Since our last visit to Sus­sex, a new ar­chive cen­tre hous­ing four im­por­tant col­lec­tions has opened up in Brighton, writes Jonathan Scott.

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Trace your Sus­sex an­ces­tors

Con­struc­tion work on The Keep in Brighton started in 2011, around the time of our last visit. Two years and £15mil­lion later the build­ing was com­plete, and now houses not only East Sus­sex Record Of­fice, but also the Brighton Royal Pav­il­ion and Mu­se­ums lo­cal his­tory col­lec­tion (which in­cludes the lo­cal stud­ies li­brary ma­te­rial for­merly at the Brighton His­tory Cen­tre), the Univer­sity of Sus­sex Spe­cial Col­lec­tions, and the Head­quar­ters and Li­brary of the Sus­sex Fam­ily His­tory Group.

The Record Of­fice move from its old home in the Cas­tle Precincts in Lewes re­quired a huge amount of work. Mil­lions of items in the three col­lec­tions were packed up, a bar­code at­tached, then cat­a­logue en­tries were linked to that bar­code, which meant that the on­line order­ing sys­tem could con­tinue to func­tion. County Ar­chiv­ist El­iz­a­beth Hughes says: “We are ex­tremely grate­ful to the many vol­un­teers who helped the staff to achieve this – in­clud­ing the WI, who made can­vas map bags for us. We were sad to leave the old build­ing at The Maltings, and its won­der­ful lo­ca­tion, but it wasn’t suit­able for a mod­ern ar­chive ser­vice. We are de­lighted to be in our new premises for all sorts of rea­sons. Firstly, we are bring­ing to­gether four re­sources into one. Se­condly, we are stor­ing those ar­chives in the best pos­si­ble con­di­tions so they are pre­served for the fu­ture. Thirdly, we have much bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties for staff and the pub­lic. We have plenty of space and com­put­ers for on­line ac­cess to fam­ily his­tory web­sites, the lat­est in mi­cro­film and fiche reader-print­ers, a touch­screen map viewer, and book scan­ners so vis­i­tors can make their own copies with­out dam­ag­ing the ar­chives.” The build­ing also boasts a digi­ti­sa­tion suite, and there are a num­ber of projects on the go – in­clud­ing the scan­ning of parish reg­is­ters and glass plate neg­a­tives.

The Record Of­fice col­lec­tion it­self in­cludes the kind of ma­te­rial you might ex­pect – parish, pro­bate, non­con­formist and ceme­tery records, for ex­am­ple, and Poor Law ma­te­rial such as Guardians’ records, reg­is­ters of births and deaths in the work­house, ad­mis­sion and dis­charge reg­is­ters and more.

“We also now hold ma­te­rial from Brighton His­tory Cen­tre, in­clud­ing many more news­pa­pers and elec­toral reg­is­ters as well as their ex­cel­lent lo­cal his­tory li­brary. Records have been pour­ing in since 2011, in par­tic­u­lar build­ing con­trol plans, which we now hold for the whole county and the city where they sur­vive. We have also re­ceived the records of closed schools, in­clud­ing those of St Mary’s Hall in Brighton, which date from the mid-19th cen­tury, when the school was founded,” adds El­iz­a­beth.

There have been changes, im­prove­ments and plenty of new ac­qui­si­tions at West Sus­sex Record Of­fice, too. The web­site has just un­der­gone a ma­jor re­design, plus they have re­cently in­stalled a new Book­eye scan­ner, which al­lows vis­i­tors to cap­ture high-res­o­lu­tion colour im­ages of doc­u­ments on a self-ser­vice ba­sis.

Matthew Jones, As­sis­tant County Ar­chiv­ist, says: “The First World War com­mem­o­ra­tions have been keep­ing us very busy in the past year so it’s a good time to men­tion that we have one of

the best reg­i­men­tal col­lec­tions in the coun­try.”

The Royal Sus­sex Reg­i­ment, raised in 1701, has been in­volved in many of the great con­flicts of the last 300 years, in­clud­ing the Amer­i­can War of In­de­pen­dence, the Napoleonic Wars, the Boer War, and the First and Se­cond World Wars. In the First World War the Reg­i­ment ex­panded to 23 bat­tal­ions, and thou­sands of men passed through its ranks. Matthew says that they have been re­ceiv­ing lots of en­quiries about sol­diers who served.

“As part of a wider pro­ject on the war, work­ing with the Li­brary Ser­vice and over 140 vol­un­teers, we’ve made some of the key sources and in­dexes avail­able on a new ‘Great War West Sus­sex’ web­site. Re­searchers can

ac­cess it via www. west­sus­s­ex­ The site in­cludes dig­i­tal copies of the bat­tal­ion war di­aries and in­dexes to nom­i­nal rolls, ab­sent vot­ers lists and lo­cal news­pa­pers. It’s worth tak­ing a look!”

Be­tween 1915 and 1919, the county asy­lum – Grayling­well Hos­pi­tal in Chich­ester – was used as a hos­pi­tal for sick and in­jured troops re­turn­ing from the Front. More than 29,000 men were ad­mit­ted, but un­for­tu­nately ad­mis­sion reg­is­ters have not sur­vived. Matthew says: “My col­league Kather­ine Slay has been gath­er­ing names from other sources. She now has a list con­tain­ing more than 1,000 en­tries,e al­though some of the men ap­peara more than once. So, while we’vew of­ten found it dif­fi­cult to an­swera queries about in­di­vid­ual pa­tients,p the si it­u­a­tion is im mprov­ing as more in nfor­ma­tion comes in n from re­searchers. If f read­ers know an an­ces­tor spent ti ime at the Grayling­well War Hos­pi­tal,H we’d love to hear from th hem.” Kather­ine has pub­lished a 32-page3 il­lus­trated book­let en­ti­tlede Grayling­well War Hos­pi­tal 11915-1919 which costs £5.

There’s also a vol­un­teer-led ppro­ject un­der­way to in­dex QQuar­ter Ses­sions records held hhere. The fo­cus is Ses­sions rolls fr­from 1780 to 1850 and 30 rolls hhave been in­dexed so far. “We’re aal­ready re­veal­ing some fas­ci­nat­ing in­n­for­ma­tion about our an­ces­tors and how the courts dealt with them. The in­dex will tell you what your an­ces­tor was do­ing in court, what the out­come was, and it may also give per­sonal in­for­ma­tion such as num­ber of chil­dren, oc­cu­pa­tion and place of abode.”

The in­for­ma­tion will be made avail­able through the Record Of­fice cat­a­logue and the Sus­sex Peo­ple In­dex pro­vided by the Sus­sex Fam­ily His­tory Group (

Both county col­lec­tions in­clude oc­cu­pa­tional and busi­ness ma­te­rial. East Sus­sex RO has records of the West Pier Com­pany, the East­bourne Pier Com­pany, and the Brighton Aquar­ium Com­pany, to name just a few. They also have records de­posited by the Reg­is­trar Gen­eral of Ship­ping and Sea­men, in­clud­ing mer­chant ships' agree­ments, crew lists and of­fi­cial log books from be­tween 1862 and 1914, plus crew agree­ments for fish­ing boats over 25 tons.

Mean­while, at West Sus­sex they have the records of Ship­pam's, prob­a­bly the best known lo­cal busi­ness in Chich­ester. “Its roots go back to 1786 when it was deal­ing mainly with pro­vi­sions for the naval dock­yard at Portsmouth. In the 19th cen­tury, the busi­ness was fa­mous for its sausages but in the 1890s it in­tro­duced a range of pot­ted meats and fish pastes. Dur­ing the 1950s, the num­ber of jars of paste sold al­most dou­bled from 22 to 43 mil­lion – it was the decade when al­most ev­ery­one came home to ‘Ship­pam's for Tea’. We have a huge ar­chive for the busi­ness, in­clud­ing min­utes, ac­counts, pho­tos, cor­re­spon­dence and staff records. We even have a let­ter of ap­pre­ci­a­tion from Cap­tain Scott be­fore his fate­ful ex­pe­di­tion to the South Pole in 1911 – the rea­son be­ing his stores in­cluded some of the fa­mous Ship­pam's prod­ucts!”

The chalk cliffs at Seven Sis­ters, Sus­sex

The ru­ins of Hast­ings Cas­tle over­look the town

The Bishop's Palace Gar­dens in Chich­ester, pho­tographed

in the early 20th cen­tury

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