Early Memories

The Eighties

Community Spirit

The Nineties

Present Day

Moulsecoomb Members

The Individual and Local History

Using Oral History to Demonstrate and Document
Local Residents’ Experiences of and Contribution to a Community

The area of Moulsecoomb is situated in the North East of Brighton. The estate was built in stages. South Moulsecoomb was known as the ‘Garden Suburb’, and was considered a very nice place to live. Ruby Dunn’s autobiography, Moulsecoomb Days contains an advertisement enticing people to live there rather than the town. North Moulsecoomb was built as an estate to house the first world war veterans. Sheila Winter’s family were allocated a house in Chailey Road because her father qualified.(Moulsecoomb Memories, Winter, 1998 p.8) More houses were built in East Moulsecoomb to alleviate the problem of the slums in Brighton. This was part of the Council’s policy of house clearance, which apparently proved unsatisfactory with people. (Dunn,1990 p.37)

When researching local history, oral history is a valid source. Oral history gives an understanding of the area from a personal viewpoint, from the voice within and not just from an interpretation of an outsider looking in on the subject. Until recently the way history was recorded was selective, covering subjects such as the monarchy or battles. The historian Paul Thompson says, ‘Even local history was concerned with the hundred and parish rather than the day-to-day life of the community and the street.’(The Oral History Reader, 1998, p.22). Local record offices keep documents such as birth and marriage registers and minutes of council meetings, but very little personal documents like letters or diaries of working class men have been preserved. Oral history is ‘as old as history itself, but with the emergence of the tape-recording movement since the 1940's’ (Plummer, 2001, p.28), oral history can be recorded and kept as primary source material. These are rich and valuable sources which validate a person’s experience of and in local history. Again Thompson states, “Oral history...can give back to the people who made and experienced history, through their own words, a central place.”(1998, p.22). Another advantage that Thompson points out is that oral historians can ‘choose whom to interview and what to ask about’.(1998, p.24).

I applied this advantage when researching for this essay. I interviewed a group of residents who are involved in activities within North Moulsecoomb, namely the ‘St. Georges’ group and Dave Barnard, a community activist for the past forty years and chairman of MESATA (Moulsecoomb East Social Activities Tenants Associaton). Dave initially moved to Barcombe Road in North Moulsecoomb. He was overjoyed at being housed there because Moulsecoomb was looked upon as a nice place to live in 1963. He joined the local Residents Association group at the ‘old’ St. Georges Hall because he had young children felt the area needed more facilities. I asked of his motivation for getting involved, to which he replied, “I think it is everybody’s right to participate and make our community a better place to live. Once you get involved there’s always more and more.” Dave moved to Goodwood Way in East Moulsecoomb seventeen years ago where he continued to be active in the community to this present day. The residents I interviewed at St Georges Hall were Josie Hensby, Maggie Bonner, Gill Mitchell, Lynn Green and daughter, Kadie (aged 7) and Russell Endersby the current caretaker of the hall. These locals have lived in North Moulsecoomb for different lengths of time and have varying degrees of involvement within the community of North Moulsecoomb. Bearing in mind what Thompson says about a recording session needing to be mutually respectful (1998 p.27), with the group I asked open-ended questions and encouraged everyone to contribute to the ‘discussion’ and whilst interviewing Dave I asked about key topics and allowed him to speak them through. With both interviews I started with their early memories of Moulsecoomb, their involvement with the community and the change they have seen over the past twenty years.

Early memories
Russell has lived in Newick Road all his life. Josie moved to North Moulsecoomb when she was seven years old. Both knew each other when they were children and spoke of playing out all day and scrumping apples. Russell shared a humorous account of getting caught on Mr Everit’s fence trying to get into their garden. ‘Scrumping’ must have been a popular pastime for the children with the Woolards apple orchard nearby. Sheila Winter tells a story of being caught by the local policeman who made her eat them, her punishment being a tummy ache! (Winter, 1998 pp34-35)

Community Spirit
Josie told of how everyone knew each other, people left their doors unlocked (not like today), this reflects Sheila Winter’s account in her book (1998 p.45), and how the community stuck together - there was a real community spirit. This made me think of the account in Sheila’s book about when Mrs Tucker had her purse stolen, the community rallied around and collected money. This event was reported in the local Argus. (Winter, 1998 p.5). The group put this story in context and said that Mrs Tucker had her purse taken off her whilst visiting her husband’s grave. It was Josie who went door to door collecting money and ‘phoned the Argus! I was delighted at this snippet of ‘raw material’. I could believe this because Josie was in the photograph and she was very much involved in a door to door consultation that the North Moulsecoomb Placemaking Group did two years ago about getting CCTV Camera’s installed in the area.

The group reported that there has always been ‘community spirit’ in North Moulsecoomb. There have always been collections taken for relatives of people who have died, this tradition continues to the present day. Each of the group remarked on the ‘community spirit’. After having her twins twenty years ago, Josie was rehoused to Whitehawk. She returned to Moulsecoomb after three weeks. This is home to her and she is part of a very large family who all live nearby. Lynn moved here five years ago. Worried at first because of the rumours, she was afraid to go out but after meeting residents and getting involved at St. Georges Hall she has made a lot of friends and has come out of her shell. Lynn’s daughter, Kadie added that she has loads of friends and really likes school. Maggie also didn’t want to come here, but now she loves it and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Gill used to live on a Neighbouring estate and was glad to get away because she felt the people looked down on her for having a large family. She said there is no such feeling in Moulsecoomb and is happy to live here. Gill added that she feels there is even more community spirit now than before because people show it more. “In the olden days you used to go to people for help, now they come to you.”

The Eighties
The ‘old’ St. Georges Hall was a hive of activity in the early eighties. Ron Henderson painted animals on the walls and the children made a stage. They had bingo there on Tuesday and Sunday evenings. Pauline and Mary ran children’s clubs there nearly every evening. Dave Barnard reported that there were about thirty different clubs meeting around Moulsecoomb, Associations and Playgroups are to mention a few. The community newspaper, ‘The Mole’ lists the number of activities on the rear page.

Problems with housing emerged in this time period, especially in Birdham Road where conditions were deteriorating. Dave is passionate about housing and regularly campaigns for council housing to be improved. He is an advocate for the people and does what he can to support the community.

In 1987 the tragedy of the ‘Babes in the Woods’ murder’s occurred in the nearby Wild Park. This event rocked the people of the Moulsecoomb estate. The St. Georges group testified to the shock of the event. Parents wouldn’t let their children out to play. Josie claimed, “It was like a ghost town.” These murders affected people, especially the lads who found them. Dave didn’t want to dwell on the event but credited the fact that the media attention highlighted the problems on the estate, the lack of social amenities and poor housing conditions.

Dave Barnard was co-chair of the Moulsecoomb Forum(1985-1990) who met to decide what would be beneficial on the estate. The forum listed seventeen items to be addressed (B/420). Over time all these were met. The number one priority was a health centre, a clinic is now serving the estate and so is a community leisure centre. The ‘old’ St. Georges Hall was demolished and re-built in accordance with what the community wanted. Dave’s achievements also included a boy’s football club. They trained twice a week and attended Brighton and Hove Albion matches. Two or three lads are now playing for national teams! Another venture was a skateboarding club, who organised a marathon to show the authorities they were serious about getting their own facilities. Copies of supporting documentation are included with this essay. As Paul Thompson says, “The interview will provide a means of discovering written documents and photographs...”(Oral History Reader, 1998, p.24) Dave also played me a taped recording of an event which the radio station Southern Sound broadcast including an interview with him.

The nineties to the present day
In the residents’ view St. Georges Hall was underused during the nineties. There were weekly bingo sessions, and Russell cooked breakfast for the workmen about three times a week. Josie’s family started up a social group entitled ‘Mates’ which ran for a while. Other groups did start up and run for a course of time but it wasn’t until the introduction of the government’s regeneration initiative, New Deal for Communities that the Hall became to be so widely used as it is nowadays. The residents I interviewed spoke very highly of Caron Patmore, the community development worker employed by ‘New Deal’ , now ‘eb4u’. (East Brighton for You). When they first met Caron, they told her of their plans to run a youth group at the hall. Caron loaned them eighty pounds to get started and helped them to fill out forms for funding a club. Caron also helped Josie fill out forms to fund Sunday evening bingo. Caron has made an enormous impression on the group supporting and encouraging them to get involved with various projects. Maggie has thrown herself wholeheartedly into community involvement. She runs the Friday night youth club (along with other volunteers), is secretary of the North Moulsecoomb Placemaking Group, sits on eb4u’s Education and Employment Steering Group; she’s a member of the Moulsecoomb Neighbourhood Trust and is training to be a community development worker. I think she is doing the job already! My experience of working with Maggie has always been very positive.

Dave was instrumental in Moulsecoomb being included in the New Deal for Communities catchment area. Initially only the estate of Whitehawk was to be included in the government scheme. Dave fought for Moulsecoomb to have a share of the funding. He attended an important planning meeting and argued for the people of Moulsecoomb to have equal access to the regeneration opportunities that were being offered to those in Whitehawk, again stressing the social problems and poor housing conditions. He managed to get policy written into the delivery plan of a commitment for houses to be extended. Currently he is discouraged that this hasn’t materialised yet. Dave’s opinion of eb4u is that they are too focussed on getting strategies into place and not tackling the underlying problems, overcrowding for example.

It is also Dave’s opinion that people don’t seem to be as community minded as before with less fundraising events to organise, he thinks that people aren’t seen to be pulling together as much as they did in previous years. This contrasts vividly with the opinions of the St. George’s group who assert that because of eb4u there are more people pulling together because of all the things going on, especially at the hall.

Much more has been achieved by those mentioned in this essay, and other residents besides. These interviews have opened up a treasure chest of community history through the lives of individuals’ which would be fascinating to explore further. Oral history provides rich material for the historian in demonstrating individuals’ life experiences. This supports Paul Thompson’s theory that:
‘Oral history is built around people...it allows heroes...from the unknown majority of the people. It brings history into, and out of, the community’ (1998 p. 28).


Dunn, R. (1990) Moulsecoomb Days, p.37. Brighton, QueenSpark Books

Perks, R & Thomson, A. (1998) The Oral History Reader, pp. 22, 24, 27 & 28. London Routeledge; Chapter 2 The Voice of the Past: Oral History, second edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press 1988

Plummer, K (2001) Documents of Life 2 p.28. London, SAGE

Winter, S. (1998) Moulsecoomb Memories, pp.5, 8, 34, 35 & 45. Brighton, QueenSpark Books