Friends of Brighton History Centre

Kate Elms and I were relative newcomers to the History Centre, both joining the permanent staff in 2007 – Kate having previously worked there as a volunteer and I having worked elsewhere in Brighton Museum with the Curator responsible for Oral Histories.

Like Paul Jordan, when he first started with the original team under the management of Sally Blann, I remember feeling seriously intimidated by the sheer number of items in our collection and having a real sense of terror at the idea of being left on my own at the staff desk and being expected to answer anyone’s questions.

An early photograph of the reference library
An early photograph of the reference library

Fortunately, our knowledge and our confidence increased over the years and that has been one of the joys of the job – always learning, always finding out more details and adding to our knowledge and again to our ability to really help the visitors to the Centre. Because it’s not just the beautiful room and the resources within it but it was the people who came that really made the History Centre something special.

A letter published in one of the local papers in the 1920s complaining of draughts in the room
A letter published in the 1920s complaining of draughts in the room

Although there have been  the obvious highlights like the media research we did for film and television and radio companies and our moment of glory on Who Do You Think You Are?, it was the visitors to the Centre we met in person who really gave meaning to our work. We had academics and historians, novelists and short story writers, journalists researching for various projects and students from PhD level studying rare books and pamphlets down to primary school children looking for that extra finishing touch for a homework project with an old image or a historic newspaper report. We’ve had sports enthusiasts trawling through the newspapers for match reports from a hundred years ago. We’ve supported and advised people with their family histories either helping to trace living relatives or sometimes unearthing hidden family secrets and tragedies in inquest reports and newspaper stories. I’ll never forget the woman who came from Brazil knowing that her grandmother had been in England at the beginning of the 20th century but not knowing where, being moved to tears when we found her name in the recently released 1911 census, hidden away in a boarding school so far from home.

Paul, Shona & Kate
Paul, Shona & Kate

We’d like to thank all the people who came and who we were able to help and who gave us a real sense that our work was worthwhile and appreciated. Although it was wonderful to see our names mentioned in credits in books, for example, we also feel very proud that for some people the History Centre was just a place that they liked to come – to the full time carers getting an hour away from their responsibilities, for the people looking for a peaceful spot in a busy city. It’s been a privilege to meet you. So many of you have been true friends of the History Centre.

Shona Milton, Brighton History Centre

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