Kenneth Dickins, (1907-1999)

Ken Dickins was a long-standing and valued member of the Sussex Record Society. He was co-opted onto the Council (and became a member) in 1955; he served as President in 1966-7, and in 1980-3; and was annually elected a Vice-President from 1983. His services and expertise were first sought because in 1953 he had been appointed Honorary Curator of Deeds to the Sussex Archaeological Society in succession to the late Revd. Walter Budgen, having joined that Society in 1947 and been first appointed to its Council in 1951.

His principal work as Curator of Deeds was to list in detail the massive Firle Estate archive of Lord Gage, starting with the family papers which fascinated him because they were a ‘sort of personal history in miniature’, bringing to life the nobility and gentry of the previous generation. He also prepared a full synopsis of the finding aids to the SAS archive, which was published in two parts in Sussex Archaeological Collections 93 and 94 (1954-5). In 1972 the Archaeological Society decided, reluctantly, that it could no longer provide adequate facilities for the storage and consultation of its manuscript holdings, and sought their preservation in the County Record Offices at Lewes and Chichester. As Ken himself succinctly put it, ‘whereas archives, as is their nature, must always increase, so their keepers of the voluntary variety tend to decrease.’ It was still to be ten years before the transfer could take place (for reasons of space), and when it did Ken, while continuing to serve the Library in Barbican House until a couple of years before his death, happily found the time to write an account of his early years.

He did this in His Good Times and Unconsidered Trifles (1995), recording that he was the great-grandson of the founder of Dickins and Jones store in London, who was brought up, until the death of his father, on the Coombe Hill Estate at East Grinstead. Educated at Harrow and Pembroke College, Cambridge, he obtained a degree in Mechanical Sciences (to his own professed disbelief), before trying his hand briefly at a number of jobs – with a stockbroker, as a Reuter’s correspondent, as a journalist on the Manchester Evening Chronicle, and as a sales representative for the Engineer magazine in Buenos Aires, Valparaiso and Lima (where he also set up agencies for the Cory Shipping Company). His memoir is particularly fascinating because it recounts in detail his Reuter’s experience in Munich in 1931-2, where he watched and commented on the rise of the National Socialist Party, and also met and interviewed Hitler shortly before he became Chancellor.

His Second World War experiences were equally varied: he started by ‘peeling potatoes for the SC at Margate’, and used his skiing skills for the Scots Guards at Chamonix, before going to Sandhurst. He was commissioned in his father’s regiment, the Sherwood Foresters, and then saw action in North Africa and Italy. Latterly he was attached to the Balkan Air Force, meeting Marshall Tito.

After the demise in the early 1950s of a London catering firm of which he was a director, Ken turned enthusiastically to archives, quickly learning his new profession, and earning a certificate of competence in palaeography from the Public Record Office. He joined the Society of Archivists, remaining an assiduous member for life, and subscribing (beyond the call of duty) to all its specialised groups. He was honoured with Fellowship of the Society of Antiquaries in 1962 (‘solving my parking problems in the West End for many years’).

He lived for some years at Lewes, for which he had a particular devotion, and also at Ditchling, where he became active in local affairs (churchwarden, chairman of the Parish Council, supporter of the Museum project). Always a gentleman, he was kind and supportive to others, with a self-deprecating sense of humour which made him an agreeable writer and companion. Sadly, deafness curtailed his activities somewhat in later years. He died on 15th February, and will be much missed by the Society. Our sympathy is extended to his wife of over fifty years, Sheila, and to his daughters Sarah and Jane.

Roger Davey