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.


Fuss, flannel and (street-party) fatigue!

14 May 2018

By Lindsey Tydeman

In 1947, the research organisation Mass Observation asked its correspondents to comment on the Royal Wedding. What were their opinions? And what did they do during the day? Thirty-four years later, when Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer, they asked the same question…

Princess Elizabeth’s marriage to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten on 20 November 1947 was a much-needed lift for a post-war country still making do under rationing, or ‘fuss and flannel’, depending on your viewpoint. Many male diarists commented that too much money had been spent and that the event appealed only to the sillier type of woman. Female respondents tended to embrace the moment and its morale-boosting glamour, while remaining aware of the monarchy’s usefulness in Britain’s political context. Few respondents confessed to being outright royalists but acknowledged that the monarchy would probably continue, although a few predicted its inevitable destruction in the changing post-war political landscape. Some had suspicions that the wedding had been an arranged match; most, however, were empathic and supportive of a young couple, in love and about to begin their life partnership.

Male, 24, 1402
I feel we should try to achieve, one day in the very distant future, a race of men who aren’t so silly as to line the streets in their thousands in order to see… well, whatever one does see when one watches a Royal Wedding… I don’t know as I wasn’t there.

Male, 60, MUN.2
I could not conceivably care less.

Female, BEC.2
My brother got tickets for the Guildhall, as a Councillor, but as a Socialist disdained to use them, so mother and I went. We had a good view of the procession but were too high up to see into the coaches and cars, which was disappointing.

Male, 34, MAT.2
Do they, when out of the public eye, think of each other and talk to each other, as my wife and I do, are they really in love? I hope so… I think the Princess performs her duties excellently and I believe she will later be a ruler we can admire and respect.

Male, CHA.102
The whole thing is staged by Church and State to enhance the concept of family life, yet what relation the general standard of family life has to a couple who start with every circumstance of wealth and luxury is never questioned.

Extract from one Mass Observation response to the 1947 Royal Wedding

Extract from one Mass Observation response to the 1947 Royal Wedding

Male, 28, 109
I don’t feel very strongly about the Royal Wedding, either for or against. I certainly could not work up the enthusiasm to go to London to see it. If anything I feel that royalty has even lost its symbolical power and we could just as well get on without it.

Female, 41, 653
On the actual day, when I was outside Buckingham Palace and the Royal Couple came on the balcony after their wedding, I was touched by the devotion of the English people to the crown. There was genuine love and good wishes.

Male, unidentified
This marriage has proved once again that Englishmen will take anything. When the first rumours appeared, there was considerable opposition to an alliance with such a discredited Royal House as the Greek. But the affair was managed with such deftness (cf the abdication) that now there is no more popular man in England.

Male, 1806
People, on the average, still need occasionally the modern equivalent of the Roman circus which provides excitement, mass interest and pageantry. Because the Royal wedding provided this, the expense incurred, even in difficult times, can be considered to have been well spent.

Male, 1788
I consider Princess Elizabeth is most fortunate if she has been able to marry for love as for State purposes, which would appear to be the case. I only hope that people will in the future interfere less with their private lives than they have done in the past.

The front page of The Argus on 20 November 1947

The front page of The Argus on 20 November 1947

Female, 54, BUR.5
As a socialist, I can only hope that some day we can do away with royalty, without causing pain to anyone.

Male, unidentified
I do not know Princess Elizabeth or the Duke of Edinburgh personally and so I wasn’t interested.

Male, 37, 881
The only regrettable feature was the scenes of extremely bad manners displayed by the public on the occasion of the married couple attending church on their honeymoon.

Male, aged 26, 1040
The Royal Wedding? Completely nauseated.

Male, 25, 2002
I approved of the Royal Wedding. It introduced a little colour and pageantry into our National life and made a lot of people, particularly the women, very happy… The majority of the criticism I felt was so much humbug and jealousy. Hurrah for a little colour!

Female, 41, 1607
I saw and heard it on the television, and was as excited and moved as if I’d been there… the Princess’s wedding dress was a magnificent example of the best artistry and workmanship in the world, and shows what can be done in this country if we try….even the most hardened socialist could not have begrudged this Princess a wedding worthy of her land…

In 1981, people also felt jaded and anxious; they were in a recession, prices were rising fast and there were high levels of unemployment. Thinking about the Royal Wedding, many contrasted it with the royal event of four years earlier, the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977, and expected local councils and their neighbours to organise celebrations of a similarly high standard. Diarists frequently recorded their disappointment that no street parties had been organised in their localities, or, that if they had, the programme was relatively low-key and budgets less than those of 1977. Nevertheless, where parties had been planned, women spent all day baking for them, snatching only a few moments to go to the TV. A minority of respondents were thinking about the rioting which had recently taken place across the UK’s major cities, and feared some attempt to disrupt the proceedings. Most planned their day around the TV, sometimes decamping to friends or relatives with colour sets, while others were determined to miss the event at all costs, planning long-distance walks or remote fishing trips. General exhaustion was felt across the UK by the evening. The big films shown on the day were The Sound of Music and Saturday Night Fever.

S783 F
It was a terrific lift for the country at a time when everyone seems to be down in the dumps. I went to see the wedding with my sister. We slept outside the Palace the night before and the atmosphere amongst the crowd had to be experienced to be believed. We made friends with 3 girls and a boy from America, all aged approx 20. They had given up their jobs and worked their way over here especially to see the wedding.

Directive response to the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer

Directive response to the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer

R446 F
8.45 Sister arrived with slices of bread and butter/ honeyed toast and joined audience.

9.15 Niece appeared and joined audience. Husband left house, taken by brother-in-law, to start walking the Mendip Way from Weston-super-Mare.

P433 F
By 9.45 we were ready to start watching. I was interested to note that my father (retired, aged 72) who usually wanders round in his pyjamas all morning, was shaved and dressed by then.

R767 F
If I’m alive when Charles is crowned, I won’t spend the day with my family. That’s a promise.

H269, F
Mixed feelings. General conclusion from the office… that it’s been overdone, particularly the cheap and tatty souvenirs and pervading jingoism. What particularly annoyed my boss was that manufacturers seem to be using the wedding as an excuse to sell souvenirs by stamping a commemorative mark on to their ordinary products. She cited the example of a plastic kettle she bought several months ago now being stamped with a ‘Wedding stamp’.

D171, F
I felt really worried that the bride’s father, Earl Spencer, would never make it to the altar… The Queen Mother could be seen quite clearly mouthing the words ‘poor man’ as he approached…

L335, F
My husband, an agnostic, went to a pub in the morning and was very annoyed to see the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster given precedence over the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in the Blessing.

Coverage of the 1981 Royal Wedding in The Argus

Coverage of the 1981 Royal Wedding in The Argus

H258, M
In all honesty I had really no intention of watching the wedding, actually I was waiting for the cowboy film to come on the TV…   and I’m really glad I did for I have never seen anything like it during my lifetime… there is not another country in the world who could have put on a show like it, the pomp, precision and timing of the whole ceremony all the way through, the only late part being going away on honeymoon, and you can understand that, he wouldn’t want to appear too eager.’

L333, F
8 am Drained 3 white bed quilts in bath. Washed and set hair. Emptied ashes. Opened greenhouse. All while watching Royal Wedding.

G232, F
I myself was very interested in attending the festivities along the route. However, I could not find a brave soul to come along, as the recent riots and the thought of pickpockets, muggers and the exorbitant prices charged by cowboy ice cream sellers etc, put them all off. My husband would not allow me to go alone.

H262, F
I liked it all and I’ll watch it again. I did feel sad that I wasn’t there in person, the atmosphere must have been something to behold, but I vowed to myself to be there for Charles’ coronation, whenever that may be.



New display celebrates Women’s History Month at The Keep!

8 March 2018

By Eleanor King

For Women’s History Month this year, a display has gone up in our reception area highlighting some of the lesser known heroines of our collections. Pictured below, the display loosely takes the themes of ‘a woman in a man’s world’ and the power of the female voice and friendship. The women featured all created something unique in their lifetimes and all have contributed to the place of women in the 21st century. To gather these women together, I put a call out to the ladies of The Keep for their champions and unsung heroines, and sure enough the call was answered.

A women whose archive I‘ve wanted to explore in more detail for while is that of the remarkable Dr Rosey Pool, whose scrapbooks of her time working with African America poets in the United States I have had the pleasure of being able to leaf through in teaching sessions. Dutch-born Dr Pool studied in Berlin until the expansion of the Nazi regime forced her return to Amsterdam, where she became a teacher, counting Anne Frank among her pupils. She had formed an interest in African American poetry at university and during the war continued to seek out and collect works by poets and artists. Following the war, Pool spent time in America, lecturing and speaking out in favour of civil rights, desegregation and championed the work of unknown African American poets and artists. Her archive includes a wealth of poetry from the middle of the 20th century, as well as much of her own writing. A recent display at The Keep featured a book from Rosey Pool’s archive that underwent conservation last year. A piece written by Special Collections Supervisor Rose Lock about this book and its conservation can be found on the University of Sussex library staff blog.

Eva Ehrenberg, a woman in a man's world; SxMs96/14/1

Eva Ehrenberg, a woman in a man’s world; SxMs96/14/1

Another woman I knew I had to feature was Tilly Edinger, an eminent scientist whose pioneering work led to the discovery of ‘paleo neurology’. It was Samira Teuteberg, archivist for the German-Jewish collections held at The Keep, who told me about Dr Edinger; knowing my interest in all things ‘Jurassic Park’, she knew a woman who pioneered the study of dinosaur brains was always going to pique my interest. Tilly Edinger led me to Eva Ehrenberg, her cousin and a translator and writer. I came across a photograph that, for me, embodies the phrase ‘a woman in a man’s world’, featuring Eva Ehrenberg at work at her desk in an office alone, on one side of the room whilst a group of men sit around at a desk on the other side of the room. The two parties could be occupying entirely separate spaces; Eva is isolated and ignored, working alone while the men appear to be deep in discussion. A copy of this photograph is now part of the display, alongside material related to the work of Tilly Edinger.

Despite Tilly’s move to America to pursue her career, she and Eva maintained a correspondence and a friendship. This got me thinking about the importance of female friendships and how empowering they can be, and I wanted to find other examples in our collections.

It was Rose Lock who alerted me to the incredible women of the Cooperative Correspondence Club, the CCC, who, following a call for help from a lonely mother in Nursery World magazine, created a publication written by the women, for the women and only to be read by CCC members. The magazine ran from 1935-1990 starting with 24 contributors who all wrote under pseudonyms and formed close friendships over the years. The power of being given a voice cannot be underestimated, and the CCC offered women across the country a chance to have their voices heard and their opinions counted in a world where they may have otherwise been ignored or undervalued.

In keeping with the theme of female friendship and comradery, East Sussex archivist Anna Manthorpe directed me to the Women’s Institute records we hold from chapters across the county. These include reports, minutes and record books, and we also hold several scrapbooks created to celebrate key events such the Golden Jubilee. On display are some images taken from the Falmer WI scrapbook from 1965 that feature a run-down of the year’s activities, including thoughts on the impact the new university will have on the village. Community groups such as the WI provided a space for women to work beyond the male gaze and their domestic arrangements, forming friendships and contributing to their local communities.

Portrait of Mary Philadelphia Merrifield, ACC 8642/1/19

Portrait of Mary Philadelphia Merrifield, ACC 8642/1/19

Other women who feature in the display include Mrs Mary Philadelphia Merrifield, a Brighton-based writer and translator from the 19th Century. She took herself off to France and Italy to study the Old Masters and later studied marine life, becoming a leading algologist (seaweed expert). A blog about Merrifield written for International Women’s Day in 2016 by archive assistant Emma Skinner can be read here. Brighton and Hove colleague Kate Elms and archive assistant Lindsey Tydeman also provided me with the names of many great women, including politician and activist Margaret Bondfield, pioneering physician Dr Helen Boyle and women’s rights campaigner Barbara Bodichon, all of whom have local connections but have made an impact historically.

The archives at The Keep are full of fascinating, remarkable and extraordinary women; from scientific pioneers to outspoken activists, to housewives seeking friendship. We hope you will inspired to come and find out more, or perhaps to discover your own family heroine? In 2018, the female voice is being heard perhaps louder than ever before, let’s keep it up!


12 May 2016: Capture this day for the Mass Observation Archive

12 May 2016

By Jessica Scantlebury, Senior Archive Assistant for the Mass Observation Archive

On the 12th May 1937, the newly founded social research organisation, Mass Observation, famously requested day diaries written by the public from across Britain. This date was chosen to capture the public’s mood on the day of the Coronation of George VI: an event thought to be worthy of study by the organisation following the public’s and press’s reaction to the so-called ‘Abdication Crisis’. This year, on Thursday 12th May 2016, the Mass Observation Archive is repeating this call for people from across the country to submit an account of their day to the Archive.

In 1937, hundreds of Coronation diaries from people of all walks of life, albeit a greater number from the left leaning middle classes, were sent to Mass Observation’s headquarters in London. may12thDiarists wrote about everything, from waking in the morning to going to sleep at night. Some wrote about standing on The Mall and summarised the mood of the crowds who had gathered to watch the Coronation; many wrote about celebrations in their local area, whereas for others it was just an ordinary day. The diarist worked as “meteorological stations” which Mass Observation hoped would enable them, and other social scientists, to compile a “weather map of popular feeling.” (Mass-Observation, 1937, p30)

“6.30 a.m. was woken by phone. Felt particularly sleepy, and disagreeably aware that I had to attend on duty, in charge of boys from my school. As I got up I thought how nervous the King and Queen must be. My wife and I supposed that the young princesses must be nearly off their head with excitement. I decide to wear my old socks with a hole in the heel, rather than change them.” (man, 27, schoolmaster, London, ‘inactive Left’) (May 12th, 1987, p119)

Recent 12th Mays, compared to that of 1937, have been on relatively ordinary days, apart from the first call in 2010 which, by coincidence, happened to be the day that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government was formed. As a result of this, many of the diarist behave like rolling news citizen-journalists ruminating on the new cabinet in real time as it was announced.

At 12.20 it is lunchtime. For the first time since starting at this school, in February, I decide that I want to go for a cigarette. I walk down the school drive, away from the school, and into the nearby Cemetery. I can’t help but think about the recent death of a friend. I sit on a bench and smoke a cigarette. I wish it didn’t- but it helps. Text message from J about the appointment of Theresa May as Minister of Women and Equality: “Theresa May!! The gays are gonna’ get it. Urgh”. (MT/2010/94, PGCE student, woman, aged 27)


Since 2011 we have worked with different groups in order to promote the 12th May to a wider audience. The most successful one of these has been our work with UK men’s prisons. The Archive has collected almost 300 diaries, from male prisoners, in varying institutions from youth offending and open prisons to Category B security institutions. In these diaries the writers detail their daily routine, frustrations at their life and the prison system as well as hopes and fears for the future. The diary collection acted as a springboard for further activities, including several writing workshops at Lewes Prison, three anthologies of the writing, and a research project led by the University of Sussex.


“It’s nearly tea time, Monday’s teas are alright because we get our packet of shorty biscuits, one packet to last a week. Also, we get Association for 1hr 10min I think I’m going to clean my cell out and get a shower. Being clean means the world to me because theres a lot of people in here who don’t care to shower or keep clean.” (Man, aged 31, Lewes prison)


This year, we are continuing our work with prisons, schools and community groups and would welcome any proposals of new groups to publicise the project to. In particular, we welcome suggestions of ways to encourage participation from members of the LGBTQ community. These diaries would complement the material collected by the National Lesbian and Gay Survey (NLGS) between 1986 and 2004. During the week of the 12th May (starting daily on 9th May), this collection is the subject of a BBC Radio 4 drama, written by the performer Christopher Green, called ‘The Experience of Love’. The timing of the broadcast is a happy coincidence, which we hope will help solicit a greater response.

The resulting diaries will be stored at The Keep archive centre just outside of Brighton. They will be used by a wide range of groups for both research and teaching and will also be used to engage new and older learners in school and community outreach sessions. Details of how to take part in the project can be found on the Mass Observation Archive’s website.

A version of this blog post appeared on the History Workshop  Online blog.


The Keep News: Cringe with Mass Observation

Last week, as part of the Being Human Festival of Humanities, the Mass Observation Archive hosted an event to celebrate teenage diary writing. The event was held in partnership with Cringe, UK who host regular events in London where people read from their teenage diaries. In this blog post, the organiser of Cringe, UK, Ana McLaughlin, reports on the event.

When Mass Observation first got in touch about a potential event, I was thrilled. Cringe nights have been running in the UK since 2009, having been imported by the founder of New York Cringe

Dr Lucy Robinson reads from her teenage diary

Dr Lucy Robinson reads from her teenage diary

Sarah Brown. She had found re-reading her own teenage diaries hilarious and realised here was an enormous untapped reservoir of very funny material that was worth sharing, so she established open mic nights where people could read diaries, rock band lyrics, lists of things they hated about their parents and just about anything they had scrawled during their teenage years. In the six years Cringe has been running in London we’ve been treated to the darkest, most secret thoughts of adolescents writing in the 1990s, 80s, 70s and even the 50s – and we have learned that although cultural reference points and attitudes change, much about puberty is universal: obsessions with fashion and appearance; passions for bands and favourite television shows; sibling rivalry; bucking against parental restrictions; unrequited love. The event with Mass Observation gave us the opportunity to take the show on the road to Brighton and entertain a new audience, hear new readers and most importantly to have academics from the University of Sussex examine the phenomenon of teenage diaries as part of the Being Human festival of the Humanities, which was absolutely fascinating.

It’s always been interesting to note how readers address their diaries. They name them – Yoda, darling Janet, in several cases Kitty (when the writer has just read The Diary of Anne Frank and considers that their own musings on being allowed to watch X-Men and revising for GCSEs will probably have similar historical impact to her diary.) They apologise for not writing enough and ask questions of their diaries; often, they lie to their diaries either unconsciously (claiming they don’t fancy someone they clearly do) or consciously (the boy who implied he might have been ‘blown’ on the French Exchange and, while reading, freely admitted he definitely had not.)

This relationship between diary and writer was fascinating to have the academics examine – Dr Lucy Robinson talked about the confusion of voices she detected in her own diaries. Adolescence is a time when you’re trying on different identities for size, which includes experimenting with your physical look as many diaries intricately detail, but also with your own emerging social and political outlook. (I’m reminded of the reader who solemnly wrote: “Today, we invaded Iraq,” and followed it up immediately with, “My new pens are cool, huh?”)

Many teenage diary writers consider it likely their words will be published when they grow up and do the great things they consider themselves capable of – delusions of grandeur are a common theme – and this was even picked up in one of the readings from a Mass Observation diary written in the 1920s by a girl who wrote, “I want to do great things, to be great.” For all the restrictions placed on teenagers by school rules and parental guidance, it is emotionally often a time when possibilities seem limitless, and this sense that your diaries might one day be pored over as the juvenilia of a statesman, author or rock star (common teenage employment fantasies) can sometimes be seen in the tone – designed to impress, riddled with half-understood long words. The gap between delusion and reality is, in retrospect, what makes adolescent diaries so extremely funny – as the plan for thrashing out world peace in the Middle East is interrupted by a rant on the pettiness of a sister who won’t let the writer borrow their lipstick. Teenage dreams are big, but their actual horizons are necessarily small.

Something else that was apparent from the event was the value of diaries to social historians. Nobody engages more passionately with popular culture than teens, who are tribal about their tastes in fashion, music and literature. Jane Harvell, reading at the event, noted the fluctuating fortunes of Depeche Mode in the singles chart in astonishing detail. Often it’s the cultural reference points that really date the audience – dumping someone in pink Comic Sans font on MSN got an enormous laugh from twenty-somethings at Cringe, and references to the Body Shop’s Dewberry range tickled thirty-something women in the crowd. Teenagers are the ideal filter through which to see exactly what’s going on culturally, and diaries are the place where this incidental detail finds a natural home.

We’ve long enjoyed hearing people read from their secret diaries because it’s hilarious, and partnering with Mass Observation – as well as making for a very funny evening – gave us a new insight into what we’d been hearing all these years. Thank you for having us!

Ana McLaughlin (@Anabooks)

Dr Lucy Robinson from the University of Sussex has also written about the event. You can read her blog post here.

The Keep News: Anna Mendelssohn archive now available to researchers

29 September 2015                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

By Simon Coleman, Archivist

University of Sussex Library Special Collections and The Keep are pleased to report that the archive of the avant-garde poet and artist, Anna Mendelssohn, is now catalogued and available to researchers.

This rich and varied collection comprises many thousands of draft poems (mostly unpublished) and drawings, with correspondence, life-writing, paintings, prose writing and other papers. It includes over 770 notebooks and sketchbooks which provide a wealth of insight into both her creative processes and private thought world.

Anna Mendelssohn (original name: ‘Anne Mendleson’) was born into a Jewish family in Stockport, 1948. She became involved in radical left-wing politics at the University of Essex between 1967 and 1969: she dropped out after her second year. As one of the ‘Stoke Newington Eight’, she was convicted in 1971 (after the longest trial in British legal history) of being involved in the bombing campaign conducted by the ‘Angry Brigade’ and sentenced to ten years in prison. After her release on parole in 1976 she returned to academic study, eventually winning a place at Cambridge University in 1983 to take the English Tripos. During her undergraduate years (which extended to 1989 because of illness and personal difficulties) she self-published a number of small poetry collections and began contributing to journals. In the 1990s she had three poetry pamphlets (beginning with Viola tricolor, 1993) published by Cambridge-based ‘Equipage’ and began to achieve wider recognition. Selections of her work appeared in significant anthologies such as Conductors of Chaos (ed. Iain Sinclair, 1996) and, in 2000, her only perfect-bound volume, Implacable Art, was published by Folio Equipage. In Conductors of Chaos she was anthologised with a group of avant-garde poets associated with the British Poetry Revival.

Pages from notebook c. 1975 (ref: SxMs109/2/A/13)

Pages from notebook c. 1975 (ref: SxMs109/2/A/13)

A highly experimental writer, operating on the outer fringes of the human imagination, Mendelssohn was influenced by 20th century French surrealist poetry and writers such as ‘H.D.’ and Osip Mandelstam. Her work explored feminist ideology, themes of loss, love and violence, experience of nature and radical left-wing political thought. Her art was also innovative, taking inspiration from Cubo-surrealism.

There is much content of a very personal nature within the archive, some of it contained in her letters. Her correspondents were wide-ranging, and included poets, academics, artists, writers, editors and family members. Several of these poets and academics etc were Mendelssohn’s friends and her long draft letters to them often covered an astonishing diversity of literary, artistic and social topics, with lengthy (and often unhappy) narration of her personal troubles and the turbulent events of her youth. While the bulk of the collection covers the period 1977 to 2009, there is significant earlier material. Twenty exercise and drawing books which Mendelssohn used during her incarceration in Holloway Prison survive and there are also items from her childhood, chiefly secondary school exercise books and adjudicators’ forms from elocution and drama competitions.

The cataloguing of the Mendelssohn archive will open up the work of this unique writer and political activist to researchers across a wide spectrum of interests and topics. The collection will be valuable for exploring areas such as female and late modernist / contemporary avant-gardism, feminist literature, 20th century political activism and its relationship to art, and prison writing.

Stories from the Collections: Quentin Bell and the Emery Collection

13th August 2015

By Jo Baines

The recent BBC drama Life in Squares has sought to reveal more about the lives of the Bloomsbury group to a new generation of viewers. The drama is filmed at a variety of beautiful locations, including several in East Sussex – notably Charleston and Monk’s House. Here at The Keep, the Bloomsbury group’s connections to the area are evident through our many archival collections: the University of Sussex holds Virginia Woolf’s manuscripts in the Monk’s House Papers, the papers of Virginia’s husband Leonard, and a large collection of correspondence belonging mainly to Vanessa and Clive Bell from their home in Charleston.

We also hold several smaller collections of material which tell us a great deal more about the Bloomsbury group, and indeed about some of the people who are not featured prominently in Life in Squares – notably Vanessa and Clive Bell’s youngest son, Quentin. Quentin Bell (1910 – 1996) was an artist and sculptor; as well as being the founding Professor of the History and Theory of Art at the University of Sussex, he played a pivotal role (alongside his half-sister Angelica Garnett) in establishing the legacy of the Bloomsbury group. The Emery Collection is a remarkable collection of letters from Quentin Bell to an American scholar, Dr Jane Emery (nee Novak). The correspondence begins in 1971 with Emery contacting Bell to gain permission to quote from the Virginia Woolf Papers held at the Berg Collection in New York; due to a delay in Bell being able to grant the request, a correspondence was struck up and continued for 26 years over 88 letters.

The letters within the Emery Collection are a fascinating insight into how Quentin Bell managed the legacies of his aunt Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group as a whole. Quentin was, at the start of the exchange, writing a two volume biography of Virginia Woolf – the first major profile of his aunt to be published. The biography won several literary prizes; Bell often fielded queries from scholars about Virginia and her work, and frequently laments the silliness of academic scholarship. Quentin’s wife, Anne Olivier Bell, edited the published volumes of Virginia’s diaries.

Quentin was also fundamental in establishing The Charleston Trust and led a campaign to purchase the house and preserve its decorations by his mother and Duncan Grant; today, Charleston thrives as both a visitor attraction and as a cultural centre, running literary festivals and promoting the legacy of the artists and writers who lived in the house for many years.

QBbooks (2)

The Emery Collection letters are a joy to read; Quentin’s style of writing is witty, generous and erudite with many beautiful comical sketches throughout. They reveal a great deal about a man instrumental in managing the legacy of his parents, aunt and the wider Bloomsbury group – but they also show that Quentin was an artist and historian in his own right, leaving a very notable legacy of his own and contributing enormously to East Sussex’s history.

The other half of the correspondence, from Jane Emery to Quentin Bell, can be found in the larger archive of Quentin Bell’s papers, which are also held here at The Keep. Do come and have a look; if you are intrigued by the Bloomsbury group, there are few better places to start discovering their history than here with us.



Stories from the Collections: the diaries of Leonard Woolf

10th April 2015

By Rose Lock

One of the many advantages of University of Sussex Special Collections’ move to The Keep is having access to an on-site conservator. Melissa Williams, Conservator for East Sussex Record Office, is currently working on our collection of Leonard Woolf’s appointment diaries. Ranging in date from 1898 when Leonard was just 18 to 1969, the year of his death, these pocket diaries map out a fascinating life. Perhaps most well known for being the husband of author Virginia Woolf, the archive of Leonard’s life draws researchers from across the world. The conservation of these diaries gives us a lovely excuse to take a brief look at Leonard Woolf, not primarily as ‘Mr Virginia’, but as an author, publisher and political theorist.

One of Leonard's diaries in its new enclosure

One of Leonard’s diaries in its new enclosure

Born in London in 1880, Leonard’s high level of education was a result of his mother’s determination, and culminated in his attending Trinity College Cambridge on scholarship. He was the first ever Jewish member of the famous Apostles, and it was here that he met many of those who would later be known as ‘The Bloomsbury Group’. In 1904 Leonard joined the colonial service in Ceylon, serving from 1908 as an assistant government agent in the District of Hambantotaan. He later stated that this was part of his anti-imperialist education and, striving to improve the lives of the villagers, he became increasingly ambivalent about his government’s mismanagement of jungle agriculture, the absurdity of one civilization imposing itself on another, and the hypocrisy of the British failure to prepare its colony for self-government. Returning on leave to England in 1911, Woolf began The Village in the Jungle (1913), the first in a series of novels that movingly reflected these concerns.

Leonard and his staff in Ceylon

Leonard and his staff in Ceylon

Woolf’s disillusionment with imperialism was one reason for his resignation from the civil service, but another motive was that he had fallen in love with his friend’s sister, Virginia Stephen, who he would eventually marry in 1912 after suffering a stinging rejection to his first proposal, in which she claimed ‘I feel nothing for you’. Despite his own depression, Leonard devoted much of his time to caring for Virginia in the periods she suffered from mental illness. They founded the Hogarth Press together in 1917 and in ten years this grew from the single printing press with which they created hand-printed and hand-bound pamphlets, to a full-scale publishing house that issued the first ever edition of T.S. Elliot’s The Waste Land amongst its many titles. Virginia’s suicide note in 1941 stated that if anyone could have saved her it would have been him, and many suppose that without his love, encouragement, and care she would not have written the books, stories and essays that are so treasured today.

For the rest of Leonard’s life his writing, in both fiction and non-fiction, reflected his desire to move the world towards a more peaceful and equal path. He was an editor of and contributor to many journals, including the New Statesman, International Review, Contemporary Review, The Nation, and Political Quarterly. His membership of the Labour Party and Fabian Society reflected this desire to improve the lot of all people, and his politics and writings were staunchly Socialist and Anti-Imperialist.

Thanks to the kindness of his great friend Trekkie Parsons, to whom Leonard left his papers, we have over seventy boxes containing the evidence of a remarkable life. From his day diaries, personal papers and notebooks to the reams of correspondence with many luminaries of the day, the Leonard Woolf Papers shine a light on this fascinating period of political, cultural and social upheaval, seen through the life of one man.

To view the Leonard Woolf Papers (SxMs-13), book and order online through The Keep’s online catalogues.


Education and Outreach: Writing Lives – Voices of prisoners in HMP Lewes

Opening Speech19th September 2014

By Kirsty Pattrick –  Mass Observation Project Officer

Last Wednesday afternoon over 40 people attended an event here at The Keep to hear readings of poetry; writing that was inspired by Mass Observation archive material and written by men at Lewes Prison.

Writing Lives: Voices of prisoners in HMP Lewes arose out of a collaborative project involving the University of Sussex, Mass Observation Archive (MOA), East Sussex Library and Information Service and HMP Lewes.

Funded by the University of Sussex to look at “Using Materials from the Mass Observation Archive to Elicit Prisoners’ Subjective Understandings of Everyday Life”, the project team comprised of Dr Lizzie Seal, Dr Bethan Stevens and Dr Tamsin Hinton-Smith (University of Sussex), with Kirsty Pattrick (MOA), Abigail Luthmann (East Sussex Library and Information Service), Emma Bach (prison librarian) and HMP Lewes through Joanne Lupton.

Working with poet Evlynn Sharp to facilitate creative writing workshops in the prison library over a period of four weeks, the research team chose material from MOA comprising two themes: belonging and time, and two forms of writing: letters and diaries. Evlynn used this material as the basis of focused writing exercises in each session inviting responses by prisoners and also members of the team participating.

Feedback from Wednesdays event included:

 I found the poems very honest and felt sad – they were written simply and conveyed difficult feelings very clearly.’

 ‘Very moving accounts which spoke to the heart.  Clearly these writers have potential.’

 ‘I found the poems very expressive and moving.  It’s great the writing you are producing and good to her your voices.  Brilliant. Thank you.’

 ‘A great project, a great idea – Very inspiring.’


Three of the poems:

Distances2  Leaving Governed by Time2


Also, feedback from the men who took part:

Basically, if you had to ask what people got out of this, you know, I would have to say, this was about confidence.’

‘I see this as a guide, you know like when you’ve got a bike, and you first ride a bike, you need stabilisers, you know it’s the guide, for confidence, for me personally, because I’m quite a shy bloke, believe it or not.’

It’s been a very humble environment, very understanding. It was comfortable. I felt comfortable.’

‘It’s shown me potential that I never thought I had.’


It’s something that I never dreamed I’d do.’


‘You’ve got to understand the environment where we’re in, because you know, we’re all locked away and probably feeling the worst, and then we’ve come to this course, and look at the subjects we’ve done. We’ve done time, belonging, writing letters. Now, thinking about it, we could have all started having a gripe, time, spending time in here, I hate it, but it’s brought out things like people writing about family, people writing about loss. It’s brought everything that you wouldn’t really have thought.’


As a result of these workshops a creative writing residency will be taking place at Lewes Prison and a larger research project is being explored by the University of Sussex and the Mass Observation Archive.