Introductory Blog from Kevin Newman, PGR Rep

I have the honour of stepping into the very successful shoes that Sophie has worn as PGR Representative for the Society and would like to take the opportunity of thanking her for her help in handing over as well as to Mary, Samantha and everyone else who emailed to provide advice and to wish me good luck.

I am a member of BAVS and currently studying my doctorate at the University of Sussex in what we can gather from the spread of building of Victorian and Edwardian clock towers, and what this informs us about the discourse of the time; politically, culturally, architecturally and socially. It doesn’t at first glance sit hand-in-hand with a study of Reynolds but some of the locations of construction were in less-than salubrious urban sites that are befitting many and adventure in a Penny Dreadful.  In my home city of Brighton for example, the Jubilee Clock tower was built in an area that had previously been two slums. I’m looking forward to getting to explore more of the works of Reynolds to see how much clocktowers appear as background and landmarks in his works.

My PhD is a (just slightly) delayed follow up to my Batchelor’s degree in Victorian Studies and History back in the nineties at the University of Wales.  Alongside teaching (and increasingly now) since 2013 I’ve been kept busy by also writing GCSE textbooks and local history publications.  The result is that I’ve now written over a dozen books on Sussex which aim to get people into, or back into history with my latest being A-Z of Brighton and Hove, published by Amberley Books. My next book out is also on Brighton, followed by an exploration of Sussex’s food and drink over the centuries called Pond Puddings and Sussex Smokies, which I won’t write about here as it always makes me hungry (not a good combination with lockdown no.2 in action). If you’d like to read more of what I’ve written I contribute and have contributed to numerous publications such as the Local History News of the BALH, Exclusively British, Sussex Life, Sussex Local and for Oxford University Press, and have written history supplements such as Brilliant Brighton and Super Sussex for Newsquest Publications. I’ve also moved into writing historical fiction and my novel Beef Every Day But No Latin (out now with Waterstones and other outlets) is published by The Real Press and has created a lot of interest as it’s the true story of an 11 year old Sussex boy called James Bernard Clifton who set up his own school in Hove, Sussex in 1925 which amazingly still runs today in Sussex.

I was deeply interested in the role of PGR Rep as I have been working to raise the profile of the local and children’s work of another (much later) underrated Victorian author, Hilaire Belloc. The two share some parallels despite their different eras – but very different outlooks on alcohol! I’ve always believed in a comparative approach to study and it will be interesting to discover more contrasts and comparisons between the two as I delve further into the world of Reynolds, whom I first came across during my undergraduate degree. Reynolds’ views are thankfully much more acceptable than some of Belloc’s more extreme views so I only focus on his children’s, local and poetic works.

To be honest, I always enjoy supporting those who are lesser known (My boys and I support Brighton and Hove Albion football club for example!).  This means I love the challenge of championing another Victorian literary polymath currently suffering somewhat as a literary underdog.  I hope to do this by encouraging members where possible to engage in future events and correspondence which I have found has proved successful with raising the profile of Belloc and so I’m looking forward to communicating and working with Society members.  I find Reynolds’ work much more readable than Dickens’ to be honest, and as an author myself who has recently moved into (historical) fiction, his agile mind and more imaginative themes resonate much more with my own work to date and my planned future novels. I also admire his progressive political views – as mentioned, not all of Belloc’s views have aged as well or are acceptable today but some of Reynolds’ views can provide hope still in these troubled times and, like Belloc, the general public are unaware just how huge his legacy is still today. Unlike Belloc, however, Reynolds has of course no full biography at the moment and so I feel he more than deserves this and was truly excited to hear that work is underway to rectify this.

I also hope to increase my knowledge of Reynolds by visits to neighbouring Kent. As a Sussex lad I am well placed to visit Herne Bay or Sandwich although I sadly didn’t have the £950,000 needed to buy Gothic House! On which note, I had better get back on with my PhD in the very optimistic hope my eventual royalties from publishing about clock towers will make me wealthy enough to do so. Well, we can but dream!

Kevin Newman

T:07504 863867

k.newman@sussex.ac.uk


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