The ‘Sussex Declaration’ of Independence held at West Sussex Record Office

Low res declaration

Many of our followers will recall the news last year of the ‘Sussex Declaration’, an early copy of the US Declaration of Independence, and the only other ceremonial copy of the Declaration known to exist besides the signed 1776 copy now displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Although the manuscript has been catalogued and stored here at West Sussex Record Office in Chichester since it was deposited in 1956, the significance of the copy was only investigated in the last 2 years, after two Harvard academics from the Declaration Resources Project located it via our entry on the National Archives catalogue. The media interest surrounding the Sussex Declaration was summed up in a previous blog post, and looks set to push WSRO into the limelight once again, with the confirmation of the Sussex Declaration’s authenticity as a contemporary parchment copy.

Following a year of non-invasive testing on the parchment manuscript of the Declaration of Independence housed at WSRO, Harvard researchers Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff, in collaboration with West Sussex Record Office, British Library, Library of Congress, and University of York, have concluded that the results support the hypothesis that the document was produced in the 1780s, and is the only other contemporary manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence on parchment apart from the signed copy at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., known as the Matlack Declaration. There are other printed parchment copies and other handwritten copies on paper but the Sussex Declaration, as it has become known, and the Matlack Declaration, are the only two ceremonial parchment manuscript copies.

Although at 24” x 30.5” the WSRO parchment is on the same ornamental scale as the Matlack Declaration, which was signed by the delegates to Continental Congress, in contrast, the Sussex Declaration lists the signatories written in the hand of a single clerk.

Conservation scientists at the British Library, Library of Congress, and the University of York conducted multi-spectral imaging, X-ray fluorescence (XRF) capture, and protein analysis (DNA testing). The imaging revealed a date beneath a scraped erasure to the right of the document’s title. Beneath the scraping, researchers found a partially inscribed date, reading either “July 4, 178” or “July 4, 179”.

Add Mss 8981 West Sussex Record Office Recto Erasure
Red lines show the downward slope of the erased text (Courtesy of the British Library)

The erased date was written along a slight downward slant, indicating that the clerk made two errors in the initial calligraphy for the date: he (or she) erred with regard to the date itself, using (presumably) the year of production rather than the year in which the Declaration was enacted, and also failed to maintain a horizontal line. Imaging revealed that the inked lines establishing horizontal margins for the parchment, and the lining of the parchment used by the clerk to keep the rest of the text properly aligned were added after this failed inscription was scraped off the parchment. There is congruency in the iron gall ink used throughout the document, indicating that the initial titling, the corrected titling, the body of the text, the list of signatories, and the corrections within the body of the text were written in a relatively short window of time; in other words, the corrections were made almost immediately.

These discoveries support the date of the 1780s for the Sussex Declaration proposed by Allen and Sneff in their paper, “The Sussex Declaration,” forthcoming in the Proceedings of the Bibliographic Society of America this fall. The findings also support their hypothesis that the clerk was inexperienced.

In addition, through XRF analysis, the researchers discovered high iron content in holes in the corner of the parchment, providing supporting evidence for the use of iron nails to hang the parchment at some point. The protein analysis, or DNA testing, revealed that the parchment was prepared from sheepskin, rather than more expensive calfskin. Full copies of the technical reports from the testing are available the Declaration Resources Project website.

Whilst the parchment is currently housed at the West Sussex Record Office, having been deposited in 1956, it is believed to have been held originally by the Third Duke of Richmond, known as the “Radical Duke” for his support of the Americans during the Revolution. The parchment itself is, however, American and is most likely to have been produced in New York or Philadelphia. The team continues to work on the question of when and how the parchment moved to the UK.

Wendy Walker, West Sussex County Archivist, said: “We are extremely

Wendy and Lousie Goldsmith
County Archivist Wendy Walker with West Sussex County Council Leader, Louise Goldsmith, and the Sussex Declaration

excited to hear that Harvard’s research and the scientific analyses confirms the historical significance and importance of this archive. It is a fascinating document and it has been fantastic for us to work with colleagues at Harvard, the Library of Congress, the British Library and the University of York to find out more about the story that surrounds it.”

You can also watch Wendy speak to the BBC about the significance of the Sussex Declaration.

Images of the Sussex Declaration and contextual documents are available here. Please contact for information about image credits.


For Harvard Communications, please contact:

Peter Reuell

Communications Officer, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University

Cambridge, MA 02138




For West Sussex Record Office Communications, please contact:

Jo Steele

Senior Press Officer, West Sussex County Council

Tel: +44 (0)33 022 25979




Lauren Clifton

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The US Declaration of Independence and West Sussex Record Office

HEADLINESMany of you may have read about the ‘Sussex Declaration’ in the past few months. You may have heard about the record on the radio, you may have even seen it broadcast to millions on morning television! The story behind how this parchment copy of the US Declaration of Independence ended up in Chichester is still being looked in to, as researchers investigate its life before it was deposited in the Record Office in 1956. The Declaration is also being tested at the British Library to confirm its age and provenance, and there is a lot more work to be done to uncover the history of this intriguing document. However, what we do know is that the ‘discovery’ of the Sussex Declaration is causing quite a stir both sides of the pond!

To celebrate American Independence Day, the holiday that marks the signing of the original Declaration on July 4th 1776 which announced thirteen American colonies as independent sovereign states free from British rule, we will be posting a series of blogs focussing on the links between this turbulent period of US history and the county of Sussex.Low res declaration

Although we will be looking at the many and varied relationships with the signatories and events of the period – the first President of the United States, George Washington himself was of Sussex stock – it is WSRO’s copy of the Declaration of Independence that has really got people talking. The copy was brought to the public’s attention by an interview the New York Times conducted with Harvard academics Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff, from the Declaration Resources Project. The project sought to investigate and document copies of the Declaration circulated in the decades following its signing, and to ‘create innovative and informative resources about the Declaration of Independence’. The project located WSRO’s copy through the National Archives online catalogue, through which our own online catalogue can be searched. Although the record had been previously featured in ‘Roots of America’, an anthology of documents relating to American history in West Susses Record Office, published by former WSRO Archivist Kim Leslie, it had perhaps passed researchers by due to the lack of the word ‘independence’ in the title of the document, and thus catalogue entry. The description simply uses the title in the record itself, and states; ‘Manuscript copy, on parchment, of the Declaration in Congress of the thirteen United States of America, 4 July 1776’.

Following a visit to WSRO last summer, Professor Allen and researcher Emily Sneff published a paper on the ‘Sussex Declaration’, which was delivered at a Yale University conference in April. Investigating the significance of the ordering of the signatories, and its importance as a copy on parchment, second only to the original held at the National Archives in Washington, D.C, the paper invited media attention from both America and the UK alike. Quickly followed by articles in The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Times, and the Daily Mail, the New York Times article also led to articles from NBC News, ABC News, The National Post, Fox News, and CNN. Even the New Delhi Times was writing about us!

Photos of CBS filming
Charlie D’Agata and the CBS crew filming in the Record Office searchroom


In the days following the news, American network CBS visited us in Chichester to film a segment reporting the ‘discovery’ on live breakfast television. Speaking to County Archivist Wendy Walker, and filming for a whole morning in the Record Office searchroom and strongrooms, a clip of the segment can be found on Youtube. Similar to much of the reporting on the Sussex Declaration, reporter Charlie D’Agata focussed on the potential CBS Youtube screengrablink between the parchment and Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond (1735-1806). Lord Lieutenant of Sussex at the time the original Declaration was signed, and based at the Goodwood Estate just outside Chichester, the Duke was a well-known supporter of the colonists during the American War of Independence. This is only one possibility in the search for the provenance of the record, and explanation for its journey to and home in Chichester, with other ideas currently being explored. The document itself is also being looked at in detail, and will be sent to the British Library over the summer for further scientific tests which we hope will reveal more about the parchment, the ink and its origins.

International news agency Reuters also wrote about the Sussex Declaration, and once again interviewed County Archivist Wendy Walker for a more in-depth discussion CNN tweetof the Record Office’s role in the document’s new-found fame. The interest on social media also increased in the following days, and the WSRO Twitter saw a record number of mentions from both sides of the Atlantic.

Following the interest in the Record Office and our unique discovery, the response in the press and on social media allowed us to reach a whole new audience, and make links with American institutions and individuals alike. Although in the coming days we will explore further links West Sussex has with the United States, it is the significance of the Declaration that has captured the imaginations of our followers and supporters. We hope to report back once the on-going research and tests have enlightened us further, but for now, everyone at West Sussex Record Office would like to wish you a happy Independence Day!


Lauren Clifton

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Transatlantic Ties: May 2020 Update

By Jo McConville, Project Archivist

As I write, it’s been around two months since I went into work at the Record Office and my old routine – commuting on the train, colleagues in the office, tea in the staffroom – has become a hazy memory. As described in this recent blogpost, WSRO staff have been fortunate enough to be able to continue working from home albeit on rather different tasks in many cases whilst WSRO remains closed to the public. I’m in the same position, but the Covid-19 crisis has posed some particular challenges for Transatlantic Ties as a fixed term project with very time dependent outcomes.  The lockdown began as we were about to start the process of recruiting volunteers (now on the backburner for the present!) so we really had to regroup and rethink how our timetable would work. The early stages of lockdown were filled with (virtual) meetings and discussion of the impacts on different areas of the project and working out ways to adapt. Reassuringly, our project funders, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, were quick to offer support to all grant award holders in the challenging circumstances. We’ve now been offered an extension to the project timetable which takes off a huge amount of pressure and will enable us to complete all of this exciting work.

One more perk from working at home… the coffee! Photograph by Jo McConville

One of the most important outcomes for Transatlantic Ties will be the creation of a new website to celebrate and highlight the historical links between Sussex and the US  – you can read more in my introductory blog on the Transatlantic Ties project. This website will house our ‘American Collection’ of digitised documents and provide information and learning resources for students and researchers. It’s very much a priority for us that this is a success, so we made the decision that my principal day to day task in lockdown would be to research and prepare content for use on the website – putting together background history and contextual information about WSRO’s America-related documents.  The spare bedroom has become my new workspace and  I’ve acquired my own mini reference library, comprised of books borrowed from the Record Office library and from WSCC Libraries – helpfully located and delivered to my doorstep by Martin Hayes (our County Local Studies Librarian and part of the Senior Management Team overseeing the project). Of course I can’t access any of our original documents which remain safely in the strongrooms at the Record Office, but several of my esteemed colleagues have been digitising some of the highest priority items so I’m able to study them here at home which is a fantastic help.

Add Mss 8981 – Manuscript copy, on parchment, of the Declaration in Congress of the thirteen United States of America, 4 July 1776

I feel a little bit like I’ve gone back to being a student all of a sudden, sitting in my cave with piles of books and notes all around me as I work at getting to grips with a huge swathe of American history. The Transatlantic Ties project was, of course, born following the extraordinary developments surrounding the Sussex Declaration (you can read more about this remarkable document here) so naturally the history of the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War as a whole are a major focus. However we’ve always intended that the website and other resources created through the Transatlantic Ties project will encompass some of the other significant events which have shaped American history and I have been uncovering some of the fascinating links which can be found in our West Sussex archives. This means I’m delving into the lesser known War of 1812, to the history of slavery and the American Civil War, to emigration and travel in the United States. There’s so much to learn and explore – having started with general background reading, I’ve become immersed in the complexities of the Civil War and the terrible history of slavery which was inextricably bound up with it. It’s compelling in itself, of course, but what makes it even more exciting is learning about the ways in which these world-shaking events so far away impacted on lives in West Sussex and have been memorialised through WSRO’s records. I could go on – but that’s a story for another day!

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The Pie Powder Court of Chichester: Dusty feet and quick justice

By Abigail Hartley, Searchroom Archivist

Happy Pi Day! As always with these sorts of events, I was looking for something innocuous to post for this fun little hashtag holiday, and ended up tumbling down the rabbit hole of something only marginally related to what I set out to do. Instead of a photo or two on Twitter and Instagram, I have ended up writing a whole blog about it. C’est la vie.

Ep/VI/11/1 – An example entry from 1778

This is all to explain why I did a quick search for “pie” on our online catalogue. From there I was led to Ep VI/11/1 – Curia Pavilionis Cicestr[ensis] Ep[iscop]i, or, The Bishop of Chichester’s Pavilion Court, a volume for the piepowder court between 1582-1801.

A pie powder court has many, many, many, many, spelling variations: piepowder, pyepowder, pipoulder, pepowder, pipoudre, pie poudre (the latter two hint to its etymological origins) and they are all used up and down the country, sometimes changing within the same document! In the spirit of non-standardised English, so to will this blog endlessly change spellings.

The court was a type of tribunal in England organised when a fair or market rolled into town. In Chichester’s case, this was the October Sloe Fair. Immie, one of our brilliant Searchroom Assistants, wrote about the Sloe Fair – Chichester’s Oldest Fair – which you can read about by clicking this hyperlink – a couple of years back.

Ep/VI/11/1 – Front page

Pie powder courts originally had unlimited jurisdiction over events taking place in the market, and they would preside over things like disputes between traders, thievery, and general acts of disorderly conduct. In the Middle Ages, there were many hundreds of such courts, and a small number continued to exist even into modern times.

They were not known for their thoroughness, nor the severity of the cases they heard. Sir William Blackstone, writing in 1753, had this to say about the court:

“The lowest, and at the same time the most expeditious, court of justice known to the law of England, is the court of piepoudre, curia pedis pulverizati; so called from the dusty feet of the suitors; or, according to Sir Edward Coke, because justice is there done as speedily as dust can fall from the foot”

William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, vol. 2 [1753], Book III, p 31

So piepowder, in an ultimate example of the English language’s ability to strangle French within an inch of its life, came from pieds poudrés – dusty feet. What this is referring to is most likely the people who travelled to towns from far and wide for market days – travellers and vagabonds. Within modern French, pieds-poudreux is supposedly used for travelling beggars. Another given reason is how it relates to the speedy justice that was administered. Or perhaps another origin comes from how members of the piepowder courts were constantly walking around the markets, the dust coating their feet as they moved.  It’s possible the term references them, rather than the travellers and merchants. In my mind the first is the most obvious answer, but it is likely the true answer is a combination of all three.

Ep/VI/11/1 – Instructions on how to start and end each Piepowder court session

Regardless, the same themes emerge: mobility and speed. After all, fairs and markets would rarely last more than a week, so decisions were generally made in less than two days. Merchants had come from far away to sell their goods and they didn’t have time to sit and wait for a conclusion about who stole whose spot at the sloe tree outside North Gate.

So, how does one hold a piepowder court in Chichester? Ep VI/11/1 gives us some handy instructions, including the town crier’s declaration to open the court:

“Let the Cryer make Proclamation on the South Side of the High Cross as follows – at 8 o’clock

Oyez – All manner of Persons that have to do or intend to have to do At the Ancient Pavillion Court of the Right Rev. Father in God Sir Wm Ashburnham Bart. Lord Bishop of Chichr holden on this Day [at the Gate commonly called the Canon Gate] for this City and the Liberties there of with the Fair called the Sloe Fair, for the time and space of Eight days beginning this Day being the Eve or Vigil of the Feast of St Faith the Virgin come forth and give your attendance. God save the King”

Ep VI/11/1 f4
Ep/VI/11/1 – Neat handwriting detailing the beginning of each court in October for the Sloe Fair

The town crier was entitled to a cut of the income made from the pye powder court, so when the court closed, a similar instructional notice in Ep VI/11/2 (a small bundle of loose pages that originated from the court book) notes that the town crier – at the time a Mr John Barnes – can go on to spend 2s and 6d on a breakfast for a job well done. I can only estimate the date of this note to the 1730s, when John is mentioned in the list of Bailiffs and Constables in our Quarter Session records, but even so, this seems a substantial sum to me for a bit of brekkie!

Ep VI/11/2 – £32 raised by the court in 25 years!

Sadly, our piepowder court book does not detail the cases that were heard – or at least for the vast majority of the entries. There is one instance of assault from the bundle of loose pages at the front, but the writing is near impossible for me to decipher. I would love to learn in more depth what kind of cases were heard. Was it as simple as disputes over payment and location?

Other loose documents, however, give details of what was going on during the fair. One piece of paper titled: “Sums collected at the Bishop of Chichester Pye Powder Courts the last Twenty Five years” notes that £32 1s 4.5d was raised between 1776-1800. There is also a list of the charges made to butchers, publicans and farmers for selling at the market, which since 1738 had been considered too high a price to pay for some. For example, a publican would be charged 6d for wine, and 4d for beer. There’s a list of the city keyholders in 1709, who upon the court being held would make their way down to the Bishop’s Palace to hand over the keys to control the incoming merchants and vendors.

We know for definite the Chichester pie powder court had wound up by 1834. The court had filled a need for quick action on relatively minor actions of people who were not permanent residents of the market towns, but this need was being solved through other means as the 19th century went on. Nationwide, the last court was held in Hemel Hempstead in 1898, and in terms of Parliament Acts, it was the Courts Act 1971, and the Administration of Justice Act 1977, that finally closed a chapter on these quirky courts which had been in existence since at least the 11th century.

Ep/VI/11/1 – Though the outside of the volume looks worn, beautiful entries lay within!

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Transatlantic Ties: An Introduction

By Jo McConville, Heritage Project Manager: Transatlantic Ties

Followers of this blog and WSRO news will almost certainly be familiar with the story of the Sussex Declaration (if not, click this link to see our previous blog posts on this great record), the rare contemporary copy of the American Declaration of Independence housed at the Record Office which propelled us into the media spotlight after Harvard academics Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff of the Declaration Resources Project realised its significance. You can read more about the Declaration Resources Project on their website here.

Add Mss 8981 – Manuscript copy, on parchment, of the Declaration in Congress of the thirteen United States of America, 4 July 1776

Subsequently in April 2019, WSRO had the immense privilege of receiving a $100,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in New York for a new projectannounced by the County Council as the Transatlantic Ties Project– which would not only build on discoveries about the Declaration but also shed light on the shared history of Sussex and the USA as (perhaps unexpectedly) revealed through numerous other records in WSRO’s holdings. The project’s ambitious aims will include the creation of an ‘American Collection’ of digital material consisting of WSRO records, copies of the Sussex Weekly Advertiser from 1775-1784 covering the Revolutionary War period (provided by West Sussex County Council’s Library Service) and a number of remarkable objects on loan from the Royal Sussex Regimental Museum Collection. These will be housed on a new Transatlantic Ties website with specialist learning resources developed by educational consultants. There will also be an outreach programme encompassing an exhibition, talk and rounding off with an international symposium in the summer of 2021. Collaborating with us will be contacts at the Universities of Sussex and Chichester and the Royal Sussex Regiment (RSR) Association and Royal Sussex Regiment Museum Trust.  

Add Mss 30058 – Card advertising the Fall River Line between New York and Boston from a volume including pamphlets on emigration to North America (1816-1960)

It’s exciting stuff and I was delighted to be appointed to work on the project in September 2019. This will be project number three for me here at WSRO where I’ve been lucky enough to work as Project Archivist on both the Queen Victoria Hospital and the Vawdrey Archive Projects funded by Wellcome Trust – two very diverse and memorable experiences.  Transatlantic Ties promises to be something different again; a new departure both for WSRO and for me. Whilst I’ll be in charge of the day to day management of the project, I certainly won’t be going solo– WSRO staff are a talented bunch with a wide range of skills and expertise which are going to be essential to make this a success!

PM 389 – Sketch of the recent discoveries on the Northern Coast of America, 1840

These early months of the project have started quietly with behind the scenes planning and preparation to lay the foundations for all we want to achieve over the next 18 months or so. There’s been admin aplenty but I’m also enjoyably immersed in the task of researching WSRO’s collections and getting to know the material which will come to comprise our ‘American Collection’. I haven’t been starting from scratch of course. A number of documents had been identified in advance of our project bid through searches of our Calm catalogue by our Collections Manager Jenny Mason, and I’ve also been indebted to former WSRO Education Officer Kim Leslie’s 1976 book Roots of America which highlights a surprising range of records in WSRO’s holdings relating to American history. Part of my work has been in looking in more depth at these documents and exploring the context around them, but I’m also continuing to conduct further searches of our catalogues using a range of different terms and as I refresh my knowledge of the history it opens up new possibilities for how to discover those hidden gems! We may not uncover the next Sussex Declaration but as I’m finding out, WSRO has a few more stories to tell about Sussex and the USA and how that much touted ‘special relationship’ has played out over the years.

This will be the first in an ongoing series of blog posts on the Transatlantic Ties project so I’ll be back soon with more news!

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Drawing of the Thakeham Blue Idol Meeting House

William Penn in West Sussex

By Martin Hayes, County Local Studies Librarian

Copy of image of William Penn, wearing a black tricorner hat, white wig and simple 17th Century clothing
William Penn portrait, taken from the Sussex County Magazine, vol 4, 1930, p134

William Penn is best known as the founder of Pennsylvania, among the most successful of all American colonies, and as a leader of the fledgling Society of Friends, better known as Quakers. He was the only man in the 17th century to achieve as much in ‘Olde England’ as in New England. He promoted causes and ideas which were well ahead of their time, notably religious toleration, participatory government, civil liberties, good race relations, international peace and economic enterprise.

Most of Penn’s connections with West Sussex are not generally well known even though he owned a home here for over 30 years. He was involved in many day-to-day Quaker activities in the County and his presence had a life-changing impact on local people as so many emigrated to the New World.  

The 2,600 known individual documents relating to Penn make him one of the best recorded individuals of his time and he appears also in many more general records such as minutes of Quaker meetings. Extracts from these help us understand almost every aspect of his life and in this blog I have included some documents held here at West Sussex Record Office.

This blog summarises his significant connection with over a dozen places in Sussex. My lecture on Tuesday 24th September will use documents to describe Penn’s life and his local links in more detail. Interwoven with the man’s personal life will be the story of his unsuccessful campaign for religious toleration and consequent funding of a place of safety for Quakers and other non-conformists across the Atlantic, finishing with his departure from West Sussex and his final years of suffering, both personal and financial.

Copy of map includes land belonging to William Penn
Warminghurst estate map, 1707, by Francis Hill, © British Library Board Add. Mss. 37420

Warminghurst, near Storrington

In 1676 Penn bought a mansion near the parish church of Warminghurst, located between Thakeham and Ashington. It became his principal family home until 1696, and continued to be lived in by his children William (Billy) junior and Letitia (Tish) and grandchildren, until it was sold in 1707. It was a relatively modern (early 1600s), red brick mansion, with a view of the Downs to the south. The house saw visits by many prominent Quakers such as George Fox the founder, John Burnyeat, George Keith, Isaac Penington and Robert Barclay. Secret illegal Quaker meetings, both for worship and for administrative purposes, were held here and some of the former were large open-air gatherings (see Arundel below).

It was here at Warminghurst between 1680 and 1682 that William worked on the Constitution for Pennsylvania, which was to become, in many respects, the basis for the American Declaration of Independence, and Constitution, a century later.

Most of Penn’s significant family events happened here. Four of Penn’s eight children and two grandchildren were born here, and his wife Gulielma Maria may have died here as did her mother Mary Penington (nee Springett). In early 1696 he took his ailing eldest son Springett on carriage rides in the area, in an unsuccessful attempt to cure of him an illness, probably tuberculosis. Penn’s children William junior (Billy) and Letitia continued to live here from 1696 to 1707 and he was a frequent visitor.

Finally the ultimate irony was that with Penn’s house purchase came an advowson, that is, in this case, the right to appoint the vicar of Warminghurst parish church!


Extract of entry from the Arundal Quarter Sessions of 1685 detailing William Penn's accusations
QR/W173 – Arundel Quarter Sessions for 1685

Magistrates at the Court of Quarter Sessions held here on 13th/14th January 1685 ordered Penn’s arrest as a “factious and seditious person……[who] doth frequently entertain and keep unlawful assembly and Conventicles in his Dwelling House….usually….assembled to the terror of ye King’s Liege people and in contempt of ye King and his laws…. ”


Here in 1679 Penn campaigned unsuccessfully for the election to Parliament of his friend and republican Algernon Sydney, part of an ineffective attempt to achieve religious toleration.


Drawing of the Thakeham Blue Idol Meeting House
Thakeham Blue Idol Meeting House, drawing taken from Some Records of the Early Friends in Surrey and Sussex by T.W. Marsh (1886)

It was here that Penn, with Benjamin Hayler, oversaw the conversion of John Shaw’s timber-framed house, Little Slatter, into a permanent Quaker meeting house between 1691 and 1694. William and his family were regular worshippers here, being located in Oldhouse Lane, near the hamlet of Coolham, at the northern end of Thakeham parish and only around 4 miles from his home. His daughter Letitia was married here on 20th August 1702 and laid to rest in the burial ground in 1746. Penn’s unnamed daughter who died soon after birth on 26th March 1683, may have been buried here too. This is now better known as the Blue Idol, so named after the blue wash on the plaster infill and its period of inactivity (idle-ness) in the 18th/19th centuries. It is still used by the Society of Friends as a meeting house.

East Grinstead

In a warrant for his arrest from the Assize Court held at East Grinstead on 20th March 1682 Penn was charged with trespass and contempt against the statute for discovering, and repression of, Popish recusants. The charges were dropped when he convinced the authorities that he wasn’t a Catholic.

Long strip of paper written in old handwriting for the arrest of William Penn
Add Mss 37,103 – Number 8, the East Grinstead arrest warrant from 1682


George Keith, former head of the Quaker School founded by Penn in Philadelphia, split with the Quakers, returned to England and became rector of Edburton parish church from 1705 to 1716.


Founder of the Quakers, George Fox was imprisoned here for non-conformity between April and July 1655. Penn first stayed in the town on 1st October 1672 during his missionary ‘Journey on Truth’s Account Through Kent, Sussex and the Skirt of Surrey’. He attended the Quaker Horsham Men’s Monthly Meeting at least four times in the 1670s-80s and his Declaration to marry second wife Hannah Callowhill was heard before them on 11th December 1695. Penn’s daughter Letitia made her Declaration to marry William Aubrey, a London merchant, before the same body 0n 8th July 1702 and the Horsham Women’s Monthly Meeting were given a letter about the same.

Ifield near Crawley

Ifield Meeting House, drawing taken from Some Records of the Early Friends in Surrey and Sussex by T.W. Marsh (1886)
Ifield Meeting House, drawing taken from Some Records of the Early Friends in Surrey and Sussex by T.W. Marsh (1886)

This was the location of the County’s very first Quaker meeting for worship in 1655 and where the earliest permanent meeting house was built in 1674/75. Penn attended at least one ceremony here: the wedding of Edward Blackfan and Rebecca Crispin in October 1688.


William stayed with Briant Wilkinson at Sedgewick Park, or Nuthurst Lodge, during his missionary ‘Journey on Truth’s Account Through Kent, Sussex and the Skirt of Surrey’ in 1672.


Penn owned part of the manor of Kingston Bowsey (Bucci) near Shoreham through his marriage to Gulielma Maria Penington in 1672. Some land in the area was sold by the couple on 3rd June 1676 probably to fund their purchase of Warminghurst. It was from Shoreham Harbour that William sailed into a three year period of exile from February 1691 following the issuing of arrest warrants for treason.


In 1678 a Quaker meeting house and burial ground was established here, in Horsham Road opposite the junction with Mouse Lane. Penn is known to have preached here in 1678. Sir John Fagg of Wiston House (see below) may have helped fund the purchase and conversion of the building which has reverted to a private home named Penn House.


See also ‘Coolham’ above.

At least 16 Friends (Quakers) from the Thakeham area emigrated to Pennsylvania with William aboard the ‘Welcome’ in 1682.

Penn is reputed to have preached from a large prominent stone on the green near the pond adjacent to Abingworth Hall [now Hotel].


Wiston House was the home of Sir John Fagg, prominent Parliamentarian soldier  during the Civil War, MP for Steyning 1660-1701 and a non-conformist. He protected a small Quaker community (at least 4 people in 1676) and became friends with Penn who lived only 4 miles away at Warminghurst. William was a regular guest at Wiston House, particularly during the Sidney election campaign in 1679 (see also Bramber above).


Estate map shows William Penn's home, with little chimney pots and a front gate
Close up of the Warminghurst estate map, 1707, © British Library Board Add. Mss. 37420

In September 1682 before crossing the Atlantic to America, the ‘Welcome’, with Penn already aboard, hove to off Worthing to collect at least 16 Sussex emigrants and further supplies.

On his return, Penn landed on 3rd October 1684 “within 7 miles of my home at Warminghurst”, probably off Worthing or Shoreham.

Our new project Transatlantic Ties, funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation in New York, offers us the opportunity to explore in detail the many America related documents held at the Record Office including some records involving William Penn and local Quakers.



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Garland N18713 - Evacuees arriving September 1939

West Sussex and its London Evacuees

By Abigail Hartley, Searchroom Archivist

It is nearly 80 years since the start of the Second World War.  West Sussex played a central role, not only in the preparation for the D-Day landings – which were commemorated earlier this Summer – but also in being a destination for many London schools during the initial evacuation efforts.

On the 1st September 1939, the Littlehampton Gazette released an article describing the arrival of 2,200 mothers, children, teachers and helpers to the town, 700 at a time by train.  More were expected over the next several days to make their way south from London.

Upon arrival, it seemed all unaccompanied children had somewhere to go, but appeals to house mothers with young children went out.  The demands were “reasonable shelter, access to water supply and sanitary conveniences… It is hoped that, in addition, householders will provide facilities for cooking.”  In other words: a bed, a sink, and a toilet were required; a cooker was optional.  It seemed lucrative to house evacuees, with households getting 10s 6d a week for one unaccompanied child (8s 6d per child if you took in two or more) or 8s a week for a mum and a child.

At the Record Office, the County and District Council records give us a remarkably complete view of the intense planning that went into arranging the evacuation of school children, whilst private recollections held here bring the stories to a more personal level, like adjusting to a new home, and integrating (or lack of integrating) with local children.

In the Summer of 1938, an official government committee laid down the basic principles under which evacuation would take place, and from January to August 1939 intense planning began to determine how many children would be evacuated, and to where.  This included taking stock of available billets in the area, meetings of the ARP and Evacuation Sub Committee concerning accommodation and education concerns, West Sussex being divided into 17 districts with a special liaison officer (aka a teacher)… it all took a lot of planning, to say nothing of the actual transport of the children.  Getting them to Sussex seemed to be the easy part!

By August it was estimated that, on the outbreak of war, up to 27,960 unaccompanied children and 2,970 teachers would be making their way to West Sussex.  It seemed by the 5th of August war was inevitable, as a provision made by the Emergency Executive Committee for the recall of teachers in the event of an emergency was made.  It stated that teachers were to be available at their respective schools on the 28th of August.  When this day came, the Clerk of the County Council received a letter from the Ministry of Health authorising all preparatory measures to be carried out, and on the 31st the Ministry of Health declared that the evacuation arrangements were ready to be carried out at a moment’s notice.

That moment came the very next day, when, with the invasion of Poland and a declaration of war days away, thousands of children and their teachers were taken from London, Croydon, Wimbledon, and Surrey to West Sussex.  Eleven West Sussex Rail Heads were involved in total.  Over the next two days more children were taken south when war was declared.  Only 50% of the expected number came (a percentage higher than the average for the nation) and Head Teachers began meeting to figure out how teaching and recreational activities were going to work.  By the 11th of September the majority of higher level issues had been ironed out, and local schools began to open up for the new term and their new students.

However, it became apparent that issues remained, and on the 23rd of September a meeting of the Liaison Officers was held to try and fix any problems.  The biggest difficulties were the poor distribution of children in relation to educational facilities.  A further meeting on the 7th of October revealed concerns that the London schools were making accommodation and plans for the students independently, causing friction and confusion over who was housing the children. It was quickly resolved, as by the 9th of October the duties of the liaison officers were considered complete.

Interviews held with evacuees revealed how tricky it could be to adjust to the new life.  Some came from relatively new and nice housing in Peckham.  They therefore struggled to deal with having “external toilet facilities consisting of a bucket” and the home being lit purely by candlelight.  Others had the opposite problems, coming from run down London slums to larger open air properties, with too much space and not enough neighbours. From those that housed the children, the transition was also not always smooth, and there were often instances of people insisting that the children be moved to another home for one reason or another.  In a few cases, some were even using the billeting money to try to pay for train tickets to send the children home!

The rest of autumn passed by, with the children adjusting to rural life (some better than others).  Plans for Christmas fast approached, with the government advising children not to be returned home.  They were given a week’s break for Christmas itself, but by the New Year many of the children had returned home regardless, as the first months of the war were not as intense as initially feared.  It seemed that the London parents felt the government had over-reacted to the threat of bombing, and many of the children could just not adapt to being away from home and family.  Though the first months of the war within the UK was not as fierce as first thought, the Battle of Britain and the Blitz the following year would bring a chunk of these children back out to West Sussex.

If you would like to get stuck in with our records, we’d recommend starting with MP 7410, a compilation of source material and notes on evacuation in West Sussex, compiled by Alan Readman.  From there, you can jump to:

  • AM 733/1 – Domestic journal of the war years 1 September 1939 – 10 May 1945, compiled by C. F. Harriss
  • AM 1034 – Billeting Records (WW2) kept by Mrs Ethel Talbot of Billingshurst
  • Garland N18703-22 – Photos of evacuees
  • BO/AR/21/1/12-15 – Arundel Borough letter books
  • BO/AR/24/3/1 – Arundel Borough Register of evacuee accommodation;
  • UD/HO/3/15/1 – Horsham Urban District Council Evacuation Committee Minutes;
  • UD/HO/1/47-50 – Horsham Urban District Council Minutes
  • UD/SH/24/13 – Papers concerning the return of evacuees to London
  • And then onwards and onwards until you have done enough research for a thesis!

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Sussex and the US: Closer than you think

JOINT FLAGSIn the final instalment of our American-themed blogs to celebrate Independence Day, we are looking at the many and varied connections between famous faces in America’s history and the county of Sussex.

Founded in the 17th and 18th centuries, thirteen British colonies on the east coast of North America declared independence in 1776 and formed the United States of America. However, long before the War of Independence, Sussex men and women were travelling to the colonies and making their mark. Two of these thirteen states, Delaware and Pennsylvania, were actually named after founders with links to Sussex!

Baron De La Warr
Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr

You may not think that a seafront pavilion in Bexhill has much in common with an entire mid-Atlantic state in the US, but they are both named after an English politician who set sail for the colonies in 1610. Appointed the first governor of Virginia, and later lending his name to the state of Delaware, Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr (1577-1618) had strong ties with Sussex. Various De La Warr monuments still exist throughout the county, after De La Warr spent much time here, and eventually married Cecily Shirley, the daughter of Sir Thomas Shirley of Wiston, West Sussex.


De La Warr was not the only emigrant to claim parts of the colonies in his own name, as early Quaker William Penn (1644-1718) founded the state of Pennsylvania. Penn too had Sussex connections, living for a time in Warminghurst, West Sussex, and worshipping at the Blue Idol Meeting House. Known to hold Quaker meetings at his home Warmington Place, when Penn returned to England in 1684 to William Pennsettle a boundary dispute with Maryland, the magistrates at the Arundel Court of Quarter Sessions ordered that he be apprehended for hosting such meetings (QR/W173, M.31).

While De La Warr and Penn may have founded cities and states, another Sussex local, John Harvard (1607–1638), sowed the seeds of learning and culture that to this day continue to bear fruit across the continent. Prior to founding the first American university, Harvard emigrated to New England in 1637, shortly after marrying Ann Sadler (1614–55) of Ringmer at St Michael the Archangel Church, in the parish of South Malling, Lewes, East Sussex. His connection to the area came through a Cambridge classmate, John Sadler, whose father was rector at Ringmer. Harvard University remains one of the most prestigious institutions in the world, and excitingly now has further links with Sussex through the research being conducted by Harvard academics into the ‘Sussex Declaration’.

Shared cultural interests also intrigued Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond (1701-1750), and grandson of King Charles II, who was a leading patron of botanical expeditions to North America, and did much work to improve the grounds of Goodwood House, near Chichester, with specimens brought back from the colonies. His son, the 3rd Duke of Richmond (1734/5-1806), took a leading part in American affairs in the House of Lords during the War of Independence. It was during this war that the Royal Sussex Regiment, whose archives West Sussex Record Office hold, fought in major engagements, including Bunker Hill, Brooklyn and White Plains.

Perhaps the most well-known connection between Sussex and America is that of Thomas Paine (1737-1809), who lived at Bull House on Lewes High Street. Later travelling to

Thomas Paine
Sign at the White Hart Hotel, Lewes

Philadelphia on the advice of Benjamin Franklin, Paine became one of the leading propagandists for the American cause, notably through his Common Sense (1776), in which he advocated separation from Britain. Its publication had an immediate and profound effect in stirring up support for the American cause and the Declaration of Independence.


Even the first President of the independent United States of America, George Washington, was originally of Sussex stock! His path to becoming founding father and signatory of the Declaration of Independence started in 1588, when Lawrence Washington, who had family in Petworth, married Margaret Butler of Tyes Hall in Cuckfield. It is their grandson Lt. Col. John Washington, who first emigrated to the colonies. During the English Civil War, John’s father, the Rev Lawrence Washington, had been removed from his benefice as Rector of Purleigh in Essex by a Parliamentary Puritans. This ill treatment of his father by Cromwell’s forces is said to be a factor which led to the eventual emigration to Virginia of John Washington in 1656. Tobacco-plater, soldier, and later politician, it is this John Washington who became great-grandfather to George Washington, who gave another city, and another state the name of another Sussex family! George Washington copyright free

In the light of recent research and media interest surrounding our early parchment copy of the Declaration of Independence, it has been fascinating to examine the role Sussex has played in the history of the US, and many ways this is reflected in the written record. Through Record Office collections, it is possible to trace a connection that spans American history, both pre and post-independence.  The archive certainly shows us that we are closer to our American cousins than perhaps first thought!

Lauren Clifton

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Chichester’s Admiral: Sir George Murray and the American War of Independence

Murray ColourContinuing our week of themed blog posts focussing on West Sussex links with America, today’s focus is on Royal Naval Officer (later Vice-Admiral) Sir George Murray, a Chichester local who saw service throughout the American War of Independence, as well as the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

A few days prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, on 28th June 1776, Midshipman George Murray, aged just 17, was serving on HMS Bristol, Commanded by Sir Peter Parker, in an attack on Sullivan Fort, the key defence bastion of Charles Town in South Carolina.

Parker had 9 British ships in his squadron, anchored just inside the bar crossing the approach to Sullivan Island and the main channel leading to Five Fathom Hole. Once inside, the British ships would be assured of a warm welcome from Fort Moultrie’s 33 cannons at either end of Sullivan’s Island, all manned by patriots. General Clinton, with 3,000 British troops, 10 artillery pieces, 3 men-of-war with 24 naval guns, and 15 armed flat-boats was encamped across a narrow and supposedly shallow channel at the end of Long Island, too far to be of any great help when hostilities began.

Parker’s ships gathered at Five Fathom Hole from early June, but attacks on the Fort were delayed by calm winds. Meanwhile, the enemy strengthened its entrenchments and mounted pieces of heavy cannon on the eastern end of Sullivan’s Island, thereby inhibiting cooperation between British ground and naval forces. Sullivan fort plan 1More troops arrived on the transports but had to land at Spencer’s Inlet, some five miles from Sullivan’s Island. The harbour nearer the fort had still to be surveyed for possible wrecks left to obstruct passage, and for the British to lay buoys. Clinton was invited to use the Bristol as his HQ to facilitate cooperation, but he declined due to his propensity for sea sickness. He became somewhat isolated and frustrated, stuck on land and unable to contribute.

A flag of truce was sent to the Fort but that was fired at, so a hostile welcome was clearly inevitable, and expected every day until the 26th when the larger Experiment under Captain Scott arrived from Antigua. They crossed the bar in the evening of 27th and her cannons prepared for an attack. On 28th the Commodore gave the signal for an attack on Sullivan Fort with nineteen 32 pounder guns. The waiting was over. Midshipman Murray was about to experience bloody warfare for the first time.

The rebels inflicted significant damage on the Bristol. Two springs were shot away, causing her to swing in the ebb tide into the line of raking fire. The enemy fire was said go through and through the vessel and its crew. The vessels continued to attack the Fort, but the ground troops were too far away to help, (although reports on distance varied from 4 – 900 yards). By mid-afternoon, the Fort was silenced.Sullivan Island Attack Map 1776 includes Long Island

On the Bristol, Parker took stock. Having suffered considerable damage to the hull and masts, with knees and timbers shot through and smashed, together with a large number of 44 men killed and another 30 wounded, he decided to withdraw. It was said that if the water had not been so smooth it would have been impossible to keep her from sinking. The Captain lost his left arm above the elbow (he was sent back to England the next day) while the Commodore’s breeches were torn off and his ‘backside laid bare’, with his thigh and knee wounded, he was able to walk only when supported by two men’. The Bristol spent the next few days in Five Fathom Hole, with all available carpenters, unrigging the main mast, and removing the stump of the mizzen mast.

Murray survived his baptism of fire, but the Bristol suffered significant and almost catastrophic damage. She was twice in flames, her quarter-deck was completely cleared of both officers and men, excepting the Commodore, and no individual escaped being killed or wounded. Her Captain, after losing his right arm, and several other wounds, died later from the vast ‘infusion of blood which had thus occasioned’; American losses were also considerable. In such a baptism, in what transpired to be an unsuccessful attack, Murray was said that like Nelson ‘he knew not fear nor its heat and severity were such as might have deterred him from the further pursuit of a profession so hazardous as that of the Navy’.

Signing of DeclarationIn the Days following the battle, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress, announcing that the thirteen American colonies were now an independent nation from British rule. The Revolutionary War continued, as did Murray, who followed his mentor Peter Parker to HMS Chatham in September 1776 and survived action on several other occasions along the eastern seaboard of America. After further naval and bloody adventures from East to West Indies and with Nelson in the Mediterranean, Murray reached the rank of Vice Admiral. He was made a Knight Commander of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath (KCB) in 1815. Sir George became the Mayor of Chichester in the same year. He died in 1819.

Barry Aldridge and Noel Castiglia


Find out more about Admiral Sir George Murray by contacting West Sussex Record Office, or The Murray Club online-

To purchase a copy of Barry Aldridge’s book ‘My Dear Murray: A Friend of Nelson’ please contact West Sussex Record Office, or the Novium Museum, Chichester