Sue Newman in conversation
In conversation with Sue Newman – local historian, author, and parish scribe:
Sue, you describe yourself as a ‘parish scribe’. Why?
Just about sums me up. Anything and everything about Christchurch past interests me, and in another life I may have been something more useful, such as a forensic detective. Because researching, for whatever reason, from solving a question to writing a book, is all about finding answers, and the harder it is to find them, the more satisfying it is when I do.
What sparked your interest in local history?
I started my interest in local history basically before I could think, more or less, when I passed through the portal of my medieval primary school building in Amesbury, now within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. Something clicked on in my infant brain and has never clicked off. My question when I arrived in Christchurch in 1979 was, who lived in my house before? What was its story? That led to my first book.
Amongst your local achievements, which would you highlight?
When the History Society was formed by our late librarian, Bernard Green, I was press-ganged into being the editor of the Bulletin, which occupied me for seven years, going on to become secretary for another nine, and vice-chairman somewhere in the mix. I promoted the Society, for example by collating for sale 80 editions of my hero Herbert Druitt’s Miscellany, arranging the sealed bid sale of copies penned by our other local hero, Benjamin Ferrey, The Antiquities of the Priory of Christ-Church, Hants; obtained full film copies of the parish registers, co-devised and wrote the Blue Plaques Millennium Trail and sorted The Christchurch Times issues to acid-free boxes organised by year. I was enamoured with the Local History Room and Newspaper Room, and loved to develop and expand their treasures, whilst helping the public who arrived with queries almost every day. I opposed the loss of this rich resource from the Druitt Public Library. It was a local history paradise for researchers and residents.
You have written many publications. What led you to becoming an author?
I was a bookworm from childhood, and gained a B.A. Degree in English. I believe that whatever your field, if your findings are previously unknown, they should be in print to embed them in the known record.
Research took me to several county record offices, The British Library, The National Archives, The Guildhall Library etc, and a host of local people with stories. It resulted in nine books altogether (and numerous magazine articles, genealogical and house-history commissions etc), all of which were well received. Some are photographic, but I always added new information to the captions, but my major works are The Christchurch and Bournemouth Union Workhouse, The Christchurch Commons, and my last book, The Christchurch Fusee Chain Gang, which are extensive but, hopefully, valuable, properly sourced works.
You mentioned the satisfaction of finding answers. Are you still enjoying solving questions?
I do have a very large personal collection of documents, photographs, paintings, newspapers, ledgers, artefacts and so forth. And happy to answer queries using them. I still get called upon, even if just by myself for myself, to do detective work and will no doubt one day keel over, slumped over the keyboard. Until that day, I am happy to help where I can, and still take on commissions if they arise.
Thank you Sue for the conversation, and for all that you do for local history in Christchurch.