From Ordinary to Extraordinary: Brighton YAC and their 'The Secret Life (and Death) of Pets' project

Today we continue our look at the From Ordinary to Extraordinary (FOTE) project, where we hear from those YAC groups taking part. These blogs will tell us about the focus of the project, who is involved and what they have been up to.

Today's blog focuses on the project created by Brighton YAC. Brighton YAC is investigating Preston Manor’s Late Victorian and Edwardian Pet Cemetery. Believed to be the only example in Sussex, this is the final resting place of 16 known dogs and 3 cats. Brighton members are conducting their own graveyard study and consulting local archives to reveal the hidden story behind these beloved but often over-looked Brighton residents. Their project is titled: The Secret Life (and Death) of Pets.

YAC member, Elliot,  tells us more.....



Back on a very cold December morning we had a session at Preston Manor. I’ve been here on a few occasions with family and friends and I knew about the pet cemetery that is tucked in the corner of the walled garden. But not all people know it’s there!

Preston Manor belonged to the Stanford family for over 200 years and the cemetery was created around the turn of the 19th century by twin sisters Lily and Dianna MacDonald, half-sisters of Ellen Thomas-Stanford. All of them were keen dog lovers. During the years more family members buried their beloved dogs here. There are sixteen known dogs and three cats, two of which were cats from Brighton Pavilion (George) and Hove town hall.

The Project

As part of our project The Secret Life (and Death) of Pets, the YAC group explored the cemetery. Surveying the area using a total station, this helped survey the entire area and helped us plot the graves. We’ve also surveyed the graves, recording each gravestone and inscriptions, some of which unfortunately were hard to read.

We’ve also been lucky enough to have been given information and some great photos from Paula Wrightson who has for many years looked into the cemetery and the family of the Manor. 

During the January session we used the data we gathered to create maps of the Manor and where the graves are in the garden.

We’ve also filmed small clips of information about the pets. We hope our project will be inclusive and we aim to share our work with as many people as possible. We hope to hold an exhibition in the summer to tell our community about the untold stories of these animals.


Intro to the writer

Hi, I’m Elliot and I’m 13. I’ve always liked anything to do with history, as a young child I dreamed of being an Egyptologist!! 

So I was really happy when we found a YAC club. I’ve been part of the Brighton YAC group since October 2019, since then I’ve had many great opportunities to see first hand what it means to be an archaeologist! It’s such an amazing feeling when you unearth something that has been hidden for so many years! I’ve learnt so much during the digs and this is all thanks to Flick and Odile.


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