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WW1 letters discovered at Brighton Dome site

19 September 2017

ASE's Michael Shapland at the Brighton Pavilion site

Further exciting discoveries have been made at the Brighton Dome Corn Exchange site where Archaeology South-East (ASE) have been working during its recent redevelopment.

From 1914 to 1916 the Royal Pavilion along with what is now Brighton Dome Concert Hall and Corn Exchange was used as a state of the art hospital for Indian soldiers who had been wounded on the battlefields of the Western Front. From 1916 to 1920 it was used as a hospital for British troops who had lost arms or legs in the war.

Several personal letters, both whole pages and more fragmentary remains, dating from the First World War have been found which give a fascinating glimpse of what life was like for the hospitalised soldiers.

According to Michael Shapland, Historic Building Specialist at Archaeology South-East:

  • ‘The letters came from behind the rear cladding to the timber frame of the Corn Exchange, rather than from within the timber frame. Essentially, the letters could only have got there by being dropped from above into a narrow void behind the Corn Exchange hall....The interesting thing about this context is the presence of a skylight precisely above where the letters, together with the other ephemera, would have been dropped. We can therefore begin to tell a little story here, whereby soldiers packed into the busy infirmary ward itself would have snuck off to quiet corners of the building (such as the roof-space) to have a fag and read their letters in peace, in the light provided by the skylight.’

Michael gave a talk about these finds and the Quaker burials discovered on the site entitled ‘From Quaker Cemetery to Great War Hospital: New Archaeological Discoveries at Brighton Corn Exchange’ on Sunday 10 September as part of the Heritage Open Day at Brighton Dome.

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