Sussex researchers win funding to celebrate cultural gems of region’s past

The Royal Pavilion kitchens, Brighton, from a contemporary picture

The story of a “secret army” of Kent residents trained to fend off a Nazi invasion of England is the subject of one of four fascinating University of Sussex projects being funded by a new cultural initiative.

The three-month projects are being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Cultural Engagement Fund – a pilot scheme which aims to support universities in collaborative work involving new researchers, leading academics and cultural organisations in their local communities.

The fund supports four projects at the University of Sussex, known collectively as the “Culture Rich” projects. They are:

  • Kent’s Secret War: “In the streets and in the fields” – Sarre at war 1939-1945: Researcher Sian Edwards will be tracking down surviving members of Kent’s special Auxiliary Units to the Home Guard. In the summer of 1940, a Nazi invasion of Britain appeared imminent and in preparation for such an attempt local civilians were quietly recruited across the South to form a resistance movement. The village of Sarre, in the Isle of Thanet, Kent, was central to this defence as its location meant that it could be used as a landing stage for a full attack on London. Sian is looking to film interviews with any survivors and their families as she pieces together the story of Kent’s resistance fighters for an exhibition and downloadable app guide for those wishing to rediscover places and landmarks associated with the story. Sian says: “I was excited to discover such a rich and exciting story so close to home and look forward to hearing, and sharing with the local community, stories of those who were involved in local acts of defence such as the Auxiliary Units.”
  • The representation of masculinity in the work of Keith Vaughan and his circle: Art historian Darren K Clarke will work with the Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove to re-examine the work of Keith Vaughan, the Sussex-born artist who rose to prominence as a member of the Neo-Romantic artistic movement of post-war Britain. The artist, whose work was featured in a centenary exhibition in 2012 at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, subsequently developed a distinct pictorial style centred on the male nude in paintings that often explored and reflected the artist’s homosexuality. Vaughan kept a journal from 1939 until his suicide in 1977, the last entry of which records the moment that the fatal overdose took effect. Brighton Museum has recently had donated a 1965 gouache by Vaughan by the Contemporary Art Society. This joins a pencil sketch already in the museum’s collection. These works are the starting point for a proposed exhibition of Vaughan’s works on paper that will demonstrate the artist’s development and his influence on his peers and students who included Patrick Procktor and David Hockney.
  • ‘My Place In Sussex’ – Rediscovering the Life And Literature of Richard Marsh: Researcher Graeme Pedlingham will be working with Crawley Library to rediscover the work of Marsh, a prolific author whose popular success overshadowed that of Dracula author Bram Stoker in his day, but who has since faded from popular memory. Marsh (aka Richard Heldmann), who lived and wrote his most important work in Three Bridges, is perhaps best known for his gothic novels, particularly his chilling 1897 thriller The Beetle, but also for crime fiction involving female sleuth Judith Lee. Graeme is organising an exhibition on Marsh at Crawley Library, launching on 9 May with a convivial evening of talks on his work, discussions and live performances based on them. This will run until August. Find the Richard Marsh page on Facebook for more details.
  • Royal Household Servants at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton: Life below stairs is the subject of collaboration between art historian Tracy Anderson and the Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton Hove. Tracy will be delving into the archives to reveal more about the lives of those who worked at the Royal Pavilion during the time of the Prince Regent, later King George IV. The lives of these real royal servants have been largely forgotten and Tracy will attempt to uncover who these people were, how they lived and worked and what they wore. It is hoped that the research will lead to an exhibition at the Royal Pavilion. The project is the latest collaboration between the University of Sussex and the Royal Pavilion to develop a greater understanding of how Brighton’s most iconic building functioned as a Royal Palace.

More than 40 universities are involved in the AHRC’s Cultural Engagement programme.

The Sussex researchers will be supervised by Sussex academics Dr Chris Warne, Dr Meaghan Clarke from the School of History, Art History and Philosophy and Professor of English Lindsay Smith. The project is coordinated by the University’s Doctoral School.

Professor Matthew Cragoe, who is leading the Culture Rich projects at Sussex says: “These projects offer something for everyone interested in the rich cultural heritage around us. We are really excited about working with our partners to bring the fruits of our research to the public – a key part of the university’s research strategy.”

Notes for Editors

The AHRC funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. 

The University of Sussex has long been associated with the AHRC collaborative PhD scheme, which has facilitated research in tandem with partner institutions including the V&A, the National Maritime Museum, Charleston Farmhouse (home to the Bloomsbury set), Brighton Museum & Art Gallery and the National Trust.

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email:

View press releases online at:

Last updated: Wednesday, 13 March 2013