been a lively individual and is shown dressed up as a clown with a group of friends. Lilian is photographed in a bathing-dress in the sea, with the Seven Sisters in the background, as well as during a painting expedition on the Downs, with her paints and portable stool. Both seem to come very much alive in these pictures, which are a fascinating addition to the archive.
Andrew Forrest will be giving a talk Perspectives on Harold Swanwick at the Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, on Sunday 21 May at 12.00 (£6.00 or £5.00 concessions; online booking advisable).
One of the visitors to our recent Armistice Day display of First World War material was Norman Allcorn, a longtime resident of East Sussex whose family archive, dating back to 1851, is held here at The Keep. The Allcorns were tenant farmers, and their family papers include letters, accounts, sales particulars, inventories and photographs, including one of Norman’s mother Violet Batchelor, a munitions worker during the First World War, which was included in our display. Norman, pictured right, brought his grand-daughter, a history student herself, and while he was with us, he shared this childhood memory.
‘In the summer of 1943, I was 11 years old, living in a small hamlet called Lunsford Cross, which was halfway between Ninfield and Bexhill. The threat of a German invasion had receded but the local Home Guard were still vigilant. They were carrying out a series of evening exercises, one of which was the Ninfield troop trying to capture Catsfield against that village’s own troop.
‘A Ninfield member came to Lunsford Cross to “recruit” some children and teenagers to act as a diversionary force, as they were short of numbers.
‘The next evening, a group of about half a dozen of us set off down Potman’s Lane. We were approaching Church Road, chatting and wandering in the middle of the highway. Someone said that we should cut across the field or at least take cover and creep along under the hedge. Too late, a large piece of turf landed in front of us. A soldier popped up from behind a tree and said, “You are all dead, that was a hand grenade. You must come with me to the village hall.” We pointed out that if we were dead, we would be unable to walk, so he upgraded us to prisoners. We were then marched to the hall, given a biscuit and a glass of orange squash, thanked for our efforts and sent home.
All very Dad’s Army.’
The many lives of Nina Hibbin
29 November 2016
By Jessica Scantlebury
The Mass Observation Archive has acquired a new collection which sheds light on the life of one of its diarists and investigators, Nina Hibbin (née Masel).
In September 1939, the first month of the Second World War, Nina Hibbin (then Masel) sent her diary to the Mass Observation offices in London. Still at school and living in Romford, Essex, Hibbin had joined Mass Observation as ‘a tiny escape-hole for the dead-end tedium of small-town home and school’ (Hinton, 2013, p.172). Hibbin was delighted when war broke out as she recognised that it would provide her with the chance to abandon her studies (much to the dismay of her parents) and pursue more fulfilling ambitions. She wrote to Tom Harrisson (one of the founders and directors of Mass Observation) and demanded a paid job from him.
At only 17, she joined Mass Observation on £3 a week, at first working as an investigator on a project collecting information about the public’s reaction to wartime posters. After successfully completing this work, Harrisson moved her on to more challenging studies: working in the East End of London reporting on anti-Semitism; taking refuge in public Air-Raid shelters and simultaneously exposing their poor conditions; joining and reporting on the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force; and joining the MO team in Exmoor to research the publication Exmoor Village (1947). Photocopies of some of this work can be found in this new acquisition, while the original documents are held in the main Mass Observation Archive.
This archive also provides a window onto Hibbin’s life outside Mass Observation, particularly her work as a film critic for The Daily Worker (now known as The Morning Star). Hibbin was a committed Communist and these papers demonstrate this. There are a number of programmes and reports for the London Workers’ Film Society (a film society set up in 1929 to screen progressive films to working-class audiences) as well as a conference paper, penned by Hibbin, intended to be presented at the International Film Festival in Moscow and at the Symposium in Repino, Leningrad. Interestingly, Hibbin was also employed as the film reviewer for the decidedly un-socialist publication, The Lady. I can’t help but wonder if she was working for this publication when the photographs of her with the popular 1960s band, The Shadows were taken; these can also be found in Hibbin’s archive.
Some of the most charming documents in this collection can be found in the section which deals with a musical authored by Hibbin. Stand by Your Beds (We Didn’t Join Up for This!) is a light entertainment musical inspired by Hibbin’s time in the WAAF. We haven’t been able to find out if this musical was ever performed, but the collection demonstrates that Hibbin put a great deal of time researching the play and writing treatments, scripts, songs and even composing her own music. The musical includes original composition:
We didn’t join up for this
We didn’t join up for this
We couldn’t resist
The call to enlist
But we didn’t join up for this
We didn’t join up for this
We didn’t expect the officer class to be quite so snooty
We didn’t join up for this
Even through the medium of a musical, it seems Hibbin was committed to a socialist ideology.
Researchers can view the collection in the Reading Room at The Keep.
Brighton WW2 Book of Remembrance comes to The Keep
11 November 2016
By Shona Milton
On Tuesday 11th November 1952, a service of dedication was held at St Peter’s Parish Church, Brighton, when a Book of Remembrance to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Second World War was unveiled. The project was commissioned by the town council and executed under the direction of Ernest Arthur Sallis Benney, principal of Brighton College of Art. The pages of the book were designed, written and illuminated by his eldest son, Derek Benney and the blue leather binding with its gold tooled decoration was designed and executed by William Matthews.
Until very recently, the Book of Remembrance was kept in a glass case in St Peter’s Church. Local historian and author, Douglas d’Enno, during his research for his forthcoming book on Brighton during the Second World War, was given access to the book and took his own digital images of its pages. He proposed that The Keep might be a more suitable home for such an important manuscript and set the ball rolling for its transfer here to join the other archives of the parish. It is currently in the care of our conservator but digital images are available on computers in the Reference Room at The Keep. (PAR 277/7/8/3)
It is a beautiful example of calligraphy and lists in alphabetical order the names of 968 servicemen, servicewomen and civilians from the parish killed between 1939 and 1945. Brighton College of Art was involved in many aspects of war work, including designing posters for the Ministry of Information and Women’s Voluntary Service and producing maps for the RAF, and it seems appropriate that they should have been so closely involved in the production of this Roll of Honour.
The list was compiled by Lieutenant Colonel C H Madden. A veteran of the First World War, in which he was almost blinded, he was a committed campaigner for the welfare of ex-servicemen. During the Second World War, he was one of the first leaders in what was to become known as the Home Guard. Sadly, he did not live to see the dedication ceremony. He was killed in a plane crash on a mountainside in Sicily at the beginning of 1952 on his way to visit his daughter in East Africa.
However, his name and those of others involved in the production of this book are included in one of the final pages of the Book of Remembrance. Their names, too, will not be forgotten.
We are currently transcribing the names of those in the Book of Remembrance to create a searchable database. Keep an eye on this blog for updates.
The Gracie Fields Home and Orphanage, Peacehaven
7 October 2016
By Lindsey Tydeman
Earlier this year, Senior Archivist at The Keep Christopher Whittick received a phone call from a local postcard collector, who had been tipped off that a huge archive of plate glass negatives was about to be split up and sold. They were the working archive of the postcard publisher Alfred William ‘Bill’ Wardell, who was based in both Brighton and Worthing and operated between 1907 and the 1960s. Would East Sussex Record Office be interested in acquiring them and keeping them intact? The negatives were duly purchased for ESRO by the Friends of The Keep Archives and have now been sorted by our volunteers. They are currently awaiting digitisation, after which they will available for public viewing.
In the collection were images of children and staff at the Gracie Fields Home and Orphanage in Peacehaven. The building itself had been purchased in 1928 by Gracie Fields at a time when she had the British nation at her feet. Newly-rich, she was reaping the rewards of ten years’ hard work. For six years from 1918, she had toured the regions with her husband’s revue Mr Tower of London, followed by four years in the capital, including two in a straight play. She took her parents away from their home town of Rochdale and bought a new house for them, ‘Telford’, in Dorothy Avenue, Peacehaven. The South Downs were all around and the sea was a mile away at the bottom of the road. But it wasn’t long before Fred and Jenny Stansfield missed the nearby conviviality of neighbours, pubs and the fish and chip shop. They moved out of Dorothy Avenue into a house Gracie had bought for herself two miles away in Telscombe, ‘The Haven’. This was to become the permanent home of Gracie and her parents and their extended family.
‘Telford’ stood empty until 1931, when Gracie donated it to the Variety Artists Ladies Guild, signing the Trust Deed in her married name of Gracie Selinger (in August 2016 this Deed was donated to East Sussex Record Office by the Charity Commission). Much fund-raising and publicity followed and, by 1933, the large letters across the roof proclaimed it as ‘The Gracie Fields Home & Orphanage’. It was a home for children whose parents were in the theatrical or circus professions but who, for various reasons, were temporarily unable to provide for them.
The orphanage represented a serious commitment for the actress, comedienne and singer, who by now had pressed over four million recordings and made the first of several films. The lavish opening ceremony was attended by Gracie, her family and many music hall friends, after which everyone had tea in the dining room. Although the Theatrical Guild ran the home, Gracie financed it, donating repeat broadcasting fees and payments made for guest appearances. A promoter in Margate who in 1932 had fraudulently billed her as appearing at the Hippodrome and then claimed she was ‘unable to perform’, was made to donate to the orphanage as part of the court settlement. On opening a Harrogate cinema in 1934, reported The Era newspaper, the kiss which the owner received from Gracie on donating a cheque for £100 to the orphanage, ‘was nobody else’s business’; the crowds were delighted and only calmed down after Gracie had sung ‘Sally’. The public caught her enthusiasm, and collections and lotteries added to the funds.
The orphanage had a new wing by 1935 and the children and their patroness were rarely out of the newspapers. In August 1937, the children were taken to London’s Zoological Gardens and treated to tea. On Christmas Day that year, all 24 children were invited to a family party at The Haven, where Gracie’s father dressed as Father Christmas and handed out presents from under the Christmas tree. On Boxing Day, they were taken to the Pavilion Cinema, Peacehaven, where they saw their ‘Auntie Gracie’ in the film ‘Look Up and Laugh’. Gracie’s unofficial visits to the orphanage on her bicycle were many, and following her operation for cancer in 1939, 22 children were taken by coach to the Chelsea Women’s Hospital in London where they delivered cards and flowers. The Sunday Mirror on 25 June 1939 carried a full page photograph of the youngest child at the orphanage, four-year-old Doreen Hewlett, kneeling on her bed with hands together, praying, with the caption, ‘Please, God, Make Her Well.’
In January 1938, Gracie had been made a CBE for her services to entertainment. Further research among The Keep’s collections held by Brighton & Hove Museums revealed several scrapbooks (below) which had been compiled from a cuttings service, perhaps by Gracie herself or a close member of the family, specifically to celebrate this event.
During the Second World War, the orphanage children were evacuated away from the coast and the house became a Women’s Land Army Hostel. It reopened after the war, with Gracie as involved as ever. In 1949, she visited the Motor-Cycle and Cycle Show at Earl’s Court not only to be photographed riding a children’s tricycle, but also to choose ‘machines’ for the orphanage. Gracie Fields continued to finance the operation from her home in Capri until 1967, by which time the numbers of children needing support had declined. The house was eventually sold to Peacehaven Town Council and is now a care home. Apart from a small blue plaque, it is indistinguishable from the bungalows and houses which have grown up around it since 1928.