Chosen by Sheila Rhodes, volunteer
Edward Heron-Allen was a remarkable man. Born in London in 1861, Heron-Allen’s interests were many and varied; a qualified solicitor, he was also an expert in violin making and cheirosophy (the art of reading a person’s character through the formation of their hands and fingers), a published author of early science-fiction stories and novels, a talented linguist, who became known for his Persian translations, and a well respected historian and scientist. In 1919, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, as a result of his studies on foraminifera, and he served as President of the Royal Microscopical Society from 1916-1917.
The death of his father in 1911 enabled Heron-Allen to retire from his legal practice and take up residence at Large Acres, the house he had built at Selsey in 1904, where he lived until his death in 1943. He used his time at Selsey to further his study of foraminifera and also published his definitive history, ‘Selsey Bill: Historic and Pre-Historic’ (a copy of which can be found at the Record Office). He also wrote a number of other pamphlets about Selsey and articles about aspects of Sussex history, many of which were published in the Sussex Archaeological Collections.
Heron-Allen was also an avid chronicler, who took great delight in capturing the detail not only of his own life, but also of the world around him. His fascinating ‘Journal of the Great War’ records the impact of the First World War on Selsey life, as well as his own experiences of serving with the Sussex Volunteer Regiment and later his time spent on the Western Front, after he had been recruited to work for the War Office’s propaganda department. The Journal was published by the Sussex Record Society in 2002 and copies are available from the Record Office.
Heron-Allen’s ‘Selseyana’ comprises seven volumes and they are rather like a modern scrap book. The volumes are filled with newspaper cuttings, postcards, photos, theatre programmes and all manner of ephemeral items, all centred on Selsey and dating between 1906 and 1937. I found them so exciting to read, being a Selsey person myself. The articles took me back to the village, to the days when it was just growing into the town it is now; when water supply and mains drainage were being thought of, alongside street lighting and new roads between Selsey and Bognor; the volumes also bring news of dangerous lifeboat rescues and scandals!
The most poignant of them is Volume II, which brings sad news of the First World War. There is also praise for the St Itha Troup of Boy Scouts for its coastal watch – night time duties on Selsey’s beaches. And, on a lighter note, there is news of a Regatta, Selsey Sports, amateur musicals and a high society romance! Put it all together and it would make a wonderful novel about life in the small fishing village that Selsey was at that time. I’m a bit surprised Heron-Allen didn’t write one himself!
In 2014, the Record Office acquired a large collection of Heron-Allen’s surviving papers from his grandson, Ivor Jones. The collection has been catalogued and will soon be available for consultation; highlights include several volumes of autograph letters and 32 holiday journals, which record Heron-Allen’s trips to Europe and Egypt in typically meticulous detail. The very active Heron-Allen Society, formed in 2000, seeks ‘to study and record all aspects of the life and interests of Edward Heron-Allen, 1861-1943, and to promote his work’; more information about the Society can be found on its website, http://www.heronallensociety.co.uk/.