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We are all history
On a fresh but freezing Saturday last weekend, a group trailed the London Road on a historical sightseeing tour. This was the first instalment of the Sound Maps of London Road project, a venture to plot an audio history of the area on the internet.
The group of people taking part were made up of locals interested in the area and the project, including an archivist from the East Sussex record office and a Sussex University history student and documentary film maker. The Sound Maps team had placed laminated posters plotting twenty key points of interest along the road on buildings, bus stops and phone boxes.
What I didn‘t know was astounding. I asked other participants about the revelations of the tour and what interested them most.
"The walk has made me look up, above the shop fronts, to see the villas on the second storey," said one woman. These are the remnants of the old Queen's Road estate that once stood there, before trams, before major bus routes and hoardes of weekend seaside revellers funnel in and out of the London Road bottleneck.
As you can imagine a group of people trailing up and down what is relatively a short stretch of roa, on shoppers Saturday, caused a stir. "Are you from Unison?" one lady asked me as we were huddled round one of our trail points posted on Riley‘s front door. "No we’re doing a historical trail," I giggled.
She looked at me quizzically, as if to say ‘Here? History?’, so I jumped in with: "Did you know there used to be a slaughterhouse where Somerfield is?". "Well I’ve lived around this area since 1964 and didn’t know that." Of course, I tried to recruit her into the project: "We need people like you and your stories."
This is what became abundantly clear to me as I started to take more notice of the people on the street that day. There are plenty of local residents who are deeply rooted in the community. As I was talking to some of the other participants on the tour, one remarked to me: "This is true Brighton. People who live here are from here, not like some other neighbourhoods." This point was reinforced by Alex Fulcher who is making a documentary about the London Road, due to be screened at Sussex University this coming May. "We’ve been talking to people to try and understand the area, how it has changed, using oral history techniques. We’ve interviewed John, who runs Tastables and has lived here for 20 years, Mohammed at the tailors and Dave who runs the egg stall in the Open Market," he enthuses.
Another treat in store for the recording drop-in sessions this coming weekend, comes from Isilda Almeida-Harvey, Outreach and Learning Office from the East Sussex Record Office. She is bringing original documents, building plans, maps, photos and other documents as well as additional information arranged in a digital archive for people to peruse and potentially spark inspiration. "This is what the archive is for, not to be sitting still on the shelf but to be bought to people to look at it. I’m really interested to see how people respond to the material."
I ask Isilda if people should bring items of their own to show the project team: "That would be really great, to see people’s personal artefacts as well as hearing the stories that go along with them."
If this has whetted your appetite to become a part of this living history event, then simply turn up this weekend. Drop in to the Co-op, post office entrance, anytime between 10am and 4pm on Saturday, March 13 and/or Sunday, March 14. You’ll be directed by the project team to the studio where the recordings are taking place, view the archive and refreshments will be available too.
For more information check: www.londonrdsounds.co.uk.