You will find details below of the talks I am currently offering. Each talk lasts about an hour and consists of an illustrated Powerpoint presentation. I am though quite willing to adapt the length of the talk to meet the needs of your group. The talks are either on topics associated with North Laine or on people associated with Brighton. Since my retirement from teaching I have been researching the British Empire and writing material for my website on the British Empire (www.britishempire.me.uk) and my talks on Rudyard Kipling, Garnet Wolseley and Olaf Caroe are the result of that research, often with primary sources located in Brighton & Hove. Please feel free to contact me, using the form at the bottom of the page, should you have any questions
The historical development of North Laine
North Laine today is one of the success stories of modern Brighton. It has become an area promoted by the town for its independent shops and culture. The buildings of these shops and cafes have a charm and character quite different from the uniform facades on the High Street associated with national chains. This charm derives from the historical character and architecture of the buildings of the area, a character which is protected by North Laine being a Conservation Area.
North Laine has been a Conservation Area since 1977 and was given such designation because although it has no outstanding individual buildings, it has sufficient buildings left from the Victorian period to remind us what a Victorian townscape looked like.
North Laine developed to act as the service area for a growing resort. Between 1811 and 1821 Brighton was the fastest growing town in the country and North Laine’s growth reflected this town wide growth. By 1850 as the Ruff print shows North Laine was a mix of residential, commercial and retail use where wood, animals and water were converted into furniture, beer, ginger beer, water and food. The arrival of the railway in 1841 prompted further industrial and commercial development and for another 10 years North Laine was Brighton’s industrial suburb.
The talk will focus on North Laine’s development from the 1780s until the present day and will cover North Laine’s rise and fall as an industrial suburb as well as the subsequent development of the area as a place to wander into what it is today. Along the way you will be introduced to some of the characters who have been part of the North Laine story.
The buildings and people of North Laine
This talk will focus on looking at thsoe buildings that are part of the Victoian townscape. Sufficient remains of the Victorian townscape for North Laine to have been granted conservation area status in 1977 and although there are no outstanding pieces of architecture, you will vey much get the feeling of being in a Victorian town. There are many terraced streets which have changed little since the mid-c19th when they were built, and amongst the working class accomodation is scattered industrial and commercial premises that show the area to have been a mixed-use area until very recent times. Still to be seen are drill halls, breweries, malthouses, printing works and the alley ways and twittens of people who lived very much cheek-by -owl with each other.
General Wolseley was the archetypal Victorian Imperial General. He was present at some of the most important wars of the imperial century and rose from relatively humble origins to become Commander-in-Chief of the British army at the time of the Boer War. He oversaw some major reforms of the army bringing it up to date and enabling it to fight a number of colonial wars in conditions totally unsuitable for European soldiers. He believed passionately in Britain's mission to civilise having witnessed the Cawnpore massacre and was at all time concerned for the welfare of his men.
He was commander of the British force that defeated an Egyptian force at Tel-el-Kebir which led to Britain regarding the Near East as crucial to its interests. He also led the Gordon relief expedition which failed by one day to rescue General Gordon. His victory over the Ashanti was reported widely in Britain and was one of many such expeditions to be regarded by the British as the victory of a Christian country over a savage people needing to be civilised. Was he the greatest Victorian general? This is just one of the questions to be answered in an assessment of Wolseley's career. My study of General Wolseley is largely based on reading his letters to his wife and studying his diaries and the talk will reflect this and introduce the audience to those letters which are now held in Hove Library
Ranjitsinhji - the Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawanagar
Ranji occupies a very special place in the world of cricket for he was the first Indian to play cricket for England but much more than that, he played with a panache and a style that had never been seen in England before. He scored freely dominating the matches he played in between 1895 and 1904, and with CB Fry at Sussex, established a partnership not just in batting but in life. Ranji scored two centuries in one day, topped the batting averages in England for three seasons in a row and was the fist man in history to score 3,000 runs in a season – which he repeated the following year. Crowds flocked to see him wherever he played.
He portrayed himself as an eastern Prince with special gifts and was seen as something quite mystical. Ranji adopted the lifestyle of the landed gentry in an attempt to fit in with English society and given his education at an Indian public school and the class he came from he was readily accepted as an English gentleman. He mixed with the aristocracy and was lavish in his provision of entertainment and gifts in order to maintain his social position.
Ranji was much more than a very talented cricketer. His whole life was dominated by his need to become the Jam Sahib of Nawanagar and his campaign to win over those who possessed the power to establish him on the throne. He became the Jam Sahib in 1907 but continued to be dogged by controversy for he retuned to England (and later Ireland) on an almost yearly basis.
This talk looks at Ranji's extraordinary cricket success but also the role of race and class in the British Empire and the extent to which Ranji was a product of the British Raj. Early biographies of Ranji tended to gloss over his financial situation and his absences from his home state but this talk will put his political and diplomatic life into context alongside his sporting life.
This talk focuses on the years that Kipling and his family livedin Rottingdean. For the five years the family lived in Rottingdean, they were to experience joy but also great sadness. The family began to set down roots and establish a sense of place but the death of Josephine in America in March 1899 and the onset of the Boer War changed Kipling. He became a sadder and a harder man, difficult for others to reach and understand. He produced some outstanding work like ‘Kim’ that was praised by the critics but also began to produce work that reflected his journey into politics.
Kipling’s defence of the Boer War and his criticism of the way it was being fought resulted in his producing a lot of material that focused on the war - prose and verse that was sometimes quite political in the way it attacked the establishment and the values of the country. When he published ‘The Islanders’ at the beginning of 1902 many felt he had gone too far. As the nation began to lessen its support for the British Empire and criticise its presence in South Africa, Kipling was no longer regarded at the nation’s Imperial Laureate. Henry James warned his friend Kipling of the folly of involving himself too deeply in political affairs and to keep doing what he did so well, but it was advice that he ignored.
By the time the Kipling family left Rottingdean in September 1899 to move to Batemans, near Heathfield, Kipling’s reputation was not what it had been. He was still producing highly acclaimed verse and prose, but less often. He had acquired a love of the Sussex countryside, its people and traditions, but his contempt for those in society who he blamed for their folly and blindness in leaving the country defenceless turned him into a figure of ridicule for some. The time in Sussex though made the family feel that they at last had a ‘home’ in England but he remained a man who was deeply affected by the death of his daughter Josephine in 1899 and the Boer War.
Olaf Caroe was born in 1892, the grandson of a Danish immigrant. He became one of the great civil servants of the British Empire joining the Indian Civil Service as an Assistant Commissioner and rising to the highest levels of the service eventually becoming Foreign Secretary to the Indian government and then Governor of the North West Frontier Province. During his time in India he was the epitome of an India Civil Service officer in the first half of the c20th, a time when the Empire was at its height but also displaying signs of imminent decline. Caroe had all the values, virtues and qualities required of an officer, especially one serving on the North West Frontier. He rose to the challenge of serving as an Assistant Commissioner and dealing with the Pathan tribes of the frontier but then reached the pinnacle of his career in 1946 becoming Governor of the North West Frontier.
The North West Province during the tine of Caroe’s tenure as Governor was pivotal to the outcome of the ‘independence talks’ and in the end, despite what Caroe considered was a good record as Governor, Mountbatten relieved Caroe of his post in order to appease Nehru. The Governorship of the North West Province was Caroe’s last official role as a public citizen. Henceforth in retirement, as a private citizen, he devoted his time to trying to convince governments of the logic of his view on the importance of the area he had spent a lifetime of work in.
After his ‘dismissal’ by Mountbatten, Caroe returned to England to settle in the Sussex country town of Steyning. Unlike many Indian Civil Service officers who returned home to a life of relaxation and often anonymity, Caroe embarked on a literary and academic career, becoming one of the country’s recognised and highly sought after experts on ‘The Great Game’. He gave lectures, visited foreign leaders and wrote three highly regarded books on the geopolitics of central Asia and the Middle East.
This talk is based on research carried out in the ‘Asian and African Studies Reading Room’, largely using Caroe’s notes for an autobiography that never got written.
You can use the Contact Form below to contact me with queries about my talks or to book a talk.