If These Walls Could Talk

Training with the Jubilee Library: Part One

We recently had some fantastic training with the Library as part of the research project – If These Walls Could Talk.

We had a tour of the Jubilee Library. Built in 2005, it won awards for the use of materials and sustainability, known as one of the most sustainable buildings in the UK. Using the natural elements to heat and cool the building, and water for the building amenities. The building has around a million visitors each year.

We walked through the non-fiction, reception area, shop and children’s area on the ground floor, and then were lead to the second floor where all the fiction books are kept. We looked through the Local History section and had explained to us the use of the Dewey decimal system and how we might use it for our research.

The next part of the training was the Rare Books collection, an incredibly special part of the Jubilee Library and we were very fortunate to have a full introduction to the collection and some selected pieces which were of relevance to the project.

The Jubilee Library states “Our substantial rare book and special collections in Jubilee and Hove Library extend to over 50,000 volumes. We have items from the 13th Century through to the 20th Century. Many of these rare books and manuscripts have been donated to our libraries over time. Brighton library first opened to the public in 1873 and Hove in 1908.

Our special collections span more than seven centuries and include:

  • early printed books
  • illuminated manuscripts
  • splendid examples of fine bindings
  • private press publications
  • first and limited editions
  • early children’s books
  • works with beautiful coloured illustrations, woodcuts, and engravings covering subjects from history, literature, and the arts to philosophy, natural history, and theology”
New and Correct Plan of Brightelmstone by T Budgen 1788

We had a brilliant and thoughtful presentation from the library staff and collection which displayed some areas of interest:

Church architecture & Interiors decorative features /furniture/ stained glass etc. John Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice and The Seven Lamps of Architecture.

Non-ecclesiastical local architecture John Nash’s original designs for the Royal Pavilion

Local History books/ ephemera, including social history

General local history: The Erredge Collection, which consists of boxes of paper ephemera including maps and illustrations. Kelly’s Directory: to track the usage of local buildings & local businesses. Illustrated version of History of Sussex 1906. Short History of Brighthelmstone

Wider social history/ British history: illustrated London News, Punch, Ackermann’s Repository of Arts and Architecture, or The Looking Glass Ackermann’s

Church texts: manuscripts or early printed missals, psalters

Other religious texts: Books of Hours /Offices/ prayer books used in the home- Again

Local Geography: Topographical engravings and maps. Detailed maps from 1808 & large scale of Brighton.

Local small press items: Looking at some local small press items from the early 20th century illustrating the period. Saints in Sussex

Production of a Resource for the Gallery

Our first task as a group was to produce a laminated resource for visitors to the gallery. When Fabrica is open to the public people are curious about the building and wish to know more. The resource will be colourfully produced with images.

After discussion of the key elements around the building, we resided on researching the why, how and who of a certain few points: the beginning (its creation) the stained glass windows, the font, the Gothic facade & tower, the chancel and pulpit and the present (Fabrica).

As a first foray into the research project, we thoroughly enjoyed finding out about the elements of the HTC and it certainly cast ideas of where the publication research might take us……

Training with Jubilee Library;  Part Two

Written by John – PPF Research Volunteer

Part two of our ongoing training at Jubilee Library took place on Monday 10th June.

We gathered at the library in the Community Centre and were surrounded by Students of various ages who were working on Exam revision and Dissertations with papers strewn over every flat space that was available to work on, already creating a positive learning environment.

We made our way up to the top floor of the library where a room had been set aside for us, and after applying name badges we looked through the folders that had been prepared for us, and were introduced to the two Library Services Managers, Jo Simmons, and Sally Pope, who were going to be our guides for the session.

Advertisement in an old Trade Directory for 38 Duke Street (next to HTC)

The Training Sessions were informative and included;

Local History;

Types of Historic Material;

Lending Libraries and their available resources;

Local History Websites, including Maps and Census Returns;

Trade Directories, ( a forerunner of the Yellow Pages)

Electoral Rolls and Newspaper Archives.

We were encouraged to ask questions and were then shown how to access the Library Resources on the computers which were available in the room, and having logged on we were encouraged to surf some of the sites we had access to, and were amazed at the amount and extent of the resources.

Trinity Chapel description from an old Trade Directory

We had a brief break for coffee or tea and were given information on how to check Family Histories online and how to put together a Family Tree, by accessing Records of Birth Certificates Death Certificates and Marriage Certificates.

The Staff had provided an impressive book list based on our Holy Trinity Research Project, and details summarising the available websites that the library provided.

We finished the session around 4.30 and personally, my head was spinning with the amount and quality of the information we had covered in the session and came away with a very positive opinion of the Library and it’s enthusiastic and knowledgeable Staff.

Overall a very worthwhile visit.

Training with The Keep

Introduction, information and tour

The Keep is a centre for archives that opens up access to all the collections of the East Sussex Record Office (ESRO), the Royal Pavilion & Museums Local History Collections and the internationally significant University of Sussex Special Collections. It also works to conserve and preserve archives in the UK. The Keep is in Falmer, Brighton. Our training day delivered by Andrew Bennett by an introduction to The Keep, a tour of the building and he displayed to us how to use the catalouge for ourselves.

The tour consisted of looking at the two rooms available to visitors, the first room holds published materials including a Microfishe for viewing newspaper archives, the second which contains original materials which are brought out for viewing by staff members from the hold room. We were lucky enough to view the cool-temperatured hold room. We saw the conservatist room, where a staff member works to restore and prepare materials for conservation at The Keep. We spoke to someone who is running a sound heritage project: Unlocking Our Sound Hertiage which is archiving sound recordings from the British Library which is a collection of over 6.5 million recordings of speech, music, wildlife and the environment, from the 1880s to the present day. The Keep is also home to the film director Richard Attenborough Archive and we saw one of his old cameras. 

Visit to The Keep

Written by Angi – PPF Volunteer

The Keep is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 09.30 – 17.00 and access is free to all, although there is a 2.50 charge for the car park. We travelled by 25 bus, which stops conveniently nearby.

We started with an excellent and very informative session with a member of the staff, who gave us lots of information about the materials available at the Keep, and most importantly, how to access them. We were all amazed at the vast quantity and wide range of documentation which is stored at the Keep! We found out how to use the catalogue to identify items we might find useful, and also how to order three items at a time in advance if required. We had a fascinating tour of this very hi-tec building, looking at the way in which all these valuable documents are so carefully stored in the correct way.


After a short lunch break we were able to access Room 1, the walk-in reference library which is freely open to all visitors, and Room 2, which contains original materials, and which requires a (free) Keep membership card. There we tried out our new skills to research a few specific items. We all found it hard to drag ourselves away at closing time – we were all well and truly hooked on this terrific local resource centre! We will be back again very soon!

Meeting Poet Richard Realf’s 3x Great-Niece 

Today I met the 3x great-niece of Richard Realf who is writing a book on his life and work, Realf was a poet born in East Sussex (14 June 1832 – 28 October 1878). Richard Realf emigrated to United States in 1854 and traveled all over the US (New York, Kansas, Texas, Washington, South Carolina and more), he also served in the American Civil War. “My Slain”, “An Old Man’s Idyll”, “Indirection”, are some of Realf’s most famous poetry titles.

Image of a young Richard Realf (found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Realf )


Richard Realf has a connection with the Holy Trinity and specifically the famous and influential Rev Fredrick Robertson “Robertson of Brighton”, whose life our group will be exploring as part of our research. Richard Realf lived in Brighton between 1850-1853 and whilst residing, he worshiped at Holy Trinity Church. Realf references Robertson in many of his personal letters. In Brighton he became an amanuensis to a lady in Brighton at 63 Montpelier Road when Roberson was at number 60 (confirmed in a 1851 Cencus), perhaps their being neighbors started their relationship. As a young and growing poet Realf was encouraged by influential figures such as Lady Noel Bryon, who we know has links with Robertson as she attended his sermons and his funeral when he died. 

There is certainly a history of creative figures within community linked to the HTC. It was great to learn about some of the interesting lives of the people who entered the Holy Trinity and those who knew the famous preacher Robertson of Brighton!

The Organ

When researching through the Holy Trinity parish records which are kept at The Keep, we came across some beautifully hand written church meeting minutes. These meeting minutes are a great insight into the church, the decisions they made about it, and the world at that time too.

We noticed an organ being mentioned in 1906 minutes, with talk of raising funds for its repair, then in subsequent meetings that an organ subcommittee was successful in completing its fundraising and repair. We still have funding statements regarding the organ that go into the 1960’s. This was the first time that we had heard of an organ, certainly Fabrica’s documents never mentioned one, concluding that it had long been removed since Fabrica’s arrival.

When looking through some of the wonderful images on the Brighton Museum Collection on their website: https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/collections/search-our-collections/ we noticed an old photographic print of the chancel in its earlier iteration (no wooden altar rails and its adorned with the red and white patterned tiles). The particularly interesting point of this photograph is that on the left wall there seems to be organ pipes, alongside where the pews for the choir would be!

Photographic print showing interior of Trinity Chapel – Reference number: BH400182 Collection: Brighton History Centre

This certainly needs more investigating, but we are learning as we go.

Brighton Cemetery Research Trip

17 th September 2019

Sally, Tom, Angi, Sandrine and myself , John, met up at the entrance to the Extra Mural Cemetery , on the Lewes Road in Brighton . We had decided that a visit to the burial place of Holy Trinity Church’s most famous Preacher , The Rev. FW Robertson , was due.

It was a beautiful late Summer morning and we left the urban traffic noise behind and made our way up  along the narrow road which had late blooming flowers flanking our left hand side.

Sally had a map of the location of Robertson’s tomb ,which was up on a rise on the left of the path.

It is quite impressive and shows the esteem he must have been held in by the church attenders of Holy Trinity .

We had hoped to gain access to one of the small chapels that were nearby but these were locked.

We made our way round and decided to use the opportunity , as we were together, to visit the cemetery of St Nicholas where the family tomb of Amon Wilds , who was the builder of Holy Trinity, was situated.

St Nicholas  of Myra Church  is recognised as the oldest surviving building in Brighton , and its present structure dates from the 14 th. Century.

The Wilds family tomb is here in the Churchyard .

Again there was an air of peacefulness , and it was easy to imagine people standing in this spot looking out to sea away down the Church Hill, a view which would  not have been hindered by the present day buildings of the shopping centre.

We made our way across the road to the Rest Garden which contained more  gravestones and what appeared to be catacombs.

William Smith of West Brighton – The Font

Angi Lowrie – Research Volunteer

The font is situated in a niche in the narthex or porch area of the building, to the right as one enters from the main entrance from Ship Street. The floor beneath it is tiled in a geometric pattern in shades of gold and brown. These tiles resemble those originally installed on the rererdos behind the altar, now replaced by oak panelling. The reredos tiles were attributed to the company of Maws of London, and these in the niche may also be by this manufacturer. The font is unusual in that the bowl is circular in shape, rather than the more traditional octagonal. It is carved from fine pure white marble. Marble of this quality was often imported from Carrera in Italy.

Sadly it bears no visible makers mark, and so far its provenance is uncertain. However, it is a piece of very fine workmanship. The circular bowl has a very smooth flat surround, and beneath the bowl there is beautifully carved decoration in the form of vine leaves and bunches of grapes.

The bowl is supported by a carved column again decorated with leaves, which stands upon a plain white, rectangular marble plinth. Around three sides of the plinth we find the memorial to William Smith. The inscription reads as follows:-

‘To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Smith of West Brighton who entered into rest on February 4 1887.’

It seems that William Smith must have been quite an important and wealthy resident of Brighton to have such an impressive memorial.

Picture by Elin Venner

He was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on 19 May 1801. His father was Robert Smith (1771 – 1851) who was a coffee planter. Robert would have worked on a coffee plantation in Jamaica. At the time the whole of the island was taken over by coffee plantations. The owners were mainly absentee British landlords. Until slavery was officially abolished in 1833, these plantations would have been dependent upon slave labour to produce their goods.

By 1833 William has moved to Liverpool. He has met a Yorkshire woman named Anne Frances Haigh and fallen in love, and they married in the Parish of Huddersfield on 24 July 1833.

William was aged 32 and Anne was 22. Anne was born 14 August 1811 in Halifax to Hannah Haigh (1780 – 1846) and John Haigh (1779 – 21 April 1826) of Edgerton Hill, Huddersfield. Anne was baptised at St John the Baptist Church in Halifax on 20 April 1812. William and Anne’s first son was born in 1834 and named Haigh Smith, but he died in 1836.

The following year on 27 October 1837 Anne gave birth to another son named Francis William(s), but he lived for only two weeks, dying on 9 November 1837. Saddest of all, Anne herself survived for only two days after giving birth, dying on 29 October in Everton, Liverpool. Presumably there were complications related to childbirth. She was just 26 years old.

This must have been a very difficult time for William, losing both of his sons and his wife in the space of less than two years.

William does not seem to appear in the UK censuses of 1841, 1851, or 1861.He may have decided to return to his family in Jamaica after the trauma of losing his family, or he may have moved elsewhere to concentrate on his work as a merchant.

In the UK Census of 1871 William is living in London at 17 Victoria Street, Grosvenor Mansions, St Margaret’s, Westminster. He lives at this address with a lodger, William D Gardiner, also a widower, aged 40, who is described as a ‘Barrister-in-Practice’ from London. There are also two servants – Rachel Mary Allum, who is aged 39 and described as ‘Housekeeper Domestic’ who hails from Stradbroke in Suffolk, and Caroline Flude, aged 19, from Camberwell, Surrey who is a ‘Servant Domestic’. ‘Domestic’ refers to the fact that they both live-in at the property.

On 27th September of that same year, 1871, William Smith, Esquire, of the Parish of Saint Margaret Westminster, appeared personally to pray for a licence for the solemnisation of marriage in the new Parish Church of St Mary, Paddington, in the County of Middlesex, between himself and a spinster of the age of twenty one or above called – Rachel Mary Allum. Her residence is given as within the Parish of St Mary’s Paddington.

The wedding of William and his former housekeeper Rachel took place at St Mary’s Church, Paddington, the following month, on 4th October 1871. William was aged 69, described as a widowed merchant, and Rachel was aged 39. Her father was Francis Allum, described as a farmer.

In the UK Census of 1881, William and Rachel are living together in Hove in some considerable style. His occupation is given as ‘Retired Merchant’. Their address is 5 Fourth Avenue. This is the reason that his memorial places him in ‘West Brighton’. This was not simply another way to say ‘Hove, Actually’ – it was the name of a newly developed area of housing for the well-to-do called The West Brighton Estate. This was built on land purchased from one of the principle land owners in Brighton, the Stanford family. Despite the name, it was definitely within the boundary of Hove.

William died on 4 February 1887 at 29 The Drive, West Brighton (Hove)  in a house called ‘Sans Souci’ (meaning ‘carefree; or ‘without worry’). He was 85 years old. He left personal estate (resworn September 1887) of  £44,086,15s.10d.(This translates to over £4 million today)

His widow Rachel Mary continued to live at Sans Souci until her death there on 8 October 1900, when she would have been aged about 70. It is not clear when or why the Smiths chose to move from their new home in Fourth Avenue to Sans Souci. It is possible that rather than a family home it was some sort of residential care home for the elderly, as William would have been over 80 years old at the time. 

It would seem that Rachel commissioned the beautiful memorial font for Holy Trinity Church. There were no children to remember them. It is not clear yet what connection the couple had with the church. 

William and Rachel were both buried in Hove Cemetery. They are commemorated there with an impressive tomb in the form of a white marble altar supported by red marble columns  topped with a recumbent figure. Judy Middleton in her book ‘Hove Cemetery 2002 (Revised 2018)’ describes it thus:- 

‘’This must be the most comfortable – looking monument in Hove Cemetery. William Smith strikes a patrician pose as he enjoys a long sleep’’

The inscriptions are as follows:-

In Memoriam William Smith who fell asleep on the 4th February 1887 in his 86th year

Also Rachel Mary widow of William Smith who fell asleep on 4th October 1900 in her 71st year.