Miss Verena Smith, (1903-1993)

Miss Verena Smith

Miss Verena Smith’s obituary in the Sussex Record Society report of 7 May 1994.

We have suffered a sad loss in the death of our senior Vice President last summer. A member for more than 30 years, she provided unstinting support to L.F. SaItzman in his work for the Society. From 1974 to 1980 she was Secretary and Treasurer, and edited the second and third volumes of The Town Book of Lewes. When illness forced her to stand down, she was elected a Vice President, a position she was proud to hold for the rest of her life. Her devotion to the Society, at a difficult time in its history, was total; and it is probably true to say that it might not have survived without her determination and resolution. It seems appropriate to include in this report the following appreciation which Mr. Dickins gave at her funeral:

“We have lost a very remarkable lady with Verena’s death – particularly our two societies: the Sussex Record Society and the Sussex Archaeological Society. She was an active and dedicated member of both; and also a very doughty one. There was nothing she would not undertake if it would advance the cause of church architecture and history, the two subjects she linked together and taught and lectured on – with church architecture winning by a short head.

It was typical of her to fill her small room in the nursing home – ‘home’ for some four years until she died – with the books she loved and read until her eyes failed and she could read no more. She had become completely deaf and unable to move and finally even to speak, but visitors could always feel her brain was active. It was a sad and frustrating finish to a life of such intellectual energy and accomplishment.

Perhaps her greatest achievement – and the last before a series of strokes made movement too difficult – was to catalogue the Sharpe collection of Petrie’s drawings of Sussex churches, now housed at Michelham Priory. There are over 350 of them and each is described minutely, architecturally and historically. Some are based on the Victoria County History or on Walter Godfrey’s descriptions, but the majority were visited with her friend and fellow teacher, Miss Flight, by bus, train, or occasionally by car if a lift was offered. She photographed every church from all angles, finally comparing the results with the drawings, which were entered meticulously in the catalogue. One of the axioms on which she always worked was that ‘every thing must be right’; and it was right. Her introduction is a model of lucidity and detail. And yet this important work has never been published.

Some years ago her work was a last recognised, and she was elected to a Fellowship of the Society of Antiquaries, which pleased her greatly. By now she could hardly move but she was taken by car to Burlington House where she just managed, with help, to reach a seat in the Ballot Room, The President rose from his seat and armed with his baton descended to the floor and dubbed Verena a Fellow of the Society. It was a dignified and dramatic performance and she was delighted.

Many people will have known her as a devoted friend of Dr. Salzman whom she nursed and cared for in her own house for the last two years of his life. Her admiration for him was unbounded and through her most of his correspondence and working papers are now safely in Barbican House. A biographer is needed. They made a formidable couple and woe betide anyone persisting in pretensions of knowledge. They inevitably came a cropper – in the kindest way, but nevertheless a cropper.

I hope this will help to show the sort of person Verena was. Anyone who knew her should have been proud to have been her friend.”

Miss Verena Smith supported the Society unstintingly for 30 years and her legacy made the Centenary Volume 85 possible. For many years she organised the Sussex Archaeological Society’s visits and this picture shows her conducting members around Twineham Church in 1974.