Archive of Leonard Keir Hett of Ardingly, architect

Leonard Keir Hett was born on 9 September 1887 in Ewell, Surrey. He studied at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London from 1905 to 1907, becoming a member of RIBA in 1910. He was admitted ARIBA in 1911 and FRIBA in 1920.

All of the papers from Hett’s working life were deposited at West Sussex Record Office and have recently been catalogued thanks to the dedicated efforts of one of our volunteers, Keith Lawson. Keith has been working on this collection for almost two years and has shown a great deal of skill in dealing with some complex records, as well as enormous commitment to the task.

Billiard room and servants’ hall, High Coombe, Balcombe (AM 818/2/4/68)

The extensive catalogue contains hundreds of items, primarily building plans, architectural drawings and sketches. The collection also includes photographs, as well as a number of Hett’s working files and student notebooks. Dating from the early 20th century to the 1970s and largely relating to Mid Sussex, the collection is a wonderful example of an architect’s working output which will prove invaluable to house and building historians, and family historians.


Perspective sketch of the interior of Southwick church (AM 818/2/4/377)

In practice from 1911, Hett was working for the firm of Searle & Searle, London EC4 from at least the mid-1920s and was a partner in the 1930s and 1940s. Much, although not all, of his work was on properties in Sussex, particularly the area around Ardingly, where he and his family lived. He designed a number of churches in Sussex, his first being St Andrew’s, Moulsecoomb in 1932, followed by other locations through to the 1960s including Peacehaven, Camber, South Patcham, St Richard’s Haywards Heath, and St Peter’s Southwick.

From the late 1920s to the early 1950s, Hett was heavily involved in designs for buildings on the Chailey Heritage site. Originally known as ‘The Heritage Craft Schools and Hospitals for Crippled Children’, this was founded in 1903. The site developed over the years and among other building work Hett was responsible for the Llangattock School of Arts and Crafts for Crippled Girls, Chailey Girls’ Heritage Chapel (St Helen’s), extension of Heritage War Work for blitzed babes, Heritage Craft Schools and Hospitals, and future development plans for the site.

Chailey Heritage War Work for Blitzed Babes (AM 818/2/4/433)

Alongside these significant areas of work, Hett was also extensively involved in designs for the conversion of existing properties and the construction of new build houses. Among the more unusual of the conversions was that of dog kennels into a bungalow (for Mrs Goldspink at Stonehurst, Ardingly) and a fire station in Lindfield into a bungalow. New buildings included High Coombe in Balcombe where Hett designed a billiards room and servants’ hall for Mr J Spedan Lewis in 1920.

Conversion of dog kennels into bungalow, Stonehurst, Ardingly (AM 818/2/3/187)

Hett died at 11 College Road, Ardingly on 27 November 1978 leaving behind this impressive body of work which can now be accessed at the Record Office.

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The Selsey Tram – the Bumpity Bump

Selsey Tramway 052One hundred and twenty years ago a light railway opened during the August Bank Holiday of 1897 and it became known as the noisiest and most rickety railway in England.

This was the Selsey Tramway, although its official name was the Hundred of Manhood & Selsey Tramways Company Ltd and it operated from Chichester down to the picturesque village of Selsey. Initially operated by small steam locomotives the line was essentially a light railway which local people referred to as “The Tram”.

The Selsey line was built and operated as a tramway to avoid the expense of protected level crossings which were numerous in this flat low lying area. Constructed without any formal Parliamentary order it had no compulsory powers for purchasing land and hence made some inconvenient detours by skirting the fields. The line was entirely unsignalled and the ungated level crossings were protected only by warning signs.

Selsey Tramway 008

The Selsey Tram on the opening day 27 August 1897. The locomotive ‘Chichester’ is seen ready to depart from Chichester Station, and hour behind schedule

The Tram never ran to time, even the first train was an hour late departing with its official guests. Thereafter every other train was late as it was well know that the driver carried a shotgun on the footplate and would stop the train to go shooting rabbits for his Sunday dinner. Punctuality was not improved by the service rendered to local farmers for if the railway had passed over his land then farmer had the right to travel on the Tram by standing alongside the track and raising his hand to stop the train.

Trains ran according to local circumstances and nobody could be sure when the train would arrive at the other end of the line especially when cows strayed onto the line and the tram was stopped whilst they were rounded up!

Nevertheless the railway contributed to the development of the Selsey peninsular with the promotion of agriculture in this fertile region, not to mention the importance of rail transport of coal, shell fish, building materials and the famous Pullinger mousetraps which were manufactured in Selsey and sent to all parts of the Empire of Selsey. Prior to the building of the railway, heavier goods took most of the day to be transported by horse and cart on the meandering road between Selsey and Chichester.

Selsey Tramway 027 v2

En route to Selsey with Chichester Cathedral in the background (c1910)

The seven mile line which had eleven stations or halts was built for the meagre sum of £21,000 with the track, wherever possible being laid directly onto bare ground. The ride that resulted from following the undulations of the ground earned the railway with the nickname – the Bumpity-Bump. The quality of the station buildings were also reflected in the overall cost of the line: they were constructed of corrugated iron sheets and resembled small sheds.

At its peak the railway carried 102,000 passengers a year as Selsey was rapidly becoming a popular seaside destination of peace and tranquillity. However as with many other railways, passenger figures rapidly declined when bus services were introduced. As the line had been built very cheaply its route was often out of the way, whereas buses had the advantage of running to time and going where people wished to travel.  Increasing use of lorries also witnessed the decline of freight traffic.  Attempts were made to save money with the introduction of railcars but these were also noisy and uncomfortable for passengers. By 1935 the railway was in a rapid state of decline and with dwindling passenger figures the line was closed in January 1935.

Yet even today the eccentric Selsey tram is still remembered with affection. If you would like to know more about the Bumpity-Bump and its strange happenings, then come along selsey rail poster copyto Bill Gage’s illustrated talk to be given at the Record Office on 31st October at 7pm . Tickets are price at £8.00 each and  includes light refreshments. Telephone  01243 753602 to book a ticket. There will also be a display of Selsey photographs and material . This will be Bill Gage’s last  talk at the Record Office as at the end of the evening he will retire after forty-seven years of service.

Bill Gage

UPDATE- interest in the Selsey Tram is alive and well with all tickets sold in a matter of days! Book tickets now for a repeat talk on Tuesday 14th November by calling 01243 753602

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All roads lead to WSRO..

Vehicle licensing records aid Classic Car restoration

We can receive all manner of enquiries here at the Record Office, and while some may assume that our reach is bound by county borders, and primarily focussed on local history, we are always eager to highlight that the simplest of records can have far-reaching effects.

image4We recently received one such enquiry regarding a vehicle licensing register, which we hold for all registration numbers issued in West Sussex. Although the Vehicle Registration Issuing Books themselves only supply limited details for each entry – usually the make, first owner, dealer and issuing date – this information can be invaluable when tracing the history of a vehicle. The purpose of the enquiry was in aiding the restoration project on a classic E-Type Jaguar, only the 62nd ever built in 1961. Currently owned by comedian Steve Coogan, the car is the focus of a feature in Classic Car magazine, where journalist and original Top Gear host Quentin Willson is chronicling the purchase and restoration of the car.

Quentin and Steve’s research had already established that before the current OSL 662 plate, the E-Type had several previous registrations. The DVLA were able to confirm that it was first registered as 171 DBP in August 1961 by West Sussex County Council, having been sold by Rossleigh Edinburgh Jaguar dealers to another dealer or private buyer in Sussex. Which is where we came in! Looking to trace as much information as possible about the vehicle, Quentin enquired after our records, image2and we were able to confirm the registration number issuing slip listed the owner as ‘Cutley’, Hurstpierpoint, and that it was sold by a ‘Wadhams’. Although we have used local records to trace the original owner, to little success, we have found some wonderful advertisements for Wadhams of Chichester in the 1961 Chichester Observer.

Thankfully this volume of the vehicle registration issuing books was in fine condition, but a large portion of these records present us with a peculiar conservation problem given that there is a thick layer of a gummed, water-activated glue on the reverse of very low-quality paper. The pages often stick together, and have to be treated by our Senior Conservator, who uses a narrow stream of moisture from an ultrasonic humidifier to wet the paper just Conservation workenough to soften the join between paper and glue, and slowly warms the moisture until the glued pages are ‘relatively’ easy to separate. The pages have to be separated firmly but carefully, and the text layer often parts from the body of the sheet and needs to be drawn from the glue layer to retain the information. Separating each sheet can take up many hours of controlled and concentrated effort!

Although the number issuing books can cause extensive conservation work, and the information they provide can on first appearances seem to be minimal, they provide invaluable for vehicle owners and dealers.  Providing the evidence of this original registration has resulted in the re-issuing of the original number plate by the DVLA, a move both Quentin and Steve were extremely pleased about, and I’m sure will please car restoration purists and historians alike . Ultimately, one of our least glamorous collections has enabled a fabulous and historic classic car to be reunited with its original number plate, and make the front page of Classic Car magazine. However, the following day we were back to usual, searching through the very same registers for a local farmer’s much-used tractor!


Lauren Clifton

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Record of the Month


image1As a former midwife now working as Searchroom Assistant, I am always interested in records relating to childbirth. So I was intrigued when I came across an illuminated manuscript version of an Order of Service for the ‘Churching’ of women (our reference: Par 56/7/9) in the Compton parish records.

The term ‘illuminated’ refers to the use of brilliant colours and gold to embellish initial letters, borders and small illustrations. This document, which measures 8ins X 6ins (20.5cms x 16cms), comprises a vellum case with red and gold decoration, and parchment leaves, some of which are illuminated with gold and vibrant red, green, brown and blue inks. Digital images of the manuscript are available to view on the Public Access Computers in the Searchroom using the Archangel package. Although the manuscript has no recorded date, it is estimated to be from early 20th Century.

The ‘Churching of Women’ is a ceremony for blessing newly delivered mothers. Although the practice is a Christian tradition, it is not confined to Christian religions alone. It seems that there are two main interpretations of the ceremony.

Some people regard it as a ritual thanksgiving for image3the woman’s survival of childbirth, an event which carried considerable risk to a woman’s life and health in times before the relative safety of modern medicine, when maternal mortality was high.

The days and weeks following childbirth, previously known as the lying-in period, was a time for newly delivered mothers to rest and recover from the ordeal of childbirth. It usually lasted 4 to 6 weeks and the Churching service was often the first occasion for a newly delivered woman to be seen out before she resumed her normal social life and activities.

However, an alternative interpretation is that it is related to the rite of purification following childbirth, possibly stemming from the Jewish practice described in the Bible, Leviticus 12:2-8 – women were pronounced unclean for a week after giving birth to a son or two weeks after giving birth to a daughter, and they would be purified after a month, or two. This period of time seems to match the traditional ‘lying-in’ period.

Although Churching has mostly disappeared from the modern Christian Church, one of our visitors to the Searchroom who saw the illuminated manuscript, recounted being ‘churched’ after the birth of her own daughter in 1961. She recalled how reluctant she had felt and how the Priest had been reluctant to perform the ceremony, too. However, it was her mother’s wish and the strong opinion voiced by her mother had made the newly delivered woman feel rather dirty following the childbirth.

I wonder how many other people remember ‘Churching’?

Joint photos

Susie Duffin

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A day in the life of…

Work experience student, Kathryn Mersey

Work experience student, Kathryn, at work in the searchroom

I’ve been on my second Work Experience placement at West Sussex Record Office this week; after being so inspired by my first, in 2015, I couldn’t wait to come back!

On my first placement I was introduced to some of the diverse and mysterious departments behind the scenes, like Screen Archive South East (SASE) and the conservation workshop. The mobile shelving in the strongrooms seemed particularly glamourous to me as I’d only ever seen it in films and documentaries and never expected I’d be able to operate one in real life!

I’ve been interested in history for a long time and the longer I spend here, the more I appreciate that a huge portion of the history we see from day to day (books, articles, news reports, dramatisation) relies entirely on the meticulous work of archives like WSRO, who ensure that even those without the power or money to enforce their own place in history are not forgotten.

For example, I’ve spent most of my time this week cataloguing a scrapbook kept by the Liberal/Radical women’s advocate Jane Cobden between 1888 and 1891. I’ve been absolutely astounded by the intensity of her work in this short space of time and put through some degree of emotional turmoil at the complex and, to a modern reader, outrageous challenges that she and her political allies faced.

Jane Cobden and Margaret Lady Sandhurst were elected to the County Councils of Bromley and Brixton respectively after an apparent oversight in the Local Government Act of 1888, which didn’t explicitly disqualify women from acting as County Councillors. They and several other women across the country (including Emma Cons, who became an Alderman for the London County Council) were urged to stand for the Council by their constituents who knew them, and loyally supported them, for their philanthropic work.

Profiles of Jane Cobden, Emma Cons, and other female County Councillors

Lady Sandhurst was removed from her seat by a petition, which was organised by the candidate who lost to her, Mr Beresford-Hope. I was surprised to find that many mainstream newspapers condemned or at least vaguely disapproved of his actions, including the Star whose headline read “Beaten Beresford-Hope Tries to Win in Court What He Cannot at the Polls”!

Although in this case the court decided that women could not qualify to act as County Councillors, and so Mr Beresford-Hope replaced Lady Sandhurst, the 1882 Municipal Corporations Act (which the Local Government Act amended) stated that an elected Councillor could not be removed from their seat if it went unchallenged for twelve months. Since Jane Cobden and Emma Cons had been lawfully elected, they did not take their seats at Council Meetings for twelve months; acting instead as visitors (advising but with no voting power) so they were not committing a legal offence. The scrapbook contains several pages of newspaper cuttings from as far afield as New York and Milan celebrating and congratulating them when they were finally able to take up their seats safely. This surprised me again, as without such a collection of newspaper articles it would be difficult to say whether the first female Councillors received significant public support.

A representative page from the scrapbooks kept by Jane Emma Cobden

In 1890, however, their fellow Council Member Sir Walter Eugene de Souza took Jane Cobden and Emma Cons to court, fining them each £250 (equivalent to around £30,000 today) for acting as Councillors when they were legally disqualified from doing so. They were forced to stop acting on the Council by the threat of another £25 (£3000) fine for each vote at each of the Council’s weekly meetings. Jane Cobden kept a great array of press reaction to the case, almost all unequivocally denouncing de Souza’s actions (particularly as he was able to keep half of the money for himself). One of my favourite pieces is a satirical cartoon from the Pall Mall Gazette’s weekly magazine, which contends that Beresford-Hope and de Souza could not hope to replace the invaluable work that Jane Cobden and Emma Cons had been so staunchly committed to. In defending their work, the Daily Chronicle remarked that de Souza was “not himself a brilliant member of the County Council”!

Derogatory cartoon of De Souza and Beresford-Hope

In a statement in one of the articles, Jane Cobden explains that she wanted to refuse to pay the fines and would have let the government confiscate her property to do so, but then de Souza would have had the opportunity to declare her a bankrupt, which would disqualify her from holding any position in public office in the future. Although it can be wearying to read about these senseless barriers that Jane Cobden and her allies faced, her optimism and determination is inspiring. The rest of the scrapbook would suggest that although barred from office (leaving Bow and Bromley unrepresented for the next eleven months), she was still politically active in groups including the National Liberal Federation, National Reform Union, Bow and Bromley Women’s Liberal and Radical Association and National Society for Women’s Suffrage, with posters and flyers for many meetings and events that she chaired and spoke at. There are more scrapbooks which suggest that alongside Liberal and Radical reform and universal suffrage, she also advocated animal rights and Irish political autonomy.

I really enjoyed all of the tasks I was able to shadow or help with during my week, which included retrieving 17th century wills for enquires, cleaning glass film negatives and even learning a little about smuggling – but I feel I’ve become quite invested in Jane Cobden and her friends and I plan to return to the Record Office as a volunteer to help catalogue the rest of her scrapbooks.


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Record of the Month

The mystery of the Mary Celeste continues at West Sussex Record Office

certificate-of-discharge.pngAlthough we receive all manner of enquiries here at the Record Office, some cause us to investigate a little further, or highlight records within our collections that deserve a closer look. One such enquiry was made last week, regarding a Certificate of Discharge for a sailor from Shoreham. So far, so straightforward. However, it quickly came to light image1that the record had originally been deposited at the Marlipins Museum in Shoreham, and was part of a large collection of records transferred by the curator of the Museum to the Record Office which had not yet been catalogued. This deposit, it transpired, totalled 8 large archival boxes of deeds, plans, shipping and harbour records, personal papers, and correspondence. An hour of searching, and a few distracting Latin deeds later, I came across an envelope with the name ‘Henry Clement’ on. Inside was an A5 sized record, badly in need of a once-over from our Conservator, but bearing the stamp of the US Shipping Commisioner of the Port of New York. The certificate records the discharge of Henry Clement, a Shoreham sailor, from service on board the infamous Mary Celeste!

The tale of the mysterious abandonment of the Mary Celeste is well known and well documented the world over; however, finding a local connection to the ship once again raises more questions than it answers. The accompanying display information from theMarlipins display card museum states that the certificate discharged Henry Clement from ‘the ill-fated Marie Celeste some 2 years before her celebrated discovery at sea having lost her entire crew without trace’. The family also believed Clement to have had a lucky escape by disembarking before the fateful voyage, and the 1942 obituary of his wife confirmed that ‘Mr Clement had been a member of the vessel’s compliment, but did not ship with her when she started on this particular voyage. She was subsequently found with not a soul about her, and the event is a mystery to this day’. The narrative surrounding Henry Clement’s connection to the Mary Celeste suggests that this certificate proves the sailor’s fortunate discharge from the ship, avoiding the unknown fate of the rest of the crew.

image2Although, like every element of truth connected to the infamous ship, the story is not quite as simple as that. The record provides a wealth of information, and gives us great detail about the 19 year old seaman, stating he is of ‘good’ character and ability. In faded ink, it also lists Clement’s date of entry on the ship as 19th December 1876, and his discharge on the 10th August 1877. 5 years after the vessel was discovered abandoned and adrift between the Azores and the Portugese coast, on the 5th December 1872. After returning to New York following the salvage hearings in Gibraltar, the Mary Celeste continued to sail under new ownership, although to little success, and much suspicion. Plagued by rumours of a curse, the ship was eventually over-insured, wrecked, and once again clouded in scandal and another court case. It was during this less well-documented and unsuccessful period in the ship’s illustrious past that Henry Clement was aboard the Mary Celeste. Although we have no further information about Henry’s time on the famous ship, it must have been some experience for a sailor from Shoreham to explore the West Indian and Indian Ocean shipping routes on the Mary Celeste herself! We’re just glad he found his way home again, and that the record of his discharge survives to intrigue generations to come.

Lauren Clifton

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Sussex and the US: Closer than you think

JOINT FLAGSIn the final instalment of our American-themed blogs to celebrate Independence Day, we are looking at the many and varied connections between famous faces in America’s history and the county of Sussex.

Founded in the 17th and 18th centuries, thirteen British colonies on the east coast of North America declared independence in 1776 and formed the United States of America. However, long before the War of Independence, Sussex men and women were travelling to the colonies and making their mark. Two of these thirteen states, Delaware and Pennsylvania, were actually named after founders with links to Sussex!

Baron De La Warr

Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr

You may not think that a seafront pavilion in Bexhill has much in common with an entire mid-Atlantic state in the US, but they are both named after an English politician who set sail for the colonies in 1610. Appointed the first governor of Virginia, and later lending his name to the state of Delaware, Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr (1577-1618) had strong ties with Sussex. Various De La Warr monuments still exist throughout the county, after De La Warr spent much time here, and eventually married Cecily Shirley, the daughter of Sir Thomas Shirley of Wiston, West Sussex.


De La Warr was not the only emigrant to claim parts of the colonies in his own name, as early Quaker William Penn (1644-1718) founded the state of Pennsylvania. Penn too had Sussex connections, living for a time in Warminghurst, West Sussex, and worshipping at the Blue Idol Meeting House. Known to hold Quaker meetings at his home Warmington Place, when Penn returned to England in 1684 to William Pennsettle a boundary dispute with Maryland, the magistrates at the Arundel Court of Quarter Sessions ordered that he be apprehended for hosting such meetings (QR/W173, M.31).

While De La Warr and Penn may have founded cities and states, another Sussex local, John Harvard (1607–1638), sowed the seeds of learning and culture that to this day continue to bear fruit across the continent. Prior to founding the first American university, Harvard emigrated to New England in 1637, shortly after marrying Ann Sadler (1614–55) of Ringmer at St Michael the Archangel Church, in the parish of South Malling, Lewes, East Sussex. His connection to the area came through a Cambridge classmate, John Sadler, whose father was rector at Ringmer. Harvard University remains one of the most prestigious institutions in the world, and excitingly now has further links with Sussex through the research being conducted by Harvard academics into the ‘Sussex Declaration’.

Shared cultural interests also intrigued Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond (1701-1750), and grandson of King Charles II, who was a leading patron of botanical expeditions to North America, and did much work to improve the grounds of Goodwood House, near Chichester, with specimens brought back from the colonies. His son, the 3rd Duke of Richmond (1734/5-1806), took a leading part in American affairs in the House of Lords during the War of Independence. It was during this war that the Royal Sussex Regiment, whose archives West Sussex Record Office hold, fought in major engagements, including Bunker Hill, Brooklyn and White Plains.

Perhaps the most well-known connection between Sussex and America is that of Thomas Paine (1737-1809), who lived at Bull House on Lewes High Street. Later travelling to

Thomas Paine

Sign at the White Hart Hotel, Lewes

Philadelphia on the advice of Benjamin Franklin, Paine became one of the leading propagandists for the American cause, notably through his Common Sense (1776), in which he advocated separation from Britain. Its publication had an immediate and profound effect in stirring up support for the American cause and the Declaration of Independence.


Even the first President of the independent United States of America, George Washington, was originally of Sussex stock! His path to becoming founding father and signatory of the Declaration of Independence started in 1588, when Lawrence Washington, who had family in Petworth, married Margaret Butler of Tyes Hall in Cuckfield. It is their grandson Lt. Col. John Washington, who first emigrated to the colonies. During the English Civil War, John’s father, the Rev Lawrence Washington, had been removed from his benefice as Rector of Purleigh in Essex by a Parliamentary Puritans. This ill treatment of his father by Cromwell’s forces is said to be a factor which led to the eventual emigration to Virginia of John Washington in 1656. Tobacco-plater, soldier, and later politician, it is this John Washington who became great-grandfather to George Washington, who gave another city, and another state the name of another Sussex family! George Washington copyright free

In the light of recent research and media interest surrounding our early parchment copy of the Declaration of Independence, it has been fascinating to examine the role Sussex has played in the history of the US, and many ways this is reflected in the written record. Through Record Office collections, it is possible to trace a connection that spans American history, both pre and post-independence.  The archive certainly shows us that we are closer to our American cousins than perhaps first thought!

Lauren Clifton

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