What we’ve been up to: WSRO’s annual Closed Fortnight period

Closed Fortnight 3

Cleaning the searchroom

Every year come December, West Sussex Record Office closes its doors to the public for an annual period of stocktaking, cleaning, and cataloguing. This year, we began closed fortnight with a deep clean of our public searchroom! Staff pitched in to dust shelves and clean books to make sure our library collection and resource material was in good shape for researchers to use once we open up again next week.

We were also able to make a trip to Winchester, to visit our counterparts over at Hampshire Archive and Local Studies at Hampshire Record Office to have a tour around and discuss how our respective services are run. We had a fascinating look behind the scenes, and were able to share our experiences of running a busy local Record Office. The staff were brilliant, and everybody came away with new ideas and interesting questions about how we can share our ideas to benefit the delivery of archive services.

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WSRO staff at Hampshire Record Office

Traditionally, the second week of closed fortnight is dedicated to cataloguing. This year we were able to sort, describe, package and store accessions both new and old. Highlights included the completion of the Bognor Bowls Club collection, a fascinating farm account book recording life on the land in Selsey in the 1830’s, and the Worthing Operatic Society. Searchroom Assistant Ian was working on railway plans for West Sussex, and Collections Manager Jenny tackled a recent deposit from a Chichester building firm. All of these records will soon be available to search via our online catalogue.

The Record Office will reopen as usual on Tuesday 19th December.

Christmas/New Year closures

– Saturday 23 December to Tuesday 26 December 2017 inclusive, reopening on Wednesday 27 December

– Saturday 30 December 2017, reopening on Tuesday 2 January 2018

Closed Fortnight 4

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Explore Your Archive Campaign 2017


Throughout the past week, West Sussex Record Office has been celebrating the annual National Archives and Archive and Records Association’s ‘Explore Your Archive’ campaign. The campaign ‘aims to open the phenomenal archival collections held by organisations – public and private – across the UK and Ireland, whatever their size and scale, and wherever they are’, and saw archive services across the country open their doors and their collections for people to explore.

Following on from the

Tour group

One of 7 tour groups that explored our archive!

success of our 70th Birthday Open Day last year, which coincided with the Explore Your Archives launch 2016, we decided to take the theme literally and once again invite people in to explore our archive. On Monday 56 people attended our ‘behind the scenes’ tours, and enjoyed a look through our strongrooms, with a peak at some of our favourite original documents, as well as our conservation and scanning suites, and displays of current projects.


Online, archives from all over the country took part in the campaign. With different themes for each day on social media, we fully embraced each hashtag, and shared  Polo 2examples of photographs, posters, letters, and books amongst our collections. Monday began with #archivecatwalk, and a look at some of the beautiful and bizarre fashion choices in our catalogue. From dressmaking at Chichester College, to the strong look of a Petworth Polo team, the residents of West Sussex gave us plenty to choose from!

Tuesday was the turn of our #edible archives, and as ever we couldn’t resist the urge to share our connection to famous Chichester-based food manufacturer Shippam’s. Best known for its fish and meat pastes, Mysterious puddingwe share a blog post from our ’70 favourite records’ series last year, where former employee Ellen Butler discussed her time working at the factory. Attempting to cater for all tastes, we also shared photos  for veggies and meat-eaters alike, with photographs of a butchers shop façade and award winning garden beans. However the highlight of the day was definitely a family recipe book from the 1950s, which included everything from ‘railway pudding’, and ‘Findon haddock pudding’, to our favourite ‘mysterious pudding’, which we’re certainly going to try making as soon as possible!

Bray with brand On Wednesday we had plenty of photographs impressive beards and wonderful hairdos to share for the theme of #hairyarchives, but found our most popular post was the macabre examples of real hair. Labelled ‘cut off after death’, and found amongst the correspondence of novelist Anna Eliza Bray, the locks of hair are from poets Robert and Caroline Southey, and became the subject of some discussion on twitter regarding the possibility of a poet-based Jurassic Park experiment made possible by all the locks of hair found across the nations archives and museums! As well as photographs of both the young and old getting a trim in a Long hair with brand Chichester salon, a personal favourite from the #hairyarchives theme was our image of Mrs Haslett in 1890.

Here at the Record Office we have plenty of innovative and pioneering collections, but the theme of #archivescience on Thursday gave us the opportunity to once again promote one of our current projects. The pioneering work of Sir Archibald McIndoe at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, and the cases of injured WW2 airmen who dubbed themselves the ‘Guinea Pig Club’ are the subject of a cataloguing and digitisation project at the Record Office that aims to records the innovative advancement of the treatment of burns victims.

On Friday, the theme of #lovearchives gave us the opportunity to spread a little romance to end the week on a high. As well as a wonderful wax seal depicting a delicate heart on a grant from 1517, we were able to share some images from 2 of our largest and richest photographic collections. The George Garland collection and the Chichester Photographic Service collection both have beautiful wedding photographs from throughout the years, which not only show celebrations of love, but hark back to an earlier theme and highlight the changing fashions across history. As romance is not the reserve of the young, we also shared some wonderful photographs of couples celebrating golden and diamond wedding anniversaries in West Sussex, and celebrated the true meaning of #lovearchives.


Thank you to everybody who has liked, shared, and commented on our posts this week. We appreciate the support, and hope you have enjoy exploring our archives!


Lauren Clifton

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In Remembrance – Driver George Slater – Graylingwell War Hospital – WW1


I had assumed that every patient who died in a UK war hospital during World War 1 would have a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) headstone, but I was wrong…..

Postcard of Graylingwell War Hospital

I am cataloguing the records of Graylingwell Hospital in Chichester, among which are some items about Graylingwell War Hospital (1915-1919). There are no existing formal patient records for the war hospital, however – or indeed for most of the UK’s war hospitals. As War Office property, all these records were deposited in the (then) Public Record Office after the war had ended. They included admission registers, giving details of each man admitted to each war hospital. In the 1920s the decision was taken to destroy all these records, keeping only a small sample.

In order to collect together whatever information I could find about patients in Graylingwell War Hospital, I created a spreadsheet with a new entry for each new source of information. Of the more than 29,000 servicemen admitted from overseas, 131 patients died. Each of these deaths was noted in the Medical Superintendent’s journal, and in Graylingwell Hospital’s annual report for 1920.

In 2013 it occurred to me that I could cross-check each patient who died against the CWGC website. This soon proved to need more time than I had available, so I enlisted the help of my volunteer Ros. She filled in a number of gaps on the spreadsheet during her checks, and put ‘yes’ in the CWGC column to indicate she’d found a record.

Driver George Slater could not be found on the CWGC website, which was a surprise as I had assumed that every man who had died in Graylingwell War Hospital would be there. His entry in the Medical Superintendent’s journal shows that he died on 3 October 1916, aged 25. He was a driver in the Army Service Corps, and he died of osteomyelitis femur, sepsis and cardiac failure.

Entry from the Graylingwell War Hospital Medical Superintendent’s journal relating to the death of George Slater

I sent the CWGC a photocopy of this entry. They replied that it was possible George Slater’s details had not been passed to them by the Service Authorities after the war. They requested further documentation, details of the grave, and a death certificate. These would be reviewed by the Commemorations Policy Officer and, if approved, would be passed to the Ministry of Defence who approve eligibility for war grave status.

The death certificate stated that the home address was Pegswood, Morpeth Urban District. I contacted Northumberland Archives to ask if they could provide me with a copy of the burial entry in the parish register. It duly arrived, accompanied by a note wishing me success. The photocopy showed that George Slater, of Shilbottle, had been buried on 7 October, just four days after his death. An additional comment recorded his death in Graylingwell War Hospital after active service in France.

I also found an entry for George in the 1911 census, when he was living in Shilbottle with his parents and older brother. His occupation was carter (road contractor).

George Slater’s CWGC headstone in Shilbottle churchyard

Unfortunately the paperwork became submerged on my desk, and didn’t reappear until 2015, when I submitted it to the CWGC. It was acknowledged, and passed on to The National Army Museum. Three months later I was informed that George Slater qualified for commemoration as a Commonwealth war casualty. The next query from the CWGC was whether I had any grave details, but I did not.

Everything then went quiet for a couple of years, until I received an email from CWGC two weeks ago. I was absolutely delighted to learn that George Slater now has a CWGC headstone in Shilbottle churchyard. The exact location of his burial is unknown, so the wording at the top of the headstone says ‘Buried elsewhere in this churchyard’. He has also been added to the CWGC website. It has taken quite some time to get to this point, but it has been well worth the wait.

Katherine Slay, Archives Assistant


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Witchcraft and the ‘Wicked Women’ of Sussex

Although Sussex did not play host to the infamous witch drownings and burnings that occurred elsewhere in the country, the persecution and punishment of women accused of witchcraft does appear in the history of our home county. Tales of ‘wise women’ or ‘cunning women’ branded as witches have not only survived through local lore and oral history, but can be found in the legal and religious court records of the 16th and 17th centuries.

While folk belief in witchcraft had existed throughout the Medieval period, the religious instability of Early Modern Europe and the resulting wave of the Protestant Reformation lead to a widespread increase in persecutions. Pope Innocent VIII deemed witchcraft heresy in 1484 following the recognition of the existence of witchcraft as a form of satanic influence, and between 1563 and 1750, roughly 200,000 witches were tortured, burnt, and hung across Western Europe.

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Episcopal Deposition Book, 1607, containing several cases involving ‘witchcraft’ (Ep1/11/11)

Cases of witchcraft were undeniably most prevalent amongst the uneducated rural population, not only disconnected from the religious practices of the educated and ruling classes, but unable to afford the medical costs of trained physicians. ‘Cunning folk’, who practiced healing methods or provided herbal and medical cures, therefore often treated illness and disease beyond basic the understanding of the communities they served. Such folk were branded with the label of witch due to the perceived malevolent magic that aided their practice, and perhaps played on the belief of occult interference when religious solutions had previously failed.


Although the brand of witchcraft was not reserved solely for the lower classes, it was predominantly reserved for women. An estimated 75% to 85% of those accused in the Early Modern period were female. The lack of medical understanding among the general population, meant that a ‘cunning woman’ practicing medical treatments, such as a midwife’s knowledge of menstruation, reproduction, and herbal aids to prevent conception and cause abortion was targeted by the Church as the work of witchcraft. Where midwives were licensed, they were often required to take an oath denouncing witchcraft, and were prohibited from administering any drugs or potions that had not been prescribed by a Latin-reading, educated male surgeon or physician.

A well-known local example of a ‘cunning woman’ prosecuted on a charge of witchcraft is Mother Mary Scutt of Bury, who was accused in 1603. From the Capitular records of Chichester Cathedral, and the proceedings of the Bishop’s court, who had a wide jurisdiction over offences concerning morality, it is well-documented that Mary Scutt treated various illnesses and ailments. With basic knowledge of herbal cures and primitive medicine, she made the jump to abortionist, and administered herbal ‘cures’ to local women, apparently to little success. Similarly, a Jane Westwood of Arundel was said, in 1612, to be a ‘midwife and by reason thereof hath used to minister phisick to women with child’, although the case was later dismissed at the Chichester Quarter Sessions.

Cap1-4-7-11 Mother Scutt

‘Mother Scutt of Bury is reported to be a witch’ Endorsement, 1603 (Cap1/4/7/11)

As for those women found guilty, the punishments used for a verdict of witchcraft are well established as a cruel and horrific justification of torture. Although there are no records of any women being burned for the crime of witchcraft in Sussex, in 1645 alone two women, Martha Bruff and Ann Howsell, were ‘ordered by the Mayor of Rye to be put to ordeal by water as suspected witches’. A Margaret Cooper of Kirdford, wife of surgeon William Cooper, was tried at the Assizes in 1574 for making ‘children of wax’ with which to bewitch people, reportedly causing at least 3 deaths. Margaret was found guilty on all counts, and was hung.

Thankfully avoiding the attentions of the infamous ‘witch hunters’ and fanatics of the time, the trials of suspected witches in Sussex primarily resulted in acquittal or minor punishments, with many women serving jail time. An earlier incident in Rye in 1607 saw a Susanna Swapper indicted at the Quarter Sessions for consulting Anne Taylor, who was well known as a healer of both physical and spiritual ailments, but both escaped punishment. The Sussex Record Society journal records the fate of Alice Casselowe of Mayfield, a spinster in 1577, who was accused of killing ‘an ox and 3 pigs by witchcraft’, and being found guilty served 1 year in jail and 4 times in a pillory. There is a well-remembered story of a woman accused in Brightling of bringing spirits down upon a Joseph Cruttenden and his wife, resulting in the burning of their house. Although she was taken to Maidstone for trail, she was cleared of all charges and ‘has live’d in Burwash for some time hence’, the entire episode being widely accepted as the mischief of a disgruntled serving girl employed by the couple.

Persecutions of accused witches declined in regularity throughout the late 17th century, culminating with the British Witchcraft Act of 1735, which made it a crime for a person to claim that any human being had magical powers or was guilty of practicing witchcraft. After originating from medieval folklore and pagan myth, the belief and fear in witchcraft once again returned to the stuff of magic and tale, but not before thousands of women suffered execution and torture.

Lauren Clifton

Searchroom Archivist


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‘All the fun of the Fair’: A history of Chichester’s oldest surviving fair

From the 18th – 21st of October this Year, the Chichester Festival Theatre car park at Northgate will be closed for Chichester’s annual Sloe Fair, representing a tradition that has lasted for over 900 years

It is the longest-running, and last surviving of five ancient fairs in the city, as the right to hold the Sloe Fair was granted in 1107 by King Henry I to the Bishop of Chichester, Ralph de Luffa (1091-1125). In the Royal charter, Henry I gave permission for a fair but it was up to Bishop de Luffa when and where it was held. He decided it should be held at Canon gate, and fall on the feast day of St Faith the Virgin (6th October) and last for eight days until the feats of St Edward. The Fair was subsequently moved to its present location and called the Sloe fair because of a sloe tree that once grew on the site. Due to the establishment of the Gregorian calendar in 1752 the fair changed dates to 20th October to avoid confusion with the Michaelmas Fair (Michaelmas falls on 29th September) it is thought that at this time the fair was reduced to one day.

Chichester Sloe Fair c1911

The advantage of the Sloe fair being granted allowed Bishop Luffa to create a Court of Pie Powder, allowing him to administer justice at feast days, when courts would normally cease. The Court of Pie Powder was so called because of the dusty footed merchants and travellers who often attended the fairs, and thus the courts, and often dealt with offences connected with trading, coming from pieds poudrés (dusty feet) in French.

The image of the fair being a hotbed of bad behaviour has always been accepted as fact, and possibly the reason for the setup of the Court of Pie Powder. In the Chichester Observer, 17th October 1996, Joyce Eccleston seems to suggest that local magistrates were resigned to outbreaks of disorder and drunkenness and contemporary accounts give some beautiful testimonials of intoxicated souls. Including one PC Constable Philips, who in the mid-1800s, had to apologise for being drunk whilst on duty at the fair.

Over the past 900 hundred years the fair has evolved from a livestock show to what has been described as a pure piece of jollification. In the journal of the Chichester Local History Society (Chichester History no.23), Ruth Bagnall described the fair in the 20th century as ‘a couple of days of real enjoyment for young people with roundabouts, swings, coconut shires, the big dipper, shooting ranges and hoop-la’s’. But who wouldn’t want to be there in the late 1800s with conjurers, peep shows, and acrobats or even in the early 19th century with lion tamers, tiger cubs, fortune tellers and escapologists? One well-known attraction in 1904 was the steam-driven Switchback Railway that was electrically illuminated at night. Chichester still had gas lamps at the time, so electricity was a major attraction.

The Town Officials and other members of the community disliked the event with its mayhem, noise, disruption and the increase

Sloe Fair 1950

Sloe Fair 1950

in breaches of the peace, which happened during the Fair, and several attempts have been made throughout the years to abolish it. In 1904 a campaign for its abolition reached its peak with the Board Of Guardians wishing to extend their Workhouse on adjacent land that was Sloe Fair field. The Town Council supported the Guardians’ scheme, and the Fair of that year was expected to be the last and even the Salvation Army maintained a vigil near North Wales on Fair Day to warn people of the immorality of the proceedings.  However, the population of Chichester felt that to do away with the fair would be a cruel shame and, it was even defended by Superintendent Ellis, who helped justify its ongoing existence by remarking that it was not a ‘particular drain on Police resources’. Thankfully, due to its popularity with the people of Chichester, the Sloe fair saved itself! In the event it was one of the best ever held with thousands of people attending that year and the next, and the event has now continued into the 21st century.

Imogen Russell, Searchroom Assistant


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Wild Was the Wind in West Sussex: The Great Storm of 1987

‘Earlier today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way. Well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t’

Many will remember the immortal words of weatherman Michael Fish, whose casual dismissal of the approaching storm left the UK public completely unprepared for the weather front that was heading straight for the south coast. The worst storm in nearly 300 years saw record winds of 115mph recorded in Shoreham, 18 deaths Acc 18899-4 Chichesteracross the country, left thousands without power, unprecedented calls to emergency services, and insurance companies facing a billion-pound bill for the clean-up. Bearing the brunt of the storm, the south coast saw severe damage to yachts and boats; in Folkestone, a cross-channel Sea Link ferry was blown aground, in Hastings, a fisherman was killed when he was hit by a beach hut, two men in Dover died when their ship sank, and Shanklin Pier on the Isle of Wight was entirely washed away.

In the course of the night, an estimated 15 million trees had come down across the country, with Sevenoaks in Kent famously losing 6 of its 7 oaks. In Sussex, ancient woodlands were entirely felled, and the landscape changed forever. At Nymans, near Haywards Heath, 80% of trees were lost, amongst them some of the rarest species and many of the earliest known imported plants in the UK. The losses were also great at Wakehurst Place, where almost half of its California Redwoods were lost, and Chanctonbury lost the majority of its beech trees that were originally planted in the 1760s to form Chanctonbury Ring atop the famous prehistoric ring fort of Chanctonbury Hill.

Bognor Regis Football Club faced a £20,000 bill after the storm wrought havoc to their Nyewood Lane ground. The roof of the covered terrace in the main stand, the referee’s changing rooms, and the groundsman’s hut were all hit by falling trees. Unsurprisingly their fixture against Windsor and Eton the following day was called off!

West Sussex County Council responded by opening a dedicated emergency 24hour hotline for any residents requiring assistance due to the effects of the storm. If you were lucky enough to still have a working  phone line! In the following days, the council urged members of the public to tie old rags and ribbons around trees with potentially dangerous damaged branches (they had run out of official cones) to help identify problem trees so they could be made safe as quickly as possible. While WSCC recruited refuse collectors, whose regular routes had been disturbed, to help assist with the debris clear-up before normal service resumed during the following week, a team of 50 Gurkhas were also drafted in to Sussex from their Aldershot base to clear debris and fallen trees. Staying at the Eardley Hotel in Worthing, they assisted Seeboard with reconnecting electricity lines across the county.

The Chairman of WSCC Highways Committee, Mr Frank Keen, took to the local newspapers to thank the public for pulling together and helping the emergency services PH 28892-9 Aldwickto clear roads. The Blitz spirit reappeared in full force, with locals in the north of the county clubbing together to set out with chainsaws, cutting their way along the A264, and clearing the main East Grinstead to Tunbridge Wells road.

Many of the staff here at the Record Office recall the night of the Great Storm, and the lasting devastation it wrought on the county. Searchroom Assistant Ian, who has lived in Chichester his whole life, kept a diary recording the aftermath of the storm. Although his house only lost roof tiles and fence panels, he noted the many trees and lampposts down around Chichester, including a tree that toppled a wall at the Bishop’s Palace.

Acc 18899-1 Chichester

An uprooted tree that took the wall of the Bishop’s Palace gardens with it at Chichester Cathedral

Working at Britax Wingard on Kingsham Avenue at the time, when he arrived at work on the morning of Friday 16th, he recalls that the office block roof was completely gone, and the bike shed had ended up on the railway line!

Di Ladlow was living in Dorset at the time, but remembers driving back through Sussex to visit her mother in Horsham shortly afterwards. Driving along the A272 coming up through Midhurst and Easebourne, she was shocked at the swathes of woodland which had simply disappeared along the sides of the road and across the fields, leaving great gaping gaps. ‘I also remember looking up at what used to be Chanctonbury Ring and how shocking it was to see the ring of trees that had been an iconic presence throughout my childhood, just gone.’

Modern Records Assistant Andy witnessed the destruction in Worthing, where he was based at the time. He remembers the wind building up around 10pm, and by 1am, seeing Worthing Heraldthe silver birch tree outside his house bent over double and touching the pavement, and watching tiles flying off neighbouring roofs & whizzing across the sky like frisbees, clattering into cars and walls as they fell. Andy recalls that ‘a work colleague had his chimney blown down right on top of his car! Complete write off and a hell of a mess. My friend’s dad, a fisherman, was on the beach most of the night with others roping boats down to secure them. Along the sea front next day there were boats in peoples gardens across the road, and Brooklands Pleasure Park had several boats marooned on its golf course. All in all it was a very loud & quite frightening night, had it hit us during the morning rush hour I shudder to think how many casualties there could have been!’

Searchroom Supervisor Susie had an extremely busy night-duty working in a local hospital, and was shocked to see the devastation outside after work. At home, the porch protecting her backdoor had totally collapsed, and 7 trees were either down or partially uprooted in her garden. There were so many apples on the ground, she couldn’t even give them all away, so stewed and froze them and seemed to eat them forever! Talking about the aftermath of the storm, Susie explains that her husband’s company produced components for road-signs, ‘so he drove us around the countryside to see which manufacturers’ signs stood up to the winds Acc 18899-2 Chichesterbest – of course, his company was best. Driving round, we saw the hurricane’s footprint first-hand – massive root-balls, taller than us, exposed as the trees had been uprooted; overturned airplanes at Goodwood airfield; myriad trees lying lamely on the ground or tilting precariously. We had a huge bonfire in our garden that November 5th!’.


Lauren Clifton, Searchroom Archivist


If you have any memories or photographs of the destruction and aftermath of the Great Storm across West Sussex, please share them in the comments, or follow us on  Facebook and Twitter.

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Family History Fun Day – A genealogical extravaganza for all the family!


Come along and join us at Horsham Library on Saturday 21 October, 10:00- 4:00pm for a West Sussex Libraries Family History Fun Day! There will be an opportunity to meet experts from Sussex Family History Group, West Sussex Record Office, Times Digital Archive, Guild of One Name Studies and others.

Information Librarians and Archivists will be available to provide free help on family history research and assist you to explore ‘Ancestry’, ‘Findmypast’ and other online sources.

There will also be 2 illustrated talks taking place during the day on Family History research- What your library can do for you? and Free Websites For Family Historians Tickets are required for both talks : £3.00 each (non-refundable) and are available from Horsham Library, 01403 224353.

There will also be a family Storytime and Family Tree Fun for children, all ages welcome! (Limited places, please reserve free ticket from the library.)


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