Each month we look at the re­gional re­sources that can help you find your fore­bears

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - BEHIND THE HEADLINES -

On the high street of the pic­turesque Sus­sex town Lewes, there is a plaque that reads: “Dr Richard Rus­sell (1687-1759) au­thor of a dis­ser­ta­tion con­cern­ing the use of sea wa­ter in dis­eases of the glands (1750).”

Although this might seem quite an in­signif­i­cant fact to com­mem­o­rate with a plaque, it goes on to ex­plain that Lewes­born Dr Rus­sell is cred­ited with launch­ing the city of Brighton as a coastal re­sort. He did this by ad­vo­cat­ing the health ben­e­fits of sea bathing and be­fore he came to the town 'Brighthelm­stone' was just a fish­ing com­mu­nity.

When Dr Rus­sell moved to Brighton in 1753, he built a house for him­self and his pa­tients, from where he fur­ther pro­moted his views. This move – cou­pled with royal pa­tron­age – helped fuel Brighton’s growth as a re­sort. An­other plaque on the city’s Royal Al­bion Ho­tel, where Rus­sell’s house once stood, reads: “If you seek his mon­u­ment look around.”

By the time Queen Vic­to­ria vis­ited the city for the last time in 1845, it had be­come a very fash­ion­able des­ti­na­tion. In her jour­nal, she writes about the train jour­ney down on Fri­day 7 Fe­bru­ary, 1845: “The rail­way is very well-con­structed and goes through tun­nels and over bridges, pass­ing through very pretty coun­try. We only took an hour and a quar­ter go­ing down! In for­mer times it used to take us five hours and a half…”

How­ever, she found the fol­low­ing day far less en­joy­able. When walk­ing home from the Chain Pier, she de­scribes how “the crowd be­haved worse than I have ever seen them do and we were mobbed by all the shop boys in the town, who ran and looked un­der my bon­net, treat­ing us just as they do the band, when it goes to the pa­rade!” She later de­scribes feel­ings fa­mil­iar to many Brighton vis­i­tors (“walked on the shin­gles, which is al­ways very fa­tigu­ing work”), end­ing the se­quence of en­tries with “dis­agree­able as the pub­lic­ity of Brighton is, still, in the end, it amuses us and we are al­ways sorry to go away.”

In the past, many of the ge­nealog­i­cal sources re­lat­ing to the or­di­nary res­i­dents of Brighton and Hove were spread across sev­eral ar­chives, with the city’s museum and lo­cal his­tory col­lec­tions housed at the old Brighton His­tory Cen­tre and the East Sus­sex Record Of­fice county col­lec­tions based in Lewes. That all changed in 2013, when these were brought to­gether at The Keep, a new pur­pose-built ar­chive near the city’s foot­ball sta­dium in Falmer.

In safe keep­ing

An­drew Ben­nett, the Brighton and Hove archivist, says: “The Keep brings to­gether the ar­chives and lo­cal stud­ies ma­te­rial of East Sus­sex Record Of­fice and the Royal Pav­il­ion and Museum and both these in­clude ma­jor col­lec­tions re­lat­ing to Brighton – around a third of The Keep’s hold­ings.

“Re­searchers don’t need to know which col­lec­tion they are in, though, be­cause the on­line cat­a­logue ( the­ search­ing) will search across all

“The crowd be­haved worse than I have ever seen them do and we were mobbed”

the hold­ings. And, of course, The Keep also houses the head­quar­ters and li­brary of the Sus­sex Fam­ily His­tory Group which is staffed by its great band of vol­un­teers.”

As you would ex­pect, the record of­fice’s most pop­u­lar ma­te­rial for ge­neal­o­gists are the par­ish reg­is­ters. Aside from these, it has news­pa­pers, build­ing plans (from the mid-19th cen­tury up to 2001), school records, coroners’ files, hospi­tal records, records of lo­cal govern­ment and tax­a­tion and pa­pers of lo­cal in­di­vid­u­als.

But what’s most worth ex­am­in­ing here? An­drew says: “Our se­ries of rate books, which cover 1744 to the 1950s for Brighton and 1841 to 1971 for Hove, are fairly un­der-used. They show names of

oc­cu­piers (and some­times own­ers) and give tax­able rates for each dwelling.”

The map col­lec­tions, aside from Ord­nance Sur­vey, in­clude maps of the city’s ‘ Tenantry Laines’ dat­ing from the late 18th cen­tury. These ‘ laines’ were five di­vi­sions of down­land sur­round­ing the old town, which were used for agri­cul­ture. In­deed one of the old­est car­to­graphic de­pic­tions of Hove was made by Sus­sex map­maker Thomas Marchant, show­ing the ‘ laines’ be­fore they dis­ap­peared.

Some other unique col­lec­tions par­tic­u­lar to Brighton in­clude plans of Palace Pier and West Pier – although there are no orig­i­nal plans of the old Chain Pier which had al­ready fallen into dis­re­pair when it was de­stroyed in a storm in De­cem­ber 1896 – and the Ourstory ar­chive, which records the ex­pe­ri­ences of the LGBTQ com­mu­nity in Brighton.

The ar­chive of the Royal Sus­sex County Hospi­tal is a po­ten­tially rich source for lo­cal and fam­ily his­to­ri­ans. An­drew ex­plains: “The 19th-cen­tury ad­mis­sion reg­is­ters are not in­dexed, so find­ing a rel­e­vant en­try is al­most im­pos­si­ble un­less you know when an in­di­vid­ual was ad­mit­ted. How­ever, vol­un­teers have been busy tran­scrib­ing en­tries so search­ing is be­com­ing much eas­ier.”

There are all sorts of col­lec­tions here that re­late to dif­fer­ent oc­cu­pa­tions and firms. Rail­way ma­te­rial in­cludes records of lo­cal unions such as the Amal­ga­mated En­gi­neer­ing Union, the Friendly So­ci­ety of Iron Founders and the United So­ci­ety of Boiler Mak­ers and Iron Ship­builders, to name but a few. An­drew says, “These con­tain the mem­ber­ship de­tails of many of the lo­cal men, but are a very un­der-used re­source.”

Brighton Aquar­ium has been a ma­jor at­trac­tion since it first oopened in 1872. “We hold rrecords of staff and in­for­ma­tion aabout the ex­hibits and pper­form­ers. Dur­ing the 19th ccen­tury and early 20th cen­tury, tthe aquar­ium was also home to a tthe­atre which put on nov­elty aacts, mu­sic halls and op­erettas. WWe have a large ar­chive of let­ters ffrom prospec­tive per­form­ers wwho were advertising their sshows.” An­drew says these iin­clude Elexis, the ‘Elec­tric LLady’ who gave pow­er­ful elec­tric sshocks to mem­bers of the aau­di­ence, and De Burgh and VVarso, hor­i­zon­tal bar per­form­ers wwhose act in­cluded a “com­i­cal ss­wing­ing don­key”.

Other im­por­tant ar­chives in­clude the Tam­plin’s Brew­ery col­lec­tion, which has deeds of li­censed premises and staff records be­tween 1919 and 1970. Mean­while the records re­lat­ing to Allen West elec­tri­cal en­gi­neers, which at its peak dur­ing the Se­cond World War em­ployed about 4,500 peo­ple, com­prises pho­to­graph al­bums, com­pany cat­a­logues and even staff mag­a­zines.

“We have a strong vol­un­teer pro­gramme and are ex­tremely grate­ful for what they do for us in the spheres of de­tailed list­ing and in­dex­ing, con­ser­va­tion and digi­ti­sa­tion,” says An­drew. “It’s a long-term project but with the help of our vol­un­teers we can make in­roads into the work.”

One team is cur­rently work­ing on a project to digi­tise nearly 40,000 pre­cious plate glass neg­a­tives from lo­cal news­pa­per the Brighton Evening Ar­gus, dat­ing from the 1930s to the 1960s. A team of con­ser­va­tion vol­un­teers has re­cently com­pleted an im­pres­sive 18-month process of clean­ing and pack­ag­ing the neg­a­tives, while an­other vol­un­teer digi­tised them.

Re­mem­ber that ge­nealog­i­cal and lo­cal his­tory records don’t al­ways re­spect city lim­its, or neatly obey the mod­ern bound­aries of East and West Sus­sex. Poor Law Unions, for ex­am­ple, of­ten cross bor­ders, while quar­ter ses­sions records usu­ally cover the whole county. The East Sus­sex ar­chive looks af­ter wills of peo­ple who lived in what is now West Sus­sex, be­cause the archdea­conry of Lewes proved wills from across the pre-1974 county. Civil regis­tra­tion dis­tricts can cause great con­fu­sion too – the Steyn­ing Regis­tra­tion District, for ex­am­ple, cov­ered ar­eas in Hove, Pre­ston and Port­slade. There’s some use­ful guid­ance about parishes and cen­sus dis­tricts avail­able through the Sus­sex Fam­ily His­tory Group web­site:

Horse- drawn trams were a com­mon sight in Brighton and Hove in the 19th cen­tury

Brighton Pier in 1931, taken from the Royal Al­bion Ho­tel

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