My Sussex Chisholm Family History


Our grandmother (Nanny) died in 1973.  She and her parents and grandparents had grown up in Sussex.  But she always said there was a Scottish tartan in her somewhere.

Was there?  Chisholms were non-existent in Sussex in the eighteenth century and few in number in the nineteenth.

Cheesman sounds similar.  Cheesman was in fact an old Sussex name.  Cheesman & Sons were church builders in Brighton during Victorian times.  But Cheesman does not seem to have derived from Chisholm, nor vice versa.

David Chisholm from Scotland

The first Chisholm sighting in Sussex was Nanny’s great grandfather, David Chisholm. We think that he was a border Scot. Scottish records suggest that he was the David Chisholm born to Robert and Janet Chisholm in the parish of Bunkle and Preston in Berwickshire in 1779.

We find him on the south coast at Eastbourne in the early 1800’s. At that time, Eastbourne was a collection of small communities clustered around the Old Town.  Although the population was not large, the area was beginning to attract visitors. There were a number of lodging houses for the newly fashionable activity of sea bathing and two inns, the Lamb and the New Inn, which were used for balls and where post horses and carriages were available.

The influx into the region had become a flood as fears of a Napoleonic invasion grew in 1803 and 1804.  Troops were barracked at Eastbourne and at Pevensey, as well as at Hailsham inland.  In addition, a coastal blockade force was assembled to man the Redoubt fortress in Eastbourne and the various Martello towers being built along the coast.  Construction of the Redoubt commenced in 1804 and continued until 1807.  In its heyday, it housed possibly as many as 200 men.  These men were recruited from all over the country, “unskilled but hardy” as they were described, and they signed on for a period of three years.

Altogether, there were some 2,600 troops assembled in Sussex at the height of the invasion fears.  Did David Chisholm arrive with these troops?  Or with this coastal blockade force?  We have no record.

Many of the newcomers married local girls.  As did David Chisholm.  He married Mary Vine from Eastbourne at St. Clement’s church in Hastings in 1804.  Their first child, Sarah, was born in Eastbourne in 1805.

It looks like he was then billeted to Fairlight, a small coastal hamlet four miles east of Hastings.  Chances are that they were living in one of the coastguard cottages that lie along the sea road there.  It was in Fairlight in 1807 that their second child, a son William, was born.   The name Chisholm was unknown in those parts and he was baptized Chisman.

After that date, I can find no further record of David Chisholm in Fairlight or in Sussex, except for this one possible clue provided by a reader:

“I own some land in Fairlight in Sussex and on some old plans dated around 1832 there is a small house which is no longer there, a barn which is still there, and the land is named chisholm.  This could be related to your Chisholms.  It is on Rosemary Lane, not the Coastguard cottages.”

The most likely explanation for David Chisholm is that he died soon after these events.  His wife Mary remarried and she died in Brighton in 1878.  David and Mary’s children, William and Sarah, are readily traced.

William and Sarah Chisholm  

They would appear to have grown up in Eastbourne.  In 1829, William Chisholm married Jane Iggulden, a local butcher’s daughter there.  They then moved, as did many at that time, to Brighton.

Sarah Chisholm married James Towner in Brighton in 1832.  He was a carpenter and they settled back in Eastbourne.  Their third son, John Chisholm Towner, became an estate agent and art auctioneer and, later, a prominent local dignitary.  He never married and, on his death in 1920, he bequeathed £6,000 and his private art collection to set up an art gallery for the town.  The Towner Art Gallery, which opened in 1923, still stands.

William Chisholm pursued a trade as a shoemaker.  Pigott’s trade directory for Brighton in 1840 records Chisholm & Eltenham as boot and shoemakers on Regency Square.  The name and location suggest that they catered for the well-to-do.  He gave up his business sometime in the 1850’s. The 1861 census shows him and his wife comfortably settled with two servants in a small house on Queen’s Square in the center of Brighton.

There were three daughters, Jane, Sarah, and Emma living with them at 11 Queen’s Square and one son, Arthur, born in 1842, who was a draper’s apprentice and living in a boarding house nearby.

The Influence of Arthur Wagner  

Church played a big part of Victorian life.  Churchgoing at that time was almost compulsory, for rich and poor alike. But in Brighton, at the start of the Victorian era, churches were few and mainly intended for the fashionable and well-to-do who paid their “pew rents.”

The town needed more churches to accommodate its population growth, particularly those with free sittings for the poor.  Two Wagners, Henry the father and Arthur the son, stamped their mark on this church-building and indeed on life in Victorian Brighton.

During his time at Oxford, Arthur Wagner had been strongly influenced by the Oxford Movement, both by its High Church “Catholic” Anglicism and by its commitment to the poor.  These ideals ran against the grain of the Established Church at the time.  But he pursued them vigorously throughout his life with a single-minded dedication, using mainly his own money to fund his projects.  His biographer Antony Dale noted:

“He was a somewhat lonely and austere figure.  The fact that he did not marry did not help to lessen the distance between him and other people.  He disapproved of such things as dancing and probably had little sense of humor.  His curates stood somewhat in awe of him. His friends were perhaps more inspired to him by loyalty and respect than by affection.”

In 1850, after ordination, he became vicar of St. Paul’s in West Street.   Five years later, he founded a religious sisterhood, which became St. Mary’s Home, in a townhouse on Queen’s Square. The sisterhood later expanded to include a home for “female penitents” and took in girls from all over the country to prepare them for domestic service.

Both church and sisterhood were controversial:

“There were the strange figures of the sisters of St. Mary’s Home who looked after the fabric of the church and were seen coming and going in the streets in their unfamiliar religious veils and habits.

Inside the church were such unusual fittings as altar lights, a sedilla, and a complete set of Eucharistic vestments, which was perhaps the first such set to be used by the Church of England since the reformation.”

Arthur Wagners’s churches for the poor began with the building of the Church of the Annunciation, which was completed in 1864.   This Church practiced the Roman mass and liturgy and attracted “broad church” protests, even in the 1930’s.

The church’s location was in a district northwest of Queen’s Park on the hill rising up to Brighton racecourse.  Arthur would advance small sums of money – generally £20-40 a week in cash – to enable builders to erect houses for poor people in the area.  The occupants remained Wagner’s tenants and paid him a small weekly rent.  The same exercise was repeated ten years later with St. Martin’s Church on Lewes Road. In the two areas, he may have built some 400 houses for the poor. Arthur Wagner was in poor health over the last ten years of his life and he died in 1902.

Arthur Chisholm  

The Chisholm association with the Wagners began with Arthur’s father, William.  He was, in his later years, a verger at St; Paul’s church. His house abutted St. Mary’s Home on Queen’s Square and he employed two women from there, a mother and her daughter, as servants.

Arthur Wagner must have taken the younger Chisholm, Arthur, under his wing.  Arthur Chisholm and his wife Fanny were also vergers at the church and he served for many years as secretary to Arthur Wagner. This work involved him in Arthur Wagner’s various church construction projects and in the management of the houses that Arthur Wagner had built.

In time, Arthur Chisholm became a house agent in his own right, building and managing houses in the area.  He was also active in their financing, as an agent for the Providential District and Benevolent Loan Society.   He and his growing family moved around a lot, no doubt as houses were built and then sold or let.  The table following shows where the 1891 census found them.

The Chisholms in 1891 Census Records

25 Elm Grove, Brighton

  • Arthur Chisholm, house agent , 48 year old
  • Fanny Chisholm, wife, 47 years
  • Albert, son, carpenter, 20 years
  • Alfred, son, laborer , 19 years
  • Fanny, daughter, dressmaker, 17 years
  • Florence, daughter, 6 years.

Florence, who was Nanny our grandmother, was clearly the baby of the family.


At the outbreak of the Great War, the family was living in De Montford Road and Nanny had a job as a shop-girl at Hanningtons department store on Western Road.

She had married that year, after a long courtship, my grandfather Charles Shelley at St. Martin’s church in Brighton.

Throughout their life, they were regular church goers at the Church of the Annunciation.  There was a baby grand piano at their home on Bentham Road.  My grandfather loved singing and had a powerful voice.  My Uncle Alan can recall him singing standards such as “Watchman, What of the Night” with family members, as my grandmother accompanied them on the piano.

Nanny’s Family Tree

  • Robert Chisholm (b. 1726) m. Elizabeth Brown in Berwickshire (Bunkle and Preston) in 1743
  • rem. Janet Johnstone (b. 1738) in Berwickshire (Bunkle and Preston) in 1761
  • – David Chisholm (b. 1779 in Bunkle and Preston)
  • Charles Vine (b. 1750) from Hellingly m. Elizabeth Ball (b. 1757) from Eastbourne
  • – Elizabeth Vine (1783-1838) m. John Wood
  • – Mary Vine (1787-1878)
  • – John Vine (1792-1841) m. Mary Ann French
  • David Chisholm (died in Eastbourne?) m. Mary Vine in Hastings in 1804
  • – Sarah Chisholm (b. 1805 in Eastbourne)
  • – William Chisholm (b. 1807 in Fairlight)
  • Mary later married William Flower and moved to Brighton
  • Stephen Iggulden (1769-1851) m. Elizabeth Message (1766-1841) in Eastbourne in 1794
  • – Richard Iggulden (1805-1857) m. Orpah Bryant
  • – Jane Iggulden (1810-1885)
  • William Chisholm (1807-1868) m. Jane Iggulden in Eastbourne in 1829
  • – David Chisholm  (1832-1895)
  • – Jane Chisholm (b. 1837)
  • – Arthur Chisholm (1842-1917)
  • – Sarah Chisholm (b. 1851)
  • – Emma Chisholm (b. 1853)
  • Sarah Chisholm (1805-1865) m. James Towner (1807-1860) in Brighton in 1832
  • – James Chisholm Towner (1834-1912) m. Maria Page
  • – William Albert Towner (1837-1853)
  • – John Chisholm Towner (1840-1920)
  • Arthur Chisholm m. Fanny Maria Jones (1844-1907) in Brighton in 1866
  • – Arthur Chisholm (b. 1869)
  • – Albert Chisholm (b. 1871)
  • – Alfred Chisholm (1872-1924) m. Emma Standing
  • – Fanny Chisholm (b. 1874) m. Charles Ansell
  • – Florence Chisholm (1884-1973)
  • Florence Chisholm m. Charles William Bartlett Shelley (1882-1963) at St. Martin’s Church in Brighton in 1914.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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