The Brighton History Centre opened in Brighton Museum under the direction of Local Studies Manager, Sally Blann, in October 2003 and formed the final part of Brighton Museum’s refurbishment. During refurbishment, the local studies section had been housed in the former Music Library, now the Cote restaurant on Church Street.
My first impression was one of awe when I saw the size and grandeur of the room. My second thought was, how on earth am I going to remember what stock we have and where it’s stored!
Finding material in the early days was quite a hit and miss exercise as we had to work from a card index which was not only out of date but gave no indication of where the material was stored. Over the past few years we have been able to add all Brighton History Centre stock to the museum database. The record includes description, subject and author, for example, but most crucially where exactly the stock was located in the Centre.
For the first few years, it was very noticeable how many of the customers were reluctant to access family history data via a computer, preferring to use microfiche: plastic sheets on which the information is stored and can be viewed with magnification. Even when census returns became available online, some customers still preferred to use microfilms. These are notoriously difficult to access as the indexes changed for each census year! By the time of closure, the majority of our customers were using the internet to find the resources they needed.
Another noticeable subtle change came in the form we received enquiries. Early on, a large proportion of requests came in letter form but again by 2013, with the increasing use of computers, most were sent by email.
Aside from answering telephone, face to face and email enquiries, Brighton History Centre has hosted many visits from schools, universities and community groups and given talks about Brighton’s history. For me, this was the most rewarding part of the job. For example, I created a fictitious family and created a life around them set in Brighton from 1914 to 1965. I thought by telling the history of the city through the eyes of invented characters, the fascinating changes which took place in the city over that period could be related in a far more interesting way.
One of the aspects I’ve enjoyed most while working at Brighton History Centre, is the detective work involved when dealing with enquiries. The details that customers sometimes present are not always entirely accurate – sometimes it’s a matter of separating fact from fiction. For example, one enquirer wanted information about a family member who had been Mayor of Brighton in the 1900s – it turned out that the man had been a clerk in the Mayor’s office!
Finally, the work would not have been half as pleasurable without the support of the fantastic members of staff who have worked here over the years, most notably Kate and Shona. The following have also helped to create a great working environment: Donna Steele, Christine Morris, Kevin Bacon, Peter Blake, Beverley Green, Karen Archer and Anna Kisby and not forgetting the invaluable help given by casuals such as Jo and Dora Palache.
Paul Jordan, Senior History Centre Officer