Lecture reports 2008

The James Gray Collection

18th October 2008

Duncan McNeill, photographer, architect and Hove's first conservation officer spoke about the Hove part of The James Gray Collection of historical photographs of Brighton and Hove which now belongs to the Regency Society.

Duncan began his talk by explaining that James Gray's collection arose out of his interest in local history and a chance offer of a small collection of unwanted historical photographs. Gray was not a professional photographer but did take some pictures himself and commissioned many others. He died in 1998 at the age of 94 leaving 39 volumes containing some 9,000 pictures. The earliest picture is a photograph of a drawing of Brighton of 1790.

Postcard of 1919 showing children and bathing machines on Hove beach.

Thanks to sponsorship Duncan McNeill and Lavender Jones have been able to digitise about half of the volumes and place them on the Regency Society's website as a permanent historical record.

Duncan then showed many pictures of Hove in by-gone days together with some up-to-date comparisons. We saw pictures of buildings that no longer exist, buildings converted to other uses and buildings put up in James Gray's lifetime. There were historical views of roads and railways, residential and shopping streets, people going about their business and taking their leisure as well as the farmland close by the Town.

Particularly memorable were the pictures of Decimus Burton’s Wick Hall, the Medina Terrace swimming pool, a gymnasium converted into the Lansdowne Street synagogue, Viceroy Lodge and Embassy Court, the old Dyke Road and Devil's Dyke railway.

Photograph of Wick Hall, pre 1935.

Hove Lawns were being used as a Victorian fashion parade ground and a landing strip for early aeroplanes, Shoreham Harbour busy in 1891 and the “mystery” floating towers (a wartime anti-submarine defence), shop-fronts then and now, and the Goldstone football ground between the wars.

Duncan finished by answering a number of questions from the good sized audience and the chairman, Ian Crossman, invited any member who felt able to join him in sponsoring one of the seven Hove volumes in the collection.

Ellen Terry of Smallhythe Place

13th November 2008

On the damp and uninviting evening of Thursday 13 November Laton Frewen travelled from Rye to Hove with his wife Cathy and all his own projection equipment to speak to members of the Society and visitors. Displaying a number of portraits of Ellen Terry and showing a very well illustrated photographic tour of the house, Mr Frewen was able to give us a very memorable account of the life and times of the great Victorian actress who rose from modest beginnings to become the 'Queen of the Theatre'.

Circular, sepia tone theatrical portrait of Ellen Terry

Ellen Terry was born into a theatrical family in 1847. She started acting as a child and played her first West End role at the age of 16. At 17 she was married. Separated within the year, she continued acting but then eloped in her early twenties and had two children. At 27, when her partner was no longer able to support her and the children, she returned to the stage.

Ellen reached the peak of her acting career between 1878 and 1902. During these years she partnered Henry Irving (another famous actor of the time) at the Lyceum Theatre in many Shakespearean and other plays.

In the late 1890s, quite by chance, Ellen and Irving discovered Smallhythe Place – a timber framed farmhouse built in 1514 or thereabouts. It was love at first sight. Ellen bought the house when it came up for sale in 1899 and used it as her country retreat for the rest of her life.

Following her Lyceum years, Ellen tried her hand at theatrical management with the help of her children. The venture was not a great success and she was greatly affected by the death of Henry Irving in 1905. However the next year she married for the third time and celebrated her golden jubilee as an actress to great acclaim and financial reward.

Sadly Ellen's acting career then began to decline but she lectured on Shakespearean heroines, touring both at home and abroad, and enjoying her country life at Smallhythe. In 1925 she was made a Dame and then lived for three more years in poor health and financial difficulties.

Subsequently her daughter Edy displayed her mother's costumes and memorabilia in the house for visitors to see. It was taken over by the National Trust in 1939.

Mr. Frewen's excellent talk demonstrated how worthwhile a visit to Smallhythe Place would be for anybody interested in the theatre and/or old timber framed houses.

The Churches of Hove

Sue Berry, Editor of the Victoria County History: City of Brighton and Hove talked about some of the older churches which belonged to Hove before the merger with Brighton.

Of the old parish churches of Aldrington, Hangleton, Hove, Portslade, West Blatchington, three had to be virtually rebuilt between the 1830s and 1900 - St Leonards, old St Andrews and St Peters. Both a north aisle and the Brackenbury Chapel were added to Portslade church during this period and Hangleton Church was restored.

Watercolour; three figures standing in meadow with church and grave stones beyond

Good water colours and prints of these churches c.1800 are in the museum of the Sussex Archaeological Society at Barbican House in Lewes (access to them is by appointment).

The talk then moved on to new churches and included the pioneering design of St Andrews Church in Waterloo Street by Charles Barry, Holy Trinity by Woodman, St John the Baptist by the Habershons, St Barnabus and All Saints by Pearson. Apart from St Andrews and St Patrick's (Cambridge Road) all of the new churches were mainly funded by subscriptions, so was Bavesi's rebuilding of Old St Andrews.

The research project is being supported by American Express who have seconded Mrs Jan Lank to help with the research. The book is due out late in 2011 and, articles using the research are being sent to journals now.