Welcome to our blog

What we do…

This blog will explore some of the stories of Eastbourne, have a closer look at the objects in our collections and keep you up to date on what we’re up to!

To start us off, we present our mission statement:

Everyone leaves behind traces of their lives; a worn step, a scratched mark in a church wall, a lost button, a forgotten letter.

Using these physical traces we recreate past lives and tell lost stories of the people of Eastbourne.  

By making tangible links to real people, by walking the same ground, learning through life enhancing experiences, challenging the way people think and inspiring and stimulating debate, we explore what it means to be human in Eastbourne in a different time.

We intend to engage with every school child, every visitor, every resident, using the human experience, in the day to day lives of people in Eastbourne through time. We aim to empower the public with the opportunities to do this within their local environment and also at our exhibitions, through outreach, events and project work.

Revealing a refugee’s story


This post was originally written in 2016

At Heritage Eastbourne we all have a passion for discovering and sharing stories about Eastbourne’s past. It’s really exciting to come across objects that illumine human experiences at different times in history. One in particular moved us greatly last week.

We spend some of our time going through boxes of unaccessioned Local and Social History items. Last Thursday, we came across a collection of photographs, the first of which showed two young boys sitting side by side with toys. We didn’t think much of it, of course it must have meant something to someone at some point in time. But in that moment it was impossible to know just how much. 

Hana Mullerova’s Nephews

It was the accompanying object that gave a long kept secret away. A seemingly innocuous booklet turned out to be an Alien Certificate of Registration, belonging to Czech Jewish refugee, Hana Mullerova, stamped in Eastbourne on 21st February 1939.

The significance of this date is that it shows Hana arrived in Eastbourne one month before the German Armymoved into the remainder of Czechoslovakia, a year after the Nazi annexation of what was called the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia’s northern and western border regions. This occupation had an unfathomable impact on the 356,830 people there who identified as Jewish.

Hana was born in 1905 in the Czech town of Lindava. She had a married sister and two nephews. At the age of 33 Hana was sent to England in 1939 to escape the Nazis.  Only 26 000 Jewish individuals were able to emigrate before 1941 a year that saw the beginning of mass deportations to Theresienstadt (near Prague) and then further east.  Hana was one of the 26 000. Once she arrived in Eastbourne  she managed to get tickets for her family to travel to England but they were a day too late. Her entire family perished in concentration camps. Hana treasured the photographs she had of her family, especially her nephews, they were the only tangible reminders of them all.

Hana (back row right) with her parents (front centre)
A page from Hana’s Alien Registration Certificate

Hana found work as a maid, one of the few occupations open to alien girls and women. She had to report weekly to the police station to have her Aliens’ Registration book stamped.

Hana became a naturalised British Citizen in November 1947. Many Jewish refugees and other ‘Alien’ residents became naturalised British Citizens after the war. Hana then worked in the office at Mansfield’s (Motor sales and service) in Cavendish Place until her retirement.

Hana later in life. She passed away in July 1985

Time has a way of making certain events innocuous. Over 75 years separates us from the Holocaust, but through these objects our concept of time is transcended and we are able to recover stories that fear and history and trauma have conspired to suppress. Hana kept her pain to herself for most of her life. It was only when she began treatment for cancer, and befriended a volunteer ambulance driver, that her story both surfaced and transferred into the care of another human being.

Butts Brow Excavation … A few weeks later

Jo Seaman

Writing this post a few weeks after we finished our Community Excavation at Butts Brow has given me time to reflect on 3 weeks of fieldwork at a site of National importance on the Downs above Eastbourne (or more correctly Willingdon…or Ratton…or Jevington depending on where you are.)

Photo by Lee Roberts

The project was, like everything else in 2020, affected by Covid-19 social distancing and working restrictions and left us with a diminished but no less determined team of professional archaeologists and volunteers.  Some of our volunteering stalwarts returned and also some new faces, we had students gaining fieldwork experience or putting learned skills into practice and archaeologists on busman’s holidays all sweating their hearts out for the love of scientific discovery!

We also had many visitors this year including Environmental Archaeology Specialists, a Manager of one of the largest archaeological units in the South East, National Trust staff, Police Officers, an expert in East Sussex during the Second World War (who ended up digging a feature!) and most importantly over 2000 members of the public who wanted to know what we were up to on their beloved Downland.

This is partly what makes these projects so important.  So much of our heritage is in danger, not necessarily through deliberate destruction but through neglect or damage from lack of understanding.  By involving our visitors and indeed by engaging those not able to reach the site through digital technology and social media, we can help people appreciate what is, in this case at least, lying just beneath their feet.  So many people that we spoke to said they had been visiting the area for years (in some cases decades) and had no idea about the really ancient archaeology they had been walking upon, although almost every one acknowledged that the place was special to them.

The first glimpse of the features beneath our feet
Photo by Lee Roberts

On the one hand I think this specialness is actually key to understanding this complex and enigmatic site.

Essentially what we have at Butts Brow is an Early Neolithic enclosure (dated by pottery deposited in the ditches to around 3600BCE) or a space marked out by a ditch with an inner bank.  For me, this space was special, it must have been created by burning and hacking down the woodland that covered the Downs at this time.  Perhaps bringing order to the wild chaos, or marking the sacred from the profane, the safe from the dangerous? Whatever the reason, a ditch or segments of ditch, most over 10m long , around 1.5m deep and over 3m across were dug all around the hill, with antler picks, wooden or bone tools and hands. Then a huge bank over 2m thick built with the chalk rubble and clay thrown up inside.  A massive, monumental endeavour for which some serious motivation must have been needed.

This ditch is broken in at least two places by what could be described as possible entrances or more properly, causeways – so technically in archaeological terms we could now describe this site as a Causewayed Enclosure. With a similarly dated but better preserved Causewayed Enclosure at Combe Hill, less than 1km away, it could be unique to have two so close together[1].

So we have a special 5500 year old space literally cut into the chalk and marked out with a segmented (at least partly) ditch and inner bank that has a more elaborate twin just across the head of a valley that runs south west towards Jevington. 

Butts Brow looking towards Combe Hill
Photo by Lee Roberts

Both monuments have steep scarp slopes on one side where the ditch disappears (Combe Hill) or is smaller (Butts Brow – tbc) and the most substantial part of each monument faces one another across the valley. There are incredible 360 degree views from both sites, but is the focus down to the south west and the sea beyond or to the east over the levels?

Neither enclosure is on the hill top, Combe Hill lies cradled between two tumps to the east and west while the ‘peak’ near Butts Brow is to the south of the monument. In my view, space and location are just as important here as the earthworks themselves.  But the latter do tell a rather strange (to our eyes at least) story themselves.

In our main trench this year, a long, narrow section from beyond the ditch towards the middle of the site, we revealed the ditch in all its’ glory with some of the best stratigraphy (archaeological layers that tell us the story of how a site develops through time) I have seen in a long time. This told an intriguing tale.

Stratigraphy in ditch section
Photo by Lee Roberts

The ditch (at this point over 1.5m deep and 3m wide) was cut into the chalk which had split giving the steep sides a slightly stepped appearance. I can imagine the gruelling process of how the ditches were dug, striving to find a natural fissure or crack weathered into the surface of the chalk in which to thrust an antler tine and prising out ever diminishing blocks as the rock became more solid. I wonder what time of year this took place? No season is actually ‘good’ for digging into solid chalk!

The bottom of the ditch was flat with some large natural flints still sitting in a seam where they had formed over 95 million years earlier. Above the ditch floor was a thick layer of very loose chalk rubble and deposited within it pieces of knapped flint with debitage (the debris created by the process of knapping flint by hand), so fresh it looked as if it had been struck yesterday.  If we’d found this flint on the surface of a field  we may well have thought it recently plough-struck rather than the result of ancient hands.

This was one of those instances when even old hands like me get that electrical surge of excitement at being the first person to handle an object since the individual who made it placed it here thousands of years earlier.  I can’t underplay how thrilling these occasions are. In that brief moment of realisation your being seems to have a spark of connection to another soul separated by millennia.  At least that is how it feels to me – one of the many experiences that revealing the past gifts to you, if only for a split second and as intangible as it is brief. Anyway, enough of that esoterica and on with the evidence!

The looseness and freshness of the material at the bottom, together with the unweathered appearance of the sides of the ditch show us that soon after it was dug, at least this part of the ditch was backfilled with the broken chalk recently removed. As some of the extracted flints were replaced, they were roughly struck and flakes removed and then placed together in discrete piles.

Once this initial process was done and the ditch about half filled, it was then left open for some time, this was evident from the top of the chalk backfill weathering considerably and forming a much smoother, rock-hard surface.  It looks as if the ditch had been kept clear of vegetation at least for some periods of time, then it began to gradually silt up with clay rich soil through the weathering of the bank above to the east. 

Later, the ditch was once again filled, this time with large flint nodules and some clay soil, but no chalk, to form a very solid layer.  Within the natural flints were a large number of struck flakes including a very few tools that may have been in deposits like those flints right at the bottom.

The final event in this sequence was the more gradual filling of the upper levels of the ditch through natural erosion of the clay bank above.

It is really difficult to establish how long the ditch would have been open, (although some of the post excavation work may help us here) but I guess that the initial backfilling took place soon after excavation, perhaps a matter of weeks or even days afterwards.  Then the half-filled ditch remained open and periodically cleaned for some years, probably decades before the mass of flint was deposited, filling the remainder of the ditch.  This whole process, or the life of the monument, at least with the ditch playing an important part, may have been as little as a century or as much as 500 years.

The bank that I have referred to is certainly worthy of a mention now, although much more will be revealed through our post excavation work.  It was quite astounding to find the remains of a Neolithic clay bank surviving, literally, just a few centimetres beneath the present ground surface.  Indeed, we have not found evidence of this soil bank elsewhere on the site so I feel very, very privileged to have been able to examine it this year.  The fact that any of this bank remains must show that this area has not been ploughed extensively for much, if any of its’ 5500 years of existence.  Even better than that, we found a number of pieces of Early Neolithic pottery within the bank giving us some very valuable dating evidence for its’ construction.

This story of the initial digging, rapid refilling, prolonged use and then final closing of the ditch is repeated around the site, but with variations.

In our second trench this year, over on the southern part of the earthwork where in 2018 we had found evidence for a causeway or entrance, we established this sequence within a large oval pit or short ditch section. 

The pit
Photo by Lee Roberts

Here though, there were differences, maybe because this part of the monument had a different ‘function’ or significance.  In this pit/ditch that separated two causeways, the backfilling events were present but somewhat different.  In this case there is an initial deposit of fine, clean clay at the bottom and running up about half way up the sides without actually filling it.  It is almost like a lining rather than a fill. There was then a more substantial deposit or fill of chalk pieces that looks like it may have come from the bank, but with little to no clay.  Originally this might have filled about half of the volume of the ditch and the surface was very weathered, again indicating that for some time the ditch was left open, but kept, at least periodically, clean and free of vegetation.

What we found next was a real surprise. 

Cut through the chalk backfill and into the base of the ditch itself was a large posthole (around 50cm across) that was still part filled with large flints once used to pack the posthole and give what must have been a substantial piece of timber, good, firm support.  So what was this post and why was it placed here? 

Well, to be honest the first part of this question is likely to always be a mystery and until we can see if there are any similar features nearby it is very difficult to even guess. But I like to think that it may have been some form of marker, possibly carved or coloured in some way, perhaps even dressed with garlands or pelts of animals.

As to why a posthole was here in particular, we can say that this position does stand between one small causeway and the probable end of one bank section on one side and what looks very much like an entrance to the monument on the other.  So the idea of a marker post by an entrance, enhancing it or focussing the eye on this point does actually make sense.

Another reason to think that this area was an important part of the monument was the nature of the finds in this pit.  Though, like the rest of the site, finds beyond flint debitage were scarce, we did find deposits of pottery in this pit and also (in 2018) a stone used for polishing flint tools.  This form of deposition is very similar to some found in the ditch at the nearby Combe Hill – again indicating some possible contemporary activity at both monuments.

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there…back to the sequence of events with this part of the ditch. Following the insertion of the posthole and post, the surface continued to be weathered but we cannot be sure when the post was removed – there is no evidence to suggest it rotted in this position.  There then follows another filling of the ditch with flints and a clay rich soil and it is in to this that the deposits of pottery were placed.

So we have Early Neolithic pottery deposited in the upper (latest) fills of an Early Neolithic feature, indicating that this ditch was ‘in use’ throughout the Early Neolithic…not just at a given moment within it.  

Phew…confusing isn’t it?

That is one of the challenges and also joys of working on sites of this incredible antiquity where much of the actual evidence to tell us what people were doing up here is long gone and we are left with only the larger features and most robust artefacts.  We must use the expertise within our knowledge networks and also, importantly, use our imagination to attempt to understand these mysterious regions of the past.

We were asked why we were going back to this site as we already ‘knew’ that it was a Neolithic enclosure in 2018?

In answer to this very reasonable question, I tend to say that we know that, for example, that St Mary’s Church in Eastbourne was built in 1160AD but is that enough information to tell us about the function of the building?  Is that enough to tell us how the building was used throughout its 860 years of being?  Would knowing the date of its’ construction tell us about the Reformation (for example) and how that relates to the physical changes within its’ walls? 

The point is that we want to know as much about this monument at Butts Brow as we can whilst doing the least damage to the archaeological evidence that we can so that we can tell people about it, help them understand its importance and where it fits within our landscape.  If we can we will try to find out the motivations for building it, the processes of construction and closure that it seems to have gone through and hopefully far more about the people who would have known it.

We have known that this site was important from previous investigations but results from this year are likely to show that the enclosure at Butts Brow is of National or even International importance and we can start the process of telling its’ fascinating story and giving that story back to you to tell in the future.

And I haven’t even mentioned the incredible Second World War stories that we have discovered either…but that will have to wait for another day.

[1] Some other Causewayed Enclosures in the south east have ditched enclosures (lacking the causeways) nearby

From Sussex to Passchendaele and back again

Kelly van Doorn

“A plate of porridge, 2 cups of tea, bacon, bread, butter… cup of cocoa, steak and chips… Roast beef, roast potatoes, cabbage, carrots, cup of tea… 2 [more] cups of tea, bread, butter, pancakes or jam tart… cold beef… cup of cocoa”.

This is what Private Frederick Unsted of the Royal Sussex Regiment ate in a day when on active service at the No. 1 Territorial Base in Rouen, France in 1915. Reporting back to his parents in Alfriston, Fred stated that he and another man were in charge of the new No. 4 Cookhouse at the Base where they had to cook for more than 300 people everyday. This role allowed them to live “like lords” which Fred wasn’t used to. One of Fred’s friends at the Base had worked for chocolate manufacturer ‘Fuller’s’ before the war and would often have chocolate to hand- I bet he was popular!

Fred would frequently write home to his parents, Albert and Ada, and his siblings and update them on his time in France. He was quite the joker as he always opened with a comical line when he wanted something- usually a shilling or two but also socks, towels and a sausage roll (ah, the comforts of home!).

Unfortunately, Fred did not stay at the Territorial Base and eventually ended up at Passchendaele where he very sadly lost his right leg in November 1917 at the age of 20. In a letter home, he tells his mother not to worry as although his left leg is injured, no bones were broken and that he keeps on smiling. He hoped to be transferred to Eastbourne to recuperate (presumably at Summerdown Camp) but instead ended up in a London based hospital which specialised in missing limbs.

Fred returned to Alfriston and married Freda Stripp on the 18th July 1928 at Cliffe Church in Lewes. They had four children, two boys and two girls. His children said that his injury did not prevent him from being able to do things. He drove a car and a lorry but had a hand and foot throttle to assist him. He was also known for winning the men’s races at sports day!

After the war he was a General Carrier, a business he took over from his father. Fred would deliver goods around Lewes, Eastbourne and Berwick station. There is a story that in the early 1800s the Unsteds, who originally came from Holland, were “free traders” (a nice way of saying smugglers). One member of the family settled in Alfriston after marrying a local woman and became a carrier, transporting goods for smugglers. Alfriston had a local smuggling gang led by local butcher Stanton Collins (who owned Market Cross House, now The Smugglers Inn) and so this is entirely plausible, especially considering that quite often whole villages were involved. Once the smuggling scene had died down, the Unsted’s carrier business became a legitimate, law abiding business which traded for over a century. Due to a decline in health and customers, Fred retired from the carrier business in 1953 at the age of 56 and with him, Messrs. A. Unsted and Son ceased trading.

Fred’s experience as a soldier had a lasting effect- he and Freda were heavily involved with the British Legion for many years. Fred was a founding member of the Alfriston branch, often leading the Armistice Parade and Freda organised and sold poppies for 40 years. Having remained in Alfriston all of this life, Fred passed away in 1972 at the age of 75.

Wobbly Ditches and Splodgy Banks

The next season of excavation at Butts Brow starts on Monday 13th July until 2nd August. The excavation will be socially distanced but visitors are welcome to pop by and find out about the latest discoveries. We will be posting regular updates and live streaming from the site to our social media channels.

Aerial photograph of site from 1942

We will be returning to investigate this site to uncover more about our Neolithic ancestors at Butts Brow and explore our Downland heritage. In 2016, we started investigating an intriguing earthwork that appears to surround the hilltop there. A ditch was found to run around the hilltop with an associated bank made up of chalk, dug out of the ditch, but whether this barrier was complete or broken by openings is still unclear.

What is it?

It wouldn’t appear that this enclosure was defensive or that it contained settlement (the lack of many finds from daily life would support the latter) but perhaps it was built for more esoteric reasons. The Neolithic was an era of monument building with the first major flourishing of organised, large scale ritualistic and religious behaviour.

Flint blades from Butts Brow

Our Neolithic ancestors would have used antler picks to dig the ditch through chalk around this hill top. This would not have been an easy task and might have required lots of people to complete. We think these ditches were kept clean for perhaps 100 years but then purposefully backfilled. There are also at least two pits that were dug through the backfilled layer that contain bits of pottery and flint from the early Neolithic.

We don’t know when people stopped using the monument at Butts Brow but we do have some evidence of Bronze and early Iron Age/early Romano British people here.

During the 1940s Allied Infantry and artillery military were present at the site, with a tank road running across the earthwork. The road has visibly and notably disturbed some of the prehistoric contexts.

How old is it?

Neolthic Pottery from Butts Brow

At this stage we believe that this was most likely created in the distant Neolithic era, around 5,000-6,000 years ago, when our ancestors were slowly starting to adopt a more settled lifestyle, beginning to farm and also clearing the Downs of trees.

What are you looking for?

We are hoping to find out more about the enclosure in order for it to become a Scheduled Monument. 

Prehistoric Pottery from Butts Brow

We’d like to find out whether what we have at Butts Brow is connected in some way to the nearby Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure at Combe Hill (the next hill over). That enclosure has two concentric non-continuous ring ditches with earthen banks on the inside, and it is broadly contemporary with the other causewayed enclosures in East Sussex, such as Whitehawk (Brighton) and Offham (Lewes).

We are also looking for evidence for termini and causeways, the existence of more outer earthworks, activity within the enclosure itself and potentially finding organic material to gain C14 dating from, such as an antler pick.  

Have you found any treasure?

Everything we find adds another page to the story of this mysterious site but as it is a Stone Age monument, we haven’t found any pots of gold!

Neolithic Pottery from Butts Brow

We have uncovered small sherds of early Neolithic pottery which was identified as being Plain Bowl ware. This kind of pottery has also been found at other enclosure monuments in Sussex.

There are a lot of flint flakes here, most of them are quite large so could be evidence of people making axes here. We think the flint was mined or gathered from elsewhere and brought here to make into tools.

We also found this sandstone block which was probably used to polish stone axes. Although it would have taken a long time to do, polishing axes often made them stronger.

Before we got to the Stone Age archaeology, we discovered this small badge as well as evidence of Victorian and early 20th century picnics buried just underneath the topsoil.  We’re not the first people to find this spot perfect for exploring!

One of the most surprising things (so far!) was 100 rounds of live ammunition buried in a pit – possibly put there by the Home Guard in the Second World War.

Site Safety

Due to the Covid-19 Virus we will be implementing more stringent safety measures than usual. All visitors to the excavation must remain at least 2 meters away from any of the team working or volunteering at this excavation.

If you are unwell, we ask that you do not engage with the team at the excavation and that you stay at home – you can keep up to date through our social media channels.

Introducing Heritage Eastbourne’s Archaeology Collection

Kelly van Doorn

In the past Heritage Eastbourne’s archaeology collection was underused, which is strange given the size of it! We have objects and archives from the St Anne’s Anglo-Saxon cemetery, Eastbourne Urban Medieval Excavation Project (EUMEP), Bullock Down, Beachy Head, Combe Hill, Summerdown, Motcombe… and the list goes on.

Archaeology is a valuable resource but it can often create more questions than answers. In the absence of contemporary written records, we have to look at contexts (i.e. where the object was found) and its relationship to other objects and the landscape. Archaeology isn’t crystal skulls and temples of doom unfortunately…people covered in dust with a weird tan or soaked to the skin and covered in mud is closer to the truth! It is such a rewarding profession and without archaeologists the history of so many historic communities would be lost forever.

Replica Bronze Age Axe

Unfortunately, people of the past didn’t leave instruction manuals and so “Experimental Archaeology” became an area of study and yes, it is as much fun as it sounds.  Essentially, people attempt to test their theories about how people of the past did certain things. For example, how were their pots fired? What was the optimum length of the handles on the axes they used? Would a bronze axe cut down a tree? Experimental archaeology sometimes involves reconstruction of methods and structures. It is worth bearing in mind that these are not necessarily how people of the past performed these tasks or how they actually looked; they are based on a theory. Some theories are still being tested, adapted and improved. Take the stones at Stonehenge for example- there are many theories about how they ended up where they did (pulled on planks of wood, pulled along horizontally placed timbers, taken by boat etc.) and archaeologists are still none the wiser. The people building Stonehenge may have done all of these things or none of them.

Science has also done wonders for the progression of attainable information. If a skeleton is well preserved (and all the right bits are present!), osteoarchaeologists can determine sex, age, certain pathologies and stature just from studying the remains. When scientific processes are introduced, there is the potential to find out where the individual lived as a child, where they lived around the time of death, how old the skeletal remains are, whether they had any genetic diseases and what their diet consisted of. Considering that once they were unknown skeletons in the ground, we’re able to bring them back to life as individuals who had ailments and probably argued with their kids (they may or may not be linked).

Our archaeological collection consists of a large number of flints ranging from the Palaeolithic through to the Bronze Age, covering a period of around 500,000 years. We have hand axes, scrapers, polishers, arrow heads, flakes, microliths and many more. Each and every single one was hand crafted by a person thousands of years ago.

Neolithic Pottery found in Longland Road

We often find pottery alongside flint and both of these can indicate a site of occupation of some kind. Just like today, people had different artistic styles and pottery was often intricately decorated with tools, shells and fingerprints. If the conditions are right (and archaeologists have all the luck of the gods), there may be traces of whatever the pottery contained which helps to answer questions about diet and cultivation of crops.

More rare, however, are grave goods. Archaeologists and historians are not entirely sure why some people were buried with items and others weren’t or, indeed, why some had specific items buried with them. Theories abound about wealth, status, occupation and sex but these are not always so clear cut. One in particular that springs to mind is a grave adorned with weaponry and jewellery. Some theorised that the individual was a great (male) warrior buried with the weapons he fought with. Actually, they were female but they may well have been a warrior nonetheless. The point is that our unconscious bias tends to creep in and we think “weaponry= man” and “beads=woman”. At St Anne’s Road, Eastbourne a grave was excavated where the individual was buried with generically female objects and possibly clothing but they were osteologically male. This, rightly so, opens up questions about gender identity, grave goods being for those who are left behind and beliefs in an afterlife. Although we may never know the answers to the questions above, they are important discussions to have and unconscious bias must continue to be recognised.

Grave Goods from Grave 656

In our collection, the most well known grave goods are those from St Anne’s Anglo-Saxon cemetery, Grave 656. A young woman was buried with 3 gilt copper brooches, one in the form of an ‘S’ with animal heads either side, both with garnet eyes. She also had a gilt headdress pin with a bird-type motif, inlaid with garnets, and “claw beakers” made of glass- all of which are incredibly rare. This elaborate furnishing of a grave is highly unusual and within the same cemetery, many were buried with nothing.

There are far too many items in the collection to discuss in detail here and so I hope this little taste has shown how invaluable archaeology (and the objects that are found) is for understanding people of the past. It is crucial that those records, objects and stories are preserved for future generations because who knows what we might be able to discover in 100 years time…

The story that begins with a nut

Kelly van Doorn

A large part of my job as Collections Officer is reconciling objects with object identification numbers. Early documentation was not up to modern standards and descriptions of objects are sometimes lacking, staff of the 1980s, I’m looking at you!

Reconciliation involves me going back through all of the accession registers, object entry forms and catalogue cards to see if any un-numbered items, usually in an “unknown object” box, match a description and number.  Here is the story of one such item…

In World War One, German U-Boats were wreaking havoc upon the British and Allied merchant ships. The U-Boats had such a severe impact that the decision was taken to implement air patrols along the Eastbourne coast and across The Channel. A large site near Polegate (close to where Willingdon Triangle is today) was flagged as a potential airship station in early 1915 due to its good transport links and shelter afforded by the Downs. The airships, known as “Submarine Scouts” (S.S for short) or blimps, were essentially giant balloons filled with gas, with fuselage, wings and a rudder to steer below the balloons. Polegate was one of eleven airship stations along the coastline of Britain, under the control of Dover and then Portsmouth. Due to its strategic position, the Polegate station clocked up more flying hours than the other stations and the patrol area was tripled in size by 1916. Interestingly, due to the large numbers of people hurt or killed in crashes, Polegate became the first station to test parachutes during the war years.

Although the Downs offered some protection, the sea brought in blustery gales and the hills kept snow and ice around for that little bit longer than elsewhere. On the 20th December 1917, airships SS Z6, SS Z7, SS Z9, SS Z10 and SS Z19 were sent out on patrol. The weather was fine and sunny until mid-afternoon when a thick fog rolled in from the Downs, severely impairing visibility. The airships were recalled but the fog obscured the station and so they were instructed to make an emergency landing in open country. SS Z6 landed near Uckfield, SS Z7 and SS Z19 landed near Beachy Head and SS Z9 and SS Z10 landed at Hill Farm, Willingdon with the aid of a bright signal lamp.

By the evening, the fog had cleared but strong winds had developed. Fearing further danger for the crews, the airships were once again recalled to Polegate station. SS Z7 and SS Z19 left Beachy Head for Polegate.  Finding a brightly lit area, and believing that they were seeing Polegate’s landing lights, the pilot of the SS Z7 began to land. As they descended, they realised too late their mistake. The SS Z7 struck the SS Z10, ripping open the gas filled balloon. The pilot of the SS Z7, Lieutenant Swallow, tried to accelerate but the flames from the engine set alight the escaping gas from the SS Z10 and both of the airships were engulfed by flames.  Lieutenant Swallow died instantly and two others on board were severely injured.

The pilot of the SS Z10, Lieutenant Watson, fearing that his crew were still inside, rushed to the airship. Finding it empty, he turned away from the fire just as both of the 65 lb bombs on board exploded, severing his arm. Thankfully he survived and was awarded the Albert Medal for Lifesaving. Lieutenant Swallow, originally from Gravesend, is buried at Ocklynge Cemetery, facing the hill where he died.

At some point, probably during the clean up, a nut was taken from the wreckage of airship SS Z10. The numbers 20, 12 and 17 were engraved on the front and back and it was turned into a brooch. This brooch now serves as a lasting reminder of the events of this day and to the bravery of those involved. I’m so glad that this unassuming object in a box of unknowns could be reunited with its exceptional story.

The Downs Ranger

Lizzie Williams

Jumbo, Princess Pat, Mark and Tommy are all names that visitors to Eastbourne may have been familiar with over the years, especially if they visited Beachy Head. These were all names of horses that belonged to the Downs Ranger.

The Downs Ranger was a position within Eastbourne Police, whose job it was to patrol the Downland landscape. This role was needed after Eastbourne Corporation purchased the Downs in the 1920s – the area encompassed land to the west of Eastbourne, including the beauty spot of Beachy Head, and the inland Downland area that stretches behind Eastbourne towards Polegate, and the village of Folkington. Before the purchase, this land was in the hands of various private landowners. The council and people of Eastbourne were worried about developments that were damaging the character of the landscape, even in the 1920s the Downs were an important tourist spot for the town.

One of the principal landowners was the 9th Duke of Devonshire. The Devonshire family inherited land in Eastbourne through the marriage of George Cavendish and Elizabeth Compton in 1782. Their grandson, the 7th Duke, was an instrumental figure in Eastbourne’s history. He built much of Eastbourne’s promenade, including Duke’s Drive, the road that linked his land on the seafront to his estate at Beachy Head.

The purchase of the Downs was a big event for Eastbourne and was marked by the unveiling of a seat at Beachy Head by the then Duke and Duchess of York (the Duke was the future King George VI).

The position of Downs Ranger was held by various men over the years. Henry Poole served as Downs Ranger for 30 years from 1923 to his retirement in 1953. Before his appointment in Eastbourne, Henry served in the Life Guards regiment.

In 1945 Henry was involved in a heroic Boxing Day rescue of a dog from Beachy Head. The dog had fallen from the cliff and was stuck on a ledge. Henry and RSPCA Inspector Teddy Winn worked together with a young airman to rescue the dog. They lowered Teddy down the cliff face, with a dozen people helping by holding the safety rope that was attached to Teddy. However, the cliff-face was unstable due to bomb damage it’d received during World War II. At one point, when Teddy had the dog in his arms and was by a small cave in the cliff, rocks fell on him and knocked him unconscious. After ¾ hour he regained consciousness and was partially hauled up the cliff. Henry and the young airman scrambled down part of the cliff to pull him up the rest of the way. All three men got back to the top and the dog was returned, safe and well, to its owner.

The job of Downs Ranger was unique and Henry, and his successor Harry Ward, were featured in BBC shows and films produced by Pathé. In a 1949 video that featured Henry and his horse Tommy, the job of Downs Ranger was described as belonging more to the North-West of Canada than the Downs of Sussex. Their patrol covered 4,200 acres of pasture, beach, and cliff. The film goes on to show some of their typical duties. These involved assisting famers by rounding up wayward animals, warning visitors of the dangers of the cliffs, assisting tourists and hikers, and often helping with rescues at Beachy Head.

PC Harry Ward demonstrating some of the rescue the equipment.

Harry Ward took over from Henry in 1953 and became another well-known face to the people of Eastbourne and holiday makers. Harry had been a Horse Guardsman, Major in the Military Police, and served for many years as Captain in the Territorial Army (he was awarded the Emergency Reserve Decoration Medal for his service). Harry initially patrolled on Henry’s horse Princess Pat, and later with Jumbo.

He was awarded a certificate from the Royal Humane Society for the attempted rescue of a woman who had fallen over Beachy Head. One of the most dangerous and challenging parts of the Downs Ranger job was undoubtedly rescuing people and recovering bodies from Beachy Head. The Rangers were often called upon to give evidence at subsequent enquiries. The coroner, in the case mentioned above, commended Harry for being lowered nearly 600ft to recover the woman and remarked that people little realise the risks these officers have to undertake when descending these considerable heights, and here there was a gale on at the same time… this was a first class effort on the part of P.C. Harry Ward.

In 1964 Harry Ward was presented with his MBE by the Duke of Norfolk, at a special service held on Beachy Head, a testament to his bravery and hard work. Harry Ward retired in 1966 and Jack Williams took over the role. However, patrolling on horses was now becoming out dated and seen by some as an unnecessary expense. The role was gradually phased out. The duties of the Downs Ranger are now undertaken by a variety of services, including the National Trust Rangers, Sussex Police, and the Coastguard.

Presentation of MBE to Harry Ward

However, the people of Eastbourne were not always thankful for their Downs Ranger. In 1929 one resident complained to the local paper that the wage of £4 a week was extravagant and that even if the Ranger had used a Rolls-Royce to patrol the Downs their wage would still be enough! Another resident complained that:

The Downs have taken care of themselves in the past, and nobody is likely to run away with them in the future… I fail to see what [the Ranger] is wanted for, and will warrant the greater part of his day will be spent lying on his back in fine weather and counting the skylarks in the canopy o’erhead.

Despite these views, the Downs Ranger was an iconic figure on the Downs for many years who worked hard to maintain the beauty of the landscape and to assist tourists and locals wherever they could. Harry Ward and Jumbo have a plaque dedicated to them on Beachy Head, next to the seat that’s across the road from the Beachy Head pub, a fine place to lie back and try to spot the skylarks overhead.

150 years of Eastbourne Pier

Katherine Buckland

13th June 2020, marks 150 years since the official opening of Eastbourne Pier. This blog post explores the beginning of Eastbourne Pier’s story and includes some great photos!

Eastbourne seafront c 1865

The first rumblings of an idea for a Pier in Eastbourne started in 1863; it wasn’t popular at first due to a misunderstanding that it would be a place primarily for trade and shopping. The initial plan was to build it opposite Devonshire Place (where the Bandstand is now) for a cost of £12,000. The investment would be returned through ticket sales for entry to the pier at 1 penny a day. There were restrictions to the proposed pier – boats or other vessels were not allowed to unload sheep, cattle or merchandise onto the pier but people embarking to or from steamers were allowed. Limits were also set on the charges allowed: the maximum daily charge to promenaders was 2d, bath or sedan chair 6d, perambulator 2d and passengers landing by boats 6d.

A partially built Eastbourne Pier in 1868

The Eastbourne Pier Company was formed in 1865 and the location for the pier was changed to opposite Cavendish Place (where it is today!)  A year later in 1866, the first column was installed by Lord Edward Cavendish M.P. in front of a large group of spectators including Mr Birch – the engineer for Eastbourne, Margate, Deal, Blackpool, Brighton, Scarborough, Lytham and Aberystwyth piers amongst others and Mr Dowson –  the contractor for Eastbourne, Bognor, Aberystwyth, Herne Bay and Teignmouth Piers. Before the first pillar or column could be screwed in, Lord Cavendish put a case containing a document about the Eastbourne Pier Company and a local newspaper at the bottom of the pillar to act as a memorial of the event. Once this was done and the hole filled up with mortar, ‘a stalwart coastguard mounted the structure, fiddle in hand, struck up a lively tune to the amusement of the spectators.’ Lord Cavendish marvelled at how different Eastbourne had become in the last 13 or 14 years and with the arrival of the railway, the visitors to Eastbourne ‘who used to be few in number, may now be counted by hundreds and almost by thousands’ and that the addition of a pier would attract even more visitors. Vague promises were made that the pier would open by next summer…1867.  By November 1867, progress was still slow, reportedly due to the lack of capital thanks to shares not being as popular as anticipated. The plan at this point was for the pier to be 1000ft long with the deck level at 15ft above sea level. The main body of the pier was to be 20 feet wide and end with the pier head 120ft long by 100ft wide to include landing stages at every state of the tide.  On the deck level, ornamental houses and ornamental wind screens form of glass and iron would be fixed on the head.

Eastbourne Pier after work had been completed on the full length

When the Pier finally opened on Monday 13 June 1870 it was half as long as expected reaching a distance of around 500 feet. Work would carry on in order for it to be completed to its full length. It had undergone full safety tests including one for vibrations which involved placing two 6 pounder cannon each side of the pier and firing them at the same time – ‘there was not the slightest indication of vibration’. The contractors were positive the pier was amply strong enough to resist any gale it may have to encounter. Early that morning, the contractors and a few naval men were busy decorating the pier with flags and buntings leant to them by the Coastguard Station. A procession of the County Constabulary, the Town Band, Employees of the pier, Lord Cavendish in a carriage, the Eastbourne Pier Co Directors in carriages, The members of the Nottingham Order of Odd Fellows, The Fire Brigade, Members of the Ancient Order of Foresters and The Lifeboat and Crew drawn in carriages started off from Cornfield Road, along Terminus Road towards Seaside when they met a huge crowd of people which caused the procession to get stuck there. When they finally reached Grand Parade the procession was officially headed by the Sub Inspector of Nuisances – Mr Glass. After a speech from Lord Cavendish which was remarkably similar to the speech he gave when the first column was installed, the Board of Directors spent some time proposing various toasts to ‘the health of the Engineers and Contractors’, ‘the health of the solicitor and secretary of the pier’, the Town and Trade of Eastbourne’, ‘success to our local sports and pastimes’ and ending with ‘to the health of the ladies’…! The opening of the pier finished with an afternoon of sports at the Cricket Field – primarily for school children in Eastbourne but the 100 yards race and sack race were open to all.

Storm damage in 1877

On New Year’s Day 1877, a huge storm destroyed the front part of the pier. News of a gale and the damage was reported in newspapers as far as Sheffield, Scotland and Ireland. The Pier master and three other men were trying to save some of the timber being used to widen the deck of the pier when 150 yards of the pier was washed away. The waves smashed the wooden panels as they were lifted from the iron supports and the fate of pier master and his men was unknown until they were spotted clinging on to the ironwork until the water receded and they were able to climb up to the pier entrance. This storm had also washed away part of Marine and Grand Parades, washed away several boathouses and fish-houses near Seaside and streets turned into rivers, trapping some residents inside their houses.  At the Redoubt, the soldiers had to clear out at a moment’s notice as the water came over the moat wall and found its way into the living quarters of the men and families who lived there reaching a depth of 5 feet.

Moving through 20th century, Eastbourne and the Pier became even more popular with visitors. One of those visitors was Alice Burden who visited her sister Lucy who was living here. Lucy and her husband Bill Rigarlsford ran the Post Office/Grocery Store in Coppice Avenue after the Second World War.

Thank you to Alice’s daughter and granddaughter for sending us this brilliant photo of Alice on the pier.

Alice is at the front of the photo, looking out to sea.

Although we probably won’t be treated to a stalwart coastguard, fiddle in hand, striking up a lively tune to mark this anniversary, we encourage you to add another slightly bizarre toast to the long list from the Eastbourne Pier Company directors. ‘To the health of….. ‘

Eastbourne Bicycle Club: Cyckhanas, Loose Knickerbockers and adventures around Normandy

Katherine Buckland

As we are all encouraged to take to two wheels instead of four and to mark #BikeWeek 2020, this post explores the story of Eastbourne Bicycle Club. To do that properly, we should start with the man who founded it. Luther Adams was born in Worthing and moved with his family to Eastbourne in 1856 when his father Isaac opened a Fishmonger, Poulterer and Ice merchants in Lewes Place, later in Terminus Road.  The family lived at Brooklyn House, Terminus Road (143-145 Terminus Road near Marks and Spencer takes that spot today.) Luther later moved to Enys Road and stayed there until he died, 85 years old in 1932.

Luther Adams started cycling in 1869 and won the first bicycle race ever given in Eastbourne. He founded the Eastbourne Bicycle Club in May 1877 and was the Captain for the club for around 20 years. They first met in the Mutual Improvement Society’s rooms in Susans Road and the club went on weekly runs around Sussex.  They started with 9 members but had grown to 54 by 1884.

Mr A Dumbrell and his Penny Farthing

The Bicycle Club were no strangers to putting on events. Their annual race meetings held at Devonshire Park were a huge success attracting big names in the cycling world including H L Cortis who was the first man to ride 20 miles in an hour.  The prizes for their race meetings were certainly sought after. In 1889 for the One Mile race 1st prize: a clock, 2nd prize: a biscuit box, 3rd prize: jam spoons in case.  For the Local Tricycle race, 1st prize: an aneroid barometer, 2nd an oak salad bowl and 3rd a plated reading lamp.  Many different varieties of bicycle were welcome at the club and at these race meetings. One of their members, Mr A Dumbrell always favoured his penny farthing though it had gone out of fashion with most others locally by the 1890s.

When the Prince and Princess of Wales visited in 1883, Luther designed and built the cyclists arch to welcome them to the Town. According to the Eastbourne Gazette, this arch was the first cyclists arch ever built and was copied by the Belfast wheelmen when the Royals visited Belfast.  The club hosted a dinner at the Town Hall on Jubilee day in 1887 for a whopping 200 people and often funded shows at the Pier Pavilion, complete with bags of snacks (a large paper bag containing a meat pie, a mince pie, a tam tart and a big bun) for the children of Eastbourne.

By 1891, their uniform had been relaxed from grey costumes with black caps and helmets that distorted into ridiculous shapes in the rain, straw hats which were troublesome in wet and racing weather and polo caps which left their faces scorched by the sun, to no specific uniform requirements. Each member could wear whatever their wanted though caps, short jackets and loose knickerbockers seemed to be the most in favour. Luther still preferred, according to the Eastbourne Gazette, ‘to encase his nether lambs [we think that’s a typo and should be limbs!] in tight fitting knee breeches.’ The same article questioned the absence of women in the bicycle club. The response from the club was that one of the members ‘The Professor’ opposed the admission of women into the club as he ‘fears that his fatal beauty might expose him to the bitter and remorseless jealousy of his brothren…!

Eastbourne Bicycle Club, c1905

This seems to have changed for the Cyckhana in 1898. Attracting over 2000 visitors, the day of sports included the Tilting at Rings (won by P J Locke) the Egg and Spoon race on bicycles for ladies (won by Miss Ticehurst), The Hoop Race for ladies (won by Miss Kirkman) and the Carnival Race for the men of the Bicycle Club (won by J S Gowland) This race consisted of riding a short distance then running to baskets which contained costumes. ‘Gowland was soon arrayed as a noble policeman, Wood was a Butcher minus a cleaver, and in a flaxen wig and short flounced dress – Barber appeared as a ballet girl.’ The highlight of the day seems to be the Jack and Jill race for both Ladies and Gentlemen, ‘competitors to start in pairs and ride to pail of water, pick up the pail and carry same between them, fastest time and most water wins.’ 1st prize – umbrella and lamp won by W S Squire and Miss Breach, 2nd prize – an album and glove and handkerchief boxes won by J Niedermayer and Miss Townsend, 3rd Prize –cyclometer and clock won by H Booth and Miss Vieler.

Luther chronicled a trip the club took around Normandy in 1894, keen to show off his ‘limited stock of lingo’ (apparently limited to describing coffee!),  described the struggle over the winding roads via Littlington and Seaford to the quay at Newhaven where they met H J Bannister – the Captain of the Newhaven Cycling Club who joined them as their interpreter! After a troubled crossing which ‘upset the digestion of our bountiful supper’, they arrived in Dieppe at 3.30am for a brief conversation with  officials and a café au lait before retiring to their hotel (opposite the port) until breakfast.  They sent their spare luggage on to Paris and, remembering to steer to the right when meeting vehicles coming the other way, their settled into their exploration of ‘splendid countryside’.  They arrived at Gournay (46 miles later) for the night and after dinner came ‘a walk, a smoke and strawberries and then while sipping our café noir’. Luther ends his recollection with the shocking sentence: ‘it was so hot that day; we rode without coat or waistcoat.’

The club changed its name to the Eastbourne Club around 1907 and continued until at least the 1950s although by then they were joined by many other Eastbourne cycling clubs, some of which continue to this day.

Arthur Henry Crook

Eastbourne’s Key Workers

Lizzie Williams

Arthur Henry Crook

Arthur Henry Crook was a doctor who lived in Eastbourne in the early to mid-1900s and worked at the Princess Alice Hospital for over 30 years. Arthur was born in 1884 in Southampton, and studied Natural Sciences at Christ College, Cambridge. He was awarded a scholarship to study medicine at Guy’s Hospital in London and qualified in 1908. In January 1913 Arthur married Margaret (known as Peg) Witherbee in London. Soon after they moved to Eastbourne, and Arthur set up a practice with Dr Astley Roberts. In 1914 he was appointed the Assistant Medical Officer at the Princess Alice Hospital.

The Princess Alice Memorial Hospital was in Carew Road. It was named after The Princess Alice Memorial Hospital was in Carew Road. It was named after Princess Alice, Queen Victoria’s daughter, who’d spent time in Eastbourne and died four years before the hospital was opened in 1883. In its early days it was a voluntary hospital, funded through local taxes, fundraising, and subscriptions, but became part of the NHS in 1948. The hospital closed when Eastbourne DGH opened in 1977. The site was demolished in the early 2000s, and the Hawthorn’s Retirement Village now stands in its place.

Dr Crook’s Battalion in Antwerp
Image Credit http://www.jackclegg.com/Norman002.htm

It was not long after Arthur joined the hospital that World War One began. Arthur was already in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (R.N.V.R.) and was called up almost immediately to fight. He served in various regiments during World War One but saw most of his service in the land-based 63rd Division. This unit consisted of men from the Royal Navy who were not needed for service at sea, reserve units, and volunteers. A group of men from Eastbourne who were in the R.N.V.R. were posted to this Division. Among them were: Sussex cricketer Cyril Browne; the Eastbourne Rugby Club captain Claude de la Mothe; the headmaster of Ascham School Arthur Willis; and Sidney Charles Weekes, the principle boy solo in St Saviour’s choir. Eastbourne was so proud of them that the newspapers regularly had articles about their progress, and pictures the men were on view in Mr Bourne’s photography shop in Langney Road.

Dr Crook in an improvised bomb proof shelter in the trenches
Image Credit http://www.jackclegg.com/Norman002.htm

Arthur served as a surgeon, and saw action in Antwerp, Gallipoli (where he was mentioned in dispatches), France and Ireland. While away Arthur took photos of the places he’d been and the men he’d served with. These photos are now part of the Imperial War Museum’s collection.

After the War, Arthur returned to Eastbourne and continued at the Princess Alice Hospital. He was such a valued member of staff that when he was due to retire in 1936 the hospital created the new post of Fracture Surgeon for him and he continued in this role until his actual retirement in 1951! A keen sportsman, Arthur helped found the Eastbourne Sailing Club in 1933 with fellow doctor Ross Taylor.

The Second World War must have been a difficult time for Arthur and his family. Arthur and Margaret had three sons and a daughter, and in 1940 their eldest son, Anthony, was captured at Dunkirk and held as a Prisoner of War. He was only released when the camp was liberated in 1945 by the Russians and returned home in late March.

Arthur found himself in front of the local magistrates twice during World War Two or breaking the blackout. As Eastbourne was badly hit by bombing during the War the blackout in the town was robustly enforced. On both occasions Arthur fell foul of the rules more by misfortune than neglect. On the first occasion in October 1940, Arthur returned home and turned the bathroom light on momentarily before realising the blackout curtain hadn’t yet been put up. In court he remarked that this probably happened to a lot of people, but they didn’t have the misfortune of living across the street from the police-constable! The second mishap happened in May 1943 when, after going downstairs in his house to collect instruments that he needed for surgery, in his hurry to return he left the basement light on.

Princess Alice Hospital

During and after the War Arthur carried on working at the Princess Alice, and when the NHS was formed in 1948, he was appointed Orthopaedic Surgeon to the Eastbourne Group of Hospitals. Arthur was also an active member of the community and was a Sussex Downsman, an organisation that was founded in 1923 to protect the Sussex Downs and Seven Sister’s landscape.

Arthur was a regular contributor to the local paper by writing them letters. He Arthur was a regular contributor to the local paper, writing numerous letters. He wrote in 1935 suggesting that foreign films should be shown at the Devonshire Park Cinema. In 1941 he suggested that the council should remove the ‘great quantity’ of ‘ugly’ metal railings from around the town for the War effort. At the end of the Second World War he thought that holiday makers should pay a surcharge when they visited to help with the town’s recovery. Then in the 1950s he objected to the redevelopment plan to knock down the Wish Tower in the 1950s. He had many other letters published in the Eastbourne Gazette and Herald about many other issues that were close to his heart.

Arthur carried on working as a doctor right up to his death in January 1957. A memorial fund was set up by his friends and raised over £500. This money was used to create a garden in his honour at the Princess Alice Hospital.

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