The anti-slavery movement in West Sussex

Independence and Sergison. An excellent new Song. Tune – The Dying Slave, 1807 (Add Mss 29679)

“Father came, in a great bustle for some slavery papers which he has to distribute,” wrote Rhoda Hack, from Chichester, in April 1824. This domestic update in her surroundings came as she penned the latest letter in her regular correspondence with her sister-in-law, Priscila Tuke (nee Hack). “What are you doing with this subject at York?” she asked, referring to Priscila’s adopted home, where she moved after she married the tea-dealer Samuel Tuke.

I look forward to discussing how Chichester women – and men – contributed to campaigns against slavery and the slave trade, placing the local records in the context of a national campaign against colonial sin (from 1787-1838). 50 years of popular pressure on Parliament forged new norms for political campaigning, but only belatedly transformed Britain from the leading slave empire in the Atlantic world. Before abolition triumphed, British ships transported 3 million enslaved people to the Americas and many families in Chichester profited from slavery and slave-grown goods.

The ongoing correspondence between Rhoda Hack and Priscila Tuke – now held in West Sussex Record Office – was typical of the ways letters shared family news and reflections on wider events across the whole of Great Britain. Since the role of Quakers, such as the Hacks and Tukes, in the campaigns to end British slave trading and British slave ownership, is well-known, we might think there is something unremarkable about their interest in this question.

Letter to Priscilla Tuke from Rhoda Hack, 6 May 1824

But their exchanges illuminate three of the themes I will highlight in a talk at the Record Office. Firstly, they demonstrate the ways in which anti-slavery campaigners built a national network to coordinate highly local activism to pressure an unwilling Parliament. News passed through the press, but also family missives – such as Rhoda’s reports that a public meeting at Southampton had been hijacked by pro-slavery crowds, who voted down a proposal to send a petition to Parliament.

Secondly, they show the importance of these local gatherings and assemblies in building the grassroots pressure that added up to a coordinated national movement. Petitions, left available to sign in municipal buildings such as Chichester Town Hall, allowed citizens to demonstrate their anti-slavery virtue and discharge their sense of responsibility for ending a national evil. The local meetings and provision of sign-places rested on changing ideas of the relationship between popular opinion and government.

Thirdly, Priscila and Rhoda’s correspondence provides a rare understanding of the ideas and emotions in those reading anti-slavery literature and discussing the campaign with their families. Rhoda and Priscila discuss their reading of a recent pamphlet, for example, encouraging Britons, especially women, to boycott the use of sugar in their tea. Yet, they found the female author of that work “too strong” in her language and apparent sanction for slave resistance in the 1823 Demerara rising.

I will be pleased if readers of this blog can join me for the talk on 26 March, to discuss what we can learn from the records in West Sussex Record Office.

Book tickets for Dr Richard Huzzey’s talk ‘The anti-slavery movement in West Sussex’ at the Record Office on Tuesday 26th March at 7pm. Tickets are £8 including refreshments, and must be booked in advance by calling our reception on 01243 753602.

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International Women’s Day: The story of Nancy B. Birkett; an early Aviatrix in Shoreham

The 1920s and 1930s saw a huge advancement in flight engineering. With that, aviation mania swept Europe and America. Usually thought of as a male pursuit, flying planes quickly garnered fresh attention from the media as increasing numbers of women took to the skies. Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart were just two of a number of celebrated pilots who became household names due to their daring journeys.

With International Women’s Day approaching, this had us wondering; were there any records of early female pilots in the archive?

This is the story of West Sussex’s very own early female pilot, Nancy B. Birkett.

Nancy Birkett’s aviator’s certificate, 1931.

From Chichester to Shoreham

Born Edith Nancy Beynon Birkett in Chichester in 1901, Nancy grew up in a devoutly Christian household. Her father, the Reverend F. J. Birkett, served as Rector of All Saints and St. Andrews, Chichester, between 1890 – 1921. The family lived in Summersdale House, a large Georgian property on the outskirts of Chichester. With her uncle, Reverend L. B. Birkett, just a few miles away in Westbourne, the Birkett family were well settled in the area.

Yet, Nancy went on to lead a less-than-serene life.

Between 1926 and 1933 she served as Honorary Secretary of the then brand new Southern Aero Club, based at Shoreham. The club was founded in 1925 by pioneering British aviator Cecil Pashley and his then student F. G. Miles. According to the 1933 edition of Who’s Who in British Aviation, the politician and businessman Sir Cooper Rawson served as president and Pashley acted as the club’s flight instructor, tutoring its members in an Avro Avian plane.

Aged 25 when she commenced her position as hon. secretary, Nancy was part of a growing number of women post-WWI who pursued career work prior to marriage. She even took up lodgings nearer to the club for ease. As her title suggests, “Honorary” most likely meant that she didn’t receive a wage.

Many early aviation enthusiasts, male and female, came from more privileged backgrounds in the years approaching the Depression. After all, it was an expensive hobby. Nevertheless, the freedoms that developed from partial emancipation for women in 1918, and the increase in women entering the workplace, gave many the confidence to pursue traditionally male activities.

Licensed to fly

Nancy not only did work for the club, as a member she regularly partook in flights under the instruction of Pashley and Miles. Nancy worked hard to obtain her aviator’s certificate, a goal which she achieved in 1931.Two months after receiving her certificate, Nancy acquired her private pilot’s license, which allowed her to fly “all types of flying machine”. She was the first female member of Shoreham Aero Club to receive her license.

Newspaper article reporting on the event of Nancy sucessfully obtaining her pilot’s license, 1931.

A peek into her official log book, issued to her on receipt of her pilot’s license, shows that in the two years that Nancy could legally fly (prior to her marriage in 1933) she clocked up almost 97 hours of flight time. This time-capsule of a document shows that most of these numerous flights were from Shoreham airspace, with the occasional starting position elsewhere such as Croydon.

Nancy Birkett’s flight log book, 1931 – 1933.

During Nancy’s time working with the Southern Aero Club, she maintained several wonderful albums of photographs, each one filled with images of different types of aircraft and members of the club. It is within one of these albums that a photograph of Colonel Lindberg appears. Nancy has written below the image that it was taken on occasion of his celebrated flight to Paris from New York in 1927. That Nancy may have been there to take this photo tells us of her passion for aviation.

Back on the ground

In 1933, Nancy married Captain W.P.H. Gorringe, who was then serving with the 13th Punjab Regiment in India. Following her marriage, Nancy travelled extensively, perhaps as part of her husband’s career. Her passport is stamped from visits to Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iraq, and Italy, to name a few. Her enthusiam for travel is evident, her experience as a pilot having developed an adventurous disposition.

It isn’t known if Nancy continued flying. Yet this fantastic collection of records from her aviation days still offers an insight into the opportunities available to many women after WWI. Even small collections such as these help to preserve unique stories, which in turn contribute to a wider and more balanced social history of women’s lives.

By Alice Millard, Research Assistant

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A is for…

In two earlier blog posts we talked about the ongoing project to catalogue Southern England Railway employee cards. We’re very happy to announce that the railway employment cards for employees whose surname begins with the letter ‘A’ are now online in the Record Office catalogue and can be found by typing SEREC into the Quick Search box.

An example of a railway employee card for Alfred Ayling

In the course of cataloguing the cards, volunteers have uncovered some fascinating facts about employees with surnames starting with ‘A’.

The earliest year of birth among the ‘A’ cards is 1856, less than 20 years after Queen Victoria ascended the throne. The most recent is 1952.

The earliest start date of an ‘A’ card employee is 1877, and the most recent is 1980.

Only 15 of the ‘A’ card employees have their nationality stated. These are Nigerian (5), Italian (2), Jamaican (2), Anglo-Indian (1), Ghanaian (1), Indian (1), Jordanian (1), Maltese (1), and West African (1).

The reverse of an employee card, which includes a record of the fact that this man was on active service until 1919.

Although the railway cards are from the Southern Region, not all the employees began their railway employment with the obvious railway companies. The majority of the ‘A’ surnames started work with British Rail / British Railways (852), Southern Railway (390), or London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (152). The remainder are with London & South Western Railway (60), South Western Railway (60), South Eastern & Chatham Railway (41), London, Chatham & Dover Railway (8), London & North Eastern Railway (6), Great Western Railway (6), South Eastern Railway (4), Great Eastern Railway (1), Kent & East Sussex Railway (1), Lynton & Barnstaple Railway (1), and several where the company is not specified.

Among the more unexpected first jobs are 2nd Officer (Naval), Assistant Cook, Chambermaid, Chef, Dining Club Assistant, Divisional Medical Officer, Gardener, Locksmith’s Apprentice, Photographer, and Stableman.

There will be a further blog post each time the cards for one letter of the alphabet have been completed. There are 72 boxes in total, two of which were for ‘A’, so it is obvious that there are still tens of thousands of names to be listed. It is anticipated that the project will last for two to three years, so anyone interested in a surname towards the end of the alphabet will have to be patient!

Katherine Slay, Archives Assistant

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The train now leaving…

In September 2017 I was asked if I would like to be involved in a project to catalogue information about Railway employees. As someone with a lifelong interest in and passion for the Railways, initially as a young trainspotter at Surbiton on the Southern Region of BT and then at various times during my professional career as a Surveyor and Draughtsman, I was only too keen to become involved.

Since then I and, from early 2018, a team of new volunteers have been steadily working our way through boxes of employment cards, capturing specific information about former workers of the various Railway Companies in the South of England. The cards track the employment record of these workers from their first job through the duration of their career.

A box of the employee cards Graham and other volunteers have been working on

Information such as the jobs performed, locations where they worked and relevant dates are all being captured as part of the project but a host of other information, much of which is potentially of great interest to social historians and family historians, is also contained on many of the cards. This includes pay rates, training courses attended, medical information, wartime service (both WW1 and WW2), awards, commendations and disciplinary matters.

A volume which has proved an invaluable resource for the project!

Some of the more memorable things that come to mind from the 4,000-plus cards that I have catalogued include many commendations and awards for outstanding acts of service and bravery in both peace and war. These include a George Medal recipient, a Military Medal recipient, two awards of the Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur and one of the Chevalier of the Order of the Orange Nassau. The cards also record instances of dismissal for offences such as stealing coal, fraudulent issuing of tickets, using a waiting room for immoral purposes and even one for soliciting. Then there are a number of now obsolete occupations including Gland Packer, Spragger, Fish Checker, Jigger Lad, Underman, Gongman and Van Setter.

With many, many more cards to catalogue over the coming months, I look forward to discovering more about this fascinating aspect of our industrial past.

Graham P, volunteer

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The High Sheriffs of Sussex

By Dr John Godfrey DL

Poster high sheriff of sussex 2019.PNG

Caroline Nicholls, the current High Sheriff of West Sussex, and I are giving a talk at the Record Office on 26th February on The High Sheriffs of Sussex.

I shall be talking about the history of the office, using materials from the Record Office’s collections, and Caroline will be speaking about her year in office and what it means to be a thoroughly modern High Sheriff in the 21st Century. Our talks will be illustrated with images of documents and events.

The office of sheriff (shire-reeve) has Anglo-Saxon and Norman origins. Shires, or counties, are the oldest administrative units in England and the function of the early sheriffs of Sussex was to attend to the King’s interests in the county, mostly of a financial nature. They were required to collect income due to the Kings from rents, fines and fees and to account for it before the King’s exchequer.

They presided over the county courts, which were not merely courts of justice, but the deliberative body for the shire, somewhat like the modern county councils. An early document in the Record Office (Cowdray Mss 4935) relates to a case heard by the sheriff’s court in 1302 to test the claim of a young man, James de Bohun, that he was of full age (21) and entitled to his inheritance from his father, which was held in custody by the King because of his minority. As several witnesses gave evidence that he was indeed of full age, the court upheld his claim and he inherited the estate.

Members of well-known Sussex families occupied the office of sheriff over the years. Henry Goring, ancestor of Harry Goring, the current Vice Lord-Lieutenant of West Sussex, was sheriff in 1682, when his signature appears on a number of warrants issued in the King’s name, probably issued in connection with debt collection. Similar issues were dealt with in a sheriff’s quietus of 1762 relating to the seizure of land and property at Goring in final settlement of a debt of £751 (Par 177/7/6).

By the end of the 18th Century, the principal duty of the sheriff was to manage the conduct of the county assizes, normally held twice a year in Lewes. In a document of instructions to sheriffs (Par 200/26/1), the sheriff was advised to appoint a chaplain to preach the Assize Sermon, to employ a troop of bodyguards, known as javelin men, to protect the judges, and to make sure the judges were comfortably accommodated, fed and watered. This all cost Robert Aldridge, sheriff in 1828, £191.

These duties continue to this day, although their nature was changed as the result of the replacement of Assizes and Quarter Sessions by the Crown Court in 1972, and the enforcement of High Court writs was removed from High Sheriffs by the Courts Act 2003. Since 1974, there have been separate High Sheriffs for the two administrative counties of West Sussex and East Sussex.

The duties of the modern High Sheriff focus on law & order, crime & punishment, the work of the emergency services and the celebration of community life and service. Caroline became our High Sheriff in March 2018 and is in office for one year, so her time is running out. By March this year, Caroline (and her husband, David!) will have attended some 400 events all over West Sussex, and her talk will describe and illustrate the wide range of people she was met and places she has visited.

The office of High Sheriff continues to play a significant role in the life of our county and there is no doubt that the interest shown by Caroline and her fellow High Sheriffs over the years in the work of our judges, police and prisons and of voluntary organisations working in our communities is a great encouragement to people whose contribution to the common good might otherwise go unnoticed.

To book tickets for The High Sheriffs of Sussex, please call reception on 01243 753602.

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All aboard! Introducing the Southern England Railway Employee Cards project

WSO staff sorting employee cards into alphabetical order

One of the larger gifts to the Record Office in recent years has been from the British Railways Board in Derby. This comprises the personnel cards of all employees in its Southern Region. In the days before computers, cards were the way to store details of all the men and women who worked on the railways. Across the top of the card are the employee’s name, nationality (if not British), date of birth, and date of starting employment. The main part of the card records each job, its location, and the pay. Long-standing employees who had many different jobs may have two or more cards.

The boxes of employee cards in the strongroom

Although the cards were originally stored alphabetically, in multiple drawers, they arrived at the Record Office in boxes, tied up in bundles. They were no longer in order, and had to be sorted. Taking advantage of being closed to the public on Mondays, staff set to and started the sorting. A volunteer is now continuing this task.

Every Tuesday a team of six Record Office volunteers is engaged in extracting information from the cards. In order to keep the project within reasonable limits, it has been decided to record the employee’s first job only, and the location of that job.

It is planned that, as the cards of surnames starting with each letter of the alphabet are completed, these records will become available through the Record Office’s online catalogue. However, there are obviously issues around privacy. It has therefore been decided that information other than the name will not be publicly available until 100 years after the employee’s birth.

Katherine Slay, Archives Assistant

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Digital Preservation Diary 2: Getting to know you…

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‘Getting to know you’ is an apt title for what I’ve been up to these past two months. In my previous blog post, I described the importance of getting to know your digital records – understanding what you’ve got and how much you’ve got – and I really feel like we’re getting there at WSRO.

If I said the record office had no understanding of its digital collections before I arrived, I’d be lying. Digital stuff could be identified in a piecemeal manner – staff would search parts of the catalogue for terms like ‘digital’, or track down specific media (CDs, DVDs and floppy disks). What was missing was the coherent view that is synonymous with a central register.

Dick TraceyA few weeks after my last post, I decided to address this problem by tapping into my detective skills. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no hard-hitting Dick Tracy. I’m more of a Columbo character, gently poking my nose into WSRO’s digital business and using perseverance to uncover the information I need. The process has been great fun (I don’t know what this says about my personality) and you’ll be relieved to hear I’ve not encountered a single digital crime.

My aim was to complete a thorough investigation and create a register that contains details of the following:

The volume of digital records

The number of items and the size of the collections.

The broad types

We’ve got this down to four: born digital, digital surrogates (digital copies of physical items), non-WSRO digital surrogates (digital copies of physical items that aren’t held by WSRO) and digital records that arrive at WSRO as part of hybrid collections (a mix of digital and physical records).

Other useful information

A reference number, title and brief description are handy too. Fortunately, I could export these from our existing catalogue. Digital records stored on external media, rather than our servers, are also of interest: these may need transferring from obsolete media to sustainable media. And by adding the accession number (the temporary reference number each collection is assigned at the point of deposit), I was able to create a bridge to further information about the depositor, ownership and permissions.

The location of digital records

My skills in being nosy really came into their own at this point. Once I’d logged the above information, I needed to actually find the records. Most were easy to track down – archivists are a tidy bunch – but the uncatalogued material required advanced detective work (Dick Tracy would have been proud).

In a few more weeks’ time, WSRO’s digital asset register will be complete (hooray!). What, you may ask, am I planning to do with this? In short, I’ll use it to establish what needs ingesting into our new digital-preservation system, Preservica. We’ve already dipped our toes into this phase by engaging in further ‘getting to know you’ activities – my colleagues and I have attended training sessions and tested the software. This has enabled us to begin work on WSRO-specific procedures, and we hope Preservica will be fully up-and-running in the coming months. I’ll update you on our progress in the next digital preservation diary – expect more (tenuous) cultural references!

By Abigail Wharne

Digital Preservation Archivist

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