Photographic Survey of West Sussex: Rediscovering an overlooked collection during the time of Covid

By Nick Corbo-Stewart, Volunteer Coordinator and Archivist

Front cover of the EAHY photographic survey booklet

The outbreak of Covid-19 and the introduction of lockdown in March 2020 saw a radical change to how staff at West Sussex Record Office (WSRO) worked. Normally based in the office full time, we moved to working from home. The lockdown also meant that none of our 45 volunteers were able to come into the office to continue their vital work on the collections.

Not to be daunted, Archivist and Volunteer Co-ordinator, Nick Corbo-Stewart, devised a number of projects which volunteers could work on remotely from home. One particularly significant project was to create a new online catalogue for a series of photographs of local towns and villages taken for the European Architectural Heritage Year (EAHY) in 1975.

In the first of these blog posts, Nick will describe this ongoing project – starting with the background to the EAHY photographic survey.

Part 1: Beginnings

The year 1975 was designated as European Architectural Heritage Year by the Council of Europe. In the United Kingdom, a central committee was established to encourage and awaken interest in architectural heritage through a series of conservation and improvement projects.

This challenge was taken up by WSRO as an opportunity to conduct a photographic survey of towns and villages across the county. A circular was sent out to a number of local history societies, camera clubs and interested individuals. 102 groups offered to participate, and surveys were promised across 101 communities.

For ease of cataloguing arrangement and covering as much area as possible, the surveys were to be conducted by parish. The participants were provided with films, record sheets and Ordnance Survey (OS) map copies. They then took a series of photographs of all buildings of interest within that parish, recording them on the survey sheet and indicating the location on an OS map. Most photographs were taken using black and white 35mm film.

WSRO allocated the collection the catalogue reference PHS. All the survey sheets and photographs collected within a particular parish were designated with the reference PHS plus the parish number taken from the WSRO parish catalogue, e.g. PHS 116 Kirdford on the survey corresponds with Par 116 Kirdford at the Record Office.

The survey sheets served as the catalogue of what was photographed. Every sheet listed the exposure of one film around a location within a parish, for example a street, estate or a park.  The volunteer completing the survey gave every photograph they had taken a brief title/description. This was either hand-written or typed onto the survey sheet. Usually, that location was given under ‘Place of survey’. For example, PHS 2 Aldwick, ‘Place of survey: Grange Estate, Bognor Regis’, the first photograph is described as ‘Taken at the corner of Craigweil Lane, looking south’.  Sometimes the place of survey was just referred to under the generic parish name. When this happened, the survey sheet was given a film number e.g. Film 1, Film 2 etc to distinguish it from the next location in the parish.

By the beginning of 1976, contributions had been received from 53 groups and individuals, comprising a total of 286 films. The rolls of films and documentation were then deposited with the Record Office for preservation and future access. In the majority of cases, the Record Office, rather than the original photographers, made photographic prints from the negatives. This has resulted in the production of over 8500 photographs.

Every photograph was stamped on the back with its unique PHS reference number which corresponded with its entry on the survey sheet. The photographs were then placed in acid free envelopes, packaged with others from the same parish, wrapped in a folder and labelled with the parish name and catalogue number.

The square brown folder is opened, and within are dozens of individually enveloped photographs of properties in Ardingley.
PHS 231/12 – Ardingly’s folder of photos

The number of survey sheets completed by the volunteer was dictated by the size of the parish, the number of buildings photographed and the photographers or organisations involved in taking the images. Therefore, some parishes have only one or two survey sheets, whilst others can have up to thirty.

As the 1970s progressed, the survey sheets, maps showing photographed locations and any additional notes were placed in three lever arch files. These act as a catalogue for the entire collection.

As of 2020, all are now held in boxes at WSRO. They provide an amazing visual record of West Sussex as it was in the mid-1970s and will be accessible to the public later this year when the catalogue is complete.

In the next part of this blog, to be released in later in 2022, Nick will be reporting on some of the challenges and successes our WSRO volunteers have faced working from home to create a new online catalogue for this collection.

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2 thoughts on “Photographic Survey of West Sussex: Rediscovering an overlooked collection during the time of Covid

  1. Hi, I appear to have a number of photographs of Petworth that may have been taken as part of the 1975 Architectural Heritage Survey. Can you confirm that Petworth was included in the survey?


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